Nonstop by Tad Williams
Henry Stankey hated flying. Actually, “hate” was perhaps the wrong word. Hatred implied anger, active resistance; hatred was a type of control. Airplane flight filled Stankey with the kind of helpless despair he sometimes imagined must have poisoned the air of Belsen and Treblinka; he only felt anger when he looked around the boarding area at his complacent fellow passengers, slumped in identical airport chairs like an exhibition of soft sculptures, their faces bored, uncaring, flattened into shadowlessness by the fluorescent lights. As he stared, he could feel moisture again between his hand and the chair’s plastic arm. He ground his palm on the knees of his corduroys and was miserable. Why hadn’t Diana come?
Stankey hated himself for needing his wife this way – not for herself, but as a handholder, a nursemaid. When she had told him that her boss was out sick with strep throat, that they couldn’t do without her at the office and that he would have to go to Dallas by himself, he had wanted to reach out and shake her. She knew he couldn’t cancel out this late; he’d already paid good money to ship his artwork to the hotel. He’d also used his scant funds to pay convention fees. He had to go. Diana knew how much he hated flying, dreaded it, yet she had chosen to stay and help out her boss Muriel rather than him.
The night she told him, he had not slept well. He had dreamed of cattle herded up a ramp-eye-rolling, idiot cattle bumping against each other as they were prodded into a dark boxcar.
The Thursday afternoon flight out of San Francisco was terrible. He almost took a couple of the Valium hidden deep in his pocket in a twist of Saran Wrap. Only the compelling thought that the plane might catch fire on the runway, that the panicking crew and passengers might leave him behind in drugged sleep, prevented him from taking the tranquilizers. Instead, as he always did, he clutched the lucky talisman hidden beneath his shirt-he was ashamed of it, really: a hide bolo tie Diana had brought back from New Mexico, where her aged parents lived in a trailer camp-clutched it and willed the aircraft down the run-way. Sweaty hand clasped on chest, he forced the plane up off the tarmac through sheer force of mind, dragging it aloft as the other passengers stared unconcernedly out the small windows, or read gaudy paperbacks, or slept (slept!).
Once the jet was in the air, he began his terrified drill: smoothing the turbulence, wishing away dangerous crosswinds, tensing his legs so as to put the minimum amount of weight down on the cabin floor and avoid the laboring vibrations of the plane’s underpowered, overtaxed engines. Fortunately, the passenger by the window-Henry always got an aisle seat-was one of those nerveless clods who dozed through flights, and did not have his window blind open. Stankey was spared the additional stress of watching the plane’s wings dipping and bucking crazily, straining to break free from the fuselage…