HIGH ANXIETY

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Plane travel often provides for suspended conclusions.

Submitted: January 24, 2016

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Submitted: January 24, 2016

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HIGH ANXIETY

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

She had seen him before they boarded the plane—off to one side, holding something to his ear; not a phone though. But somehow not knowing what it was that he was holding against his face, started the clock running for her observation of this sinister man.

He was, perhaps, her height; five eight; maybe early forties, balding and not bothering to side comb.

Ellen filled in most of the description after he was seated at the window, one row behind her in the bank of seats on the right portion of the 737 to Los Angeles.

While the full complement of passengers sidled and bumped and pardoned themselves to their allotted places, Ellen turned to look at him from her spot, that was one in from the aisle in the left bank of seats.

She managed to make several undetected glances in his direction by using the head of the passenger sitting on the aisle to her right as a screen.

She would very slowly peer around, while hiding all but her seeing eye and her right ear.

She took off her earring from that ear once she had sized up the best possible way to spy on him, with the least chance of being detected.

He had on black-rimmed old-style glasses that appeared to house very thick lenses; and he had been sprouting a line of sweat over his scraggy eyebrows each time she looked at him.

He wore baggy grey pants, and a droopy grey sweater over a large paunch. Poking out of the rumpled sweater were the black cuffs and collar of a long sleeved shirt.

 All in all, Ellen labeled his presentation as that of a sweating—i.e. worried—fat man with enormous black eyebrows over eyes that were magnified by his glasses to such a degree that Ellen found them off-putting, because these enlarged orbs appeared to be on the verge of exploding.

Once she thought of that word and looked at the man’s eyes, her imagination needed absolutely nothing else to ram it into overdrive.

She barely managed to contain her increasing panic.

His eyes made her think of him as obscene, and she quickly began to sort through all the male types and their peculiar, nasty—and even vile habits. Molester, pedophile, sadist; John Wayne Gacy; or de Sade; or worse.

Now, this was some unknown mental territory for Ellen, because she was—and had always prided herself on being—an extremely gracious and forgiving person, a virtue, that when voiced to her mother, triggered a long high-pitched scream of laughter, that Ellen virtuously resented.

But Ellen Frances was saved from any and all of her delusions and their sequellae, by the fact that she was a young woman of exceptional beauty: brunette hair in a gorgeous mop; perfect teeth; stray-blue eyes; a straight nose and exquisite lips lushing perfectly, above a strong chin.

And if that didn’t slow the men down, her height and her classic measurements did.

Then there was her laugh, her wit and an unquenchable thirst to be first at everything that happened across her desire-path.

Ellen Frances was a glamorous exhibit of what God can wrought when He decisively puts His mind to it.

And she was off to an audition in Burbank to see if Harvey Weinstein agreed with Him.

But now, to Ellen, this chubby man had morphed into a fat monster.

He was seated next to the window and Ellen could easily see that he was hiding something by the side of his head and turning even closer to the window at times, where he tended to hunch furtively for several moments at a time, before wheeling his head forward and lowering his right hand out of Ellen’s sight.

The safety features had been demonstrated in four languages and the final fasten-seat-belts request had been made; the attendants sat down and the purple and gold flying cigar drove up into the fog-free blue air of the San Francisco peninsula, wheeled left over the ocean and drew a bead on L. A.

Even during the hold-your-breath minutes as the plane speared the sky, Ellen was not so heedless as to pass up any and every chance to slip back in her seat, slide behind her ‘cover,’ and scrutinize the fat man.

Her thoughts suddenly returned unchecked, to the explosion territory that she had barely suppressed some twenty minutes before.

Her anxiety was deepening because the fat man was absolutely oblivious to the motions, angles of ascent or any of the maneuvers taken by plane during the first ten minutes.

The thundering of the engines were not overriding the hammering of her heart.

He leaned against the window. He spun back to look around while he dropped his arm. His protruding eyes appeared to be even more bulbous; as though crammed with evil intent.

He was plainly pumping sweat in prodigious proportions.

Ellen hated the overuse of the word Biblical, but it did flash through her hyperactive- mind.

The plane had leveled out, snacks and drinks were slipping and sagging on the weary carts pushed and pulled by failing attendants.

Only forty minutes.

Ellen was now losing feeling in her lower legs as a result of the unrelieved tension that she has subjecting them to—and the rest of her body was following her lower regions into the land of numb.  

All the wired-in resistance of  her entire persona was collapsing under a cover of immobilizing terror.

When drinks and snacks were beside her row she opted for a double scotch, neat, and handed over a credit card. While securing her purchase, she barely avoided hitting her seatmate in the head with her drink and dousing him in some Johnnie Walker.

Because her vision was perfect, the scene was clear to her one eye, but she rapidly leaned to her right to confirm the terrifying scene that sat ominously before her.

He was gone.

The fat molester wasn’t here. He hadn’t even waited for drinks and snacks. Some part of her wit was tickled by this silly fact; ‘bomb a plane, but why not wait until you’ve had some food and some Dutch courage.’

Jesus, if not then, when?

Carefully avoiding a smack on the skull of her seatmate Ellen downed her drink in two slugs ,quickly jammed the snacks in the pouch in front to of her and loudly asked to be excused by her seatmate.

He quickly obliged, fearing that he might be barfed on; or worse.

Ellen was at the forward lavs in three strides when she realized that he couldn’t have gone that way because the cart and their attendants were there; she had just dumbly gone with the open aisle and the lavatory sign.

She twirled around and saw that the back of the plane had lavatories as well, but,

Oh God.

The occupied sign was on both; one in her aisle and the one on the opposite side of he plane.

Now a sour taste of vomit tickled the bottom of her throat and began to ascend while knew she was panicking, but couldn’t think of what to do.

She felt like Warren Beatty in “ the Parallax View” ; should she write something on a napkin and hide it in the stack on the cart that was now directly in front of her as she neatly tried to push her way by and get to the lavatory to stop this madman. The vomit was getting closer, encouraged by the large amount of whiskey roiling in her stomach.

“Pardon me; please.

She sucked in every inch of her stomach and rushed most of her body by the goofy-smiled kid attendant who was obviously eyeing her fabulous chest as she pulled in every inch of her body that could respond to her desperate need to get by.

She popped back into a clear aisle. When she turned full forward she gave a strangled scream.

He was right in front of her.

He was staring directly into her eyes and smiling a smile of sadistic evil . . . or was it lust?

Ellen almost threw up on him and his bulk at close quarters rendered her speechless with terror. He stood perfectly still and continued to scan her charms.

His right hand was empty.

Oh God, no!

She couldn’t help bringing her hand to her mouth while she was gripped with a horror that threatened to render her unconscious.

“Are you alright, my dear?” warm, solicitous; avuncular.

Ellen just tried not to throw up; or pass out, while nodding what she supposed was a nod of yes.

“Good; you look like you might need the bathroom; it’s all yours” and he stepped aside permitting Ellen to pass.

His right hand was empty.

 She rushed into the bathroom, slid the lock and used her eyes and her hands in frantic motions to search the entire interior in less than three minutes. Nothing.

Now she was flatly blacking out with panic.

She grabbed for the turbulence bar and caught it with her last finger.

After a long moment, her agile and orderly mind abruptly snapped back on.

She unbolted and made for the fat man’s row, not having the slightest idea what she would say to him. She saw an attendant. Before she reached her, Ellen decided to  tell the Captain instead; immediately.

Now there were only ten minutes before beginning the descent into L. A.; with a landing in fifteen minutes.

With her head down, Ellen edged by others in the aisle who were on their way to the lav or extra snacks; or more booze.

When the last person had edged by her, she lifted her eyes to search for the fat man and;

God! What the . . .?

He was standing in the aisle by his row of seats eying her as she jostled her way through the other passersby.

“What a gauntlet, eh?” warm, strong, “I admire your courage,” pausing, and once more carefully appraising Ellen’s presentation, “you’re off to audition, right?´” lifting those huge busy brows, “or maybe you have the job already and are off to a studio . . .  

Ellen could only gape. She stood frozen in place with most of her operating apparatus in neutral; especially her mind.

“Well, look; here’s my card; give me a call, and if I can help you out, I’d be delighted,” sincere, with a not-hitting-on you tone.

Ellen finally produced a sputter, “but . . but, but your right hand, I saw something; I thought you were going to  . .”

The vomit was within striking distance now; but, strangely, it was receding.

“Oh that,” laughing; and revealing a sterling set of teeth; especially for such a sloppy Joe; “ it’s my recorder. I’ve been trying out some material. I’m an actor; and a part-time comic—at least I thought I was, until I heard my most recent bits.  God. I started back at the airport; and I can’t remember ever sweating so much. I was terrible. And then I began to panic,” Ellen simply stared, “but when I did a few of the bits in front of the mirror in the toilet, I was less discouraged.

“And so I decided to sweat less—and drink some more—in the next ten minutes . . . and watch you go up and down the aisle—if you don’t mind me saying so,” pausing, and reacting to the look of revulsion slipping across Ellen’s face,

“Hey, I’m sixty three—I look younger, I know,” chuckling, “I’ve been married for forty years; I have two grandchildren . . . and I’m a Canadian, if that helps,’ extending his hand, “ Barry Mann,

“I’m doing two shows this evening; an interview show; and Suzanne Somers’ husband is my announcer, and foil; come and see me; Studio B.; here.”

Larry handed another card to Ellen, and beamed his best smile.

He abruptly turned and edged past his seat mates to the window, but not before raising his hand, and catching the eye of an attendant.

He held up three fingers, followed by a nod.

Even comedians need to put a few gourds aboard now and then.

 

Following her successful audition, Ellen went to Larry’s show that night and returned to San Francisco on the red eye.

The next day left her with feelings of immeasurable joy; and a complete lack of understanding about fate and fortune.

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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