The morning flight to Miami is all hungover bridesmaids and businessmen in wrinkled suits. The vibe gets frisky after take-off, which is too bad, since who is this, coming to sit next to Dave? The most elderly man on the plane. Dave watches as he pops open the overhead compartment, stashing a bejewelled tree branch, which is presumably a cane.
The old man’s beard reminds Dave of his mother’s decades-old oven mitt. Dressed in a crushed velvet robe, his blue eyes twinkle behind honest-to-god spectacles. Dave is staring unknowingly at the man’s gut, when his eyes lock onto a gold pocket watch- its chain swinging like a pendulum over the seat.
Waves of nausea slap the walls inside Dave’s stomach. He looks out the window. The sky is still so dark. A low rumble in the plane’s belly; seatbelt lights switch to ON. The plane launches smoothly, rising in the stratosphere like a ghost ship sinking for miles under black water. The stars look wet. Dave suspects his fear of flying has encouraged a morbid personality.
They have been in the air for some time when the beard finally speaks.
“Dave,” it says, surprising Dave, who has been twisting his pretzel wrapper in and out of knots.
“I am the resident wizard of Flight 909. I must introduce myself using my Holocene name, Chronus. Your species is unable to comprehend my current name, which is-”
A shrieking sound explodes into the cabin like a vicious stream of bats; their flapping dissolves in an instant and Dave’s eyes grow wide. He senses a pattern developing, in a distant land, of time switching back and forth along the arm of a giant metronome.
“Look out the window,” the old man says, and Dave obeys, feeling his will come up against something.
“There- the break in the clouds!” The old man points to a golden spray of pure sunlight, burning through a ceiling of grey cloud. It is the most miraculous sight Dave has ever seen; indeed, he thinks it is proof of heaven.
“I’ve been trapped in this epoch for ages,” the stranger continues, “riding in your planes and on the backs of large birds. Hoping to come across this very ‘window’- this golden passage through time- one bright morning and find my way back to the world I left long ago.”
“What world?” Dave asks in a voice that seems not to belong to him anymore.
“A crueler world than this,” the old man replies coldly, and a hushed silence falls over the plane.
As if cued, the plane veers sharply, charting a new course in the direction of the heavenly light. The pilot comes on over the intercom: It’s going to be a beautiful, sunny day in Miami, folks, and thanks for flying with us. Dave considers his fear of flying, which has all but disappeared.
In the seat next to him, an old man fiddles with a gold pocket watch, closes his eyes.
-originally publ. on https://luminouscreaturespress.com