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I can't die like this. Not with these strangers wailing about God and Jesus and their mothers. Not with the nose of the plane doing six hundred miles per hour towards a cornfield in some godforsaken Midwestern plain. Not like this.
The jetway smells of faded industrial carpet with a dusting of exhaust. We file into the terminal like veterans returning from battle--clothing decorated with tears and puke and sweat and piss and shit. The airline employees look on timidly, wanting to comfort but improperly trained to deal with the remnants of communal near-death catharsis. Perhaps this year's customer service conference will include a breakout session. Just a suggestion.
People in the gate area grow curiously quiet as we go by. I watch a young girl pull her earphones off and close the magazine on her lap. The seat next to her is ripped at the seams, yellowed stuffing peeking through, and the businessman on the row behind is drinking a grande latte with chocolate sprinkles on the whipped cream. Details. Unimportant, trivial, useless. Doesn't matter. Fill my head--help me forget the still urgent desire to shit my pants and scream like a baby.
I get off the elevator on the wrong floor of the parking deck. Was I on 4-B Purple or 5-D Crimson? I stop and lean my hand against the back of a pickup truck.
It comes, hard and ragged. I throw up seven or eight times, gagging on nothing after the first three tosses. Gasp for air. Tremble. Gag again. Tears hemorrhage from my face, jumping from my cheeks to the dusty concrete in their perfect teardrop shape.
An airline representative, Ms. Sklenner, was brought onboard after the paramedics removed the injured and dead. The heavy guy in front of me, 17F, couldn't take the stress and his ticker crapped out. A handful of people couldn't stop crying or breathe right so they were escorted off with urgency. The rest of us, those who had somehow gotten their shit back together, were trapped onboard what would have been our vessel to the afterlife while Ms. Sklenner apologized profusely on behalf of the airline and promised to be in touch with some manner of compensation.
I didn't hear much after "compensation"-–my brain was busy calculating how much it's worth for thinking I would soon be impaled by ears of corn at the speed of sound.
The mattress noses down, falling at a hundred feet per second. I scream, grab for the bed frame, frantically grab for my seatbelt, then leap from the plummeting vessel.
She shakes me awake--my shirt soaked with sweat and head pounding. I see blood on her face, neck, chest. Under my fingernails.
The kitchen is cool and dark. I sit at the table, staring quietly into the streetlight. Dawn is still two hours removed.
It's not even ten o'clock and I've related the story no less than twenty times. My cube is the official clearinghouse for near-death information and anecdotes.
You're lucky to be alive.
(No shit.)
What did you think about?
(All the porn they'd find on my hard drive.)
Fifteen thousand feet for no reason?
(The pilots were bored.)
You gonna sue?
(For a refund on the bourbon I spilled everywhere.)
My third cousin died on a ferryboat in Norway.
(I see the parallels.)
You're so brave.
(You obviously didn't see me sobbing like an Italian widow in the parking lot this morning.)
Bro! Seriously, bro.
In each listener-cum-voyeur, I feel the palpable jealousy behind the eyes. My near death scare should have been theirs; a story to tell in line at the grocery store; an airtight reason to live their dream of longterm disability; anything at all to punctuate the toxic numbness of lives rendered uninspired by their insatiable longing to be free of the work-a-day grind and join the golden idols of celebrity-centric culture.
Today. Today I'm more than myself. Today I'm the envy of the damned.
She added layers each night, graduating from flannel pajamas to sweatshirts and even one final, uncomfortable night in jeans. The screaming and flailing and bruising won out, driving her comforting form to the safer confines of the guest room.
Tonight I grasp the fabric of the pillow top in a death grip, screaming soundlessly as the velocity sucks the wind from my lungs and ushers me silently towards the corn below. Closer now. Every night I fall farther, faster; breaking through cool moist layers of night clouds into the open sky, able to discern barn roofs and empty country roads in the patchwork quilt of my approaching death. And every night I leap from the defective magic carpet into the stillness of the void.
Wake to the sound of screams careening out of the corners of my bedroom. My throat raw, voice beleaguered. She doesn't come in to check on me. I don't blame her.
Ms. Sklenner calls. From the airline. From the good people who brought you to the edge of your existence and miraculously pulled out, nearly impregnating you with grisly death before merely spraying your life back onto your lower abdomen. Yes, them.
Her polished delivery is intended to be soothing, contrite, sincere. I'm clearly not the first call on her list today. My tragedy has been valued at ten thousand dollars. I ask would I have gotten more if the plane had come closer to the ground. What if we skimmed the tree tops on the way back up? Ms. Sklenner, from the airline, understands my frustration. She feels terribly, she assures me, on a personal level. Personal level. Do you think of me at the gym when the sports bra begins to chafe your $9,000 silicone implants? Am I on your mind when your brother-in-law makes the nightly news for inappropriate touching of his scout troop? Show me on the doll where my personal level is.
Ms. Sklenner, from the airline, promises a check will be mailed today.
Her half of the closet stands empty, as does the guest bedroom. The house coasts to a stop. I hear my breathing. I hear the absence of life.
I wrap the straps around the bed, loose enough to easily slide myself between the nylon and mattress. The first two winches tighten easily, gradually pressing my heels and thighs into the plush top. I lie back, then ratchet the strap across my upper chest to a snug fit. The last strap, across my forearms and abdomen, takes a little more effort.
The brisk night air washes around my body, the nylon straps flapping energetically. I gaze up at the starry sky, receding from the view of the heavens at terminal velocity. Stars don't change. They maintain their coy distance, neither coming nor going.
My coil spring airfoil flips 180 degrees, directing my view towards the ever-growing field of corn. I see individual stalks, their broomstick thick growths prepared to impale me for the fraction of a second it takes to slam into terra firma.
Five hundred feet.
Four hundred.
Three hundred.
The moon splays its pallid light across my path.
Two hundred.
What did the kitty cat say when its tail got chopped off? It won't be long now.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 22nd, 2016
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