Danielle Weston had never really given much thought to how much punishment a human body could take, but the opportunity to contemplate the matter presented itself to her and it seemed worth the effort to pursue. The delay in her flight was, after all, beyond her powers to affect, and she had always thought it the best policy to use her time as productively as was possible.
She glanced across the row at the man sitting in the opposite aisle seat. He was relaxed, having undone his tie and top button just after getting seated. The man was large and strongly-built; there was something about him that suggested a professional athlete only recently retired, despite the grey of his hair and the deep lines in his face. If that man had given her any advice about how to stay healthy to the end of a long life, Danielle thought, she would have taken it as gospel.
And yet, as unblemished and sound as he was, the man stared at the floor of the plane, his open eyes covered in the same soot that darkened his tan face. There was not the least question in Danielle’s mind that the man was stone dead, that his spirit had fled in the face of some insult to the body which left no mark at all upon it.
Looking the other way, she saw the flight attendant who had welcomed her aboard. She had marvelled then at how very petite the woman was, so short that the top of her head was below Danielle’s chin, although she was herself no more than average height. She lacked the stockiness that many short people have, though, and was as willowy as a model, the sort of person Danielle’s grandmother might have described as apt to blow away in a stiff breeze.
It was hard, at this distance, for her to see the blood bubbling out of attendant’s mouth and nose, the crimson of it lost against her dark complexion in the dim, flickering firelight out there. Danielle could see easily enough, though, where it was sprayed against bright aluminum by the woman’s screams, screams which had more of rage than of pain in them. She was beating her fists against the front of the severed wing which pinned her to the tarmac, which seemed to touch the tarmac below her ribs. She struck hard enough to leave more smears of the blood she could hardly afford to lose, and yet she showed no sign of fading. For all Danielle could tell, she would keep snarling and pounding until debris and gravity gave in, releasing her from her trap.
This two-fold consideration was not entirely academic. Danielle turned her head from the gaping hole in the fuselage where the window and another passenger had been, looking straight ahead. She did not look down to discover what the source of the pain in her leg was, a pain which had an echo in her back on the opposite side. Her imagination drew a line between these pains, suggesting that they might be the result of a single transfixing piece of aircraft, suggesting also the various organs which lay along that path. Words gleaned from TV medical dramas danced in her head: spinal dissection, pericardial tamponade, renal trauma, peritoneal perforation, ruptured spleen….
She sat, unmoving, listening to the flight attendant’s defiant roaring and the groans of the other survivors. In a few seconds, there came a new noise from behind her. The dim, ruddy light in the cabin increased with the sound of crackling, and there was an agonized screaming. She thought she might also hear a siren approaching, but it was very distant, and the fire was no more than twelve rows back.
She looked down to discover whether she was at the limit of her endurance.
“Human Endurance” ©2016 Dirck de Lint