Looking at clouds from the ground is a rather absorbing experience. The educated human mind sees the majestic plumes of white as mere wisps of crystallised water vapour and dust particles in the higher atmosphere, but deep inside, there remains an early spark of curiosity and wonder, such as displayed by advanced apes and very small children. This spark does not see wisps of vapour and complex crystalline formations, but birds and beasts and faces, carriages and palaces, entire mountains and fortresses on the move across the azure-blue sky.
From above, this feeling only grows. As one rides in a rickety metal tube ten thousand metres above the ground, soaring into the sky, the educated human mind gives way to the childlike blossom of wonder. Below you, a sea of clouds wave and ripple to the shores of a distant land, and vague shapes of arcane gods drift past the triple-paned glass, where you are safe and pressurised and sound. And all the while, undefined smoky cumulonimboid beings watch from afar, their anvil-shaped tops spiralling yet higher into space.
This was what I told my seatmate on the two o'clock flight to Sydney, as I rolled up the windows and marveled at the view. The flight had so far been uneventful, with the only amusement being Greg's unfortunate incident at check-in, so any distraction from the plain sterile interior of the plane was very welcome to me. Greg, however, did not share my enthusiasm and appreciation of such natural wonders, and merely grunted in reply before taking a long sip of God knows what he managed to smuggle onto the plane.
Soon, even the clouds failed to entertain me and I slid the shutter down just as the plane made a left swerve over the Pacific, catching the glaring sunlight between panes of glass. From then on I resorted to browsing the in-flight magazine, fiddling with the remote, and staring at my hands to pass the time. Time drew on, nothing of note happened, and I fell asleep nodding on the tray table.
It was Greg who woke me up when the trouble started. "Hey. Hey, man," he whispered, lightly slapping me awake. "Up, up, up. Captain said something about bad turbulence, so tray table, remote, window shades, all of them up. And wipe your mouth."
I sat up blearily, swiping a hand across my chin. "How long's it been?"
"West Coast time reads seven twenty-three, so that'd make it about four hours. I think we crossed the date line or something, it's still bright out there."
I returned my seat to the upright position and took a peek out of the window. Sure enough, orange half-light streamed in through the crack. "I don't think that's how the date line works, Greg." Still, the long daylight hours were odd. I made a mental note to look it up once we reached solid land and an internet connection.
Greg obviously was not lying, for as I stowed the table and remote, the plane began to shake. I drew up the window shades to a grandly terrifying sight: the majestic white sea was now black and choppy, swirling and churning in silent twists and twirls. The sun still shone, but it was blazing through a gap in the top of a sparking dark cloud, too close to the wingtip for comfort. The wind must have been extraordinary, because the cloud did not drift aimlessly, but kept close pace with the wingtip. For a moment my imagination took over, and the sun shone like a red ominous eye, blazing amidst black tentacles of vapor and lightning, reaching out towards the plane like a predator out of the abyss.
Through the P.A, the captain reminded us to keep calm and strap down. Overhead and underfoot, aluminum plating and stray luggage hummed and shook. The on-screen flight information showed discouraging numbers— altitude, 13 000 metres. Airspeed, 900 km/h. Headwind, 110 km/h.
Hold on a moment. If the cloud was following the plane, then how in God's blue sky was it drifting against a hurricane-force wind?
This thought coincided with an equally dreadful noise: like pebbles in a hubcap, but coarser, and louder, enveloping the entire titanium frame of the plane until even the blast of the engines was drowned out in this surreal static. The cloud now had swelled to a frightfully enormous size, with angry electric whips flashing all around the aircraft. The sun was barely visible, merely a spot of red haze amidst swirling, sparking black. The plane was suddenly lifted up, up, up, and the PA system exploded in a screeching whine. Greg was pressed against the front seat, hands cupping his head, while I clung to the armrest, hunched almost double. Several someones screamed. There was a cry of thunder, and the entire plane was flung like a mere toy, reeling from an unseen impact. Then another scream, this time from the seat in front of me.
I turned to look at the thin, manicured finger madly pressed against the window, following the contour of flesh towards the 3-layered pane of glass ("Vacuum-sealed Grade Diamond A", proclaimed the dealer's mark), dragging my gaze out to the unknown air beyond. There was something inside me that protested not to look, never to look, but it was too late and my eyes were firmly planted on a thing outside the plane. At first I saw nothing. Then a little switch went on in my mind, and everything snapped into place.
Some thing was plastered against the glass, milky and flaccid, the complexion of an engorged slug. Lining it was a good number of suckers, pressed hungrily against the window and pulsating to the tune of an alien heartbeat. Looking closer, the suckers were teethed, and terrifyingly so, for those were far too sharp, and far too many. Then the thing at the window shivered, and the numerous teeth clawed against the glass like hungry cats, and the screaming started up again, this time from my own throat. I scrambled away from the window, pressing my body as far in as possible, and slammed the window shutter down with a snap. Around me, panic and terror took hold as the plane groaned and compressed under the chattering static sound. Greg was crying.
The next part remains hazy in my memory. I remember a mighty crack running along aisle 32, as pressurised air whistled out and scores of pulsating, cloudy things hissed into the fuselage, innumerable little mouths clattering and snapping. I remember passengers being picked out of seats like grapes, as the slippery things coiled and chewed around them. The section I was in began to fall, tumbling out of the terrible gnashing cloud, and I caught a glimpse of the body behind the thing:, half-smoke, half-flesh, grotesquely inflated with unknown wispy gas. And the eyes, large and horrible and human, peering through the dark mists, intently examining its prey. Then I fell further, through the cloudy sea and into a blue, shattered sky.
I think I might have somehow undone my seatbelt, for all of a sudden I was falling alone, down towards the foaming ocean. The impact with the water left me unconscious, and the next thing I remember is sitting up in a bed, back in a brace and leg in a splint. They told me it was a true miracle that I was found by a lone fishing vessel, delirious and babbling about living clouds and toothed tentacles. It was in the hospital that I started having nightmares, and occasionally wake up screaming from a terror in a dreamscaped sky.
There were no other survivors, nor bodies recovered. Much of the wreckage was carried away by the current, but a sizable fragment washed up on a Fijian shore several weeks after the incident. The part which made me throw up in my newspaper was the picture, showing a line of small holes neatly punched along the metal. Tooth marks.
I keep myself indoors if I can help it, and my roommate brings me groceries every week. She hasn't heard the full story of the attack in the skies and the thing in the clouds, and neither will anyone else, with the exception being several weary fishermen in the middle of the Pacific. This manuscript will remain sealed until my time of death, which I believe will be upon me soon and swiftly. Until then, I shall take my pills, say my prayers to whatever God that remains up there, and keep well away from the windows.
There was a thunderstorm directly overhead since yesterday morning, and it hasn't cleared up yet.