Here's some turbulent reading to put a little frission into your next longhaul.
This collection of flight-related scary tales is designed to have you clutching the armrest in terror and comes with the cheery smile of Stephen King who edited and compiled the collection of short stories with Bev Vincent.
Air travel is ripe material for horror. I've always felt that plane passengers are necessarily on an uneven psychological setting. All stacked together in a fragile tomb-like tube blasting through the stratosphere, we sit side by side with complete strangers in a weird communal space trying to observe our private niceties. We fly for hours together, falling asleep leaning on each other, passing one another food, moving to the side so our fellows can go to the toilet — yet we avoid eye contact.
Pretty weird, huh?
And of course, what could make better airport-purchased, page-turning fiction than horror stories featuring airports?
King contributes a new story to the anthology, but there are plenty of other big names to dive into. Ray Bradbury is there, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle too, and Roald Dahl's They Shall Not Grow Old stands out. Vincent's Zombies on a Plane — which is about, well, have a guess — is a knockabout piece of fun.
Two Minutes Forty-five Seconds, by Dan Simmons, is a genuine downer about an engineer on a murder-suicide one-way trip, all layered with subtle references to Nasa's Challenger disaster.
The Fifth Category also has real-world connections. Sniffing around the edges of America's post-9/11, Guantanamo Bay exploits, the author, Tom Bissel, explores the damage done to the soul of a person who would commission torture of other people and later justify to themselves and others the use of of torture. Now that's real horror.
John Varley's Air Raid is an at-times hilarious tale of time travellers snatching people from a plane doomed to crash. It's pacey and good fun.
My own aviation horror stories generally relate to times in which I was banking on getting a Business Class upgrade but found myself instead seated way back in — gulp — Economy Class. I still break out into cold sweats, dear reader.
I'm not generally a fan of horror books or films (for the quite logical reason that I don't enjoy have the bejesus scared out of me) but I've always been fascinated by Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson.
It was adapted to the small screen for an episode of The Twilight Zone, starring a dashing you William Shatner as a nervous airline passenger who notices a flying, humanoid creature walking on the wing of the plane and tearing pieces of metal out of the engine.
Cheerful stuff. Later, this story was worked into the The Twilight Zone film of 1983, with John Lithgow occupying the seat formerly filled by Shatner (that's the version I first encountered).
When I fly these days (and, yep, I fly a lot), I don't particularly like to have a window seat, partly because I find the sight of the wings to be a little unsettling — those metallic probes jutting out, hopefully, into nothingness as a reminder that we funny little mammals are not meant to be flying. I've always wondered whether, somewhere in my subconsciousness, it was seeing that Twilight Zone movie as a kid that planted a nervous little seed, which blossomed into a full-grown adult who doesn't like looking out the window.
A nifty stocking filler for a non-nervous flier.
Flight Or Fright
Edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent