Authors: Stephen King (ed),Bev Vincent (ed)
Impulsively, Wilson drew aside the curtain.
He did not know, immediately, if he would survive. It seemed as if all the contents of his chest and stomach were bloating horribly, the excess pushing up into his throat and head, choking away breath, pressing out his eyes. Imprisoned in this swollen mass, his heart pulsed strickenly, threatening to burst its case as Wilson sat, paralyzed.
Only inches away, separated from him by the thickness of a piece of glass, the man was staring at him.
It was a hideously malignant face, a face not human. Its skin was grimy, of a wide-pored coarseness; its nose a squat, discolored lump; its lips misshapen, cracked, forced apart by teeth of a grotesque size and crookedness; its eyes recessed and small—unblinking. All framed by shaggy, tangled hair which sprouted, too, in furry tufts from the man’s ears and nose, birdlike, down across his cheeks.
Wilson sat riven to his chair, incapable of response. Time stopped and lost its meaning. Function and analysis ceased. All were frozen in an ice of shock. Only the beat of heart went on—alone, a frantic leaping in the darkness. Wilson could not so much as blink. Dull-eyed, breathless, he returned the creature’s vacant stare.
Abruptly then, he closed his eyes and his mind, rid of the sight, broke free. It isn’t there, he thought. He pressed his teeth together, breath quavering in his nostrils. It isn’t there,
it simply is not there.
Clutching at the armrests with pale-knuckled fingers, Wilson braced himself. There is no man out there, he told himself. It was impossible that there should be a man out there crouching on the wing looking at him.
He opened his eyes—
—to shrink against the seat back with a gagging inhalation. Not only was the man still there but he was grinning. Wilson turned his fingers in and dug the nails into his palms until pain flared. He kept it there until there was no doubt in his mind that he was fully conscious.
Then, slowly, arm quivering and numb, Wilson reached up for the button which would summon the stewardess. He would not make the same mistake again—cry out, leap to his feet, alarm the creature into flight. He kept reaching upward, a tremor of aghast excitement in his muscles now because the man was watching him, the small eyes shifting with the movement of his arm.
He pressed the button carefully once, twice. Now come, he thought. Come with your objective eyes and see what I see—but
In the rear of the cabin, he heard a curtain being drawn aside and, suddenly, his body stiffened. The man had turned his caliban head to look in that direction. Paralyzed, Wilson stared at him. Hurry, he thought. For God’s sake, hurry!
It was over in a second. The man’s eyes shifted back to Wilson, across his lips a smile of monstrous cunning. Then with a leap, he was gone.
For a moment, Wilson suffered the fullest anguish of madness. His gaze kept jumping from the spot where the man had stood to the stewardess’s questioning face, then back again. Back to the stewardess, to the wing, to the stewardess, his breath caught, his eyes stark with dismay.
it?” asked the stewardess.
It was the look on her face that did it. Wilson closed a vise on his emotions. She couldn’t possibly believe him. He realized it in an instant.
“I’m—I’m sorry,” he faltered. He swallowed so dryly that it made a clicking noise in his throat. “It’s nothing. I—apologize.”
The stewardess obviously didn’t know what to say. She kept leaning against the erratic yawing of the ship, one hand holding on to the back of the seat beside Wilson’s, the other stirring limply along the seam of her skirt. Her lips were parted slightly as if she meant to speak but could not find the words.
“Well,” she said finally and cleared her throat, “if you—need anything.”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. Are we—going into a storm?”
The stewardess smiled hastily. “Just a small one,” she said. “Nothing to worry about.”
Wilson nodded with little twitching movements. Then, as the stewardess turned away, breathed in suddenly, his nostrils flaring. He felt certain that she already thought him mad but didn’t know what to do about it because, in her course of training, there had been no instruction on the handling of passengers who thought they saw small men crouching on the wing.
Wilson turned his head abruptly and looked outside. He stared at the dark rise of the wing, the spouting flare of the exhausts, the blinking lights. He’d
the man—to that he’d swear. How could he be completely aware of everything around him—be, in all ways, sane and still imagine such a thing? Was it logical that the mind, in giving way, should, instead of distorting all reality, insert, within the still intact arrangement of details, one extraneous sight?
No, not logical at all.
Suddenly, Wilson thought about war, about the newspaper stories which recounted the alleged existence of creatures in the sky who plagued the Allied pilots in their duties. They called them gremlins, he remembered. Were there, actually, such beings? Did they, truly, exist up here, never falling, riding on the wind, apparently of bulk and weight, yet impervious to gravity?
He was thinking that when the man appeared again.
One second the wing was empty. The next, with an arcing descent, the man came jumping down to it. There seemed no impact. He landed almost fragilely, short, hairy arms outstretched as if for balance. Wilson tensed. Yes, there was knowledge in his look. The man—was he to think of it as a man?—somehow understood that he had tricked Wilson into calling the stewardess in vain. Wilson felt himself tremble with alarm. How could he prove the man’s existence to others? He looked around desperately. That girl across the aisle. If he spoke to her softly, woke her up, would she be able to—
No, the man would jump away before she could see. Probably to the top of the fuselage where no one could see him, not even the pilots in their cockpit. Wilson felt a sudden burst of self-condemnation that he hadn’t gotten that camera Walter had asked for. Dear Lord, he thought, to be able to take a picture of the man.
He leaned in close to the window. What was the man doing?
Abruptly, darkness seemed to leap away as the wing was chalked with lightning and Wilson saw. Like an inquisitive child, the man was squatted on the hitching wing edge, stretching out his right hand toward one of the whirling propellers.
As Wilson watched, fascinatedly appalled, the man’s hand drew closer and closer to the blurring gyre until, suddenly, it jerked away and the man’s lips twitched back in a soundless cry. He’s lost a finger! Wilson thought, sickened. But, immediately, the man reached forward again, gnarled finger extended, the picture of some monstrous infant trying to capture the spin of a fan blade.
If it had not been so hideously out of place it would have been amusing for, objectively seen, the man, at that moment, was a comic sight—a fairy tale troll somehow come to life, wind whipping at the hair across his head and body, all of his attention centered on the turn of the propeller. How could this be madness? Wilson suddenly thought. What self-revelation could this farcical little horror possibly bestow on him?
Again and again, as Wilson watched, the man reached forward. Again and again jerked back his fingers, sometimes, actually, putting them in his mouth as if to cool them. And, always, apparently checking, he kept glancing back across at his shoulder looking at Wilson.
thought Wilson. Knows that this is a game between us. If I am able to get someone else to see him, then he loses. If I am the only witness, then he wins. The sense of faint amusement was gone now. Wilson clenched his teeth. Why in hell didn’t the pilots see!
Now the man, no longer interested in the propeller, was settling himself across the engine cowling like a man astride a bucking horse. Wilson stared at him. Abruptly a shudder plaited down his back. The little man was picking at the plates that sheathed the engine, trying to get his nails beneath them.
Impulsively, Wilson reached up and pushed the button for the stewardess. In the rear of the cabin, he heard her coming and, for a second, thought he’d fooled the man, who seemed absorbed with his efforts. At the last moment, however, just before the stewardess arrived, the man glanced over at Wilson. Then, like a marionette jerked upward from its stage by wires, he was flying up into the air.
“Yes?” She looked at him apprehensively.
“Will you—sit down, please?” he asked.
She hesitated. “Well, I—”
She sat down gingerly on the seat beside his.
“What is it, Mr. Wilson?” she asked.
He braced himself.
“That man is still outside,” he said.
The stewardess stared at him.
“The reason I’m telling you this,” Wilson hurried on, “is that he’s starting to tamper with one of the engines.”
She turned her eyes instinctively toward the window.
“No, no, don’t look,” he told her. “He isn’t there now.” He cleared his throat viscidly. “He—jumps away whenever you come here.”
A sudden nausea gripped him as he realized what she must be thinking. As he realized what he, himself, would think if someone told him such a story, a wave of dizziness seemed to pass across him and he thought—I
“The point is this,” he said, fighting off the thought. “If I’m not imagining this thing, the ship is in danger.”
“Yes,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “You think I’ve lost my mind.”
“Of course not,” she said.
“All I ask is this,” he said, struggling against the rise of anger. “Tell the pilots what I’ve said. Ask them to keep an eye on the wings. If they see nothing—all right. But if they do—”
The stewardess sat there quietly, looking at him. Wilson’s hands curled into fists that trembled in his lap.
She pushed to her feet. “I’ll tell them,” she said.
Turning away, she moved along the aisle with a movement that was, to Wilson, poorly contrived—too fast to be normal yet, clearly, held back as if to reassure him that she wasn’t fleeing. He felt his stomach churning as he looked out at the wing again.
Abruptly, the man appeared again, landing on the wing like some grotesque ballet dancer. Wilson watched him as he set to work again, straddling the engine casing with his thick, bare legs and picking at the plates.
Well, what was he so concerned about? thought Wilson. That miserable creature couldn’t pry up rivets with his fingernails. Actually, it didn’t matter if the pilots saw him or not—at least as far as the safety of the plane was concerned. As for his own, personal reasons—
It was at that moment that the man pried up one edge of a plate.
Wilson gasped. “Here, quickly!” he shouted, noticing, up ahead, the stewardess and the pilot coming through the cockpit doorway.
The pilot’s eyes jerked up to look at Wilson, then abruptly, he was pushing past the stewardess and lurching up the aisle.
Wilson cried. He glanced out the window in time to see the man go leaping upward. That didn’t matter now. There would be evidence.
“What’s going on?” the pilot asked, stopping breathlessly beside his seat.
“He’s torn up one of the engine plates!” said Wilson in a shaking voice.
“The man outside!” said Wilson. “I tell you he’s—!”
“Mister Wilson, keep your voice down!” ordered the pilot. Wilson’s jaw went slack.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” said the pilot, “but—”
“Will you look?!” shouted Wilson.
“Mister Wilson, I’m warning you.”
“For God’s sake!” Wilson swallowed quickly, trying to repress the blinding rage he felt. Abruptly, he pushed back against his seat and pointed at the window with a palsied hand. “Will you, for God’s sake,
Drawing in an agitated breath, the pilot bent over. In a moment, his gaze shifted coldly to Wilson’s. “Well?” he asked.
Wilson jerked his head around. The plates were in their normal position.
“Oh, now wait,” he said before the dread could come. “I saw him pry that plate up.”
“Mister Wilson, if you don’t—”
I said I saw him pry it up
,” said Wilson.
The pilot stood there looking at him in the same withdrawn, almost aghast way as the stewardess had. Wilson shuddered violently.
him!” he cried. The sudden break in his voice appalled him.
In a second, the pilot was down beside him. “Mister Wilson, please,” he said. “All right, you saw him. But remember there are other people aboard. We mustn’t alarm them.”
Wilson was too shaken to understand at first.
him then?” he asked.
“Of course,” the pilot said, “but we don’t want to frighten the passengers. You can understand that.”
“Of course, of course, I don’t want to—”
Wilson felt a spastic coiling in his groin and lower stomach. Suddenly, he pressed his lips together and looked at the pilot with malevolent eyes.
“I understand,” he said.
“The thing we have to remember—” began the pilot.
“We can stop now,” Wilson said.
Wilson shuddered. “Get out of here,” he said.
“Mister Wilson, what—?”
“Will you stop?”
Face whitening, Wilson turned from the pilot and stared out at the wing, eyes like stone.
He glared back suddenly.
“Rest assured I’d not say another word!” he snapped.
“Mr. Wilson, try to understand our—”
Wilson twisted away and stared out venomously at the engine. From a corner of his vision, he saw two passengers standing in the aisle looking at him.
his mind exploded. He felt his hands begin to tremble and, for a few seconds, was afraid that he was going to vomit. It’s the motion, he told himself. The plane was bucking in the air now like a storm-tossed boat.
He realized that the pilot was still talking to him and, refocusing his eyes, he looked at the man’s reflection in the window. Beside him, mutely somber, stood the stewardess. Blind idiots, both of them, thought Wilson. He did not indicate his notice of their departure. Reflected on the window, he saw them heading toward the rear of the cabin. They’ll be discussing me now, he thought. Setting up plans in case I grow violent.