Short Stories

Short Stories

The Thin Dark Line


In the corner of my eye is a dark line. Usually, against the busy background of daily life it is hidden. Here at 37,000 feet, below me a solid layer of bright white cloud, it is all too visible.

The thin dark line line pierces the cotton wool like a railway line in the fog, pushing its way forwards, appearing and disappearing into the mist. It is always there – it doesn’t change position as I turn my head. It remains as we cross the sea, and it remains as we cross the land. It follows me like a shadow, not of the plane, but what else in the atmosphere above us could be responsible?

Over the ocean the clouds part to reveal a rich blue sea, and my line cuts across it like a charcoal strike. A ship below steams towards it unknowingly. What will become of the vessel, its crew when they reach it, try to cross it? We fly on too quickly for me to know. For Those in Peril on the Sea… the Shadow of the Valley of Death… a hymn for every occasion.

I wonder if I am going blind. Will the dark line stretch wider and wider until it blocks all my view; or will other lines appear – parallel, cross-cross, the same, different? The cloud thins further as finally we approach Sweden, the surface fractures, the line dims then vanishes. I know it is still there; I can’t see it, but I know it is still there.

My coffee is getting cold. I concentrate on drinking; sipping, swallowing, licking my lips and wiping my hand across my mouth. At first my fingers have a tremor; I focus on my breath, sit upright, breathe more slowly in a measured rhythm. Eventually the tremor stops.

I’m not a relaxed traveller. My eyes flit endlessly, alighting on the slightest movement around me. Deep anxiety in my reptilian brain, of being prey in a prehistory of larger, faster predators. Warnings written on airplane wings: ‘Do Not Walk Beyond This Point’. Why would I want to?

The intercom dings, fasten seat belts for landing. Bump, brake, taxi, halt. The airport building wall has horizontal beams, dark sliver lines: they are there, my line is not. It has gone, and I feel its icy scar.

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