Fiction: Doritos Cool Ranch on Flight DL 4831

Well then. This is my first original fiction piece, or flash fiction since it’s just over 500 words, in quite some time, and it was influenced by my flight yesterday. That is, the fact of flying. None of the events of the story are true. This is something I thought about yesterday, and whipped up this morning over two cups of hotel coffee. Nothing serious. And nothing I’m going to let simmer and try to submit out to the lit world. Thank you for reading!

The man had his hand in a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch, and the man was dead. Those still boarding the flight, brushing and squeezing past him, noticed first the smell, not of death, as it was too early for that, but of the Cool Ranch giving the plane’s air filters a new challenge, and then the peculiar sight of a man asleep before takeoff. He didn’t have a neck pillow or a window seat to act as one; he was in an aisle seat and his head lolled to the right side, almost a prime luggage-hitting target.

His hands were coated with sweat and Doritos dust. A few chips remained in the big, uneaten, waiting with a shelf life outlasting the man. Not that anyone would want to finish off a bag of chips that had a dead man’s hand inside, however. A woman approached, checking the boarding pass on her phone, the number next to the luggage bin, her phone, the bin, the man, the phone.

“Sir, excuse me, I have the window seat. I need to just get in there, so sorry.”

The man didn’t, couldn’t, hear her and didn’t respond.

She debated trying again, checked her phone again, the bin again, the man again. He was smaller, with a lithe runner’s body belying the fact that moments ago, he had a massive, silent heart attack. The woman opted to squeeze past him, apologizing aloud, cursing in her head. Once buckled in, and having pulled up the sun screen on the window to look outside, the woman only then inhaled the odor of Cool Ranch: its tanginess danced a jig on her few remaining nose hairs she’d missed plucking earlier.

As everyone else settled into their seats, the flight attendants went over their scripts about buckling the seat belt, not smoking, the unlikely event of a water landing and needing the oxygen masks, and to check their safety manuals in front of them, and most of all, ensuring not just a safe, but a comfortable flight.

The man heard none of this, but he did seem comfortable, if one were to look over at him, asleep, unable to make it through the small bag of oriented polypropylene containing the chips.

As for the woman, she tapped her left foot, drilled finger holes into her knee, and put her AirPods in, as if doing so would mitigate the smell. In six minutes, the plane’s state-of-the-art filtration system would recycle air from outside to the inside. That is 1,340 minutes before the man would start smelling of death.

If a doctor who specialized in mortuary science was on board the plane, he may have taken note of the saliva forming a bubble at corner of the man’s lips where the Doritos dust swam. But for others, it looked like a man drooling, probably with the help of Dramamine. Maybe it was his first flight, the older man opposite the dead man in the aisle seat thought.

The older man couldn’t help his follow-up thought, as clichés are wont to barge in: flying is the safest mode of travel.

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