Paula Guildea

The November Editor's Pick Writer is Paula Guildea

Please feel free to email Paula at: pooliestef@yahoo.ie


by Paula Guildea

Her eyelids fluttered open and her vision adjusted. A programmed map of scheduled errands immediately filtered through her mind: a succession of chores organized her thoughts like a marching band lined in a parade. Get up, shower, check your passport and flight path…

She removed the covers from her athletic body and climbed steadily out of her warm bed. Peering through a gap in her damask drapes, she watched clouds drift by as if tied to a string, tugged gently by an invisible Uranus.                                                                                 

Cathy saw herself as a successful business woman; an entrepreneur. She felt she was on top of her game in an arena where male dominance held precedence over everything. This morning a private plane would fly certain exclusives to a destination where a lucrative deal would be laid bare, debated upon, and eventually agreed. Cathy would be the only female representative on board to attend the meeting. Four gentlemen (with whom Cathy exchanged business philosophies and well-kept secrets) would sit in sequence with her on the private jet.                                                                                             
An hour later, Cathy checked her Rolex before being processed as a VIP from the private suite in the airports waiting lounge. The appropriate transportation, along with facilities to accommodate any impromptu needs of the passenger brought Cathy and her business partners to the foot of the plane’s stairwell.                                                                  

No one spoke.                                                                                    

One by one, the highly motivated, focused, astute individuals entered the luxurious aircraft.   The first thing Cathy noticed was the perfumed air that drifted up and out of her inner nostril. It smelled like a floral-scented air fresher with calming redolence, fragranced to add purity as well as pleasure. Placing her laptop on the adjoined table, Cathy began to work, only looking up as the steward closed the airtight door.                                          

Take off was smooth and uneventful. The air-hostess approached with a smile.

Cathy was bewildered to find a type of gloopy consistency on the top of her laptop. In a circled motion, she pressed her thump onto the fingertips containing the moist mystery. The sticky substance was light green in color and containing minute specks of glitter. What was it? Where had it come from?                                                                                                           

“Yuck,” she whispered to herself while using an Egyptian cotton napkin to wipe the clingy substance.

“Can I get you anything else, Ms Kiely?” the attendant asked.

Cathy inhaled, ready to complain, holding back while admitting internally, no real harm had occurred.                                                    

“No, the coffee will suffice.”                                                                        

Not long after the warm beverage infiltrated her nervous system, something unusual happened. Instead of feeling stimulated, her eyes became heavy. Maybe it was the hum of the engine or her incessant, somewhat exhausting thoughts on the pending meeting but Cathy needed to shut her eyes and rest. Deep sleep ensued.

As if a déjà vu from that morning, Cathy’s eyelids fluttered open, unstuck, and adjusted.

It took only a mere second for her to realize where she was, and a nanosecond after that to comprehend her situation had changed. Drastically. Everyone on board the plane was unconscious. Either comatose or…dead.                                                                                                       
The perfumed air was replaced by a dense atmosphere. Trying not to panic, Cathy removed her seat belt. She raced towards the front of the aircraft, passing the male passengers until she stopped in front of the seated hostess.

“What’s going on?” Cathy asked in a panicked voice.

No response from the attendant.

Cathy shook the woman’s shoulder, and still the attendant did not wake.

The aircraft remained steady; too steady, too smooth. To the right of the air hostess, the window flap stood half way up. Cathy bent over and lifted the flap so she could see outside. The sky was blue but down below was thick forest and high tree tops; an added cause for concern.

Inside, damp droplets fell from the cabin ceiling, as if an indoor rain shower gained access through the metal frame. Cathy had no travel co-ordinates; she had no idea of their present location, but she knew they had been due to fly over desert, towards Las Vegas.

Wiping the window clear in hope of a new perspective, Cathy squinted but the view did not alter. From her visual periphery, woodland prevailed. Tree upon tree covered the ground like a carpet of roving green.                                                                                      

Then the plane began to descend.                                                                              

Cathy’s stomach senses felt the obligatory somersault one feels when lowering altitude. She needed to wake the flight attendant. While checking the woman’s neck for a pulse, Cathy heard faint gurgling sounds from the other passengers.

Turning to the sound, she was horrified to see each passenger frothing from the mouth, expelling an odious substance, like lava mass, bubbling from the opening of an erupted volcano. Cathy lifted her hand to her mouth in anticipation she would hurl. I will not be sick, she told herself and her stomach finally agreed.

Moving towards the cockpit now, she reached for the door handle, half expecting it to be locked, but it opened easily as she walked through. The pilot and co-pilot looked dead. The same putrid liquid cascaded from their open mouths, a running stream of death. Cathy looked out through the main cockpit window.                                                                          

More trees. They appeared larger by the minute as the plane got closer.

The plane would crash in a matter of minutes.                                                          

Logic intercepted fear. She had to find a way to survive this. She methodically reviewed in her mind the air attendant’s instructions for such an event. She stepped back to her seat, strapped, and tightened her seatbelt.

The aircraft seemed to pick up momentum, soaring through the air at a rapid pace. Cathy leaned forward into a brace position. She clutched her ankles and bowed her head. She closed her eyes, preferring a sensory experience to an intimate reality.

Her thoughts raced. Impact at this velocity would cause tremendous damage to the plane. Cathy prepared her frazzled mind for the worst.

The plane shuddered but continued to fly as tree branches battered the sides of the spiraling jet. She felt her body turn, recognizing the motion as a repetitive swirl-invoked terror, an emotion alien to her previous waking days. Her brain temporarily dislodged and rested, dislodged, and rested again.

Suddenly the plane ripped apart where she sat, the tree limbs tearing a section of the metal off with a loud, roaring noise. Her face now exposed to the elements; Cathy struggled to breath. The pressure of the clear air forced her hands loose from the grip on her ankles.

It was a bumpy ride as the plane was tossed through the trees. The noise was overpowering, yet Cathy managed to hold on to the bottom of her seat.

As suddenly as it began, it was over.

The wreckage ceased moving and somehow the plane settled into the forest bed. Cathy dangled upside down as her head began to pound relentlessly with a blood surge. The opening of the plane to the world outside was a black hole to eternity—a dense woodland; a blanketed copse.

Further through the verdant mass, the broken-off end of the fractured plane lay sleeping, as if tucked in for the night, a quilt of bush its security comforter. Below, body parts were clearly strewn on the forest floor: an arm still wearing an Armani sleeve here, a decapitated head there, and  intestines, bloodied and fresh everywhere.

Cathy released her belt and fell onto the cabin’s ceiling, extremely close to the torn off edge. She crawled backwards, hoping gravity would be her friend. Blood trickled down her cheek from a wound on her forehead, tickling, itching; using her tongue, she licked it away.                                                                                  
A moment later and complete stillness ensued. No forest animal made a sound. The mangled fuselage was her safety net, but for how long?

And then she heard the noise. It was a distinct sound of dry branches breaking underfoot. Human steps? She was just about to scream for help when she heard another sound: gorging, eating, slurping.

Cathy crawled to the opening and peered downward. An animal, not a bear or jaguar, but something in between was savagely devouring the intestines of one of her fellow passengers. The beast, ravenous as it tore through vessels and essential organs, shook its head from side to side in a fevered dance.

Blood and guts cover its strange, furred face, as though slimy flesh painted its front teeth. Cathy did not recognize the species but cowered back and remained hidden in fright. Had she survived a plane crash merely to be eaten by a strange beast in the forest?

She had to call for help. Could her cell have coverage, and was it still in her travel bag, providing she could find her bag?

Was there any type of weapon on board?

Flares! Maybe in a compartment attached to the other part of the plane. The radio, too, if she couldn’t find her phone.            

Her eyes scanned the immediate area. There was nothing she could use to protect herself or subsist. Food, beverages, first aid, were all housed in stalls aboard the other end. Eventually, she would have to leave the secure shelter of the cabin and venture out into the unknown.

She waited, scanning the trees. What had happened to the animal? It was nowhere in sight. Perhaps it had left.

Standing on the plane’s ceiling, Cathy tried to survey the area from her view point. Miles of tree tops joined the skyline, all one color; dark and bleak. Everything seemed quiet below. She hoped the beast was satisfied, having eaten its fill. Maybe it would be best to investigate the outer rim while the circumstances were slightly in her favor.

A strong, heavy branch conveniently deployed made climbing out of the plane’s ruined metal easy. Cathy was aware of how precarious her courageous move could be. She stood upright a moment and inhaled the forest air. On the horizon, dusk was unnaturally impending. Surely, it was only late morning.

She studied the tree limb so she could figure out the best way to climb on it. Tiny ants with bulging red eyes scurried along the broken bark of the old tree. Cathy flinched but certainly the insects were less threatening than whatever that animal had been.

Descending, she stretched and maneuvered her way to the ground. She hesitated, and listened carefully. There was no noise from any beast. The forest sounds seemed normal, and an owl hooted.

Night crept in like a grey cloud on steroids. Daylight melted, as if the sun pulled down its
wooden shutters. A lone can of fizzy drink lay embedded upon the decomposition of undergrowth. As Cathy lifted the drink, a nest of circling maggots squirmed in sequence, drilling through the soil beneath, in an attempt to escape prying eyes. Cathy shivered, forcefully throwing the can back in their wake.

It was all she could do to not look at the body parts left behind by the animal.                              

She needed to retrieve her travel case. Wearing a power suit and stiletto heels were a huge hindrance. She had no choice but to remove her shoes. With the other part of the plane in sight Cathy headed in that direction, limping, cringing every time her bare feet touched the ground.          

On land, the feeling of being grounded was not the same, Underfoot it felt unusual. Loose. Parts of the aircraft’s contents rested upon the leafed floor.

In between the foliage and gapping through rifts, rolled small, jellied balls with spiked tentacles for legs that resembled porcupine quills were moving. They resembled rambling cactus plants, traveled at an exaggerated speed towards a journey with no end. Cathy side-stepped the regimented march. She shuddered in disgust.                  

And then she heard it: a moan; a definite, albeit stifled cry for help.                                   

Someone else had survived.                                                                                       

Cathy dashed, kicking off the caution that partnered such a ballsy move. As she neared the downed cockpit, Cathy slowed near to stopping.

A groan came from inside, distinguishably female. Stepping in view, she was appalled to see the air-hostess still strapped in as two wild hyenas’ gnawed at her foot. Her leg hung loosely by tendons, having been practically sliced off somehow. Ligaments along with vertebrae were exposed, and the hyenas chewed on the sinews.                                                       

Suddenly, both animals turned to face Cathy. Her blood turned to ice and she could hear her pulse pound in her ears as they appeared to be deciding her fate.

They may have resembled hyenas, but the animals seemed distorted. Instead of spiked up ears, alert and erect, these creatures owned ears that were huge and round lay flat against their hairy cheeks. Blood smeared their grinning faces and exposed a nasty snarl.

Cathy knew they would pounce if she couldn’t fight them off. She needed a weapon. A red fire extinguisher was only two steps away. She somehow found an inner strength to grab the extinguisher, ignite the spray system to full pressure and discharge the CO2 gas directly into the hyenas’ unsuspecting faces. They rushed out, screeching, unable to see properly but fearful enough to run away.                                

The stench inside the wreckage reminded Cathy of a butcher’s shop, a place her mother bought minced meat from when she was a child. Out back a slaughterhouse, the unyielding smell of dead flesh, as meat hanged for days in the abattoirs den.                         

She continued to search the plane for anything useful. It was upside down so she had to reach down instead of up. Searching one of the steel cabinets, Cathy retrieved bottles of still water and rows of scented towels. The first aid box was jammed inside another compartment. She would need that.

She heard a voice. “Help,” a woman was almost whispering, “so much pain.”

The flight attendant was still alive, but Cathy knew it would not be for long with her blood loss. Unless help came, she would die.                                    

Cathy scrambled to the woman. She was able to tilt the attendant towards the floor (which was the ceiling) and at least release the tension caused by her dangling foot. The connection of human to limb was thread-thin.

Carefully she laid the attendant down, and retrieved the first aid box. It wouldn’t be as good as a hospital, but it was better than nothing.                       

Cathy searched the wreckage for blankets or another form of heat for her wounded patient. Finding a coat instead, she painstakingly tucked the injured woman inside the material and while doing so, noticed a security tad clipped to her belt. Yolanda Rodriguez: The lady now had a name.                                                                                                                  

“Water,” Yolanda cried, “please.” Cathy did her best to provide. The excess liquid dribbled down Yolanda’s chin as her tongue absorbed the cool refreshment. Rain started outside, and the metal plane amplified the droplets. Cathy sat, her legs curled up beside her body, as she watched the rainfall. It seemed to blur the woodland and any approaching danger from within would now be hard to see. She was exhausted.                                                                

Her eyelids fluttered open, unstuck, and adjusted.                                       

Cathy glanced up at the morning sky. Blue waves of purity seemed unapologetic. It was a new dawn, the airplane would have been declared missing. Today there would be a search. Yolanda was still breathing. Could she hold on?                                                                       

Standing at the edge of the torn-off fuselage, Cathy saw the jellied, quill-covered rodents emerge from the ground once again. They moved as if on a mission. Maybe they were on to something.

Deciding to follow their disciplined parade, Cathy made her way back to the ground and walked alongside into the forest. The trees seemed to open up, allowing passageway.                          
After what seemed like a short period of time, the woods exposed a glistening river. It was filled with the same green liquid from the airplane, the gloopy mass Cathy had found sticking to her laptop. Identical glitter twinkled from its flowing current. Beyond the river looked like the ocean, the real ocean: blue, azure, and beautiful.

She backtracked towards the crash site once again She wondered if she could put Yolanda on top of the loose cabin part and somehow drag her aboard through the woods. There she would also mount the floating make-shift metal raft and paddle out to open sea.

In the trees, she could not be seen from above. The ocean was a different story.

The solitary piece of airplane component was angled so its outer frame touched the floor bed. It created a spooned effect. Yolanda could rest neatly in its embrace.

Testing its weight became Cathy’s next task, along with finding something sustainable to drag it to the water’s rim. Luckily, safety issues had been paramount on this airplane, and Cathy almost laughed out loud at the irony of the situation. Because attached to the metal was a hose. She laced the woven nylon hose through the metal joints that stayed intact and allowed a taut grip.

In the distance, a prolonged howl echoed through her gloomy surroundings. She stalled a moment and wondered if along with the hose, there had been an axe.

She lookedd back at the plane and saw it. Taking steps to retrieve the weapon, Cathy felt intense pain in her bare foot and realized she had stepped upon a jelled quill of a rodent. She could feel its splinters injected something into her punctured heel. She gasped in pain. Small pinpricks oozed a gelatinous substance as the jellied vermin scurried away.

The distant howl was getting closer. An immediate sense of urgency gripped her. The animals were coming!

Grabbing Yolanda under her arms, Cathy found inner strength to direct her movements. A dead but breathing weight, Yolanda slid onto the metal bed. Cathy roped the hose tightly around her shoulders, then through her waist and began to lunge. The axe, she housed between the waist band of her designer skirt. Then she heaved and pulled, heaved, and pulled, until momentum eased her pathway to the rippling lip of the slimy lagoon.

She unthreaded the hose while turning just in time to see a hairy mammoth-like creature use it sharpened crawls to snatch Yolanda, its huge horns like towering swirls around its ugly face. The beast opened its mouth and exposed teeth like chiseled shark fangs. Within that same second, Yolanda was bit in two and torn to shreds. As the animal devoured Yolanda’s remains, Cathy pushed her metal raft into the watery surface. On board she saw the last of Yolanda’s body consumed with insatiable vigor.                              

Now she was alone. The water seemed to aid her departure as it guided her escape, floating her exhausted body easily out to sea. She watched as the trees seemed to close the forest door.                        

Dryness clung to the roof of her mouth as gentle waves slapped against her makeshift water-raft. Pain in her heel continuously throbbed. She sat upright and examined her foot. Septic holes containing contaminated puss seeped from miniscule dots impregnated upon her skin. She’s been infected, but by what exactly?                                                           

Overhead propellers roared. A helicopter or a mirage?                                                         

A lowered rescuer spun as he gripped the links of rope being dropped in increments towards Cathy’s waving arms. A link back to reality.

The powerful spin of the whirling aluminum blades bellowed down a pressurized, invincible cloud of dominance. Cathy struggled to get a clear picture above her head. The man shouted something through the mechanical hum, a foreign tongue she could not understand. Dressed in layered safety attire, his helmet protector covering his facial features. Again, he yelled.

Reaching up enabled Cathy to grip the lowered cord. There was no real security in this and Cathy wondered why the rescuer expected her to climb the long line without his trained assistance? He must know what he is doing, she thought. So she dragged herself upward, as her weight caused an exponential strain on her arms.                                                 

Something oozed from the wound on her heel, liquid that trickled on the rope she was holding. Without looking down, Cathy distinctively knew the safety line was burning. It sizzled, igniting in an upward swish. Cathy released her grip as the surge disintegrated any hope of extrication, landing back in the water just in time to see the helicopter blow.

The explosion vibrated the heavens above, a thick cloud of black and orange that regurgitated debris into the ocean’s gaping mouth. She was horrified, and felt almost more terror than she had during the crash.

Climbing once again upon her floating bed, Cathy inhaled death, as if on the killing fields of war time. She let the rhythm of the sea induce a cathartic mediation between shock and despair. As she drifted, the sky and sea merged together in a blurred union of shared despondency.

As time passed, Cathy permitted thoughts of hopelessness to infiltrate her pensive mind-space. Aimlessly the wreckage carried her body without her adjoining spirit. Hours swallowed one another as twilight’s darkened cloak commanded center stage. Cathy flowed with the calming tide, discombobulated but not ready to die. She got up and scanned the great big blue. Land protruded from the horizon, an island, somewhere to moor at least. Cathy began to frantically paddle when she saw people.


Her eyelids fluttered, unstuck and adjusted. Cathy was in a clinical hospital bedroom. She tried to recollect her last memory. The crash, Yolanda, the jellied quill, the open sea…

She felt an itch on her ankle. She tried to reach down to scratch but realized that her wrist was handcuffed to the metal bar of the hospital bed. Cathy screamed for help until her throat ached. No one came.

Outside the room in another part of the clinic, researchers worked tirelessly on tissue taken from Cathy’s foot. It was a breakthrough they’d been waiting for! A seminal outcome! A survivor to experiment on. Soon, they would emulate the foreign source and derive its unique power for their own gain. The health of the patient was collateral damage. She would die from an incurable infection.

Cathy closed her eyes, stuck, unadjusted, and eternally blank.

Paula Guildea (a writer of fiction, women’s, young adult, and short stories), uses many themes to compel the reader. Her books pull at the heart strings, while each short story aspires to make unusual topics believable. A self-published author, waiting for that email, she lives in Ireland while attended University at Maynooth, Co. Kildare.

Paula loves coffee and reading classical literature.