Alternative Endings by Justine Gardner

Alternative Endings
        for Pierce Gerety

In my simplest imaginings the plane
winks out on a finger snap
or at the end of a lightning spear:
Poof! a full manifest tugged out of the sky.

Here. Then not.

Or perhaps it is snipped free
by a clever splice of the reel:
the excision of 229 humans
with the swipe of an X-Acto blade.

The reality was not so simple;
it wasn’t even as direct
as an explosion, a killing instant,
leaving a scattered debris field
and rumors of a bomb.

No, not even as simple as that.

It was a fire.
And the fire spread
(here is where I want to stop imagining)
and the pilot prepared the crew, and
the crew prepared the cabin,
giving him enough time
to look out the window, to watch
the approaching gray-black water
and think: my wife, my sons, my daughter
before the impact that
        no life vest
        no oxygen mask
        no emergency light
        no inflatable slide
        into the ocean
will mitigate.

When we finally get there,
to the real vanishing act,
it is soured, an anxious taste
already in our throats
from swallowing the portent,
the knowing,
the terrible five minutes of knowing
after everything we’ve done
and been through,
this is how it ends?

Justine Gardner is a writer and poet who divides her time between her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, and a creaky little house in the northern Catskill Mountains. Her work has been published in a variety of online and print journals, such as The Wild Word, Lucent Dreaming, Prospectus, House of Zolo, and Ligeia. Her short story “Collapse” won the Sunlight Press 2021 flash fiction contest. Find her on Twitter @JBGrumpstone or visit her website at

Editor’s Note & Image Credit: See the Memoriam for Pierce Gerety, about the September 2, 1998 crash of Swissair Flight111, and the inevitable according to NTSB. Image of a jet plane flying during sunset []