Mary Reilly jostled awake, buffeted in her seat by a burst of turbulence that shook the airplane like a tennis ball gripped in the jaws of a playful dog. A flash of lightning from the storm outside temporarily illuminated the plane's interior, affording a momentary glimpse of her sleeping husband in the window seat to her left. She turned to face the other way, pulling the tiny airline pillow over her ears in a futile attempt to block out the persistent droning of his snores, and tried unsuccessfully to fall back asleep.Unlike her husband-who'd somehow managed to sleep for nearly the entire duration of their redeye flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles-she'd never been able to sleep easily on planes. The tempest raging outside-which had flared up suddenly and now seemed to rage with unnatural intensity-only served to exacerbate her disquieted restlessness. Resigned to the inevitability that sleep would elude her, she looked across the aisle to where their 12 year old son, Robbie, was supposed to be, but perked up when she saw that his seat was empty. Guessing that he must have gone to the bathroom, she closed her eyes and tried again to settle in and get comfortable. When Robbie still hadn't returned after several minutes, the restless woman sat up and stared up the aisle toward the restrooms in the back of the plane. A claustrophobic sense of anxiety swelled within her while she waited, and when it became too much to ignore, she tried shaking her husband awake. A snore lodged in his throat when he finally stirred, gazing up at his wife with irritation. "Mary . . . I'm sleeping!" "Robbie's not in his seat," she informed him. "Christ sake, Mary," he grumbled, pulling the flimsy airline blanket covering him over his shoulder as he repositioned himself. "He's probably in the bathroom." When her husband resumed snoring a few seconds later, she decided to check for herself. Unclasping her seatbelt, she stood up and tiptoed down the aisle past dozens of rows of sleeping passengers. As she approached the rear of the plane, she made eye contact with the pretty, brunette flight attendant seated there. "Is there something you need?" the pretty flight attendant asked, looking up from the paperback she was reading. "No, I'm fine," Mary replied, shifting her attention to the pair of restrooms positioned across the aisle from one other, both of which appeared to be unoccupied. Her throat tightened when she pushed open both doors, confirmed that both restrooms were empty. Now overtly concerned, she began making her way toward the front of the plane, slowly checking each row to see if her son had perhaps mistakenly sat in the wrong seat, but Robbie was nowhere to be found. Something else was disconcerting; the plane had been nearly full when they'd left Hong Kong; now there seemed to be an inordinate number of empty seats scattered throughout the plane. When she reached the front of the plane, she drew back the curtain partitioning coach from the first class section. But before she could step through she was intercepted by a middle-aged stewardess who blocked her path. "Miss-I'm terribly sorry, but this bathroom is for first class passengers only." "I'm looking for my son-he's not in his seat." "What does he look like?" "He's about this tall," Mary replied, holding her hand Robbie's approximate height from the floor. "Twelve years old, brown hair." Mary's heart sunk when she saw that the first class bathroom was empty. Ignoring the stewardess trailing her, she searched the opposite aisle of the 747, frantically checking each row for her son. By the time they reached the back of the plane, Mary was panic-stricken. "I need you to turn the lights on," she demanded. "We can't do that," the annoyed stewardess countered, folding her arms. "That would wake up the other passengers." "Listen to me . . . Carol," Mary snapped, pausing to read the older stewardess's nametag. "Do you honestly think I care about that right now?" Attracted by the sound of their argument, the younger stewardess Mary had spoken with earlier advanced down the aisle. "Miss… are you sure that your son was on this flight?" Mary gaped in disbelief. "Of course I'm sure!" The younger stewardess's shoulders slumped with embarrassment. "It's just that I've been working your section of plane the entire night, and I haven't noticed any twelve year-old boy seated near you." "That's preposterous," Mary stammered, suddenly feeling angry. "Are you honestly suggesting that I don't know if my son accompanied me on this flight?" When neither of them responded, she added: "My husband-he'll tell you." Pivoting, she stomped down the aisle toward her family's seats, freezing when she got to their row; her husband's seat was now empty. None of his belongings were visible-not even the newspaper he'd deposited in the seatback pouch in front of him after he'd finished reading. Carol the stewardess's eyebrow raised in agitation. "Well?" "He was just right here. He must be walking around." "There's nobody walking around except for you," Carol interrupted. "The rest of the passengers are all asleep." "His bags," Mary responded. "They're right here in the overhead bin." Forcing her way past the incredulous stewardess, she flung open the compartment where they'd stashed their carry-ons after boarding the plane. Her knees buckled when she saw that the compartment was empty except for her bag. A murmur of confusion broke out between the two stewardesses before Carol took charge. "Ma'am-I'm going to have to ask you to return to your seat before you cause a disturbance. The other passengers . . ." "My son and husband are missing," Mary hissed. "If you don't turn on the lights right now, I'll cause a real disturbance!" She jerked free when a middle-aged man put his hands on her shoulders: "Get your hands off of me!" "Frank Adams, federal marshal," he identified before turning his attention to Carol. "What's going on?" "This woman claims that her son and husband are missing," she replied. "But none of us remembers them being on board." "The lights," Mary moaned. "Please turn on the lights." After a moment's consideration, the marshal nodded, and the older stewardess huffed away shaking her head. When the lights came on a few moments later, Mary looked around frantically, ignoring the groans of several awakening passengers stirring in their seats. Mary hastened down the aisle, ignoring both the marshal and the first class stewardess admonishing her to return to her seat. When she got to the front of the plane, she turned to face them, eyes wild with fear as another gust of turbulence from the powerful storm again shook the plane. "Miss," Carol pleaded. "If you don't return to your seat at once and calm down, I'll have no choice but to ask the marshal to take you into custody once we land." "Don't you see?" Mary responded, gesturing to the empty seats throughout the plane. "The plane was full when we left Hong Kong-look how many seats are empty now!" The skeptical stewardess paused to look around, her face tightening when she noticed the amount of vacant seats interspersed throughout the plane. But before she could comment, the marshal interrupted this train of thought. "Why don't you go get the passenger manifest so we can get to the bottom of this," he suggested before turning to guide the hysterical woman back to her seat. Ignoring the empty seats, Carol hurried to her station at the front of the plane, where she located the clipboard containing the passenger manifest. She flipped through several pages until she located the row where the woman was sitting and traced her finger across the list. Besides the name "Mary Reilly," the other three seats in the row were listed as unsold. Feeling foolish, she trudged down the aisle, doing her best to ignore the many seats she passed that now seemed conspicuously unoccupied. But when she approached Mary's row, she was irritated to see that the agitated woman still wasn't seated. "What now?" she growled, whisking toward the back of the plane to find the marshal. She was surprised to discover him sitting in his seat, casually thumbing through a magazine. "Hey Frank-where'd you stash that troublemaker?" Her skin went cold when the marshal glanced up with a look of confusion. "What troublemaker?" "The woman in 47-C," she replied. "The one who said her husband and son were missing-Mary Reilly." The puzzled marshal's face wrinkled. "Who?" Confused, Carol gaze descended to her clipboard to locate Mary Reilly's name. She lost her place when another burst of turbulence caused the plane's lights to dim. When they flickered back on seconds later, she was stunned to see that the woman's name had disappeared from the passenger manifest. Mouth agape, she looked up and dropped the clipboard when she saw that the marshal was no longer seated in front of her.
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I don't fly any more. I flew a lot when I was younger and was terrified each time. A white-knuckle passenger, I several times shuddered my way through a flight from Kennedy to Dhahran (13 hours non-stop). That one is no longer flown, but that's why this story struck me as horrifying. It's a dark, modern nightmare to warm you these cold February nights. No. Don't thank me. Instead drop a comment on our BBS. -GM