The Man in 24A by Laura Ren

He came on board in a matte black tuxedo, wearing sunglasses over his eyes. He reached a hand out of his pocket to hand me his ticket. Andrew Marsh, it read. Hazel eyes peered at me over the rim of his glasses. He smiled and licked his lips with the tip of his tongue so they glistened in the dim light of the cabin.

“Call me Drew,” he said. I blushed.

I stared at the slender tip of his nose. “Enjoy your flight.”

Why couldn’t I look in his eyes?

He walked his Allen Edmonds down the hall to his seat, 24A, lagging behind a young girl in pink overalls. I stayed behind and greeted the rest of the passengers coming through the door, then headed back to help the crew get ready for takeoff. He reached out and grabbed my arm as I passed him in the hall.

“Would you mind helping me put my bags up?” he asked. He eyed the spot where his skin touched my biceps and smiled. A strand of hair wandered across his forehead, as he let go of my arm and leaned back into his seat.

“Sure.” I leaned forward to grab his bag at his feet, and he leaned in toward me, so that I could feel his breath against my neck.

“You should call me some time,” he said. “You don’t want this airplane to be the last thing you give your time to.” He interlocked his fingers with mine around the brim of his black leather bag. His thumb slid a small card into my hand as he let go.

“There are plenty of things I already give my time to,” I said. I flexed as I lifted his leather bag over my shoulder and placed it in the overhead bin. His eyes drilled a hole in my crotch. “Is there any other way I can assist you?” I asked. I took a step back and dared look in his eyes. His smile brought a chill down my spine.

“Just promise when all this is done, you’ll call me,” he said. “I’ll be waiting for it.”

“I don’t make those kinds of promises,” I said, my heart caught in my throat.

“I think you’ll want to, when it’s all over.”

I squinted my eyes at him and turned to leave. He spoke about the flight like he’d purchased a ticket through the Apocalypse. When it’s all over. How absurd.

The seatbelt sign went on, and one of the other flight attendants instructed the passengers to put their seats in an upright position. I rushed down the hall to the back and prepared for takeoff.

He wasn’t in his seat when I passed with the food trolley a few minutes later. The crew hadn’t turned the seatbelt sign off. I searched down the hall for him, as I served the passengers in the seats around his. Maybe he’d gone to the bathroom.

I made a mental note to check for him, and finished passing out drinks, snacks, and reused blankets. The more people I attended, the more he faded into the background noise of the passengers snoring and chattering among themselves.

Midway through the flight, Megan, approached me in the hall. “Have you seen the guy in 24A?” she asked. “No one has seen him since takeoff, and he isn’t in any of the restrooms.”

Had Drew been gone this whole time? I ignored Megan in the hall and headed toward him.

When I got to his seat, his headphones hung from the audio jack, like he’d disappeared into thin air. Where did he go? I checked the overhead bin. The other luggage was arranged as if his leather bag had never been there.

Whispers filled the air as flight attendants walked up and down the halls, searching for the man in seat 24A. I asked the passengers around his seat, but most claimed they hadn’t seen him board the craft. Only the little girl in the pink overalls recalled the man in the tuxedo.

“Did you see him leave his seat?” I asked her. She glanced at his empty seat and then at her mother who sat beside her. I waited.

“He went under the seat,” she said. She pointed a tiny finger at the foot of his seat. A card like the one he’d placed in my hand earlier sat on the floor. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the first card, reading it for the first time. It had a phone number written in bold ink across the middle of one side, a red phoenix burned on the other.

He couldn’t have disappeared under his seat. The card could be a clue. I thanked the child for her help, and slid into Drew’s seat to grab the card he left behind.

“When it’s all over,” the card read in the same bold ink as the number on the other card. The other side held the same image of a phoenix. Some clue. Too bad there wasn’t any phone service 38,000 feet above the Earth. I looked over the first card again, as if the numbers held some secret code to his whereabouts.

I took out my cell phone and took it off of airplane mode. I poked the numbers in: 877-4355. My heart skipped when the first ring resonated, as if it came from the walls.

Ring… ring… ring…

Click.

“Hello,” Drew’s voice said.

“Mr. Marsh.” How did the call go through?

“I told you to call me Drew,” he said. “You should have waited…”

“…until this is all over,” I said. “Until what is over? Where are you?”

“That’s just too bad. I really liked you.”

The call ended with a click, and a flash – as if the craft had been struck by lightning – filled the cabin. Fire came from everywhere and engulfed every seat. My throat choked back a scream as red flames engulfed me.


American author Laura Ren was born Lorrain Acuna in 1995 on the island of Puerto Rico. She has written many short stories and poems throughout the years, performing in poetry jams and writing workshops during her time as a student at Antillean University in Puerto Rico.

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