Gail awoke with a long, satisfactory yawn you get after a good night's sleep. She was on her back, looking up at the ceiling of the cabin. Everything was red. She adjusted her seat to the sitting position and brushed her hair out of her face. An attendant's pleasantly sedated voice came on the announcer informing passengers that the plane was about to touch down in DFW and to please fasten your seatbelts.
Gail was enjoying the scenery outside the window and the comfy first class pod when she suddenly remembered the stranger. She found a lump of fear quickly growing in the back of her throat. She slowly turned her head to the seat next to hers to find it, empty? Gail sank back into her seat in relief. Maybe it was a dream, she thought to herself, as she looked back out the window. But wait, why am I in first class? And why did I sleep?
These thoughts were put on hold as the plane entered its landing phaze. Gail buckled up and started sorting her carry-on. She was in the middle of looking for her ticket in her purse when it occurrred to her that no stwerdesses had come by to check up on her seat belt. In fact, no one had come by. Her mind flashed back to the last thing she remembered before passing out; the stranger's faded red eyes and the stewardess rushing towards her. No, that must have been a dream, she reassured herself.
Nonetheless, it was odd that she couldn't see anyone else around her. The pod next to her where she thought the stranger was sitting was empty and she could see the two pods in front of her had their curtains drawn up. She was starting to get the same feeling as when she walked behind the stranger in the airport, alone and alienated from everyone else. She leaned out of the pod and looked down the isle towards the flight attendant's landing and take-off seat. Empty.
She looked behind her, but it was the same. Both pods behind her had their curtains draw. Then, out of the corner of her eye Gail saw something that made that lump of fear come back stronger than before. A hand was poking out from behind the last pod in the back of the plane.
Gail quickly turned her head back, her thoughts racing. She then remembered the CALL button on the pod console and jammed it for dear life. However, there was no response, no blinking lights, no signs at all that the thing was operational. ****!
Taking 3 deep breaths Gail gathered the courage to unbuckle her seatbelt and stand up. She slowly started walking towards the hand, which was literally an uphill battle as the plane was now tilting for the landing. The cabin was not that large but walking towards the hand made each terrifying step feel like a week. Five steps away. Four steps. Two.
Gail's eyes widened when she saw the owner of the hand. It was the flight attendant that had rushed towards her as she was falling asleep. She was lying on the ground behind the pod with a very long, very wide, very red slit in her throat. There was a pool of blood around her seeping into the carpet. Gail screamed and rand to the nearby door, but to no avail. It was locked. She ran back the other way and tried the other door but it, too, was not budging. She went back to her seat and looked straight ahead.
She could try the other pods, but somehow, she knew that there was no one in them. She couldn't breathe normally with the adrenaline coursing through her veins and her heart pounding in her chest. She looked outside the window to see the ground fast approaching. Just a few more minutes and I'll be off this God damned plane. Just put this behind me. This thought and the view outside helped calm her down, or as calm as one can be sharing a cabin with a murdered woman.Gail eventually turned away from the window and back to the pod next to her, only to be face to face with the stranger. She screamed again. The man didn't respond, didn't flinch, didn't even move a muscle. He just sat there looking at her with his dead expression. His eyes had returned to their "normal" black.
Gail got up and started running to the other side of the cabin, but lost her balance and fell forward as the plane's wheels touched the ground. She didn't even see him move, but somehow the stranger was right behind her. He effortlessly picked her up and carried her back to her seat.
"Who the **** are you!?" Gail screamed at the stranger.
The stranger made no response. The only sound that could be hear was the dull humming of the air conditioning and the sound of the engine.
The plane came to a halt and the seatbelt sign overhead faded. Gail felt a small glimmer of hope and relief. Without breaking eye contact with the stranger, Gail very slowly reached for and picked up her purse. She then stood up, and started to edge slowly towards the exit.
"Stop," said the stranger's raspy voice as Gail came within arm's reach of the door handle. She stopped dead. "We will leave together. And you will hold my hand and you will smile."
Gail just stood there, looking at the handle. Salvation was so close, and yet she couldn't reach out and grab it. "You will do this," the stranger said emotionlessly, "or I will kill you. I will kill your Aunt Jane. And then I will kill anyone else you ever loved. I will make them hurt, and I will make them suffer. And it will be long, very very long."
Gail felt mortified and defeated and lost. A wave of sadness and disgust washed over her in a second. All her will had been cast aside somewhere to be replaced by an empty void. She slowly turned around, came back, and took the stranger's hand.
When they got to the terminal they quickly exited the plane and the airport, with the stranger carrying all of her and his luggage in one hand. She realized that it would have been quite a comical sight to see a man with four large suitcases walking in one hand, but her sense of humor wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment. She did, however, hope that this sight would bring them attention and give her a chance to run away. But, as in Chicago, so here too, the stranger seemed to be projecting his barrier of inconspicuousness. No one even batted an eye.
Gail's hopes sank further when they walked out of the airport building without incident. Heading toward the parking building, Gail was disgusted to feel something slithering beneath the stranger's gloves. It felt like a ball bearing or something had rolled up his hand, not at all dissimilar to what she'd seen on the man's back in O'Hare.
The stranger suddenly stopped in the middle of the ramp connecting the second and third floors and looked back where they had come from. A man was approaching them from behind.
"Hey, you!" He called out to them, "hey, stop!"
Gail's hope came back. Finally, someone's going to take care of this lunatic. The man was tall and of good build, wearing faded jeans and a plaid blue shirt. He started walking towards them and picking up speed.
"Help me!" Gail called out, "this guy has me against my will. He's dangerous, I think he killed a flight attendant."
The man took out something from his back pocket and turned his quick walk into a run. Something popped out of whatever the man was carrying and Gail caught a flicker of light reflecting off the knife's blade. The man was closing in. He'd be there in no time, now. The stranger did nothing. He didn't run, didn't pull out his own weapon, he didn't even blink.
Plaid shirt was almost there, Gail smiled in relief. Thank God. She happened to blink right as the man lunged and opened her eyes to be looking at the tip of a knife, pointed right at her, poking through the back of the stranger's glove. A small bead of blood rolled down from the glove where the knife had penetrated the stranger's hand and dropped silently onto Gail's luggage below.
Time was frozen. What the **** is going on here? This guy's after me!? Without letting go of Gail's hand, the stranger kicked the assailant in the midsection and pulled the knife out of his hand with his teeth. In a split second, he grabbed the still-stunned assailant's jaw and slammed him head first into the asphalt. Not letting go, the stranger continued to press down on the man's head and jaw until Gail thought she heard a sound like a potato chip being crunched under a pillow. The man did not move again.
The stranger stood back up, his eyes having the same red glow Gail had seen on the airplane. He picked up their luggage with his injured hand and continued walking in the same direction as before, dragging the shocked Gail along.
"What the hell was that?" She was finally able to say.
"What's happening here, Goddammit!" she screamed at him.
Nothing. Gail tried to collect her thoughts and think about the order of events that had occurred.
She couldn't believe what she was about to say, "are you protecting me?"
"So that means that the flight attendant on the plane."
"Then why the hell did you say you'd kill me and my family?!"
The stranger stopped walking, "fear elicits cooperation much faster than gaining trust."
"I can't believe you would say such a thing to someone you're trying to protect," Gail said in disgust, "you are awful."
The stranger didn't say anything. They stood in the silent parking lot for some time. "Well, thank you for saving me," Gail said finally, "but who are these people? And why are you protecting me?"
The stranger opened his mouth to speak and Gail could see that his teeth had turned back into normal-looking white teeth. "I took a pledge."