Copyright J. S. Raynor 2017
Chapter Five : A disappearing act
The Airbus was flying at fifty thousand feet and was shortly to enter Florida airspace. Three hundred and fifty passengers were eagerly looking forward to touching down at Orlando airport, ready for their holiday in the sunshine state. “I’m sorry for the extreme turbulence we are experiencing. We should be through this shortly and preparing for touchdown at Orlando airport.” The captain’s calm voice over the plane’s speakers did not help to lessen the effects, as the aircraft frequently lurched and dropped, causing many passengers to bemoan their tortuous journey. The “fasten seat-belts” signs were illuminated and, unusually, nobody was even allowed to visit the toilets as a consequence of the violent turbulence, resulting in many complaints from the passengers who did not seem to appreciate the dangers of trying to walk along the aisles in such circumstances.
Even the cabin crew were instructed to remain at their stations until the turbulence had eased.
Alex was undaunted by the rocky ride and continued to read his magazines. Cassandra, on the other hand, was looking very uncomfortable, holding a sick bag and, even with her mother’s comforting tones was heaving relentlessly. Alex felt disgust at the girl’s constant retching and tried, unsuccessfully to ignore the situation.
Thankfully, the aircraft seemed to become steadier as the captain brought it to a lower altitude, ready for landing. “Cabin crew prepare for landing.” Thankful that they were able to continue their duties, the crew resumed their walks along the aisles, collecting cups and ensuring that all passengers were secured with their belts. “We will be landing at Orlando airport in approximately fifteen minutes and I would ask that all passengers remain in their seats until….” Alex thought it unusual for the captain’s message to be cut off in mid-sentence.
Suddenly, there was the sound of several trays clattering to the floor. Alex and several others looked along the aisle to see the trays, plastic drinking cups and their contents spread over the floor. In addition, there were several mounds of clothes which looked distinctly like those worn by the cabin crew.
At that instant, every adult in the plane had simply vanished. Seat belts hung loose as the mass of passengers instantly reduced to about eighty very frightened children. They looked around, horrified, as the realisation that they were now on their own dawned. Younger children, including several babies, were screaming in panic, while some of the older ones had unfastened their belts and were rushing along the aisles, looking for signs of any adults.
Alex, for the first time in the flight, felt a tinge of fear to discover that Cassandra’s mother had also disappeared in that same instant. The young girl was looking horrified. “Mummy! Where are you?” The only sign that her mother had even been there was the book and some clothes, now lying on the seat. Dan Brown’s book would never be read again, by this woman. The tearful girl looked at Alex. “Don’t just sit there, looking stupid! Where is my mummy?”
Alex shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know! How should I know?”
Struggling for an explanation, Cassandra said, “Did she go to the toilet?”
“No, she didn’t pass me. Look, her seat belt is still fastened and her clothes are on the seat! She must have just disappeared.”
“But, she can’t just disappear into thin air!”
Looking around, Alex reasoned, “She is not the only one to disappear.” The two unfastened their seat belts and stood up, looking around. “There are only children left on this plane. All the adults have simply vanished!” A terrible thought crossed Alex’s mind. “If there are no adults, then who’s flying this plane?” He started running towards the front of the craft, with Cassandra following not far behind.
“Wait for me!” Alex was the only person she had known during the flight and she was determined to stay close to him.
Some children were blocking the aisle, making it difficult for them to pass. “Get out of the way!” Alex shouted.
“What’s the rush?” This group of boys, aged about eight seemed oblivious to the dangers of the situation they were in.
“There’s probably no-one flying this plane, since all adults seemed to have vanished!” Alex shouted at them. “We will all die unless we do something!”
They immediately parted, letting Alex and Cassandra through. The situation in the first-class section was identical, with a few children nervously looking around. As the teenagers reached the front of the plane, the door to the flight deck was wide open, which surprised Alex. “Strange! I’m certain that this door is meant to be locked to prevent terrorist attacks, ever since nine eleven.”
Surprisingly, Cassandra had, what could be, a logical explanation. “Perhaps one of the cabin crew was leaving the flight deck when they disappeared. Look!” A stewardess’s uniform lay crumpled in the doorway, confirming Cassandra’s thought.
“You’re probably right.” The two ventured through the open door. As expected, there was no sign of any cabin crew. The uniforms of the flight captain and navigator lay untidily on the seats.
“Shit! We really are on our own!” It was very eerie to see the empty flight deck without anybody in control. The radio crackled, but there were no voices communicating. Alex removed the clothes and picked up the headset resting on the captain’s seat and placed it on his head. “Hello! Can anybody hear me?” No reply. Only a low crackle and a great deal of static could be heard. The mass of complicated instruments and controls in front of Alex proved too much for him to comprehend. He had flown simulators on his play stations, but, in the real world, they would be of little help. Glancing around the instruments, he spotted the altimeter. It indicated that they were now only three thousand feet high and dropping steadily.
“It must be on auto-pilot, but I don’t know if it can land without human control.”
“So, what can we do?” Cassandra asked, hoping that there was a solution to their predicament.
“I really don’t know what we can do!” Alex answered, honestly. “If only there was somebody on the ground who could tell me how to land, like they do in films. It looks as though the adults have disappeared completely – even those on the ground.”
Cassandra visibly shook with fear at the realisation that, in an instant, her whole life had changed and, without adult help, she could soon be dead.
Many thoughts were racing through Alex’s mind, desperately trying to think of a solution. The altimeter now indicated two thousand five hundred feet, suggesting a steady descent. He spotted the gauge indicating air speed of the craft. From the sound of the engines, the speed seemed to be dropping, confirmed by the reading. Two hundred and fifty knots air speed. Frustrated by the complexity of the controls, he ripped off the headset, throwing it down.
“I’m quite certain that the plane will catch fire on landing, so, perhaps the best thing to do is get out before we crash.”
“Jump? Without a parachute? Are you mad?” Cassandra looked horrified at the thought.
“We really don’t have much choice. It’s either jump or burn!” He had a sudden thought, turned to Cassandra and said, “Listen, if you want to survive, then help me. Just keep an eye on this meter and shout the readings out every time it changes, Okay?” Meekly, she nodded. “And, when the reading reaches a thousand feet, run into the cabin and find me. I’ll be near an emergency exit.” Alex’s survival instinct kicked in as he rushed out of the flight deck, back into the main cabin area. He very soon realised that, with the noise inside the aircraft, he would have difficulty hearing Cassandra’s voice.
Quickly looking around the cabin, he spotted a boy of similar age to himself. The teenager, who was quite well-built and had a shock of ginger hair, appeared to be deep in thought, seemingly unaware of their precarious situation. “Hey, come here!”
The boy looked surprised. “Me?”
“Yes. Quickly, come here!” As he approached, Alex said, in a firm voice, “Listen, if we don’t do something quickly, we will all die. You can help by listening to Cassandra, the girl in the flight deck, shouting our altitude. When you hear what she says, repeat it, as loud as you can, so that I can hear you. Understand?” The boy nodded. “Good!” Alex looked for the emergency exits, trying to find the first to be well clear of the wings, since, with all the fuel stored within them, they would explode like a bomb on impact.
Once Alex had decided which was the safest exit, he quickly scanned the directions printed near to the door. He felt that the door should not be opened until they were less than a thousand feet above ground level. Above this height, the difference in air pressure would result in everything loose being sucked out of the craft. Alex strained his ears to listen for the boy to shout the altitude.
“One thousand seven hundred feet.” Alex kept listening as he carefully studied the instructions on the emergency exit. “One thousand, five hundred feet.”
Alex realised that he was the only person doing something to avoid certain death and called out, “Listen, everybody!” Heads turned towards him as he shouted to make his voice heard. “This plane is going to crash in a few minutes because ALL the adults have disappeared. If you want to survive, come over here!” Some children ignored him yet most came close.
One boy, who looked about ten years old, asked, “What is your plan? Can you fly this plane?”
“No, I can’t. The only way we can escape is to jump, when the time is right.” Most of the children looked aghast at the thought of jumping out of the plane. Seeing their expressions, Alex shouted, “It is your only chance! If you stay here, then you will definitely die!”
“One thousand, two hundred feet.” The time for action was drawing near and Alex, like all the other children, felt anxious about their chances of survival. Within seconds, Cassandra ran out of the flight deck towards Alex and a growing group of children. The boy who had been repeating the altitude followed close by. With grim determination, Alex began to turn the handle on the inside of the emergency exit. The force of the wind coming through the opening nearly blew him off his feet. The door was now open fully, displaying what, under any other circumstance, would be considered a picturesque scene. Many coloured lights sparkled in the darkness below them.
In an effort to help as many children as possible to survive, Alex shouted, trying to make his voice heard above the sound of the rushing wind. “I’ll tell you when to jump. As soon as you are out of the plane, grab your legs and try to keep in a ball shape – you stand a better chance of survival in this position.” Playing the many adventure games on his play stations was proving useful, as he remembered one game where commandos had to jump without parachutes. He just hoped that, in the real world, the technique may just help to save their lives.
The children around him still looked uncertain, but Alex knew that, in just a few minutes, the aircraft would smash violently into the ground and the chances of surviving such a crash would be nil.
The boy who had been shouting the altitudes stepped forward. “I’ll go first.”
Alex breathed a sigh of relief that somebody was willing to take a chance and, hopefully, encourage the others to follow.
“Thanks. What’s your name?”
“Charles. Charles Bradbury.”
Alex could see the fear in his eyes and knew how much courage the boy must have to volunteer. “Right, thanks, Charles.” Alex looked again through the open exit and guessed that they must only be a few hundred feet above ground. “Okay, Charles. Stand near to the edge and, when you are ready, jump and I wish you luck.”
Charles stood as close as he dared to the edge and looked down. His legs began to shake with fear, but, he knew that, the longer he stayed there, the more difficult it would be for the other children to survive. Plucking up courage, he jumped, letting out a scream as he hurtled downwards.
“Come on, now. We don’t have much time left.” A few children moved towards the door and each, in turn, followed Charles in swift descent. Alex knew that some would die of injuries, but felt it still worth taking the risk. A few children were riveted to the spot and, it was painfully obvious, that they could not jump. Somehow, he felt responsible for all these children who were doomed to die within a matter of minutes, but knew that nothing he could do would save them. He just hoped that their end would be swift.
Alex noticed that Cassandra was holding a baby in her arms. She saw the question in Alex’s face. “I can’t leave a defenceless baby to die. I’ll hold her when I jump.”
His impression of Cassandra had changed dramatically over the past few minutes. She had transformed from a spoiled child into a thoughtful, caring teenager. “Thanks, Cassy. That’s a great idea.” Alex looked around the few children left and picked up a boy, who was probably about three years old. He moved to the doorway, the infant struggling in his grip. “Come on, Cassy. Let’s jump together.” Smiling nervously, she moved to the side of the boy she had known for just a few hours. Alex could see the outline of buildings indicating that if they waited any longer, it would prove to be fateful. “Now!”
The two jumped at the same instant. The wind rushed passed their bodies as they hurtled downwards, still clutching the infants. Some of the remaining children followed them, but there were others too fearful to leave the aircraft. Alex was falling fast, many terrifying thoughts racing through his mind, unaware of just where he may fall. He knew that, even if it had been daytime, he would have no control over where he may land and just hoped that it would not be too bone-crushing an impact. He held tightly on to the toddler, who was screaming noisily. Then it happened. The impact on the water knocked the breath out of him and he nearly lost his grasp on the child. As he plunged under the water, he hit something hard, the impact sending him back to the surface. Keeping hold onto the clothing of the infant, he tried to swim, hoping to find the edge of the water. He soon found it and realised, with great relief, that he had fallen into a domestic swimming pool. “What fantastic luck!”, he thought as he dragged himself out of the water. He had just about managed to stand, when he threw himself to the ground as a terrific explosion rocked the earth. A huge ball of fire lit the night sky and Alex knew it must have been the plane on which he had been travelling. Alex’s body ached from the fall, but he was grateful that nothing was broken. He lifted the small boy and checked him for injuries, but he appeared to be alright.
He had to try and find the girl who after her fall, was, hopefully, still alive. “Cassy!” He called her name several times, but without any response. He knew that he could not just abandon her and began to walk further, still calling her name. He pricked his ears up as the sound of a baby crying could be heard not far away.
He followed the sound and walked through the gardens of several houses, holding on to the little boy, all the time looking for Cassy. At last, he saw the baby lying on the grass and screaming loudly. Just a few feet away lay the crumpled body of Cassy. He feared that she may be dead as he turned the girl onto her back.
The street lights illuminated her face, revealing several long scratches. Her eyes were closed, giving Alex slight relief that she may still be alive.
“Cassy!” She still lay motionless. Alex had an idea. He was still soaking after his fall into the pool and his thick, long hair was dripping wet. He squeezed his hair, gathering as much moisture as he could and let it drip onto Cassy’s face. The cold water did the trick and the girl’s eyes flickered open. “Cassy! Are you okay?”
As she moved, she flinched in obvious pain. “My back hurts”, she said in a weak voice. “All I remember was hitting the branches of a tree.” A sudden thought crossed her mind. “The baby! Where’s the baby?”
Alex picked up the still-crying baby and brought it near to Cassy, who was trying to sit up. “Oh, my back!”
“Take it easy, that was one hell of a fall, but the baby seems to be alright.” He handed the small child to Cassy, who was, by now, sitting upright.
The girl seemed genuinely grateful and looked at the still-dripping wet Alex. “What happened to you? Why are you so wet?”
Alex laughed. “I was fortunate enough to land in someone’s swimming pool, so, apart from being soaked, I’m fine.”
Seeing huge flames rising upwards in the distance, Cassy thought she knew the answer, but still asked, “Is that our plane?”
“Afraid so. Even if the auto-pilot was enough for it to land, there would be nobody to move aircraft already on the ground out of the way.”
Alex shuddered at the thought. “I just hoped those children managed to escape.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she said, “If it wasn’t for you, we would all be dead. Thank you so much, Alex.”
Embarrassed by this accolade, he mumbled, “It’s okay. We had to do something as long as there was a chance. Now, let’s see if you can stand. Here, I’ll hold the baby while you try.” He took the child and used his other arm to help lift the girl. She flinched with pain at every movement, but, gradually, she managed to stand upright. “Good! Hopefully, you are just badly bruised, but with nothing broken. Can you walk?”
She moved gingerly forward, a little unsteadily. “Yes, I feel that I will be alright. What do you think we should do?”
Alex looked around. “I think we should try these houses and rest for the night. We can decide what to do tomorrow.”
Cassy took back the baby, who was no longer crying and the four of them approached the front door of the nearest house. Alex hammered on the door, which aroused a vicious-sounding dog. The teenagers looked at each other. Alex shrugged his shoulders, saying, “I think we should try the house next door. Hopefully they won’t have a dog.” When they repeated the process next door, there was silence. Alex pushed the door, but it would not open. “Let’s try round the back of the house.” It was a great relief when the kitchen door opened to their push.
Lights were on, but, as expected, there was no sign of anybody. Cassy and Alex called out, hoping to find somebody in the house. There was still no response as they looked through each room. After a few minutes searching, Alex said, “I think there were retired people here. The wardrobe in the bedroom held clothes for both a man and a woman, but from their style, they must have been elderly.” A walking stick lying on the floor, next to a pile of clothes seemed to confirm this.
“I’m hungry!” The little boy who, until now had said nothing, obviously felt that someone should look after him by providing something to eat.
“There must be some food in the kitchen. Let’s have a look.” Thankfully the larder and fridge were well-stocked. The little boy, who seemed to be called Danny, was happy to eat several biscuits. Cassy found some milk for the infant, but had great difficulty feeding the baby without a bottle. The teenager used a small plastic cup, holding it to the mouth of the child. There were several spills, but Cassy felt it had been worthwhile. She felt that the baby, a girl, was about eight or nine months old.
I think we should try and sleep, ready for whatever tomorrow may bring”, Alex suggested. There were two bedrooms in the house and they decided the girls should sleep in one and the boys in the other.
Cassy’s blouse and jacket had been torn by the tree and, when she removed them, she used the dressing table mirrors to see long, painful scratches on her back. Alex hung his and the boy’s wet clothes to dry and climbed into the bed, telling Danny to try and sleep. Thankfully, it was quite warm and they all fell asleep quickly. Alex was not used to playing the part of a father and was disturbed in the night by Danny wanting to use the toilet.
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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