“Emma, let go of me!” Mum cried, letting go of my hand. “Just follow me, my God, you don’t have to hold onto me. You’re fourteen now. Enough of this,” she spat out coldly.
I inhaled sharply as my heart began to pound against my chest. Thump thump, thump thump. I closed my eyes and exhaled, frustrated.
“Emma. You can’t just stop in the middle of the hall like that. Come on.”
I snapped out of it and hustled forward, pulling my suitcase with white knuckles. Just before I reached Mum, a man in a suit whizzed past me, knocking me over. I fell, taking my suitcase down with me, and I could only watch as all of its contents spilled out onto the dirty airport floor. Holding back hot tears, I gathered my things as quickly as I could with my shaky hands. Before I knew it, Mum was before me.
“Good God, Emma, we are going to miss our flight.” She let out an exasperated sigh before leaning over to help me gather my stuff. I could feel the other travellers’ eyes on me as I stumbled to get up. Eventually I returned to walking down the slick hallway, packed suitcase in tow.
I have always hated airports. The noise, the constant crowds, the many opportunities to get lost, the stress of making it on time, the feeling of being out of control. Most of the time when I’m here I feel like I can’t breathe, and I can barely walk on my own without holding Mum’s hand. Mum tells me that’s moronic. I’m a big girl now, and I should be able to handle this. I’m just being dramatic. Daddy doesn’t say anything to me about it at all.
I tried to focus on the clacking of Mum’s boots against the floor. Anything to keep me distracted. Thump thump, clack clack. I watched Mum walk gracefully, her blonde hair bouncing across her back, her outfit impeccable. Daddy was nowhere to be found. He left as soon as she started yelling about how his loafers didn’t match his khakis, in the middle of security. I assumed he was already at the gate, waiting patiently, Mum’s favorite Starbucks latte in his hand. She would take it without a word and sip it tepidly, making a comment about how it was too sweet or too this or too that. Then she would finish the drink despite her quips, and make the occasional civil comment to Daddy. That’s about as loving as Mum and Daddy get.
“Gate 24, gate 24, over this way,” Mum muttered to herself. I could only hear her because I had turned all of my attention to her, focusing on her every move. I let my peripheral vision blur and stared straight down to the end of the tunnel where Mum stood.
I find myself slipping away like this sometimes. I guess it’s a way I deal with my surroundings when I’m about to panic. I stopped telling Mum about it a long time ago. She told me it wasn’t real, and that I just need to drink more water. I wonder if she may be right and take a long sip from my bottle. Thump, thump.
In what feels like eons later, we arrive at the correct gate and I feel parts of my body begin to loosen. I relax my shoulders the smallest bit and release my clenched jaw. Once we get to the gate I am usually able to get a grip. I wish I knew what was wrong with me.
I sigh and attempt to find a seat, as we have about a half an hour before boarding. I spot a bunch of empty seats near the window, overlooking the grim and gray day, and sit myself down on the plush blue chair. Mum follows me and sits, sighing. She crosses her legs and closes her eyes, rolling her head back. I know better than to talk to her at times like this. She’ll be upset until Daddy comes over. Where is he? Usually, he would have met up with us by now. Thump, thump.
Fifteen minutes later, I consider waking Mum up, as she had drifted off. We would begin boarding soon and Daddy was still nowhere to be found. This has never happened before. I looked down to my hands, folded in my lap to keep them from shaking. Thump, thump. I squeezed my hands until my knuckles turned white and took a steeling breath. If I did not wake her now, Daddy may never find us. I readied myself and tapped her lightly on the shoulder, bracing myself. She stirred, and slowly opened her deep blue eyes that unfortunately, I had not inherited.
“Em, what is it?” Mum asked. She sounded more worn out than angry. “Where’s Dad?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I woke you. We’re boarding soon, and he’s still not here.”
She exhaled sharply through her nostrils and rolled her eyes. “I guess I need to find him. I’ll bet he’s in line for food or a drink,” Mum stood, smoothing out her blouse. “I’ll be back, and if I’m not before you get called, just board.” With that, she walked briskly away and back into the crowded terminal hall.
I gasped, just now realizing what Mum had said to me. I may have to board the plane alone. How could she ask me to do that? I felt my face heat and my palms grow clammy in my lap. I tapped my right foot against the floor and tried to stay calm. Thump thump, tap tap. I heard the stewardess come on the loudspeaker from her desk at the front of the gate.
“All rows, please begin boarding. All rows, please,” she said, sounding cheerful. I began taking my ticket out of my carry on and frowned. Why would they board all at once? I glanced around and saw that others were rising and heading to board, so I figured I should just do the same. Sighing, I stood up and smoothed out my wrinkled shirt. I squeezed my hands in and out of fists to give them something to do. Thump thump, squeeze squeeze. I could feel my vision begin to blur. I took a haggard breath and tried to ignore the adults and families giving me sideways glances. Mum and Daddy will be here soon. Mum would never miss her flight. They would never leave me. I took another quick sip of water. Thump.
“Ticket, please,” the stewardess asked when I reached the desk. I looked up at her and saw a smiling young woman, her teeth so white they were almost blue. She was blonde and wearing typical flight attendant attire. She made eye contact with me and I noticed her steely gray irises. As I looked at her, her eyes seemed to turn a deep, dark purple. Thump, thump. I gasped audibly and blinked, hard. My vision began to tunnel and I could barely hold my ticket with my shaking hands.
“Uh, here,” I mumbled, shoving the crumpled paper at her.
She continued smiling and looking at me as if nothing had happened. “Thank you! Have a great flight.”
I nodded and tried to muster a smile.
“Thank you! Have a great flight,” she crooned again. I frowned, but didn’t think anything of it and just gathered my bag, preparing to walk out to the plane. Hopefully Mum and Daddy were close behind. I focused solely on the sound of my feet hitting the runway as I walked, following the man ahead of me.
We came to the door of the plane and I entered, ducking. There was another flight attendant there to greet us passengers at the beginning of the aisle. She wore the same tacky getup as the first woman and sported the same toothy smile. I simpered back, sans teeth, and was about to make my way down the aisle when she rested a cool hand on my shoulder. I looked at her more closely and saw she had long auburn waves and the same gray eyes I had just encountered.
“Have a great flight!” she sang cheerfully. I watched in awe as her eyes twisted and were replaced with deep plum irises. “Have a great flight!”
I shrugged away from her touch and practically ran down the aisle, my vision blurring and spinning. I got to my row, fifteen, and collapsed into the window seat, breathing hard. Thump thump, thump thump. I sat back and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to get my breathing back under control.
“What is happening to me?” I whispered to nobody at all. “What is wrong with me?”
I felt another person slide into the seat next to me. Not Mum or Daddy, though. He was a tall, thin man with salt and pepper hair and tanned skin. He looked to be about 45, with deep set laugh lines around his eyes.
“Where are your parents, little lady?” he asked kindly.
“Oh, uhm, they’re coming,” I responded softly, feeling my body loosen. I looked around and saw that the plane was fairly full, with more people boarding. Mum and Daddy are surely coming soon, or already sitting down up front. I exhaled, finally feeling an eerie sense of relaxation I had never experienced in a ‘panic zone’ before. I closed my eyes and awaited takeoff, reassured that the nice man next to me would help me if I so needed. Just as I settled in, the auburn haired stewardess came on the intercom with an announcement.
“Hello, everyone. Now that we’re all settled in, we will be taking off briefly. We are missing two flyers but we have been alerted that they are not going to be travelling with us today, so the lucky few of you that can spread out are welcome to. Thank you. Please fasten your seatbelt.”
I gasped. Mum and Daddy might not be on the flight? What happened? Is it even them? I started hyperventilating, all shreds of my previously calm self gone. I gripped my seat and felt my heart pound out of my chest. Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump.
“You okay, there?” the man next to me asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
I struggled for words but could not find any. “Uh, uh, I-” I tapped my leg violently and squeezed my seat harder, until my hands felt raw. “I need, I need…” I faltered, spotting a flight attendant walking down the aisle. I undid my seatbelt and stood up so quickly my head spun.
“Excuse me, excuse me!” I cried at her, hearing the desperation and delirium seeping into my own voice. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. “Who are the missing passengers?”
“Not missing, sweetheart,” she replied calmly and slowly, baring a sickly sweet smile. “They decided not to come. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Walker Prescott.”
“Mum and Daddy, that’s Mum and Daddy!” I screeched. “I have to go, I can’t be here, I need to leave right now right now right now,” I screamed, rushing out of my seat and into the aisle. Just as I got there, she laid an icy hand on my shoulder. I tried to break free but her sharp nails tightened their grip, piercing through my shirt. Thump, thump.
“No. You’re not going anywhere. This flight is taking off… right… now,” she said, holding onto me even harder as I struggled, my stomach dropping as the plane accelerated. How is she so strong? “Have a nice flight!” she pushed me away, and I landed back in my seat, letting out a yelp. She stretched her arm out and I watched, awe struck, as it grew longer and longer to reach my seatbelt. I struggled mightily, but she buckled it for me, striking me with a piercing, purple-eyed glance. I felt hot tears of frustration and terror fall down my cheeks. “Nice and secure. You’re not going anywhere. You’re one of us now.”
I let out a blood-curdling scream as she turned on her heel and walked away. “Did you see that?” I cried, turning to the man next to me, my watery eyes as wide as saucers.
“See what?” he asked, smiling. “I didn’t see anything at all.” I felt my hands go numb as his deep chocolate eyes morphed into a familiar purple. “You’re safe with us, little one.”
Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thumpthumpthumpthump.