April 21st, 2010
"Is everyone ready? Got all your stuff, money, whatever else you need?" Sarah Cotty, senior government teacher, class trip chaperone, 24-year-old travel hater asked the 25 seniors on the bus.
She received mumbled replies and took that as a yes. "Alright Dave, let's hit the road," she told the bus driver with absolutely no enthusiasm.
It was 3 am, and she was tired from grading, packing, and planning to be ready for the five-day, six-night trip to New York. But sleep wouldn't be a choice on this trip. The kids had been talking about going to New York with their favorite teacher for the past month, and she knew her job as chaperone would not be an easy one. Sure, she had two sets of parents with her, but they were going for personal reasons and she knew it. When she had purchased theatre tickets and museum passes they didn't want any for themselves. It would save money they claimed. Yeah, right.
Admittedly, although she didn't enjoy travel, she was looking forward to this trip, but wouldn't let the students see that. She was quite fond of this class, and they had helped her through a rough year. Fresh out of a nasty divorce, she needed the distraction they provided. As strange as she felt about it, she had really bonded with a few of these kids. Especially a couple of boys and one girl. She wouldn't admit it to anyone, but she wished frequently she could be younger so she could be friends with them, instead of teacher to student. Matt, Bryce, and Teigan had been involved in every extra-curricular activity she coordinated as well as her classes, and she enjoyed her conversations with them. They seemed older than eighteen and she felt younger than 24.
She settled into her seat in the front of the bus. She would have to go back and check on the students in a little while, but for now she wanted to get herself settled. A thermos of coffee and a muffin were calling her name. She had fought with herself a lot lately on her eating habits. The divorce prompted a good hard look at the extra 30 pounds she had put on during her 2-year marriage, and she had lost about 15 of it now. She intended to keep it off. A muffin wasn't her typical 3 am choice, but at 3 am choices go out the window.
The bus pulled out onto the interstate. A two-hour drive followed by a 7 am flight to New York City and then the real fun would begin. Finding the shuttle to the hotel, figuring out rooms, and getting their first day underway all scared the crap out of her. She was not an organized person and she worried the parents would complain about her handling of the kids. Not that they weren't good kids, but she was the adult and sometimes they forgot that. So did she. She could hear shuffling behind her and the light of an iPod being used as a flashlight approached her.
"Mrs. Cotty, I think I forgot my phone charger," Molly, an irresponsible senior, whispered at her in the dark, her face illuminated blue from her makeshift flashlight. And let it begin, Sarah thought. "Well Molly, we're not going back for that, so hopefully you can borrow someone else's or go without for a week." " 'Kay."
As Molly returned to her seat Sarah took a bite of her muffin. She thought she could practically hear Molly's texting language now. OMG, forgot my charger, mite b wo phone soon.She was only six years older, but she had a grasp on living without technology. She often thought it was funny how the kids lived such virtual lives they sometimes missed out on the beauty of real life.
Laughter came tinkling up to her from the back of the bus. Damn it, she thought, I guess I better see what's going on. She got up and made her way to the back of the bus, carefully holding on to the seats. Falling was not something she needed, plus it would make her look stupid. As she passed the parent chaperones she noticed they were already asleep.
"Hey beautiful," Bryce said as she walked by.
She couldn't help but smile despite herself. Who wouldn't smile? "I bet I look really beautiful in the middle of the night."
"I think so. You can hang out with me in the middle of the night whenever you want," he teased. It was harmful flirtation, and she set him up for it, and knew it. She loved it and hated it at the same time. Tread lightly, Sarah, she thought to herself. They were hormonal young boys and she was a mysterious, experienced, single older woman to them. But she did consider Bryce a friend.
"I saved a spot for you right here," he continued.
"Well you just keep it saved. I need to see what's happening back here." She continued her mission to the back of the bus. Reaching the final four seats she asked, "So what's going on back here?"
"Nothing Mrs. C," replied one of the boys. "We are just excited to go to NYC. Aren't you?"
"Sure. It was exactly what I planned to do over my birthday weekend. Hang out with you people. Just keep it clean back here, literally and figuratively."
"Of course," he replied with a smirk on his face.
She headed back up to the front of the bus. She wondered if Bryce would be waiting for her. She was almost to his aisle when he stuck out his leg. She bumped into it.
"Excuse me, I would like to reach my seat now."
"I thought you were going to sit by me. I wanted to talk to you."
"About what?" she asked, sitting down in the seat next to him still hating and loving every minute of being around him.
"So what are we going to do first in the big city?" This was pointless conversation and they both knew it.
"I am pretty sure I gave you an itinerary. Didn't you look at it?"
"Yeah, but no. I saw what it was then left it on my desk. I figured I would just follow you around."
"Well that's what you will do pretty much, with the exception of a few hours of free time each day."
"You seemed stressed. Does this stress you out?" He seemed genuinely concerned, which she didn't doubt he was.
She couldn't help but bait him again, "Going on the trip or talking to you?"
"Both." He was staring at her in that uncanny way that some people have. Slight grin crossing the lips, a live fire in the eyes, and a constant, nearly tangible pressure crossing the air between them - it was almost like being next to a high voltage electrical box.
She could feel the tension building in the conversation and needed to get out of it.
"No, I'm just tired I guess. I think I'll go up front and try to get some sleep," she replied, but thought: Yes the stress of it all is too much, you and the trip.
He put his hand on her leg, "Ok, you deserve it. Talk to you later." His hand lingered just a little longer than it needed to, in fact it didn't need to be there at all, and then he pulled away. She got up and headed up front, wondering what her butt looked like in this old pair of jeans, and feeling guilty the whole time. I am not doing anything wrong. I left without doing anything wrong or letting him go too far, so if he looks at my butt, so what? she told herself.
She sat down in the front seat and checked the distance. Only 100 miles to go. She put her earbuds in and turned on some music. If the kids were going to be messing around in back she didn't want to know about it. She closed her eyes and surprisingly within minutes she was softly sleeping.
He let her go to her seat. He didn't really believe she was tired, but she did not want to talk to him anymore. He watched her go, admiring how she carried herself. If he could get her drunk or something he knew he could seduce her and then he would be immortalized amongst his friends. He could picture it now, in too much detail actually. He wondered if he would actually want her if he could have her. He considered himself more mature than his classmates, and a bunch of them would take advantage of Mrs. Cotty if they could; she wasn't bad looking and she was actually really cool, not like highschool girls. And another question lingered in his mind, would he actually tell anyone about it if he did anything with her? He didn't think he would. He genuinely liked her, and he would ruin her life if anything happened and anyone found out. And what then, would he have a secret relationship with her or would it be weird? It would probably definitely be weird, but would it be worth it?
As he considered these things Matt tapped him on the shoulder. Matt was Bryce's best friend and knew he had feelings for Mrs. Cotty; in fact, Matt had feelings for her too, but didn't have the charm that Bryce did, but he did have a girlfriend of two years who wasn't with him. Matt was the kid of the two of them.
"How wasted do you think Mrs. Cotty is going to get in New York? I bet she drinks on the plane. Maybe she'll buy us some if you ask her. She likes you most," he teased Bryce. Matt was the typical eighteen year old boy. Most of his conversations were about getting wasted, getting laid, or getting to the state championship. He played basketball and golf, but he cared less about sports than his parents did. He was a talented player, but it wasn't about the score at the end for him. He just liked to play. He was good-looking, but not a model. He had acne and bad hair days just like most other boys his age, but his personality took him farther than most of his peers.
"Dude, that would be sick," replied Bryce. "But I bet she won't do it. We should find a random bum on the street and give him extra money to get us some."
"Good idea. Let's get Aaron to talk to the bum. He's stupid enough to do it." They both laughed at that. Aaron was a notorious pot head who didn't really care what people thought of him as long as he got to try something crazy. Matt asked, "Do you think we'll see any models or anything? I told Christina that I might not be the best boyfriend while in the big city."
"You did? What did she say to that?"
"She just laughed at me. She said I would feel too guilty to try anything. She's probably right. But she was warned so I let what happens happen."
Teigan popped her head up from two seats back. "Will you shut up Matt? Some people need their beauty sleep."
"Sorry Teigan, I didn't know you were still up. I'm not that loud am I?" asked Matt.
"Yes, you are," she retorted and looked away from him.
Matt hopped up to Bryce's seat and continued his conversation. "So what's the deal man?"
"About what?" asked Bryce.
"You know. Sydney? Are you going to ask her out or what? I know she would say yes, and she just broke up with Ryan. I hear she puts out. With a girl like that, you could get laid on the first date. And she's decent too."
"I don't know. With college and stuff coming up, I don't know if I want to start anything anyway."
"I don't think you would have to start a relationship with her. I think you could just be like her shoulder to cry on and if something happens it's her own fault."
Unusual for Matt, there was a pause in the pep talk. After a minute of silence, Bryce knew he was trying to figure something out. He didn't say anything.
"Do you have your sights on someone else?" Matt finally asked.
Bryce didn't answer him right away. "No. I was just thinking about Mrs. Cotty buying us some rum or tequila or something. I think I could get her to do it, maybe."
"Sweet, well if you got an idea and need help just let me know."
Bryce was glad to change the topic. He really didn't want Sydney or any girl his age. He knew he should, but he was struggling with his fascination with an older woman. "Yeah, I'll let you know. Hey, I think I'm going to go to sleep for a little bit, get out of my seat."
"Alright man, I'll wake you when we get to the airport," Matt said as he slid out of Bryce's seat and into his own.
"Sure." He knew as soon as it was quiet on the bus Matt would go to sleep too. In fact he would probably wake him up. He scooted down into a reclining position on his seat and used his sweatshirt for a pillow. He fell asleep within a few minutes.
Teigan Greenfield did not sleep very well the evening before the trip. She was a nervous traveler. She had the list from Mrs. Cotty of what to pack, and had inspected the itinerary for any extra plans that might require something Mrs. Cotty hadn't thought of. She made a list and checked it three times before trying to settle in to get some sleep. She laid down at 7 pm and had to force her eyes closed just to pretend she was sleeping. She thought that sometime around 1 am she might have actually drifted off to sleep, and her alarm went off at 2 to get ready for the bus. She had gotten up, cleaned herself up, checked her list one more time, and was at the school fifteen minutes before departure time. Perfect, as always.
She hated being called perfect, but she got that a lot, especially from her best friends Matt and Bryce. If they only knew how many secrets she actually had they wouldn't think she was perfect anymore. But with any luck they would never know because she was careful. She carefully hid her actions and emotions that might make people think less of her. When the bus finally left the parking lot she was ready to just relax and sleep. Now that they had actually left, her nervousness about the trip wouldn't bother her anymore. Just when she was drifting off to sleep she heard Matt start blabbing to Bryce about one of his stupid plans, which didn't bother her so much except he was so stinkin' loud. She told him to shut up and then checked her phone for any messages. No messages. Well, it was 3 am after all. She hit up her other favorite time wasting activity - Facebook.
She checked out all the recent statuses and found nothing very intriguing, just another boring night in Minnesota.
On a whim she checked out the news in New York to see what was happening in the big apple. She didn't want to be caught off guard if there was something special going on. As she glanced through the news a particular story caught her eye. It was posted only an hour ago.
It read: Sickness Spreading Downtown New York City has seen an alarmingly quick progression of a strange illness. The first cases began at roughly 7 pm Thursday, April 20th and have multiplied rapidly. The signs of the illness are hive-like blemishes on the skin, bleeding gums, a skyrocketing fever, and extreme violence. Authorities have requested that all people experiencing these symptoms immediately go home and stay there until this situation is under control. Read more on this story with our 5 am news update.
The bus was beginning to lull her to sleep, despite the alarming news she just read. She put her phone in her backpack and thought about telling Mrs. Cotty about it. She could tell Mrs. Cotty was already sleeping from the position of her head, and she didn't want to wake her. Also, what would happen if she told her and it ended up being too serious to go to New York? She had been looking forward to this trip for too long to have it canceled because of some rash going around. Her feelings for one of her best friends were becoming too much for her. She tried to remind herself daily that he was only a friend and crossing that barrier would make her vulnerable to him. She couldn't help it though, which prompted her decision to try a little experiment. A kiss would be all it would take to find out if her little "crush" was more than that. She knew the exact time, place, and line she would use to attempt this endeavor and she was determined to have her answer in a couple of short days. If he felt the same about her she would come back from New York with a boyfriend, and if not, well life still goes on and she could stop dreaming about him. Sure, it might be awkward at first, but she was sure they would laugh about it later. That's what best friends were for. The decision was made, she would not tell Mrs. Cotty about the rash. After all, if it was so bad, why were there still flights going into New York? She laid her head against the window and drifted to sleep.
"Teigan," a whisper in her ear.
"Teigan, wake up," Matt was gently shaking her. "I hope you've had enough beauty sleep because we're here."
She forced her green eyes open and moaned. "I am so tired though. Leave me alone."
"Well I didn't think you wanted to stay on the bus, but if so, I'll leave you alone."
"Don't be an idiot. Are we at the airport now?"
"Yep. Time to get off the bus and onto a plane, then you can sleep again."
"I won't sleep. Now I am awake."
She sat up and started to gather up her stuff. "Nice hair, dork." Apparently Matt had been sleeping too because his wavy brown hair was standing straight up in the front.
"Don't look at yourself then."
She felt her hair and could tell it was a tangled mess. "I thought you liked bed head."
"I do. When we're in bed," he grinned at her. Four years of braces had made his teeth a shiny row of perfect whiteness. It was actually a very attractive smile, and he knew it. She just shook her head at him and started to smooth her hair. Her shoulder length amber hair usually fell straight, and well, perfect. She loved her hair and took pride in keeping it smooth.
Her peers were standing up, stretching, yawning, but there was an air of excitement.
Bryce was gathering up his stuff. "Matt, have you seen my iPod? I must have dropped it when I was sleeping."
"No you didn't. I figured you didn't want it to go dead so I took it and put it in your bag." Sometimes Matt could be surprisingly thoughtful and this was the Matt his friends knew and loved deeply. "Did you dream about Sydney?" he teased and lost all redeeming features.
"Sydney? Are you thinking about asking her out Bryce?" Teigan asked, suddenly jealous but not showing it.
"Matt seems to think so," he answered, "but I am too cool for that. I need a challenge." She mentally filed this comment, but at the same time didn't think it applied to her. Bryce and she had been friends since the third grade and she didn't think she could be a "challenge" for him without coming off like a moody bitch.
The bus was starting to empty out. Mrs. Cotty stood in the front of the bus. "Come on you three. Quit gossiping and get off the bus; it's time to fly."
Just then Teigan remembered the rash outbreak thing. As they unloaded she asked, "Mrs. Cotty have you heard anything about a rash outbreak in New York City?"
"Yeah, when we got here they said they were holding flights for further information, but it looked like we would be flying only a half hour later, so we'll still go. I doubt it's anything serious. It's probably an STD or something, and none of you are going to be catching one of those on this trip."
Matt giggled. "So inappropriate Sarah. I don't think you can inquire about our love lives."
"I wasn't inquiring Matt. I was stating fact. Maybe I should worry about you," she teased at him.
"Oh you should worry. Christina told me I am a free man this weekend. You don't have any infectious diseases I need to worry about do you?"
"Matt! Why do you say crap like that?"
"I just can't help myself. You're so hot," he said with a wink. It was half running joke, half true to call Mrs. Cotty hot. The best part was that she absolutely didn't believe any of them on that point, so flirting was pretty much allowed. And Bryce was the king of it. Teigan didn't know what she would do if Bryce started to flirt with her the way he flirted with Mrs. Cotty. She didn't believe Mrs. Cotty was competition for her, but she did wish she was in her shoes sometimes.
"Get off the bus you goofball," Mrs. Cotty slapped Matt on the back and he hopped down the bus steps.
"Do you feel better after your nap?" Bryce asked the teacher.
"I guess so. Do you?" she replied.
"I am ready for anything now. Bring on the big city."
"Right after the big plane," she said and he unboarded. Mrs. Cotty was all smiles as Teigan followed Bryce down the steps. Finally Mrs. Cotty brought up the rear and told Dave he was good to head back home. He, undoubtedly tired, closed the doors and drove away. That was the last time any of them would see that bus on all four wheels.
The airport was crowded from all the delayed flights. She was glad they arrived two hours early. She helped the kids use the automatic kiosk to get their boarding passes. They were boarding at gate c2, which was a half mile trek through the international airport.
"Okay people, let's head to our gate," she announced and started walking in the general direction of the gate.
As they walked she considered the trip ahead. Today she planned to arrive in the city by 2 pm eastern time. They didn't have a direct flight, they had to make a switch in Detroit, so it would be a little more confusing than she hoped for. After arriving in New York a shuttle was to come and take them to the hotel. She had hired a tour guide service, so from the hotel their guide, Jack, would be showing them around Times Square and the major areas of the city which they would be able to explore later, on their own time. She had dinner reservations for 7 pm in the hotel restaurant just to keep things simple. The students had a 10 pm curfew for most nights on the trip, but she guessed tonight they would all be so exhausted they would be back in the rooms and asleep by 9, but who knows with eighteen year olds. She would only make one circuit of the rooms tonight to check on them. She would have keys for all the rooms but unless she could hear obvious partying through the door she had no intention of using them.
They arrived at their gate and she did a quick head count. Of course she was missing two.
"Great, does anyone know where Scott and Kristin are?" she asked.
No answer. Those two were the love birds of the group and she wasn't surprised they were missing. "Ok, well everyone else stay here and I'll walk back the way we came until I find them."
"I'll come too, Mrs. Cotty," Bryce offered.
"Well if you want to, but I think I can find my way back."
"I want to go; I hate sitting in one place for too long. We can talk about what is stressing you out. Turn that frown upside down."
"Really Bryce, I'm not stressed, I feel great and happy to be here."
"You're an awful liar," he started to head in the direction she would be going, "Come on, we don't want to forget anyone."
She hurried to catch up to him. As they walked they had to search every little nook for the two missing students. She was actually glad he came along, it helped her look more efficiently.
They came to one very congested area of the airport and bumped into each other as they walked. She lost her balance and he grabbed for her arm, but missed, grazing the front of her shirt with his hand. He immediately blushed. "Oh sorry, geez. That's awkward," he said.
"Why should it be awkward? It was an accident, you weren't intentionally trying to touch me in strange places," she joked.
This made him blush harder and she wondered exactly why, and thought it was funny at the same time. Just a boy, she told herself. Still just a boy, but I could show him things. With the last thought she shook her head hard, immediately regretting the thought, damn her mind.
"Oh, there they are," he said, thankfully breaking the moment. The two were headed toward them.
"How hard is it to stay with the group you two? If you keep that up you'll have a constant chaperone," she chastised.
"Sorry Mrs. C, we got separated after the big group of people we passed because I dropped my ticket thing," Scott insisted.
"Sure you did. Just stay with us this time okay?"
As they headed back in pairs she considered the touch between her and Bryce. It should not have been a big deal, but it was. Did he have feelings for her? Six years was not that big of an age difference. If he was 22 and she was 28 there could be definite chemistry between them, but it made it weird because she was his teacher. What would happen if he did have a thing for her and they started dating eventually? She couldn't imagine hanging out with his parents at family get-togethers. Wouldn't they hate her? She would probably hate herself. She again shook these thoughts away. She was thinking about a hypothetical situation that would never, could never happen.
"Why do you keep shaking your head?" Bryce asked her.
"Nothing, I just keep having bad thoughts."
"The flight," she lied.
"Still with the lying. I told you you were bad at that. That's okay if you don't want to tell me I guess. I thought we shared things, but I guess not."
"I can't really tell you. It's a secret you'll find out later," she told him. Half-truths were extremely useful to her.
"I don't like secrets; just tell me now."
"I am sure you have secrets from me, you know."
"You're right. Don't tell me then, I'll find out later," he answered. The conversation was over and they both knew it, which was fine because they had just arrived at the gate and everyone was finally accounted for.
"Loading will begin in 5 minutes, if you have small children please come to the check-in counter now," the flight attendant's voice came over the speaker.
"Oh, that's us," said Matt, with animated movement to the counter, drawing laughter from his peers.
"Sit down, Matt," she said, a little too roughly.
"I know, I know, take it easy, Sarah. Can I call you Sarah on this trip? I mean, we're not at school and my life is kind of in your hands. I think we should be on a first name basis."
"Sure Matt, I don't care," she replied with just a twinge of sarcasm.
After fifteen minutes of watching frazzled mothers with crying babies load the plane the flight attendant announced for rows A through F to start loading, which were their seats.
Sarah was actually pleased with the way the loading was going. Everybody had their stuff; everyone stood in line. Nice and orderly, she thought. Let's keep this going. She was equally pleased that her seat was not right next to the students. She needed time to relax and think. They couldn't get into too much trouble while on a plane. And the chaperones were located right in the middle of the kids, so if something major happened they could take care of it.
It seemed to take forever for the plane to be fully loaded. Sarah could see out the window that flights were taking off, so she guessed the little outbreak in New York wasn't that big of a deal. Everyone was settled in and they waited patiently for the pilot to come across the speakers. They waited, and they waited, and they waited some more. Sarah looked back to the students as she was sure they were getting restless. Much to her surprise and relief they were all pretty much zoned out. A couple of the girls were reading books, most of the boys were sleeping, a couple were talking. Bryce saw her look back, smiled, and waved at her. She waved back. He made a shoulder shrug, wondering when they would be taking off. She made the gesture back to him and settled back into her seat.
The pilot's voice came across the speakers finally. "Well folks, we've been cleared for take off and we'll be taxiing soon. Thanks for your patience and for flying Delta." The stewardesses proceeded to complete the safety procedures, which no one in their right minds ever listened to, only the insanely nervous and first time fliers bothered to look up from whatever they were occupying their time with. So, of course, Sarah payed extremely close attention and even considered taking notes. Shortly after, the plane begin to move and they could feel the air in the plane start to blow on them. They had been sitting with no power for roughly 45 minutes and the fresh circulation was a huge relief.
Sarah wasn't necessarily afraid to fly, but she wasn't fond of the sensation of taking off. They weren't hardly even moving yet and she was practicing popping her ears and breathing deeply. She felt like she should turn around and check on the students one more time, but where could they possibly go, so she didn't. The pilot announced in a cheery voice the temperature in Detroit and their estimated landing time. A few mumbled humphs could be heard from some businessmen a couple of rows up from her. She felt bad for them, imagining they were late for important business meetings that could change their lives. Sometimes she wished she had a glamorous business-style life that would require her to travel. Then she remembered how much she hated traveling and loved sleeping in during the summer.
The plane's engines begin whirring into higher rpms and she felt the brakes release from the wheels. They were speeding along the tarmac and the plane's nose could be felt tipping upward. Sarah snuck a peek out the window and said goodbye to Minneapolis. She also sent up a little prayer that she would make it back safely. She wanted to see her cat again.
A long five minutes passed and the seatbelt light went off. "You are now free to leave your seats if necessary. We request that while you are in your seat you remain belted in case of any unexpected turbulence. Beverage service will be started shortly."
She could hear shuffling behind her and hoped her students weren't bothering anybody. For already the second time on the trip she put her earbuds in and closed her eyes. If anyone wanted her it would need to be an emergency to get her attention and she felt her music would make that certain.
The three pilots, two certified, one in training, brought the plane up to elevation and then set the autopilot. They did all their necessary checks in silence and then sat down for the two hour flight. Finally they talked to each other.
"I wish those air controllers could figure their crap out. That was the sloppiest takeoff we've ever had," complained Joe Ponter, the senior pilot on the flight.
"I am not really sure why we even had to wait that long. We're going to Detroit, not New York. All this outbreak stuff if ridiculous. Did you hear they raised the terrorist alert? We all get some sort of flu and the country goes on lock-down," commented Joe's underling, Rich. "I mean, goddamit, I was in New York last night and it was fine. Didn't you think so, Jim?"
Jim was in the training program and had flown with Rich from New York to Minneapolis, was slated to go back to Detroit with him, and then head on to San Antonio from there. He also had been suspiciously quiet for most the entire time he'd spent with Rich.
He didn't answer Rich now, either. Both Joe and Rich looked at the young man.
Joe took a step closer. "Jim? Are you okay?" Joe took another step closer, then he saw the blood. "Jesus Jim. You're bleeding man! Rich, get a towel or something.".
Joe knelt down in front of Jim and pushed his head back. Blood was dripping from his mouth and his skin felt like it was on fire. "What the hell?"
Jim's eyes, which had been rolled back into his head, now rolled down and seemed to focus on Joe. The whites of his eyes were drowning in yellow pus and his pupils were dilated. Joe nearly whispererd, "Jim? Can you hear me?"
"Jim, I think you should lay down." Joe tried to pull the young pilot onto the floor, but the man resisted. Just then Rich came back with a towel and locked the cabin door behind him. When he saw Jim he knew it was bad.
"Oh my God. It's here," he whispered.
Faster than humanly possible Jim shot out a blistered, bleeding hand and grabbed Rich by the throat. In one swift movement Rich was bleeding on the floor and Jim was on top of him, frantic with the smell of blood. Joe started shaking his head back and forth, unable to process what he was seeing. Rich was still alive, writhing on the floor as clothing, flesh, blood was thrown about the cockpit. Soon, bone could be seen in the places that Jim had been feasting and then Rich was no longer moving. Joe's paralysis wore off and he lunged for the cabin door. At some point he had broken out into a sweat and his wet fingers could not grasp the locking mechanism. The slurping, sucking, crunching noises subsided behind him. He closed his eyes and anticipated what was about to happen. Like a child he imagined if he couldn't see the monster it couldn't see him. It didn't work. As the Jim-like monster bit him from behind the last thought that went through Joe's mind was at least he couldn't be blamed for the plane crash that would inevitably happen in the next hour.