"Flight 414: Part 1" by Emma Landry
When the plane landed at the small airport just outside of LA, nobody knew what to do. It wasn’t supposed to be there. That plane was long gone. A distant memory. A mystery. That plane wasn’t supposed to exist. When it landed, there wasn’t a gate prepared for them because there was no plane. It was supposed to be at the bottom of the ocean, or some unknown island, or maybe the Bermuda Triangle, but it was most definitely not supposed to be in California.
Funerals without bodies had already happened. Loved ones had said goodbye without any clue as to where their family member may have disappeared to. When it seemed that some sort of plane crash was the only logical explanation of where those 153 people had disappeared to, their families decided to begin their mourning process. Among those that had already grieved the loss of their beloved husband was Katie.
Katie was 24 when she went to the airport to pick up Jason. Seven years later, Katie and her seven-year-old child are sitting in the car after having received a rather jarring phone call to hopefully actually pick up Jason this time.
“Mommy, I’m confused,” Carly whines in her booster seat.
“I’m confused, too, Carly. Please just let me think for a bit, okay? It’s a long drive. We can talk about it once I figure out what to say.”
Carly and Katie have always had a very open relationship. She was a single mother, but Carly was raised with the help of all four of her grandparents and had heard plenty of stories about her father. She heard about how her dad cried his eyes out in the doctor’s office during the first ultrasound. How Jason had known she would be a girl before the doctors could even tell. How he had picked out her name the night he found out Katie was pregnant. He was young and scared, but he was so ready to love his little girl with everything he had in him.
At eight months, Carly was picking him up from the airport after his final work trip before the baby would arrive, but he never showed up. An investigation took place, but it didn’t answer any questions. Carly was born in the midst of it all, a sort of light at the end of a tunnel that they’d be travelling through for the next half a decade. Katie never fell out of love with Jason and poured all of the love he had for him into their daughter. Carly knew she would have loved her dad, but her family never gave her the chance to be sad about him. They told her stories of the amazing man he was, and two years later she left him a rose by his grave when the investigation had finally concluded as inconclusive.
They began the drive from Wrightwood to Santa Ana as soon as Katie received a call that the exact plane that her husband was supposed to have died on had just randomly landed. They wouldn’t confirm that any passengers were boarded at the time. This was something so crazy and confusing that they just told the families to come see if they recognized anyone. There was no protocol for planes mysteriously showing up seven years after disappearing. They told the police and the police told the families to meet them at security. That was all the information Katie had, but she couldn’t lie to Carly. She was honest and told her daddy might be back, and that she might finally get to meet him, but to not be sad if he isn’t there.
Katie sat in the car thinking while Carly sat patiently waiting for her mom to say something. Anything. Katie figured there’s no way Jason is there. They must just have the wrong plane. Or someone just decided to land there and they didn’t know it was coming because it wasn’t a commercial plane. She refuses to let herself get too excited because Jason has been gone seven years. He didn’t just come back out of nowhere. He wouldn’t have just left them. His plane crashed and he was gone.
With a sigh, Katie mustered the courage to say it to Carly.
“Car, daddy isn’t going to be there. We’re only going because the police told us to. Daddy won’t be there, and I don’t want you to get too sad if- when he isn’t. I’m sorry, I know you’re excited. Just please don’t be too upset if he isn’t there.”
“Yes, he is. He’s there. I know it,” she argued.
“Carly, he isn’t there,” Katie reminded her.
“You’re not listening, mom. He’s there. I know he is.”
“Carly, he’s dead! He isn’t there! People don’t come back from the dead!” Katie lost herself in a fit of tears.
Carly was silent the rest of the drive, right until they parked the car. Katie walked out of the car and grabbed Carly’s hand as she locked the door.
“I’m sorry, Car. I just miss him,” Katie apologized.
Carly nodded in response and followed her mom across the street and into the airport. Katie began to panic. What would happen if, somehow, he really was there? Would he even be himself anymore? Would he recognize her? And where the hell was he this whole time?
She stopped walking and just stood in the middle of the bustling airport with Carly’s hand firmly in hers.
“We’re going home,” she finally decided and started yanking Carly back toward the door.
“Mom, stop. We have to just go see,” Carly said while yanking her hand away.
Katie sighs and shuts her eyes for a moment. She stands in the airport with her eyes closed before looking down at Carly. She may be scared, but Carly wasn’t.Whatever would end up happening, she would still have this beautiful little girl that was all of the best parts of Jason. Even if he wasn’t in that building, she would still have a piece of him forever.
She took one last look down at Carly, gave her a sad smile, and started walking forward again. They continued to walk through the airport until they reached the entrance to security. Katie showed one of the security guards her ID and they escorted the two back. They sat in a room waiting for what felt like hours. It was only a few minutes at the very most, but with Katie’s shaky leg and Carly’s incessant staring were making the time drag on.
Katie’s head shot up as the door creaked open behind her. She didn’t dare to look back. If it was Jason, she would be so overjoyed she may faint. If it wasn’t Jason, she wouldn’t be surprised, but her heart would break all over again. Even as she heard footsteps, she couldn’t look.
Jason enters the room and stops in his path. He’s still in the tattered old flannel he wore on his flight home. Everything about him is the same, at least it appears to be. He seems relatively unchanged. His eyes are still that deep green they always were, his hair an unruly mess, as per usual. Everything seems the same.
“Mom,” Carly whispers.
Katie doesn’t give her a glance. Carly has moved behind her mom’s chair and is staring at whoever it is that has walked through the door. If Katie were to look back at Carly, she would have to also look at the door, and she’s not ready for that.
“Hi, I’m Carly Miller,” Carly walks up to the man and offers him a handshake.
“Well, hi, Carly Miller, I’m Jason Miller.”
As Jason shakes Carly’s hand he struggles to hold back his tears. She looks just like Katie, so he immediately knows who she is. As Jason holds his tears in, Katie finally allows her sobs to escape. She cries so hard her body is shaking. She still hasn’t turned to look at him, but hearing his voice is enough for her to know definitively that the love of her love, the man she thought she lost years ago, is standing behind her talking to their daughter for the first time.
Jason gently nudges Carly over toward Katie and the two stand in front of her. Jason crouches down so he’s at Katie’s level and gently lifts her head up to look at him. For the first time in almost a decade, the two make eye contact and Katie falls forward into him, sobbing into his shoulder.
“It’s okay, mom. He’s back,” Carly soothes.
Katie pulls away from Jason and gently moves Carly closer to her. She hugs Carly close and stares at Jason as if she’s waiting for him to vanish right before her eyes, or maybe she’s waiting to see if she’s going to wake up from this dream she must be having. She still can’t utter a word, she just stares at him, holding Carly to keep herself grounded.