36,000 Feet

Anonymous, Student

*BOOM* Giant clasps of thunder shook the city ferociously and John bolted upright in
his bed. The clock had just struck 6:30a.m. and the clouds were hiding Manhattan from the warm
Saturday sun as rain beat down on the city.

John was your averaged middle age man with dark brown hair, tired eyes, and a focused,
intimidating look glued onto his face. He was more of the anti-social type, he never invited a
conversation and only participated in them when he had to. He lived with his wife Claire and his
daughter Olivia who was the young, golden age of 9 years old.

“Woah, that was a big one,” John said reflectively to Claire. It had been raining for a few
days now but this was definitely the peak of the storm.

Claire rolled over in the bed, seeming unphased. She was a deep sleeper and couldn’t be
bothered by the storm outside.

“Wha-what happened? Did you say something?” she asked.

John chuckled under his breath, “Nothing, my love, keep on resting.”

He walked into the kitchen to start the morning coffee, and while waiting for it to brew he
took a shower. After taking his shower John put on his work clothes, and filled an on-the-go cup
with some coffee. He wrote a brief note on a blue Post-it that read, “Have a wonderful day, love.
I’ll see you soon” and stuck it on the coffee pot for Claire to read once she began her day. Then
he grabbed his coffee and rushed out the door.

John had been working as a U.S. Air Marshal for eighteen years, flying back and forth
across the world for almost two decades making sure each aircraft was delivering their passengers safely to where they needed to go. He wasn’t a big fan of flying. It made him uneasy, and his job didn’t help with that at all. Being responsible for the safety of two hundred and fifty airplane passengers wasn’t a low stress job.

After fighting with the morning traffic, he made it to the airport with thirty minutes to
spare before his plane departed. It was the week after Christmas and it felt like the whole city of
New York was rushing around the airport to catch their planes. Today John was assigned to fly
on an international flight to London.

“An eight hour flight” he sighed, “I don’t know if I’m up for it today.”

The thirty minutes passed and he boarded the plane along with the rest of the passengers. John had a spacious seat waiting for him in first class. He was sitting on the aisle, waiting to see which passenger he would be lucky enough to share the next 8 hours interacting with in the seat next to him. He kept getting nudged by the carry on luggage of passengers walking to their seats further back in the plane. Finally, a man walks up to John. He was on what appeared to be an important phone call.

“Excuse me.” the man pointed to the seat next to John.

“Oh, of course!” John moved into the aisle so the man could get by.

The man made minimal interactions with John. He was wearing a business suit and only had a laptop case with him. John thought the man seemed a little rude but it didn’t matter to him because all he wanted to do was catch up on his sleep and avoid making small talk.

The very last passenger to board the plane was a woman who walked past John and appeared to have the seat in first class two rows behind him.

“7B. 7B. Where is seat 7B??” she sounded on edge. “Oh no!”

A flight attendant rushed over, “Is everything okay, ma’am?”

The woman looked worried, “I need a window seat, are there any available window seats?”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but we have a full flight today. You could ask around and see if anyone wants to switch.”

The woman tapped on the shoulder of the man she was assigned to sit next to.

“Excuse me sir, can we please switch seats?”

“Sorry, I paid extra for this seat.”

She kept asking around until finally she walked up to John’s row. The man sitting next to
John was no longer on a phone call and agreed to switch seats with the woman. He said it didn’t
matter where he sat as long as he was able to get work done. After a little bit of shuffling the
woman adjusted her neck pillow and fastened her seat belt.

“I’m Amanda” she introduced herself to John.

“John.” he nodded politely, then took a book out of his bag.

“I hope I wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, I just really love sitting next to the window”

“No, you’re fine” John replied, hoping to make it obvious he wasn’t much of a talker.

“Good morning, passengers! My name is Steve, I will be your pilot today. You’re boarded on flight number 541 today on a non-stop flight to London. Our flight time looks to be about 7 hours and 50 minutes. Please fasten your seatbelts as we begin our ascent.”

As the plane began to lift off the ground John reached into his bag and grabbed a blue
ribbon. The ascent was John’s least favorite part of flying. Every foot the plane got higher, the
tighter John squeezed the short blue ribbon.

“Not an easy flyer?” Amanda asked as she noticed his fist was turning white from
holding the ribbon.

John eased his grip slightly, “I just don’t like the beginning of it but once we’re in the air I’m good.”

“Why do you hold that ribbon?”

“My daughter gave it to me.”

“How old is she?”

“Nine. Her name is Olivia.” he couldn’t help but smile proudly at the thought of her.

“What a wonderful age.” Amanda sensed that John didn’t really want to talk and went back to her own little corner against the window.

John kept to himself, reading for about twenty minutes, then fell asleep.

About an hour into the flight John woke up to his phone buzzing in his pocket. As an air marshal he had a phone for work that was connected to a secure network and only ever went off if another air marshal was trying to get ahold of him or if someone from air control was.

“Hello John” the text read.

John looked around him, confused. The text was from an anonymous phone number.

“Who is this?” he replied.

The main lights of the cabin were turned off so passengers could rest making it dim inside the plane. A few people were working on laptops or reading, but most of the passengers seemed to be sleeping.

Minutes passed before John got a reply.

“That’s not important.” the number replied.

“This is a secure network, how did you get this number?”

At this point, John had gotten up out of his seat and started walking around the plane,

trying to pick out passengers who could appear to be answering a text. He waited ten minutes but
never got a reply.

“What do you want?” he asked the unknown number.

He got a reply within seconds, “I want fifty million dollars transferred into this bank account within thirty minutes or someone on this plane is going to die.” Attached to the message was a bank account number along with a routing number.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

John’s heart dropped. He set his stopwatch to exactly thirty minutes from that point, and rushed to the back of the aircraft where the flight attendants were lounging and pulled one of them aside.

“I need to see the security cameras for inside this aircraft now.” he pulled his air marshal badge out of his wallet.

“Right away.” the flight attendant didn’t hesitate. She could immediately tell something was wrong by the tone John had.

John studied the cameras closely, scanning every passenger on the airplane as he waited for a reply.

“You’ll find a way. You’re a resourceful guy.”

John ran back up to his seat in first class, woke up Amanda, and brought her back to where the security cameras were. He quietly explained the situation to Amanda.

“I’ve been sitting next to you the whole time, you were asleep when I first got these texts, you’re the only one on this aircraft I trust right now.” he said in a serious tone.

“What do you want me to do?” Amanda replied, ready to help.

“I need you to circle the seats of the passengers who look like they’re using phones, or texting on phones.” he explained his plan to try to find the attacker through the process of elimination.

John wanted to wait to alert the pilots of the situation because he knew that even if the terrorist was being serious, the pilot had nowhere to make an emergency landing. The airplane was now well over the Atlantic Ocean.

“How could someone possibly get away with killing anyone on this plane with three hundred other passengers around?” John thought to himself. He decided he was going to call the terrorists bluff and wait out the thirty minutes.

Twenty-five minutes later his phone buzzed, “Time’s almost up, John”

“Even if I had that much money, how am I supposed to transfer it to you while I’m 36,000 feet in the air?”

Five… four… three… two… one… his watch beeped, alerting him that the thirty minutes
had passed. The plane fell into an eerie quiet. John examined the security cameras. Nothing
seemed to happen.

Suddenly Amanda and John heard shouting coming from the front of the plane. The two
ran to the front followed closely by the flight attendant John had pulled aside earlier.

“Someone help!” shouted a passenger.

“We need a doctor!!” exclaimed another.

There was a man lying in the aisle having a seizure. John and Amanda lifted the man up and carried him to the back of the plane.

“If there are any doctors on this airplane or any medical professionals, please come to the back immediately.” the flight attendant made an announcement over the planes loudspeaker.

There happened to be one passenger who was a doctor. He rushed to the back to see if he could help, but the man was already dead.

“What happened to him?” John was in disbelief.

“He may have been poisoned, but without a proper medical examination there’s no way to know for sure.” he returned back to his seat.

The rest of the passengers were extremely uneasy. The flight attendants did the best they could to keep them calm, walking up and down the aisle, offering them drinks and snacks. Now that John knew the terrorist wasn’t bluffing he knew he had to bring in more help for the situation. His phone buzzed,

“You thought I was bluffing didn’t you? Now do you believe me? Get me the money, John. Or another one bites the dust in thirty more minutes.”

John threw his phone at the wall in frustration. He reset his stopwatch for another thirty minutes and walked towards the pilots cabin to explain what was going on. He knocked firmly on the door. The captain came to the door. John showed Steve his air marshal badge, then the texts he had been receiving, and explained what had happened with the passenger.

“John, even if we turn this plane around there’s nowhere to make an emergency landing for another 2 hours at least!”

“Do what you have to do, just land this plane as fast as you can.”

John walked to the back of the plane again and called his boss.

“I need you to look up whos bank account this is” he said after explaining what was
going on.

“I can do that but it’s going to take me another thirty minutes to get back to you at least!” the voice on the line sounded defeated.

Fifteen minutes had already passed since the last passenger had died.

“Just get it to me as fast as you can”

“Where’s my money, John?” the texts seemed taunting at this point.

“I’m working on it, can you just give me a little longer?”

There was no reply. John was scanning the passengers frantically on the security cameras but it didn’t seem to do any good. There was only another ten minutes until another passenger was due to die.

“I’m trying to get you the money, please, just give me a few more minutes.” John was desperate.

The watch beeps again. A few seconds passed and one of the flight attendants fell to the floor. The same seizure began to erupt on her, as it did on the last passenger. She was dragged to the back of the plane as quickly as possible. All the passengers began to panic. They knew something was going on. John reset his watch. His phone began to buzz.

“John do you have any idea what information you sent me?” His boss sounded startled.

“What are you talking about?”

“John this is your bank account information.”

“That’s impossible, there’s a mistake.”

“John, I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t help you anymore. All the information you’ve given me so far points to you as the only suspect.”

“Mark, I’ve been working with you for 18 years, you’ve gotta trust me. Why would I do something like this??”

Unable to convince Mark that he was innocent, John continued to look for the hijacker.

He sees something in the security tape that looks like a man tripping. The man fell on top of another passenger, then walked away.

“Wait, go back, I need to see that again.” he alerted the flight attendant of the suspicious activity.

“We can’t go back, it’s a live feed.”

Then he saw a boy sitting a few rows behind, who appeared to have his phone out, recording something.

He raced down the aisle to the boy.

“I need to see the video you just took”

The boy surrendered his phone and John observed the video footage closely. The footage revealed the man who appeared to be “tripping” over the other passenger. He looked like he was pushing something towards the passenger he had fallen over. He handed the phone back to the boy and walked over to the passenger.

“Does that belong to you?” John asked pointing to the hijackers phone which had been discreetly placed in the passengers front pocket.

“What? No, how did that get there?”

John confiscated the phone, and confirmed that it was in fact the hijackers phone by scrolling back through the texts they had exchanged. He ran back to the security cameras to locate where the man who “tripped” had sat back down.

“Seat 35D” he mumbled to himself as he ran down the aisle. Another twenty minutes had already gone by and John knew he was running out of time fast. Without hesitation John yanked the passenger in seat 35D out of his seat and dragged him towards the back of the plane.

“WOAH! What’s going on? What did I do?”

“This is your Captain speaking. We’re making an emergency landing. Please fasten your seat belts.” The plane jolted downward, and the oxygen masks were released from the ceiling.

The hijacker began to fight John. Because the plane moving at an angle, they both lost their balance and rolled to the back. John got on top of the hijacker and started throwing punches at his face. The man fought back, but John had a bigger build than he did and was able to keep him pinned down. John pulled his gun from his waistband and hit the hijacker in the head with it knocking him out cold.

A few minutes later the plane’s wheels touched the ground and the plane came to a complete halt. Police cars and paramedics raced toward the aircraft in order to make sure everyone was okay. All the emergency doors on the plane were opened and people were sliding down the inflatable exits.

John made it off the plane and watched as the police cuffed the hijacker and threw him in the back of a car. He walked over to one of the ambulances to get checked out. His boss came up to him shortly after.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, John. You did good today.”

John gave a small smirk in reply.

“Oh, that money’s gonna be taken back out of your account though.”

John chuckled, “What money?”

“I’ll see you around, John.” Mark walked away.

John turned around to see a small Chevy roll up behind him.

“Dad!!!” shouted this little tiny voice that came running toward him.

With opened arms he hugged Olivia so tight with Claire joined in moments later.

“I’m so glad you’re okay” Claire greeted John with a kiss.

“I think I’m done flying for a while.” John said looking back at the airplane as they got back into the car for the long drive home.