"Welcome to Aerosun International flight 1506," the flight attendant said warmly to Jennifer and Jake. They handed her their tickets and after a quick check, she looked up and handed them back. "I hope you'll enjoy your flight," she added, moving to the side of the plane's entrance to allow them in.
They walked past her into the center aisle. It was a small airplane, an Airbus 320 new or something. Jennifer didn't really care, other than that it looked pretty modern. Their seats were halfway down the aisle, and she was in the window seat, Jake next to her. A tall man was already sitting in the aisle seat, but got up with a smile when he saw that they were looking at his row.
"Thank you," Jennifer said.
"No problem," the tall man said in return. He seemed to mean it.
She shimmied into the row and her seat, while Jake put their luggage in the overhead compartment. The tall man helped, moving what was presumably his bag out of the way, pushing it into the corner of the compartment.
It was dark outside, and the lights inside were on full blast. It wasn't a terribly long flight, but with take-off at 10pm, they were expected to land around 1am at their destination. They were going to visit her family, and it would be the first time she was taking Jake along. Her parents had talked to him over Skype, however, so this wasn't really the first time meeting for them, but he was still nervous. "It's always different in person," he said. "They can smell you in person. The fear. The sweat. That's when it gets real."
She had done her best to calm him, but she had by now accepted there was just going to be a steady undercurrent of nervosity in him that would not be alleviated until he was confronted with them. So it is, she thought, and just tried to be understanding in the meantime. It would pass.
Jake nodded to the tall man and shimmied into his seat as well. The tall man plopped down in his own seat, his legs obviously too long for him to be comfortable. The aisle seat at least allowed him to stretch his legs into the aisle when it was free.
"You ready?" she asked Jake.
"For the flight? Or your family?"
"Yes," she said with a playful smile.
"Ha, ha," he said, faking a laugh. "I'm fine. Though I think I'll just listen to music during the flight if that's okay with you."
"I brought my book, you can do whatever you want," she said. "As long as it's okay if I give you a kiss now and then."
"Eh, it'll have to do, I guess," he said, grinning.
The cabin crew spoke up, getting their attention for the mandatory and mostly unnecessary safety procedure. Half of the people in the plane already knew it by heart and would follow it, whether they heard it this time or not, and the other half would utterly panic regardless of knowing about it.
"I'm turning on my music," Jake said, grabbing his headphones. He leaned over and kissed Jennifer. "See you in a bit," he said, smiling faintly.
"Sure," she said, smiling back.
She rummaged through her bag, grabbed her book and kicked her bag underneath her seat.
The book was by a mostly unknown author, from a small publisher that usually didn't even bother with print versions. Verified, it was called, and it had been a commercial failure. But a friend had recommended it and so far she was enjoying it, even if normally she wasn't a fan of science fiction. She opened the book to where she had stuffed the receipt from when she bought it. 90% off on clearance. A literal steal.
The plane took off and once the way the plane moved made it clear they were now cruising, she really started reading. The lights went down to a more comfortable night mode, to allow for sleeping. It was rather tasteful and atmospheric, actually, she thought.
Who comes up with this stuff, she thought as she finished a chapter, not being all that creative herself. After a few pages, she looked to her side, and Jake had fallen asleep already. He always did on planes. She smiled and returned to her book.
About half an hour passed without anything special happening, even if in the book some really bad stuff was going down. She felt something touching her hair on her right side. She looked, but only saw the window and part of the inner fuselage. Nothing special. Shadows were dancing across it, but other than that there was nothing there. Outside she could see the wing, but beyond that it was just darkness and what she assumed was the tops of clouds.
She looked around, and saw that most people were sleeping. The tall man had one leg stuck into the aisle and his other bunched up on the seat in front of him, which wasn't occupied. He was snoring softly.
She shook her head and returned to her book. She had probably just imagined it, or a door was opened somewhere, moving air around.
After a few minutes, however, she could hear whispers. But when she stopped reading and focused on them, she couldn't make out what they were saying. She looked around even more this time, and saw that nobody else was awake anymore. The cabin crew also wasn't going around, so it was all quiet, soft snoring and breathing from all around her.
Then she noticed the shadows. They were still moving, which on further consideration didn't make sense to her, since everybody else was asleep. The light was atmospheric, sure, but she was even more certain nobody would be stupid enough to light candles in a pressurized cabin like this. So there should be no moving shadows.
She studied the shadows on the cabin wall next to her.
As she moved closer to see better, she could hear the whispers more clearly.
"She'ssssss sstill awake..." she could make out.
What the hell?
"Who said that?" she said at a reasonable volume, trying to not wake anyone up.
The shadows stopped moving.
"She hearss usssss," the whispers said, now from a different direction. She turned and could see shadows moving on the other side of the cabin now.
"Jake, wake up," she said, poking him with her elbow.
"Hm?" he said woozily, moving one earpiece off his ear, but not opening his eyes. "What? We there?"
"No, but something weird is going on," she said, leaning almost over him to see the shadows better.
"Then leave me alone, sweetie," he said, leaning towards her to give her a kiss but missing and kissing the air instead. He put his headphones back on and dropped back into his chair.
He would be no help.
She managed to see more of the shadows from a distance -- of only a short-haul airplane's cabin width away -- and saw they were like tentacles, long, tapered at the ends, moving smoothly and with grace.
"What do we do?" the whispers said. "We need to fix it," the whispers responded. "Yessssss," the whispers all agreed. "If she does not ssleep, we cannot feed," another whisper chimed in. "Yesssss," the whispers agreed again.
She leaned back. A chill went through her and she noticed something moving to her other side. The shadows were back to her side of the cabin, and their movement wasn't graceful or smooth anymore. They were erratic and aggressive.
She moved away from the cabin wall, almost pushing herself into Jake, who just grumbled a little but otherwise didn't seem to notice.
Something about the shadows was off, however, and it chilled her even more. It seemed, to her, at least, that the shadows were lifting off of the wall. They were more three-dimensional than shadows had any right to be.
And they were moving towards her. She panicked, trying to unbuckle her seatbelt and screaming at the same time, but her fingers kept slipping and nobody seemed to notice the racket.
One of the shadow tentacles reached her first, and where it touched her on her arm, she could feel a bone-chilling cold. It stiffened her muscles, and she freaked out even more. Her arm flailed, hitting Jake in the head, but he didn't respond at all, his head simply flopping to the side.
"Help!" she shouted, as a second tentacle reached out to her, "HELP!"
As the shadows reached her, they didn't just touch her, they curled around her, and the cold spread through her. She could feel the energy being sapped from her, as she started shivering and her hands lost even more fine control.
She soon felt so cold and drained of energy that sleep seemed like a valid option, even through the panic in her mind. She closed her eyes, just for a second. She would open them once, but quickly fell back into a slow half-sleep. Sleep. Sleep is good, she thought.
When the plane landed, everyone had woken up. Jake was one of the last to do so, and he woke up with a big yawn. He stretched his arms and legs as much as he could, and took off his headphones. He looked to his left, and saw the tall man smiling at him, looking well-rested.
Then he turned to Jennifer, who looked to be sound asleep as well. He smiled and turned back.
The cabin crew announced they were about to land, and that those who were still sleeping should be woken up before they started the landing procedure. Jake turned to Jennifer again and prodded her shoulder.
"Sweetie?" he said softly, leaning in.
She didn't respond.
"Sweetie?" he said again, prodding even harder.
She didn't respond.
Jake got nervous. He shook her. Nothing. He grabbed her face and turned it to his, and she felt cold to his touch.
"JENNIFER!" he shouted in utter fear, causing others to also look their way. "WAKE UP!"
A shadow flickered over the wall beside her.
Those who would have paid attention would've heard it whisper.
"She'sss asleep forever..." it whispered, before dissipating as now alerted cabin crew turned on the main lights.