The Gift

Rhonda and I were entered in Heat One of the New York City Short Story Challenge. We were given the following prompts:Genre: Horror; Scene: an airplane; Character: a drug dealer. We did not win the round, but here is our story.

foggy dayA fog hung over the airfield, thick and fat like down pillows. A black stretch limo pulled up to a private cargo jet, small and sleek like the woman standing beside it. She was blond and built, her hair combed neatly in waves down to her shoulder. She wore little makeup, not needing it. Only her lips were deep red to match her long, elegant fingernails.

The limo chauffeur leaped out, opening the back door for a nattily dressed man in a double breasted suit and wing tipped shoes. The man sported a pencil moustache and a self assured smile. He placed a fedora on his head and almost tapped danced over to the jet. Two large, well muscled men followed, obviously minions of the man with the wing tipped shoes.

“Hello, Ric. Ready to go?” The woman asked with a slow seductive smile that was more habit than anything else.

“Not yet, Luci. Waiting for Jim. He’s coming in his own car with the inventory,” Ric said gazing out into the fog. He couldn’t see anything. “We flying out in this?” he added, opening a gold cigarette case and passing one to Luci.

Luci nodded and took a cigarette. Ric reached in his pocket for his antique zippo lighter. He looked up to find her cigarette was already lit. Her hands were still on her clipboard and he didn’t see a lighter. Her eyes turned a reflective red for a moment as she turned her head into the blinking red lights on the jet wings. The co-pilot was running the pre-flight tests. “Odd how Luci’s eyes changed like that,” Ric thought.

Luci interrupted his thoughts. “He the one?” she asked in a bored tone.

“Yeah,” Ric said. “ATF. We know but he doesn’t know we know. If you get what I mean.”

“Here he comes,” Luci said, nodding toward the gate to the runway.

A car turned down the lane leading to the jets. It passed the other moored planes, battened down before the incoming storm. The car stopped. The two henchmen, Bub and Damon, went to unload. A man in a subdued suit stepped out, tossing the keys to Bub. The henchmen moved to the trunk to begin loading the cargo. Twenty five sacks of flour this time. Hidden inside were smaller bags of drugs. Bub and Damon handled them like they were empty, carrying stacks of them at a time into the cargo hold of the plane.

The co-pilot stepped down out of the plane. She was a slender, well built red-head. She nodded to Ric with a slow pouty smile.

“She’s ready, Luci,” the co-pilot reported, lounging back against the hatch frame, arms crossed, waiting.

“Luci, Chris, this is Jim Moore, my number one,” Ric made the introductions grandly, gesturing with a flourish to Jim, the man in the subdued suit. “Jim, pilot Luci Fiera and co-pilot Chris Satana. They’ve been ferrying me around for a while. Good pilots. Know how to keep their mouths shut.” Ric’s words were bitten off and hard with the last sentence. He eyed Jim coldly and then broke into a smile. “Like you.” Ric added.

Chris smiled at Jim, extending a hand. Luci laughed at Ric’s jest and then welcomed Jim aboard. The henchmen were finished loading. Not a hair out of place and not one speck of flour or anything else dotted their suits. “You know Bub and Damon,” Ric added. The men nodded.

“It’s loaded, Mr. Allman,” Damon reported to Ric. Ric nodded and motioned for everyone to board.

Ric boarded the plane followed by Jim and the henchmen. Luci shrugged at Chris, whose eyes looked a bit strange for a second, the pupils almost elongated. Luci laughed quietly to herself. They brought the rear ramp up, boarded through the passenger hatch and headed for the cockpit. Chris stopped to plant a light kiss on Jim’s mouth. Her eyes glowed a little red in the light of the emergency door lights. Jim sat back in surprise.

“Last rites,” she smiled sweetly. Then seeing Jim’s discomfiture, she added, “Before flying. New man on the plane always gets a peck just before we take off. Last rites.” She grinned and took her seat. “Buckle up, boys. Maybe a little rough. Airsick bags are in the right-hand pocket of your seats.”

Jim was disconcerted about the last rites thing. He tried not to show it but it was just him against the world here. Did they know? If they did, he was a dead man and he knew it. He grinned at the kiss hoping no one had noticed his flinch. The red eyes thing put him off. Was it just a reflection of the lights or was she just a strange girl? He needed to be awake and alert. He started to sweat a little and, once the plane was in the air, got up to use the restroom to recover his equilibrium.

“Better let me check the john for rats, Mr. Moore,” Bub said moving to intercept him. The words were like stainless steel in a steel drum. His eyes were hostile. Jim stopped. Bub gave a laugh and the others joined in. “Got ya, Mr. Moore. Got ya.” Bub smiled warmly and let Jim pass. Jim joined in the laughter, closing the door behind him.

The plane bucked a little under his feet. He grabbed the sink to steady himself. They knew. He was going to have to think of a way out. That wasn’t going to be easy. They were flying at a lower altitude, though, trying to stay under the radar. Maybe he could get a parachute. A parachute would do the trick. He washed his hands and dried them carefully. He’d act scared about the storm. He’d act scared and put on a parachute. It might work.

He opened the door of the restroom and stepped out. Damon steadied him as the plane shimmied a little, his meaty hand on Jim’s back. Jim looked out the windows. It was raining now, heavily. Lightning was flashing outside the plane. He shivered. Maybe he didn’t have to pretend.

“Ric, don’t you think we should find somewhere to set this baby down?” Jim asked.

“Storm getting to ya, Jim?” Ric smiled smugly. “Got the best pilots in the world. They can fly anywhere, anytime. Regular Amelia Earharts.”

“It’s the lightning. I didn’t think it was safe to fly in lightning.” Jim shivered involuntarily as a bolt came close to the plane.

“Flown in worse. Luci never lets any of them hit the plane. Right, Luci?” Ric laughed scornfully at Jim’s obvious distress.

“Nope. Never will. I like flying in this kind of weather. Wild and fun. Nobody else up here but us.” Luci said with satisfaction. Her eyes danced on the edge of wildness, her long red fingernails tapping on the yoke resembled talons in the dim light. Jim almost expected her to turn into a werewolf and howl.

“I’m getting a parachute on,” he said. “If that doesn’t bother anyone else.”

“Take one out of the drawer there. Best parachutes money can buy. Make the packers jump everyday with one of the ones they packed. No one’s died yet.” Ric grinned at Chris, whose co-pilot seat was just behind his. He pulled out the cigarette case and chose one. He stuck it in his mouth. He grinned at Chris again. His cigarette lit on its own. Ric pulled it out of his mouth and stared at it. Chris’ eyes glowed faintly of red. She turned back to the controls.

“Better fasten your seatbelts. It’s getting rough out there,” Chris suggested.

Bub and Damon turned their seats so they faced each other and pulled trays out of the arms, twisting them so they covered their laps and formed a table between them. Bub drew a pack of cards from his shirt pocket and dealt a hand to each of them. The quiet slapping of the cards served to calm Jim’s nerves a bit, but he glanced at Ric, wondered just exactly what he knew. He settled the parachute straps over his shoulders, buckled it across his chest, and sat back down.

“Hey Jim,” Ric leaned forward, fastening his seatbelt and tapping his cigarette ash on the floor. “How’s yer sister? Last I heard from you, she was having some problems with her pregnancy.” He stared right at Jim while emphasizing the last word.

Jim didn’t have a sister, but he had told Ric he did to cover his absence over the previous weekend when he was filing his report with his ATF handler. “Um, yeah, she’s fine.” Jim was really sweating now. “It turned out to be a false alarm.”

“That’s good. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, now would we?” Ric stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray built into the arm of his seat.

A guttural growl from the direction of the two card-playing henchmen caught Jim’s attention and he glanced sharply toward them. “What was that?”

Ric jumped at the sound and stared at his two minions. “Yeah…”

“Sorry, boss.” Bub offered, “Just clearing my throat, didn’t mean to scare ya.”

Ric shrugged, and turned back to Jim, who had gotten up and was making his way slowly toward the passenger hatch. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Just stretching my legs. I get cramped up sitting in airplanes.” Jim glanced nervously toward the hatch door. “I wonder how hard it is to open that thing,” he thought to himself. He had to get out of this plane. Ric would not hesitate to kill him if he even thought he was an agent, and Jim suspected that Ric knew.

“Um, did you get the contact information for when we get to Philly?” Jim tried to get the conversation off him and on to the reason they were flying through this storm to Philadelphia. Before they left, Ric had complained that he wasn’t sure yet who they were meeting and he did not like ‘flying blind’ into a situation with such a big load of inventory.

“Nah, I checked my phone just before we got on the plane. Nothing.” Ric did not seem too upset about not having the information, but he did look at Jim thoughtfully for a while before saying, “What difference does it make to you? You’re not making the drop.”

“Just making conversation. I’m a nervous flyer, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Jim wanted to excuse his obviously increasing unease. He didn’t want Ric to know that he knew that Ric knew. He was right in front of the hatch – all he needed to do was grab for the handle, wrench it open and jump out. And hope the parachute opened.

Up in the cockpit, Luci and Chris glanced at each other, eyes flashing red; pupils nearly shut forming vertical lines in the bloody irises. They shared a grin, blinked and looked out at the lightning flashes with normal eyes. Both of them looked a bit smug when they saw Ric’s startled face reflected in the dark glass.

Ric leaned back in his seat, certain that what looked like reflections of red eyes with long pupils in the cockpit window was a trick of the storm and the lightning. “Well,” he cleared his own throat with a sound not nearly as guttural as what Bub had made, “Jim, why don’t you sit back down and we will go over the plan.” He started to rise with the seatbelt still fastened, reaching toward Jim.

Jim grabbed the latch, jerked it up, and the hatch door flew open; the momentum and outburst of air drug him through the opening. He hung onto the latch for a second or two, then let go, scrambling for the rip cord on the parachute.

“It won’t do him any good, that chute won’t open.” Luci said as she and Chris turned their seats around.

Ric sat back, the seatbelt still holding him in, and laughed. “Well, that was easy.” He grinned at Luci and Chris.

“Make ‘em scared enough and they’ll do anything,” Luci said as the others laughed. “Time to pay up, Mr. Allman. We did as you asked and you promised us anything we wanted.”

“Want the plane? She’s a good ship,” Ric said. “Brand new. Got the title right here in Damon’s briefcase.”

“We don’t own things,” Chris was disdainful. “We own people.”

“Nobody owns me,” Ric said belligerently. “Take it or leave it.”

Luci rose from her seat. “Mr. Allman, you promised us anything. We’re not in the business of property. We’re in the business of souls.”

Ric burst out laughing. “Souls? That’s funny. I don’t think I even have a soul.”

“I beg to differ, Mr. Allman. You did say anything. And that’s all we want,” Chris said.

Ric reached in his pocket and pulled a pistol out. He pointed it at Luci. Her pupils elongated in the bloody irises, eyes shooting out a steady beam of red energy. The pistol went flying from his hand.

“Mr. Allman, my name is Luci Fiera, daughter of Luther Fiera or, as you call him, Lucifer.” Luci seemed to grown in stature. Her fingernails grew into red talons. Two small horns emerged from her brow. Her boots split off, revealing cloven hooves. “And this is my cousin, Chris Satana, daughter of my uncle Satan.” Chris now transformed looking much like Luci, only shorter. “It’s time. We’d like your soul as soon as possible. We have a quota. Time is a factor here,” she added in a matter of fact tone almost as a lawyer would negotiate terms.

“No. No! Ric tugged frantically at his seatbelt. You can’t take my soul. You can’t. Boys, kill them.” Ric turned to Damon and Bub pointing at Luci and Chris but to no avail. The two men shimmered. Before him now stood two large salivating creatures with huge canine teeth and long sharp claws. The Hounds of Hell advanced upon him. Damon reached out a set of claws to impale Ric.

The seatbelt buckle finally opened and Ric barely escaped the claws, leaping out of his chair and diving for the cabin wall. He screamed as the jet stream caught him, dragging him along the wall as he frantically grasped objects that failed to stop his slow progress to the open hatchway. He hung on to the hatch frame in one last attempt to remain in the plane, his pleading face on Chris. She smiled and blew him a kiss just before his grip loosened and he fell from the plane.

“That was easy, “Chris said.

“Make ‘em scared enough and they’ll do anything,” Luci said as they all laughed.

Chris inhaled in the direction of the hatch and then exhaled into a small box. A yellow light emanated inside it as she closed the box. “Goodbye, Ric,” she said sweetly. “Dad is going to like this present very much.”

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