The last time he spoke was last night to his wife and children and others nearby whom he thought should hear. Then he went into the long tube to the plane but never appeared at the other end. Everything was stopped, grounded, the other passengers herded back out. The plane was searched. The seats, still in their upright positions, were empty, nothing in the areas underneath or the storage bins above. In the bathrooms the crew only found reflections of themselves and the water was still and blue. The food and beverage cart, secured for takeoff, was still fully stocked, the trays all in place, bottles and cans in their rows. The cockpit was empty, the windows staring into the dark. The cargo hold was cleared, the luggage checked.
Maybe he’d slipped out, someone said. Maybe he’d wandered out where the landing lights sputter away. No, everyone else said, he was too rational, and he would have said himself he was too important to do that. Someone else must have made a mistake.
The plane was disassembled but he wasn’t in the carpet or the walls, or the engines. The fuel was all still there.
Next, the other passengers had to be searched. It was inconvenient and tedious but the crew tagged almost everything for easy retrieval as legs, arms, and torsos were placed in boxes for examination. Still he didn’t turn up. Everything was shaken out and returned. Some ended up with one leg shorter than the other. There was an odd number of left hands. At least complaints were minimal. An unmarked brain was sent to the lost and found then thrown out when it wasn’t claimed after thirty days.
Finally they went to his wife and asked, When was the last time you heard from him? And she said, Last night, when he spoke here in the terminal, when he said it was vital to be there in the morning.