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April 3rd, 2008

Fire in student building; house destroyed, none injured

Last night a student house occupied by several agriculture students was destroyed in a fire. The fire department has yet to confirm the cause of the fire. The house was ruined and only the bare structure remains. The students living in the house were not at home at the time of the fire. However, there was a small room in the attic of the building which may have been occupied.

Police are still looking into…

~~ * ~~~

He had been so excited to finally have his license. True, it had taken him seven tries; but instead of being disheartened every time he hadn’t passed, he would just tell himself ‘next time.’

His dad hadn’t been as confident, and neither were Simon or Caitlin. Especially after the fourth time he’d failed his test. That was when his family’s belief in him began to wane, and quickly went into free-fall.

When he was younger he’d told them over and over all he wanted was to be an aeroplane. Finally Simon had gotten fed up and destroyed his dream in the way only an elder brother could. So he refocused his dreams on the more obtainable goal of becoming an airline pilot.

In those days he hadn’t known how much hard work and time went into becoming a pilot. He hadn’t known it would hurt each time he failed, and how hard it would be to pick himself up.

He also hadn’t known that when he finally passed, when he finally got his pilot’s license, he would never get the chance to fly a real plane.

~~ * ~~

Flames were licking teasingly at his body, trapping him as it ate away and darkened the walls of his room less than a meter away.

As he looked on his few belongings- none more precious than the flight and aviation books- were devoured by the flames. His mind screamed at him to leap into action, to do something… but his body was frozen on the small bed.

And even when the flames reached him, surrounding him on all sides and rising higher and higher there was nothing he could do.

He burned.

~~ * ~~

Once he had his license, almost immediately he went out and applied for any and all openings he could find.

For the lengthy time he waited to hear back he had barely slept due to how excited he was. Now that he had his license, everything would go right. Luck would finally be on his side.

But then he heard from an airline that said he wasn’t quite right for the job. The next said he wasn’t what they were looking for at that time. The last were the most blunt, saying he didn’t have the credentials and experience required for their pilots.

For days after that last rejection he locked himself in his attic room. He wrapped the covers tightly around his body and stared at the wall, trying very hard not to give into the mocking thoughts of just how much of a failure he was.

He thought that maybe his father, or Simon or Caitlin would phone; but his mobile remained pessimistically quiet.

Obviously no one wanted him.

~~ * ~~

He had woken up not in a better place with angels and music as he’d been led to believe when he was young, but was instead lying on a firm, bumpy surface with something soft tickling his palms and cheek.

When he finally managed to open his eyes he found a vast darkness above him, and what looked a lot like trees at the corners of his vision.

The idea of trees was confusing, so he slowly sat up to lean on his hands. The sight that met his eyes was that of the place he’d called home as little more than a small mound of dark ruins, with only a beam or two left standing.

It was completely, without a doubt, unfixable.

He sat staring at these ruins for a while before finally staggering to his feet and making his way towards the street. There was a group of firemen standing around a parked fire truck, studying the ruins of the building they hadn’t managed to save.

He took the one with the most elaborate hat to be in charge, so he stopped next to that fireman. He first waited for the man to notice him; but after what felt like ages and he still hadn’t been noticed, he tried clearing his throat.

The sound died barely out of his mouth, going completely unheard over the noise of the firemen speaking to one another.

He glanced back at the ruins again, and it was still there… already looking resigned to its fate. The firemen were wasting their time; the building was beyond hope- or really anything. Yet they were still arguing.

He cleared his throat, and then louder again when it didn’t seem to have helped. Of course he knew he didn’t have much of a presence, he’d been told so his entire life, but couldn’t they at least glance his way once?

“Ex-excuse me,” he called, his voice wobbling a little, but loud enough. “Are you going to do something about the building?”

They continued to ignore him, not even reacting to the sound of his voice.

“It’s only… well, you see, I had some… things in there, and I’d like to see if they’re all right….”

He trailed off at a loud, ground-shaking crash from behind them. Almost all at once he and the firemen turned to see the little left of the structure had collapsed, stirring up a large black cloud of ash and rubble.

As he took in the ash, rubble, and remains of his building, he experienced the odd feeling his father had called someone ‘walking over your grave.’

But that couldn’t be right; the flames eating away at him and devouring the walls of his room had just been a nightmare. He’d already had a fear of fire to some degree, and often had dreams that played on that fear.

That was all it had been, wasn’t it? No one could be that unlucky.

He slowly turned to the fireman closest to him and asked nervously, “Sir?”

Nothing.

He raised his hand and attempted to lightly tug at the heavy material of the fire suit.

His hand went directly through it.

Feeling very peculiar and unnerved now, he stepped closer to the fireman and, feeling ridiculous, waved his hand in front of the man’s eyes.

The fireman didn’t even blink; he just continued looking at the building.

His tried waving his hand at the man again, and this time realized he could actually see the man’s face through his hand.

His arm dropped back down, and he stared at his hand. How was this possible? How was it that no one could see or hear him, that his hand had gone through someone’s arm? It just didn’t happen.

Unless… No, ghost stories weren’t real. They were just tales his mother had made up to scare him as a boy.

Ghosts weren’t real.

~~ * ~~

The interview he had managed to arrange for MJN Air with the CEO Carolyn Knapp-Shapey was his last hope.

MJN Air wasn’t exactly the airline he’d always dreamed of working for, but it was still an airline with planes he could fly. And it was really the planes he looked forward to.

He’d had to buy new trousers and a dress shirt for the interview; his other trousers had holes in the seams he hadn’t noticed the last time he’d worn them, and the shirt had a very strange stain on the front.

He arrived at the interview half an hour early, wearing the new clothes he’d spent the last of his money on- and he hoped would give him more confidence.

But after meeting the CEO of MJN Air in person and being treated to her sharp tongue and overwhelming presence, the little confidence he’d managed to gather disappeared; and before he knew it everything seemed to fall apart.

He started stumbling over his words, or saying something instead of what he’d meant and having to quickly backtrack. He also sank down into his chair and leaned back in an attempt not to feel so overwhelmed by the woman, even if doing so just made him feel smaller.

By the end of the interview- which seemed to drag on forever- he knew it had gone just as awfully as the others, and he would not get the job. The sense of failure that brought on him- and just after finally getting his CPL- made him feel even more nervous and dejected; but there was nothing he could think of to do to change his horrible fate.

Ms. Knapp-Shappey finished the interview with the usual line of ‘thank you for coming, I’ll be in touch.’ But it was obvious she really wouldn’t, and he’d never hear from her again.

So he put aside all of his pride and stubbornness and told her he would do anything, if only she let him join MJN Air. Of course this did make him sound incredibly desperate, and he should have thought of a better way to phrase it. She seemed like a woman who could think of many horrible things for him to do. But he did so want to be a pilot.

To his surprise, instead of dismissing or scolding him for making such a suggestion, she got a very strange look in her eyes. She asked if he really would do anything, and he quickly replied that he would. Then she asked if he’d be willing to work for half of what the last pilot had made. And, in his eagerness and dawning realization that not all was lost just yet, he’d fallen over himself to say that he would work for nothing if he could be captain.

The CEO smiled at him then, an expression that didn’t look quite right, and declared, ‘well, that was that then.’

She told him he should be ready for a flight to Abu Dhabi in four days time, given him an address, and briskly showed him to the door.

And with that, he found himself working for free as the captain he’d always dreamed of being.

~~ * ~~

His excitement lasted only for the two days before his home was destroyed by flames.

In one night he had lost his place to live, his few belongings- the most of which he didn’t really care about, and his life.

He’d really only begun to come to terms with all this the day and a half later when he went for his first day at MJN Air.

Ever since the fire he’d spent most of his time sitting on the lawn picking at the grass, or idly walking around his neighborhood. No matter what he did, no one seemed able to see him. They never noticed him sitting on the lawn, and even the students didn’t call out on their way to and from classes.

He hadn’t slept at all in that time; he’d closed his eyes and tried to will himself asleep- but it hadn’t done anything. Nothing worked.

Luckily he never felt hungry anymore, not that there was anything for him to eat. He never really felt sleepy either, but continued to try anyway.

On the third morning he went to the airfield Ms. Knapp-Shappey had given him the address of with the instruction to meet her there.

He had trouble just getting to the airfield in the first place. The day of the interview, his van had lasted just long enough to get home before it gave a weak sputter and died. His keys also seemed to have gone missing in the fire.

He tried to catch a taxi, but none of them saw him no matter what he did. The only taxi that actually did stop left once he realized he had no money to pay. So he’d had to find another way to the airfield.

He’d finally gotten a ride in the back of a cab going the same direction. It hadn’t gone to the airfield so he’d had to walk the rest of the way. But he’d gotten close enough that it wasn’t far of a walk.

It had been strange though, riding in the back of a cab with the driver having no idea he was there and not having to pay. He’d felt uncomfortable and nervous the entire time, once or twice trying to call out to the driver.

He walked onto the airfield and arrived outside what he guessed was MJN’s hangar just as a car pulled up from the other side of the field. He stopped where he was, a good distance away, and waited nervously for the people inside to come out.

The door closest to him opened first, revealing a man who looked even younger than him and quite happy about something or other. The man stepped out and stood gazing around the field, while the door on the other side opened and someone else got out of the car.

“This is going to be an absolutely brilliant trip, mum! I just know it!” The man declared cheerfully, turning a little towards the other side of the car.

“I would say that was reassuring, Arthur,” came Ms. Knapp-Shappey’s familiar sharp tones. “But you say that about every flight.”

Was this Arthur Ms. Knapp-Shappey’s son? She hadn’t seemed like the motherly sort, but he had never been a people person enough to really be able to tell. It sounded as if Arthur came along on every flight, which was strange; there were regulations about that. But of course Carolyn was the CEO so she made the decisions. At least Arthur sounded like a rather cheerful and happy sort.

As Carolyn came around the car, Arthur replied, “And every time we have a brilliant flight, I was right!”

“Yes, but how often do we have a so-called brilliant flight?” Carolyn answered in what seemed to be her usual dry tone as the two of them started towards the hangar.

This response seemed to deflate Arthur for only a few moments, his shoulders drooping a little, before he perked up again and grinned at his mother. “Well, I still bet this one will be brilliant!”

Either this man’s cheerfulness would be a breath of fresh air, or quickly become grating. He was almost eager to find out which it would be.

From nearly halfway across the tarmac, Arthur suddenly seemed to notice him. His eyes widened in surprise, and then a wide grin broke out across his face. “Hi! You must be our new skipper!” Arthur called, waving at him.

He stared, not quite believing what could actually be luck. It was something he rarely experienced, so he wasn’t sure at first- too used to being life’s punching bag. Everyone else had always been lucky, but he’d never been able to share it.

But now, when it shouldn’t matter anymore, here it was.

Luck- something actually going right for him.

With a jolt he realized Ms. Knapp-Shappey and Arthur were standing a yard or so away. It was unsettling being so near people again; especially someone who could actually see him.

He worried nervously at his lip, working up courage. Finally he asked, voice just above a whisper, “You can see me?”

Arthur smiled at him, and at even just that small gesture most of his nervousness faded.

The younger man opened his mouth to say something, maybe to him, when his mother interrupted.

“Unless you’re waving at that lost squirrel over there, Arthur, I would quickly lower that hand of yours.”

Arthur looked startled, as if he didn’t understand, but let his arm fall back to his side. After that he just stood next to his mother, head tilted down and smiling a little.

“Well, it seems neither our new pilot nor Douglas have taken the golden opportunity to come and join us for today’s flight,” Carolyn observed sharply. “Which is unfortunate, since no flight means no job, which means no customer, which, most importantly, means no pay. And I know how Douglas loves his enchanted life.”

“But mum-“

His mother waved her hand impatiently in his direction. “I know you think highly of Douglas, Arthur; but he has to understand some time that the world does not in fact revolve around Douglas Richardson.” She made a scoffing noise. “It doesn’t even come close.”

“Mum, he’s -“

“Go and check on GERTI, will you Arthur?” Carolyn instructed her son. “We should have her ready in the extreme chance either of them does turn up.”

Arthur appeared to realize it would be better to stop trying to interrupt. “R-right, mum. I’ll get… on that.”

Arthur started towards the large metal building off to the side; the one with part of its roof considering falling in. He watched Arthur walk away, wondering what he should do. Go after Arthur? It would be more interesting than staying here and watching Ms. Knapp-Shappey.

“Come on then, Skip,” Arthur’s voice called him, and he looked to see the other man had stopped to look back. “I’ll show you around GERTI!”

So he had been right, Arthur could see him and was now talking to him. Of all the people who could, it was this Arthur fellow.

Well, with his luck it could definitely be worse.

He noticed Arthur was still waiting for him. The man must have the patience of a saint. Or was just patient with him.

Either way, he quickly hurried to catch up to the other man. When he did Arthur smiled in greeting, his voice rising in his excitement. “I wanted to be a pilot once; Mum even got me an interview at the academy. But when they called my name I got so scared I couldn’t move, and I missed my chance. But that obviously didn’t happen to you; you actually got to be a pilot. I’m jealous, really; I bet its load of fun being a pilot.”

He couldn’t help but smile at how Arthur was going on, rambling really. He didn’t mind though. Arthur was amusing, and almost overwhelmingly cheerful. It was nice after being alone so long.

As Arthur unlocked the door with a key from a key ring with only three keys on it, he answered, mumbling a little, “I, I wouldn’t know, really. I’ve only just become a pilot- I don’t have much experience.” Arthur finally got the door unlocked, and pushed it open. He managed to slip through just in time. “This would have been my first job, with MJN I mean. I finally got my CPL a few days ago.”

Arthur’s face fell a little at his confession, but he managed a small smile. “Well, you’re here now; with us, I mean; at MJN. We’re probably not your first, or your best choice, but we are still an airline. Or an airdot like Mum says. MJN is a pretty brilliant place, though. It’s fun here!”

He felt something bubbling up in his chest. “I’m glad to hear that. It seems… good, so far.”

Arthur smiled at him, and then flipped a switch on the wall near him; a switch that illuminated the rather small hangar, in the middle of which stood a beautiful, slightly old, Lockheed McDonnell 312.

And all right, it did look a little… not exactly stable. But not all air dots- is that what Arthur had said?- could have large, brand-new airplanes like most airlines now.

He drew himself from his study of MJN’s only plane and glanced over to see Arthur looking at him. The serious expression- one he suspected wasn’t typical for Arthur- faded away quickly when their eyes met.

Arthur smiled a little and looked at GERTI. “Well, Skip?” He asked. “What d’you think of her?”

He felt a smile tug at his mouth. “She’s beautiful,” he confessed honestly, the words spilling from his lips.

It was obviously the right answer, since Arthur lit up and beamed at him. “Isn’t she though?” He gushed happily. “I mean, she is a bit old, and she’s not exactly perfect, but GERTI’s a great plane. I mean, she’s survived so far!”

He laughed; “yes, she has. And she really does seem like a good plane.”

Arthur’s grin appeared to grow even more. He seemed about to say something, when the door to the hangar slammed open again behind them.

~~ * ~~

Arthur spun around as the door opened and Mum’s voice called, echoing, “We’re ready, Arthur! Douglas has finally seen fit to join our company outing today, so we’re ready to take to the skies.”

He waved happily at Douglas as he came through after Mum. “Morning, Douglas!”

Douglas looked like he’d winced- maybe he had been a bit loud; it did echo a lot in here. It was all metal; must be really loud when it got windy.

“Good morning, Arthur. You seem to be as chipper as always. I would be chipper as well, but I haven’t had that special dark liquid people use to keep themselves awake at this awful hour,” Douglas said as both he and Mum walked over. “However, if you were somehow able to find me some of that special liquid, I would be very happy.”

Special liquid? There were a lot of kinds of special liquids. But not all of them helped keep people awake. It was like when Douglas quizzed him on the phonetic alphabet- there were a lot of possible answers.

“Oh for goodness sakes, Arthur, he means coffee. Just get the man some coffee,” Mum enlightened and finally stopped in front of him. “And one for me as well if I’m going to be forced to wait for our new pilot. I thought no one could be as temporally challenged as Douglas, but it seems I was mistaken.”

Well, that was two for coffee then. There was probably hot water left from their last trip, and he knew he had left a pineapple juice in the galley.

Oh, he’d almost forgotten about their new Skipper! He looked towards where Skipper was standing next to him to ask, but he wasn’t there anymore. He was gone… just, vanished.

He didn’t think people could just vanish like that, not like in the movies. But the man really was gone.

“W-where did he-?”

“The coffee, Arthur,” Mum reminded him, trilling his name like she did sometimes.

A mystery he’d have to put off then. There was coffee and pineapple juice to make and find.

But he knew he had seen their new skipper. He had to have, the man had talked to him- been right next to him.

He did so like mysteries. He could be Miss Marple! Or that one with the weird name and the strange-looking hat.

~~ * ~~

Suddenly he was in what looked like GERTI’s flight deck, even if he remembered being in the hangar just before.

The flight deck didn’t look very out of the ordinary; except for the surprising amount of warning lights on. But the man sitting in the Captain’s seat- his seat- looked perfectly in control. He also looked like how he’d always imagined an airline Captain, complete with uniform and cap.

The man sitting in the First Officer’s seat did not look as in control. He was sort of slouching in the seat, hands clenched as he stared out the windows. It took him a second or so, but he recognized the man as Arthur, the one who had talked to him before.

“Are they having you fly the plane?” He asked quietly, moving a little closer to the younger man. “I didn’t think you were a pilot.”

Arthur jumped at the sound of his voice, which must have seemed like it had come from nowhere. He turned his head around, exclaiming happily, “Skipper! You’re back!”

It was as if the man was actually glad to see him. “Y-yes,” he said, not sure if he had actually gone anywhere. “Hello,” he added, because it seemed polite.

Arthur grinned at him and looked a little less nervous. “Hello!” He parroted loudly. “I’m flying the plane!”

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “So I see. And how is flying so far?”

“Brilliant!” Arthur beamed.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Arthur,” the man in the other seat- the Captain’s seat- broke in. “But actually I am the one flying GERTI while you are merely pretending, and seeming to be poorly avoiding a panic attack.”

Arthur’s grin dimmed a little when he replied, “But I still get to sit in the seat!”

He cast a skeptical glance around the flight deck at all its technology and controls. “Are you sure you should be flying?”

“GERTI’s a good plane!” Arthur protested, taking his comment wrongly. “She made it to Alaska just last week!”

“Barely,” the other man commented in a sarcastic drawl.

Arthur turned his head to frown intensely at the other man. “She did, Douglas!”

“Yes, but barely,” Douglas amended in the same tone. “We nearly took off a wing on the landing.”

“Well, maybe,” Arthur conceded uncomfortably. “But she-“

“B, Arthur,” Douglas quickly interrupted, raising his voice to speak over him.

Arthur practically jumped up in his seat, eyes wide. “B, uhm, Brian, Bongo, Bang, Boom, Boot, Bottle, Bo-“

What on Earth? “What are you doing?” He asked, glancing over at Douglas who merely looked amused.

Arthur’s eyes darted over to him. “Douglas is quizzing me on the phonetic alphabet. I have to guess the answer. Bike, Bus, Baker-“

“Aren’t you supposed to know the answer?” He had thought it was a requirement for pilots to know the alphabet.

Arthur gave him a strange look. “No, there’s a lot of possible answers. That’s why he’s quizzing me.”

He frowned, puzzled. That was true, but there was only one right answer when it came to flying. And for the ATC. If you didn’t use the right word then ATC wouldn’t understand, and that could lead to a lot of confusion on the airfield. That was why all pilots and ATC used the same alphabet, and were supposed to know every word.

Maybe Arthur just didn’t know all of them yet. It had taken him awhile to be able to remember all of them.

He tuned back in to hear Arthur still attempting to find the right answer for ‘B.’

“Base, bingo, blot, blue, bottlenose-“

“Bottlenose?” He echoed disbelievingly; that was the most ridiculous possible answer he had heard yet. “Why would it be ‘bottlenose’?”

Arthur looked up at him, expression still furrowed in thought. “Why wouldn’t it be?” He asked honestly. “It wasn’t bingo.”

“It isn’t bingo, Arthur,” the man in the captain’s chair commented dryly, “because I imagine ATC would be very confused each time someone tried to call in using ‘bingo.’” After a pause he added, “All though if ATC were playing bingo I imagine it would be a very interesting game.”

Well apparently the captain did have a sense of humor. Just a very strange, dry one.

“The answer is bravo,” he finally said, giving Arthur the answer before he tried to go through every word he knew that started with ‘b.’ He had a feeling Arthur was so intent on getting the right answer he wouldn’t stop until he did.

Arthur’s nose wrinkled, making him look even more confused. “Bravo? But that’s boring.”

“Boring, perhaps. But it is the right answer. Congratulations, Arthur,” the pilot commented obligingly. “Third time’s the charm as they say… or the twentieth,” he trailed off sarcastically.

“Brilliant!” Arthur said enthusiastically, a wide grin on his face. He sat back in the chair. “Okay, let’s try another!”

“As exciting of a game as this has been,” the older man interrupted, “If we are to be on schedule for this flight and not risk Carolyn’s wrath, we should begin our journey to the runway.”

Arthur slumped a little. “Yeah, mum might not like it if we’re not on schedule. She could get all shouty again.”

“Yes, and that is to be avoided at all costs,” the captain agreed with a firm nod.

This seemed like a very odd airline- airdot, if its pilots and CEO were any indication. But he still found it… comfortable. MJN felt more like a family than a business. And he had been so very close to being a part of that family. Now all he had was this strange afterlife of following around the crew of MJN air and witnessing everything he was missing.

He watched silently as the older pilot- Douglas was it?- slid forward in his chair and called ATC to request takeoff. He said it so professionally, like a real pilot. Other than his sarcastic comments and the way he teased Arthur, Douglas was like the pilots he’d always envied.

ATC responded, and soon GERTI was hurrying down the runway towards the sky.

The outdated flight simulations he’d practiced on for years had nothing on the real thing.

~~~ * ~~~

When they were finally in the air and the seatbelts signs were off- even though they didn’t have passengers apparently the lights were still supposed to be on- Arthur looked over at Skip again.

He hadn’t meant to look away and ignore Skipper, but no matter how many times he flew with Mum and Douglas the takeoff was always brilliant. The entire mass of the plane lifting off the tarmac and into the sky… and no one knew why. It was so brilliant!

But Skip wasn’t there anymore. Again. Why did he keep disappearing just when Arthur wanted to talk to him? At this rate Arthur would never get the chance to have a real conversation with Skipper. He liked meeting people and talking with them, but Skipper wasn’t giving him any chance to. And Skipper seemed so nice too!

Arthur shifted in his chair so he could see Douglas better. Douglas was staring out the windows at the clouds and not really paying attention to the controls. But since they were already up in the air and none of the lights were blinking, or red, it was probably okay.

“Douglas?” He asked curiously, shifting again so he wasn’t twisting so much.

Douglas didn’t look at him, but he did make a noise so Arthur knew he was listening. Arthur was used to this; Douglas did try, but he wasn’t always good at listening. Especially to him.

“Do you know where Skipper went off to? You think he wanted coffee? Or tea? I should have made drinks; he probably went to get coffee,” Arthur found himself babbling. He wondered if he should go try and help Skipper find something to drink. He was supposed to be the steward, which just seemed like a fancy term for looking after the passengers, and the pilots. Oh, and doing the safety procedures! That was usually fun.

But he really should go look after Skip. He was supposed to help.

“I’m not certain if this Skipper of yours would like coffee,” Douglas drawled, eyes still on the clouds. “But I would certainly not say no to one.”

Right, well if he was making a cup for Douglas anyways he might as well make one for Skipper. It was easier to make two cups than just one. Not that the coffee-making in GERTI was very sophisticated. They couldn’t make anything fancy like in the coffee shops.

“I’ll go get coffee, then!” Arthur announced, hopping out of his chair. “Look after GERTI, okay, Douglas?”

“I will be sure to inform you if any important part of GERTI happens to fall off,” Douglas replied in a voice that Arthur was almost certain was sarcastic. “Of course, the warning lights and alarms would also be just as good of a warning to let you know GERTI was in danger.”

That… didn’t sound very good. “Well, hopefully that won’t happen,” he declared optimistically. Then Arthur opened the door and slipped out.

His mum was standing by the small kitchen, glaring down at the mobile clutched in her hand. She had the face that meant she was very much not happy; and also meant it would be a bad idea to cross her warpath.

But she was his mum, so he had to at least ask. “Mum, everything all right?”

She looked up as he passed her on his way to the coffee. There was that scary fire in her eyes, and a line between her eyebrows. “No, everything is most definitely not all right.” She snapped at him. “Not only has our new pilot failed to appear, but now I can’t get a hold of the inconsiderate bastard!”

He turned to look at her in the middle of making the coffee, hearing the noises the buttons on mobiles made when you pressed them. It sounded like she was trying to ring the person again.

All those warnings about using electronics on aeroplanes when they were in the air niggled at him. “Mum,” he began carefully, eyeing the mobile, “Are you sure you should be using that while we’re still up in the air?”

She dragged her eyes away from the phone to give him a confused look. “Arthur, what are you-?” His mum suddenly cut herself off and her expression changed again to how she usually looked when he’d said something ridiculous. “Really, Arthur, you know those are just things we tell passengers so they aren’t even more annoying and use their mobiles on flights. God forbid we have to suffer even more annoyances from passengers.”

“Oh, right,” he answered. Then he jumped as the machine beeped at him, demanding his attention. He turned back to it and reached up to take the least two chipped mugs from the cupboard.

“Didn’t you already bring Douglas coffee?” His mum asked pointedly. He could feel her eyes on him as he poured coffee into each mug. “You can say no to the man, Arthur. He won’t attack you.”

He turned off the machine, just to be sure, before picking up the two mugs. “Course he won’t, mum. But I don’t want something to happen just because I didn’t give Douglas coffee. And I thought Skipper might like a coffee too.”

Mum looked confused again. “’Skipper’? Arthur, you do know ‘Skipper’ is the term for a boat captain, not of an aeroplane.”

“Is it? Well that’s disappointing,” Arthur said, deflating a little. But then a new thought occurred to him and he perked up again. “Maybe Skip won’t mind. He seemed really nice like that.”

“Arthur,” his mum began to say, looking at him a little oddly. “Just who is this-?”

“Arthur,” Douglas called through the door, still very audible. “I would prefer to drink my coffee before we land.”

“Coming!” Arthur called in the direction of the door, raising his voice just to be sure Douglas heard. He walked to the door, carefully carrying the full mugs so he wouldn’t spill a drop.

“See you later, mum,” he told her with a smile. Then he reached out and opened the door.

As he entered the flight deck again Arthur scanned the small space for any sign of Skipper.

At first he didn’t see him. Feeling disappointed, Arthur closed the door before he walked slowly over to Douglas’ chair. Since Skipper wasn’t there Arthur supposed he could drink the other mug himself. He shouldn’t let it just sit unused.

“Thank you, Arthur,” Douglas told him, reaching out to take one of the mugs. Once it was in his hand Douglas curled both of his hands around the mug and raised it to his mouth.

Arthur gave a mumbled “welcome,” before he turned around to his chair. Only to find Skipper sitting in it, watching Douglas with a weird- almost longing- look.

“Skipper!” He greeted happily, feeling a grin break across his face. He must have moved the mug because a little of the coffee sloshed over his hand, and it really hurt. “Ow, ow!”

Skipper blinked, looking startled. “Are you all right? You didn’t get hurt…”

By the time Skipper finished talking Arthur had his hand in his mouth, nursing the burn. “No, ‘m fine,” Arthur mumbled around his hand. He glanced at the mug he was still holding, and then up at Skipper. “D’you want coffee?”

Skipper was giving him a really weird look now. Had he said something wrong again? He hated when that happened. Did Skipper not like coffee? “Or- or not,” Arthur quickly said, taking the mug back. “Do you want something else? We have tea, and I think we might still have juice somewhere. Or we could try and unlock the liquor cabinet.”

Skipper’s face did a strange twitchy thing and then his mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish. “A-Arthur, it is Arthur r-right?” He kind of rasped a little, but his voice was higher than Arthur remembered. “You do realize, I mean you are aware, you do know-“

Arthur leaned forward, a little alarmed by how twitchy Skip had gotten suddenly. And he looked pale too. “You all right, Skip?”

Skip made a hiccup-laugh sound before he gave a nervous sigh. “Arthur… Arthur, I’m n-not sure how to tell you this, but… well,” he squinted his eyes up. “You do realize that I’m not exactly… alive. I mean I’m not, I’m actually… dead.”

Arthur froze, feeling a little… crushed. He realized a few seconds later that his mouth was hanging open and quickly closed it. Mum always said he looked like a fish when he did that.

“Oh… wow. That, that explains a lot.” He frowned, squinting uncertainly at Skip- at a ghost! “Are you sure?”

Skip flinched a little at the question, and looked away. But then he tensed again, looking at something behind Arthur. “If you don’t believe me, look at your other pilot.”

“Douglas?” Arthur asked, surprised that Skipper had mentioned Douglas. What did Douglas have to do with this? He knew for sure that Douglas wasn’t a ghost.

“Yes, Arthur? Are you finished talking with your new friend ‘Skipper’ now?” Douglas asked him in the bored sarcastic voice that always made an appearance on long flights. “I’m very grateful to finally have your attention once again.”

Had he been ignoring Douglas? That wasn’t very nice, even if he hadn’t meant to. “Sorry, Douglas. I didn’t mean not to say anything. I mean- I would have said something, but I was talking to-“

“Your new friend ‘Skipper,’ Arthur. Yes, I heard.” Douglas shifted forward in his chair just enough to set his mug down within reach. “It seems the two of you are getting along.”

Arthur was about to reply that yes, they really were, when Skip said sharply, “Arthur, don’t. He’s just goading you. He thinks-“

When Arthur turned around Skip had already stopped talking and was glancing around the flight deck, biting his lip.

“Arthur, the chair is there for a reason,” Douglas informed him shortly. “I would suggest you sit down.”

Arthur didn’t really listen to Douglas. “What Skip?”

Skip nodded to himself before scrambling out of the chair. “We shouldn’t talk here, your other pilot is looking at you oddly. We should, uhm, let’s go into the cabin, maybe?”

Skip stood up in front of the chair then hurried around the other side. So Arthur went between the chairs and followed him to the flight deck door.

He got to the door first, so Arthur opened it for them. Skip went through first, mumbling a thank you Arthur was almost sure, and he followed.

Mum was still in the galley, holding her mobile and shouting abuse at it. She didn’t look up when Skip went by, but she did glare at him. “What are you doing out here, Arthur? You’re supposed to be on the flight deck with Douglas.”

“Douglas’ll be fine, mum, he’s the actual pilot,” Arthur told her quickly. “And it’s only for a few minutes. I just need to talk to Skipper quick.”

His mum fiddled with the mobile in her hand. “This Skipper business again,” she sighed. “Arthur, darling boy,” she started to say to him, looking worried and with her serious face on.

“Arthur, I think you should stop talking and come have a chat,” Skipper suggested rather insistently.

Arthur took his eyes off his mum’s worried face to look at Skip, who was looking warily at mum.

“Okay, Skip,” Arthur agreed, taking a few steps towards him. Before they went off Arthur turned back to reassure mum, because he really didn’t like it when she looked worried like that. “We won’t go far, mum. Just to the not pointy end. And it’s not like I won’t hear if you shout. GERTI’s not that big.”

Mum didn’t look like she was very reassured at all. “All the same, Arthur, you should-“

Out of the corner of his eye Arthur saw Skip walking away between the passenger chairs. “Sorry, mum!” He called and hurried after Skip.

As he walked away Arthur heard his mum mutter crossly- never a good sign- and then the sound of the mobile keys being smashed.

“Your mother seems upset,” Skipper observed out loud as Arthur stopped near him. “Her mobile doesn’t sound like it’ll survive.”

Arthur glanced over GERTI’s seats at his mum, who now had the mobile to her ear. “We don’t always have the best days with GERTI- she can be temperamental sometimes.” He quickly added on, just so Skipper didn’t get the wrong idea, “She’s a great aeroplane though. But, I think Mum’s more annoyed that the new pilot who was supposed to come on today, didn’t. And now she can’t get a hold of him. Mum doesn’t like it when things don’t work how they’re supposed to.”

Skipper’s face did that funny twitching thing again, his eyes widening so he looked startled. He didn’t say anything right away, just opened and closed his mouth a few times.

Arthur waited patiently, wondering what it was that Skip was finding so hard to say.

“Arthur,” Skip began, and his voice was wavering a little again. “You remember I told you I’m…dead?”

“Yeah, Skip,” Arthur agreed, nodding. “And I’m really very sorry to hear that.”

For some reason Skip looked surprised by his- really honest- words. Did Skip expect him not to be? It was always very sad when people died; especially Skipper who was so nice. There must be someone missing him, somewhere.

“Um, w-well, thank you. I suppose,” Skipper stuttered, a blush creeping across his face. “B-but what I meant to say was that since I’m… dead, what you’re seeing isn’t exactly me- I think. Well, it is me since I’m still myself, but I’m not… real. I’m just a, a ghost.”

“Wow, I’ve never met a real ghost before!” Arthur exclaimed probably a little too loudly. He leaned forward, looking carefully at Skipper to see if he could tell just from looking that Skip was a ghost. Finally he had to conclude that he couldn’t tell just by using his eyes. Skipper looked totally normal. “This is really exciting!”

Skipper was looking wide-eyed again. “R-really? Most people would run away when they realize they’ve been talking to a ghost. Or at least I think they would.”

Well those people were silly then. He could never have dreamed up getting to talk with a ghost. “No, this is exciting!”

Arthur grinned when Skip’s mouth twitched and then actually smiled. Good, he had gotten Skipper to smile. That was definitely a good thing.

But then Arthur had the thought that if Skipper was a ghost, then why was he here at MJN? There must be lots of exciting places you could go as a ghost!

Maybe he could ask, he didn’t think it would upset Skip. “I don’t want to upset you Skip, and I really do like it here and I’m glad you’re here too… but I was really just curious… why are you here? Out of everywhere you could go now why’d you come here?”

Uh oh, Skip had that funny look on his face again; and he was blinking lots. “Please, Skip, don’t get upset. I didn’t mean to upset you. It was a stupid question, okay? You don’t have to answer. You can forget I asked you anything.”

Skipper shook his head firmly, and his lips were pressed together. “N-no, it’s fine. I was just surprised, really.” He ran a hand through his hair, messing up the really bright curls. “I told you before I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. MJN was my first chance to be one once I finally passed my CPL.” Skipper looked down at the floor, blinking fast again. “But with my luck I couldn’t even manage that. I died just before my first day here.”

So Skip had been going to come to MJN. That would have been fun; Skip’d be a great addition to MJN. Mum had said they were getting another pilot, but Arthur hadn’t been sure what to think since the last few pilots hadn’t lasted very long. And now they wouldn’t ever know what it would’ve been like because Skip hadn’t gotten a chance to fly with them.

“Oh. Oh!” Arthur exclaimed as everything finally all clicked together. “You were the new pilot that was coming today! The one mum’s so mad at because you didn’t show.” He smiled at Skipper. “She should definitely forgive you since you have such a good reason. And you actually are here.”

Skipper laughed, but it didn’t sound very happy. “Oh yes. ‘I know you can’t see or hear me Ms. Knapp-Shappey, but I do have a very good reason for not turning up. You see, I died in a fire at my apartment just before my first day. But I’m here as a ghost, so that must count for something!’”

“Ah, well…” Arthur mumbled, fumbling for a response. “Yeah, I guess so. But I’m sure mum’ll still be forgiving!”

Skip shook his head again. He didn’t look as sure as Arthur was. “It doesn’t matter if she forgives me or not, Arthur. I’m still dead and a ghost, and your mother needs another pilot. One who’s alive.”

If only there was a way to change that. He really thought Skipper would be really great with MJN. And they had been so close to all flying together!

Arthur tried to hide his disappointment, and still sound cheerful as he said, “Yeah, but I bet Mum would still want to know. And you don’t have to go anywhere; you could stay here with us.”

Skipper was really obviously trying not to smile. Good, that meant he’d successfully cheered Skipper up. “And what would I do at MJN? I can’t be your second pilot.”

“Noo… I guess not.” He quickly tried to think of a good reason for Skipper to stay. “You could be… our unofficial mascot!”

“A ghost as a mascot?” Skipper asked, sounding like he didn’t think it was such a great idea.

So maybe not then. “Well, you’d still be really good company, Skip.” He grinned widely. “I’d love you to stay.”

“I-I’d love to stay as well, Arthur,” Skipper replied so quietly Arthur almost couldn’t hear him. “I-I’m glad I came.”

Arthur felt his face starting to hurt from how big he was grinning. “That’s brilliant, Skip. I’m really glad you’re here too!”

He took a step forward to hug Skip since he felt like this was a hugging moment. But he froze at the alarmed look Skip gave him, and then a second later remembered why they were talking about this in the first place.

Arthur let his arms fall back to his sides, and gave Skip a sheepish look. “Sorry, Skip.”

“N-no, it’s fine,” Skip said. His face almost matched his hair now! “I, appreciate the sentiment.”

That was good, he hadn’t completely embarrassed Skip.

He gave Skip a reassuring smile. “Good, let’s go talk to mum then!” Arthur started back down the aisle, expecting Skip to follow him.

“I-I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Skip replied, his voice doing the funny pitch thing again.

Arthur stopped halfway down the aisle of seats and turned around again. Skip hadn’t moved and he looked nervous again.

He tried his best to reassure Skip. “I know Mum’s a little scary, especially when she does her shouty-bit thing. But deep, deep down she’s actually a good person and I know she wants to talk to you. She likes to know all about what’s going on with GERTI; and after some of what’s happened to GERTI I bet she’ll be happy to know we have a ghost mascot now! Well, maybe not happy. Probably relieved.”

“Yes, because every aeroplane company wants a ghost mascot now; and lucky for your mother, I’m it,” Skip replied quickly; and ohh, that was sarcasm. So Skipper didn’t think Mum wanted a mascot? “No, Arthur, the only reason your mother would talk to me would be to yell at me once she realizes her new pilot is here after all, but so sorry, he’s a ghost.”

Mum hadn’t realized Skip was here had she? He hadn’t put it all together until just now, but it was true. Mum hadn’t greeted or even looked at Skipper when they’d arrived at the hangar earlier, and since they’d been on GERTI Mum hadn’t looked directly at Skipper or seemed to hear him when he and Skipper’d been talking by the kitchen just now.

And Douglas; he had caught Douglas giving him strange looks, and Douglas had been using a lot more sarcasm than he usually did. So maybe Douglas hadn’t seen or heard Skipper either.

Which probably meant… “Skip…” he said slowly. “Am I the only one who can see you?”

“Yes, it seems for some reason you’re the only one who can see or hear me,” Skipper informed him. He sounded tired… could a ghost be tired? “Which is why your mother and pilot have looked oddly at you when you talked to me.”

“They have, haven’t they?” Arthur mused. Then he smiled. “That just means I have to introduce you to Mum and Douglas!” He resumed walked down the seats again. “Don’t worry; I’m sure they’ll really like you.”

On his way to the flight deck Arthur thought he heard Skip mumble, “That’s really unlikely.” But that couldn’t be right.

~~~ * ~~~

Carolyn quickly pulled open the flight deck door and hurried inside.

“Douglas, we need to talk. Now,” she commanded while turning back to close the door loudly.

Douglas didn’t deign to turn and look at her, or to even take his eyes from the no doubt mesmerizing view of the clouds out the window. “Being the owner of an aeroline, Carolyn, I would have thought you were aware of this; but part of being a pilot is flying an aeroplane. Meaning I am supposed to keep a watchful eye for any dangerous geese that may attempt to hijack us.”

“Only you, Douglas,” she commented walking up to the pilot’s seats, “would consider the possibility of being hijacked by geese.”

Carolyn stopped to stand beside his chair, within his line of sight so he couldn’t ignore her. “We need to talk about Arthur.”

Douglas groaned very loudly at her pronouncement. “No conversation that begins with ‘we need to talk about Arthur’ is one that I want to participate in. As you can see, I am busy flying an aeroplane. I have no time to discuss your son.”

“Very clever, Douglas,” Carolyn replied sharply. “But I have seen the weather report and I know that it says we will have clear skies. I also know there are two hours- at minimum- remaining in our flight time. So as you can see, I am well aware that you do in fact have quite a lot of time to discuss Arthur with me.” She crossed her arms across her chest and treated him to her iciest look. “Now, did you notice anything odd about Arthur today?”

Douglas’ mouth twitched, and his eyes crinkled. Both clear signs the next words out of his mouth would be sarcastic.

Douglas did not disappoint. “Are we judging this off Arthur’s typical odd behavior, or Arthur being more peculiar than he usually is?”

“More so than usual,” Carolyn confirmed shortly.

Douglas hummed quietly before he answered, “I see. Well in that case, he did seem rather engaged in a conversation with the pilot’s seat.” The frown lines around his mouth deepened. “And was referring to it as ‘Skipper.’”

Carolyn’s expression darkened. “I feared as much. While I was in the galley trying once again to reach our errant pilot, I overheard Arthur carrying on a conversation with a ‘Skipper.’”

“The same person, then,” Douglas mused, finally sounding serious.

Carolyn nodded her agreement. “Likely, yes.”

Silence reigned between them for several long moments as the two who normally never struggled for words, did.

“Carolyn,” Douglas finally said, his voice atypically doubtful. “Is it possible Arthur could have-“

“No,” Carolyn denied firmly, cutting him off. “It is not.”

Douglas looked intently at her. “Carolyn, I understand he is your son. However-“

He was interrupted this time by the flight deck door opening behind them.

“Mum,” Arthur called from the door. “Can Skip and I come in?”

Carolyn turned to see Arthur standing half in and half out of the doorway, looking uncertainly at her.

She sighed, and then replied, “Far be it from me to restrict you from somewhere you are supposed to be in the first place.”

The comment appeared to go over his head, as was typical. “Thanks mum!” He said happily; then he stepped through into the flight deck, holding the door open after him long enough for another person to enter.

Carolyn shared a wary look with Douglas.

“Mum,” Arthur said, standing just inside the door and looking directly at her. “Skipper wants to say something to you.” He turned his head towards the empty space to his right, and his forehead creased.

“Oh, right,” Arthur said, as if replying to something. His expression cleared and he looked back to her again. “Skipper wants me to say something to you for him since he can’t say it himself because you can’t hear him since he’s a ghost, and I’m apparently the only one who can see or hear him.”

Carolyn blinked a few times, taking a second to mentally unravel her sons babbling. What she came up with seemed impossible; yet this was Arthur.

So she asked carefully, “Arthur, are you saying this ‘Skipper’ you’ve been talking to… is a ghost?”

Arthur, her impossible boy, simply nodded. “Yeah. And-“ He broke off, turning to his right again.

Carolyn waited as Arthur appeared to listen to his… ghost. This felt ridiculous; she doubted Arthur had suddenly become a ghost whisperer. But he was her son, and she liked to think herself a good mother.

“Mum, Skipper wants me to tell you that he’s sorry he’s deserted and inconvenienced you; he was looking forward to starting today. But his bad luck intervened and there was a fire so he… couldn’t. He’s still here though, even if he can’t be our second pilot anymore.”

If the idea wasn’t completely ridiculous, and impossible, it sounded as if Arthur was talking about the nervous, fresh young thing she’d hired to be their new pilot.

But- as far as she knew- the irresponsible Martin something was still alive, just glaringly absent.

“Arthur, that’s completely ridiculous,” she argued sternly. “Your ghost can’t possibly-“

“Carolyn,” Douglas interrupted firmly, sounding strange for him.

She turned to where Douglas was now standing in front of his chair, facing Arthur as well. “Not now, Douglas,” Carolyn snapped angrily before looking back to her son.

“I really think you should listen to me, Carolyn,” Douglas commented insistently, speaking before she could.

She turned to him once more, glaring fiercely. But he didn’t back down; being Douglas, he met her glare.

Finally Carolyn decided she might as well listen to what he wanted to say. Otherwise she’d never hear the end of it from him. Even if she’d rather there not be a delay before she got to the bottom of all this.

Carolyn huffed irritably and crossed her arms. “What is it, Douglas?”

He was still looking at her, but every so often glanced over at Arthur. “Did you read the paper from two days ago? The local paper?”

How were the papers relevant to this? “No, as it happens I did not. Was there some miraculous event I missed?”

Douglas was looking more at Arthur than her now. “There was an article about a fire at a house for agricultural students at the local college. The entire place burned to the ground, and firemen found the remains of a young man in the ruins. They haven’t released the name, and everything was burned, yet…”

Yes, ‘yet’… It should seem utterly ridiculous; they shouldn’t even be considering the idea. Yet Arthur was completely useless at lying, and he seemed to really believe his ‘Skipper’ ghost was real.

Through Arthur the ghost had mentioned he’d died in a fire, which did connect to the article Douglas mentioned, and also apologized for not being able to be their second pilot anymore… which, unless this was a very poor joke, could really only mean one person.

As ridiculous as it was…

“Arthur, what does this Skipper of yours look like?” Carolyn asked curiously, not looking at her son but at the space next to him.

Arthur shifted from foot to foot, a line creasing his brow as he stared at his ghost. “Uhm, well… he’s sort of short, and really kind of thin. He has bright hair and he’s pale. Not vampire pale, but pale. And… he knows you.”

As vague as Arthur’s description was, it sounded very like the nervous young pilot she’d hired to fly with MJN. “Well, this is certainly a turn of events,” Carolyn mused. “Our new pilot does turn up after all, but does so as a ghost. How obliging of you, Martin.”

Her son turned to where Martin must be standing and asked eagerly, “Your name is Martin, Skip?”

At the same time Douglas spoke again, addressing their ghost. “Martin, was it? I don’t pretend to know very much about ghosts, but I did think spirits were supposed to move on after they… died. Not stick around nearly bankrupt charter aerodots.”

“You are welcome to find another aeroline that will hire you, Douglas,” Carolyn informed her never completely happy pilot. “But until then, my aerodot, my rules.”

Douglas gave her a long, unimpressed look. But, thankfully, he didn’t say any more annoying things.

“Skip says he doesn’t know how to ‘move on,’” Arthur announced into the once again tense silence. “But he’d rather stay here with us than go somewhere else.”

Carolyn blinked, a little surprised. “Well, Martin, how… loyal of you. Yet I’m afraid we don’t have any openings for ghosts, however friendly they might be.”

“Please Mum?” Arthur pleaded, looking honestly distraught at the possibility of losing his Skipper. “Skip’s only ever wanted to be a pilot. And Skip and I already decided he could be our sort of ghostly mascot!”

She was getting a headache now from all of this. “Arthur, MJN doesn’t need a mascot. And a ghost, even if he was a pilot, is no use to me. I need a real, alive, pilot.”

“Pleeeease Mum?” Arthur pleaded, and oh dear god he was using the horrid wide puppy eyes on her now. He knew she always found it hard to deny him with those. “Skipper won’t be any trouble, he promises. And you won’t even have to pay him for anything!”

While she wouldn’t need to pay Martin-the-ghost, it still meant she would be down one pilot. Finding Martin, and especially his willingness to work for nothing, had seemed like an once-in-a-lifetime lucky break. But now Martin was no longer available to her. Surely there were other pilots out there willing to work for a not-quite-so-large paycheck. Or, she could fuss with her budget and finances to somehow find enough to pay a second pilot. If all else failed she could cut Douglas’ pay and find better uses for the additional money. No matter what he said, she knew Douglas would not be leaving MJN any time soon.

And Arthur did really look very happy with his new ghostly friend ‘Skipper.’ He probably wouldn’t forgive her anytime in the future for denying him his ‘Skip.’ And in the short time she’d spoken with him once Martin had seemed like a very nice young man; a little eager, perhaps, but there was nothing wrong with that. Maybe having a ghost pilot- or mascot- would be a source of excitement for MJN.

“Very well, Arthur, Martin can stay with us,” Carolyn finally gave in with a dramatically loud sigh. She turned a deaf ear to Douglas’ indignant protest. “But I will not suffer any ghostly funny business, Martin. I’m mostly only agreeing for Arthur’s sake. You’re not to interfere with anything involving the flying of GERTI. Do you understand?”

Carolyn looked to her son, who was grinning as if Christmas had come early.

“Skip understands, mum,” Arthur promised genuinely. “This is going to be absolutely brilliant!”

“Well, welcome to MJN Air, Martin,” Douglas commented with only a slight note of sarcasm. “Apparently we’re putting even more excitement back into air travel.”

All though only Arthur could see, Martin was grinning happily; he felt lighter than he had in a long time.

He would get to fly with MJN after all. And it really would be absolutely brilliant.