23 Jun How Do You Prove You Are Alive?
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"How Do You Prove You Are Alive?"Written by Adam Davies
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Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
I’ve been dead now for almost five weeks, it feels different than you might think.
Of course, I’m not really dead, if I were I wouldn’t be able to write this account of what happened to me, but legally at least, I have been declared dead. Once you’re dead it’s surprisingly difficult to prove you are alive.
The event that caused my ‘death’ took place three months ago. I was due to catch the late flight from Williamson County Airport to St Louis. Since leaving the Army, I’ve worked as an insurance claims investigator and so my work takes me all over the US. I take upwards of 250 flights per year, so I end up in my fair share of tiny regional airports. Williamson is small but not the smallest I’ve been through.
I got to the airport at 18:00 in plenty of time for the 21:45 flight. I grabbed a sandwich at the restaurant, made some calls and caught up on some admin. The airport was quiet but there were enough people around to make what happened seem all the stranger.
An announcement was made that my flight was delayed, a ‘technical problem’ to blame. No stranger to delays, I just pulled out my kindle and started on my latest book. I must have drifted off.
“Excuse me sir.”
“What?” I was startled into alertness. A very heavily made up flight attendant stood over me, her overpowering perfume sweet, sticky and cloying.
“I’m sorry to trouble you sir but we are about to board the St Louis flight.”
“Great thanks.” I looked around. Everyone else must have already got on the plane. The airport was deserted, lights off and shutters down, a ghost town. My watch told me it was 23:53, a lot later than I expected.
When I boarded the flight, it was empty. Completely empty. I have been on plenty of flights with just one or two other passengers before but never a whole plane to myself.
Ever officious, the flight attendant showed me to my seat despite the obvious fact I could sit anywhere and it wouldn’t matter. I hurriedly stowed my jacket and laptop case in the overhead compartment. She went through the farce of her safety demo whilst I had my head down reading my book.
Take off was smooth, but as we reached a certain altitude I felt the familiar build up of pressure in my ear and swallowed. Everyone knows the sensation of their ears popping, this was at once the same and yet completely different.
“Sir, you need to fasten your seat belt.” The words were clear, but the voice was insubstantial, a whisper.
I turned around in the direction of the voice expecting to see the flight attendant behind me. She wasn’t there. I leaned into the aisle and I could see her at the front of the plane. I was only 6 rows back, so I guess I could have heard her voice from here. I was just so sure it came from behind me.
I passed it off as some trick of the acoustics, my own hearbeat seeming to echo around the empty plane, but when I looked up the seat belt sign wasn’t on. I shrugged and went back to my book.
Cruising was uneventful, the background hum of the air conditioning combined with my own tiredness and the subtle cabin lighting giving a sleepy, dream like quality to the flight.
As we began to descend my ears popped again.
“Excuse me miss, what’s happening?” A man’s voice this time, again clear, but an ethereal whisper. The situation was beginning to feel very weird, I could see that there was no one else on the plane.
“It’s nothing to worry about sir, if you can just stay calm and keep your seat belt on it’s just some turbulence.” The plane had indeed begun to shake a little as the plane began its descent through the clouds.
The voices gained substance, others joined in. They were noisy now, and nervous.
“If everyone can please remain calm and seated.” The flight attendant spoke loudly, trying to talk over the rising cacophony of panicked questions.
The whispers turned to screams and weeping pleas.
Behind me I could hear a furious prayer, begging a merciless, unhearing god not to let His faithful servant die so young, a life of promise unfulfilled.
A mother wept as she tried to calm her crying baby. Her soothing words unable to mask the terror in her voice.
The pitch and intensity rose as the plane descended, the noise a maelstrom of competing sounds.
The wheels touched down and the voices quieted. I was hyperventilating, fingers digging painfully into the arm rests. My brow slick with sweat.
I hurried off the plane through the deserted airport, eventually slumping into bed in my nameless, faceless hotel room. Lying there in the still and quiet darkness I rationalised it away. A panic attack, some one-off hit of anxiety about a landing I made dozens of times each month. I managed to convince myself and I succumbed to the fatigue and slept.
In my dreams I could hear moans of pain and anguish. Then silence.
The morning brought a sense of normality. I got in the elevator down to breakfast.
“It’s so cold.”
I whipped around at the faint whisper, already knowing no-one was in the lift with me.
As I drove to my next appointment I heard the news about the crash on the radio of the hire car. A Cape Air flight, the morning plane from Williamson County to St Louis. There were no survivors from the twenty-seven passengers on board.
“Where are you?” the ghostly voice sounded like it came from the seat behind me, not the radio. I checked the rear-view mirror, nothing, but I wanted to be sure. I almost veered of the road straining over my shoulder to look around the rear of the car.
It was when I got back to St Louis airport that night that I realised I had lost my passport. I didn’t need it for the internal flight as my driving license would suffice but it was a pain to have lost it.
When I got home the next day I rang the St Louis hotel. They were sorry, but no passport had been found by housekeeping. I had showed it to board the Williamson flight, so the only other possibility was I had left it on the plane.
The phone connected. “Hello, I think I may have left my passport onboard a flight took two days ago?”
“You should be here with us. It’s so cold.” The whisper came echoing down the line.
“I’m just transferring you to our lost property department sir.” The lady repeated.
“Hello, Cape Air lost property. How can I help you today?”
“Hello, my name is Captain Lionel Sinclair. I think I may have left my passport on one of your flights two days ago.”
“OK sir, which flight was that?”
“The 21:45 from Williamson to St Louis, flight number 9K1114.”
“Come and join us.”
“I’m just checking our database now sir.” There was a long pause, I could hear the keyboard tapping. “Sir could you please confirm the date of your flight again please?”
“Wednesday 21st March, 21:45 flight, Willamson to St Louis, flight number 9K1114.” I repeated.
“I’m sorry sir, could you please hold.”
“So cold here, and you are so warm.”
“Hello is this Mr Sinclair?” A new voice asked.
“Captain Sinclair.” I corrected impatiently.
“I’m so sorry, Captain Sinclair. Can I please just check the details of the flight you think you lost your passport on?”
“Of course.” I said, barely trying to hide my frustration whilst I repeated the details.
“Captain Sinclair I’m afraid that flight was cancelled on March 21st due to a technical fault with the plane. It’s not possible that you were on that flight, could it have been another day?
“You should have been with us.”
“I’m not mistaken. I took that flight. I’m looking at my boarding card stub right now. I have a receipt from the restaurant in the Williamson airport and a receipt from the hotel I stayed in St Louis that same night. That wouldn’t be possible unless I took that flight.” Unsettled and on edge from the last few days I was losing my temper with this fool woman.
“Sir, the evening flight was cancelled and the plane that was due to make that flight was involved in a crash the next morning. You may have heard about it on the news? You can’t have been on that flight.”
The call ended after more confusion and flared tempers.
The police called to my home that same day. They came expecting to explain to my wife that unfortunately I was registered as a passenger on the flight, that the burnt remnants of my passport were found at the crash site and that the only unidentified remains from the twenty-seven passengers on board were likely to be mine. Imagine their surprise when they saw I was at home safe and sound.
“They know you should be here with us.” The whispering voice told me while the officers spoke to my wife and I.
Thus, confusion about my status as living or dead began.
Dental records of the unidentified victim were a match to mine. Whilst I still have my drivers license the picture is an old one and in the police’s view proved nothing.
Security camera footage from the airport is no help. I can be clearly seen entering the airport, however, when the announcement about the flight cancellation happens there is no clear footage of me leaving the airport.
I have made various trips to the local police station and was asked to send my ticket stub to Cape Air for verification. They are baffled, the stub is real enough, but they insist the flight never took off.
Seven weeks into the mess a DNA test was authorised. My DNA was on file due to a programme I was in during my time in the army. I was hoping matters would be cleared up quickly. Unfortunately, it was a catastrophic outcome. Both my own and the unidentified bodies DNA are a match to my DNA on military record. My own DNA a 95% match and the cadaver’s a 99% match.
Because of this DNA ‘evidence’ on Tuesday 15th May 2018 I was declared legally dead and the police immediately opened an investigation into my true identity, the living me that is.
Since being declared dead the voices have become clearer, more frequent. Their tone has changed.
“The living no longer want you.”
“You are free to join us now.”
“We will come for you soon.”
“We want your warmth, it’s so cold.”
I laugh a lot, laugh to keep me from crying, keep me sane. The world thinks I am dead and there are voices in my head. My wife has started to look at me strangely. I can see the doubt behind her eyes.
It’s gone beyond voices now. I see glimpses in shadows and reflections in mirrors, terrible things, burnt and broken and shivering with cold.
Several things trouble me beyond my own sanity. Who is the mysterious charred corpse that has a better genetic claim to my identity than I do? What do I need to do to prove I am alive and who I say I am?
The things that troubles me most though is my status as one of the dead. If someone who is legally dead is killed, no crime can be committed or even investigated. The voices keep telling me they intend to come and claim me soon.
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