David Awtrey, walking down the aisle of Flight 889, stopped next to Row 22 and looked at the unhappy 10-year-old who resembled him so much.

"John, I've got good news."

The boy in Seat A, immediately suspicious, looked up at his father.

"I just talked to the pilot," David said. "Because it's Halloween night, he'll let you parachute out of the plane - but only if you'll wear your costume."

John rolled his eyes in an I-knew-this-was-coming look.

"He says it would be a real thrill for the other passengers to watch Batman parachute into Los Angeles. Actually, I'm kind of looking forward to it myself."

"Dad, this isn't funny. We should have been home hours ago. Now, because of that stupid car, I'm going to miss trick-or-treating. And what's a transverse axle anyway?"

Their three days of rafting were now forgotten, David realized. His red-haired, freckle-faced son, whose black-frame glasses made him look like a very serious, miniature adult, was distraught about all the candy he wasn't collecting.

"Well," David glanced around the mostly dark cabin, "you could go trick-or-treating here on the plane. Of course, you'd probably just end up with a lot of peanuts and breath mints."

John leaned his head against the oval window and sighed.

"But I have another idea," David said. He paused, waiting until John, too curious not to react, looked up. "What if I told you a Halloween story instead?"

With the instincts of a businessman, John recognized a chance to negotiate. "How about three?" he countered.

"Only three? Why not 10 or 12?"

"Three would be fine," John said cheerfully. "But," his tone was now firm, "every story has to have an illustration."

"Are you sure you're only 10 years old?"

"Three stories, with pictures," John said. "Deal?"

David gave an exaggerated sigh and slid down into Seat B. "Deal."

John, triumphant, watched his father reach down and, from a small knapsack, pull out a sketchbook with "Awful Productions" on the cover. David flipped past several dozen pages of cartoon characters, stopped at the first blank page, and took a pencil from his pocket.

"Now," David lowered his voice so that only John could hear him, "in all the rows behind us, did you notice that there are only three people with a light turned on above them? Well, I know something about those people. I know why each of them is on this flight."

(End of excerpt)