This was straight out of Mistle’s worst nightmare. Images of bombs on airplanes regularly made appearances in his hallucinations. Eyeing his seatmate and the suspicious bulges beneath his shirt, he wanted to scream “Terrorist!” But he didn’t—he couldn’t. That was the worse thing he could do. He’d kill them all right then and there.
Mistle practically tripped over the one-armed man as he journeyed from his window seat to the aisle. Maybe I can still get off this plane! His head buzzed and his teeth clenched without his direction. He approached the nearest flight attendant.
“I forgot about—something. Can I get off this plane still?” he pleaded.
“Sorry sir, we’re prepping for takeoff,” she answered through her fluorescent white smile, barely glancing in his direction.
For God’s sake, I’m a Marine, Mistle thought, shuffling past the man to sit back down. I’m getting weak in my old age.
As Mistle leaned back in the snug seat and jimmied his thick legs into a position he could tolerate, he started humming “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Maybe it was the familiarity or the repetition, but there was just something about that hilarious little jig that usually made him feel jolly. Except, it wasn’t working this time.
Mistle kept his head still but moved his eyes to the right, like a painting in a haunted mansion. The man beside him was sitting absolutely still. Suddenly, the man turned and stared directly at Mistle. He was caught.
“What’s your name?” he asked Mistle in a deep drawl. Mistle couldn't place the accent.
“Mistle. Tim Mistle,” he fired rapidly, wondering why he was the one being interrogated here.
“You gotta staring problem, Mr. Mistletoe?” the man challenged. The rectangular bulges under his shirt were now covered by a Sky Mall catalogue opened on his lap.
“Sorry—retired Marine,” Mistle said, trying for nonchalance. "Old habits die hard."
Mistle combed his fingers through his hair, remembering the horid, new TMZ haircut he was subjected to just before catching this flight. At this point, he thought it best to change the tone and engage the guy in conversation. Maybe he would forget to set off the bombs. The flight from Chicago to Minneapolis wouldn’t take that long.
“And, what’s your name?” Mistle asked, thinking to extend his hand for a shake but remembering in his best bravado.
“Well, Mr. Mistletoe, let's keep in the spirit of the season,” he answered with a chuckle. "I go by Dreidel."
All right, Mistle thought—I'll play along, for now. Dreidel's beard was thick and brown, speckled with gray. He adjusted his tattered Chicago Bears jacket over the rectangles beneath his shirt and put the magazine in the seat pouch.
Mistle made eye contact with Dreidel for the first time and held back a gasp. He knew those eyes from somewhere—they were yellow and catlike. Very unusual. Mistle narrowed his eyes to study him more closely.
As the plane sped up the runway and caught flight, a moment of realization gave Mistle an even greater sense of dread.
He knew Dreidel. But how?
* * *
EDITOR’S NOTE: November is National Novel Writing Month, and we need you to help Minnesota Patch write a holiday novella. Here's how it will go: We’ll post a new chapter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next four weeks, each written by one of the Local Editors from a Patch in the Southwest Metro.
But we can’t write this novella without your help. At the end of every chapter, in the style of "choose your own adventure" books, your answer to a simple poll will help us choose our next plot twists. But we’d love it if you dove right in with us. Right here, you can also upload personal photos and illustrations to inspire our writers, contribute ideas for characters and even suggest a title—you name it. Just keep it clean.
Our Patch writers will incorporate your ideas into the next chapter. Through a lot of fun, improvisation and unpredictability, by Dec. 16, we’ll end up with a holiday novella.