The Last Passenger

The Last Passenger

A guest post by Adam Music

It has become time for me to begin my own journal, some place where I can share my thoughts outside of the records of this hospital. A place where I can speculate without becoming a patient of this institution myself. For if my theory on The Man in Room 307 is correct, I would declare myself insane.

The Man in Room 307 is our local celebrity at St. Mary of the Cross here in Perth. St. Mary’s serves as both hospital and mental ward. And The Man has spent more than 100 days in both, 236 in total.

You may already be familiar with his story, such as it is. The Man is the only survivor of Bangkok Airlines Flight 777, which disappeared from radar 15 minutes from its home airport. Searchers used planes, ships, and sonar across three oceans and countless seas to find where the Boeing 737 had gone. For three days, there was nothing. 120 human beings, vanishing into the vastness of the southern oceans.

And then, on the fourth morning, clear as a bell and from literally the middle of nowhere, the plane’s ping came from Heard Island, a desolate volcanic rock at the southern end of the Indian Ocean and 1,000 miles from Antarctica. No one was there to witness its impact at the base of Mawson Peak – Heard Island is uninhabited and at the far edge of the 737’s 5,500 mile capability.

It took the Australian Navy nearly half a day to even reach it. It was the last place any of them would have looked. It had once housed seal traders, but was now home to no more than a few penguins, migratory birds, and seals that no longer had to fear. The occasional expedition visited, but did not establish permanent buildings other than the huts the traders left behind.

Heard Island has no natural harbor, so the ships anchored offshore and sent in helicopters. When their crews radioed in, no one could believe what they had found:

A plane, nearly intact, with bends in the fuselage that indicated a controlled landing into terrain. All of the passenger doors were unopened, all emergency exits unused.

And when the searchers entered the plane, they found but a lone, bearded, naked man in the fetal position in the galley. And no sign of the other 119 passengers, pilots, and crew.

No footprints leading away from the plane. No indication that they tried to leave at all. Just their belongings, mostly tucked neatly in their seat-back pouches. As tidy as you’ll ever see from the crash of a plane that size.

The man was assessed to be in nearly perfect health aside from fractures in both of his arms and what appeared to be a concussion that rendered him unresponsive to any stimuli. He was transported to Perth, to St. Mary’s, and housed in the medical wing for 117 days.

Until he finally woke up.

Shortly after that, he was moved to Room 307. And into my care.

That was 120 days ago. Yes, dear reader, I noticed that as well. But not at first. It took about 85 more days for me to confirm it.

But today. Today confirmed what I already suspected.

The Man in 307 has been awake 120 days - one for every passenger on the flight.

He spent 120 days comatose - another day for each passenger.

And each day, the persona of one of those passengers inhabits The Man in 307.

I’ve filled in the gaps of his first several weeks anecdotally. He regained consciousness with a vengeance on Day 121. The Man was confused, agitated, combative. He threatened to kill his nursing staff. He told them Hell wouldn’t allow them to keep him here.

Lucky for them, he had been strapped to his bed during his stupor for his safety. The Man was sedated, and spent the rest of the day blissfully unconscious - although straining repeatedly at his restraints.

And the staff started wondering what they had on their hands.

The next day, The Man woke again. And his demeanor could not have been more different. His voice was different, almost like an old woman’s. He drowsily talked with the nursing staff about a childhood home, somewhere in America. He wished he could get up and take a walk through a field, like he’d done in his younger days. The sedatives kept him groggy through the night.

The staff greeted him the next morning, hoping to find his recovery speeding along. But the man began talking in a language one of them recognized as Tagalog.

Each successive day brought a new personality. A French retiree on vacation. A British nanny. A Thai politician.

Eventually, the doctors brought me in on a consultation. And his medical team sent him to reside in my wing of the hospital.

Toward the end of summer, my professional notebook had turned into a Shakespearean menagerie of characters. By then, we had someone fluent in Thai as a visiting professional to translate what seemed like half of The Man’s personalities to the Queen’s English. No pattern had emerged. Each morning, The Man’s personality was born anew: Laborers, gap-year collegians seeing the world, all in a variety of languages but never with a name.

Then on day 175, The Man claimed he was an Indonesian flight attendant. Still on a regimen of sedatives, The Man offered some opinions about how the 737 was a better liner than the Airbus and how this airline served better food than Malaysian Air. And then, as per his usual routine, The Man slept.

The next day, The Man woke as an old man talking about his wife with one of the orderlies who I had left with the notebook. The flight attendant personality seemed awfully specific. So I took a look at the passenger list.

And there was the woman of the previous day: Sari Harianto. Veteran flight attendant. Formerly of Malaysian Air.

It seemed impossible. But the explanation fit. He had adopted the life of one of the passengers.

I started looking at the passenger manifest and found more analogs.

Portia Walsh, British nanny.

Gregory Dravot, high school graduate heading to Harvard after his year off of school.

Alain Despres, 77-year-old resident of Lyon in the middle of holiday.

It took me until Day 193 to realize that the old woman from day 122 and the old man from day 176 matched Harold and Betty Morrow, an elderly husband and wife who had traveled from Pennsylvania to Vietnam.

It just wasn’t possible. Now, each day, I looked at the passenger list to see who hadn’t woken up in Room 307. One passenger stood out. If he showed up, then my insane theory had to be correct.

He was Zhang San Li. And he was 3 months old. And little San Li showed up on Day 205.

The Man spent Day 205 flailing about, crying, cooing. He was incontinent – he soiled the bed at least eight times. He displayed an inability to eat solid foods. The Man had turned into the flight’s only infant overnight.

From that day forward, I began checking off the passengers on Flight 777. Day 239 brought with it Elizabeth Hazeltine, an Australian schoolteacher. That left one name on the list – the last passenger to purchase a ticket.

The press had not been able to find much information about Joseph Michaels. His passport identified him as Israeli, though the lack of any history behind the passport gave rise to the theory it was a forgery in the press. The face was clean-shaven. But as the analysts pointed out, if you added a beard to the picture, Joseph Michaels was unquestionably The Man in Room 307.

“Elizabeth” asked me to stay up and read with her. She fell asleep. And I knew the next morning, there would be just one last passenger left – whoever, and whatever, The Man in Room 307 really was.

I set my alarm to be sure to be the first person on staff to reach his room, which was kept locked from the outside since the menace of Day 121. What awaited me made me drop my notebook in shock.

The Man in Room 307 was sitting upright on the edge of the bed. His eyes were clear of any of the sedation that had governed each of his waking days. He stared at me and said:

“Hello, Dr. Morgan. It’s time you got your answers. Hopefully, they’re enough to help you survive tomorrow.”

Adam Music is an online editor with a national organization headquartered in Chicago. This is his first short story in more than two decades. He and his family live in what some people would call "a suburb of Chicago" and what Chicagoans would call "Wisconsin." You can find him on Twitter at @MusicAdamT making fun of his Metra train.

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Tags: Fiction

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