What’s everyone thinking of Left Behind so far? Is everyone enjoying the complete absence of vampires and dystopian governments thus far? Can anyone guess how many times I mistyped “Rayford” as “Raymond” in this post? It was many.
Left Behind: Chapter 2
Now that we’re suddenly at the part of Left Behind where they get left behind, people start to deal with the immediate aftermath of their loved ones… seemingly having all wandered off naked.
“It’s my Harold,” [the old woman] said. […] “He’s disappeared!”
“Well, I’m sure he slipped off to the washroom while you were sleeping.”
“Would you mind checking for me? And take a blanket.”
“I’m afraid he’s gone off naked. He’s a religious person, and he’ll be terribly embarrassed.”
I feel like embarrassment from being naked in public isn’t a strictly religious thing. But nonetheless, Buck Williams the journalist goes off in search of a naked old man on a plane with very little curiosity about the whole “naked” part.
Indeed, Harold’s clothes were in a neat pile on his seat, his glasses and hearing aid on top. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes and socks. Bizarre, Buck thought. Why so fastidious?
As does basically everyone. I get that people are worried that their loved ones have vanished, obviously. But strangely no one on this plane is concerned that the most logical explanation so far is that their loved ones are all off having a huge orgy on an airplane.
Buck is immediately stopped by a flight attendant, who asks him to return to his seat, dismissing his protests with, “Everyone is looking for someone.” I actually rather like how the book balances dread with humor right here:
[Buck] felt the same terror he had endured awaiting his death in Israel. What was he going to tell Harold’s wife? You’re not the only one? Lots of people left their clothes in their seats?
I also like how the book has a certain humor about the absurdity of the scenario, although it’s possible that this wasn’t intended to be funny, per se:
“We got us more than a hundred people gone with nothing but their clothes left behind.”
“Yeah, like it’d be better if it was only fifty?”
Meanwhile in the cockpit, Rayford the pilot finally gets in touch with the outside world by radioing a Concorde flying the opposite direction. The pilot on the Concorde explains that they have to fly back to Chicago, because whatever’s going on is happening all over the world, and Chicago is one of the only airports where planes can still land.
“People everywhere have disappeared. Orly lost air traffic controllers […] Some planes have lost flight crews. Where it’s daylight there are car pileups, chaos everywhere. Planes down all over”
Rayford has no emotional response to news of death and destruction all over the world, but does very importantly take some time to heavy-handedly work in the story’s themes:
“But what’s the truth? What do we know?”
“Not a blessed thing.”
“Good choice of words, Pan Heavy.”
Rayford manages to connect to the news with the satellite phone next to learn more.
Every conceivable explanation was proffered, but overshadowing all such discussion and even coverage of the carnage were the practical aspects. What people wanted from the news was simple information on how to get where they were going and how to contact their loved ones to determine if they were still around.
Is… is that a bad thing? Is the book being critical that people are more concerned about helping learning the fate of loved ones than baseless speculation?
I realize I certainly have some blasé attitudes on stories where tons and tons of people die tragically, but when it comes to the writing in the book itself… Left Behind seems a liiiiiiittle sardonic for a story about widespread death and destruction?
Cars driven by people who spontaneously disappeared had careened out of control, of course.
Meanwhile, back in the passenger cabin, Buck is tired of not having answers, and also realizes he’s missing a great opportunity to get some hot takes out into the 24-hour news cycle, as every journalist in any fictional story ever would do. Buck decides to attack the problem with his convenient mastery of ~~90s technology~~
Buck guessed that inside the phone the connection was standard and that if he could somehow get in there without damaging the phone, he could connect his computer’s modem directly to the line.
It only gets better.
He stored the note and set up his modem to send it to New York in the background, while he was working on his own writing. At the top of the screen a status bar flashed every twenty seconds, informing him that the connection to his ramp on the information superhighway was busy.
I know it was the 90s and “information superhighway” was not quite as stupid-sounding back then, but I love how they’re already seriously struggling to find different ways to say “connect to the internet”.
With an acumen he didn’t realize he possessed, Buck speed-tapped the keys that retrieved and filed all his messages, downloaded them, and backed him out of the linkup in seconds.
Oh, Left Behind. Bless your heart for trying to make someone using Outlook sound suspenseful.
You might not be surprised to learn that Buck tampering with the hardware on the airplane catches the crew’s attention.
The senior flight attendant startled him […] “What in the world are you doing?” she said, leaning in to stare at the mess of wires leading from his laptop to the in-flight phone. “I can’t let you do that.”
He glanced at her name tag.
“Listen, beautiful Hattie”
You might be a bit more surprised, but regrettably not all that surprised, to learn that even in a controversial book about specific religious endtimes, the first thing I’m calling out is casual misogyny.
Hattie ever so briefly gets to have a spine but it quickly becomes obvious this is a book written by two men.
“Listen, beautiful Hattie, are we or are we not looking at the end of the world as we know it?”
“Don’t patronize me, sir. I can’t let you sit here and vandalize airline property.”
“I’m not vandalizing it. I’m adapting it in an emergency. […] Hattie, can I tell you something?” […] Buck reached for her hand. She stiffened but didn’t pull away. “Can we talk for just a second?”
Buck explains what he’s trying to do, promises that he’ll get his media contacts to find out if any of her family is alive if it works, and she decides to let it go. This might not sound like the worst institutional sexism we’ve read in a book for this blog, but do keep in mind that we’re two chapters into a book about millions of people going missing, and only one female character so far has so much as been given a name, and it was primarily to indicate that she’s the one Rayford wants to bang.
When Hattie reports back to Rayford (she is “sobbing”, of course, because see the whole last paragraph), she also points out the mysterious detail that “every child and baby on this plane” has gone missing. I can’t wait for a very long, hand-holding discussion later in the book about how this fits into the one specific religious theology applicable to the scenario.
Rayford announces over the intercom that they’re preparing to land in Chicago and wishing everyone luck with the world they encounter upon landing. Rayford is finally allowed to have some thoughts about his family since learning about people disappearing around the world a whole chapter ago.
He was desperate to call Irene, Chloe, and Ray Jr. On the other hand, he feared he might never talk to them again.
Wait, how is this an “on the other hand” deal? Isn’t the second thing why he’s desperate about the first thing? I can’t wait to see how this guy describes landing a plane in the next chapter.