Chapter 31: A Lad Insane


I spent the bulk of the next forty-eight hours hauling Snow and Hering around so that I could say goodbye to investigators, local members, and fellow missionaries. On Wednesday, Snow dumped Hering off on a split with someone or other, and he and I drove around town sightseeing. I took pictures of everything in sight—including the hookers who showed up to start working the downtown streets promptly at five in the evening.

One garishly dressed pimp, spying me with my camera pointed at his girls from the passenger window of our car, started yelling and cursing and running toward us. "Go, Snow, go," I shouted, rolling up the window. "Get us out of here!"

Snow put the pedal to the metal and drove.

God, what desperate fun we had!

The next day, all my goodbyes having been said, Snow and Hering helped me load my stuff—two suitcases, filled with all my worldly possessions—into the car, and we headed off to the airport.

President Tuttle must have been occupied with something important that morning. He didn't come to the airport to see me off. I guess I wasn't worth his attention now that I was leaving his jurisdiction.

Three other people were there to see me off, though. Agent Q was there to verify the fact that I had left the country. Constable X, the fellow from the R.C.M.P.'s Airport Precinct who had arrested me, was there to shake my hand and offer me the best of luck. And, most surprisingly of all, my old friend Stephen King was there.

Not the real Stephen King, of course, but rather the bearded Customs fellow in the orange windbreaker who resembled Stephen King. He was as snotty as ever. As I approached the Customs kiosk, he came up to me and said, "I heard you got off."

"I didn't get off," I said. "I went to jail and paid a fine."

He sniffed haughtily and looked away. "So you're leaving, eh?"

"That's right," I said.

"Where to?"


"Are you still a missionary?"


"Well," he said, stroking his black beard. Then he nodded decisively and walked away.

That was the last I saw of him. Odd duck.

At the kiosk, I shook hands with Hering, then hugged Snow. "Take care, buckfart," he said, which was his brand of sentimentality.

Then I went through the Customs gate, headed down the concourse, and boarded my flight for Spokane. I couldn't have guessed it at the time, but less than six months later I would see Snow again.

The flight took only an hour. The Spokane apes met me at the airport and drove me back to the mission office, where I went into an orientation session with the greenies who had arrived from the M.T.C. the day before. I learned a lot of interesting things. I learned that the Spokane Mission covered eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and a tiny bit of western Montana. I learned that the mission rules were more strict in Spokane than they had been in Calgary. I learned that I really missed Calgary.

Then I was summoned into my new mission president's office for a little chat. President Aames was a short, pleasant-looking, soft-spoken, white-haired fellow whose outward geniality turned out to mask a frightening void in the area of human understanding. He was a retired pathologist. As one elder later explained to me, "Of course he can't relate to people. He spent his entire professional life in a windowless room full of dead bodies." It wasn't that President Aames didn't try to be understanding. It was that his attempts mostly went awry.

Aames asked me to repeat my entire bomb-threat experience to him, and I did so. When I was finished, he said, "I'd like you to keep all this between us, Elder Shunn. No one else knows why you've been transferred, not even my assistants."

"Okay," I said, assuming that there was a good reason for this, one which would be made clear to me.

President Aames didn't offer a reason. "You're to tell people that you were transferred because of illness," he went on. You might have expected a pathologist to provide me with a convincing disease which I could use as part of my cover—but he didn't. "If people's questions start getting too pointed, you can tell them that it was mental illness."

Yeah, right.

I didn't like the idea one bit, but I kept my mouth shut about it. I mean, first of all, the president was asking me to lie. Second of all, he wanted me to tell my fellow missionaries that I was sick in the head. I'm sure he thought he was protecting my best interests, but I felt as if I had been suddenly thrust into the starring rôle in some nightmarish play that I wanted no part of. "Let's all welcome our new friend Elder Shunn to the stage—fresh from his debut performance at the loony bin!"

No, thank you. But there didn't seem to be much choice.

My first assignment in the new mission was in Yakima, Washington, a town of about fifty thousand people in the hot, hot desert of south central Washington. My companion, Elder Steve Summers, was a zone leader. Together, he and his normal companion, Elder Jay Breinholt, supervised three districts of other missionaries—but Breinholt was in Spokane recuperating from a bout of appendicitis. I would fill in for Breinholt for the time being.

I got along very well with Summers. We were both musicians. He played the guitar like a virtuoso, and had belonged to a popular local rock band back home in Utah. He and I eventually made plans to form our own band when we both got home, one which we would call Cornerstone. (It never happened, though we did get together to jam with some other friends for about two hours once.)

A tradition developed between Summers and me over the next few weeks. At night, after proselytizing hours, we'd often buy a bag of Santitas Tortilla Strips and a bottle of Pace Picante Sauce (Medium) and then not stop eating until both were gone. It was on one of these evenings of camaraderie that Summers started questioning me about my "disease."

I'd been awfully tightlipped about my situation, doing my best to follow President Aames's injunction, but I suddenly discovered two things. First, I couldn't stand lying to my new friend Summers. Second, I really needed to tell someone about what had happened to me.

So I spilled my guts—and Summers spent the time rolling on the floor laughing. He thought my story was the greatest thing he'd ever heard. He couldn't believe that President Aames had instructed me to pretend I was mentally ill instead of telling the true story.

But not everyone saw it in quite that way, as I was soon to learn.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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