It didn’t matter where he came from, nor where he was going, since he never got there. It didn’t even matter who he was because of course he wasn’t really the person he thought he was. All that mattered was that at that moment, in that tiny slice of time, that moving instant, he was a warm body on an airline, just like seventy or so other warm bodies, on a crappy, uncomfortable redeye flight from somewhere to elsewhere. It was a rough, buffeting flight, hours of air pockets and fasten-seatbelts signs and spilled coffee. It had gotten worse. The smell of spilled coffee gave way to the smell of spilled vodka in tiny plastic bottles, and then the smell of vomit and urine and the intangible aura of panic. His wife, in the window seat, held his hand, white knuckled and on the edge of panic.
There was nothing outside the windows, nothing recognizable, just darkness and clouds.
After what seemed like hours - and really was - the pilot came on and said their destination was shut down for inclement weather, and rather than ride this paint-shaker any longer than they had to for no damn reason whatsoever, they’d be making an emergency landing and layover at the nearest available airport.
So they did.
They landed at a nondescript airport in the early golden light of dawn. Where the hell were they? “At the closest airport.” Closest to what? No one knew. Or maybe they did - who can tell? - but the crew was oddly tense. They taxied up to a terminal. There was a low cloud cover cutting out most of the sunlight, though slanty light from the sunrise was coming in over the dank horizon. Mercury vapor lamps on the ground were casting their sickly light over the ground, reflecting off of it, and coloring the clouds themselves. Nothing moved, except their plane.
Closer to the terminal, things looked odd. There were several planes docked to the buildings by those enclosed gangways, but something subliminal about them was wrong. He couldn’t think of what it was, but they gave an impression of permanence that one doesn’t usually get out of commercial airlines. He didn’t know why. A flight attendant came by before he really had a chance to dwell on his misgivings, and asked him to gather up his things and disembark. He thanked her, and didn’t notice that she wouldn’t meet his eyes. She handed him a paper voucher that she said was good for a night in the hotel, free meals, and a flight to his destination. Before he even had a chance to stand, she’d moved on to the next person.
“No sir, I’m not sure where we are,” she was saying to the man in the seat behind his, “but if you’ll take this voucher…”
His wife knocked back the last dregs of her tiny vodka bottle while awkwardly encumbered himself with his carry on crap, and moved to the exit. He again failed to notice the crew wouldn’t meet his eyes when he disembarked. The cockpit door was open, but he also failed to notice the white face on the pilot, or the borderline hysterical expression on the face of the flight engineer. The co-pilot was actually restrained and sedated in one of the bathrooms.
His wife and he didn’t notice or wonder this when he got off the plane, part of a semi-organized queue of fellow travelers. Overjoyed to be on the ground and safe again, they held hands. They made their way down the elevated, enclosed gangway, which twisted and turned before it entered the terminal, and it was only there, after he’d passed the final threshold, that he knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.
It was, in it’s prime, a nice 1970s kind of airport, all pre-stressed concrete and ceiling-to-floor windows, brown not-quite-wood trim on the walls, and a low earth tone carpet, but it was not in it’s prime. It was filthy, the bench-chairs were broken, the ceiling tiles were yellow with a lifetime of cigarette smoke, there was the smell of human feces in the air, and worse smells. There were no lights on, no light at all save the dim, sickly purgatorial light that filtered through the windows.
“What the hell?” he thought, “This can’t be right.” The other ex-passengers showed the same kind of shock and confusion. Some of them started casting about for a ticket agent or airline representative to complain to.
“We must have come to the wrong terminal,” she said to him, “this must be under construction or something, there‘s no one here.”
“Scheduled for demolition, more likely,” He said. She chuckled at that, despite being frazzled from the flight and bewildered by their surroundings, and he remembered for the zillionth time why he loved her.
“Tell you what,” he said, “I’m going to walk back to the plane and talk to the crew, maybe they can…I dunno…take us to the right terminal, or call for someone to take us to wherever we’re supposed to be.” He set down his large duffel bag.
“Don’t do that!” she said, “It’s filthy in here!” She picked up the bag, which reluctantly came away from the floor with a sucking sound and a thin coating of a sticky clear goo.
“Sorry,” he quickly cringed. She glared at him.
“Anyway, maybe you look around for anyone official in here while I do that, don’t go too far, though, it’ll only be a minute.”
“Ok,” she said, looking mournfully at the ruined bottom of the bag.
“I love you,” he said as he went back into the boarding gangway.
“Uh-huh, me too,” she said, absently.
Back at the plane, the flight attendant met him.
“I’m sorry, sir, you can’t go back on the plane.”
“I don’t want to, I just wanted to tell you something…uhm…odd.” he said. “Can I speak to the pilot?”
“Is there a problem?” asked the flight attendant, who knew damn well that there was. She was on the edge of panic, and would eventually commit suicide as a result of her complicity in all this, but of course he couldn’t know that. She struggled to remain calm.
“Problem?” he said, absently.
“Yes sir,” she said with fake cheefulness, “just follow this hallway to the terminal, and everything will be fine.”
“Terminal - you know, it’s the damndest thing, I was…I was just gonna’ tell you something, but I forgot what it is,” he said.
“Must not have been very important then,” she said.
“Oh, now I remember: I’m radioactive.”
“What,” the attendant said, startled.
“It’s an old Steve Martin joke,” he said, then stared at her blankly for a bit. She stared blankly at him for a bit, until she realized it was safe.
“Thank you for flying Periculum Air,” she said, “We know you have choices in air traffic, and we thank you for making us your first one. We hope you had a pleasant flight, and invite you to fly us again in the future.”
“Oh, yes, very pleasant,” he said, “I must have fallen asleep.”
The attendant motioned him down the hall, and he went back through in to the devastated terminal. He saw a woman sitting there in a half-destroyed bank of bolted-together chairs, staring intently at the bottom of a duffel bag for some reason. He didn’t recognize her, but he thought she was pretty, so he went over and said “Hi.”
“Hi,” she returned, “Who are you?”
He thought about that for a bit, before answering, “You know, it’s the damndest thing, but I have no idea.”
Copyright 2009, Republibot 3.0
Part 2 is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-truth-about-lions-and...