On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The information monitors hadn’t changed, even though the traveller had checked them at least twenty times now.
His flight was delayed and didn’t yet have a gate, but apparently one would be advised soon. He was fairly certain he’d already been waiting longer than any reasonable definition of ‘soon’, but then such things were elastic here.
He looked around at the seating area he’d been recently using, by no means the first of this particular visit to the airport. Six rows of twenty or so seats per row, including the occasional insulting little table which served only to divide passengers into table-haves and table-have-nots.
The traveller was certainly a table-have at the moment, because there was no-one else in sight.
It wasn’t the largest airport in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was international at least. The problem was the flight time. He had arrived too early, and his flight was the only one scheduled for the very pit of the night, far beyond midnight but long before dawn. There were no clocks anywhere, even on the information monitors, and his phone battery had died. He didn’t wear a wristwatch.
The traveller sighed. The whole place was a strange sort of grey-blue, in faded colours, and if he could power up his phone and use the front-facing camera, he’d probably have a blue tinge too. Somewhere, a fluorescent light was buzzing, but he couldn’t find the source of the sound.
There were a handful of retail outlets, but they were all shuttered for the night. Surely some staff would arrive soon, but so far he was alone, with vending machines being his only recourse for sustenance — not that he felt at all hungry or thirsty.
For the sake of something to do, he decided to visit the bathroom again. The whole trip would take about ten minutes since the nearest facilities were several gates away, and that was a good thing. He would drag his trolley suitcase even though there wasn’t a single soul to steal it, and he’d go in and wash his face at least, then shake his hands dry instead of using the hot air germ-spreader thing they insisted on installing in public places, and then he’d drag his suitcase back again. He’d choose a different set of seats, as he’d done a few times so far. A small indulgence. Perhaps he’d end up sitting in each and every one of them if his flight was delayed any further.
It might have been ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes later when he decided to go for a walk before choosing a new place to sit. The concourse was on a vast curve, so it was difficult to tell how long it was, especially since the signage was confusing. Fractured subsets of gates this way and that way, abandoned ticket checkpoints standing as silent sentinels in front of locked gates, and the jetways visible beyond it all, mostly in darkness.
There were ads on some of the monitors stretched along the walls of the corridors that housed the moving walkways. The traveller chose to walk on the thin carpeted areas instead, not having any reason to accelerate his trip. The ads seemed to be for fragrances or fashion, but there were no brands mentioned. Just beautiful people shown in unnatural poses, stark contrast, and dramatic colours. They looked familiar to him, but he couldn’t summon any of their names at the moment. Tiredness had settled over him like a shroud.
He reflected on the phenomenon of between-places. There was the appearance of comfort without any relaxation, snatched sleep without real rest, and a warped sense of location. There was generic familiarity without recognition, and there was loneliness even amongst thousands of others. Every part of it was impersonal, and fleeting, and grey. You could be anywhere at all.
The traveller looked around for a clock, but there were none in this part of the building either. There was a coffee vending machine, and for a brief moment of weakness he considered it, then he shuddered. Heightened alertness was the last thing he needed right now, and the stuff would surely be foul.
He saw another set of information monitors suspended from the ceiling some distance away, and he wondered yet again why they were placed so far apart. In his irritation he quickened his pace, dragging the wheeled suitcase behind him, but it seemed almost as if he were on a moving walkway going in the wrong direction, slowing him ever so slightly, fighting against his steps like an adverse current. When he reached the monitors, they were the same as all the others. Delayed, more information soon, remain in the departures area.
The traveller looked at the signs that flanked every set of monitors, reminding passengers that this airport did not use tannoy announcements, and it was each person’s responsibility to check for the latest information. At least an announcement would be something to listen to, instead of the faint whine of silence overlaid with the rumble of air conditioning and refrigerated drinks dispensers.
The place smelled like all such places do, of the ghosts of perfumes and aftershaves that people kept for special occasions, and of stale body odour, and of overcooked food, but mostly it smelled empty. Ionised air, neither hot nor cold, moving languidly but in vast volumes, cycled endlessly through ducts and vents and pipework, around and around forever.
The traveller keenly understood.
He tried to remember the last time he’d seen daylight, even through a window, and he found that he couldn’t. If there had been clocks at all, they would probably have stopped. There were special rules here. It was always just bordertime.
There would surely be some update soon, but for now he remained in the place that wasn’t really a place. There was no-one around to speak to, and he wasn’t even sure how long he’d been here. A few hours? A day? A week?
It was impossible to really know.
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