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October 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 10 submit to us!
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Living+at+Midnight
by Chris Castle -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

There was something Steve Smith hated about airports at the best of times; there was the feel of it being a kind of super powered hospital wing, all too-strong lights and that odd smell of hygiene, even as litter seemed to gather on every plastic seat. The plastic seats! Don't get started on those puppies: the perfect indent on every seat, if you happen to have a square ass. Yep, airports were not Steve Smith's favourite places. But then came the snow.

He had to fly back on an early morning flight and was too broke too afford an overnight stay in a hotel, or even a long taxi fare. Instead, he had settled on catching the bus and waiting. But then came the forecast of snow and the oncoming delays. The news piled up, layer upon layer, until finally, he decided to just catch the next damn bus and wait, before the whole thing got cancelled. That was how he found himself at the airport at midnight.

Another thing Steve had noticed about the airports were how self service they all were these days; self check-in, all the way until passport control; as a man who travelled light, Steve was unnerved at how . . . breezy it had all become; he had remembered the first time he had flown, the angst of the whole ordeal, (his mum's exact words-‘ordeal') but now . . . it was simply a case of slipping borders and disappearing into the sky. It should have been poetic, but there was something in the ease of it that Steve found unsettling. He shook his head, as he twisted in his square ass seat; too much coffee was also another perk/downfall of the frequent flier.

On times like these, light of luggage and with time, Steve either did one of two things; wither read a book, or pulled his beanie hat down over his eyes, damned the odd looks, and sleep, or at least doze, as best he could, until he could check in. already suffering from a slight blur of a headache, the book stayed in his coat pocket and the hat came down. He looked out of the window once, dimply aware of the lack of people; the snow got them, he figured, and then pulled himself down into the dark.

Not that there was much chance of it, but Steve did have his alarm set to go off, so he didn't miss his flight. He woke with a snap, although, when he looked down into his mobile, the alarm had not beeped/vibrated into life. In fact, the time itself had not seemed to move on since he set it; how did a digital clock get stuck? He shook his head, pulling off the beanie to ruffle his hair, trying to iron out the smudges of his headache and disorientation. He rolled his neck, not hearing any click, and opened his eyes fully, like in the old cartoons, not caring who would see him make such a silly face.

Except there was no-one.

Steve blinked his loony tunes blink again and then did a double take. But there was still no-one there. He did a three sixty, looked at the rows of plastic chairs and the empty kiosks. Okay, the shops had shut down, that was simple logic. But the people . . . surely some other people must have made it too the airport. And then there was the constant jitter bug of cleaners, hell, pilots and stewardesses. But there was nothing but what seemed like miles and miles of empty, shiny, vinyl floors.

Steve sat back down again, suddenly not knowing the square ass pinch below him. He closed his eyes and thought, very slowly, about what was happening. Then a lightning bolt; in an instant he pinched himself, waiting for the cool snap of the dream, no not dream, let's be honest here, the nightmare, to pop out of life. He dug into his thigh; no good. He worked his way over his cheek; nada. A took a deep breath and then took a quick snapping poke at his balls. Everything went hazy for a second, and then clicked back into focus; everything, which by that was nothing, was still laid out before him. The only sidebar of reality in the breathing nightmare Steve was now undertaking was the added bonus of a throbbing left ball-sac.

Steve left the lounge and began to walk to the different parts of the airport. He had been here once or twice, but the place was too vast to ever be familiar. He doubted if even the people who worked here ever knew every nook and cranny. Steve rode the elevator and looked around, feeling like a tourist in an empty film set. There were the familiar flashes of airport life; the cash kiosks, the posters and grates, but still no people. And something else, which had only registered after the initial fizz of panic; no sound. Not a single sound, which as soon as he registered it, became somehow more frightening than the fact there were no people; you could find people, but how did you find sound? And . . . nothing made a sound. Steve looked around and it wasn't the removal of contact that made him start top sweat but the fact that nothing, not the hum of the building, the snap of an announcement, was rattling or gurgling or beeping into life. He saw a men's toilet and ran into it; he ran straight to the taps and felt an insane burst of joy just tot hear the trickling of the taps. Screw water conservation, he thought joyfully, splashing the water over the glass, the floor. It was something, he thought smiling. But a very small something, he thought just as soon afterwards, the smile slipping from his face.

It was after the initial shock that it dawned on Steve to simply walk out of the airport; he almost started to giggle at the obviousness of it; a man goes to the doctors and presses ten different places that it hurts; the doctor says, with a nearly straight face, that the man has a broken finger. Steve walked to the doors, almost putting the mystery (the panic) of the empty building behind him, when the new set of nothing ness faced him; the doors did not open. He walked to the next set and received the same inaction. He ran to the next set, the next . . . by the time he reached the last set, he knew what it was that was driving him almost to tears; the stillness of it all. The ways the doors simply idled in front of him, slack jawed and unhelpful. Steve looked to the outside and saw the snow growing steadily into a blizzard. And a quick thought, that he would never see a new morning, flashed into his mind, making the first tear of the night, roll down his cheek.

He sat with a coffee; the self service didn't seem like such a bad thing now, and tried to think this through; it was a gag, some weird, odd test that he was not privy too; but that made no sense; he had few friends and his family had long passed away; there was no logic in the set-up (you're sitting in an empty airport, trapped. LOGIC?) He shook his head, dismissing the interior voice that was getting louder with each passing minute. He ran through other things, but the only one that held weight was the most obvious, broken fingered, choice; that he was being quarantined. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong and the place was a no-go zone. But then . . . but then; if that were so, surely there would be others? There was no sense in the set-up. and if these things made no sense, then, then . . . Steve sipped his coffee, both noticing and trying not to notice that his shaking hand was spilling it over the edges; his internal voice creaming, his own mind flat lining and somewhere in the middle a thought; maybe the guy did have ten things wrong with him and the doctor was crazy.

There was a weird spell after that, where Steve Smith, very timidly, went about breaking all the rules; he broke open the coffee machine and allowed himself free refills; he walked over to the twenty four hour shop and very carefully took three magazines from the top shelf. He took sweets, drinks and tried to jimmy the till, though that was a no go. finally, he worked himself up to the one thing he had meant to do from the off set; he scooped up the fire extinguisher and pitched it to the glass doors; he knew, in his heart and in his head, that it would not work, but there was something in him, spirit, he guessed, that made him do it all the same. The thunk was resounding and he almost laughed as the extinguisher almost perfectly rolled back to him, to the point where he actually stopped it with his foot.

The announcement board was blank, the computers dead. There was only a certain point he could reach before the glass doors stopped him dead. He tried to follow the logic of some power working and others not, but his mind dissolved at the pattern of it until he gave up. He sat, too wired to sleep and tried to think of something else, something new. He pulled his phone from his pocket, seeing the reception was still non-existent, noticing, even as he tried not to, that the time was still stuck on the same numbers as before. He stared at it for a long time and that was when he heard the footsteps.

Steve fell off the chair, literally, with surprise. He looked round, feeling his heart in his mouth. As he spun round, he felt something very clearly inside himself, which made him stop. It should have been relief, or a sort of joy, but it was nothing of the sort. It was fear. Not panic, not the low buzz of confusion or disorientation he had been feeling since this whole inexplicable-inexplicable? Hell, crazy, thing had begun. No, now, hearing that sound, the click clacking of a heel that should have belonged to a woman but he knew, without seeing, that it was a man, was fear. The man wasn't there to offer up anything; he was a taker, Steve knew that with a cool stab of certainty. And, faced with the scenario of coming face to face to with another soul (are you sure he's got a soul?), with the chance for the truth, Steve turned heels and ran.

Where do you hide when there are only two people left in your world? Steve had that weird feeling of being a child again, lurching desperately to a hiding place and feeling the old questions, childhood questions, roll back into his mind; which places are too easy to find, which are the places he'd look? Then the third, childhood illogical logic; the place that is hard to find, that the boogieman would choose first, having discounted the easy places, the same as you.

Steve found himself running, ducking behind corners, the running again. After being trapped on his own for so long, he immediately became aware of how loud his own footsteps were; in a flash he pitched his trainers into the nearest bin and two thoughts snapped into his mind; number one: if you get outside you'll freeze in the snow. Number two: you're not leaving this place. Steve ran on, hearing the soft padding of his feet and the somehow louder noise of his own breath, panting and roaring in big, hungry gulps and kept running.

Steve heard the heels coming from what seemed like six different places; when he thought he'd got a track on it on one level, the noise seemed to grow louder from the restaurants; when he settled on that, it grew to a steady thrum over by the check in system. Just when Steve had settled on the gent's toilets as a refuge, thinking it was both a retreat and a necessity, the sound of the gurgling taps which had brought him so much joy a time before, launched into life, sending him scuttling away to another corner. He ran on, directionless, a part of him thinking, how you can't even get any peace and quiet in an airport lounge even when there's only two goddamn people in the whole place.

He settled in the ladies and stayed there a good long while. He sat in the cubicle and thought; I am mad. He decided on it with a certain type of proud conviction, the way some people must think; I am a parent, or I am a priest. This was Steve Smith's calling; to be mad. He thought, having decided this, he would be able to act; he had read somewhere that mad people know no fear, but Steve looked in the mirror and still saw it cloud over him like a bout of flu. He couldn't hear the click-clacking of the heels, but he knew it was only a matter of time. He splashed water over his face and walked to the door, looking down at the dead time clock on his phone and thinking; who would I call, even if I could? And that, he thought, was a whole other type of madness, or sickness, but perhaps, after everything, the one with the most truth to it.

The night moved on, Steve moving from section to section, stealing away form the sound, before slowly waiting for it, then finding himself wondering, more and more about it. From the places he hid, he saw the snow, ever present, the back drop to this whole, insane, sorry affair. He sat and watched it for a long time, remembering when he was younger and the wonder that snow used to bring. He thought of other things, other times, and after a while, the sound of the heels, didn't seem to come any closer, or drift any further apart. After a while, he almost forgot to listen out for it at all; it was simply another part of the scene; the soundtrack to the snow back drop. Finally, he found himself returned to his original seat, the ass still square, the groove eternal.

He sat down. When the dark man came up to stand beside him, there was a part of him that almost felt relief; no-one wants to be alone forever, even when the bad man's stalking you.

"I guess you caught up with me, huh?" he said dimly. He didn't look up to its face, he couldn't quite force himself to do that, but he looked over in the general direction, saw the cool darkness, the lingering trail of something he would never be able to understand.

"You know, stalking in heels is never going to work in the long run," Steve went on, unable to stop himself talking now. After this, it was over. "I guess we're going someplace, now, huh? Someplace different?" his voice was drying out now, his body cooling. He looked past the dark, out into the snow.

"Maybe it had something to do with the snow. Me . . . you know?" He looked back to the edges of the dark. "I always loved the snow," he said finally, not knowing what else he could say. Would anyone, faced with this? What would anyone do, but scream forever? But he would not scream, he had settled on that. He would not scream.

And then he pulled himself out of the square and felt himself moving, even though he was not sure if he was walking or being led. There was no sound from his bare feet, but no sound form the dark man either and for that he was glad. They kept moving the two of them and the whole place returned to the silence Steve Smith had found himself in when this had all begun. And for that he was glad. For that, he smiled.

 
 
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Features -- October 2010 -- Beginning Month Issue