PLEASE NOTE: This story deals with very dark and disturbing themes. Do not read it if you're squeamish, or easily offended.
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