The sound of the jet airplane’s engines had lulled him into a half sleep. He was drifting in and out of a panoramic dream — something about floating on clouds — and then when his head jerked hard enough to snap him back into wakefulness, he looked out the small window next to his seat and saw that his dream had come true.
At that very moment, he wanted to crawl through that impenetrable opening and just fall like an angel into those mushroomy blooming puffs cut now like vibrant jewel prisms by the perfectly angled falling light of the day. There was a ding sound in the cabin and then an indecipherable voice came over the sound system. He could feel the plane beginning to dip and soon they were swallowed whole by the very same clouds from his dream come true. And when they finally emerged from the bottom, he could see the land below, wide western meadows and low rocky ridges and far off into the distance he saw the snowcapped peaks that Colorado was so famous for, and they sprang out and up from a mirky soup of yellow pollution hovering over a city called Denver.
He moved through a pulsing hot throng of people on his way to the mile-long escalators going down to where the train arrived that took travelers to the main terminal of DIA. Even though he had no particular place to be at any particular time, he walked fast, constantly adjusting the backpack he carried with him because it kept slipping. People zoomed by him in both directions. The voices all mingled into one loud hum in a hive.
He dashed into a crowded men’s room to relieve himself. He had to wait in a line to use a urinal. Once finished he washed his hands, splashed his face, tried to comb his hair into some semblance of order with his fingers. He studied himself in the mirror for just a moment because he thought it was overly vain to look at oneself for too long. And for some reason it made him uncomfortable to look at himself, as well, almost embarrassed. That’s why he always did it quick. He decided he looked very tired and moved on.
Once back into the rush of the main thoroughfare, he slipped out and took a seat in the mostly unoccupied waiting area of a darkened gate where a flight to Detroit wasn’t set to depart for another two hours. It was a quiet reprieve for the time being. He lifted his pack into the seat beside him and retrieved his cell phone. He squinted as he looked at the screen. He took it out of airplane mode and waited for the technological pipes to clear. No calls. No messages. Nothing erupted now that he was back on the ground. He was almost glad for the fact he wasn’t popular among any crowd but his own. He took a deep breath and tried to stretch his neck by bending it from side to side. He could almost hear the tendons strain and crackle.
He sat still there for a long time, his thoughts getting caught up in the traffic of human beings continually parading by like a perpetual mountain stream. Some moved fast, others dawdled. Some had a trainload of luggage behind them, others merely a single bag slung over a sore shoulder. He wondered about where they had come from and where they were going. Why were all these people moving so much? What was with all the here and there? What great grief or passion was calling to them? His life in comparison seemed so much slower and simpler. But was it? Not really, after all.
He glanced at his diamond digital watch from Hades, but then realized it didn’t really matter what time it was. He was at that place in life where time was something that only other people dealt with, not him.
Then for some strange reason his thoughts drifted to childhood in the lakeside burbs of upper middle crust Chicago and about the Christmas mustard his Aunt Sharlene used to proudly serve with her platefuls of fancy meats and breads and cheeses during the warm, crystalline holidays. Aunt Sharlene was always wearing a dress, he recalled. Even if she was cooking eggs and bacon at 6 a.m., she had on a dress. Back then he even thought that she most likely slept in a dress. Maybe she did. But the mustard, that Christmas mustard. It came in a fancy glass jar, and it had a fancy foreign label and lid and Aunt Sharlene boasted about how she got it from this peculiar owner of a deli in the brick and gold shopping plaza in the neighborhood because he thought she was something special and would know exactly how to use it as if it were fragile magic. His Uncle Drake always frowned when she brought that part up because she would always throw something in there about how this particular and peculiar deli owner was also tall, dark, and handsome. His Uncle Drake was none of those things.
But the mustard was something special in exchange for the pricks of jealousy, as well, he supposed. And his Uncle Drake would lovingly slather it all over his rye bread. It had a bite to it that was somehow extraterrestrial and made the person eating it feel like they had traveled somewhere very far away. The man’s imagination had always been bright, and he believed the Christmas mustard must have had come from Saudi Arabia or perhaps Yemen or even Tatooine. But why would he think something so foolish? He shook his head at his own youthful naivety, and then he was suddenly hungry for a sandwich even though he knew that no one would have any Christmas mustard in the airport.
He settled on a faux New York deli type of sandwich place that pretended it was authentic but really wasn’t — merely corporate fantasies for sale. It was crowded and hard to move around inside the little box in a long line of other boxes aglow with money suckers. His broken velvet eyes the color of underwater gold scanned the menu for something that wasn’t gross. He settled on a New York Clubber — roast beef, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, spicy (not Christmas) mustard, black olives on a crusty crunchy dick-like stick of white bread cut and spread open like a lover’s legs.
The pace of the place was frantic, and the man’s nerves began to tick and twitch as the people pressed in on him, the mingling of sandwiches and skin like uneasy sex in a musty dark cellar, and he reached forward to pay at the counter quickly because the pressure was on him. People were watching and waiting and staring at the stranger from somewhere else. He felt like they all hated him.
He found a small table in the very center of the food court outside the deli joint and the roar of people eating and talking and slurping and bitching and babies wailing was all around him. He unzipped his backpack and reached in for an orange bottle of pills. He uncapped it, shook out two white bars with score marks and tossed them into his mouth. He washed them down with a bubbling iced Fresca.
He unwrapped his sandwich and laid the paper out flat. He opened a bag of salt and vinegar chips and poured them out onto the paper. He brought the sandwich up to his open mouth and bit into it. He chewed and as the flavors and textures mingled, he looked to his left where he saw a young girl in a periwinkle blue dress and her hair in pigtails sitting at a table all by herself. She looked very different from everyone else. She looked like she belonged to a strict old religious clan that rebutted the ways of modern, sinful life. She looked like she should have been in a barn, knee-high in hay, not inside one of the busiest airports in the world.
The girl was staring at him for a long time for some strange reason. Did he have something on his face? He instinctively reached for a napkin and wiped it across his mouth. He glanced over at her again. She had weird eyes and she looked unsettled. He put down his sandwich and sucked on the straw connected to his plastic cup of Fresca. A strange man and woman dressed similarly to the girl suddenly appeared at the table and they set down bags of food and cups of drink. She looked up at each of them in turn and smiled. Then she said something to them that he could not understand through the cacophony of humans communally filling their guts.
Then all three of them turned to look at him and their faces were dusted with disgust. He watched them watch him through the clouds of humanity. He couldn’t understand why they were looking at him that way. What did the girl say to them? And why? He had done nothing wrong. Was it because he was so different from them? Had she read the inner linings of his soul and discovered there was a reason why he was now drifting listlessly through time? Did she discover that he was merely a living ghost after all, and it upset her balance of beliefs and familial rituals set forth by her spinning God?
He quickly finished eating, gathered his trash and stood to carry it over to a receptacle to dispose of it. When he did, an eerie quiet fell upon the food court and seemingly the entirety of Denver International Airport. A billion heads turned to watch him with scathing glances. He moved slowly to the garbage bin and dropped in the remains of his meal into the wide hole. No one else moved or spoke. He hoisted his pack over his shoulder and gazed at all of them.
“What do you want!” he screamed out.
And when they just continued to stare and not say anything, he backed away from the coital mob and made his way back onto the main thoroughfare of the concourse and walked as fast as he could. The people there too now stared at him, watched him with sallow unfamiliar eyes like he was some murderer on the loose. He quickened his pace as the swarm thickened. He started bumping into bodies, pushing bodies, kicking at bodies. He pulled the pack off his shoulder and started swinging it at the people closing in. He hit a young woman in the face, and she fell. No one screamed but instead they just hummed like a hornet’s nest plump with menacing insects.
And then he ran. He ran as fast as he could and the tunnel like artificial air of the airport whooshed by him in an effort to keep pace with his speed. He glanced behind him, and the people were floating toward him effortlessly. He glanced in front of him, and there he saw that a thick wall built of human beings was erected to keep him from passing. He suddenly stopped and looked from side to side. He saw an emergency exit door and made for it. He pushed on the thick silver bar and an alarm immediately began to wail. He ran down the jetway that was untethered to any airplane. Once at the end he could taste the open air and he saw an attached metal ladder in which he could use to get to the ground, and he swung over and onto it and climbed down.
Once his shoes hit the pavement he ran and ran and ran until he was breathless and limping. A jet loudly swam above him and then he was suddenly surrounded by white cars with flashing blue lights on their rooftops and men in uniforms quickly jumped out and corralled him. They pushed him to the ground and made him lie on his stomach. They handcuffed him. They yanked him up and led him to one of the cars and shoved him into the backseat and slammed the door. He was in a cage now, and he was headed for another cage. He was sure of it.
TO BE CONTINUED