Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Flash Fiction---Stranded In A Frozen Airport Purgatory
(Author's note: Doing the BeyondProse.com flash fiction again. The prompt was "stranded in a snowstorm" and while I have pulled a a few fictional strings this story is very nearly true,)
The only thing worse than being fourteen thousand feet in the sky inside a small commuter jet plane during a snowstorm or having to land during such bad weather is being stuck in an unfamiliar airport praying that your connecting flight home is not canceled. On paper, I was supposed to have a thirty-minute layover in Detroit once the vagaries of post-9/11 air travel were satisfied allowing my suffering travel cohorts and I off the plane that truly had more in common with a sardine can than will be appreciated or believed.
Inside the terminal for a couple of minutes I had some hope that the travel gods might show some mercy on me because the television screen showing all the still active flights leaving Detroit had my particular plane's departure only delayed for thirty minutes. Like some cruel joke though, that minor thirty minutes delay then turned into and hour, then two, then was canceled outright. That was when the worst of the waiting began.
My work had sent me to a three-day trouble shooting class offered by the company that manufactures the equipment we use. Their headquarters is located in Pennsylvania requiring a travel route deep into territory where winter weather, for me, could get weird. Here in warm South Carolina the entire state panics if more than two snow flakes hit the ground at the same time. I found the fact that the Detroit airport, a place where snow is normal, was winding down operations that day because of the white fluffy stuff more than unsettling.
Several long and boring hours later as I strolled down the nearly deserted American Flier Airlines terminal I couldn't decided if it more resembled a cathedral or an empty tomb. I was leaning towards the latter because there is just an innate eeriness of being in a place nearly devoid of people when during a normal business day it should be so crowded some might find it hard to breathe. There were a few unfortunate souls like me left stranded here when the snowstorm ramped up into a full fledged blizzard. Each person had long since staked out tiny territories close to their departure gates in the slim hope that the weather might let up enough for them to escape. As I walked by these strangers they all looked at me warily obviously worried I might come sit by them and try to chat.
Finding company was the last of my concerns as I walked down the terminal. I had been stranded in that frozen purgatory for over six hours without anything to eat. When I stepped off my plane most of the various eateries had long since closed up with their employees fleeing back to the safety of their Detroit homes. It didn't take a food connoisseur to realize that those left open were only for those so desperate that they bordered on suicidal. In truth, my hunger had almost pushed me to point of taking a chance with the green tinted wieners from a place trying to pass itself off as a fast food joint specializing in gourmet hot dogs.
“Hello sir,” the dude working behind the counter said slurring his words as if his batteries were running low. “Welcome to Jiffy Dog, what can I get for you?”
“I don't know,” I replied suddenly losing the courage simple hunger had built up inside me. “Give me a minute will you.”
It was only as I stood in front of the semi-awake hot dog dude that I remembered from my previous visit there was someplace in the terminal where a vast array of vending machines were located offering an assortment of processed food that while unhealthy were not an unnatural green. As my usual luck would have it I also realized those vending machines were on the far, opposite end of the terminal. Curiously enough after walking ten or twenty feet, I turned back around to see if the hot dog guy was still standing at the cash register. He was, but what bothered me was that he seemed frozen as if my sudden abandonment of his open air establishment had not yet registered on his consciousness.
Once my little forced, indoor march was complete when I finally came upon my coin-operated Shangri-La I imagined my reaction was similar to that of man seeing a green and watery oasis after spending days lost in a hot and dry desert. Standing in front of a machine selling snack cakes my mind imagined the sweet taste of a honey bun as I eagerly pulled out my wallet to grab a couple of dollar bills. However, just as I inserted the first bill into the cash slot the power in that section of the terminal died sending each of the machines I thought would be my deliverance dark and quiet.
“Oh my God!” I screamed to an uncaring universe. I could still see the power was on throughout the rest of the terminal but for some reason, whether weather related or man-made, only the dim illumination of the emergency lighting was holding back a near total darkness. Adding to the stark desolation a nearby plate glass window offered a view of the outside showing that if anything the weather was getting worse.
About that same time I started seeing people scurrying about that were obviously airport maintenance workers. There sudden appearance lead me to assume that the power outage was weather related so I decided to wait and see if the lights and vending machines might soon come back on.
An hour later, still sitting in the darkness I finally answered the question I had been wondering about since I arrived. The hurried activity of the airport workers I had observed right after the power died had disappeared. What reigned now was a surreal silence that gave an overwhelming feeling of being utterly trapped in an ancient and forgotten tomb.