This One Time, 75

This one time I was running through the airport and everyone was screaming. Well, not everyone, just a few good representative samples of any particular clump, but the effect was a constant squealing and roaring that was the kind you eventually start screening out and ignoring because it doesn’t actually convey any information anymore, like an ache you just live with.

In any particular corridor, people were running in both directions, mysteriously adhering to the local customs of keeping to the right to avoid  head-on collisions. In lobbies and atria and other huge enclosures, it was a free-for-all.

I was just looking for an exit. A number of like-minded individuals were accompanying me. I didn’t know any of them. I had commandeered two of them to help me pull someone who had fallen out of the middle of a passage, and since then we had stopped to help anyone else in a similar situation, blocking to encourage people to go around whoever we were helping, dragging or carrying as gently as possible out of the way anyone who looked like they might be an obstruction or in danger of being trampled. In many cases the danger had long since made its way to more open spaces, but since confusion reigned we did it anyway. Just in case another herd came by or circled back around or whatever.

What I really wanted was to know what was going on. I had heard theories of earthquake, of bombs, of a plane that had crashed into a fuel depot, invasions from defunct political powers or space aliens. In any case, the power was off. There was no data service off the local wireless or cell towers, likely because everyone else was trying to use their various devices at once and there wasn’t enough infrastructure to go around.

We made it to a main lobby, where I could at least see out to where an exit was, and outside the chaos was even worse. People were crowding the doors, trying to get back in to find missing relatives or companions while other people were trying to get out. I decided to keep going forward to see if a more distant exit was a better choice.

For some reason we stopped when we started to pass the chapel. The glass door was propped open with a simple rubber doorstop. I poked my head in. It was dark and quiet.

“It’s chaos outside. Perhaps here is as good a place as any to wait for sanity to return.” I hit the button to turn on the display of my phone and used it as a gentle flashlight to survey the place. It was empty, but there was room for about fifty people. There were no objections, so we filed in and took seats in empty pews. At least two of us took the opportunity to lie down.

It was amazing how quiet it was in here compared to just twenty feet away, outside the door. I could smell the neutral greenish odor of the daisies on a stand to one side of what must have been some generically consecrated altar. After a while I noticed that there was some outside light filtering down through a skylight, but it was very weak, not very noticeable or useful. It just showed me the outline of empty pews, of a couple of heads and shoulders. I sat in a far corner of a pew up front and closed my eyes, recovering my breath. Outside, above the distant noise of panic and fear, I was starting to hear something being shouted through a megaphone.

But I didn’t care. In here, the creature that we had become, driven together by the forces of uncertainty and need, had dissolved away, just by entering the door.

While we waited, a few more people trickled in and took seats. On a couple of occasions we got up to help people who were limping and made room to make the injured and exhausted comfortable. Someone took out a water bottle and passed it around as far as it would go, starting with those who looked like they were in the worst shape. The balance of the smell of fresh flowers and lacquered wood and steam-cleaned cushions and carpets shifted somewhat to soured fear and sweat and exhaustion, but peace remained. There was brief sobbing, more relief than distress, and quiet murmuring in comforting tones.

The building could burn and the aliens could come with ray guns, but we would be at peace.


March 16, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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