Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Paying The Price

by Damian Delao


I've been having a recurring dream for the past few nights. It doesn't just haunt my subliminal thoughts, but every waking moment. Something bad is going to happen, I know it, but who do I tell? Who can I go to that won't lock me up in a straitjacket and toss me into a padded white room to live out the rest of my haunted days? Nobody, there isn't anyone I can go to and I know it, so all I can do is wait and pray. Pray that I'm not a sleep induced prophet.

I'm at the airport now, on my way to visit my home town -- and Heather -- for the first time in months. I haven't flown in years, but everything around me looks familiar, even the people around me.

The foot traffic is constant and busy. Everywhere I turn, men, women and children are ushered about like a herd of sheep.

To my left is a normal looking African American family. The father, who looks like a Bill to me, is zipping up the jacket of someone I can only assume is his daughter. His wife appears to be going through her brown handbag, mumbling to herself as if she's lost the key to the world.

To my right is a group of college students, each wearing a jacket or a t-shirt or both with the same school logo. I imagine that they are headed out, via Southwest, to Cancun for that wonderful spring break party they have always heard so many great things about.

Neither the college students to my right, the hallmark family to my left nor the nonstop shadows rushing around in front of me will be leaving the airport again.

I know what is going to happen. I knew it from the moment I walked through the entrance of Terminal A.

I have a feeling, deep inside my chest, in a place I thought had vanished a long time ago. I ignored this feeling because I thought I was cured of that itch after not having felt it for over t a year. But if I listened to the itch, I would turn around and flag the first taxi I saw and get the hell away from that airport as fast as any psychotic taxi driver could go. But I don't. I ignore it.

And I will pay the price.

####

I know it's going to happen as I pass through the security screenings that every traveler dreads. Not because said traveler has anything to hide, but because going through these screenings always makes them feel dirty and shameful. I would confess to any crime thrown my way if I were stopped at these screenings, regardless of how innocent I may be. As soon as I walk through that arch, you know, the one that checks to see if you have a metal brain cap, it's like I've been kicked in the stomach. There is a flash in my head, as if I was standing on a train track at night and only just opened my eyes to the bright light in time to see the train plow into me. I still have a chance to leave, but I don't. I ignore it.

And I will pay the price.

Everything begins to feel, I don't know, rehearsed. As if everyone in the airport are just going through the motions, waiting for the end; myself included.

I begin to feel un-naturally uncomfortable with my surroundings. I don't know why I'm feeling this way. I should be excited; I'm headed home to see Heather for the first time in four months. But even though my flight is scheduled to depart in roughly an hour, all I want to do is run.

From what, I don't know. From who, I have no clue. I just want out of the airport, I want to be as far away from this place as I can possibly get, and Heather be damned. I may still have a chance to run, but I don't. I ignore it.

And I will pay the price.

####

As I pay for the drink I buy to cool off, something else happens. The lady at the counter momentarily brushes my hand as I hand over the bills that would cover the obscene price of the water and her face suddenly and grotesquely distorts. Her left eye suddenly explodes. The oozy, puss like eye juice slams into my cheek. Her long brown hair begins to fall out, not just strand by strand, but in chunks, with chunks of her scalp still attached. Her lips begin to peel back, showing her grotesquely black teeth. She no longer has earrings on; her ears are now holes in the side of her skull. She grabs my hand and digs what is left of her nub like fingertips into my wrist; it feels as if she's dug all the way to the bone.

I scream in horror, the most high pitched and frightened scream any human throat is capable of making. When I open my eyes again, the cashier is staring at me with a genuine fear in her eyes.

She is beautiful again, but regardless of the mesmerizing green eyes staring back at me, all I see is blood and goo.

I know now what is wrong. I turn and walk out of the shop without my drink. I felt it, and I listened to it. But I listened too late.

I will pay the price.

####

I know if I start running like the madman I feel I have become, I will draw attention. Security will take me to some quiet room to wait for the police, and I will pay the price.

If I start screaming bloody murder, I will just cause panic. That panic will hinder my path to the exit. I don't know how long I have left, but I know it isn't long. I have to try to get out of there as fast as I possibly can, and as discreetly as I possibly can...

I'm now approaching the escalator that leads down from the upper tier of the airport, the area only accessible once you are deemed safe; when everywhere I turn people begin to decay. They take on a look that looks as if they have been fighting to the death, and losing. Chunks of their skin are missing. Some are missing limbs. Some are walking on broken shin bones without showing any pain whatsoever. They are all looking at me now and coming my way with rage and anger radiating from their eyes. I immediately run down the escalator, sometimes taking more than one step at a time. They know I felt it, they know I ignored it.

They want me to pay the price.

####

At the bottom of the escalator, my surroundings are engulfed in flames. All around me there are dead, charred bodies. I am only six or seven hundred feet from the nearest exit now, but I know it is pointless. Every exit is blocked by rubble. There is no way out.

The only thing I can do now is to stop and accept it. I will never see Heather again. I will never see my parents again. I will never laugh or joke again. All at once, it hits me. It feels like a stampede of rhinos has somehow all trampled me at once, in the same exact spot, at exactly the same time. I drop to my knees. Everything around me gets fuzzy and blurry, the way it always does when I see something bad happen before it actually happens. I was seeing what caused this hell. I'm seeing it. I can't ignore it any longer.

I'm paying the price.

####

I now see some men walk into the airport, in the same entrance I had come in. There are three of them, all male and all looking to be in their mid-twenties.

The man on the left is wearing an Oakland Raiders cap, blue jean shorts, a white t-shirt, flip-flop sandals and a travel sized back pack, the kind that you use for camping. He has blue eyes, and a five o'clock shadow. He's surprisingly handsome and he knows it.

The man in the middle is wearing brown shorts, and a Tap Out tank top. The black flip-flop sandals he's wearing look natural on him, as if he has worn nothing but them his entire life. Behind the black shades he's wearing are coffee colored eyes that match his hair. He too is wearing a back pack.

The man on the right looks to be hardly a man at all. His frame and the width of his shoulders imply that he can be no more than seventeen years old. The fizzled soul patch just under his bottom lip looks forced. He's wearing straight cut blue jeans and they mesh with his yellow polo shirt perfectly. He too is wearing flip-flops, but they don't seem as natural on him as they do the man in the middle. Of course, he has a back pack slung across his left shoulder.

All three are looking at me. They smile.

I am too late.

They know it.

I know it.

They will make me pay for it.

All three suddenly bend down to one knee and begin to un-shoulder their packs, looking around as if to confirm that they aren't drawing too much attention. They begin to unzip their packs and then reach in.

I try to scream out, to alert the guards that are standing just ten feet away from them, but they are oblivious to me. A grey mist suddenly begins to seep out of the packs. I can only imagine that the packs contain a steel bio hazard container. What is inside of those containers, however, I can't imagine. The mist begins to thicken as the three men begin to choke. Before they no longer have the strength to, they reach into their packs and pull out hand grenades. They whisper something out loud, trying to shout through throats ruined by the grey mist.\

Someone screams just to the right of me, a woman who pulls her child to her breast. The little girl's father stands and begins to shout.

The three men throw the grenades over their shoulders towards the doors and, with a sick efficiency that could only come from practice; they pull out another grenade each and throw them just out in front of them. One rolls towards me and comes to a stop, inches away.

I pay the price.

####

Suddenly the world comes crashing back to reality. I'm on my knees crying and people are standing all around, staring at me. To my left is a hallmark African American family. To my right are college students flying out for spring break.

But just behind me are three men on their knees, rustling around in their back packs.

This is the end. I could have stopped it all if I had just reacted to that itch buried deep inside my chest. But I didn't. I ignored it.

And I deserve to pay the price.

THE END


© 2011 Damian Delao

Bio: Damian Delao resides in Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand. A slightly different version of this story appeared as "Paid the Price" in COngruent Spaces magazine, Issue 3, and another of Damian's stories is the lead story in the current issue of the same publication.

E-mail: Damian Delao

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