Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Call Me

by Ishmael Soledad




The technician squints his pale blue eyes, twists a screwdriver to slot home a coupling.


*****



Frank Garrity was running late as he stepped outside and checked his mobile. The taxi ranks were empty but there were a few Uber rides around. It was a rushed trip and in all the hurry at the building site he’d just managed to change into his suit. He looked down, brown steel caps laughing where black Florsheims should be.


*****



Sonia stared out the window as the car crawled through the city. Was that a suit wearing steel capped boots? The driver craned her neck back.

“You ok if I don’t pick up share rides? Heard some bad stories lately.”

“Fine by me, I’m in a hurry.”


*****



Self check-in was down so Frank joined the economy queue. They opened the business class counter to economy passengers, a forlorn effort given the snaking line behind him. He’d made it to the front when there was a gasp and clatter. Turning he saw an old lady trying unsuccessfully to pick up her walking stick. No one lifted a hand to help, the man between them staring at his watch. Frank stepped around him.

“They should have a special lane.”

“I’m fine. Looks like someone’s cut in front of you.”

Frank turned as the watch checker scurried to the counter.

“What’s a few minutes?”


*****



Thankfully business class got preferential treatment, small compensation for the two hour packed flight to Townsville. The counter attendant handed Sonia her boarding pass.

“You’re boarding through gate twenty three in approximately ninety minutes —”

A clatter from the economy lane interrupted him.

“— seat 1B. Have a pleasant flight.”


*****



“QF 978?”

The man at the counter stared at the monitor, his blue eyes betraying his irritation.

“Is there a problem?”

“Just the usual, it’s over booked.”

A boarding slip shot onto the counter.

“Economy’s fully checked in so I’ve put you in business.”

“Is it going to cost me?”

“No, nothing. Seat 4B, boarding in an hour and a half from gate twenty three. Pleasant flight Mr. Garrity.”


*****



The security checkpoint was an overcrowded nightmare. Tempers frayed as people were sent back through for coins in pockets, mobile phones, even belts. A man was pulled aside, told to take off his boots. Sonia went through, extracted her carry-on and headed for the escalator.


*****



Frank made his way back around through the scanner. Boots back on he grabbed his grip before jumping on the escalator. They were three deep on each step families, businessmen and holiday makers jam packed together. An old couple at the top stumbled off, her scarf trailing on the floor as they walked away.

Frank made the top of the escalator and turned left through the food court to the newsagent.


*****



“Your coffee.”

She cleared a small space on the table and placed the mug down in front of Sonia. Sonia had toyed with going into the club but lately it was filled with noisy families. A man sailed towards her engrossed in his newspaper, arm high passing over her head, jacket brushing the edge of her table. A woman pulled a chair up next to the old man opposite. It’s definitely better out here, the people watching’s more fun.


*****



Frank’s eyes were fixed to the sports page as he hurried to the departure lounge. Bunch of losers, beaten by Bangladesh four nil. In the old days we would’ve routed them but now we can’t even lose by less than an innings.

He finished the paper in disgust, page after page of bad news. The country’s just an open pit mine populated by Netflix junkies.

“QF 978 is now ready for boarding, would business class passengers proceed to gate twenty three.”

Frank folded the paper then stood. He thought about keeping it then, deciding against it, dropped it on the chair behind him before joining the queue.


*****



The boarding call caught Sonia unawares. She was last in business class, just settling into her seat as economy was called. Probably going to be a bad flight, the old lady next to me in 1A looks worried, apprehensive.


*****



“You too?”

The old man in 4A nodded.

“My wife’s in 1A, they wouldn’t put us together it was this or get bumped.”

“That’s rough.”

“No kidding. She doesn’t like flying, too much tv, those air crash shows.”

“You should be together.”

“That’s what I said.”

The blue eyed business class steward leant across.

“You’d prefer to sit together sir?”

“Of course, but they said it couldn’t be done.”

“Well that was down there and this is my flight. If you’re willing to shift to 1A Mr. Garrity we can fix it easy enough.”

“Sure, one seat’s as good as another.”


*****



Sonia tried not to notice him. Male, mid-thirties, business suit and not too hard on the eyes. I’m not in the market, it’s barely two years since Peter died and no matter what Julie says it’s too early. ‘You’re taking too long,’ she’d scolded a week ago ‘no-one’s talking about a relationship here just go find a piece of beefcake and disappear for a few days.’ She shook her head, tried to appear nonchalant.

He held out his hand.

“I’m Frank. Sorry if I startled you.”

“Sonia. You didn’t, I was just lost in thought. Off to Townsville?” She kicked herself as she said it.

“Not much choice now, this makes only one stop.” He smiled. “Business or pleasure?”

“Business. You?”

“Same, two days. I’m there so often it feels like home.”

“Sounds awful.”

“It’s not too bad, I’ve got a regular room at Jupiter’s and most of them know me.”

“Jupiter’s? I’m booked there too, isn’t that a —”

The pain exploding in Sonia’s head blocked everything out, pitching her forwards and driving her head between her knees. She caught a glimpse of Frank arched backwards, mouth open before the world exploded in a blue-gold haze then faded to black.


*****



“You too?”

The old man in 4A nodded.

“My wife’s in 1A, they wouldn’t put us together it was this or get bumped.”

“That’s rough.”

“No kidding. She doesn’t like flying, too much tv, those air crash shows.”

“You should be together.”

“That’s what I said.”

The business class stewardess leant across. A petite blonde, she’d been flashing her beacon-like emerald green eyes at Frank since he boarded.

“You’d prefer to sit together sir?”

“Of course, but they said it couldn’t be done.”

“Well that was down there and this is my flight. If you’re willing to shift to 4D Mr. Garrity we can fix it easy enough.”

“Sure, one seat’s as good as another.”

The aircraft started to push back, the terminal lights receding as Frank stared out the window. A howling whine burst through his ears, a searing pain through his head sending him arching back into his seat as the blue-gold light changed to black then oblivion.


*****



The old man’s got gorgeous blue eyes.

“Sorry?”

“They’ve just called QF 978. You’d better hurry.”

Sonia gulped down her remaining coffee, stood hurriedly.

“Thanks.”

She didn’t notice him until she blundered straight into him, sending him to the floor.

“Oh god I’m sorry.”

He picked himself up, reached down to get her carry-on and boarding pass. He’s quite tall, attractive and well-built if a little dishevelled. The hint of a six pack winked from above his belt; she felt his eyes follow hers.

“It’s quite alright,” he said tucking his shirt back in “these queues are always a fight anyway …” looking at her boarding pass “Mrs. Nicolas.”

“I should pay more attention. And it’s Sonia.”

“Pleased to meet you Sonia, I’m Frank.”

“Going all the way?” Damn you Julie.

“As far as I can but I think it stops in Townsville.”

“Business?”

“Yeah, couple of days. You?”

“Same. I’m there so often Jupiter’s should put my name on the door.”

“Jupiter’s? I’m there all the time but I’ve never —”

The pain was overwhelming, driving Sonia to her knees screaming as the world turned blue-gold then faded away.


*****



Frank’s eyes were fixed to the sports page as he hurried to the departure lounge. Bunch of losers, beaten by Bangladesh four nil. In the old days we would’ve routed them but now we can’t even lose by less than an innings.

He finished the paper in disgust, page after page of bad news. The country’s just an open pit mine populated by Netflix junkies.

“QF 978 is now ready for boarding, would business class passengers proceed to gate twenty three.”

Frank folded the paper then stood.

“Excuse me.”

Frank looked to the short, green eyed woman seated behind him.

“Yes?”

“Is that today’s Courier Mail?”

“Yes.”

“Do you mind if I have it? Things are a bit tight.”

Frank handed the paper to her.

“They give them away on board.”

“I’m not flying, I’m waiting for someone.”

Business class boarding was over so Frank joined the economy queue. Funny woman, the parking alone would get her a month’s subscription. It was an assault on his senses, the noise, the lights, a debilitating but familiar cacophony pounding him to unconsciousness.


*****



“Your coffee.”

He placed the cup and saucer down near the edge of the table in front of Sonia, smiled with ice blue eyes then walked away. Sonia had toyed with going into the club but lately it was filled with noisy families. A man sailed towards her engrossed in his newspaper, arm passing over her head, jacket catching the saucer sending the cup smashing to the floor. He spun to face her.

“I’m sorry I …”

He looked hauntingly familiar, triggering a misty soup of fear, love, belonging and hatred in her head.

“Sonia?”

It came back in stereo, one channel of ambition, success and sharing, the other a pale solitary reflection of the same.

“Frank? It’s still happening?”

“Yes,” glancing at his paper “it’s 2027? We’ve gone that far back?”

She grabbed his hand, squeezed hard.

“Keep fighting, it’s all we can do.”

“I know it’s just —”

The light and pain blew them to blackness.


*****



“Your coffee.”

The waitress stood looking at her, a cup of coffee in one hand, dishrag in the other. Why do her green eyes give me the jitters? The waitress regarded the table littered with food scraps and spilt coffee distastefully.

“This is awful, it should have been cleaned earlier.” The table behind her emptied; the waitress gave it a cursory wipe, putting Sonia’s coffee down in the middle.

“Will this do? It’s cleaner and out of the way.”

Sonia moved across.

“Yes thank you it’s fine.”

Sonia had toyed with going into the club but lately it was … she stopped in mid-thought, waves of déjà vu washing over her. What was it, a thought, a name, a face? A man hurried past engrossed in his newspaper, stopped and stared briefly at the seat she’d vacated then with a shake of his head walked away.

Sonia stood, raised one arm as if to go off in pursuit then spasmed as the as the world exploded blue-gold.


*****



Frank made his way back around through the scanner. Boots back on he grabbed his grip before jumping on the escalator. They were three deep on each step families, businessmen and holiday makers jam packed together. An old man and woman fell to the floor at the top, her scarf jammed in the mechanism. Someone bent down to help, everyone else ignoring them and hurrying off. Frank made it to the top just in time to help pick them up.

“She’s fine, thank you.” The old man said glancing quickly through blue eyes before hurrying away.

Frank turned, reeled, then dragged Sonia away.

“Frank?”

“How far back are we?”

“I don’t know, it’s all hazy I can’t remember.”

“They’re still trying.”

“To keep us apart?”

“Or together, I’ve no idea but they’re still trying.”

“It’s getting shorter.”

“We’re down to minutes, maybe less.”

“What do we do?”

“Have to break the pattern, do something different.”

“Like what?”

They fell as one in a crumpled heap.


*****



“QF 978?”

The girl at the counter stared at the monitor, her green eyes betraying her irritation.

“Is there a problem?”

“Just the usual, it’s over booked.”

A boarding slip shot onto the counter.

“I’ve had to change your seat, it’s not your preferred one but it will do. Seat 42J, boarding in an hour and a half from gate twenty three. Pleasant flight Mr. Garrity.”

Frank walked towards security pensive and worried. I feel like a fight, no, like I’m in a fight, no, no more like I should be … the greyness evaporated and he remembered, crystal clear he remembered why just before the world collapsed.


*****



Self check-in was down so Frank joined the economy queue. They opened the business class counter to economy passengers, a forlorn effort given the snaking line behind him. He’d made it to the front when there was a gasp and clatter. Turning he saw an old lady trying unsuccessfully to pick up her walking stick. A young boy stooped, picked it up and took the old lady by the arm.

“Thank you.”

“It’s no trouble.”

He looked straight at Frank with a set of ice blue eyes.

“Go to business class check in sir, help speed it along.”

“Thanks.” Frank said, moving away.


*****



Thankfully business class got preferential treatment, small compensation for the packed two hour flight to Townsville. The counter attendant handed Sonia her boarding pass.

“You’re boarding through gate twenty three in approximately ninety minutes —”

A clatter from the economy interrupted him.

“— seat IB. Have a pleasant flight.”

Sonia turned, bumped face first into Frank. This time recognition was instant. She grabbed him, dragged him away.

“It’s still going, it’s getting earlier.”

Frank’s face was ashen.

“Listen. I know why it’s here, it’s this flight.”

“What is?”

“Us, the first time. It’s when we met.”

“Then they’ve won.”

“No they haven’t. They know nothing about before. If we don’t meet on this flight they’ll think it’s finished, but we can fool them.”

“How?”

“My number, what’s my number?”

“044 9934 7889”

“Good. Call me, just call. You never did before tomorrow, just make one call and we can reset it.”

“When?”

“Before the flight, as early as you can. We’ve got to miss the flight. If either of us gets on it alone it’s over. Can you do it?”

“Yes, I think —”

This time the world faded to malevolent black.


*****



The technician squints her emerald green eyes, twists a screwdriver to release a coupling.


*****



Frank Garrity was running late as he stepped outside and checked his mobile. The taxi ranks were empty and his mobile was playing up. He fidgeted, danced from foot to foot. Looks like I’m going to miss the flight.


*****



Sonia stared out the window as the car crawled through the city. Was that a suit wearing steel capped boots? The driver craned her neck back.

“You ok if I don’t pick up share rides? Heard some bad stories lately.”

“Fine by me, I’m in a hurry.”

Something tugged at her; she picked up her mobile and dialled. Nothing happened.

“Damn, no coverage.”

“Been like that all day.”

She turned her mobile off, put it in her carry on.

“Guess I could use some peace and quiet.”

“Couldn’t we all.”

The driver looked back, emerald green eyes reflected in the mirror.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you there on time. Can’t have you missing that flight can we?”



THE END


© 2019 Ishmael Soledad

Bio: Ishmael A Soledad’s work has appeared in Aphelion, Antipodean SF, Far Cry Magazine, Planet Web Zine, Schlock! Webzine, Short-story.me and Unrealpoloitik!. He is currently working on his first novel, due for release in 2020. You can connect with him on Twitter (@Ishmael_Soledad).

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