• A. M. Steiner

Arrivals and departures


This first foray into straight horror ended up far more disturbing than anticipated. A visceral mix of Bret Easton Ellis and Dennis Wheatley. Reader discretion is advised.

Fifty inch wheels slap the tarmac and the airliner slews to the right as the pilot hits the brakes hard. A child in economy squeals in terror. Frequent Flyers’ mouth splits wide into a perfect smile. Wrapped in the silk cocoon of his favourite sleep mask, his mind travels a different journey: At tomorrow’s morning meeting, he listens to Global Head of Sales announce the contract win, then his promotion. Next he’s thinking about the monogrammed leather of the carry-on he’s already bought himself as a reward, the compliment it drew from the fake-blonde stewardess as he manoeuvred it into stow-away. Now his head is back between the thighs of the drunken realtor he picked up in Sacramento. He feels her freshly-shaved labia pressed hot against his cheek.

“Yes,” she sighs.

The seatbelt sign pings off and he’s standing before the bloater in the next seat has even found his buckle. He lifts his empty case down into the aisle (careful not to scratch the leather) and pushes past an exasperated mum who’s struggling with a child’s safety seat (as if any seat could be safe in a plane crash). The fake-blonde is waiting by the cabin door, flat faced and older than he remembered, but he’s still feeling horny so when she says: “look forward to servicing you again,” he flashes her a dirty wink, just for laughs. She doesn’t even smile.

Frequent Flyer sprints up the gangway and through the corridors to passport control. The carry-on is rolling like a dream and he avoids the travelator because he doesn’t want scratches on the wheels before he shows it to his wife. There’s something about tonight, he just can’t stop smiling until he turns one more corner and the smile slides from his face like a wet rag.

The queue in passport control fills the hall from wall to wall. The priority fast lane is roped off.

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” says an official who could be helping instead of standing around apologising. In the private sector she’d get the sack, but there’s no use in getting worked up about it.

Frequent Flyer pops in his wireless earphones and dials up some dancefloor classics. The beats are wicked but the queue moves slowly. The ceiling lights begin to hurt his eyes so he puts on his sunglasses. He can’t do anything about the sore throat, his itchy skin, the way his feet feel swollen like they're going to split his loafers. The true price of international travel, he thinks, and tries to ignore the tourist smells.

The queue moves slowly.

Maybe something classical. Soothing. He tries a bit of Mozart but its makes no difference. Maybe that’s because he isn’t really listening. He’s wrapped up in the feeling in his guts where a snake now writhes, restless, loose and greasy then suddenly tight. The coils slide against one another. One too many gin and tonics with the on-flight breakfast, he thinks, but it’s no joke. He needs to shit and badly. He glances back at the customs girl. Can’t ask her. Not in front of these people. He clenches his anus and the queue moves slowly. Thank fuck passport control know a real businessman when they see one. He’s back on home turf but without much time to spare. The snake in his stomach has become an octopus. The carry-on bounces behind him like a happy dog as he sprints through baggage claim and customs, his face as grey and pale as the fluorescent lights overhead. He dashes past the overpriced toys for forgetful parents. The overprized liquor. He was planning on getting a bottle of champagne for the wife, to go with the take-away sushi, but that’ll have to wait. Expectant relatives and limo drivers holding up whiteboards and bored as fuck pay no attention as he searches for the washroom.

“Watch yourself!” an ethnic shouts in an angry African accent, and pulls her mop aside. Frequent flyer almost upends her yellow wheelie-bucket as he charges inside.

Jesus fuck, five stalls and every one of them occupied. He imagines shitting in the sink (it’s that bad) and laughs through his pain. The sink’s taken anyhow. Some bloke’s shaving his face in it: black combat jacket and trousers but not police or special-forces – more like Sean Bean in a low budget action movie until he stands and Frequent Flyer sees the bald patch, ponytail, goatee beard. More like Steven Seagal. Dude’s got weird eyes though.

The man in black towels flecks of shaving foam from his cheeks and sets down a straight razor. Won’t get one of those through security thinks Frequent Flyer. There’s a flush, and one of the stall doors swings open.

The man who’s finished his business is wearing the same daft outfit as his mate. A full head of hair but he still looks like a twat. Together they look like a militant hippy paintball team. An awful smell follows as he joins his mate at the sink. Not shit, something worse, but there’s no time for Frequent Flyer to be clever because the octopus in his guts is more alive than ever and in another five seconds he’s shitting his pants.

"Proceed," says face-washing man and gestures towards the empty cubicle. Weird fucker.

Frequent Flyer’s belt buckle chimes on the tiles as he pushes his trousers down to his ankles and, like pair of Olympic high-boarders, his arse hits the seat and his shit hits the bowl in the same instant. He groans in relief. The seat is wet on his arse but it's too late to do anything about it. The pain recedes. He still feels awful but he’s finally able to start thinking about something other than the need.

The cubicle is splattered with graffiti: stupid Goth rubbish. Pentagrams. Satan. Blah. EMO, that’s what they call it nowadays. Still rubbish. Must be freshly penned because they clean that stuff off in minutes. Toilet graffiti: something else to add to the endangered species list.

Ominous music. Thinking he’s bum-dialled a movie soundtrack he reaches for the earbuds he thought he’d already taken out and realises that he was right. The sound is coming from outside. It’s not the sort of ambient nonsense that airport management think makes the toilets seem cleaner. More like Temple of Doom business.

He sees a curl of smoke and looks down, realises the terrible smell, stronger than even his effluent, is coming from a bundle of herbs beside his feet. They’re lit at one end, like incense sticks. Militant hippy must have dropped it or dumped it but it doesn’t smell like any drug Frequent Flyer knows. He slides the bundle out under the door with the tip of his loafer.

A black boot pushes it back in and the chanting begins.

It has to be a wind up. Global Head of Sales is goosing him ahead of his promotion. But ohm, ohm, ohm and it doesn’t sound like a tape. Frequent Flyer laughs hard so that everyone knows he’s onto the joke but the laugh comes out more nervous than he meant and the shit just keeps on pouring out of him. He’s embarrassed by the splattering noise. Everyone shits so there's no reason to be embarrassed so why do I feel embarrassed like a child? There's no satisfactory answer, which annoys him, and his eyes are watering from the stupid herbs.

The chanting gets louder, stops being yoga class/terrible spa and becomes proper: loud and scary: And the shit is pouring now, he’s shitting like a burst sewer. Frequent flyer starts to wonder how ill he is, if he’s picked up a real nasty from the in-flight catering or the realtor. Dysentery. Salmonella. Some new kind of AIDS. He thinks about tomorrow’s morning meeting. The Global Head of Sales. The contract win announcement. Please. No. Not tonight. Another stab in the guts and he punches the cubicle wall in frustration.

Now all he can hear is chanting and the lights are dimming or maybe it’s his vision and he thinks he can feel a breeze under the stall door and he’s still shitting and even he can’t see anything funny about the situation any more. Time to dial 999, he thinks, and reaches for his phone.

It’s gone. Not just the phone. Everything. The light. The pain. The shitting. His trousers. Frequent Flyer is stark bollock naked, on a toilet, in the silent dark. Naked feels colder than he would have guessed and a breeze against his ankles makes him come out in goosebumps. A breeze? When he listens hard he can still hear the chanting, but it’s distant.

“Hello?”

No reply.

Frequent flyer flinches as a drop of water splatters on the tip of his nose. Another taps the top of his head. A leak, he thinks and looks up, sees stars and clouds, constellations. He screams inside like that child in economy and grabs hold of his toilet seat but nothing happens for a while and then more nothing and eventually fright gives way to dread. Hallucination is the only possibility but this doesn’t feel like a hallucination. It feels real. This is not me, he thinks, and feels grass between his toes. The wind-up merchants have pushed it too far because they didn’t know I was sick and now I am lying on the floor of a toilet in a pool of shit and an ambulance is on the way. This looks bad for everyone, and it will never be mentioned back at base so in a way, it’s not such a bad result. They have to promote me now, as long as I’m ok.

More nothing. Frequent Flyer gets bored. Curious. It’s inevitable without pain to distract him. His hand goes to the latch. Engaged becomes vacant.

Moorland at night. The cubicle stands alone upon on a platform of loosely piled flint. Frequent flyer stalks around it in disbelief. To either side, hillside slopes away to disappear into dark, wooded valley. In the middle distance a small pyre rages within a circle of standing stones. Frequent flyer stares at his body, as if to confirm that it is himself who he inhabits. Gym toned and bronze, there’s no question that the body is his own, but it is covered in swirling blue tattoos and he is surprised to see that despite the cold and the sickness his penis is engorged.

Chanting drifts from stone, calling him. Frequent flyer looks over his shoulder, shrugs and advances, crouching low. He has no reason to recognise these slopes – East End born and bred and can’t stand the muck and stink of the countryside, yet his feet seem to know every step and foothold before it is taken and his heightened senses can name every sound and smell. He runs, vaulting every boulder and fallen trunk with ease, ducking under branches. He has never felt so strong or so alive. The hallucination is exhilarating: better than PlayStation, better than drugs. Better even than a drunken realtor in Sacramento. Frequent Flyer looses a wild howl.

Closer to the pyre he sees the dancing silhouettes of men around the flames and he knows before he sees them that they the ones from the toilet, returned to their true and proper place. No longer dressed in black, they are robed in white and garlanded with flowers. Once a hippy always a hippy, he supposes. He watches them dance, faster and faster. He understands the song they sing, the ritual of summoning and knows it is he who they have summoned. He has been chosen. His pride is edged with caution. Ten minutes or less into this dream and already he is unsure what is real. Memory tells him one story, emotions another. Does it matter?

The dance ends and the chief of the priest comes to the edge of the dolmens, signals that they have made things ready. Frequent Flyer rises from his haunches and enters the ring, sees the draped figure bound to the cutting stone, curved sensuously under a thin white sheet. The pose is unnatural: her spine is bent backwards and she wriggles and strains languidly against the ropes as if sedated. Frequent flyer feels a twitch in his crotch and thanks his imagination for what it has delivered. He didn’t know he had it in him.

The chief of the priests hands him a knife made of black stone and retreats expectantly. Frequent Flyer doesn’t need to be told what to do. He studied history at school. He’s seen the movies. He holds the knife aloft and it reflects the flames like a shiny piece of plastic.

“Proceed,” says the chief of the priests.

Frequent Flyer approaches the shrouded sacrifice and plants his hand firmly across her brow, stretching out her neck.

“Watch yourself,” the sacrifice slurs in an angry African accent and he feels resistance under his palm. He turns to the priests.

“Proceed.”

He’s rock hard now, his cock curving towards the heavens and: “sorry for the inconvenience,” she complains, this time in pure customs official. Frequent Flyer pushes the point of the knife hard against the girl’s trachea. “Servicing you again,” she chokes. He drives the point to the base of her neck and rips sideways. “Yes,” the sacrifice sighs in ecstasy. Dark blood soaks his forearms.

Frequent flyer is blinded by light and he reaches out and hits his hand on a wall. He is back in the cubicle and the whiteness overhead resolves into foam tiles and strip lights and he is sat on a toilet and his forearms are covered in blood. So are his legs and his trousers and there is no graffiti on the walls and there is no pain in his stomach and blood trails out under the cubicle door.

Vacant is back to engaged again and he hasn’t touched the latch so this must be another dream. A dream within a dream, he thinks and he unlocks the door for a second time.

The ethnic’s head is in the sink but she’s not washing her face. Her arms are spread wide and her wrists have been bound to the faucets on either side. Blood drips from the edges of her yellow jacket. Blood drips over the edge of the porcelain. The sink is full of red.

Resting beside her lies a straight razor.

Frequent flyer stares into the mirror which walls the room. His cock stands proud and he is covered in swirling blue tattoos. Scraps of sod and grass decorate his bare feet. His forearms are covered in blood. In the distance, he hears sirens and his mouth splits wide into a perfect smile.

© A.M. Steiner, 2018

#Flashfiction

© 2017 Ptolemy Publishing