The story so far:
Gail pushed through the terminal door marked 'Entry' and paused as the sliding glass portal closed behind her, shutting out the cold wind and leaving her in an envelope of warmth. She noticed that her strange, but helpful, luggage carrier had stopped several feet ahead. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the mild air. When she opened them, the stranger was still standing with his back to her. He had loosened his grip of her suitcase and appeared to be reaching for something in his jacket pocket, a suit jacket pocket.
Why didn't I notice before? How can anyone go out in this kind of weather without a parka?
With her eyes locked on the back of the man's jacket, she jumped as she saw it ripple, as if a small herd of mice had raced underneath and upward from the split tail at the bottom, to the padding atop each shoulder and then, disappeared.
What? Jesus…I didn't just see that, did I? Just get your suitcase, girl, thank him as you walk past and keep moving. She shook her head, knocking what had to be a mirage out of her head and, putting thought to action, took a step forward just as the man turned to face her.
The strangely dark black eyes that had initially startled her were now covered with impenetrable black sunglasses. Still, his unseen gaze stopped her in her tracks. A single second that seemed an eternity passed before he smiled.
It wasn't really a smile, nothing more than a quick upturn of the corners of his mouth. The wind was no longer a factor, away from the blustering wind, so his lips remained tightly closed and spared her another glimpse of his small, round teeth - ivories that had she been able to see them - had changed.
A glimpse of the dental metamorphosis inside the stranger's mouth would likely have sent her screaming, sans all of her luggage to find the nearest policeman; or better yet, a priest, for the strangers teeth were now quite large and demonically pointed.
Slightly relieved by his smile but still suspicious, she watched his face as she took a couple of steps forward. He had her attention and lifted his head, turning it slightly to indicate the United Airlines passenger service counter to the right. Relieved, she smiled and veered in that direction falling in alongside the stranger; but she remained uneasy - a feeling that grew stronger the closer she got to him as they walked.
Okay…just to the check-in counter and then…wait a minute! How did he know I was flying United?
She stopped walking and, for the first time, noticed the crowd. Everyone was making a large detour around Gail and her luggage escort. She glanced back at the terminal entry doors. There were a large number of people passing in and out of those doors in a steady stream; yet, when she'd entered there was no one near her or the stranger. Behind the man, the terminal had been buzzing with a constant flow of humanity, in all shapes and sizes - hundreds, perhaps thousands of people moving around - but no one had passed within ten feet of the man. What was really strange, if the avoidance maneuvers were not enough, the stream of people were detouring, apparently without volition to do so.
All these people…going by as if we weren't here…like we are inside a barrier of some kind that they don't observe, but somehow sense.
The man had stopped, but stared straight ahead like a robot without a command to move forward or turn to see whether Gail was still with him.
Her eyes riveted to him, Gail took two - three, then five steps back. As her foot hit the floor on that fifth step, a man ran into her.
"Geesh, lady, watch where you're going, huh?" The man threw a nasty look at her, over his shoulder, but kept moving.
Gail instantly felt herself surrounded by humanity. She was jostled right and left until she found a gap in the stream and took two quick steps forward. Immediately, the crows spread to make a detour around her, but not between her and the stranger.
This can't be happening.
She glanced at her watch. Damn it! I've got to get checked in…why is all this weird **** happening to me? Today, of all days, why today?
The man turned slowly towards her and Gail, deciding there was no time for a better plan, dropped her duffle bags and jumped forward, grabbed her suitcase from his hand and kept going, fighting her way through the flow of people, towards the check-in counter. Fifteen feet away, she half slid her suitcase forward, watched to see where it stopped and then, turned to race back to retrieve her duffle bags.
Head down, she didn't see him until she smacked into his hard-as-steel chest.
"Ugh!" She pushed herself back a couple of steps and brushed a mass of hair out of her face. Her palms stung as if she'd slapped the hell out of a break wall.
She rubbed her hands up and down her thighs and glared at the man standing before her with a duffle bag slung over each shoulder.
Gail had never been particularly forceful when dealing with adversity. Nine times out of ten, she'd avoid direct confrontation. The events of the past fifteen or twenty minutes, however, overrode her innate fears. She was as mad as a wet cat.
"Give me my bags and get the hell away from me!"
The man made no response. Head up, he didn't even acknowledge her presence. She slapped him. "Did you hear me? Give me my bags!"
Gail looked around. Not a single person had stopped. No one made a move to intervene. The waves of people continued to flow around them as if they didn't exist. "Hey," she yelled, waving her arms, "What the hell's the matter with all you people?"
No one stopped. No one heard her. As long as she was within ten feet of this…this…whatever the hell he was, she was nowhere to be seen or heard.
"This is sooo **** up!" She muttered and sprang forward to pull the duffle bag straps from his shoulders.
No sooner did the thought of taking action enter her mind, than the man walked right past her, her bags on his shoulders, in the direction of the check-in counter. She could do nothing but watch as he marched right up to the counter, placed her duffle bags on the floor, reached back for her suitcase and then stood there, ramrod straight and stared back in her direction.
This is not happening. What the hell am I supposed to do, now? Gail was outside the man's sphere of influence and she was buffeted all around as she fought her way cross-current to the stream of humanity.
She stopped several feet away from the man and glared at him. He smiled his no-teeth smile and walked away.
Huh? She shook her head and stepped up to the counter. As she watched the passenger service person input her ticket information into the computer, Gail's thoughts were elsewhere.
What in the hell was that all about? She wondered. She glanced at her watch. I just made it, barely. I'm definitely marking this little adventure as sign number three hundred and forty-nine.
Her luggage checked in, the terminal's invisible voice announcing her flight, Gail forgot the past half hour and ran for the gate. She got through security without a hitch, the stewardess checked her pass and she was entering the plane before she looked at her boarding pass for her seat number. Five A. That can't be right. That's First Class, isn't it?
The stewardess at the plane's doorway assured her that her name matched the seat assignment, and rather than make an issue of it, Gail smiled and moved down the aisle to her seat. Somebody goofed big-time, but hey, it's about time something good came my way. Sign number one on the good side…well, make that two; the call to Dallas is surely a good thing. Right? That's it. Think positive and good things will happen.
Just after the announcement that the plane would be departing shortly, a final passenger entered the first class cabin and took the seat, Five B, next to Gail. She was engrossed in an article she'd been reading and didn't immediately look up. When she did, and saw the stranger seated next to her, staring straight ahead without his sunglasses, she jumped back against the wall of the cabin.
"No…no, this can't be happening…" A tear formed in her eye. She trembled in abject fear, shaking her head left and right, trying to squeeze her body into the wall of the cabin.
The man turned her way. His eyes were no longer a deep black. Now, they were a dull red that seemed to glow from deep within his head. He smiled at her, showing long, pointed teeth.
Gail screamed and the last things she remembered, before losing consciousness, was the man's raspy voice saying, three hundred and fifty; him leaning forward, his mouth opening wide, like that of a rattlesnake and, from the corner of her eye - the stewardess rushing towards her.