Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Golden Lion, Chapter 3

Les rode on a blast of pure black speed for what seemed like forever, and yet like one impossibly suspended moment. Then there was a lightning crack, and with it the movement simply stopped. Les clamped his eyes shut against the gray light that was suddenly there. When he opened them, a little at a time, he saw that the couple with the baby was gone, and all the nearby seats were vacant.
"Hello?" he called out. The hollow silence supplied the answer he instinctively feared: he was alone. Did I black out? It didn't feel like he had passed out. He thought he remembered the whole thing: the burst of golden light, the sudden darkness, the directionless whoosh of acceleration. But where is everyone? He must've blacked out, he decided, at least part of the time. It was the only way to explain the absence of the other passengers.
"Hello," he called again and tried to stand. His seat belt, still fastened, yanked him down. Les felt for the buckle, found that it was jammed and wouldn't release. A small, electric spark of dread coursed through him. Was that why he been left behind? Because his seatbelt was stuck? Was anybody coming back for him? He couldn't believe they would just leave him all alone.
Les began to notice strange things about the plane. For one, the cabin was completely unlit, illuminated only by the dingy daylight coming through the windows. The light strips that bordered the aisle were out, as were all the ceiling lights. It was as if the plane's power had been cut off, yet the plane itself was perfectly intact. Then there was the undeniable tinge of gold. It was everywhere: the seats, the floor, the entire interior of the cabin. At first he wondered if perhaps the brilliant bombardment he had endured was having a lingering effect on his vision. But when he looked down at himself, his clothes were unaffected, and his own skin was its usual bronzy-brown. Confused, he looked to the window and was startled by another difference: the glass in his window was missing. He raised a finger, and slowly pushed it through the opening. "What the--" he mumbled. "The window's gone?" He twisted around, checking the others. All of them looked empty, as if someone had come along and collected all the glass. When could that have happened? he wondered. And why?
Les's stomach, which he had forgotten about, began to writhe again. With a low moan, he glanced outside. Only then did he notice they were not on an airport runway, or at an airport at all. Instead, it appeared that the plane was parked on gray rock, flat as concrete, spreading out in all directions. In the far distance Les could see a towering, arcing wall of sheer rock of the same gray color, its upper edge visible only when he cranked his head to one side and peered upward through the window. Where are we? He scanned along the base of the cliff, and finally found a solitary building, dwarfed beneath the high wall. Beyond that, he could find no other sign of life, not even a single shrub, or a blade of grass.
Must've had to make some kind of emergency landing, he surmised. But that still doesn't explain where everyone went, or why they left me here. He swallowed hard, blocking the rising terror at his throat. Wait, he told himself. Maybe everybody else is on the other side of the plane where I can't see them. Or maybe they're in that building. "If I could just get this stupid seatbelt off," he snarled. Grasping it with both hands, Les tried his best to force the buckle to open. He pulled until his arms began to tremble, and his strength gave out, but it still wouldn't budge. Then he tried to wriggle out from under the strap, but he couldn't move more than a few inches either way. Frustrated, Les threw himself back against the seat. His head struck a cushion that he knew was made of soft foam, but felt hard as steel. It clanged hollowly.
"Ow!" he cried, twisting back and giving his seat an evil look. "What is going on around here?"
He was still rubbing his head when movement outside the window caught his eye. A man was crossing the expanse between the plane and the building. Within a few minutes, he had drawn close enough that Les could see he was dressed in some kind of pale blue business suit. The bright yellow flash of his tie stood out, even at this distance. The man appeared to be quite large, though that was difficult to judge against the emptiness of the surroundings. He carried some kind of bag in one hand, and walked at a brisk pace. Les watched him, nervous but hopeful that he was coming to free him.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Golden Lion, Chapter 2

Les finally reached the gate near the end of the terminal. The waiting area was already crowded. After searching briefly, he was able to find a single empty seat overlooking the tarmac through a high window wall. With a sigh of relief, he slumped into the chair. His stomach was aching badly, and his legs were still a little weak. He wiped a film of sweat from his face with a corner of his shirt. Navigating through the airport had turned out to be an even worse experience than he imagined.
It started off well enough. The lady at the check-in counter had been kind. When she saw that he was traveling by himself, she gave him a map of the airport, circling in red both the security checkpoint and the gate. As she did so, she instructed him to tell the gate attendants that he was something called an ‘unaccompanied minor,’ which should allow him to board the plane early. She even offered to have someone escort him from the security checkpoint to the gate. Les politely refused, thinking it would look pretty stupid to be walking around with an airline employee like he was a lost child. Still, he appreciated her concern, even as he resented himself. He was pretty sure she had only been so considerate because she saw how nervous he was.
Getting through security was a very different matter. First, there was the line. When Les saw it, snaking back and forth through a cordoned maze of black straps and chrome posts, he immediately began to worry. With a groan, he traced the line backwards, and took his place at the end. The people were bunched so tightly that Les couldn’t even be sure how many times the line folded back on itself. All he could do was wait, watching for the periodic spurts of movement, each of which traveled down the line like a slow-moving millipede. When the ripple reached him, Les shuffled forward a few feet, then stopped. This is going to take forever, he moaned to himself. I’m gonna miss my flight.
At each turn in the line, Les would try to look ahead, and see how far he was from the checkpoint. It was during one of these moments that he happened to lock eyes with one of the security agents. Les’ heart spiked, and he quickly looked away. After that, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the man was tracking him, though he was very careful not to look directly at him again. Stop being so nervous, Les told himself savagely. They might think I’m a terrorist or something. You don’t want to end up in a very small room with a very large man wearing latex gloves, do you?