“Goddamnit,” Ali said, biting her lip as she looked at the screen above the counter at her gate.
There was no departure time listed. Nor was there any indication of a delay. She looked out at the bridge that connected the terminal to the plane, but there was none attached. And there was no one at the counter. She wandered back to look a the departures screen down the corridor to confirm that she was at the correct gate.
There it was: Vancouver to Winnipeg, Gate A31. The screen said the departure was on-time, though no actual time was listed, which Ali thought odd.
She went back to the gate, hoping to find an agent, but there was still no one at the counter. There was a man standing there, staring ahead and Ali approached him. “Sorry,” she said, “are you on the flight to Winnipeg.”
He nodded. “Yeah. They say it’s here, but there’s no plane. And there’s no one here.”
“There hasn’t been anyone at the counter, then?”
He shook his head. “No. Computers aren’t even turned on.” He gestured to the monitors on the counter, which Ali saw were black.
“This is so weird.”
“So strange,” he said. “There’s a lot of people here though. Can’t all be wrong, right?”
“I guess,” Ali said. She wasn’t so sure. These were airlines after all. They would cancel a flight without telling anyone. Or move it to another terminal and sell all the seats to people on standby, not bothering to refund all those who were stuck here unawares.
She told herself to be patient, there was plenty of time until her flight, and went to find a seat in the waiting area. It was difficult, with dozens and dozens of frustrated looking people sitting and staring at the empty counter. Ali found it comforting in some strange way. They could all be miserable together.
As time went on the waiting area filled up. Nearly every seat was filled and the open area around the gate counter was nearly impassable, with hordes of people staring at phones or the tarmac where a plane had yet to appear. Anyone who looked vaguely official was immediately confronted by ten or more people demanding answers. None were forthcoming. Ali could hear at least five different conversations with various agents, trying to placate the irate people who were waiting for a flight that had not materialized.
At a certain point, it dawned on her that there were far more people gathered here than could possibly fit on the plane. She could see others reaching the same awareness. Something was very odd about all this. How could so many people end up at this airport gate, awaiting a flight that no one at the airline seemed to know anything about, except that it was supposed to be taking off?
They were half an hour past their scheduled departure time, the restlessness of the crowd beginning to sound dangerous, when the some official-looking people appeared and began to move through the crowd. Ali saw them asking questions, with that blank face that all people in authority used when they were trying not to betray what they knew was going on.
By the time they arrived to question her, Ali had had enough. “Can someone explain what the hell is going on here?”
“We were hoping you could,” the woman in the pantsuit said, sounding infuriatingly calm.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m trying to catch my plane. I’ve been here for over an hour and no one seems to know what’s going on.”
The woman glanced at her partner. “When did you book this flight?”
“I…” Ali started to answer, but could not find the words. She could not recall.
“And where are you going?”
“Winnipeg,” she said immediately, though doubt began to creep in as soon as she spoke.
“Do you know anyone in Winnipeg?”
Ali hesitated. “No.”
“Any business that would take you there?”
“No.” Ali shuddered, as a terrible awareness began to take hold.
As she struggled to find an answer to any of the questions she had been asked, the female officer answered a phone call. “Yes. Everyone here. The same as before. We’re bringing them all in as soon as the wagons show up.”
The officers left Ali without saying another word. Ten minutes later she, and everyone else, was escorted out of the terminal into large vans by agents, in uniforms she did not recognize. Everyone in her van was mystified as to what was happening and a few were furious. “If I’ve done something wrong, arrest me. There’s no reason for this,” one man said.
“I don’t think these are police,” Ali said.
“Then what the hell is going on?”
No one had an answer. None was forthcoming once they arrived at their destination, a huge warehouse surrounded by a tall gate. Ali caught a brief glimpse of the river beyond the compound as she was led, along with the others, into the warehouse. The agents organized everyone into groups by some method Ali could not discern. She, and about thirty others, were taken into a windowless room near the entrance and ordered to form a line. One by one they were called up and taken into yet another room.
When Ali reached the front of the line, she asked the agent directing people what was happening. “Just processing,” he said, as he motioned her forward.
She went into the next room and was made to empty her purse and open her bags, all of which were searched thoroughly. When that was done she went through a metal detector, followed by a careful search by a woman. Nothing was revealed by these searches, at least nothing the agents found interesting, and Ali was told to go into the next room.
There she found all the other groups of passengers slowly gathering as they too went through processing. The room they were in was massive, with ceilings that reached to the top of the warehouse, and enough space to hold three or four times that many people. Ali looked around but, much to her annoyance, she couldn’t find anyone who might be able to answer any of her questions. After a few minutes aimless wandering she gave up and joined the others who had found a place on the floor to sit.
They waited for an hour, with no sign of any agents and no explanation of how long they might be expected to remain there. More and more people continued to arrive as time went on. Far more, Ali realized with a growing horror, than she had come with from the airport. She got up again, feeling panicked, and went to one of the doors where people were coming in from being processed, marching up to one of the agents.
“What’s going on? How long am I supposed to just sit here and wait?”
The agent did not even glance in her direction. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to get to the back of the line for processing.”
“I’ve already been through processing. I want to talk to someone who can tell me what’s going on.” Ali could hear her voice and it sounded hysterical. People were looking up from the line, which stretched out the next door, with some mild curiosity.
“Ma’am, I understand. But you’ve come out of the containment area and now you need to be processed again. Please move to the back of the line.”
Ali stared at him for a moment, feeling fury and desperation in equal measure. What if I don’t, what if I just stay here, she wanted to say. The agent was not even looking at her, already going over the next person’s luggage. Ali sighed and started back to try to find the end of line.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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