Airports had always made Frank Bellando very anxious.
It wasn’t the threat of terrorism or bombs that unsettled Frank; it was the normal, frustratingly mundane aspects. The frantic hustling of travelers, the sinking feeling when your flight has been delayed, and of course the families with their tiny screaming gargoyles that they have the nerve to make everyone else suffer through.
Frank hated airports and he felt that the feeling was mutual.
Today’s experience had already been excruciating. It was raining when his plane landed at the Washington airport. For nearly two hours he had been stuck in the cramped seat, looking out the oval window at the rainy airport unable to exit until the pilot finally received approval for clearance. A miserable end to a miserable flight. While in the air, the stewardess on board hadn’t cared for his joke about there being a monster on the wing of the plane before ordering another rum and coke.
Whatever, get a sense of humor, sweetheart.
Frank’s troubles were far from over. By the time passengers were finally allowed to leave the plane, he was very much on edge. If he wanted to catch his connecting flight from Washington to Witwicky, he was going to have to hustle. He would have had plenty of time to catch the flight if he was still on his original schedule, but that damn storm had delayed everything. Now, he wasn’t so sure if he was going to make it and to make matters worse, he had no clue when the next flight would be.
Stumbling and sweating in his tight business clothes, he ran to the nearest information desk.
In front of him was a family of three: two parents and a young boy, talking to a friendly older woman in a stewardess uniform with her hair in a bob, chatting with them about hotel reservations.
Frank didn’t have time for this bullshit. He had a plane to catch.
“Hey, can you hurry it up?” Frank yelled behind the family.
The family and stewardess turned to look at him.
“I’ve been stuck on a plane for hours and I need to know where my connecting flight is!” he shouted.
The family looked chastened. The stewardess frowned at him.
“Sir, if you’ll just give me a moment, I’ll be able to help you,” the stewardess said in an agitated tone.
Grumbling, Frank watched as the stewardess smiled sympathetically toward the family before ushering them away with brochures for local hotels.
With his heart pounding, Frank walked up to the desk.
“When’s the next flight for Witwicky?” He didn’t waste a second.
The woman typed something up on her computer.
“Seems the last flight just left fifteen minutes ago,” she said not glancing from the screen.
“No! That was my flight! Dammit! Well, when’s the next one?”
She typed something else and paused.
“Tomorrow at 8.”
‘What, like in the morning! That’s over ten hours from now! Isn’t there any other flight?”
She typed some more and paused again.
“A-ha!” she murmured.
“What is it?” Frank asked.
“I see there’s one tomorrow at 8.”
“I don’t believe this!”
“Like I was telling the family before you, you can call around asking for local hotel reservations. Maybe your luck will be better than theirs.” There was no sympathy in her voice.
Red-faced and agitated, Frank swiped the brochure from the woman and walked away. As people around him chatted and carried their luggage, Frank desperately called up every hotel on the list.
“Leave us alone,” the first hotel receptionist whispered.
“You’re FUCKED, buddy!” the second one screamed.
The only sound from the receptionist at the third hotel was a deep, chilling laugh that filled Frank’s ear before the line went dead.
What the hell is wrong with people? Frank thought.
In the corner of his eye, he saw the little boy with his parents as they conversed with each other. The boy was looking right at Frank, and he had this strange, unnerving smile on his young face. Frank turned away from his gaze.
Creepy little shit, he thought to himself.
He checked his watch; it was getting late. The airport was winding down. The bars and stores at the airport were closing soon. Wide awake with nowhere to go, he knew he had no choice. He was going to have to spend the night in this airport. Even dressed in his tight business attire, the airport’s AC was making him shiver.
Begrudgingly, Frank began his search to find a bench where he could sleep and hopefully fast-forward through this nightmare. He spied a couple of other stragglers stuck spending the night in this godforsaken airport. Individual men and women in hoodies or towels curled up alongside the large glass windows, waiting for the night to pass.
Settling on a random empty chair in a row of its twins, Frank struggled to adjust for comfort. He swore that the airport purposefully made these chairs as uncomfortable as possible just to stick it to the overnight guests like himself. He tried to use his briefcase as a pillow, but the hard leather case was solid against his large head, and he could feel the impending neck cramps.
Groggy and unable to sleep, Frank suddenly became aware of a faint squeaking sound. Turning toward the sound, Frank watched as a mouse crept out from one of the holes by the airport window near him. The small brown, furry rodent twitched and squeaked as it crawled by some litter.
“Aaagh!” he shouted in disgust.
Frank kicked at the mouse, sending it scurrying back into its hole. He had seen others curled up on the ground next to identical holes in the metal window frames. If he had tried to sleep on the ground like them, who knows how many mice could have been crawling on him while he slept?
“Ah, to hell with this.” He hoisted himself up from the chair and began to wander around the spacious airport, desperate to kill time.
The slower time seemed to drag, the more anxiously he paced up and down the long wide halls of the airport, determined to tire himself out. Successful in his endeavor, he found another bench away from any possible mouse holes and finally dozed off from exhaustion. The next thing he knew, he was awoken by the calm voice of a woman over the airport’s intercom reminding everyone to say something if they see anything suspicious.
Sunshine glared in his face as he rubbed his bleary eyes. The overlapping chatter from the countless passengers arriving or departing for their flights gave him a headache. It was a deep contrast to the empty airport Frank felt like he had only seen moments ago.
He groaned as he stretched his limbs, his neck was stiff as a board. A day without showering made him feel grimy in his tight business suit. Feeling the fresh gray stubble on his round face, Frank checked his phone to see that it was 8:30 a.m.
Bloodshot eyes sprang open. Dear God, he had overslept! Sprinting up from the chair he checked the nearest screen with boarding information and ran for the designated terminal.
Arriving at the terminal, Frank’s heart sank when he saw the gate door was closed. He turned his attention to the clerks behind the terminal’s desk, an older dark-skinned woman and a thin bespectacled man, both in uniform, chatting and laughing away.
“Wait! I’m here! I have a ticket for the flight to Witwicky!” He waved his boarding pass in front of him as if it was some magic talisman that would solve all his problems.
“I’m sorry, sir, but boarding for this flight has closed.” The woman stared at him, frowning.
“Seriously? I missed my flight last night and had to sleep in this goddamn airport!” he whined.
“You didn’t set an alarm?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“That’s not important!” Frank’s voice raised.
“Sir, there’s no need to be loud,” the bespectacled man said stepping in.
“I’M NOT BEING LOUD!”
People walking by the terminal were beginning to stare at the angry fat man. Embarrassed, Frank lowered his voice and leaned in toward the desk.
“Look, I’m sorry, all right? I have my ticket and I just want to get home. Will you please let me board?”
“As I said, boarding is closed, and this flight has already been cleared for take-off. You should have been here on time,” the woman said, folding her arms.
Defeated, Frank’s body slumped like a sock full of sand.
“When. Is. The. Next. Flight?” he asked her, emphasizing each word through his gritted teeth.
The bespectacled man leaned over and whispered something to the woman. Nodding, she typed something on her computer. She continued to type for an unusually long time before she finally stopped.
“I’m seeing the next flight to Witwicky departs at 6 p.m. from terminal B7.”
“Six p.m.?” Frank was aghast. That was nearly another twelve hours in this hellhole.
“There’s really no other flight until then?”
“There really isn’t,” the woman said, frowning at him as if he were somehow inconveniencing her.
“Listen, lady, I am on my last nerve here and—”
“Sir, there are other passengers I need to assist,” she interrupted him, looking over his shoulder.
Frank turned around. A line of passengers for the next flight had formed behind him. They were glaring at him with annoyed, impatient eyes.
Fuming, he lumbered away from the terminal. He felt the hairs on his neck rise when he thought he heard what sounded like the two clerks laughing at him. Looking back, he just saw the woman talking to an older man in front of the desk.
Screwed by fate yet again, Frank headed toward the nearest airport bar, swinging his briefcase in hand as he walked. It wasn’t even 9 a.m., yet but he felt like he deserved a drink. Plopping his disheveled self on a stool at the counter, he ordered a whiskey sour. The bartender, a young man with slicked-back dark hair and sleeves of tattoos cocked an eyebrow at him but mixed his drink without a word.
Four or five cocktails later (he always lost count around four) Frank ordered the bill and checked the time. It was only 11:30 a.m. He had a long way to go.
“Bastards, they’re all bashhtarrds,” he slurred, staring at the clock.
Frank stumbled around the airport in a drunken daze. Children in families probably on their way to Disneyland began to cry when the fat drunk man brushed past them. Then he was nearly run over by one of those carts used to transport elderly folk through the airport. Pissed off, he flipped the riders off. The handful of geriatric, wrinkled faces just stared silently at him with rictus grins on their faces as they were driven away.
Hungry, Frank ate the greasy slop he bought at the small McDonald’s in the airport. Out of all the fast food he normally ate, he usually avoided McDonald’s. Yet, whenever Frank was in an airport, he felt an uncanny pull toward wolfing down a Big Mac.
An hour later he was sweating on a toilet in one of the crowded men’s rooms. All the alcohol and junk food were engaged in a violent prison break within him. He tried to ignore the sounds of other men walking past and occupying the stalls next to him until his business was mercifully completed.
Soon, Frank found himself in one of the gift shops staring dumbly at the walls of thick paperbacks in the airport gift shop. James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, and just about every book that had recently been adapted into a movie. Frank thought about what it would be like to read one of these door-stoppers and he felt his eyes begin to burn.
Bored with walking around the airport for the hundredth time, he decided to kill time by napping in the airport. Slumping in another empty seat, he ran his fingers through his short white hair. It felt sweaty and greasy in his hands. He promised himself that he was going to take a long hot shower once he finally made it home.
This time Frank remembered to set an alarm on his phone for a half hour before boarding was to begin. Confident, Frank took a newspaper he had grabbed in the empty seat next to him and put it over his head. Maybe it was the drinks, but this time he felt like he was becoming quite good at sleeping in the airport because within moments he dozed off into a dreamless sleep.
The loud clanging sound on his phone’s alarm brought him back into the waking world.
“Let’s do this.” He smiled to himself.
He hustled his large, sweaty body past the other terminals, his briefcase firmly in his hand. Frank checked a large clock in the middle of a wall. The clock read 5:15. He had plenty of time to make his flight. Finally, he would be out of here and on his way home.
Breathing heavily, Frank finally arrived at the desk for Terminal B7. Smiling he checked at the terminal’s departure information. A 6 p.m. flight scheduled to arrive in… Philadelphia?
“What the hell?” he gasped.
He turned to the woman at the terminal. She was a young woman with curly red hair. Her pleasant smile cracked when she saw the trembling Frank approaching her.
“Excuse me, isn’t this the terminal for the next flight to Witwicky?”
The woman looked at him in confusion as if she hadn’t heard him correctly.
“I-I’m sorry?” she asked.
Figures, the woman is an imbecile, Frank thought, restraining his frustration.
“I was told that the next flight for Witwicky was departing from terminal B7 at 6 p.m. Why does it say Philadelphia?”
“Where did you say you were departing for?” She started typing on her computer.
“Witwicky! Witwicky, Indiana!” He was rapidly losing his patience.
Her eyes left the computer and stared at him like he wasn’t making sense.
“Is this some kind of joke?” she asked him suspiciously.
“What are you talking about?”
“The only airports in Indiana are Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. To be honest, I’ve never heard of any place called Witwicky.”
“Nope, I’m not having this conversation. Where is your supervisor?”
As if on cue a tall dark-skinned man stepped behind the red-haired woman and looked at Frank.
“Is everything all right, sir?” he asked.
“No, as a matter of fact, everything is not all right! This woman here is trying to tell me that the city I’m traveling to doesn’t exist!” He was becoming hysterical.
“What was the name of the arrival airport?”
“Oh, for the love of… Witwicky, Indiana!”
The man’s eyes narrowed.
“Can I see your ticket please?”
Frank reached into his pocket and handed him his boarding pass.
The man frowned.
“What? What is it?” Frank asked.
The clerk handed him back his ticket. In his hands, Frank saw that the slip of paper he had given him was a receipt from the airport bar.
“That’s not… Where’s my ticket?” Frank began frantically checking his pockets.
To his growing terror, he realized that his pockets were empty except for his phone and crushed-up straw wrappers.
“Where’s my wallet?” he said, panicking.
“Sir if you’ll just—”
“Didn’t you just hear me? My wallet’s missing! Someone must have pickpocketed me while I was sleeping! Where’s that old woman working the information desk last night? Or that black lady and skinny guy with glasses? They know about my flight to Witwicky! Call them!”
“Sir, I’ve been working here for years, and I can promise you I’ve never heard of any place called ‘Witwicky’ in Indiana,” the man at the terminal desk said patiently.
“As for your wallet we can—” the woman said, joining in.
“It’s real, goddammit!” Frank shouted, interrupting her. “I have a house! I have a job! I didn’t make up my life!”
People around the terminal had stopped what they were doing and were staring at the large, disheveled man making a scene.
“I slept here last night! I’ve been waiting all day to get on this fucking plane, so don’t treat me like an asshole and insult my intelligence by telling me that there’s no Witwicky!”
“Is there a problem?” a deep voice asked.
Frank turned around and saw two towering Airport Security officers had appeared behind him. One of them was a large black man with a goatee, the other was a large bald white man with beady eyes. They were wearing dark Security uniforms and were both built like brick s**t houses.
“Oh, thank God! You’re damned right there’s a problem! My wallet is missing, I’ve been trapped in this hellhole all day, and these people have the nerve to tell me that Witwicky doesn’t exist!”
“Witwicky?” The two security officers shared a confused look before shaking their heads. “Never heard of it.”
Ignoring them, Frank scrolled through the emails on his phone for a copy of his boarding pass.
“Just wait a second, it’s here somewhere. It has to be! Dammit, where the hell is it?”
“Sir, I’m telling you there’s no such place as Witwicky… Your destination doesn’t exist,” the woman behind the desk said awkwardly.
Frank felt like he was in a nuthouse. The walls of the airport seemed to loom over him almost as if they were closing in. The glowing signs of the restaurants and gift shops suddenly seemed menacing.
“This can’t be happening! You sons ’a bitches told me Terminal B7!”
“Sir, please calm down,” the bald security officer said.
“Aren’t you morons listening? I’ve been robbed!” Frank looked at them desperately to take his side.
“Sir, I don’t know how you made it past security but you’re not making any sense and you’re causing a disturbance in the airport. I think you should come with us… please,” the black security officer said firmly as he and his partner stepped toward Frank.
“What? I haven’t done anything wrong! Is this whole airport insane!? All I want is to go home!”
“That’s enough,” the bald security officer said.
The two guards gripped Frank’s flabby arms. Like a trapped animal, Frank struggled uselessly against their iron grasp.
“Let me go! I can’t stay here another night! The rats! The rats will eat me!” His face was a mask of confusion and terror.
Undeterred by his rambling, Security dragged the hysterical fat man past the shocked onlookers and airport staff. They dragged the thrashing Frank across the airport’s carpet until they reached a STAFF ONLY door. The last glimpse anyone in the airport had of Frank was his legs dragging as he was pulled through the cavernous doorway, the sound of his screaming echoing in the dark hallway behind him.
“You can’t do this to me! I have a connecting flight to catch! My name is Frank Bellando! There’s been a terrible mistake! I live in Witwicky, Indiana! Do you hear me? WITWICKY, INDIANA! SOMEBODY HELP M—”
The doors slammed shut in front of him almost as if the airport had swallowed him up. Frank Bellando hated airports. It seemed that the feeling was mutual.
“All right folks, the show’s over,” another security officer said, waving people away.
The officer was unable to lose the look of bewilderment on his face that he shared with everyone who had witnessed the surreal event. After some murmuring, the dozens of travelers and airport staff went about their business. The calm voice over the airport intercom announced the flight for Philadelphia at Terminal B7 was now boarding.
An older couple in colorful, tacky shirts, who had been watching the raving man, joined the line of boarding passengers.
“What was that was that all about?” the silver-haired woman asked her husband.
“Eh, traveling is just stressful for some people.” He shrugged.
Pat O’Malley lives in New York where he loves to write the kind dark absurdism and weird fiction that he and his friends would love to read. He has been published on online publications such as The Weird and Whatnot, Scars Publications, Mystery Tribune and more! Several of his short stories have now been adapted into audio stories on talltaletv.com). You can follow him on instagram.com/Patomwrites and read all of his stories on https://patrick-omalley-97144.medium.com/.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Layover”:
Many of us been in airport situations where things didn’t go as anticipated—although hopefully never to this extent. Author Pat O’Malley has given us an excellent Twilight Zone-type horror piece close enough to the bounds of reality that we can empathize with Frank Bellando’s plight. We’re left asking, “Where did it all go wrong for Frank?” We can only speculate, but leaving the reader to speculate about the ending can make for a more intriguing story, as is the case here.
Hysterical! Very Kafkaesque.
Enjoyed the read very much.