Journey Home

by William Hughes

Donnie swiped his credit card at the Kiosk. Donal Bannon, flight 1258, departing PHL, Philadelphia 9:55 AM, arriving MSY, New Orleans 12:17 PM, seat 22A, gate A22. Seat 22A, gate A22, interesting. 22 was the last row. First on, last off. The boarding pass poured out of the slot and Donnie gave the ticket a quick scan and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He turned and followed the the exit path marked by the seat belts on sticks... 'Mooo' he thought.

Donnie placed his bags onto the conveyor and reached for his wallet. Five foot eleven and a half inches. It was always five foot eleven and a half inches. Not six foot. And certainly not five foot eleven. He didn't feel short... It really wasn't about a measurement. It was about the detail. Details are important. Everything is in the details. It's who he was. He placed his license back in his wallet and walked through the scanner. He walked over to the conveyor and waited for his bag and briefcase. Of course he had to take the laptop out and turn it on. The security worker looked at the screen, up at Donnie, the back at the laptop. Donnie wondered if she really hated life that badly, or if the scowl was the result of extensive training. She certainly wasn't trained to smile. With a wave of her hand he was dismissed.

As he started toward his gate he thought about how much he hated flying anymore. Not the flying part itself but everything associated with it. He couldn't help thinking how the whole scenario was telling of the future. Conform or get hauled away, all for your own good. Bowie came on over his inner Muzak.

But he did still enjoyed the flying part, in a 12 year old little boy kind of way. He always tried to get a window seat and would spend most of the trip looking out the window, when he wasn't sleeping. This trip, he would sleep. He was tired. He saw the sign for gate A22 up on the right. Better grab a bag of soft pretzels. 'Come home from Philly without them and die', he laughed to himself. Not that Lex would actually be mad at him. But the little treats from the old country made her so happy. And he did like to make her happy. "Lex"... he was the only one who called her that. Most of her friends called her Alex. God help anyone who called her Al, although Donnie had a lot of fun with the Paul Simon song.

He no sooner sat down when the gate agent came over the PA and began the preboarding announcements. 'Damn', he thought, 'I wish I could have scored and upgrade. First class... First on AND first off. Oh well...' He was originally scheduled to fly out that evening but he finished up a day early and although he couldn't get a seat last night he was glad to get one on the first direct flight out this morning. 10 minutes later he was walking down the jet bridge and onto the 737. He made his way down the aisle, threw his bag up into the overhead and tossed his briefcase onto the middle seat. He slipped into his row and flopped into the window seat. As he pushed his briefcase under the seat in front of him he thought about how he sometimes remembered to push the seat belts to each side before he sat so he could get to them. But not this time. He leaned forward and reach behind himself to fight with the buckles. After tightening the belt around him, he leaned back and went limp into his seat, rubbed his eyes and turned his head to the left to look out his window. Not much going on to the left of the plane Most of the ground activity was taking place on the other side. He leaned the back of his head against the space between plane and his seat and closed his eyes.

He loved airplanes. He'd always wanted to learn to fly. He did take some lessons when he was stuck in Possum Dick, Wyoming one summer, but that, like so many other things, was listed in the 'Incomplete' column. As he drifted off he could see the instrument panel of the 737. He'd flown this plane many times. Well, on his computer anyway. He'd been a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator since 1.00. When MSFS 2002 came out with the 737 he flew it a lot. He could see the flight deck in his mind. He watched as the crew went through their checklists. With luggage on board, the passengers settled in, the copilot fed power from the APU to the starter on the left engine. When the instruments read normal he did the same with the right engine. When all was ready, with the engines humming, the ground crew pushed the plane back. After the tow-bar was disconnected from the nose gear the pushback tractor driver backed away, stopped, stood up, and saluted the pilot smartly. The pilot returned the salute. The driver then sat back down and backed the tractor toward the terminal building. The pilot eased the throttles up slightly and with a blast from the engines they were on our way. As the plane snaked toward the taxiway the crew continued with their checklists. With final clearance from air traffic control the pilot lined up on the runway and work the throttles forward. As the plain picked up speed he pushed the throttles to full. As they raced down the strip the copilot called out "V1" followed shortly by "rotate" at which time the pilot eased the yoke back. The plain began to lift off, slightly. Donnie felt uneasy. He shifted in his seat without opening his eyes. As the plane tried to free itself from ground he could see the instruments. 8 degrees, was that right?

The sunlight was blinding. Donnie's sunglasses didn't seem to have much effect. He turned down Notre Dame street and parked along the curb. He hadn't seen Lex's car and wondered if she'd made it yet. He climbed out of his car. His AMX. His 1968, yellow AMX. He'd had it so long that he rarely thought about what it actually was anymore. But as he put the key in the door to lock it, he watched himself smile in the window. Donnie turned and faced the red brick building across the street. He was always hit with it's mixture of old and new. It was part of the movement turning old warehouses into condos and town homes. They didn't even call this the Warehouse district anymore. Now it was the Art District. Katrina had spared this part of the city, and the interruption to the influx of money was short lived. He looked at the third door on the left, 325C. He walked across the street and stood before the door. He didn't know why he had to do this. A couple, maybe in their forties, walked passed him through the door. He could see the people gathered in the front room as the door closed. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity and then, with a shrug more sensed than noticed, he open the door and walked in.

Inside it was almost too dark to see. The heavy curtains did their job of keeping the outside at bay, though the bright light around the edges evinced that the sunlight could not be entirely denied. As his eyes slowly adjusted he looked around. The townhouse was cavernous. Three floors of huge rooms all done in that urban chic that was at once modern and dated. Jack bought the townhouse during the peak and although he could easily afford it, he joked that he hoped it recovered it's value before he retired. Jack Case was Donnie's best friend. They'd know each other forever. It was a friendship neither had to work at. It just was, and had been for a long time. They shared history, some of it dark. Donnie sometimes wondered how the friendship had endured some of the darkness. If someone related a friendship like this to him he would wonder how and why, but again, his friendship with Jack simply was. He looked around for Lex.

The room was full of people. There was a faint yellow aura, almost like candle light. Most of the people he knew, some he didn't. He saw Josh Portman over by the unlit fireplace and nodded at him. Natalie, Josh's wife looked stunning, as usual, but she lacked that effervescent glow, that contagious smile on which everyone who knew her relied. Bobby Fuller was telling a joke. Bobby was always telling jokes. God he hated these things. The door opened and four more people entered the room. Steve and Marti Steele, John Watkins, Cal Poore. Donnie moved back to let them pass. As he stood there, aware of the cacophony of hushed conversation, he wished he could fade away. But he had to do this. He walked through the room, nodding, half smiling and made his way up the stairs to sitting room on the second floor. More of the same. The room was a twin to the front room below. Same curtains, same battle between light and dark, same muffled words, same dysphoria. Donnie started to feel anxious. He felt the giant space closing in on him. He looked right through the people in the room, and they, him. Where the hell was Alexandria. He started up the stairs to the third floor. Another floor, same room. Donnie felt claustrophobic. He looked around. More people, no Lex. By now the muted conversations were a roar. So many voices screaming their whispers at him, pushing down on him. He struggled for air. His eyes raced around the room. She had to be up here. There was no more. Maybe she'd arrived after him. Maybe she was downstairs. He would check. He would check on his way out. He had to get out. The huge home was closing in on him. Everything around him began to swirl. He needed to get outside now. With that he was on the second floor. He didn't even remember the stairs. But there were more people here, almost crowded. He couldn't breath. Must get outside. He was on the first floor. He hadn't used the stairs. He just sank through the floor above, through the ceiling, floating down to the ground floor. Even more people, and none of them Lex. Before he felt his footing on the hardwood he was transporting across the room, through the people, through the furniture... through the front door.

Donnie stood at the curb. His head faced skyward, his eyes were closed. The sunlight felt warm upon his face. He breathed deeply. As he lowered his head he saw him. Across the street the stranger worked on the AMX, slipping the flat steel tool down into the door. Donnie could feel the anger well up inside him. "Hey... You want it? You think you should have my car?" With that Donnie reached in his pocket and pulled out the keys to the AMX. It was a car... just a car. "Here!" He threw the keys at the stranger. The AMX instantly drove away in a cloud of screeching tires. As the smoke slowly drifted away Donnie turned to the man standing next to him. He'd been there. He'd been there all along. Donnie stood silently, look the man in the eye. He'd never met hem before. But he was somehow familiar. The man, looking back at Donnie and said "you've figured it out, haven't you?".

"Kind of... I'm dead right?"

"Yeah, that's right... Are you ready?"

"I think so."

With that the man held out his hand. Donnie took it and instantly felt as if he caught his breath. He looked around as the world he knew slowly faded to black.

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