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In our own voice

Publishing original works by writers with a disability, mental illness or who are deaf.

The Terminal

By Scout Micallef

Inside the decompression chamber, Elaine Harris is body-scanned by a robotic security guard while she waits for the pressurization system to finish. She stands amidst a commune of individuals, each of whom are undergoing scans before having their physical compositions prepared for the zero-gravity environment in the terminal. “Decompression at 95%, 97%, 100%, pressure stabilisation complete, please watch your step and thank you for flying Air Cosmos.” The automatic doors open vertically and Elaine shuffles out of the chamber and into the entrance hall carrying her heavily weighted walking cane and briefcase The horizontal travelator transports her forward. Her journey stops suddenly at a flat computer monitor featuring the image of a hairless man with an eye patch on his right eye who curtly asks, “Destination?” Elaine leans close to the screen and requests, “Arrivals.” He directs her to a gleaming upright tube. She stands beneath its opening, and is immediately sucked up by the colossal vacuum. Seconds later Elaine’s frail frame is deposited in the arrivals lounge with a plop!

In the large arrivals lounge, cold, vacant chairs hover just above the constantly moving  travelators that constitute the floor. Elaine lowers her small, wrinkly frame into one of the stainless-steel seats and wriggles her hunched back against the hard red plastic padding. Her bony hands place her titanium bag into the cage beneath her seat and secure her alloy cane in the accessory holder on the harsh armrest. The now occupied chair ascends to a set  level, stopping abruptly, causing her spectacles to slide to the end of her elderly nose, elongating her overly ripened face which is framed by short, grey curls. She looks up at the computer generated arrivals board, confirming that it is nine hundred hours, Eastern Space Time. She adjusts the butterfly brooch on her lilac blouse, nodding to no one in particular and clips her ear-piece in place. She scans the area in front of her from left to right with her forceful, pale blue eyes, trying to peek through the gaps between the masses of frantic life forms and their mechanized luggage; at the three electronic doors that separate the expectant from the expected.

“Excuse me, excuse me ma’am.” A young lady wearing black, synthetic gym shorts with vertical stripes and a matching polo shirt, complete with a coach’s whistle around her neck, jogs eagerly against the direction of the travelling floor in front of Elaine. Elaine’s fascination for the sporty lady’s knee-high socks is obvious.

“Yes, dear,” Elaine finally answers, hesitant and almost annoyed that she is forced to look up from the sports socks that have been holding her curiosity.

“Where is the rest of our team ma’am?” the athletic woman asks whilst continuing to jog without altering her breathing. Before Elaine’s lips can form the first word of her reply the jogging seamlessly transforms into giant star jumps. “Our team, ma’am; Intergalactic Bowling Club.” Her calf muscles pulse to the rhythm of her punctuated speech. Elaine lets out a giggle and compels her gaze to leave the animated sock elastic that keeps them at knee height, in spite of extreme physical movement.

“Sorry dear, but you are greatly mistaken. Just because I am mature in age, doesn’t mean that I partake in bowls, or would even have a leaning towards it.”

The star jumps deflate into a walk as the energetic lady suddenly spots her team of immaculate whites at the floating coffee stand. “I’m so terribly sorry ma’am.”

The embarrassment caused by her gaffe almost bursts through her redden cheeks. “Perhaps you would like to join us and participate in the great sport that is Space Bowls?”

Elaine shakes her head gruffly in disgust. “Oh no, dear, bowls is most definitely not a sport. It does not require the level of fitness that real sports demand, and besides, I wouldn’t be able to stand the stench of coffee pills and old spice that seep from the geriatrics involved,” replies Elaine as she inclines her head in the team’s direction. The bowls coach gapes  at her in astonishment as she resumes her rigorous jogging, before sprinting off towards the congregation of white, blowing her whistle furiously.

As though she had just fought off a Bible-bearing evangelist or a pack of bloodthirsty mechanical hounds, Elaine tilts her head to one side, cracking her neck, then delicately brushes off imaginary particles from each shoulder, before straightening her butterfly brooch. She grasps her cane, with the handle she reaches under her seat and hooks onto her bag. Reeling in her catch, Elaine sits the case on her lap before pushing a sequence of buttons then breathing onto a scanner. The case unlocks and she pulls out a sealed sachet of prune juice. She raises it in the air above her head, grinning, holding it aloft like a golden trophy. The sachet falls into her lap as her right sleeve is tugged avidly. Elaine looks down in horror at the source of the disruption. Sitting in the seat next to her is a little girl with a big, purple eye in the centre of her forehead who is staring up at her and starts to sniff. Elaine raises her upper lip on one side and snarls, squinting through her spectacle lenses like she was trying to read the fine print on an instruction label. Fixedly they hold each other’s gaze. The hectic movement around them seems to  move in slow motion. The little girl caves in first.

Pointing, and using that annoying tone that all little kids use she asks, “What’s in that packet?” The slow motion around them returns to ‘Play’, before accelerating into  a ‘high speed dubbed’ question & answer session between the two. “It is prune juice, small child.”

“What’s prune juice?”

“Its prunes made into juice. Do you drink orange juice?”

“Yuck! No way.”

“You should.”

“Why?”

“Orange juice is full of lots of good things that will help you grow up big and strong, so you should drink it!”

“Is that why you drink poop juice?”

“Prune!”

“Does it make you grow?”

“No, it makes me go,” Elaine smirks.

“Go where?”

Their exchange is interrupted by the young girl’s father grasping his offspring’s hand And leading her away. He nods his gratitude and apology to Elaine whilst his daughter excitedly informs him of what the “granny” was telling her. Reluctantly, Elaine returns the nod, forcing her facial features into something resembling a smile, finally attending  to her package of prune juice, tearing it open, carefully tipping its contents onto her tongue, and eagerly devouring the powdered beverage.

A mobile hover cart selling a range of travel products approaches the seating area blaring out ads through its stereo speakers. “For those flying to the warmer planets, you need SPF 6000, for optimal sun protection.” An accompanying scene showing a family strolling through flames unharmed is projected overhead. A multitude of customers form an orderly queue in front of the cart’s salesman. Each transaction is completed by the customer swiping their identification card to deduct the purchase amount from their available credit. A digital panel displays a record of the transaction. Elaine disengages from the epitome of consumerism, shaking her head in bemusement as yet another commercial plagues the atmosphere. The vending cart glides closer to Elaine’s vicinity. She turns her head in the opposite direction pretending to intently search for an entity of utmost importance. The retailer begins calling out her name, and grudgingly she is forced to acknowledge his presence.

“Hello Vernon,” she gives him the privilege of a dim smile. Vernon, ecstatic by her acknowledgement of his existence, but oblivious to its acerbity , attempts to raise his mechanical arm in greeting. Instead, he only succeeds in knocking over most of the merchandise in front of him. Elaine ignores the motorized waste collectors which are promptly cleaning up the fallen sales items, and scowls in disapproval at the passers-by who overtly gawk at the fumbling vendor. The onlookers return to their own affairs as the robot cleaners scurry away. Elaine turns her focus on Vernon, giving the part android salesman a genuinely empathetic grin, which vanishes before he manages to raise his face from his brooding slump to take a peek at her. From within  his self pity he stares at Elaine with tears in his human eye, whimpering, “I did it again, Elaine, I’m such an embarrassment, no wonder nobody likes me.” Flustered by his serging emotions, Elaine fumbles for comforting words, before motioning for him and his cart to float closer to her.

“Now, now, you’re not an embarrassment. You cannot help it that your arm sometimes functions spasmodically. Besides, people really do like you,” she continues.

Vernon disrupts her mid flow, “No they don’t.. you haven’t willingly conversed with me since, well, it’s been a long time anyway.”

“But Vernon, we intersect paths on a daily basis, we wouldn’t want topics for discussion to expire now would we?”

Vernon lowers his head and shyly states, “I like asking about your day. How has your day been Elaine?” His android eye remains stationary whilst his human eye beams at her.

“My day has been slow in comparison to the last few. But I am hoping to complete one transaction by 17 hundred hours. How about yourself?”

With a huge trance-like smirk on his face, Vernon replies, “Splendid,” and remains fixated upon Elaine. Wanting desperately to be rid of this increasingly creepy situation, she cups a hand over her earpiece and tells Vernon that she has to get back to work and suggests that he should do the same. He dejectedly obliges and manoeuvres his vending cart away, “See you tomorrow, Elaine,” he calls over his shoulder

With the sound of pressurized gases being released, the three electronic doors opposite Elaine open, expelling clusters of commuters into the arrivals precinct. She becomes alert and commences inspecting the beings that have emerged, looking intently at their individual features before moving onto the next one, trying to match criteria on a check list inside her mind. Her eyes lock onto an aging couple holding hands. She follows their progress as they glide from the left hand entry point over to the waiting bay where travellers mark time until their automated baggage finds them. Utilizing the transitory pause in movement, Elaine reaches for her titanium briefcase and extracts an electronic notepad which is half the size of her palm, and proceeds to speak into it. Her words are translated onto the miniature screen as text.

Entry, Humanoid, heterosexual couple, approximately 65 years old.

Married, evidenced by matching wedding rings.

Happy, friendly disposition.

Most likely soul mates.

Probability of interest in the project, high.

Preparing to make initial contact with subjects.

Suddenly, an alarm screams throughout the terminal, activating the shut down of the travelators plus all exit and entry points. A loud, booming voice makes an announcement as an nude woman leaps weightlessly through the air. “Security breach in arrivals sector; decompression process compromised. Please remain calm.” The majority of the airport’s inhabitants flee to the other end of the transit lounge in frenzied chaos, whilst others congregate nearby to take in the action. Pursued by security androids [Mechs], the flying woman flings herself into a large window overlooking the universe and rebounds off it. Her naked body flails into the arms of theMechs. The fugitive is escorted from the terminal. “Decompression process restored, crisis averted, thank you for flying Air Cosmos.”

With the commotion over, Elaine returns her focus to her potential candidates, only to discover that they are no longer standing in the luggage waiting bay. She frantically searches the area surrounding her and momentarily panics, announcing into her palm computer, “I’ve lost them, I’ve lost the potentials.”

“Are you alright, dear? You’re going to short-circuit if you don’t relax,” the lady sitting next to Elaine enquires. Offended by the assumption that she is not human, Elaine brusquely turns in the direction of the statement to correct it, only to be startled by the realization that, this woman and the man seated beside her Are the sought after couple. Elaine ogles her discovery, closely inspecting them through her glasses like a rare strain of bacteria in a Petri dish.

“Do you require a medic, dear? George, go get the lady a medic,” the concerned woman orders her husband without waiting for Elaine’s reply.

“No George, I do not require a medic,” Elaine speaks before she is subjected to unnecessary medical attention.

Flabbergasted, George clutches his wife’s shoulder, “Did you hear that Alma, she knows my name.” Both Elaine and Alma shake their heads in incredulity at George’s stupidity.

“I just told her your name, you silly thing. Did you take your memory activation powder this morning, love?” her voice is mingled with frustration and adoration.

“Yes I believe I recall taking it,” he answers. Turning towards Elaine in confusion, “If I am George, and this beautiful woman here is Alma,” Alma blushes, “then who are you?” Elaine unfastens her butterfly brooch from her blouse and flips it open, revealing her identification, “Elaine Harris, Senior Recruitment Agent for Cryogenics International.”

The couple glance at each other and shrug. Elaine continues, offering an explanation, “Have you heard of Cryogenics? It is the simple process of freezing the body just before it reaches its expiration date, so it can then be revived again in the future.”

“We already knew that much Ms Harris, but why would we want to participate in such a dramatic measure to stay alive in a doomed world?” emphasises Alma

“What if I told you that in years to come, the universe will be a much improve place?” Elaine proffers.

“I’d say that you were lying,” George interjects.

“I guarantee that I’m telling you the truth George,” Elaine looks him straight in the eyes. “And, would you not want to share eternity with Alma? What if one of you expired first? Would the one left behind continue living contentedly? I don’t believe so! At an agreed point in time, or after the unexpected termination of one of you, you can both be frozen, together, until the scheduled thawing event is to take place.”

George grips Alma’s hand tightly, “We do want to be together forever.” He can’t imagine living without her particularly as he relies on her so much these days.

“I guess it is better than our remains being tossed into outer space,” Alma admits.

“Imagine spending eternity together with nothing to ever separate you again. Not to forget that the purchase price of a double Cryogenics unit is significantly cheaper than cremations and funerals. And of course, loved ones are encouraged to visit your cryo unit regularly,” ending her sales pitch on a human note.

“Oh, we never had children, we couldn’t,” George admits, “so, there is only the two of us.”

“Would you please excuse us Ms Harris as we need to discuss this further?” Alma smiles at Elaine as she pointedly pulls George aside for a serious Tate-a-tate.

Nodding, Elaine looks away, to give them some privacy.

“George,” Alma begins, “this isn’t the sort of decision that we should make right now.”

“Well when should we make it, after we’re dead?”” George can’t help laughing at the absurdity of his question.

In spite of herself Alma joins in the laughter. “But seriously darling, we need more time to think about it.”

“What is there to think about? You know that I couldn’t manage on my own, and besides I can’t imagine being without you,” George pleads.

“True, you probably would boil your toast and toast your tea.” They laugh. “I can’t imagine being without you as well, but I’m not sure that I want to be frozen either.”

Taking both of Alma’s hands in his George looks imploringly into her eyes, “Sweetheart, I really do think that this is the right thing for us, you and me, together forever.” He gives her hands a loving squeeze. Alma fondly gazes back at her husband of 45years. She never could resist him when he called her ‘sweetheart’. She smiles in acquiescence.

When Elaine turns back, the couple are linked in an embrace and inquires in sync, “Where do we sign?”

With the transaction completed, Elaine notes on the computerised arrivals board that it is 17 hundred hours, Eastern Space Time. The seasoned recruitment agent repacks her belongings into her case, and extracts a water pill from its wrapping. Her chair lowers for easy departure; she stands with the aid of her walking cane, and steps onto the travelator that transports her to the exit tunnel. She places the pill into her mouth and is instantly hydrated. As she steps under the exit tube, she spies Vernon and yells to him, “See you tomorrow Vernon!”

As Elaine is sucked up into the tube towards the recompression chamber and home, Vernon, in a state of elation, again collides with the products in his cart sending them plummeting to their inevitable demise.


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1 Comment

  1. Your post captures the issue perfectly!

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