MCO (Airport Series #6) by Mickey Revenaugh

Dark Ladder by Michelle Brooks

You could just NOT go to Orlando, mom.

As Maura crouched behind a wide white wicker chair in the B-Side Arrivals area, Jake’s words thrummed in her ears. Otherwise, she heard nothing but the deserted semi-silence: the low hum of the escalator, the rattle of an abandoned baggage carousel. Not like the chaos in up in Departures, which she ultimately needed to brave to get home.

For now, Maura forced herself to stay still. The Happy Birthday song twice, she remembered, took 20 seconds.

At the second “Dear Jakey” — his 20th birthday just a week ago, Maura could still see his grin across the pizza-cake she’d improvised, the first smile he’d managed since news of the virus had begun filtering out of Brazil — she heard a loud bang against the plate glass 10 yards from where she hid.

Maura craned her head with its Fanta-orange bob around the arm of the chair. She’d chosen this hair color to stand out, a juxtapose for uber-organized persona she’d cultivated for  her life both professional and personal. Now she hoped it might camouflage her against the faux-tropical bright accents of formica and industrial shag here at MCO.

Another bang. Maura watched as a stout man in a Hawaiian shirt slammed his palms against the glass from the outside. His face was bright red, like Day 2 of a bad theme park sunburn. The spittle spray from his mouth made a cloud on the glass. But it was the yellow-green aura around his head that confirmed it. An infected.

The man pressed full-frontal against the glass now, a distorted mass of color and shape. Then he slid down onto the pavement, leaving behind a golfer-grandfather-salesguy size streak on the window. He didn’t move after that.

It’s true then, Maura thought. Infecteds will die if they don’t pass the virus on.

Or maybe the poor guy just wanted a cool and quiet place to pass his last minutes. It was hard to know what to believe anymore.

It hadn’t all seemed so terrifyingly fuzzy just three days ago, when Maura was packing her suitcase in her suburban Maryland bedroom. It was a beautiful Sunday, that kind that sneaks into early March in the Mid-Atlantic to tease of deck barbecues and shore days to come. Out her townhouse window she could see the cartoon-yellow forsythia festooning the tiny backyard, daffodils nodding around the wheels of Jake’s bike leaning against the fence. Hard to imagine anything bad happening at such a gentle time of year.

When they’d first moved into this development post-divorce five years ago, Maura had found its regulated grace suddenly dispiriting: alternating teal and sage shutters, clapboard painted precisely linen white, light cherry faux-wooden rear fencing with alternating slats that let through light but preserved privacy. From her second floor master bedroom Maura could see into every neighbor’s yard and they differed only in binary: basketball hoop or trampoline, Weber grill or firepit, dog or cat. Though she was a woman who liked order, this felt like deadly compression. She’d dyed her hair fuschia that first season, using a home kit that made the en suite bathroom look like she’d splashed Jake’s Amp Juiced all over the walls. He’d looked up from his cereal the first morning of her new hair and momentarily dropped his adolescent mask of disdain.

“Does this mean I can get my eyebrow pierced now?” he asked.

“Absolutely not.” Maura turned to set up the coffee filter over her new “Bitch, Please” mug, and caught a glimpse of herself in the glass of the kitchen cabinet. Embrace the jagged, she reminded herself. That’s the only way to get through this.

She turned back and looked Jake full in the face. “Actually, yes it does, if you still want it when you turn 16, and you’ve saved up enough to pay for it.”

Jake pumped his fist in the air the way he used to when he was 10 and his dad was stuck at the university again and she said they’d just order in pizza for dinner. Now it was all Maura could do to keep from throwing both arms around him. She missed grade school Jake.

Teenage Jake actually turned out to be a serious sort. He didn’t get the eyebrow piercing but did become a vegan punker — which involved other kinds of body art and his own shelf in the kitchen. His junior year, a school shooting two towns over had him taking the MARC train down to DC to protest in front of the White House. On one of his weekends with his father and new stepmother in Towson, he learned that the Uncle Steven he’d never met hadn’t just died in the Iraq war, he’d been a medic taken out by a sniper while tending to a kid, a civilian, at a roadside bomb site. Jake decided then he wanted to be a doctor, stopped staying up all night playing videogames, and doubled up on math and science his senior year. Now he was finishing up at Howard County Community College and thinking EMT instead.

And apparently doing a lot of reading on the Internet.

“I’m really disappointed with our government,” Jake had pronounced at dinner Sunday night.

Maura stopped reviewing her mental pre-travel checklist, somewhere between “Get boarding pass” and “Remember sunscreen just in case.”

“I’m not surprised, Jakey,” she said. “What did they do this time?”

“It’s what they’re NOT doing, mom.” He shook his head, not looking up from his plate. “No testing, no masks, not even considering lockdown. It’s like they want us all to die.”

Maura clamped her lips together to keep from articulating counter-evidence or prescribing next steps or any of the other half dozen ways she unintentionally shut Jake down in times of anxiety. Her therapist had to remind her every week: Just listen.

“This is about the virus, then?” she asked.

Jake stabbed his greens. “Yes, the virus. It’s already here, mom, and they’re not doing anything to protect anyone.”

Maura rewound the latest CNN reports in her head, the red line graphs rising over maps of Brazil, the scenes of the dying jammed together on the sidewalks of Rio, the mobile hospital going up in the former Olympic Stadium. Plus early, disputed reports of isolated cases in New York City and Miami. “But I haven’t really heard about anything here –” she started.

Jake pointed his fork directly at her. “That’s because you’re focusing on the wrong things.”

It was his elemental complaint about her, sharpened through years of jabbing at the fixations that took her attention away from him. They locked eyes while Maura counted to 10, and counted again. Then she stood up and started clearing the dishes.

“It’s kind of up to each of us to take care of ourselves, isn’t it? Like I’m bringing a mask and wipes along with me on this trip tomorrow…”

“I can’t believe you’re actually considering getting on an airplane.”

“Of course I am.” Maura kept her back to Jake. “It’s my biggest training job of the year. They’re counting on me. What am I supposed to do?”

She heard Jake get up from the table, and then his head was resting between her shoulder blades. “You could just NOT go to Orlando, mom,” he said.

But Maura had gone. It was all new and awkward in transit that Monday morning, everyone murmuring about the virus like a storm gathering somewhere far away. She’d noted equal numbers of cleaners and National Guard troops deployed at BWI airport. She’d joked with the Southwest Airlines flight attendants about mutual cooties as she wiped down her tray table and they adjusted their rubber gloves. She’d flipped the seatback TV screen between news networks for evidence that Jake was wrong — or right? — and watched them bullet the symptoms on screen: sudden fever spike, unusual coloration of skin, spraying of saliva, and aggressive behavior likely brought on by inability to breathe. When she landed in Orlando, she saw airport workers erecting signs encouraging face masks and frequent hand cleaning; she stopped to squeeze out a dot of hand sanitizer from the tiny bottle attached to the handle of her tote bag. Once in the cab to her hotel, she started to ask the driver to roll up the windows as he sped along the highway, but then she met his eyes in the rearview mirror and saw his were terrified above the white surgical mask he wore.

“We haven’t had any sign of the virus up in Maryland where I’m from,” Maura said, in part to break the tense silence and in part to signal, I am safe. “What are you hearing about it  here in Orlando?”

“It is here, miss,” the driver said. “They don’t like us to say so.” He looked around as if checking for other listeners, then reached back with a business card in his latex-gloved hand.  “Every customer I pick up today, I tell if you need to get back to airport right away, you call me and say ‘I need to go to MCO.’ You take this card, miss.”

Maura held the card up: Just a phone number, nothing else. “Thank you,” she said. “I will call or text you if I –”

“No text!” The driver’s eyes in the mirror looked panicked. “Call only. Infected speak funny. I can tell by voice if okay to pick up.”

Maura gave him an extra large tip but dropped the card into the bottom of her tote bag. Stress certainly brings out the strange, she thought.

At the kickoff dinner that night, Janis and Judith, the two women leading the corporate group she was there to train — in communications techniques and negotiation strategies, it still made her chuckle to think anyone would hire her to learn either one — noted that several of their members had chosen at the last minute not to attend. “Some people are scared to travel now,” Janis said, then shrugged. “To each his own.”

“Emphasis on the ‘his,’” Judith chimed in.

Yet the training session in the hotel conference room the next day was more muted than usual. Maura’s standard icebreaker — What would you bring to a desert island? — fell flat. All morning, news alerts pinged in so frequently that Maura finally emptied out her Easter basket of spring colored Post It notes and Sharpies and asked everyone to put their cell phones in it. She stashed the basket in a coat closet. “Now, let’s try to concentrate.”

At the lunch break, everyone grabbed for their phones, and no one could talk about anything else.

“They just locked down New York City,” one young man said. “They’re putting tourists on buses and taking them en masse to the airports.”

“Did you see the video of infecteds swarming into Times Square?” his buddy asked. “They say you could see their aréola glow from the top of the Empire State Building.”

Maura held up her hand. “Come on, the glowing halo thing is an urban myth,” she said. “How is that even possible?”

“Check it.” The first young man held up his phone for all to see, and the second hit the video play button. A frantic-looking red-faced woman lunged toward the camera, spittle spraying from her mouth. Her head was ringed in faint chartreuse. The video shook and abruptly stopped.

The lunch table fell silent.

“That must be a deep-fake,” Maura said.

“But what if it’s not?” Judith whispered. “I live in New York, my husband and kids are there.”

Janis pulled her into a hug. “Let’s go call them now,” she said.

 “Should we even be thinking about doing that teambuilding thing at Epcot tonight?” another one of the trainees piped up. She’d been silent all morning, eyebrows knit tight. “I’m not sure I feel safe…”

Just then Maura’s phone buzzed twice: A text from Jake, and another from an unknown local number. She checked the second one first to get it out of the way, then stood up. “Oh shit,” she said, “sorry for the language, but this is from Epcot. They just cancelled us! There’s been an outbreak…”

Twenty pairs of eyes were now focused on her. Then suddenly Janis was by her side, waving her own phone.

“Official word from Orlando Visitors Bureau,” Janis boomed. “Major outbreaks now confirmed at several theme parks. They’re saying, ‘Tourists are most likely to carry the virus and also most likely to be infected…’”

Judith stepped forward, her eyes red from crying. “The City of Orlando and County of Orange hereby request all visitors from out of town to leave the area immediately,” she read out in official tones. “Oh, wait.” She checked her phone again. “They just changed ‘request’ to ‘order.’”

Trainees had already begun to scatter, running for the stairwell and elevators to be the first to get to their rooms and then out into the hotel’s airport shuttle. Judith and Janis hovered at the door for Maura but she waved them out, gathering up her training supplies. Really, she wanted time alone to read Jake’s text.

“Mom Orlando now hotspot” the text read. “Pls come home asap”

She tapped the phone against her forehead, willing herself to think calmly. A revised travel checklist floated to mind. “Changing my flight now,” she typed back. “Heading to airport.” She hit send, then typed again. “It will all be okay.” She was almost sure that was true.

In her hotel room, Maura pulled clothes off of hangers and stuffed them into her suitcase while listening to the Southwest Airlines hold message. She’d already tried to change her flight in the mobile app but it just spun and spun. Now a perky-snarky voice said, “You know the drill: We really are sorry to keep you waiting, but our agents are tied up helping other folks just like you.” Another more serious recorded voice then came on. “Due to unprecedented call volume, your hold time is estimated to be…55 minutes.”

 On the muted TV screen, the president was speaking in front of a black backdrop with white numbers: 10,000. 100,000. 1,000,000. All Americans must take these precautions now, the subtitles read.

 Maura put her phone in her jacket pocket, closed the suitcase and headed out the door. While she waited for the elevator, she tapped Uber to summon a ride to the airport. The nearest driver, it said, was an hour away. She hit Cancel.

Down at reception, the counter was abandoned while the house phones rang and rang. Maura scanned the lobby for some sign of official help but there was no one around other than a housekeeping worker barricaded behind her cart of towels, weeping.

Stepping out through the front doors into the hot Florida air, Maura saw the hotel shuttle racing away down the access road, about to turn right onto Sand Lake. She waved her arms but knew it would neither see her or return for her. She slumped down onto a limestone block that in normal times likely seemed like an elegant bench but now felt like the remains of a rampart. The automatic doors opened and shut, opened and shut behind her.

That’s when she remembered her taxi driver from — was that only yesterday? She dug deep in her tote bag to retrieve the card he’d given her. She considered the number printed there for a moment, then hung up on Southwest and dialed it.

“Yes?”

Maura recognized the driver’s voice, tense and lightly accented.

“Hi, hello, you dropped me off yesterday at the Hampton Inn on Sand Hill and –”

“Yes, what is it?”

“I want –” Maura searched her memory. “I need to go to MCO.” She paused, then said it again with what she hoped was more calm authority. “I need to go to MCO. Now.”

“Five minutes,” the driver said. “One hundred dollars cash.”

“Are you kidding?” Maura said. “It’s a $30 trip!”

“You need to go to MCO, it is one hundred dollars.”

Maura thought of the stash of bills she kept with her for tips and such on trips like this. There was probably a little over 100 tucked in that special pocket of her wallet.

“Okay, yes. I need to go to MCO.”

“Five minutes,” the driver said, and disconnected.

While Maura waited, a family of three slipped out the front door and passed behind her, the father with his right arm tight around the mother, holding her still while cradling her red face against his chest. A teenage son ambled behind them, dragging a duffle bag, his expression somewhere between terror and boredom. Approaching a minivan, the father dug rental car keys out of his left pocket with his free hand. “You drive, son,” he said. “I need to be with your mom in the back.”

The orange colored cab pulled to fast stop right in front of her, and the driver waved her in. “We go quickly,” he said, accelerating out of the parking lot before Maura had a chance to fasten her seatbelt. He was still wearing his mask but the windows were up now. He’d duct-taped clear plastic sheeting across the opening between front and back seat, with a small slit that Maura presumed was for taking payment.

Soon they were speeding east along Sand Lake, one car in a river of them rushing out of the city, away from the theme parks, toward the airport. There were no pedestrians on the sidewalks, but there never were: Orlando was a town on wheels. The passing shopping centers and destination restaurants, the churches and shooting ranges, all looked just like they had yesterday, slightly sunstruck with half-empty parking lots at this odd hour.

Just as they were about to make the slight veer onto the airport access road, traffic slowed to a near halt. Maura could see that the snarl was caused by a vehicle angled half off the road with its front end wedged into a utility pole. Drawing closer, she made out that it was a commercial passenger van, and its half a dozen occupants were now spilling out, shouting and gesturing like characters in a silent newsreel. Then she recognized Janis, her tall angular figure reaching back into the hotel van, pulling out Judith, her mouth open in a scream.

“Wait, I know those people!” Maura exclaimed as the cab drew adjacent to the wreck. She could see that Janis’s forehead was bleeding. “We have to stop.”

“No stopping,” the driver said, accelerating and cutting away into the middle lane. “They’re infecteds.”

“But they’re my colleagues,” Maura said, swiveling to look out the back window. It was hard to tell now whether the red on Janis’s face was blood or something else, and soon they were too far away to see.

The cab was pulling into the airport proper now. “I’m on Southwest,” Maura said, but the driver didn’t seem to notice. He was hunched forward over the wheel, aiming for B-Side Departures as if both of their lives depended on it. But the snarl of cabs and trams and busses was epic, stretching back down the access road. Travelers were jumping out onto the pavement, dragging their rollaboards and souvenir ears across lanes of traffic to get into the building. Everyone looked urgent, and some patently terrified.

Where the flow of incoming pedestrians crossed the wide sidewalk toward the glass entryway, they met a swaying army of infecteds. Everyone wore the same khakis and summer prints, the same sneakers and espadrilles. The only way Maura could differentiate the ill was by their jerky movements and how the healthy-for-nows froze in their presence before screaming and darting away.

“Oh my god, how am I going to get through,” Maura whimpered.

The taxi driver jerked left and cut over to the through lane. “We go down to Arrivals. It’s quieter there.”

“Please hurry,” Maura said.

Within minutes the cab had pulled up to the B-Side Arrivals center island. It was deserted. No one was coming to Orlando today.

“You go through there and up stairs,” the driver said. He stared straight ahead. Maura thought he was breathing heavily, but then so was she.

She’d already pulled her $100 – five crisp 20s — out of her wallet and folded it into a tight bundle. She reached it through the slit in the plastic sheeting now. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Please be careful –”

The driver had grabbed her wrist and was pulling her forward, his reddening face turned toward her while he tugged his mask down with his free hand.

Maura screamed. She jerked her hand back, tearing away the plastic sheeting in the process, and threw all of her weight against the door handle. Spilling out onto the sidewalk, she crouched-scrambled away from the car and darted across the access road, narrowly missing an oncoming shuttle. Between her and the entry door was a trio of young women, dressed for a girls weekend but darting and spinning in a yellow-green cloud, the spray from their mouths creating enough of a fog that Maura scooted past them apparently unseen, into the Arrivals seating area, and behind the wide white wicker chair.

As she caught her breath, Maura realized she’d dragged her tote bag along with her but not her suitcase. It was still in the backseat of the cab which she’d seen swerving away as she made her escape. Oh well, she thought. Hope you enjoy that dirty laundry, mister.

 She opened her tote now to make visual contact with her wallet, her laptop, her cord case, and of course her phone — which began squirming and jangling like a live thing. A video call was coming in. Jake.

Maura swiped down to kill the call, then put the phone on silent. “Can’t talk!” she texted her son. “Crazy scene here at the airport. I need to figure out next steps.”

“When flight? Flight #?”” Jake replied. The three dots showed he was still typing, so she scrolled over to her eticket.

A red CANCELLED showed across the top of the royal blue and orange eticket.

“No!” Maura moaned, and the sound echoed across the empty Arrivals space. She clapped her hand over her mouth and huddled down further. Forcing herself to breathe in and out twice, she looked down at her phone again. Jake’s text waited, a silent shout. “MOM YOU OK?”

As calmly as she could, Maura forwarded Jake her eticket and typed her update. “I need to rebook. I am heading up to the ticket counter now.” The more anxious she got, the more complete and well punctuated her text sentences became, something Jake usually teased her about that. Now he wrote, “Put in earbuds, pick up and just listen.”

Her hands were shaking as she inserted the earphones, crouching down to scan the visible floor for any evidence she was not still alone. The call screen came up and she folded herself over the phone.

“Mom, my EMT friends say it is really dangerous there right now.” Jake’s voice was ragged. “I am going to stay on the phone with you until you are on a plane taking off.”

“Honey, don’t be silly, I’ll –” Maura started, but then heard footsteps off to her left. At the far end of the seating area but jerkily heading her way was a flight attendant in a Southwest uniform, face scarlet above her white polo shirt, blonde bob ringed in acid green. Maura shouldered her tote bag and sprinted to the stairway up to Ticketing. “Okay, I’m on the move,” she whispered.

At first the crowds around the ticket counters and in the corridors leading to the food court atrium struck Maura as Orlando-typical: family clusters with strollers and fairy wands, packs of business travelers with their unintentionally matching luggage, Chinese tour groups following uniformed guides. But then someone would shriek or break into a run, and Maura could see the crowd cleave: Infected and lurching on one side, uninfected and frantic on the other. Between Maura and the Southwest ticket counter was a swath of infected.

“I can’t even see when the next flight is,” Maura said.

“Southwest 134 at 3pm,” Jake said in her ear. “Rebooking done and done. Gate 100. Go now.”

Maura flashed back to the one-sided conversations she used to overhear when Jake was videogaming with friends around the world, giant headset making him look like a mythical creature in his dimly lit bedroom lair. The EMT thing suddenly made sense: Urgent discourse while navigating chaos. He was an expert at it.

“I’m not sure I can even get through to security,” Maura said.  Taking a deep breath and dodging an oncoming toddler, she tried to focus on the fountain burbling halfway across the atrium, marking the entrance to security screening for Gates 70-129. Between here and there, a roiling mass of the well and unwell.

“Power-walk it, Mom,” Jake said. “Lean forward, pump your arms, move fast. They’ll get out of your way.” Maura plunged forward and saw that he was correct — the crowd parted to avoid being run over. She picked up speed.

“You’re almost there,” Jake said. “TSA Pre Check line is the one to your left.”

“Wait.” Maura stopped. “How do you know where I am?”

“Find Friends,” Jake said. “You put it on our phones to track me, I think. But it works both ways.” His laugh was short. “Better keep moving. Time is not on your side.”

Maura looked around and saw that, indeed, a surge of infecteds was washing across the atrium, She darted into the expedited security line, just two deep from the screener, and was relieved when a well-dressed elderly couple with skin like wrinkled alabaster tucked in behind her. Was this pandemic making her racist? Maura wondered. A double disease.

Just as she got to the front of the line, the TSA agent held up his hand. He turned around toward the luggage screening belt and stood there, with his hands on his hips. The shirt stretching across his shoulders suddenly turned dark with sweat, and when he swiveled back toward Maura, his face was the color of a bloody mary.

“Run!” screamed the older woman behind Maura, as she and her husband shoved forward and to the right, around the now-spitting TSA guy. They propelled Maura with them as they plowed through the X-ray frame, through the wailing alarms and past the agents on the other side brandishing their screening wands like light sabers.

“Did you just crash security?” Jake whistled in Maura’s ear. “That’s pretty bad-ass, mom.”

Maura suddenly felt dizzy. “I don’t know…” she whispered, turning back toward the chaos of flashing lights and shouting faces.

“Come along, miss, the train’s about to go,” the older man said. His wife pulled at his hand as she charged ahead of him toward the flashing sign indicating boarding for the Automated People Mover, but he held out his other hand toward Maura. He had a slight British accent. Maura grasped his wrist and left herself be whisked into the overlit people mover just as the doors beeped closed. Outside the window the red-faced TSA screener screamed silently after them until his face disappeared in the rush of movement.

“Well, that was a close shave,” the man said. He’d pulled his wife close, and now gave Maura a half smile, tilting his head toward where her hand was still clamped around his wrist. She let go and leaned back against the grab bar against the train’s smooth cool wall. The car was empty save for the three of them. Outside the plexiglass windows, the Florida sky was baked blue. Maura spotted a heron in the landscaped lagoon below the elevated tracks, palm trees perfectly spaced around the curve. What did all of this look like before humans sculpted it into a tidy version of itself, she wondered. What will it look like afterwards?

“You’re almost there,” Jake breathed in her ear.

“Thanks, honey,” Maura murmured. The older woman looked up sharply, and Maura pointed to her earbuds. “My son,” she said. “The other half of my lifesaving team. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve any of you.”

“We’re all in this together, dear,” the woman said. Her smile was warm now. “We’re Henry and Emma, by the by.”

“I’m Maura.” She pointed to her ear again. “And Jake.” She started to reach out her hand to shake and gave a little wave instead. Henry glanced at the wrist she’d been holding. They all smiled again, less warmly now, and backed away to put a body length between them.

“If they’ve been infected, it won’t show til after you get to the gate area,” Jake said. “Part company right after you get off the train.”

“I’ll tell them you said thanks too, sweetheart,” Maura said aloud. “My son’s very grateful,” she enunciated in the couple’s direction.

The Automated People Mover docked to a stop. The doors whooshed open. Maura tilted her head to indicate Henry and Emma should proceed. “Thank you both again for the rescue,” she called after them. As the couple strode out of the car and away toward the gates, Henry turned back to give her a little salute. It’s every comrade for himself now, Maura thought.

Maura emerged into the arrowhead-shaped gates area and saw that 100 was to the left, the first gate in the sequence. She took a deep breath for the first time in what seemed like hours. She had also worked up a serious sweat. What a mess, she thought, plucking at the front of her blouse with one hand and fanning her face with the other. She looked up to see she was right below the overhead information board. Flight 134 to BWI at 3:00 showed On Time.

“Current time 2:17,” Jake said, just as Maura read it on the board. “You made it.”

“And I even have a minute to stop in the restroom,” she said, spotting the Women’s sign just across from Gate 100.

“Uh, TMI, mom.” Jake giggled. He’s still just a kid, Maura thought. After all the accidental intimacy of being the only son of a single mom, the tampon box on the bathroom counter and the bras mixed in with the briefs in the laundry hamper.

“Better get used to it, buddy,” Maura said. “You have ambulance-loads of middle-aged ladies in your future.” She’d reached the restroom entrance and was about to step inside.

“Wait!” Jake said, his gamer-EMT voice back now. “Scan the area first.”

“What?” Maura looked around the restroom, seeing only a dripping faucet in the water-splashed sink area and four stall doors reflected in the mirror.

“Anyone else in there with you? See any feet?”

Maura bent slightly and saw only tile. “All clear.”

“We’ve been hearing about infecteds crouching up on the seat in public toilets and attacking when you walk in the stall,” Jake said. “I know it sounds –”

“Absolutely ridiculous,” Maura said. But she stopped short of pushing open any of the stall doors.

“Is there a light switch?” Jake asked. “If you can shut off the lights, the glow will give it away if any infected are in there. The aréola never lies.”

Maura spotted the old-fashioned light toggle just inside the entranceway. “They need to step up their security game in this airport,” Maura said. “Anyone could cut the lights in here.” She flipped the switch down and the bathroom went dark.

“That’s actually current best practice, mom” Jake said. “Active shooter protection. Fucked up world we live in.”

They were silent for a moment in the darkness.

“So do you see any glow from the stalls?” Jake asked.

Maura crept forward to the area between the sinks and the doors. “No, but there’s some light coming from somewhere,” she whispered. She turned toward the mirror.

“Then get out of there now, mom,” Jake commanded. “It’s not safe!”

Maura regarded herself in the mirror. Her face was a lovely shade of rose, eyeliner smears and Mac Ruby Woo lipstick fading back against the growing blush. Above, her Fanta orange hair was framed by the faintest chartreuse.

“Please don’t worry, Jake,” Maura said. Her voice was slow and languorous as the mist from her words speckled the mirror. “I’m fine. It will all be okay. I promise.”


Mickey Revenaugh is a fiction and nonfiction writer whose projects include a collection of short stories set in and around airports. Mickey began developing the Airport Series while completing her dual-genre Creative Writing MFA at Bennington College. Her work has since appeared in Vice, Cleaning Up Glitter, Cagibi, Cleaver, The Tishman Review, Chautauqua, Catapult, Louisiana LiteratureLunch Ticket, and the LA Review of Books, among other publications. Mickey has been a semi-finalist for the American Short Fiction Prize and a finalist for both the Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Penelope Niven Award at the Center for Women Writers. In addition to the MFA, she holds a BA in American Studies from Yale University and an MBA from New York University. Mickey lives and work in Brooklyn, New York.


Michelle Brooks
has published a three collections of poetry, Make Yourself Small, (Backwaters Press), Pretty in A Hard Way (Finishing Line Press), and The Pretend Life (Atmosphere Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy, (Storylandia Press). A native Texan, she has spent much of her adult life in Detroit.