# SF The Layover

Editor’s Foreword

The feel of this story reminds me of Robert F. Young’s The Dandelion Girl. A different plotline, but a similar feel to it. I hope you enjoy it!

What do you mean, one hour?” The sharp tone rattled across the three rows of chairs to where I sat, my back against the wall.

“Sir, the next bus…” The blonde woman glanced behind her towards a closed door, probably her supervisor. “The schedule says…” Her manicured fingers danced over the cheap photocopied flyer spread out in front of her.

“I could walk there in an hour!” The businessman huffed, tugging at the sleeves of his spotless raincoat. “If my company hadn’t been too cheap to get me a flight I’d…”

“Sir, there’s nothing I can do for you.” She tucked a stray blonde strand behind one ear. “Your transfer is clearly marked on your ticket and on the schedule as well. If you wish, there’s a small restaurant just outside where you can wait if you don’t want to stay inside the terminal…”

Grabbing up his ticket from the well-scratched wooden desktop he turned on his heel and strode out, shaking his head. I returned my attention to the well-thumbed book in my hands. You can never read Kipling too much, I figure.

The waiting room wasn’t much more than the size of a school classroom; just enough for a pair of vending machines offering snacks and drinks, a single pay phone and washrooms that I dared not use. But I had my book and two hours to kill so I leaned back, cracking my spine against the flat white painted wall and looked around at my fellow travellers.

Nothing abnormal other than the yappy businessman; the usual college students rolling back to their homes with dufflebags filled with dirty laundry and some travelling salesmen who had already shared their secrets of the trade back and forth; trading business cards like some kids trade game cards.

But one caught my eye, standing to the side of the swinging doors that led to the gravel parking lot. Wearing a small white cap on her head, she glanced back and forth over the boisterous young men, cradling a small wicker basket. I wasn’t up on my cultural studies but I figured she was either Amish or Mennonite… probably Amish if I remembered my Harrison Ford movies correctly. Shuffling her feet she turned to stare out into the lot, ignoring the yelling and crude jokes being tossed her way by the college kids.

I felt sorry for her. Probably travelling alone and stuck in a bus station for hours with what was less than friendly companions… and I was pretty sure that she wasn’t keen on spending hours listening to the mutts detailing their latest sexual conquests.

My attention snapped back as a yelp came from the aforementioned students. One hand jabbed up from the group; a deep cut across his palm streaming blood. I glanced at the information counter, seeing no one there. The attendant had probably run into the back to avoid any more questions from friendly travellers like the businessman.

“Son of a…” Waving the wounded hand around the circle, the young man cursed again. “Why the hell did you do that?”

The offender, another student, shook his head as he snapped the short-bladed knife back up again, stuffing it in a jean pocket. “You weren’t supposed to touch it, man… It’s not good…”

“Well, thanks a bleeping lot!” Actually, he didn’t say “bleeping”; but I’m trying to improve my vocabulary. You know how it is when you become an uncle and have to worry about kids picking up your bad words, even if you whisper them while clutching a bloody thumb you smacked with a hammer seconds earlier while trying to build a bookcase that was marked “easy construction” but wasn’t.

But I digress.

From where I sat it wasn’t a deep cut, but enough to scare the heck out of the small group. Standing in a huddle they stared at the few drops working their way free to land on the cheap green tile floor; daring the handyman to get it up when it dried.

Grabbing my knapsack I began to dig in past the water bottle for my first aid kit, then stopped as I saw the young woman approach the panicked group.

“Excuse me.” Her calm tones washed over the students like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. “May I help?”

“Ah…” The injured young man glanced from the floor and the accumulating blood to his buds then to the friendly face. “Sure.” He stretched out the injured hand, grimacing as yet another drop added to the small puddle on the floor.

“Oh, that’s not too bad.” After a few seconds of inspection she knelt down and reached into the basket she held, coming up with a small piece of white material; probably a hankerchief. “Here, I have some salve for that.” Another short search produced a tiny jar of yellowish paste. “Now, don’t move.”

I sat back against the wall and watched the scene play out with little interest beyond watching the college jerks transform into polite young men that their parents would have been proud of. Bobbing their heads up and down with every question and answer, they hung off the woman’s every movement and word. A delicate slender finger dipped into the ointment to smear it liberally over the shallow wound. A thin strip of fabric began to wind itself around the young man’s palm as he winced, forcing a brave smile onto his face.

I blinked. Then blinked again as I looked up at his hand and the young woman from my position on the floor. Maybe it had been some sort of trick of the light, but… I didn’t know what to think.

“Now leave that for the rest of the day and it’ll probably look a lot better by the time you go to bed.” She avoided directly looking at the grateful eyes around her, staring at the floor. “Just be more careful next time, please.” Backing out of the group she accepted their muttered and stammered thanks, picking up her basket and walking out the double doors into the parking lot.

Scrambling to my feet I followed her, grabbing my backpack and shoving the book inside. Digging my sneaker soles into the slippery tile floor I slammed into the doors and got outside to see her settling down under a small tree in the single island of greenery in the parking lot; a driver’s annoyance at the best of times but now an oasis.

She looked up as I approached, tucking an errant dark curl up under the cap. Her eyes refused to meet mine; looking past me into the sky. “Can I help you?”

“May I…” My lungs heaved, berating me for my confusion. “May I sit here and talk to you for a minute?”

She frowned, tilting her head to one side. “Sir, I don’t…”

I lowered my voice. “I saw… you did something in there.” I jerked my thumb back towards the bus station. “I saw it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The woman straighted out a wrinkle in her skirt, making sure it covered her legs and feet. “I just offered to help that poor man with the cut hand.”

I shook my head. “You…” The words came out in a pant, my chest aching with each syllable. “I saw the light; the burning…”

Her eyes met mine, widening as her petite mouth opened slightly, the pink tongue flicking out to wet her lips. She shook her head again. “No…”

“I saw something.” I persisted, reaching out to take ahold of her right hand, just below the wrist. It was soft and pliable, warm in the hot air. “I saw something jump from your palm down onto his hand, something…” I closed my eyes, replaying the images in my mind. “It was like electricity, yellow and white and it seemed so warm…”

The soft skin disappeared from under my fingers as she withdrew from me, shaking her head again. “Sir, I think you may have been out in the sun too long.” She looked out towards the street. “Perhaps you should go back inside and wait for your bus there.”

“No.” I shook my head again. “Look, either you tell me what’s going on or I’ll go back in there and call not only the cops but paramedics and the local television station.” I kept speaking, letting the words tumble out over each other. “Can you promise me that when I pull off that jerk’s bandage that the wound isn’t going to be totally healed? And don’t try any of that ‘magic salve’ crap on me; I know what I saw and I know that it wasn’t anything natural.” I stopped, hearing my own words. “It wasn’t… natural.”

Scrambling to her feet the woman picked up her basket, tucking it under her arm as she looked from side to side. I grabbed her arm again.

“Look…” I dropped my voice down; forcing it to a slow steady pace while my heart continued to do a rap rhythm. “I don’t want anything from you; I don’t want to tell anyone. I just want to know…” My eyes met hers again. “I just want to know.”

She swallowed, her eyes wandering down to where I held her arm and back up to my face. “Please, let me go.”

My fingers uncurled, waiting for her response. She sat back down again under the thick tree trunk, the shade covering her in a dark cloak. I dropped down onto the sparse grass beside her, tossing my knapsack to one side.

“What do you want to hear?” She tilted her head to one side, a tiny smile winking on and off. “That I’m some sort of mystical healer?”

“Just tell me what you did and how you did it.” I spread my hands. “No cameras, no tape recorders, nothing. I just want to know.”

The woman paused, staring into my face as if to read my thoughts. For all I know, she was. Her lips curled upwards as she assessed me. Her eyes met mine, locking them in place as I watched the blue centers spiral outwards until the entire eye shone like an opal; its sister the same.

“Your society prizes technology; thrills to the advancement of the machine and the computer with an intensity that matches those of primitive creatures worshipping stone gods.” Her hands dropped back into her lap as she continued, holding me in her gaze.

“And yet… sometimes you lose your soul to the machine in the end.” A slender finger traced figures in the air. “A society that has nothing more than the eternal hunt for bigger, better, faster, stronger technology sacrifices something in the end–their ‘humanity’; as you would call it.”

I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as she continued to draw in the air, my mind drawing the invisible lines together to see images, creatures, vehicles that were not familiar.

“But where do you go when you have a world covered with this? Where do you find a place without the drone of machines; the shriek of twisted metal and the vigilance of computers that won’t allow you to make a mistake, even if you want to.”

“You come here…” I whispered.

“You come to a place and to a people who want nothing more than to exist in harmony with the world, not to dominate it.” She smiled. “And before you ask, there are few of us here. We come and we go as we wish; rejuvenating ourselves even as we consider whether we truly can go home or not.”

“And no one asks? I mean…” My voice was foreign to me, as if I had never spoken before in my life.

“Why would they? We visit, we stay for as long as we wish.” Her lips had stopped moving at some point, the words a hum in my mind. “And then we leave. Although I would be lying if I did not say that some remain much longer than they should.”

I nodded, my voice gone again.

Never breaking her hold on me she got to her feet, leaving me on the ground. “And if I am more generous than I should be with my skills, put it down to having too much love for your kind and your simpler ways.”

My mouth opened, but I had nothing to add. Breaking her eyes free of mine, she patted me on the head. “I thank you for this chance to talk. It has been too long that I have not considered my reasons for being here.”

I closed my eyes at the gentle touch; the scent of violets washing over me as a sense of calm lulled my senses. When I opened them she was walking down the highway, waving to a horse-drawn carriage that had pulled over on the gravel shoulder. I watched as she climbed into the wagon and disappeared down the road; incurring the wrath of a sportscar whose owner honked the horn unmercifully as he raced to the first chance to pass them, spinning his tires as he swerved around the black horse and passengers.

The travel bus pulled into the parking lot, the tires moaning as they stopped on the hot asphalt. As the passengers began to line up to finish their trip I picked up my backpack and joined them, trying to keep the scent of violets with me as a wave of hot air; infused with gas fumes and burning oil scalded it away.

 

About the Author

Sheryl Nantus lives in Brownsville, Pennsylvania with her husband Martin. A Canadian who met her husband online, she enjoys cross stitch, hockey and a good cuppa tea. She has been writing professionally for five years with stories accepted by GRIT Magazine, Nth Degree and such online zines as AlienSkin Magazine and The Harrow. She was also nominated for the Speculative Literature Foundation 2004 award.

 

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any informational storage or retrieval system without express written permission from the author.

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