“Cheers,” Eden said as she clinked her champagne flute against Leann’s in the airport lounge as they awaited their outbound flight for the Florida panhandle. A large orange Happy Halloween banner flanked the doorway to the bar as a cacophony of hair-raising organ tunes played on the overhead speakers.
A rush of excitement flooded Eden as she scanned her surroundings and gaped at the creepy, crawly furry spiders and slithering snakes peppering the bar. Ghosts and goblins clung to walls and the ceiling, and a fog machine transformed the watering hole into an old English moor. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of the zombie barmaid’s mouth as she made colorful concoctions in crystal pitchers. A sign advertised a Halloween special, The Floating Eyeball, an orange cocktail with a gelatinous object that bobbed up and down in the center. Busy travelers rushed past toward their flights dressed as mermaids, skeletons, and Dracula. Just as Eden tapped Leann’s arm and pointed to a creepy clown sitting in the corner, a menacing wolf sat down next to the women and ordered a beer.
“I can’t believe it, our first trip to Florida.” Leann tilted her Mimosa to her lips. “I hope our condo is as nice as the pictures.”
“Don’t worry. Bob assured me it was even nicer,” Eden said. Her coworker had rented them the condo at a sizable discount for the offseason.
Eden double-checked her boarding pass. “One hour till takeoff. Another round?”
Leann giggled. “Absolutely.” She clicked a photo of Eden on her cell.
Eden retouched her black lipstick, which complimented her witch outfit, and snapped shut her compact. But as the zombie bartender poured their second round, an uneasiness passed over her, a vague feeling of dread that caused her to sip her second glass of champagne in silence. Back at home her cat, Raven, was recovering from recent dental surgery. The vet had assured Eden that the cat would be just fine. And with her neighbor, Addie, dropping by a couple of times a day to check on the cat, Eden really had no need for worry. She couldn’t have canceled the vacation getaway. It had been planned for over six months, but still….
Leann touched her friend’s arm. “You look worried.”
Eden shrugged. “Just thinking about Raven.” She forced a smile.
“Stop worrying. The vet said she’d be fine. Addie always does a good job.”
“I guess,” Eden said and took another gulp of her drink.
As she set down her glass, a stream of reddish fluid ran onto her arm. She turned slightly toward the wolf. Blood oozed from the wolf’s snout.
At first, Eden assumed it to be theatrical blood, but the sickly, acrid odor told her otherwise. Her stomach clenched tight. She tapped Leann’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“But I haven’t finished my drink.”
Eden hopped from the stool and tugged harder on Leann to follow her as she raced from the bar and past a skeleton who danced around a coffin placed at the front entrance.
In the corridor, Eden held up her sleeve. “Look.”
Leann shrugged. “It’s just fake blood. Everyone uses that on Halloween.”
“It’s not fake blood,” Eden said, her voice rising in panic. “Smell it.”
“I’d rather not.”
“When I turned and looked at the wolf, he growled. I heard it. Blood ran from his snout.”
Leann shook her head. “He’s just messing with you. It’s Halloween. Lighten up.”
The women walked to Gate 50 and sat with their backs to the large window in order to have a better view of the colorful travelers. Over half the passengers wore costumes, but none as creepy as the lounge wolf. Eden shivered at the thought.
“Watch my bags,” Leann said. “I need to run to the restroom.”
Eden watched her best friend dart off in her Princess Leia costume. In just a few hours, they’d be swimming and sunbathing, one whole week away from the stress and strain of everyday life.
A loud roar just outside the window signaled the arrival of Eden’s jet as it taxied to the gate.
The microphone crackled when the ticket agent lifted it and said, “Magnolia Airlines Flight 153 has just arrived. As soon as the aircraft has been serviced, we will begin boarding our non-stop service to Fort Walton Beach.”
Eager passengers emerged from the plane, some rushing to baggage claim while others checked the overhead Teleprompters. A little girl dressed as a pumpkin clutched her mother’s hand and jumped up and down.
Eden relaxed against the back of the chair and fantasized about cocktails at the condo hot tub, until the menacing wolf walked up to Gate 50 and spoke to the ticket agent. His garbled voice sounded like a slowed-down tape recording as he swiped away a trickle of blood from his snout.
The ticket agent shook her head like she couldn’t understand him.
He threw his hands up and then plopped down in the seat next to Eden. A foul odor, like rotten meat, emerged from his body.
Eden’s heart pounded hard against her ribcage and beads of sweat formed under her long, black wig. As soon as she spotted Leann, she rushed up to her. “That’s him, the wolf. I need to run to the ladies’ room.”
Leann smiled. “Whatever.”
Inside the restroom, cobwebs and plastic spiders covered the mirror and a reddish fluid ran down one wall, like an artificial waterfall. Eden splashed cool water onto her face and took deep breaths. She’d always had an overactive imagination, but the wolf stirred something deep within her, a primitive fear. Soon, she reminded herself, she’d be on the beach, far away from monsters and wolves.
She dried her face and strolled back to her gate, now eager to escape and leave all her problems behind. But when she arrived, the plane that had just arrived five minutes earlier was gone.
Eden clutched her throat. Maybe she’d gone to the wrong gate. She double-checked the boarding pass. She searched for Leann, but her friend was also gone. No one sat in the back row of seats now except for the creepy wolf. Had the plane left without her? No way Leann had gotten on a plane and left her best friend behind. They must have changed the boarding gate for her trip. It had happened to her before.
Eden rushed up to the counter, but the agent just tapped away on her computer, refusing to look up.
Eden cleared her throat and shouted, “Excuse me.”
“Yes,” the vampire agent said as she peered over the top of her glasses.
“What happened to my plane, Flight 153 to Fort Walton Beach? It was here just a moment ago.”
The agent tapped more keys on her computer. “Miss, there is no flight to Fort Walton Beach.”
“But I was just here. Flight 153. Check again!”
“Miss, lower your voice. You’re frightening the other passengers.”
“What happened to my friend, Leann? She was sitting here dressed as Princess Leia?”
“I’ve seen no such person,” the agent said. “So if you’d step aside and let the other passengers make way.”
Eden backed away and prayed she’d awaken from this nightmare. Maybe Leann had gone back to the bathroom or been frightened away by the wolfman. Being Halloween, maybe the agent was playing a sick joke on her.