“What the hell is-“

“I’d have headaches too,” the vendor cut in. “Yeah, yeah, I’d have em too. Loads of em. Loads and loads of em if she’d left me here waiting, too.”

Ice ran down Bezel’s spine, and his palms began to sweat. The headache intensified, and the lights above him flickered, now without ceasing. “What did you say?”

The vendor nodded solemnly. “Yeah, that’d be more than I could handle for sure. ‘specially after she promised she’d meet me here. ‘specially after… You both promised, right? To go through with it and-“

“Stop!” Bezel gave one last yank on the pill container and pulled it free from the vendor’s hand. He then backed away, while the squat man stared after him, wet eyes glistening like far way stars in the flickering lights of the airport. The smell of sulfur returned, mixed with the scent of wet earth. Bezel gave one last look at the vendor, turned, then began jogging down the airport hall in the direction of the food court.

“What the hell was that?” His voice was shaky and it sounded weak. His headache grew and began to give him tunnel vision. Finding a water fountain not too far from where he was, he hurried over—swaying slightly from a dizzy sensation that began sprouting in his mind; like mold growing over the surface of an orange—and leaned against the cold metal. He was gasping for breath, squeezing his eyes shut, and trying to find some sort of relief.

“Everything will be okay,” said the PA system.

“Who are you?” Bezel cried out. The PA system didn’t answer. A few passersby looked at him and rushed past, but no one said anything to him. Holding the pill bottle in both hands, he twisted the cap until the tiny triangles of the child-proof cap aligned; with a quick flick of his thumb, the lid tumbled off. He quickly dumped five pills into his hand and went to toss them into his mouth, but stopped.

The pills were dissolving into ash.

“What the…” He waved his hand, spilling the ash, and tried dumping more pills into his palm. Three came out this time, but before he could pop them onto his tongue, they too turned to ash. “What’s going on!?” he cried. Turning the bottle on its end, he dumped the last of the pills into his mouth and went to take a drink of water from the fountain, but the taste of curdled milk seized his stomach, and he spat out strings of black mucus; his insides twisting, and dry heaving until he was sure he’d pass out. Desperate, he pressed his hip against the plastic level and held his face in front of the water spout. Cold water came out and filled his mouth, his eyes, his nose.

The relief was instant; the headache mellowed into nothing and the filthy taste of the ashen pills was swept away. Even the overpowering smell of sulfur and dirt was cleansed from his nostrils. Bezel held his head under the flow of water until his lungs burned. Letting go of the lever, he lifted himself up and took in large gulps of air.

The lights above him were still flickering.

“It’ll feel better once you come to grips with it,” came a voice from behind him. Bezel turned around, still breathing heavy and water dripping down his face and saw the vendor—leaning over his untidy stall—looking right at him. How did he- “It’s that way with a lot of em.” The squat vendor gestured to the people walking through the airport, behind him. “Granted, they don’t take near as long as… uh, well, as you.”

“Who are you?” wheezed Bezel.

The vendor shrugged. “No one of importance.” The wet glimmer in the vendor’s eyes seemed to deepen then, and the grin he gave Bezel had a sour note of menace behind it. “I’m just here to sell shit.”

“Yeah? Well, your shit sucks.” Bezel held up the pill bottle, then threw it at the vendor. “These were garbage. Useless!” The vendor merely smiled wider, and the wrinkles in his face seemed to deepen. The lights continued to flicker, and the PA system was now humming a children’s lullaby Bezel’s mom had sung to him when he was very young. “What the hell is going on?” cried Bezel.

“Nothing bad,” said the vendor. His voice had deepened. “So long as you continue to your flight.”

That strange sense of realization—of recognition—returned, and the confusion he’d allowed himself to fall into gave way. It sucked, to go back to remembering, to return to knowing why he was here alone. But at the same time, he knew continuing on in the charade of ignorance—though comforting in the resemblance of normalcy—did nothing but lengthen his anguish.

“Go on,” said the vendor. “Take your ticket and board your plane.”

“I can’t…”

“Why?”

“Because… I’m waiting for someone.” The fight left Bezel and he slumped against the water fountain.

“For someone who isn’t coming.”

Bezel glared at the vendor but felt empty hopelessness—a truth—digging a pit in the middle of his chest. “You don’t know that.” The vendor laughed. “You don’t. She’s probably just running late. She, she might be… I don’t know. She could have been held up or… something. She’s gotta be coming.”

The vendor’s smile dropped, and the scent of sulfur and wet earth returned. “But she isn’t.”

Bezel opened his mouth to refute the vendor, but he found he didn’t have the words. His head was hurting again. He raised a hand and pressed it to his temple. His fingers felt wet and sticky.

“She’d not coming, because she didn’t want to come.” Bezel held his hand to his head and stared at the vendor, who now loomed like a gaunt shadow over the stall. “She almost wanted to. She almost came here with you, but then she gave up trying.” The vendor grabbed a magazine and tossed it at Bezel, where it landed at his feet. “Didn’t aim right, so… He brought her back.”

Bezel, squinting because of the pain, looked at the magazine and felt nothing but anger and hate.

“No. No, we were careful,” Bezel explained. The wet, warm, sticky something was running down his face, following his jawline and dripping onto his shirt. His other temple began to throb and leak as well. “We had everything figured out. We had everything arranged.” The vendor smiled in contention. “We did! I showed her where to hold it; where to aim it and everything. We went over it a dozen times. Everything was perfect and there’s no way she could have screwed it up! She wouldn’t leave me here alone!”

The lights—flickering like strobe lights—burned completely out. Only the light from the deep red setting Sun kept Bezel from total blindness. Behind the vendor, people were still walking to and fro, muttering to each other and to themselves, pulling their baggage behind them. Bezel took a deep breath and coughed on the smell.

He looked up at the vendor—now over twenty feet tall, and with a horrible stretched face—and met his gaze; his eyes as large as volleyballs and as empty as the space between stars.

“You’re sure?” Bezel asked, his voice croaking. The vendor nodded, the smile slipping from his face. Bezel sighed and dropped his hands and looked down at his feet. Blood and brain matter were oozing from both temples, and even his nose and mouth began to fill with blood. Bezel looked up and watched some of the people in the airport walk by: an old man with a black tumor pulsing from his spine; a little girl with half her skull caved in; a young man with limbs snapped in all directions limping by on the spurs of exposed bone. But not among any of them did he spot her.

“Do you know if she’s happy?” Bezel asked the vendor. “Happier now?”

“That’s not my business,” growled the vendor. He gestured to a stack of magazines. “I read up on the events surrounding it—don’t give a damn about anything further, on that Side.”

Bezel nodded and wiped away a thick cord of blood that was hanging from his nose.

“Yeah… I guess that doesn’t matter anymore.” Bezel chuckled a little. “It’s the whole reason we- I came here in the first place.” He met the vendor’s eyes once more. “Nothing on that Side matters anymore.” The vendor nodded but said nothing. “Well… I guess I best go find my terminal.” Bezel pulled the tickets from his pocket and looked at them a moment. His stomach twisted and tears blurred his vision, but he knew what he needed to do. He plucked her ticket away from his, looking at her name printed on the rough paper. Then, he let it fall to the floor; where it turned to ash on the way down and blew into nothingness on an unfelt breeze. 

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