Best friends since elementary school, Ruby and Carson posed for a selfie in the sweltering heat outside the Destin airport. They had already checked their bags and were waiting for their return flight to Columbus, Ohio. The mile-long security line ran outside the building and down the sidewalk, ending just past where they stood. Ruby peered over her movie star sunglasses. “Can you believe this line? Too bad you didn’t bring your Ouija board. You could ask if we’ll ever make it through security.” 

Industrial fans had been set up near the sidewalk to prevent heatstroke, but that didn’t stop the sweat from collecting inside their flowered sundresses, which now clung to their youthful curves.  Despite the heat, Ruby still somehow managed to look perky and stylish, but Carson’s short bob had drooped around her chin.  Travelers with worried looks double-checked their watches as they inched ahead. An airport employee, an emaciated man with dark circles under his eyes, corralled the group, like a herd of cattle. “Keep moving,” he shouted over the roar of the fans.

Carson nudged Ruby. “Wasn’t he in that horror movie we watched the other night?” 

“I think we’re in that horror movie,” Ruby said, lifting her blonde curls off her neck for a bit of relief. She twirled the hair into a long rope and tried to tuck it all into a high knot, but with no pin to secure it, the makeshift bun held for about twenty seconds before it fell to blanket her neck again. She shook the curls to redistribute them over her shoulders and then stood with one hip jutted out, as if any second someone might ask her to take control. 

Two hours later, when they finally passed through security and had collected all their belongings—their shoes, their phones, their watches, their jewelry—they sprinted down the long hallway to catch their plane to Ohio. They passed the restrooms, which Carson badly needed, and a kiosk with a cooler full of inviting water bottles. They ignored it all and reached Gate B2 in record time, but the sign over the gate blinked red: Flight 257 CANCELLED. 

Carson looked stricken. “What if we can’t get home today? Norma’s already left town to see her mother. There’s no one else to feed the cats.” A known worrier, Carson always thought of all the angles.

“Don’t panic,” Ruby said. “They wouldn’t just leave us stranded. Let’s get to the ticket counter before everyone else. It’s all the way on the other side of the airport.” 

But when they reached ticketing, panting and out of breath, Carson stopped and managed to wail. “Why’s it so dark and empty?”

Low-burning blue lights barely illuminated the counters, and the airport looked as it must in the middle of the night.

The confidence in Ruby’s voice was fading. “They’ve obviously shut down the airport. Probably some kind of emergency. But we’ll find someone.”

“An emergency?” Carson’s voice rose in panic. “We’re starting our new rotation tomorrow morning at 6. We worked so hard for it.” They had completed their RN degrees and had been selected for a placement at a prestigious pediatric hospital. She and Ruby had vowed to enter the medical profession together, as nurses to start, and then, maybe medical school later. Their weekend away had been a well-deserved celebration.

Ruby craned her neck in both directions. “Let’s get a rental car. If worse comes to worst, we’ll drive straight through the night.”

But when they reached Enterprise, a metal cage had been locked around the counter, and a large sign flashed, Closed until Further Notice. 

Ruby pressed a tissue to her forehead. “Where did everyone go? Something pretty bad must have happened to shut everything down so quickly.” She pressed buttons on her cell and then groaned. “No service. Maybe the government even shut down the phone towers. They can do that during a national emergency.”

“Stop saying that. You’re scaring me. We don’t really know what happened.”

Ruby marched toward the exit. “We’ll catch a cab and go back to the hotel.”

Outside, the long security line that had wrapped about the building had vanished. A row of cars that had waited to pick up passengers had been abandoned, and a cab with the door left open had driven up on the curb as if the driver had fled. Ruby stuck her head inside. “This is crazy. There’s isn’t a driver in sight.”

Carson took it all in. “It’s like a total evacuation.”

Ruby looked at her reflection in the side window and smoothed her now disheveled hair. Then she tugged on Carson’s arm. “Never mind. Let’s start walking.”

“Walk to where? It’s 95 degrees out here. And what about our luggage?”

“Do you have a better idea? We’re bound to find a store where we can ask for help.”

“Bossy Betty,” Carson mumbled under her breath, but she knew not to challenge Ruby once her friend had made up her mind. She’d always gotten her way ever since they’d met in first grade. Even at that early age, Ruby always dictated what games they’d play at recess and somehow managed to snag the lead in the school play each year. But twenty minutes into the walk, after they’d passed the large parking lots and made it onto the desolate highway, Ruby removed her new pink strappy sandals that had rubbed a large blister on her left heel. She stopped and slipped it off. “I can’t go any farther.”

“You and your new shoes.” Carson glanced at the sporty trainers she had paired with her own dress. “How many times have I told you not to wear new shoes on a trip? And just where all these stores you mentioned?” 

“We’ll find one. And stop lecturing me.” Ruby stepped off the hot pavement and straight onto a thorn on the unmown grass. “Ouch!”

Carson fanned herself with her boarding pass. “What I’d give for a tall glass of cold water with little ice cubes bobbing up and down.”

“Soon, Carson, soon. Before you know it, we’ll be sitting at an upscale bar sipping from chilled flutes of champagne.”

Carson rolled her eyes. 

The mid-afternoon sun scorched their exposed shoulders and necks, and Ruby’s expensive underwear clung to her drenched body. “There,” she said, and pointed to a small creek at the bottom of a hill. 

They scooted down to it, where Ruby stuck her sore foot into the tepid water. But as soon as she leaned down and took a gulp, she spit it out. “Oh my God! It tastes like fish guts.”

Carson swooshed around the brackish water. “It’s stagnant. Probably filled with bacteria.”

“Now you tell me.” Ruby spat and spat until her mouth felt like cotton. 

“Never mind. We’re no closer to civilization than we were when we first left the airport.  We haven’t seen a single car since we left. It’s like we’re the last people left on earth.”

Ruby drew her arms around her stomach. “That gave me chills. Don’t think like that or we’ll never find our way out. There’s always someone to help.”

They crawled back up the hill and were walking along a wooded path in search of someone or something that could help them when Carson pointed. “Ruby! A man.”

Nearby, an old hobo with a scruffy beard, tattered clothes, and no shoes tossed roadside trash into a clear bag. 

“Sir. Excuse me, Sir.” Ruby rushed toward him, pulling Carson after her. But when they were within speaking distance, she stopped and gasped in horrified silence as a half-formed infant with large amphibian eyes stared back at them from inside the clear sack. Milky fluid surrounded its body and from a partially formed hand, it sucked on its thumb. 

The hobo looked up and laughed as a Scorpion Fly crawled from his mouth.

Ruby backed away, and now it was Carson tugging on her arm. “Let’s get out of here.” They raced until they could run no more, and when they collapsed, it was onto a bench next to an old grave.

“Ruby, what is this place? That old man didn’t seem human.”

“I don’t know, but it’s probably something you’ve attracted with your Ouija board and séances. I’ve been warning you about this for years. My mom calls it the devil’s work.”  

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Carson said, glancing at Ruby. She did a double-take and pressed her hand to her mouth. “Your face!”

“What’s wrong with my face?” 

“It’s like you’ve aged twenty years since we left the airport.”

“What! If this is your idea of a sick joke.”

“It’s not. I wouldn’t do that.”

“It’s just the harsh glare of the sun.” Ruby pulled a compact from her purse. “Oh my God! You’re right. I look older than my mother.” Deep forehead creases and the same crow’s feet her mother bore from too many years of squinting stared back at her. Where was her smooth, unlined twenty-two-year-old face? Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t understand. What’s happening?”

Afraid to speak her fears out loud, Carson whispered. “Do you think our plane crashed?”

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