Image credit: Dax Ward
Three days without sleep was the least of my worries. At least I could remember those three days. At least I had managed to find them. They had gotten me here. It was the fourth day, the hidden one, that was far more concerning.
I stared across the counter at the bloated man. He looked less like a person and more like a human shaped balloon, one that had been overfilled. He smiled his round smile, and his fat cheeks pushed into his eyes so that the two black beads almost disappeared completely. I could still see them gleaming at me though, from beyond the rolls.
‘How do I find my day?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ he drawled, in a voice like dripping fat. ‘Information like that I usually save for customers. Are you interested in making a purchase?’
I’m not a patient person on my best day, let alone when I can feel sleep deprivation edging in from the corners of my mind. My lip rose into a sneer. I forced myself to think of Alona’s advice. To picture myself floating above the situation, looking down at it. See how small it is. I took a breath and looked up for a beat. Even in my imagination the bloated man looked like a corpse that’d been washed up on the beach. Still, it helped.
‘What are you thinking?’ I asked.
‘Oh my. I have so many fine options. Quite a lot of business lately. Sense of the times, you know. So many people either willing to rid themselves of unwanted days or desperate enough to sell their treasured ones.’
‘Just give me whatever’s cheapest.’
‘Oh, no. That’s no way to make a decision of this import.’ He turned to the wall of vials behind him, each one containing a baby squid in amber liquid. His fat fingers, stained with swirls of black and gold, reached out and stroked one. ‘I have an absolutely splendid day passed on by an elderly oriental chap, his daughter’s graduation, no less, on special at the moment. No? Very well. Perhaps this one, given to me by a hippie from Queenstown, the day her family moved house when she was just twelve. Very cheap. Only three thousand’
‘Three thousand? Forget it. I only want to find my day.’
‘Then you must make a purchase. Rules is rules.’
I sighed, and pictured the scene from above once more. ‘You must have something cheaper than that.’
‘Only the miserables. Surely, a person of your standing doesn’t want one of those.’ The condescension in his tone told me exactly what he thought of my standing.
‘Yes. Fine. Whatever moves this along.’
‘If you insist.’ He grinned his sallow grin again and unlocked a cabinet from beneath the counter. He removed a draw of vials and placed it in front of me. The liquid in these ones were inky black instead of amber, and each squid looked mottled and emaciated. ‘Let me see, let me see. Oh, yes, this one comes from a gent who lost both hands in a traffic collision, he was a musician, classical viola, very tragic.’
‘Spare me the backstory.’ I reached out and grabbed the vial closest to me. ‘Here, how much is this one?’
‘That one. Hmm, I don’t know. Might be a bit strong for you. Torture, no less.’
‘Perfect,’ I said, placing the money on the counter. ‘Now, how do I find my day?’
The thick soles of my boots pounded heavily on the dark grey of the tarmac as I strode towards the shell of the light airplane. From the look of it, it had clearly been sitting forgotten in this corner of the airport for years. The nose was sheared off, and both wings were missing, leaving only the cabin, which was etched over in scribbles of moss and graffiti. It seemed an unlikely hiding place for my hidden day, but this location was all the bloated man had told me.
I peered in through the open orifice of the cabin doorway, the door long since lost. It was dark inside, the morning sun not yet having risen above the tree line.
‘Hello,’ I called out. ‘Is there anyone in here?’
A scrambling sound came from the left side of the craft. Then silence.
‘Hello,’ I called again as I stepped inside. Still nothing. I moved slowly down the thin aisle between the old faded orange seats towards the sound. Midway down, across three seats, lay a blanket and pillow, their owner no longer with them. Another sound, a foot hitting metal, back the way I’d come.
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ I said as I turned. ‘I just need to ask some questions.’
A hand whipped out from beneath the seats and grabbed my ankle. With a quick pull I fell face first towards the ground. A figure scrambled quickly over the seats and jumped upon my back with a wild shriek.
I fought to throw them off but they held on tight, grabbing at my hair and coat. I growled, got my arms underneath myself, and pushed up, throwing the figure back. I spun, ready to attack and saw a teenager, a girl, in tattered clothes crawl quickly behind a chair.
I took a breath, thought of Alona, and pictured the scene from above. An abandoned aircraft, small in the scope of the entire airport, two people inside, smaller still.
‘I won’t hurt you,’ I said again.
Her head stuck out from behind the chair to peer up at me fearfully. Two horns, small, like that of a goat, stuck up from the sides of her forehead. A prairie. The flabby bastard could have told me so I’d come prepared, I thought, but of course he hadn’t, no doubt repercussion for my low cost purchase.
‘I’m looking for something.’ I told her. ‘Something that’s hidden. A day.’
Her expression gained curiosity.
‘Hidden,’ she said. ‘Meesha, find?’
‘Yes,’ I said, smiling. ‘That would be wonderful.’
She stuck out a hand, wanting payment. Prairie folk usually demand sugar or salt, but being unprepared I didn’t have either of those on me. I searched through my coat pockets finding only coins and the small vial. I considered the coins, then held the vial out to her.
Her fingers gently plucked it from my own and she studied the small container carefully, looking intently at the dark liquid and the small squid hidden within. With a sharp nod she stood, pocketing the vial somewhere within the folds of her torn clothing.
She studied me next, her purple eyes looking deep into my own, then, piece by piece, she mapped the rest of my face. Her arms arced and soft fingers curled around my head. They held for only a second, her eyes flickering closed then open again.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘It is found.’
‘Bones?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I see bones. Bones and stone.’
Her head and shoulders moved; half shrugging, half nodding.
There was only one it could be. Only problem was it was a good eight hour drive from there, and I was still running on three days without sleep.
I looked across at the prairie girl, who had gone back to studying the vial. ‘You couldn’t take me there, could you? I’ll pay you.’
She thought about it, then nodded. ‘No payment, this enough,’ she said, shaking the vial so that the squids tiny legs waved.
Her hand reached out, found my own, and in a second we were gone.
I stumbled out of the tree’s trunk, and fell as my foot found one of it’s many roots. I swore loudly, picked myself up, and turned to see Meesha step forward, bark closing behind her.
‘Careful,’ she said, belatedly, then smiled, making it clear she was mocking me.
‘Yeah, thanks,’ I said, a half smile finding its way onto my own face.
I looked around at the forest of tombstones, then back to Meesha.
‘You wouldn’t know where-’
She pointed to a grave a short way ahead of us.
I approached the grave and heard Meesha’s soft footsteps behind me. I knew the name my eyes — which now ached with tiredness — would find on it.
A wave of dizziness swept over me and I felt as if I could have laid down onto the soft grass beside the grave and slept for an age. Instead, I shook my head and knelt down into the dirt in front of it.
Alona Jablonski, was newly carved in gilded letters onto the solid surface of the stone.
I looked up at Meesha, who waved her hand down towards the grave, indicating what I wanted would be found below the soil. I nodded, and began to dig at the fresh dirt with my hands.
It took a little over an hour to clear away enough dirt to open the casket. Meesha refused to help. She instead sat crossed legged beside the grave, staring at her vial. The lid opened easily, it hadn’t been buried long, and there was Alona, only slightly less beautiful dead than she had been alive.
‘Hello, love,’ I said. Emotion welled at the back of my throat and I let it come, tears sliding easily down my cheeks. ‘I believe you have something for me?’
Her hands were crossed over her chest, the tip of a vial present from beneath them. I carefully pried them apart and took it from her.
Its liquid was amber.
I pulled out the stopper and raised the glass to my lips, swallowing its contents. As I felt the squid slide down my throat, my hidden day was revealed to me.
The conclusion to this story can be found here.
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