Greg threw a glance at his watch as the aircraft started its descent. Strange, he thought, we’re still an hour away from our destination. Perhaps the flight was ahead of schedule? A full hour ahead of schedule? That seemed hardly likely.
Yet the passengers were asked to fasten their seat belts as they would be landing in fifteen minutes’ time. Well, maybe the hour of arrival on his travel documents had been wrong. Anyway, the aircraft was clearly going down fast, judging from the popping of his ears.
Fortunately the descent and the landing were uneventful. A few minutes later the passengers could leave the aircraft. To Greg’s surprise, all of them followed the Transit signs, and he was the only one heading for the Baggage reclaim area.
A few moments later he ended up in a starkly lit hall, feeling somewhat uneasy. It felt so unnatural to be alone here, and the perfect silence was eerie. He walked over to the only baggage belt and waited for it to start moving. It didn’t, and no bags showed up.
He stuck around for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then sighed with despair. It was clear his bag was lost. It had happened before, but this time it felt particularly disagreeable. He looked around, saw a desk in the far corner, with a sign reading Handling Service, and headed that way.
“Can I help you, Sir?” the woman behind the desk asked.
“My bag didn’t show up,” he said.
“Can I see the baggage label on your boarding pass?”
He handed her his boarding pass and she checked a few things on her computer screen. She frowned, turned her attention back to him and said:
“According to my data, everything is perfectly all right, Sir. You were on a flight from Birmingham to Aylmerville. Your baggage was checked in for Aylmerville, and should have arrived there.”
“What do you mean?” he asked dumbfounded.
“It means that your baggage isn’t lost, Sir. It was delivered in Aylmerville, which was your destination.”
“But it didn’t show up here on the belt.”
“That’s because this isn’t Aylmerville,” she explained. “Don’t you understand, Sir? Your bag isn’t lost. You are.”
“I beg your pardon?” he stammered. “If this isn’t Aylmerville, then where am I?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you, Sir. This is no regular airport. It’s a sort of emergency technical maintenance centre. Passengers are not supposed to show up here. This is for authorised staff and their equipment only. But every once in a while there’s a glitch in the system.”
“So what do I do now?”
She shrugged and said: “There are procedures for lost baggage, but not for lost passengers.”
He stared at her, unable to utter a word.
“You’re irretrievably lost, Sir. The chances of this sort of thing happening are so negligibly small, that there’s no procedure for it. I’m sorry, Sir.”
“But what am I supposed to do now?”
She flashed him a professional smile, and said:
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Sir. Have a nice day.”
After her last word she turned her attention back to her work. His case had been closed.
Greg realised it was pointless to insist. He turned around and did a tour of inspection of the hall, but found only two locked doors. He couldn’t go back to where he had come from either. He walked back to the desk, but it was closed now too and the woman had left. Maybe she had finished her shift.
He tried to make a few phone calls, but proved unable to reach anyone.
I’m stuck here, he realised. I’m irretrievably lost, like a piece of baggage that is never found again. It looks as if I’ll spend the rest of my life in this empty hall – and that may not be all that long.
No one will find me here, however hard they look for me. It should be my luck that I end up being one of those extremely exceptional cases of lost passengers.
But there’s one positive side to this, he thought. At least my baggage arrived at its destination safe and sound.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 700 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 29 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.