The wailing, high-pitched sound that burst from the security arch as he stepped through it was so frightening that Oscar, ruler of crystalline worlds, froze. He raised his hands to cover his ears; the female guard who had beckoned him forward through the arch had insisted that his big noise-cancelling headphones were removed and placed, along with his rucksack and iPad, in a gray plastic basket that had clattered away towards its own invasive scanning. Risking a glimpse through his scrunched up eyes, he saw a group of black-clad people coming towards him, calling and gesturing for him to step to the side. Oscar stumbled forward into this brutal world of uniforms and glinting gadgets.
“It’s just a routine pat-down, love.” A woman with a blonde ponytail reached out to touch Oscar’s elbow. Oscar gave a low groan as he backed away from the woman and curled his arms up over his body. He did not understand exactly what she was saying, but above all things, Oscar could not stand to be touched. To be touched, in a large noisy building, by a stranger, even if she were smaller than him, was the very worst thing Oscar could imagine. Still groaning, he felt a chill spread inside his chest and head. Soon the dizziness and nausea would set in and he would lose any sense of who and where he was. There was only one thing he could think to do: raise his right hand and slap himself. This at least brought him the distraction of self-dispensed pain.
“Oh, Oscar, what a nuisance,” said a familiar voice, from the other side of his inflamed face. It was Auntie Jude; she had come through the arch too, and placed herself directly in front of him so that when he opened his eyes he could see her smile at him. Soon she was joined by Uncle Chris who was attempting his cheerful look, while speaking with the woman who had tried to touch Oscar.
‘I’m sorry, sir, we do,” the woman was saying. “It’s just a random request from the scanners. It won’t take a moment, it really won’t. Would the young man prefer a male?” More voices; the noise of a disagreement. Oscar rubbed his eyes and stepped further back. “It’ll only take a minute,” said the woman. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we do have to do this.” Oscar kept his eyes covered and increased the volume of his groaning. Going to airports was a bad thing to do. Auntie Jude had said that it was the only way to get to see Nanna now, because she had moved abroad. But Auntie Jude had said he could keep his headphones on and do Minecraft on his iPad the whole time too and that had turned out not to be true at all. Oscar pushed himself against the hard plastic of the collection point, where the conveyor belt delivered its own empty promises into the harsh airport light.
The woman approached him again, and raised both her hands to his upper arms. Oscar swerved sideways and hunched his shoulders. His face felt burning hot from the self-delivered slaps. The cold nausea still swirled in his stomach and chest. His heart thumped faster and faster. Saliva gathered in his mouth. He was going to be sick.
“Oscar, you have to do this,” pleaded Auntie Jude. “I promise you it will be alright.” But Auntie Jude’s promises were worthless. A flurry of voices rose towards him like a malevolent wave. Oscar swallowed.
Oscar, Oscar. Just do what the lady says.
But Oscar was unable to comply. He was drowning and feared for his life.
Just as he was about to lash out, he heard Uncle Chris say, “Let’s get Buddy. Let’s get him through right now. Let him stand in front of Oscar while you do your search.”
Buddy. Oscar’s sense of his own self flickered into a brief moment of focus. Buddy was here. If Buddy was here then things could still be okay. Oh, when would they bring him?
Then, as if seamlessly, Buddy was there. His dark fur gleamed in the bright lights and his honey brown eyes alighted on Oscar. He was led forward and stopped, perfectly still apart from his slowly swishing tail, in front of his best friend. Oscar slowly lowered his arms. Some of Buddy’s calm strength set off an answering hum inside his own body. Buddy sat down, as if saying, Buddy and Oscar are together again. Buddy’s muted doggy smell was comforting amid the acrid airport odors. And the big red collar that Buddy wore was cheering in just the way that Auntie Jude and Uncle Chris were not.
Oscar knew, now, that he could endure the next few moments. He tentatively raised his arms, and averted his eyes while the horrible woman patted the sides of his body from underarm to ankle, and then from shoulder to hand. All the while he could hear Buddy’s gentle panting, and when the woman waved a kind of rod around his body he felt sure that Buddy would jump up and see her off if she did it for more than the span of his own held breath.
And then it was over.
Auntie Jude was saying how well he had done, and Uncle Chris passed him his bag and his headphones and his iPad, and Buddy took a step closer to him and pushed his nose briefly against Oscar’s bag, as if to say, Buddy and Oscar are safe. Oscar allowed his hand to rest on Buddy’s warm head.
Soon the headphones were back on Oscar’s ears, and he was allowed to sit down on a bench at the side of the clamoring check-in hall. Minecraft was working and the latest crystalline city Oscar had built shimmered into life. With Buddy at his side, he calculated the virtual parameters of an entirely empty crystalline airport, and set about the complex task of its construction.
Sarah Dwyer lives in London, UK, and is a tutor for the Open University and elsewhere. She has published both poetry and fiction and her book Start Writing is available via Amazon.