By Jeanine Lipp

September 12, 2015

Journal Entry: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport 9:18 A.M.

I watch people — in coffee stores, in shopping malls or from a park bench. Airports like this one are my favorite; all the tearful goodbyes and joyous hellos mixed in with stiff business greetings and the stifled pleasure of secret lovers whose arms hover awkwardly, but refuse to succumb until the hotel door is closed and the Do Not Disturb sign is placed on the outside door handle. Each intimate glimpse behind the mask, each emotional stolen moment is documented in my journal. Today I’m airport fishing again and doing some flash-dash jotting as the moment unfolds before my eyes. Then, home to edit. In my mind editing is the ugly stray cat you reluctantly let in because you know it will die if you don’t feed it. I refuse to let my stories die of neglect.
I cast my net out into the bustling terminal and waited patiently on the shore of shabby seats. There goes someone now, whisking by in a flash of white summer dress that matches the white face of the wearer holding a red faced child in her arms. Screams trail after mother and daughter, sharp enough to shred bystanders’ ears to ribbons. They disappear into the dark bowels of the Women’s Restroom. The small girl’s cries echo and fade as if she’s been swallowed by a gigantic sea monster.

(Note to self. Use last 2 lines for a future short story.)

Writing is a solitary existence. I’ve always done my people-watching alone. My few friends are confused by my interest in the lives of others. Their point is that mine is such a dull mess, not unlike myself; freckled face and ginger hair (let’s just call it orange) that hangs down like limp bait worms. Although, today my twig-like arms, which seem to be constructed entirely of angles and knobs, are disguised inside the more than ample sleeves of my sister’s smart gray suit. You might think I’m trying for respectable, but the truth is I had nothing clean of my own to put on. If I had any respect for myself, I’d get my own apartment. At least that’s what everyone tells me, including my sister, Alyssa.

Let them all feel sorry for me. I surmise they’re under the impression that I could use a make-over; the TV magic that transforms a mouse into a swan. They can’t even imagine that I already am a swan, an evil elf, the hero of my own story, because I live a rich and full fantasy life right here between the black and white covers of my journal. I’ve finished seventeen journals now and have each one lined up like trophies on my overburdened bookshelf. My great accomplishment is documenting secret lives untold, in other words never published. Yes, I have a Masters in journalism and a job as an editor for the publishing company of Bland and Safe, but it’s my little leather bound journals that fill me with pride and joy. Enough internal editing.
Back to the busy beehive of lives unfolding before me.

Journal Entry: Same Day Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport 9:56 A.M.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I hope I can read my own writing when I’m done. The mother and tearful daughter I watched go in to the Women’s Room never came out. So, I went in to see if everything was all right. I admit, I was a little ashamed that I was more motivated by curiosity than concern, but I couldn’t help myself. Besides I had to pee. When I entered, I heard a sniffle from the handicapped stall. I leaned down and spied two pair of shoes, one adult and one child’s. The mother’s sandaled feet were flat on the floor, the daughter’s feet dangled over the front of her mother’s white dress as if the little girl was sitting on her lap. Probably fell asleep. Crying can tire you out. Satisfied that all was well, I pushed into the next stall to empty my bursting bladder. When I was done, I went to the sink to wash my hands. As I pulled the paper towels from the dispenser, I heard a small voice whine.

“I wanna get down now. Down, Mama.”

I listened as I wiped my hands, but there was no answer from the mother.

The little girl began to cry softly. “Hmmmmph. Hmmmmphhh.”

Why didn’t the mother answer? I rapped lightly on the door. “Are you all right in there?”

“Mommy? Mommy?” the little girl called. But her mother didn’t answer either of us.

Did she pass out? My dried hands broke out in a clammy sweat. I snatched another towel from the dispenser and ducked my head to get a look under the stall door. The mother’s feet remained in place, but the little girl’s feet kicked and twisted as if she was trying to squirm off her mother’s lap. In that instant, the mother’s feet jerked upward out of view. The child’s feet landed awkwardly on the tiled floor causing the lights on the soles of her shoes to blink pink and white. She wailed and screamed, but not a sound came from her mother.

What was happening? My stomach churned and attempted to empty itself onto the tile floor, but I forced down the gorge and sprang to attention. I grabbed the top of the stall door and pulled myself up so I could see over and down into the stall. What I saw scared the crap out of me. From my top down view, I couldn’t tell if it was the mother or the child. All I could see was a mass of dark hair whipping from side to side, as if the victim was being shaken in the jaws of a monstrous dog. But, it wasn’t a dog. I don’t know what it was because it wasn’t visible.

My clammy hands lost their grip on the stall door, sending me sprawling onto the floor. The tiles felt cold and slick, but that didn’t stop me from seriously considering laying my head down and staying there until I woke up from this nightmare.

Screeeeeeeeeeaahhhhhh! The little girl let out a shriek that I swear caused permanent damage to my brain. As if answering a siren call, I leaped back into action, shouting and banging hard on the stall door.

“Let them go asshole! Alien bitch! Whatever you are!”

I had no idea who I was shouting at, but the door didn’t budge.

“Someone help us! HELP!” I screamed. No one entered the restroom to answer my plea and the little girl continued to screech.

The high pitched wail dug deep down into my gut and twisted like a knife. I had to get her out of there for both our sakes. I got down on my knees, rubbed my damp palms over my sister’s slacks and slid them face up under the door. The stall tiles stank of bleach-soaked urine. I could see where the toilet connected to the tiled floor and a triangle of white that looked like the end of the toilet paper danced back and forth on the floor. I wasn’t sure if the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor was wide enough for her to get under, but I had to try.

“Grab my hands,” I ordered. “I’ll pull you out.”

The pair of pink LED shoes l ran over to my waiting hands, flashing with each step. They hesitated when a deep low thrum vibrated through the tiled floor and rippled outward in waves along the tiles beneath me. It felt as if I was riding on the back of a giant whale.

I swallowed hard and yelled, “Quick! Grab my hands!”

She immediately crouched down and thrust her tiny hands into mine. I caught a glimpse of two black button eyes, molten and clouded with the shock of what she’d seen. I truly didn’t want to know what that was, so I grasped her wrists and pulled. She seemed to weigh nothing and I easily slid her halfway out from under the door. That’s where she got stuck. I tried to peer around her, but the stiff skirt of her dress stuck straight up and hid what was snagging her. I let go of one hand to probe beneath her. That was when one of her shoes dropped from somewhere above her and bounced twice on the tiles inside the stall, each bounce produced a dazzling display of strawberry and vanilla lights.

As I peered into her face, terror crept into my bloodstream like octopus ink. Her eyes and mouth were squeezed shut, her face tightened in a fist of pain or panic. I didn’t have time to ask which.

“Hold on,” I said with forced calm.

Without letting go, I sat up and braced my feet against the legs of the stall and heaved with all the pathetic strength I could muster from my twig-like arms. The little girl whimpered and clenched her hands higher and tighter around my wrists. I let out a puff of air, sucked it back in and strained harder than I ever imagined I could. If this is what giving birth is like, I’ll skip that and adopt. Sweat broke out afresh under my arms. I felt her body give in my direction, just a little. Encouraged, I pulled on her arms until I was practically lying on my back. Somehow, she freed herself or something let go of her, I don’t know which, because she tumbled forward and crawled sobbing onto my aching stomach.

Every nerve in my body felt hotwired and I trembled as I sat up to take inventory of her limbs. Everything was intact except for the missing shoe. I put my arms around her and squeezed gently as if she was a fragile bird fallen from its nest. Our tears commingled in relief and regret. I don’t know what happened to her mother, but I knew she wasn’t on the other side of the door anymore. Her petite, sandaled feet had vanished without a trace. I rose and carried the little girl, now calmly nestling her head against my shoulder, out of the restroom. Safe outside the entrance, I took out my phone and called 911.

Airport Security arrived first, quickly followed by the police. I answered their list of standard questions as they filled out forms. They didn’t have a blank reserved for reporting an attack by a gigantic invisible cannibal that lives in a restroom stall. The officers kept passing knowing looks back and forth as I answered, but I kept my cool. How could they possibly believe me? I was having trouble believing it myself. During the entire interview, the little girl clung to me like a baby koala. I gave in to the urge to brush away the strands of dark hair that stuck to her tear-stained face. I hoped it would comfort her, but it only made her cling harder. She never told us her name, never uttered a word, even when the interrogator with the thick neck tried to bribe an answer out of her with candy from a vending machine.

Another officer showed up and told the two who were questioning me that not only was the mother missing, her phone and purse were missing too. If the little girl wouldn’t talk, she’d have to be sent to Foster care while they checked the passenger lists. I expected more tears from the little girl at this news, but she didn’t shed another drop. At that precise moment, Child Protective Services showed up. A no nonsense woman dressed in a drab civil servant polyester suit pried the girl out of my arms and briskly carried her away down a long ramp. The little girl watched me over the woman’s shoulder, her eyes somber, liquid, and questioning. We didn’t unlock gazes until the two of them turned a corner and were out of sight.

September 25, 2015

Journal Entry: My bedroom 10:15 P.M.

My life is still a mess, but it can no longer be called dull. Not that anyone would notice since I refused to tell anyone about the incident at the airport. No one would believe it anyway, but I know what happened was not my imagination. I scoured the papers every day searching for a report of the missing mother, or an article about police looking for the family of a little girl. Nothing. Ten days later, I spied it on page nine.
Body of Missing Woman Found in Sewage Treatment Plant.

She was found less than five miles from the airport. There was no sign of foul play. Sorry for the unintentional pun. Official cause of death was heart attack, although almost every bone in her body was broken. Conjecture is that she suffered those fractures post mortem while traveling through the labyrinth of the county sewer system.
If I hadn’t been at the airport that day, the little girl would have suffered the same fate as her mother. I guess I could consider myself a hero – there are some who would have run away or called for help – but I stayed, I couldn’t resist that little girl’s cries. I couldn’t leave her alone in there with . . . ?

I’ll never go to that airport again. Never.

March 6, 2016

Journal Entry: Albuquerque International Sunport 11:35 A.M.

Haven’t written in a long time. I moved to New Mexico in February. I freelance now and my blog is catching on. It takes a hell of a lot of fear and a ton of courage to compel a person to pick up and move while starting a new business. But, after that day, Phoenix was never the same for me. It just didn’t feel . . . safe. It didn’t feel like home anymore.

I don’t feel quite at home in Albuquerque either, but I love this airport. So much going on. Needless to say, I’m a little reluctant to people-watch at the airport after the last time, but I can’t resist how much writing material I come up with here. Besides, it’s comfortable and provides free WiFi — so what do I have to lose?
I feel a pull on my fishing line. There, at the two o’clock position, a hefty woman clad in what appears to be an ankle length tent printed with gigantic birds of paradise has attached herself to a young man slumped in his seat, head resting against a balled up hoodie. He hasn’t moved a muscle for a half hour. She’s pulled out a bible and appears to be delivering a sermon even though he hasn’t opened his eyes. The more she talks, the more sour his expression becomes. When he has had enough, his eyes fly open, he shoves her bible away and peppers her with obscenities. Unflappable, she stands, silently slides several bills between the covers of the book and places it on the seat beside him before walking away.

WTF? I can’t see what he does next because someone stops between us blocking my line of sight. I focus on the obstruction and see the back of a woman dressed in dark slimming jeans, spiked heel boots, and an expensive leather jacket. On her hip is a small child with golden curls that perfectly match the woman’s hair style. The woman looks in one direction and then the other as if she’s anxiously searching for something. The child begins to cry. The woman says something to the child and the cries explode into a screech that forces everyone in the vicinity to cover their ears. The woman spies the women’s restroom and heads straight for it. As the harried mother walks briskly away from me, the child peers over her shoulder with the same liquid black eyes that gazed back at me from the little girl I rescued. A warning flashes in their depths as brilliant and dazzling as the pink and white LED shoes on both of her feet. Dread creeps over me like a funeral shroud and I watch as . . . They disappear into the dark bowels of the women’s room where the small girl’s cries echo and fade as if she’s been swallowed by a gigantic sea monster.

I never thought I’d actually use that sentence. But here it is. And I wonder what I held in my arms that day.
What did I rescue?

I pulled out my phone with trembling hands, ready to dial 911 like I should have the first time this happened. But the flash of pure evil in that warning glare stops me cold. Will I feel that deep vibration through the soles of my shoes again? Will I ride the buckling back of the deafening thrum before it comes to get me? Whatever it is likes to play with its food before swallowing. Maybe that’s what it’s doing with me right now. Playing.
I’m going to pack up my journal and take off. No more people-watching for me. I’ve come to the horrifying realization that I’m living in one of my own short horror stories now. Although, this is not one I’ve written, but if I was, my end would not be quick or easy.

I have a dark side. I know what I have to do now.

Dear Mom, Dad, and Alyssa,

These will be the last words I write to you. I’m heading back to Phoenix to leave this journal with Alyssa, then get in my car and drive as fast and far as I can. I’m sorry I can’t tell you where I’m going. The reason is in my journal, but even if you read it, I doubt you’ll believe it. A bible I found at the airport had two hundred dollars in it. Heaven sent. I’m not sure how far that will get me, but I’ll keep going until it runs out. Alyssa, you can have all the things I left behind in Albuquerque. Sorry, I ruined your gray suit. Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I will never see you again and doubly sorry for any pain my absence will cause you in the years to come, but, trust me, it is for the best.
I love you all. Forever and Always. Never, never forget that.

Erin Elizabeth Banks

Albuquerque Journal
March 15, 2016
Bodies Found in Southside Water Reclamation Plant

Two female bodies were reported found by the Albuquerque Water Authority in one of the tanks at the Southside Water Reclamation Plant. Both bodies are reported to have multiple fractures and were taken to the city morgue where the official cause of these deaths will be determined. One of the bodies was that of 32 year old Stephanie Crowley of Austin, Texas who was reported missing on March 6th of this year when she did not arrive as scheduled at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The other body has not been identified. The Federal Missing Person’s database and dental records will be used to discover the identity of the younger woman. If you have witnessed any suspicious behavior or domestic altercations around March 6, 2015, or know of a missing woman in her early twenties, slim build, 5’ 4”, with shoulder length red hair in the last ten days please contact the Albuquerque Police Department.