YA Thriller (with light sci-fi elements)
I think about surfing and plane crashes a lot. You could say they’re obsessions of mine. I’m fanatical about surfing and fascinated by plane crashes. Which is why I’m here on the tarmac, dripping in the full-court press of heat and humidity. The ocean lies a couple of hundred yards or so from where we stand, but I’m the only person facing the water. My fellow passengers are lined up like dominoes, waiting to board the shuttle bus to the terminal. I’m the only one out of alignment, facing the wrong way. Probably because I’m the only sixteen-year-old. Normally, hoards of tourists would be waiting, anxious to reach their hotels to begin their rum-punch-drenched, sunburned-white-bodied vacations.
The hoards of tourists are staying home because out there in the ocean, the remains of Flight #111 are scattered across the sandbar like a museum installation piece, an abstract sculpture of carnage.
When we were descending, my father had leaned over, tapped my shoulder and pointed to the debris field. I tried to think of something simultaneously intelligent and sympathetic to say. Before I could, he turned away and blinked and the moment was over.
My father went back to contemplating the laws of thermodynamics as they related to the mechanical failure of a widebody 767 while I escaped into my earbuds and stared at my hand. To my father, the plane crash and deaths are tragic, but they’re also an equation to be solved. They’re part of the reason we came to Barbados. But I have my own equation to solve—one that involves staring at the ink drawing on the back of my hand.
Last night, Jess and Declan had stopped by our house while I was packing. Jess isn’t exactly my girlfriend—I’m working on that—and Declan isn’t the kind of friend to drop by and wish me a bon voyage. At least I don’t think he is. I’ve only known him a few months, the same as Jess. In the few months I’ve known Jess, I’ve watched her draw wherever and whenever she feels like it on whatever surface is available: napkins, notebooks, chalkboards, bulletin boards. Exposed body parts. I’m pretty sure she tags desks, lockers, and walls, too, even though I haven’t witnessed that firsthand. Jess is kind of a vandal. A cute one.
I’d spent the better part of the flight trying to decipher the meaning behind her cryptic ink drawing. I figured if I stared at it long enough it would tell me whether I’m still in the friend zone. At the very least, I’d hoped it would give me a clue as to whether there was something going on between her and Declan. The way they showed up at my house together made me suspicious.
“Bus is here, Travis,” my father says, his hand on my shoulder, turning me back towards the terminal.
A worker in an orange vest directs us inside the hurricane-proof building and that’s when the full extent of the emptiness hits me. The line at Immigration? We breeze through. The duty-free shops and kiosks? Half of them shuttered. The only movement is a lone baggage carousel on the other side of Immigration, snaking around, readying itself to spit out our luggage.
It’s to be expected—our plane wasn’t even half full. Despite the doomsday feeling, I’m reassured. Calm, even. My internal radar should be going haywire but isn’t. Ever since that day in the middle of my junior year when my dad and mom announced we were moving across the country, I’ve been in a very dark place. I’m embracing this desolation, this weirdness. I’m embracing the shit out of it. My begging to tag along on this trip might be the best idea I’ve had in a long time.
My dad is a little put-off that no government lackeys greet us and expedite us through the immigration line. Not that there’s anything that needs to be expedited since the airport is at a standstill.
Finally, an official-looking suit comes hurrying up with two others trailing behind. The Minister and his entourage. “Apologies, Dr. Hutchinson. Last minute political shenanigans.” The suit shakes my father’s hand with the enthusiasm of a first-term politician running for office.
One of the two men trailing him comes over and picks up my duffle and the other one grabs my father’s laptop case and carryon. The two trailing men wear khakis and button-downs and are younger, maybe not even that much older than me.
“Thanks, dude. You don’t have to carry that. I can manage,” I say.
The guy grins, showing crooked teeth. “No worries.”
My father steps aside with the Minister. Since they’re talking in low voices, I can’t eavesdrop. If I want to get the real story about what’s happening on this hellish island I’ll either have to inch closer or drag it out of my father later. Before I can make a move, I’m distracted by the other khaki-and-button-down asking a question.
“What?” I ask. “Sorry I didn’t hear what you said.” I take out my earbuds, even though I hadn’t been listening to music.
He mimes shooting a ball into a basket.
Okay, I get it. I’m tall. And unlike the rest of my family, sports are my thing. “Yeah,” I say. “I play b-ball. You play? Who’s your favorite? And don’t say LeBron.”
The guy shakes his head no to my first question and answers “Jeremy Lin” to my second. Only, it sounds like “Jar-uh-me Lean.”
I love this accent. Back home, girls would be all over this accent. More importantly, Jess would be all over this accent. “Yeah, he’s great. Actually, I’m more into football and soccer. Which probably sounds funny since they’re the same to you guys, right? By the way, I’m Travis.”
“Nigel,” he says, sticking out his hand. The other guy introduces himself as Alastair.
Cool. British-sounding names to go with British-sounding accents. “Uh, excuse me a minute,” I say, spotting the men’s room in the corner.
As soon as I enter the empty bathroom, I take out my cellphone with a slight nagging of guilt. I’d been lectured by my mother ad nauseam about international rates. Does that apply to texts?
I text Jess anyway: This place about as happening as Griffith Park Zoo. Or Dodger Stadium postseason.
Jess answers right away: ??? Where ru
I shake my head, amused. Jess doesn’t get my SoCal references. Good thing she’s so damn adorable.
I text: Barbados airport. Ocean looks amazing. Epic waves. Can’t wait to surf.
I don’t mention the plane wreckage scattered among the epic waves or the abstract sculpture of carnage, even though the only reason I know about abstract sculptures and museum installation pieces is because of Jess. She took me to an exhibit at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art last month.
Jess: Send me pic of beach so I can drool.
Me: Only if u send me one of u so I can drool.
I hesitate a minute before adding lol and hitting send.
Jess: Gr8. L8r.
After our bags arrive, we breeze through Customs and exit the terminal. A strong wind deposits a leaflet at my feet, the word “supersonic” catching my eye. I brush back my sun bleached brown hair and pick it up.
Nigel points to a large warehouse beyond the far end of the terminal. “De museum,” he says,
Ah, the museum. “Can’t believe they actually have a Concorde in there,” I say.
I wonder if Nigel knows about the crash of Air France Flight #4590, since the beginning of the end for Flight #4590 was also the beginning of the end for the Concorde: Last ride. Final set. A balls-out, over-the-falls wipeout.