Pine Ridge Airport in South Dakota is the place to be around the holidays. Pine Ridge is only 3.2 square miles, yet our tiny airport is still operating. Near this time of year, people fly in and out from all over the country to see their families. It’s the best day of the year, December 24th, 2016, and everyone at the airport is bustling around. It’s below freezing outside and to top it all off, big flurries of snow are falling from the sky and the wind is picking up. This combination doesn’t amount for great flying conditions. Despite the frigid weather, I feel professional sitting here with my small scarlet red scarf and my stainless steel name tag pinned onto my navy vest. Underneath, I’m wearing a button down, snowflake white shirt with my good navy dress pants and black flats. I have chestnut brown hair, around medium length, parted on the right and big emerald green eyes. I’m the friendly person people go to when they have a problem. Since our airport staff does a lovely job and we aren’t the biggest airport around, help is rarely needed, so I get to sit here with my “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come” coffee mug and watch the blizzard rage outside. I raise the mug to my lips and tip the liquid into my mouth. Instantly, a wave of warmness floods over me. I feel the hot coffee sliding down the back of my throat, savoring every precious sip. Quicker than I imagined, I get to the bottom of the mug. As I’m finishing my favorite beverage, the phone rings, it sounds strange, but I answer it anyway.
“Hi Rose, this is Oliver from the Bagging Area, I’ve directed someone your way, his name is Henry, he claims his granddaughter, Willow, lost her luggage on her flight here from Orlando. He told me she was flying over to see her family because they flew over here and then they were visiting a relative, who also flew here on the wrong day and...” Oliver kept blabbing about nonsense, telling me about Henry's life story and the vacation in Orlando. I only catch part of what he’s saying. Instead of spacing out, I decide to set the phone on the table and look up to check the time. As I’m gazing up, I see Oliver from across the room, checking out of work while still chatting on the phone. He didn’t know I was no longer listening; I’m sure he’s thrilled because he gets to leave. It’s one of the worst times of the day. It is right after our lunch break, which is nice, so I am no longer starving. On the other hand, we still have a good enough chunk before the end of the day. This is also the time when the crowds move slow and there is nothing to do. Luckily, I get out earlier today than usual. It is 2:00 in the afternoon; I still have 4 dreaded hours left, then I can go home.
“This is going to be agonizing,” I complain aloud. My eyes roll into the back of my head and I pick the phone back up. I can still hear him talking on the phone, so I choose to interrupt him before he begins chatting about what he’s going to do with his time off.
“Thanks, Oliver,” I say, in a monotone voice.
“No problem Rose, have a Merry Christmas” he answers happily. I hang up the phone and sit there, waiting for Henry to come. My eyes wander around the big noisy room, in search of a confused man. It is close to impossible to find anything in an airport. With no success, I turn back to the small silver computer on my desk and mindlessly scroll through my old forgotten emails. Suddenly I look up; I’m expecting to see a puzzled grandfather who goes by Henry. I am surprised to see a younger woman, who appears to be in a big hurry. I quickly snap back to reality to assist her.
“Can I help you?” I ask. I try not to stare at the woman's hands, trembling at her sides. She could possibly be in trouble and that’s the last thing I wanted.
“I’d like to buy a plane ticket to the furthest destination.” she blurts out. Relieved she’s okay, I turn back to my computer and open a new tab. I click on a bookmark that takes me to the Pine Ridge Airport official site. I scan over all the departure times and find the furthest one.
“Does Christmas Island, Australia work for you, ma’am?”
“Yes, that’d be wonderful, thank you,” she responds pleasantly. I begin going through the process to print out her ticket and realize I missed the most important thing.
“What’s your name?” I inquire, still clicking around on my computer.
“Madison,” she responds. I run my fingers over the keyboard and type the letters into the open slot,
“Beautiful name,” I comment. The second I hit print, I grab the cold metal handle of the desk drawer. I open the drawer, grab the ticket off the printer and hand it to her.
“One ticket to Christmas Island,” I exclaim. In return, she hands over the money. As quick as she arrived, Madison turns on her heel and is gone.
“Thanks again,” she calls, smiling over her shoulder. As soon as Madison left, I hear the same weird ring come from the phone again. I quickly answer it,
“Hello,” I call into the phone, “Hello?” To my surprise, no one was on the other end. I assume it’s a prank call gone awry and set the phone back down. Immediately, an elderly man hobbles up to my desk. He has a sweater on that’s arguably blue or green. His khaki pants are desert colored and on his feet are worn brown leather shoes. His hair is a whitish gray and he has piercing blue eyes.
“Are you Henry?” I question. He seems a little old and sickly to be wandering around the airport alone.
“Yes,” he answers, “Willow lost her luggage on her flight from Orlando to Pine Ridge today,” he exclaims. I open my computer and click around, examining the recent arrivals. I think back to my conversation with Oliver,
“Yeah, my only grandchild too,” he answers. As I look at the arrivals, I get more and more concerned. I keep scrolling down, finally, my mouse hits the bottom of the page. A pit forms in my stomach, I frantically start back up the list, this time searching instead of looking. I again hit the top of the list with the same results.
“Are you sure it was Orlando?” I ask nervously.
“Yes, we ate over there at the mini McDonalds.” He gestures towards the glowing yellow arches. Something doesn’t seem right, Henry has a whole story, but nothing matches up.
“We haven’t had any arrivals from Orlando since last Thursday,” I tell him, “the next one we have is for Saturday.” A puzzled look flies across Henry’s face.
“What? We got off the plane 30 minutes ago?” We share lost and confused looks. I also notice he is quivering. I wonder if he’s shocked or he has a medical condition, considering he thinks his luggage is lost on a nonexistent flight.
“Which plane did you get off of, sir?” I ask. He pauses for a minute and looks around.
“Ummm, it was mostly blue, but it also had some red, orange and it had some yellow too.” he reminisced, “It might’ve been a Southwest plane.” I lean back in my chair and tilt my head towards the ceiling, thinking about what Henry told me. Sitting back up, I reach for my coffee. I instantly feel the heavy weight of an empty cup. Disappointed, I set it back down on the desk.
“Can I see your ticket, please?” I question. Surely I can get some answers from that. Henry sticks his hand into his back pocket and plucks out a gum wrapper and a mini red box, stating, “Month Before Death: Memories, November 1999.”
“Where’s the box from?” I inquire.
“Oh, that old thing,” he responds. It’s from Willow...” he trails off, clearly not wanting to go deeper into the conversation. Henry tries the other pocket and pulls out his outdated flip phone, but nothing else. I give him a funny look and he begins to explain himself.
“If I recall, I gave the tickets to Willow, let me call her and ask her to come here.” Henry grabs his phone and steps aside. He sits in one of the five blue chairs lined up next to my desk. I glance right to see snow falling outside; I look left and spy Henry still fumbling with his ancient phone. My focus zooms forward towards the no longer busy room and I see a beautiful young woman who looks as if she is walking on air. It’s almost like she knew Henry was trying to call her, because as the young lady approaches my desk, Henry was still trying to dial her number. When Henry locks eyes with her, he put his phone back in his pocket and hurries over to my desk.
“Hello, you must be Willow. Do you have the ticket you used today?” I question.
“Yeah, they’re right here” she mutters. Willow reaches into her red purse and pulls out the small rectangular papers. She quickly moves her hand over the desk and drops the tickets. Even quicker than before, Willow draws her hand away from the table and hangs it against her long white sweater. I immediately notice how pale and fragile she appears.
“Thanks…” I look over them. There’s nothing wrong with them from what I can tell, they look a bit different though. I keep looking over the tickets for anything suspicious. Finally, after searching for any possible errors, I peek in the corner and see they are dated December, 24th 1999.
“These are from 17 years ago...” I exclaim perplexed. I glance back up and see Willow and Henry leaving. They are strolling hand in hand towards the colossal, double doors, leading to the snowy world. I don’t know if it’s because she has a white sweater on or that it’s snowing outside, but it appears to me that Willow is fading. Henry slowly turns around and smiles over his shoulder. I grin back at him and wave. It’s almost like I’ve missed a moment in time; I shut my eyes and shake my head. When I peer up, Willow’s gone. All I can see is Henry standing by himself in the windy doorway, crying. He’s holding a small red box, tied with a sparkly gold bow. It reads, “Month of Death: Memories, December 1999. Final Stop.” Henry unlatches the box and opens it up. I get out of my chair to see what’s inside the mysterious box. As soon as my body leaves the seat, a loud noise comes over the intercom, it sounds like the eerie ring from my phone.
“Hello everyone, Flight 220 is coming in from Atlanta, Georgia, Our next departure is to New York and it’s at 4:45 sharp.” Just then, a huge crowd of people marches by. There are hundreds of them, all holding their luggage. One woman is chasing after two smaller kids, another, middle-aged man is trying to pull 3 bags by himself. It’s complete chaos. This makes it fairly difficult to get to Henry. I push through part of the huge crowd and peer over everyone’s heads. With no luck of finding Henry, I give up trying to see over the sea of adults and children and I solemnly trek back to my desk. When I sit back down, I spot Henry strolling back up to me with nothing in his hands.
“Where’s the red box?” I ask, “Didn’t you just have it?”
“What box?” Henry looks almost as disoriented as I am.
“You know, the one Willow gave to you? Where did she go? What happened?” I interrogate. His face forms a puzzled look,
“I haven’t heard that name in a long time” he reminisces, he seems as if he is going to cry. “No dear, I’m sorry, my granddaughter, Willow, passed away a great while ago,” he states sadly. I’m confused as to what to do, I clearly have missed something.
“Oh, but I swear, I saw you two together just now, you had the problem with your bags coming from Orlando,” I say frantically.
“No, but I do have a problem now, I need to rent a car to go see Willows grave, it’s the 17th anniversary of her death,” he reports, his voice filled with grief. I know this isn’t a dream, so to make sure, I check my computer and it reads, December 24, 2016. For extra measure, I even pinch myself. I advance to the Pine Ridge Airport official site and hunt for rental cars. I easily find one for Henry and send him on his way,
“Bye Henry,” I call, “have a great trip, I hope we see each other again!”
“You too, thanks for all of your help!” he answers. Henry turns around and shuffles towards the exit. He steps out the big glass doors and disappears into the icy streets.