Free Ticket to Nowhere: Chapter 3

A Stark Mystery

Lon Shapiro
Dec 12, 2019 · 5 min read
Digital illustration by the author using photos by Daniel Eledut, Warren Wong, and Hernán Sartorio on Unsplash

I didn’t know whether I should be singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Dust in the Wind” as I bumped along in the rear seat of an old biplane crop-duster.

Curly the pilot was giving me a guided tour, inaudible over the noise of the engines and punctuated every few minutes by a wild rolling turn to get in position to spray another wheat field as we headed toward Nowhere, Kansas.

I don’t know what war he was still fighting, but the steaks, booze, and stale donuts didn’t appreciate the air show and decided to decorate someone’s farmhouse during the trip.

It hadn’t been that hard to catch another plane out of Miami, aside from the side trip provided by that leggy blonde who refused to let me on the flight to Topeka.

“Listen, toots,” I said. “Somebody needs my help in Topeka, and you’ve gotta help me find a way to get there.”

She must have been one of those Rosie the Riveter types, because she rolled up her right sleeve, revealing a delicately muscled arm while balling her hand into a fist. “Toots is a disrespectful term, Sir, so I suggest you change your tone of voice.”

I straightened myself out, took off my fedora, and fired up that toothy grin that used to melt me dear old mother’s heart. “Please, could you help me fly to Kansas… uh… Miss Toots?”

As I rubbed my jaw, thinking she could have simply pointed me in the direction of ticketing, I felt a strange warmth in my jacket pocket.

I took out the envelope — it was glowing.

I needed to get airborne as quickly as possible so I could find out the message.

I turned to start another mad dash across the airport and churned my legs like they were super-powered. The only problem was that I didn’t seem to be moving forward.

Having a long and intimate relationship with Gin (who did not appreciate my occasional dalliance with Tonic), I was used to floating, thinking the illusion would pass with time.

Sure enough, my legs finally hit the ground.

I heard a wild cowbell solo and took off like a flash.

I can’t be sure, be it almost looked like there were tire tracks left behind.

It had to be the Gin.

I always say, “if you’re going to go on a wild goose chase, you might as well do it in style,” especially when the client has deep pockets.

I boarded a non-stop flight to Chicago.

She was a beaut, an Eastern Airlines DC-3, with a sleeper compartment and a lounge where I could refuel midair and finally look at the mysterious envelope.

I was getting nowhere fast, my destination was unknown, and I had a 12-hour flight to kill before I figured out my next move from Chicago to somewhere — uh — nowhere, Kansas.

Once we were up in the air, I ate a gourmet dish served on real china with fine linen, served by a whole different kind of dish with a smile that could launch a thousand planes.

I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the view.

Once in a while, I even looked out the window.

“Did you enjoy your filet mignon, Sir?” asked my modern Helen of Troy.

I smiled up at her, nodded my appreciation, and said, “you can cook my meat any time, honey.”

In the lounge, as I had a drink and applied an ice pack to my eye, Helen handed me a cocktail napkin, said “sorry,” and strode off to serve the other passengers.

I went to dry off the water drops running down my cheek and noticed she had written down the name of an airport hotel, a room number, and a wink.

Feeling lucky at this turn of events, I pulled out the still-glowing envelope from my jacket.

For the first time, I got a little scared, thinking that the glow could be radiation or some other kind of trap.

I looked at it closer, and saw the words “FIND COURAGE,” scrawled on the outside.

“Where the hell is nowhere?” I asked myself a little too loud.

A little kid came over to me and pointed at the glowing envelope.

“Gee, mister, all you gotta do is use your i-magic-nation if you want to go nowhere fast.”

“Looks like we’re headed n-n-n-no-nowhere fast!” said Curly as the plane went into a deep dive.

I woke out of my flashback and realized I could hear him as clear as the grey, pesticide-filled Kansas horizon before us.

It must have had something to do with the engines not making any noise and the propellers not spinning.

“Is this going to be a problem, Curly?”

“Naw, this kind of thing h-h-happens all the time. I’ll f-f-f-fix her up just as soon as w-w-we land!”

As the plane gained speed and the ground rushed up toward me, I saw the end of my life projected in front of my eyes.

I stopped the film at Helen of Chicago and decided I would track down that girl if it was the last thing I ever did.

Then I realized this plane ride might be the last thing I ever did, so I started to scream.

Curly joined me, letting out a strange squealing sound.

Just as we were about to crash, Curly pulled on a big emergency brake right next to his cockpit, and the plane stopped in mid-air, hovering inches off the ground.

My legs were shaky as I climbed down the still-vertical plane.

Curly was whistling as he got his toolbox and started fiddling with the engine.

I yelled at Curly. “Why’d you start screaming if you knew you could stop the plane?”

“B-b-because you started screaming and it scared m-m-m-me.”

I went around to the front of the plane and stopped in my tracks.

Curly looked more like an extra in a Looney-Tunes cartoon than a human being.

“What the hell’s going on here, Curly? Where are we?”

Without looking up from his engine repair, Curly said, “W-w-w-we’s close to nowhere,” and gave the thumb sign over his shoulder to point me in the direction of a path leading to a small cluster of houses in the distance.

There were tracks on that path leading to Nowhere.

Rabbit tracks. Cartoon rabbit tracks to be precise.

I started walking, thinking that as soon as the effects wore off, Ginny and I were through.

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A place where collaborative stories go to lose momentum and…

Lon Shapiro

Written by

Father of two amazing men. Peak Performance coach for professional athletes. Ad agency creative director, writer & artist. Tireless research. Author of 5 books.

Out of Ideas, Out of Time

A place where collaborative stories go to lose momentum and disappear in a tiny dust devil in the middle of the desert.

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