The airport. Humanity’s gleaming pillar of promise. A beam of light in a sky otherwise swollen with darkness. A gorgeous steeple towering over the shit-stained parapet of the railroad.

Yes, the airport offers a beautiful song to all of us, but you are in no position to listen to its harmonies. You are running late for your flight.

Your alarm clock went off late this morning, the train to the airport was behind schedule, and now you’re pretty sure that you accidentally left your oven on. You’re even more sure that you accidentally put all your expensive artwork in your oven.

But that will have to wait! You tear through Terminal A with your roller bag skittering off the linoleum, spewing your clothing everywhere. Your plane leaves in 20 minutes; you just might make it!

Refusing to stay at the horrible airport any longer, you head back home. You can always start a new career another time. There is something comforting about that jagged city skyline and the specific type of regional rudeness its citizens exhibit.

You get off the train and walk back to your house. When you open the door, you notice the faint smell of burning 19th-century acrylic paint. Where is it coming from? You look in your bathroom: nothing there. You check your fridge: everything normal here. You finally check the oven and find an inferno of Renoir inside. You fool!

You sprint toward Gate E5, where your plane to Panama City is departing from. You are going so fast that you slide the last 20 feet across the linoleum, stopping perfectly in front of the gate agent in a little cloud of dust.

“Hello,” she says. “Do you want to get on the plane now?”

“Well, that’s too bad, because it’s been delayed for 0.7 percent of a month,” the agent says. “That’s five hours, in case you’re European.”

The gate agent clacks away at her computer.

“Well, we have another flight to Panama City leaving in one hour,” she says. “But it is circumnavigating the globe six times before landing.”

The gate agent types at her computer.

“There’s another flight for Panama City that leaves in 45 minutes, but it’s being flown on that.” She points out the window to the tarmac below.

“Hmm,” the ticket agent says as she clacks away at her computer. “I’m also seeing a flight that would get you there by 6:00 p.m., but you would have to be the door.”

“Hmm,” the gate agent says as she clacks on her keyboard. “There’s a flight leaving in 40 minutes, but it’s scheduled to crash.”

A five-hour delay. There’s not much to do about that, because humanity still knows very little about the mysterious nature of airplanes. Luckily, the airport is teeming with exciting opportunities to burn time. What do you want to do?

You waltz over to the Terminal A food court, greedy to take part in American commerce and American gluttony simultaneously.

Which restaurant do you want to go to?

“Choo-choo,” the man behind the counter says. “The hobo of hunger is about to get disemboweled with an old chair leg on your freighter headed toward San Satisfaction-isco. Which rail would you like to ride toward Full-Stomach Junction?”

The man then makes a train whistle noise with his mouth.

You look at the menu.

“Sorry,” the guy says. “We’re out of that. Actually, a thief stole all of our proprietary pretzel flour blend, so we can’t make anything. I don’t know why I didn’t open with that.”

“Yeah. We’ve been trying to figure out who stole all of it,” the guy says. “It’s a mystery I don’t have time to solve because I’m working the counter here. Do you have time? It’s probably an exactly five-hour-long mystery.”

An airline pilot steps up behind the counter and gives you a tired glance, his eyes weary and uniform rumpled and stinking.

“Verlacky, commondun Denver jerlook mimmy Boston?” he asks.

You walk back to the TSA security area and go up to the agent who seems to be in charge. He looks at you.

“Can I help you with something?”

“It’s pretty simple,” the TSA agent says. “The TSA is in charge of finding the man who murdered Laci Peterson.”

You walk over to a man who is also waiting for the flight to Panama City with his ill-tempered son.

“Hey there,” he says. “This delay is making me a little hot under the collar.”

“I’m flying to Panama City because my kid has been crying nonstop for six months, and I’ve tried everything but taking him to Panama City to get him to stop. So here I am.”

“Hello,” another passenger says. “It’s so nice to meet you!”

“We at the TSA don’t quite buy that verdict,” the agent says. “So, we decided to set up checkpoints at all American airports to see if we can find the real killer. A killer sadistic enough to murder Laci Peterson and then frame Scott Peterson is probably just the maniac who would want to fly to a bunch of places. That’s why we’re in aiports.”

“See that machine over there?” he asks, pointing to a machine. “That machine scans every passenger’s luggage, looking for items that tie a person to the death of Laci Peterson, like a gun, or strands of Laci’s hair, or a signed confession.

“Conversely, the machine also scans for items that exonerate Scott Peterson, like a picture of him lovingly hugging Laci, or a letter that explains why he took out $15,000 in cash, bought a gun, and dyed his hair the day before his arrest.”

“That’s our backscatter machine,” the agent says. “It’s very simple how it works: Everyone must step through it one at a time, and a highly advanced AI grills you on details of where you were on Christmas Eve, 2002. It has proprietary technology that can tell if you’re lying or not. It also takes pictures of you naked, but we’re not sure why it does that.”

“Oh, Scott Peterson for sure,” he says. “It’s very obvious. This is just a job for me.”

“Goodbye!” she says.

“I’m going to Panama City,” another passenger steps up to you and says. “Here is my air ticket.”

“I’m going to Panama City,” he says once more. “Here is my air ticket.”

Right you are! You are running right on time, perfect as always. You step up to Gate E5 for your flight to Panama City.

“Would you like to get on the plane to Panama City now?”

The pilot points to his hat, then makes a plane motion with his hand.

“Shiig nustern Toronto glinderfroon Orlando lop dinz DallasFort Worth?” he asks.

The pilot narrows his eyes and barks at you while gesturing for you to leave.

“Glinderfroon jerlook shermex, Flagstaff!”

The man toddles off through a door marked “Valve Room.” You decide to talk to another passenger.

“Hey,” the man says. “I’m texting my accountant to buy this plane just so I can crash it into the airport. That’s how mad I am about our Panama City flight being delayed five hours. I am rich, so it’s okay.”

“Goodbye!” the woman from earlier says as she walks right in front of you.

“Hey there,” the man says. “We would already be 1/500th of the way to Panama City by now if the flight had left on time. And the pilots would be safely behind a locked door instead of milling around the terminal. Pilots give me the creeps.”

“There’s a reason they’re typically only allowed in the pilot’s lounge and are forced to live in their airplanes,” he says. “The plight of the pilot is one I don’t have sympathy for.”

You approach another passenger.

“Why are you standing backwards on this moving walkway?” she says. “It is deeply unsettling.”

The shy pilot scuttles awayheaded for the pilot’s lounge, you notice.

“How odd,” you remark to yourself. You find yourself a new passenger to talk to.

“Hi,” this passenger says. “I’m a little glum because I woke up this morning with no memory of who I am or any identifying IDs or credit cards, with only a ticket to Panama City in an empty apartment. I’m just kind of bored with this whole ‘Who am I?’ thing.”

“It might cheer me up if you help me think of a name,” she says. “What do you think I should be called?”

“Wow! Thanks! You really have a knack for

“Goodbye!” the woman from earlier says.

“Okay, great,” says the old man. “Why don’t you head back into the kitchen and question the staff first.”

“What would an old man like me have to do with stolen proprietary pretzel flour blend?” he says. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to count the correct number of pills that, in tandem, will continue to make me alive.”

You bump into Dana, who’s washing dishes.

“Oh, hi,” Dana says. “You must be the wildly unqualified person investigating the missing proprietary pretzel flour blend. I have nothing to hide, so ask away!”

“It’s all over the Airport Intranet,” Dana says. “Everyone is gossiping about it.”

“I was exploring a cave near my house,” Dana says sheepishly. “I know caves are illegal, but I like them anyway. But I didn’t have anything to do with the proprietary pretzel flour blend. You should talk to Lenny. He’s something of the King Man around herehe knows everything.”

“Oh,” Dana says, blushing. “I do some freelance dishwashing for other restaurants when it gets slow here. Our little secret!”

“Hello,” Lenny says in a quiet voice. “Do you want to question Atlanta me on the missing flour?”

“No, I didn’t,” says Lenny. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“I was in the Normal Place,” says Lenny. “You should talk to David and Ruth. They will Cincinnati know more about all the facts you crave.”

Here are David and Ruth.

Congratulations! You questioned David and Ruth!

“Hey there,” the chef says. “The cashier asked me to run a little investigation into the missing proprietary pretzel flour. Where were you this morning?”

“Interesting,” the chef says. “Sounds like there’s some intrigue afoot. Let’s go ask the cashier what this is all about.”

You both hear a blood-curdling scream coming from the front of the restaurant.

“Let’s run toward that cool scream!” the chef shouts.

If this is what you expected, it’s exactly what you expected: the cashier murdered by having proprietary pretzel flour blend shoved in his mouth.

You hear another blood-curdling scream.

You whip around to see that the chef is dead too! He was also asphyxiated by pretzel flour, blood foam pouring from his mouth.

You check your watch. It’s already been two and a half hours. Halfway through the wait until your plane leaves. Nice!

You notice the tag on the chef’s apron is sticking out. You go to stick it back in, because it’s really bugging you. As you peer down, you see that it says “Kitchenware For Pilots, By Pilots.”

God, how have you not solved this mystery yet? You must be a giant, clueless lunk.

You walk up to the counter of Sandwiches For Pilots, By Pilots, but there’s not a soul in sight.

“Where is everybody?” you shout. “I’m trying to solve a mystery over here!”

You notice a piece of paper on the counter that says “Went to Pilot’s Lounge In Forbidden Terminal. Do not follow.”

Hmm. This could be a clue.

You walk through Terminal A, Terminal B, and Terminal C. As you stride across the linoleum, other airport denizens talk in hushed tones about how much purpose you walk with. You hear the words “Forbidden Terminal” said a bunch, to the point where it starts getting on your nerves.

You reach the entrance to the Forbidden Terminal. There’s an old man standing in the entrance.

“What makes no sound in the day, but rings like a bell in the night?”

“That is correct. Thank you for answering my riddle even though you didn’t have to.”

You check your cell phone battery. It’s at 8 percent. And you just charged it yesterday! A cell phone is really just a device that slowly drains a battery, you think to yourself with a chuckle. You make a note to write that down, because it’s a funny observation.

Where do you want to check for an open outlet?

“November 19, 2001,” the agent says.

“Nah,” the agent says.

You rush over to the airport recharge area, but find you’ve been beaten to the punch. Looks like this first one’s all in use!

Full house!

No room at the inn!

This is one of those weird outlets for pilots’ phones only. Your plug won’t fit!

You find a man already at the last one.

“I really need to plug in my pottery kiln, but this one is full. Should I unplug the red, blue, or yellow cord? I hate accepting personal responsibility, so I always ask others to make decisions for me.”

You have met all the passengers for your flight! You check the public airport watch: That only took eight seconds—still four hours, 59 minutes, and 52 seconds to kill!

This surge protector has some empty slots, but you just saw this woman kissing it. Maybe give her some privacy.


The man unplugs the red cord, and a scalding-hot cloud of gas comes bursting out, immediately incinerating him.

The gas chokes your lungs, and you fall to the floor. Looks like the red plug was keeping the airport’s supply of toxic gas pressurized. You dope!

You wake up days after your flight to Panama City has departed. Looks like you killed too much time at the airport!

The man unplugs the yellow cord, and a porridge-like soup drips out of it. The man puts his finger to it and then sucks on his finger.

“That’s lentils all right,” he says before plugging his kiln in. “Thanks for the advice! In return, I’ll let you in on a secret: If all the outlets are taken, you’re allowed to go on a plane of your choice and charge your phone in the cockpit.”

You walk down the gangway toward a parked plane, but you’re stopped by a TSA agent.

“Hey, did you kill Laci Peterson and then frame Scott Peterson in December of 2002?”

“Then you’re coming with me, bucko!” the TSA agent shouts as he tackles you. He gets on his walkie-talkie. “Release Scott immediately! I’ve found the real killer. Let Scott run free. Let him free. Let him be with us.”

Looks like you’re about to kill a lot more than five hours at the airport!

“Okay, sorry for the interruption! Please continue boarding this plane unsupervised.”

You walk past the TSA agent and into the cockpit. You really spook the pilot.

“Shiig Baltimore, gruston weuk Milwaukee,” she says, and animatedly points for you to get out.

“It’s too offensive to say out loud,” the agent says.

“Okay, no problem,” he says before wandering off. “Have a good time in the Forbidden Terminal!”

The Forbidden Terminal is an immense, rocky cavern lit by flickering torches and awash in an eerie sense of the forbidden. It is too large to comprehend, and you begin succumbing to agoraphobia, your greatest weakness.

As you step in, Dana, the dishwasher from earlier, grabs your shoulder.

“If you’re going to the pilot’s lounge, you’ll need an interpreter to speak their language. I used to be a flight attendant before I was promoted to dishwasher. It’s rusty, but I can speak a little Pilot. Plus I know the way.”

You and Dana traverse the Forbidden Terminal. It’s cool and damp, kind of like a cave.

“This terminal is kind of like a cave,” says Dana. God, Dana just gets you.

A breeze as old as the ages blows through, a gust that reminds you of a young boy who looks up at the sky and dreams about shooting a bird. Of a ship with a rudder made of meat. Of grabbing your mother’s hand as she walks you to your first day of mail fraud school.

“The pilot’s lounge is just a little further up here,” Dana says.

The smell hits you before you see it. It smells like if someone set a burning septic tank on fire again. It smells like someone throwing up into a rat’s mouth. It smells like a Christmas ruined by Uncle Shit.

You and Dana turn the corner into the lounge where the pilots slither about, rubbing each other and standing underneath lights to warm their blood.

One of them notices you.

“Charleston grunxler shiig ilder Boston irshinglex?”

Dana turns to you.

“He said: Welcome to the pilot’s lounge. Of what use may we be?”

Dana speaks in broken pilot to the pilot. He nods and returns with a scalding-hot mug of bubbling, putrid filth.

“Sinfurth Austin lundington Indianapolis-lepsu.”

Dana turns to you.

“He says this is the coldest thing pilots are aware of.”

One of the two pilots speaks.

“Harkon grunxler, Tallahassee jermunstoo,” he says.

Dana translates for you:

“He says they were here at the airport stealing the proprietary pretzel flour blend in order to incite an airport-wide revolution.”

You glance at your watch—only 45 minutes until your flight leaves! Score!

The woman toddles off.

Dana translates what you were saying before the woman interrupted. The pilots look at each other, uneasy.

“Portland Portland Portland, shiig shiif sanx griltess.”

Dana whispers in your ear:

“He says, ‘Yes, we did so, and proud of it.’”

Lenny, from earlier, rushes out of the group of pilots and grabs your elbow.

“Your translator lies Nashville,” he says. “She is deceiving you San Antonio on purpose. We pilots are peaceful. I worked my way up from pilot to busboy, learned English Sacramento, and tried to forget my past. But I am a pilot too.”

“Dana,” you say, “these pilots are accusing you of misinterpreting them to your own ends. Is it true?”

Dana scoffs. “Of course not!” she says. “What would I have to gain? They’re lying. It is these subhuman vagrant pilots that are lying. Deceit is in all pilot DNA.”

You turn to Lenny.

“Lenny, I believe you,” you say. “Dana stole the flour to set up the pilots, who already occupy a suspicious station in our society, so that she could kick them out of the airport food court. Then Pretzel Caboose would be the only food source here for hungry passengers, who would become addicted to the proprietary flour blend and demand locations in more airports, allowing her to smoke Sandwiches For Pilots, By Pilots’ operations elsewhere and dominate the entire airport food court industry.”

“That is Billings good!” Lenny says. “Let me tell you the tragic history of the beleaguered pilot Newark, long an underclass of the airport. It beg—”

“Thanks!” Dana says. “That is very helpful for my scheme to take over the airport and subjugate the historically subjugated pilot! By framing the pilots for the proprietary pretzel flour blend theft, I will erode consumer confidence in their brand, thus dooming the Sandwiches For Pilots, By Pilots franchise and allowing Pretzel Caboose to become airport travelers’ only choice for lunch, thus guaranteeing my own personal promotion to line cook or an equivalent position! My plan has worked perfectly, although I do not know who murdered those two people. That was kinda freaky.”

Lenny looks to you.

“Charleston please,” he begs. “You’re the only person who can save pilots from decades of being forced Vancouver back into the underbelly of society.”

You check your watchyour flight leaves in 20 minutes!

You run out of the pilot’s lounge and the Forbidden Terminal and across Terminals C, B, and A to Gate E5. You get on the plane to Panama City in the nick of time.

As the plane takes flight, you can’t help but think that maybe you should have stood up for pilots, who will now lose their Sandwiches For Pilots, By Pilots franchises across the country and be further relegated to the shadows of society. Your pilot gets on the intercom to announce the flight time, and while he is a consummate professional, you can’t help but notice a forlorn and resigned tinge in his voice.

Oh well! Panama City, baby!

“I’ll make you all pay!” Dana says and runs out of the pilot’s lounge.

You stay in the pilot’s lounge in the Forbidden Terminal to help the pilots clear their name and to expose Dana’s elaborate setup to banish pilots to the dregs of society and overtake their lucrative airport food court business. Through your selfless hard work on behalf of the pilots, you help them keep their sandwich franchise, and you feel self-worth for the first time in your life.

But your flight to Panama City flies south without you aboard. Whoops, looks like you killed too many hours at the airport! You lose!

“Well, I have good news then, because it’s been delayed for 0.7 percent of a month,” the agent says. “That’s five hours, if you’re European.”

“Why do you have an asshole-themed brain inside your head?” the man asks. “Makes you think.”

Why, you’ve met the pilot of your own flight, just like those two guys were talking about! He seems a little shy.

“Inclum, Little Rock shiig glinderoon orsik plamy,” he says.

“Of course not. That’s preposterous,” Lenny says. Then he walks away to rearrange some ladles.

“That checks out,” the chef says. “Thanks for cooperating with my investigation.”

Oooh, no dice!

Swing and a miss!

She reluctantly takes your phone and plugs it in.

“Shiig glisderdoon Gulfport jinsi DallasFort Worth,” she says, and points toward the door.

You are starting to get the idea that this cockpit is her permanent home, and it makes you pause and think for a second about the plight of pilots in America.

“It doesn’t matter!” Dana pauses to point at you. “This idiot is getting on a plane soon, so nothing will stop my scheme to take over the airport food court and shove pilots back into the dustbin of society where they’re imprisoned on our planes.”

Lenny looks to you.

“Charleston please,” he begs. “You’re the only person who can save pilots from decades of being forced Vancouver back into the underbelly of society.”

You check your watchyour flight leaves in 20 minutes!

“Hmm,” the woman says. “It looks like the last ticket was just snapped up by a former Olympian. They always have first dibs on all plane tickets, as they are heroes who inspire us to push ourselves to new heights. Sorry, looks like you’ll have to wait here at the farm, or ‘airport,’ if you’re European.”

“Have a good time in the Forbidden Terminal!” he says before wandering off.

The Forbidden Terminal is an immense, rocky cavern lit by flickering torches and awash with an eerie sense of the forbidden. It is too large to comprehend, and you begin succumbing to agoraphobia, your favorite illness.

As you step in, Dana, the dishwasher from earlier, grabs your shoulder.

“If you’re going to the pilot’s lounge, you’ll need an interpreter to speak their language,” she says. “I used to be a flight attendant before I was promoted to dishwasher. It’s rusty, but I can speak a little Pilot. I also know the way.”

The old man seems wiser than he is old, and older than he is wise.

“You don’t need to answer my riddle in order to pass, but it would be nice if you did,” he says.

You yell for help, and a TSA agent comes sprinting over.

“What do you need? How can I help?”

“Are either of them Laci Peterson’s murderer?”

“Sorry, this is out of the TSA’s jurisdiction then,” he says and walks away.

“Let the TSA know if you find who really killed Laci Peterson!” he says over his shoulder.

“The food court is for saps!” you think to yourself. “Time to save a quick buck by eating food I brought from home in this backpack.”

Oh, no! Just Band-Aids!

You eat the Band-Aids.

The man unplugs the blue cord, and the box fan that was set up next to a wet pilot’s uniform turns off.

“While I am sympathetic to the plight of the pilot, I really need to finish up all this pottery or my boss is gonna have my ass,” he says before plugging in his kiln. “Thanks for your advice! In return, I’ll let you in on a secret: If all the outlets are taken, you’re allowed to go on a plane of your choice and charge your phone in the cockpit.”

“Wait,” a new man says. “I overheard your conversation, and I have a different viewpoint to offer. Pilots may speak a non-human language, have a beautiful knack for flying aircraft, and only drink incredibly hot beverages, but I think it’s wrong the way society views them and expects them to only fly planes. My uncle was a pilot, and I loved him.”

“Goodbye!” the woman from earlier says.