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American Fiction Suspense

I sat on a bench outside the airport where I would attempt to board my first plane ride in two years. I had to do this in small steps. No one there seemed alarmed. I knew I should also try not to be nervous, but I was. I shuffled inside, eyes darting around, and made a direct line to the counter. Whatever was going to happen would just happen. I coolly exchanged pleasantries with the face-masked staff member, pretending not to notice the buzzing panic blossom in my chest. Everything is ok now. It has to be. We cannot hide under face masks and bathe in hand sanitizer forever.

I want to avoid forever. Just like everyone else, I am ready to be done.

I zoned out on what she was saying, but she handed me my printed ticket and my checked luggage was gone. It must have been fine? I chose not to ask about that so she didn’t know that I was so mentally absent that I didn’t notice that exchange. I walked away and discreetly searched for the claim tag. There. I guess I’ll pick it up when I get to Washington. I proceeded to everyone’s most favorite part of flying: security.

By that point, however, a new level of inspection was added to airport security protocols everywhere: vaccine verification. Before they even looked at you or your belongings, they checked your vaccination record. They screened passengers in two ways: through an online database of vaccine records and by inspecting a notarized seal of approval in the front of your passport. That seal indicates which vaccine you were given, where it was administered, and when you got it. My seal was new, but it had everything it needed so it should have been fine. I worried anyway that they might not see my record, or that my passport’s notarized vaccine seal was wrong. I trembled a little as I waited in line.

I reached the front, but the officer on staff at the desk was watching me intently from above his mask. After staring silently at my document for a few moments, he wordlessly hit a button on his desk, turning on the manager request light above his head. I squeaked out, “What’s wrong?”

“Your vaccine seal has been flagged for manager review.”

“Why?”

The manager, another officer in a face mask, approached and held out her palm in a direction away from the line, which now consisted of other passengers openly gawking at us. “Please walk this way to the interrogation room.”

“But I’ve had my vaccine!”

She moved so as to corral me in the direction she wanted without touching me. “We just want to talk. If you resist, you will be escorted out.”

The man who had flagged my seal barked, “Next!” to the newly terrified passenger behind me. I swallowed my fear and quieted. I was guided to a room in a daze. The officer removed a whiteboard sign that noted when this room had last been sanitized and by whom. She sat me down and left.

As I sat at the stainless steel table in the whitewashed room, I tried to talk myself out of my panic. What’s the worst that could happen? But since I knew the worst, this thought did not comfort me. Instead I reviewed what I might need to tell my interrogator.

After a few blaringly silent minutes alone with my thoughts, the same officer returned. As she opened the door, she finished adjusting a face mask she had apparently just put on. After closing the door, she briskly sat down and began, “Hello. My name is Officer Carrigan, and I’ll be conducting your security check today. Can you please confirm your name with me?”

“Melanie Howard.”

“Thank you. Do you consent to wearing a face mask for the duration of this interview?” She handed me a disposable one, hanging from her index finger by the strap.

“Ok. Sure.” I took it and did what I had to.

“Thank you. I would like to take a moment to tell you that we are here for the safety of all passengers that come through this airport, and it is my job to ensure that no unreasonable risks are taken which would threaten their safety. Do you have any questions or objections?”

“No,” I lied.

“Alright, then we can begin. Where was your vaccine seal issued?”

 “I got it from a local hospital.”

“Which one?”

“Um, the one by my house? I don’t know the exact address, just where it is.”

Officer Carrigan squinted her eyes slightly at me. “Can you confirm when you received your vaccine?”

I mentally checked whether or not my vaccine seal indicated the correct date. “Yes. As it says on my seal, January 23, 2021. Is there a problem?”

“At the location listed on your seal and records, there was an issue with a pharmacist who jeopardized hundreds of doses. Do you know anything about this?”

I had been waiting for this question. It was big news all over my town. I repeated the information I had practiced, “Oh, um, yes…but I didn’t know when I got my vaccine. I only heard about it after. I’m pretty sure it’s ok, because I was not contacted by them about redoing my vaccine. And I would have heard because I am also a pharm tech.”

Carrigan paused, “You’re also a pharmacist?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Why didn’t you say that before?” She leaned forward to scrutinize me closely.

“Um, um…” I internally reviewed my story again. Still good, so I covered my surprise with more truth: “I didn’t know what, exactly, this was going to be about. I only knew that my seal had to be reviewed. I didn’t know that my job title was relevant.”

“Ok,” she nodded, leaning back against her seat. “What else do you know about the vaccine contamination in question?” 

I can do this, I thought. Everything will be ok. “Well, there are some details I cannot disclose because I am still bound by my job’s privacy rules, but I know that the man was caught and that he had some sort of…anti-government-tracking theory in mind. Newspapers have disclosed this, so I can repeat it now, too: his name is John.”

“I see. Were you affiliated with this man at all?” she continued, undeterred.

“Not really, other than being in the same profession. As you’ll see in the news stories that have already come out, he kept to himself. I had other things to do, so I never tried to get close to him or anything.”

“Alright. Did you have anything to do with this contamination plot in any way?”

“No ma’am. How can you be a pharmacist and not trust a drug that was created to be administered to citizens for the health of the nation?” I quietly congratulated myself on my logic and composure.

“I see.” She considered this for a moment and then moved on, “Ok, then what are your reasons for flying today?”

“Oh, I got a new job in Washington. I have always wanted to go, and now I have a chance with vaccines pretty much rolled out. I am trying to be brave about doing this now.”

“Do you have any paperwork to support that story?”

“Yes, I do.” I produce the paperwork from my purse, being careful to keep my glasses case securely shut. I showed it to her. She glanced over my resume, taking her own time as I sat watchfully. I could see her watching me out of the corner of her eyes, so I tried to behave like a “normal” person. She moved on to the letter of acceptance from my new employer and the paperwork they assigned to me beforehand.  

“If we call this employer,” she tapped on the header in my paperwork, “will they corroborate your story?”

“Yes, they will. They know I am on my way. That’s not a story.”

She nodded curtly, “Alright. Please remain here. I will be right back.” Officer Carrigan gathered up my professional papers and exited the room.

After she was gone, I let my shoulders slump a little in relief. I did all that I could. I clutched my hands together underneath the table.

After a few minutes, the face-masked Carrigan returned. Only after she sat herself down did she continue, “We called your employer, and they confirmed for us that you will soon be starting a position with them in one of their pharmacies.” She paused to observe me, and I bobbed my head to reiterate that I expected this. “I want to take this time to remind you of the consequences of attempting to cross international lines without your vaccine. If we find out, you will be detained for an indefinite period of time while we assess to what extent you intentionally broke the law. If the security in Washington discovers that you have entered their state without the vaccine, then they have every right to prosecute you according to their laws, and we cannot control it. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will ask one last time: have you been vaccinated against COVID-19?”

“I am not interested in endangering the lives and rights of my fellow citizens.”

Carrigan paused to study me for one last time. Apparently satisfied with my answer, she removed her mask and shook my hand. “Ok. Thank you for your cooperation. We appreciate your help in ensuring the safety of your fellow citizens.”

I paused, a little shocked at how similar this sentence was to one I had heard recently from someone else. I managed to squeak out, “No problem,” as I removed my own mask.

“You’re free to go,” she says as she escorts me out of the interrogation room and back into the public space.

Once back in the terminal, I checked on my flight only to see that my plane was already almost done boarding. I bolted for the gate and dodged between the unmasked crowds clogging up the busy space.  I made it with just a few minutes to spare, handing my ticket to the stewardess shakily. I was guided in to find my seat and catch my breath, and the plane’s doors shut right behind me. We taxied onto the runway, but I only started to feel better when we got into the air. That part’s over, then. I sank into my seat with a sigh of relief.

Finally, I felt comfortable enough to discreetly take out my glasses case. I had the row to myself and the passenger behind me had already dozed off. I opened it to peer at the note tucked into the lining of my glasses case:

"Mel,

Thank you for your help. I appreciate all that you have done to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. It’s too bad we only met after each of our plans had begun—we didn’t know we were onto the same thing! I could have helped you more with fabricating your vaccine information, and maybe you could have helped me void more vaccines before I got caught. Although I have been taken down, we successfully threw a wrench into the system of those who would invade our rights to privacy and personal choice. I’m proud of us. Remember to get your seal from my friend. I told him you would need help. Memorize the facts before you go. Feel free to throw me under the bus…I’ll already be there anyway. Keep up the cause. Just because so many citizens have been subjected to the vaccine already doesn’t mean that there aren’t more people to save. It is up to you and me now to save our fellow citizens.

John"

I closed the case and tucked it away as the safety announcements continued to issue from the speakers. For the first time, I felt as free as I was before the pandemic. 

March 11, 2021 15:51

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