By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: It’s a sunny weekday morning in the big city. Manhattan maybe, or Dubai, or Tokyo. You’re dodging cabs on your way to work, sunlight glinting off glass and steel, elbowing through humanity; one hand on your cellphone and the other holding your coffee. Suddenly among the jackhammers and voices and blaring horns you think you hear… a rooster? You stop and listen. Oh yeah, that is definitely a cow. What is going on here?
Lyla glanced over her shoulder. Did the cow sound come from there? Her phone rang and she put it to her ear, turned back around, and kept walking, just missing two men in power suits with tablets in hand. They frowned at Lyla as she threw them an apologetic glance.
“Hi, Charlie. Listen, I’m running a little late, but I’m on my way. I want the proofs of September’s edition. No, I pulled Daniel’s piece. It’s not running. Okay, see you there.”
She winced as she pushed the End button. At least Daniel hadn’t walked with her to work today.
He’s probably still mad about the story. But there’s no way I could have run it…
Lyla frowned, knowing she didn’t want to think about the real reason for their fight. Just then she heard a whinny. It made her stop and turn all the way around.
Standing about five feet away from her, a brown horse shook his head as though trying to drive away a fly. Lyla’s eyes widened in shock; just then the rest of the city melted from her vision.
Before she could draw her next breath, a farmland appeared, blurry at first as if she’d gone swimming without goggles. She blinked a few times, and the scenery began to resolve into an actual landscape. The horse started slightly and walked away from her as though unsure what to make of her appearance in his pasture.
A man and a young woman in jeans and old flannel t-shirts looked at her with dropped jaws and eyes as big as hers felt.
“Wh—where am I?” Lyla asked, hating that her voice squeaked.
“Uh…here,” the woman said. A look immediately crossed her face that Lyla interpreted as I can’t believe I just said something so dumb.
The woman’s simplistic answer made Lyla smile. “I got that. Where’s here?”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Lyla scoffed. “Come on, am I getting punked or something?”
The man shook his head and he took a step closer to the young woman, emanating an air of protectiveness.
He’s not kidding, is he?
Lyla glanced at her watch and did the quick mental switch of the time difference.
“I’m really sorry, I have no idea how I got here,” she said with a nervous laugh. “But if you can just tell me how to get to the closest airport, I’ll find my way home.”
The man and woman glanced at one another, but Lyla couldn’t read their shared expression.
“Where’s home?” the man asked.
“New York City,” Lyla said, her laughter dissipating and her nerves taking over. “Is the airport really far from here?”
The woman shook her head. “Not too far. But you can’t get home that way.”
Lyla’s heart beat hard. “Why not?”
The strangers exchanged another look, obviously trying to decide whether they should explain anything to her. Lyla saw something shift in the young woman’s expression, and something akin to sympathy crossed the woman’s face.
“The FAA grounded all air travel in the country,” she said. “No one’s allowed to fly.”
Lyla felt like someone had socked her in the stomach. “But that’s impossible! I would have seen something on the news. I was just reading the Times on my phone before Charlie called. That was 15 minutes ago!”
“I guess you lost more than your home there, Miss,” the man said. “What year was it when you were in New York?”
“2011. Why, what year is it now?
Lyla felt her knees go weak, and her phone fell from her hand. She heard it hit the ground with a dull thud, and she realized she felt faint. She put her now free hand to her head.
“Are you okay?” the woman said, concern in her voice.
“Yeah, I just—I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time processing all of this. How did all of this happen? With the FAA, I mean?”
The man told her the story leaked by a leading news organization: An ambitious writer for a high-profile magazine had five years earlier written a piece outrageously sympathetic toward a particular terrorist group. His sympathy toed the line of complicity, and the editor-in-chief didn’t let it run in the magazine. Instead she submitted it to the police because of its potentially explosive details.
The police sent the story to the FBI who had investigated the man thoroughly. The feds eventually let the man go, but he became disillusioned with the government, the magazine, and the U.S. as a whole. Rumor had it that he had had a fling with the editor too, and when she ditched his story it put him over the edge. He disappeared for two years, only to pop up in an explosive manner—literally—when he masterminded a six-month-long series of plane, train, and automobile explosions across the country.
“And ever since then no one is allowed to fly,” the woman said. “The police don’t even like it when we drive across state lines, so most of us just stay within the borders.”
Lyle had covered her mouth with her hand, and her breathing became shallow. Is this where things would head with Daniel? But when she’d read that piece she didn’t have a choice. Daniel had shocked her with his drastically altered life perspective. But Lyla didn’t know that it would go this far. Should she do something? Could she do something?
In the distance Lyla heard a cow mooing again.