The Shining

Part Five. Matters of Life and Death Chapter 45. Stapleton Airport, Denver


At 8:31 A. M., MST, a woman on TWA's Flight 196 burst into tears and began to bugle her own opinion, which was perhaps not unshared among some of the other passengers (or even the crew, for that matter), that the plane was going to crash.
The sharp-faced woman next to Hallorann looked up from her book and offered a brief character analysis: "Ninny," and went back to her book. She had downed two screwdrivers during the flight, but they seemed not to have thawed her at all.
"It's going to crash!" the woman was crying out shrilly. "Oh, I just know it is!"
A stewardess hurried to her seat and squatted beside her. Hallorann thought to himself that only stewardesses and very young housewives seemed able to squat with any degree of grace; it was a rare and wonderful talent. He thought about this while the stewardess talked softly and soothingly to the woman, quieting her bit by bit.
Hallorann didn't know about anyone else on 196, but he personally was almost scared enough to shit peachpits. Outside the window there was nothing to be seen but a buffeting curtain of white. The plane rocked sickeningly from side to side with gusts that seemed to come from everywhere. The engines were cranked up to provide partial compensation and as a result the floor was vibrating under their feet. There were several people moaning in Tourist behind them, one stew had gone back with a handful of fresh airsick bags, and a man three rows in front of Hallorann had whoopsed into his National Observer and had grinned apologetically at the stewardess who came to help him clean up. "That's all right," she comforted him, "that's how I feel about the Reader's Digest."
Hallorann had flown enough to be able to surmise what had happened. They had been flying against bad headwinds most of the way, the weather over Denver had worsened suddenly and unexpectedly, and now it was just a little late to divert for someplace where the weather was better. Feets don't fail me now.
(Buddy-boy, this is some fucked-up cavalry charge.)
The stewardess seemed to have succeeded in curbing the worst of the woman's hysterics. She was snuffling and honking into a lace handkerchief, but had ceased broadcasting her opinions about the flight's possible conclusion to the cabin at large. The stew gave her a final pat on the shoulder and stood up just as the 747 gave its worst lurch yet. The stewardess stumbled backward and landed in the lap of the man who had whoopsed into his paper, exposing a lovely length of nyloned thigh. The man blinked and then patted her kindly on the shoulder. She smiled back, but Hallorann thought the strain was showing. It had been one hell of a hard flight this morning.
There was a little ping as the No SMOKING light reappeared.
"This is the captain speaking," a soft, slightly southern voice informed them. "We're ready to begin our descent to Stapleton International Airport. It's been a rough flight, for which I apologize. The landing may be a bit rough also, but we anticipate no real difficulty. Please observe the FASTEN SEAT BELTS and NO SMOKING signs, and we hope you enjoy your stay in the Denver metro area. And we also hope-"
Another hard bump rocked the plane and then dropped her with a sickening elevator plunge. Hallorann's stomach did a queasy hornpipe. Several people-not all women by any means-screamed.
"-that we'll see you again on another TWA flight real soon."
"Not bloody likely," someone behind Hallorann said.
"So silly," the sharp-faced woman next to Hallorann remarked, putting a matchbook cover into her book and shutting it as the plane began to descend. "When one has seen the horrors of a dirty little war... as you have... or sensed the degrading immorality of CIA dollar-diplomacy intervention... as I have... a rough landing pales into insignificance. Am I right, Mr. Hallorann? "
"As rain, ma'am," he said, and looked bleakly out into the wildly blowing snow.
"How is your steel plate reacting to all of this, if I might inquire?"
"Oh, my head's fine," Hallorann said. "It's just my stomach that's a mite queasy."
"A shame." She reopened her book.
As they descended through the impenetrable clouds of snow, Hallorann thought of a crash that had occurred at Boston's Logan Airport a few years ago. The conditions had been similar, only fog instead of snow had reduced visibility to zero. The plane had caught its undercarriage on a retaining wall near the end of the landing strip. What had been left of the eighty-nine people aboard hadn't looked much different from a Hamburger Helper casserole.
He wouldn't mind so much if it was just himself. He was pretty much alone in the world now, and attendance at his funeral would be mostly held down to the people he had worked with and that old renegade Masterton, who would at least drink to him. But the boy... the boy was depending on him. He was maybe all the help that child could expect, and he didn't like the way the boy's last call had been snapped off. He kept thinking of the way those hedge animals had seemed to move...
A thin white hand appeared over his.
The woman with the sharp face had taken off her glasses. Without them her features seemed much softer.
"It will be all right," she said.
Hallorann made a smile and nodded.
As advertised the plane came down hard, reuniting with the earth forcefully enough to knock most of the magazines out of the rack at the front and to send plastic trays cascading out of the galley like oversized playing cards. No one screamed, but Hallorann heard several sets of teeth clicking violently together like gypsy castanets.
Then the turbine engines rose to a howl, braking the plane, and as they dropped in volume the pilot's soft southern voice, perhaps not completely steady, came over the intercom system. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed at Stapleton Airport. Please remain in your seats until the plane has come to a complete stop at the terminal. Thank you."
The woman beside Hallorann closed her book and uttered a long sigh. "We live to fight another day, Mr. Hallorann."
"Ma'am, we aren't done with this one, yet."
"True. Very true. Would you care to have a drink in the lounge with me?"
"I would, but I have an appointment to keep."
"Very pressing," Hallorann said gravely.
"Something that will improve the general situation in some small way, I hope."
"I hope so too," Hallorann said, and smiled. She smiled back at him, ten years dropping silently from her face as she did so.
Because he had only the flight bag he'd carried for luggage, Hallorann beat the crowd to the Hertz desk on the lower level. Outside the smoked glass windows he could see the snow still falling steadily. The gusting wind drove white clouds of it back and forth, and the people walking across to the parking area were struggling against it. One man lost his hat and Hallorann could commiserate with him as it whirled high, wide, and handsome. The man stared after it and Hallorann thought:
(Aw, just forget it, man. That homburg ain't comin down until it gets to Arizona.)
On the heels of that thought:
(If it's this bad in Denver, what's it going to be like west of Boulder?)
Best not to think about that, maybe.
"Can I help you, sir?" a girl in Hertz yellow asked him.
"If you got a car, you can help me," he said with a big grin.
For a heavier-than-average charge he was able to get a heavier-than-average car, a silver and black Buick Electra. He was thinking of the winding mountain roads rather than style; he would still have to stop somewhere along the way and get chains put on. He wouldn't get far without them.
"How bad is it?" he asked as she handed him the rental agreement to sign.
"They say it's the worst storm since 1969," she answered brightly. "Do you have far to drive, sir?"
"Farther than I'd like."
"If you'd like, sir, I can phone ahead to the Texaco station at the Route 270 junction. They'll put chains on for you. '
"That would be a great blessing, dear."
She picked up the phone and made the call. "They'll be expecting you."
"Thank you much."
Leaving the desk, he saw the sharp-faced woman standing on one of the queues that had formed in front of the luggage carousel. She was still reading her book. Hallorann winked at her as he went by. She looked up, smiled at him, and gave him a peace sign.
He turned up his overcoat collar, smiling, and shifted his flight bag to the other hand. Only a little one, but it made him feel better. He was sorry he'd told her that fish story about having a steel plate in his head. He mentally wished her well and as he went out into the howling wind and snow, he thought she wished him the same in return
The charge for putting on the chains at the service station was a modest one, but Hallorann slipped the man at work in the garage bay an extra ten to get moved up a little way on the waiting list. It was still quarter of ten before he was actually on the road, the windshield wipers clicking and the chains clinking with tuneless monotony on the Buick's big wheels.
The turnpike was a mess. Even with the chains he could go no faster than thirty. Cars had gone off the road at crazy angles, and on several of the grades traffic was barely struggling along, summer tires spinning helplessly in the drifting powder. It was the first big storm of the winter down here in the lowlands (if you could call a mile above sealevel "low"), and it was a mother. Many of them were unprepared, common enough, but Hallorann still found himself cursing them as he inched around them, peering into his snow-clogged outside mirror to be sure nothing was
(Dashing through the snow...)
coming up in the left-hand lane to cream his black ass.
There was more bad luck waiting for him at the Route 36 entrance ramp. Route 36, the Denver-Boulder turnpike, also goes west to Estes Park, where it connects with Route 7. That road, also known as the Upland Highway, goes through Sidewinder, passes the Overlook Hotel, and finally winds down the Western Slope and into Utah.
The entrance ramp had been blocked by an overturned semi. Bright-burning flares had been scattered around it like birthday candles on some idiot child's cake.
He came to a stop and rolled his window down. A cop with a fur Cossack hat jammed down over his ears gestured with one gloved hand toward the flow of traffic moving north on I-25.
"You can't get up herel" he bawled to Hallorann over the wind. "Go down two exits, get on 91, and connect with 36 at Broomfield!"
"I think I could get around him on the left!" Hallorann shouted back. "That's twenty miles out of my way, what you're rappin!"
"I'll rap your friggin head!" the cop shouted back. "This ramp's closed!"
Hallorann backed up, waited for a break in traffic, and continued on his way up Route 25. The signs informed him it was only a hundred miles to Cheyenne, Wyoming. If he didn't look out for his ramp, he'd wind up there.
He inched his speed up to thirty-five but dared no more; already snow was threatening to clog his wiper blades and the traffic patterns were decidedly crazy. Twenty-mile detour. He cursed, and the feeling that time was growing shorter for the boy welled up in him again, nearly suffocating with its urgency. And at the same time he felt a fatalistic certainty that he would not be coming back from this trip.
He turned on the radio, dialed past Christmas ads, and found a weather forecast.
"-six inches already, and another foot is expected in the Denver metro area by nightfall. Local and state police urge you not to take your car out of the garage unless it's absolutely necessary, and warn that most mountain passes have already been closed. So stay home and wax up your boards and keep tuned to-"
"Thanks, mother," Hallorann said, and turned the radio off savagely.