In Country by Daniel David Froid

Once we’re in country, Peter said, I’ll be fine. Then I can sleep. But I need to knock myself out on the plane. He had today visited the doctor and acquired a packet of Ambien. Fred frowned. I didn’t know that about you, Fred said. What, Peter said. The Ambien thing. I always do this, Peter said. I thought you loved to fly, Fred said. You used to go on solo trips all the time. No, Peter said, I didn’t. Are you sure, Fred asked.

The men lay in bed, the dim light of lamps cast an intimate glow, and Peter shook his head. Fred’s thumb, stuck in a book, retreated, as his other hand deftly slipped a bookmark within the paper crevice.

Fred had to own up to his faulty memory. He said, It’s kind of like how I thought Mavis Beacon was real. Peter had never heard of this person. The typing teacher, said Fred. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Peter explained that he’d taught himself to type. Fred shook his head and laughed. He said, I had Mavis Beacon. It was a typing program with this character who guided you through the lessons. She wasn’t real, but lots of people thought she was. Fred said, I swear I saw her on Oprah once. But she never existed, Peter said. That’s right, Fred said. I’m not sure this is like that at all, Peter said. Fred shrugged and switched off the light.

Later, Fred woke up and lay in the dark, thinking about the mysteries of consciousness and about his erroneous memory of a typing guru, who only ever existed as a photo on a cardboard box and a crudely rendered simulacrum in pixels. The room was cold. Fred felt for some reason vulnerable. He felt tempted to pull himself closer to Peter, who would likely not have woken and, if he had, would have been annoyed. Eventually, Fred slept once more.

Driving to the airport, Peter expressed anxiety about the imminent flight. He said, I like to be in control. It feels like I can avoid disaster if I can stay in control. How did I not know all this about you, Fred said. I don’t know, Peter said. A machine so big, suspended in the sky; it seems impossible. Fred said, I’m sorry. Peter sighed. Once we’re in country we’ll—I’ll—be fine.

The airplane howled. Through the overhead PA, the captain offered muffled words that might have encouraged or soothed someone, but Peter had already downed an Ambien and plugged earbuds into his ears. Fred took out a book and began to read. 

When they landed in the country, Peter was still asleep. Fred jostled him awake and said, We’re here; we’ve landed. Peter said: Where? The country. Peter said: Which one? Fred looked out the window, as though looking for a clue in the foreign tarmac. He felt unsure.

The men left the plane, luggage in hand, and soon exited the airport. The sky seemed unusually bright, though perhaps it simply marked a sharp contrast from the dim airport cabin that, for eight long hours, had held them. They moved as though automated toward a cab that neither man remembered having ordered. The cab inched through slithering asphalt byways toward a hotel, a small building that cowered at the feet of immense towers of glass. Against the unreal sky, the buildings’ glassy prisms seemed to create a kind of feedback loop of color. Fred felt mad and dazzled.

The hotel concierge found no record of a reservation in Fred’s or Peter’s name, but he offered them an available room. The room was cramped, like a large walk-in closet, with a bed that seemed comparatively outsized. They deposited their things and looked at each other. I need to sleep, said Peter, still woozy from the Ambien. Fred spent the afternoon pacing back and forth in the room. Once, he left the hotel and felt threatened by the immensity of the shining glass buildings, the sky that seemed likely to engulf them. He scurried back inside and lay next to Peter, to whom neither his departure nor his arrival registered whatsoever.

Peter woke up in the mid-afternoon. It would have been morning at home. Fred confessed immediately that he did not know where they were, though upon reflection he thought his confession could have waited. Peter, still groggy, looked even more bewildered than Fred. What do you mean, he said. What do the tickets say? I can’t find them, said Fred. What does your phone say? Look at a map, Peter said. Fred pulled up the appropriate app and saw nothing; the map would not load. Let me try, Peter said. He did the same thing and stared at a small blue dot in a blank and endless offwhite grid. Where are we, Peter asked, already believing that the question was futile. Fred stared at him. They remained inside until evening, and then they walked outside to get their bearings, possibly a meal. They debated asking questions of others—the hotel concierge, passersby on the street. Fred thought they should and Peter the opposite. How else can we learn where we are, Fred said.

Through narrow streets between the tall glass buildings they walked, rarely seeing anyone else and never working up the courage to ask them where on earth they had landed. They agreed they were frightened; they wished to go home. When night fell in the lonely city and the men felt they had tired themselves out completely, they traipsed toward the hotel but failed to find it. It was here, said Fred, on a random street corner. I know it was. They stood beneath an indigo sky in which no moon shone. They could not rely on each other. They felt something precious had gone away forever. Their eyes met. In the distance, a bell rang an uncertain hour.


Daniel David Froid is a writer who lives in Arizona and has published fiction in LightspeedWeird Horror, Black Warrior ReviewPost Road, and elsewhere.