Mr. Twitchy by Joseph Michael Owens

AS ONE OF THE AGENCY’S TWO UA DEPARTMENT SUPERVISORS, Travis McEvoy feels he’s in a position that really suits him, career-wise, after having worked six years as a Douglas County probation officer. McEvoy is rarely seen wearing anything other than a dress shirt, tie and slacks—although, oddly, always sans sport coat—even on casual Fridays.

The Agency only has one copying/printing/faxing station and it’s located pragmatically in the main clerical area on the Human Services side. This means that whenever Travis McEvoy and/or one of his U.A. Department team members need(s) to copy/print/fax some-/anything, they, of course, have to walk all the way around the building’s outer perimeter to do so, a circumstance that proves especially troublesome during inclement weather, which, in Omaha, can occur during any time of year.

Since starting at The Agency eighteen months ago, Travis has been especially hot for Sabina Feeney, one of Furlong and Company’s Human Services supervisors. Despite his ultimate lack of success, Travis unfailingly goes out of his way almost every day to engage in some kind of verbal exchange with Sabina, primarily by regaling her with often strange and somewhat inappropriate stories (that is, if his ultimate goal in telling them is something akin to courtship); stories Sabina isn’t really all that interested in hearing but is, of course, too polite to tell Travis so. And unable to take a hint, Travis’s M.O. of storytelling involves lots of narrative with little-to-no room for questions, combined with an almost stalkerish way of following his basically captive listener from room to room if they try to, perhaps (again politely with some degree of tact and subtlety), end his story early by simply graciously walking away. In this event, Travis has absolutely no qualms about plopping down in his listener’s office and continuing on, even if the person he’s talking to begins attending to their actual day’s work or fielding/making phone calls—which, for the latter circumstance, he’ll simply wait until the person’s call ends and just pick up where he left off.

Travis’s coworkers hate this.

This particular morning, Travis catches Sabina, Ben, and Tom chatting it up and shooting the general water-cooler-type shit in The Agency’s kitchen, which, upon seeing Travis—whom, as we know, Tom simply cannot fucking stand, whatsoever—prompts Tom to leave without saying a another word to anyone. Ben still has himself wrapped up in his ridiculous Ace Bandages® from Friday’s now-infamous coffee/paramedics mishap, only this time he’s wrapped himself up somewhat more clandestinely and work-appropriately, as now only parts of the bandages can be seen protruding from underneath his shirt’s sleeve’s cuffs. Ben is not exactly a fan of Travis either, but he is also keenly aware that Sabina finds Travis creepy, annoying, and—to a greater extent—kind of repulsive. Thus Ben decides to stick around and possibly diffuse some of the inevitable forthcoming tension and awkwardness, and act as a sort of corporeal buffer between his two coworkers.

“Hey, hey! Just the two people I was looking for!” Travis says in his usual too-loud-for-the-morning voice, ignoring Tom as Tom shoulders his way past Travis. “Big Ben! Looking fit this morning, I see! Have you been lifting, bro? Sabina,” he adds, nodding, smiling, and—creepily—winking.

“Hey Travis,” Ben and Sabina both say in a mutual, not-exactly-enthusiastic tone.

“You guys have a good weekend?”

“It wasn’t too—” Sabina starts.

“Awesome. You’ll never believe the crazyass fucken weekend I had!”

“No, we probably won’t, Travis,” Ben says with an audible sigh that Travis does not even remotely pick up on.

“And I’m sure you’re going to tell us, aren’t you?” Sabina adds, rolling her eyes.

“You bet your asses!” Travis says. “So check it out. I had, like, this epiphany last week. I used to think the world was fucked, right? I did. No joke. I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me and me alone to see it unfucked. That’s really what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that. I mean, it’s not a particularly flattering characteristic of mine, if you know what I mean. I’m trying to be more positive and shit.”

“Well, Travis, that’s probably, I dunno, a better approach to have towards life, I imagine,” Sabina says.

“Damn right! But so anyway, I’m flying back to Chicago for the weekend and there was this fucken guy at Eppley , right? There’s this fucken guy who’s making it real hard on me to be more positive. I’m in that little food court by all the gates, a good thirty minutes before my flight’s set to take off and there’s just this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathin’ gizmo, if you know what I mean. And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet! Seriously, he’s hovering there, basically lurking, like a real bonafide creeper, lording over it like it was his own personal Lolita or something sick like that. I mean, c’mon, Humbert Humbert; it’s iced-fucken-tea, for Chris’sakes! Ironically, Travis is incredibly animated about this last part, about the guy’s creepiness. Sabina and Ben just nod, both unsure what to say or if they should even say anything at all.

“I mean,” Travis continues without skipping a beat, “I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before,” he pauses to take a hard swallow of bitter coffee, “but here is someone, right here in front on me, on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. True story. He was real twitchy bastard, too. And Mr. Twitchy Conniption-Fits and I are about to cross paths, right? Because I just paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself up, and the iced tea carafe is contiguous—that means butted up to next to, right?—it’s contiguous to the soda fountain.”

“Yeah, contiguous means butted up next to,” Ben affirms.

“So in any case, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed right-smack at my own personal mug by Mr. Twitchy, the iced tea gizmo, who’s got a real serious case of trouser ants, I’m guessing, based on all the pacing he’s doing. Back and forth, and back and forth, right? Anyway, I depress the Coke’s soda trigger while I watch him watch me out of my periphery, and I take a foamy sip in the mean time. Oh, side note, I’d like to point out that I think it’s just totally irresponsible—regardless of cup ounceage—to fill the whole thing up if the soda-water-to-syrup ratio is all snafu’d, but, that being said, I’m vouching right here and now that Eppley’s Coke is as refreshing as Coke gets.”

A casual Furlong & Company observer to this particular conversation could easily tell that Sabina and Ben both—as indicated by the almost pained facial expression they share—really wish Travis would just get to the point already but also know that it’s more than likely he’s only just getting started.

“—So I top my 22 ounce cup off and pop one of those opaque plastic kind of lids on it because, even though I was going to enjoy my Coke and Polish dog—I got myself a Polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention it—right there in the lounge while I waited for my flight, a lid preserves maximum soda fizziness in between free refills, of which I always plan to get at least two, and which are also really just the bees knees if you ask me—free refills are, I mean.

“And so my Polish dog is OK, but it’s sort of dry. It’s got wrinkly skin like an old guy’s ballsack—my Polish dog does. My own personal skin is always smooth as a baby’s ass in case you got confused about who or what had the old man ballsack skin. But anyway, a sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with. A stale bun, though, is just snafu altogether. That is unless maybe you are one of those professional hot dog eater guys who likes to soak the bun in water to choke it down, but that shit’s disgusting.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty gross,” Sabina says generically, shuffling her weight from foot to foot, stealing uncomfortable glances at Ben.

“Seriously, it is—I’d tell ‘em that too. But so yeah, a dry-on-the-outside dog’s still got the potential to’ve retained some of its juiciness at its little Polish core—but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe, entirely—I mean, there’s just no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever. Feed them shits to the pigeons, I say.

“And so then what all this boils down to, the reason I’m telling you guys all of this, is that I don’t like to take pills on an empty stomach. Pills on an empty stomach gives me the fucken gurg’ in my guts. That’s the point I’ve been trying to get to here, but thinking about Mr. Twitchy’s got me all attention deficit right now.”

“Wait, what pills, Travis?” Ben says.

“I’m getting to that, Big Ben. But so I’m not exactly scared of flying—I mean, I’m scared of crashing, yes—but scared of flying? No. I just usually can’t take all the loud mouthbreathers and annoying tourist types talking amongst themselves all too-loudly, and babies crying, and all that other commotion that makes flying a real fucken pain in the keister and far more stressful than it really needs to be, if you know what I mean. I, myself, like to pop a Xanax or two and try to simply enjoy my flight.”

Sabina rolls her eyes. Ben really has to pee.

“Which is what I was going to do just then, pop two Xanies, but all of a sudden, I can’t find the fucken bottle. I just had it in my hand like ten seconds ago, and now they’re calling for my flight to board. I guess I’d’ve been more worried if I’d paid for the pills and hadn’t just lifted ‘em off this girl whose house I stayed at Thursday night and who I probably won’t ever see again. C’est la vie and all that. I think her name was Nicky-something-or-another…” A brief, sort of faraway look flits across Travis’s eyes as he scans his memory.

Ben also sees a brief look of horror flit across Sabina’s face and he can’t help but wonder why Travis would talk about- or even hint at- sleeping with other women if it was Sabina he was, at that particular moment, trying to impress in some strange Neanderthal kind of way. Then Ben realizes that all of the thought he’s giving the matter is ostensibly irrelevant anyway since Sabina has previously expressed a “not-if-he-was-the-last-guy-on-Earth” kind of interest in Travis.

Travis,” Sabina says, stopping him before he can continue, snapping his attention back into focus, “don’t you think it’s, you know, highly inappropriate for you of all people to be stealing—and personally consuming—other people’s prescriptions; not just because of the fact that it’s incredibly immoral and illegal and potentially dangerous, which, I mean, it totally is, but because you are paid to drug test people, as in, like, it’s your job, one that, as a supervisor of, you should really take a lot more seriously and be a whole lot more respectful of, if you ask me—”

“Sabina. Babe,” Travis interrupts. Ben is almost positive he catches a fleeting look of nausea on Sabina’s face, not because of being interrupted, but because Travis called her ‘babe.’ “It’s all good! I only take prescriptions from people that I’ve actually gotten myself from legit doctors in the past. I just keep all the bottles with my name and information on them, and if anyone ever asks, I just tell them the pills are leftovers. No worries at all!”

“You can’t be serious,” Sabina says, incredulous.

“Hundred percent, babe!” Travis says.

“Travis—” Sabina starts, clearly about to ask him—in the nicest possible way that only Sabina Feeney can—to from this moment on, stop calling her babe before she violently eviscerates him with a dullish letter opener someone left in the breakroom.

“I mean,” Travis continues, oblivious to Sabina’s homicidal expression, “I got a Vicodin bottle from when I had some oral surgery a few years back; I got a Xanax bottle after this time I got mugged by one of my former probation clients; I got a Valium bottle, a Percocet bottle, a bottle for Seroquel, which, if it’s all the same to you guys, I’d really rather not talk about right now. But anyway, yeah, basically I’m good to go—bases are covered and all that shit.”

Ben looks at Sabina—whose jaw she is currently trying to heft from the floor—and shrugs because, really, what can you even possibly say to that? Travis smiles at the two of them with a satisfied look as if his kleptomaniacal-pharmaceutical-scheme was the most brilliant thing anyone has ever thought of, ever.

“Anyway, I’m just rambling off topic now, so I’ll just cut to the chase, how’s that?” Travis says. “So while we’re boarding, the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full. And what few people there are are still in a rush to pack the fucken plane, but I’m all like, ‘what’s the point?’ So I dawdle a little, scanning the food court one last time for the bottle of Nicky’s Xanax, and end up boarding dead last. I knew the line-rushers would snap up the choicest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but I was pretty sure none of them would willingly take the rearmost seats—a fact I’ve never really understood, especially on thinly-booked flights like this one. It’s probably because of all the extra walking involved and how fucken lazy people are these days or something.”

“Travis, the point!” Sabina blurts out, startling Ben.

“So yeah, basically the back of the plane on a thinly-booked flight is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom. There’s a far smaller random-asses-to-toilet-seat ratio, if you know what I mean. Plus, with such a conveniently-located pisser, I wouldn’t have to sweat the three refills I’d downed before boarding, just the imminent sugar crash from sixty-six ounces of refined sugars. So that’s why I was dawdling. I was in no rush bringing up the rear of the boarding line like that.”

“…” Silence.

“But then, my nostrils pick up the unmistakable scent of—what’s that shit called? Oh, yeah, Barbasol—right, so I smell Barbasol wafting down the gangway toward me, which, you know, proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning, am I right? But then I see that it isn’t necessarily just some random old man giving off the smell—it’s Mr. Fucken Twitchy, who, at this point, I think looks like he’s totally overloaded with caffeine and nerves. The guy’s got a real case of the sweats going on, pit stains all spread around his torso from shoulder blade to nipple on both sides and shit. So I suddenly feel kind of bad for the poor bastard, which makes me feel good because I’m thinking positively about someone else again for a change, see?”

Ben begins calculating the probability of a MAT bus crashing through the front of the building any moment and thereby creating a diversion for his and Sabina’s escape. His conclusion: infinitesimal.

“That’s—um, really good, Travis,” Sabina says, disinterested, looking past Travis’s shoulder to check the time, immediately realizing this story of his is seriously cutting into the morning’s productive work time. “It sounds like this whole positivity thing is working wonders for you.”

“Oh, I almost forgot! There’s also this twenty-something girl in front of me who’s been clicking away on her BlackBerry and snapping her chewing gum—some mango-mint flavored bullshit—which, speaking of a lather, gets me all in one! But she’s been doing all this since I first noticed her, and I’m pretty sure that before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday—but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which I guess is pretty par for the course for me, really. I can tell these things just by looking at someone like that.”

Ben and Sabina: “…” again.

“So I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend—an observation I kind of want to tell her about—but the fact that the line is moving forward without her, and the gangway is too narrow for anyone to get around the person in front of them in the event they are a dawdler, makes me think I should just tell her to pay-the-fuck-attention. But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the planet’s unfucking and whatever, so I just clear my throat all irritably and passive aggressive-like instead.”

Ben looks at the clock too and makes the circular hand motion to Travis that is universally understood to mean, let’s seriously get a move on if you don’t mind, which Travis, of course, does not even begin to pick up on.

“And wait—you guys are gonna love this—it gets even better!” (Ben and Sabina are each independently sure they are positively not going to love this.) “…So the reason I’m flying back to the Chi in the first place is to listen to this band my buddy’s all gay for that sounds kind of like The Decemberists or something—I dunno, I’ve never heard ‘em before, but whatever. They’re supposed to be the next big thing, but I’m always skeptical about the next big thing. Really, me flying back to Chi-town is just a convenient excuse to ditch Nicky early on Friday morning—and when I lie to someone, I like to go all out, you know, despite my recent attempts at self-improvement.

“So my buddy texts me Thursday night about this band playing a gig near his place on Friday night in Chicago, but on Thursday night I was all like, hell no—but Friday morning, waking up next to Nicky, I was all of a sudden like, fuck yeah! Mind you, this is before I stole her pills. Some habits die hard, you know what I mean? What was her last name anyway…?”

“Travis—oh my god!—the point, get to the point!” Sabina and Ben say, both emphasizing a particularly short and exasperated tone. Ben might have said Jesus Christ! instead, but no one can corroborate this.

“Right, the story. So once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the lavatory because, even though I don’t have to worry about taking a piss for fear of an overcrowded john—being at the uncrowded back and all—it doesn’t mean I don’t actually have to piss. However—and this is something I just really couldn’t believe—the bathroom was already occupied, which meant that someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the little keep-your- fucken-seatbelts-fastened sign, which I figure is probably the BlackBerry chick—a thought that also really burned my personal biscuit, if you know what I mean.

“But then, when the door finally opens, it’s not the BlackBerry chick; it’s Mr. Fucken Twitchy, instead! Right then, I had to piss so bad that my eyes were probably turning yellow, so I didn’t say anything confrontational. I can be kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes. Plus, since nine-eleven, sky marshals are seriously no fucken joke, and they don’t take all that kindly to passengers throwing bows in midair, if you get me.

“So right as I’m about to shut the pisser door, one of the flight attendants rushes up and asks me if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really don’t since I’m, like, terrifyingly allergic to peanuts, and will, you know, puff up like the Michelin Man if I even eat just one. So I ask her for pretzels instead, a request that—oddly similar to Mr. Twitchy back in the airport’s lounge—actually almost sends this stewardess chick into some serious conniptions of her own because now she’s gotta notify some other flight attendant—one of the ones who hands out pretzels instead of peanuts for allergic passengers like me, given that she has only peanuts to pass out—that she, herself, was unable to satisfy my snacking needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally bad and unproductive things to her internal locus of flight attending competency. But in fairness to me, all of this was pretty much precipitated by circumstances that are completely out of my control.

“Anyway, after evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that’d been left on my seat cushion. And as I munch on the salty, half-stale victuals—I just learned that word too, by the way, victuals—I ponder the disappearance of what’s-her-name’s bottle of Xanax and any number of its possible current locations. Then I started getting nervous when I considered that some TSA asshole may have picked them up and located their real owner from the prescription label, where then she, i.e. what’s-her-name?—Nicky—proceeds to inform authorities that they were in fact stolen from her that very morning, and then the whole kit-and-caboodle gets linked back to me, and I have to spend time in a courtroom explaining my actions to a judge, which, I mean, really, thanks but no thanks.

Inch by inch, Sabina has subtly made her way to the kitchen door and is in the process of feigning half-attention, moving slowly toward her office. Ben isn’t paying as much attention because he’s trying to decide whether or not he should make sure Sabina doesn’t end up listening to the rest of Travis’s story by herself and risk her later giving him (i.e. Ben) hell for totally ditching her when he (i.e. Ben) knows how much she really hates Travis’s stories, or if he should make his way back to his own office and attend to The Speadsheet which is definitely in need of serious updating given his halfday on Friday, but would also probably be a welcome change of pace to Travis and his Mr. Twitchy story.

“—But then my little reverie is broken by some commotion halfway up the plane,” Travis continues, in tow, undeterred by the party’s move to the next room. “Flight attendants are all scrambling here and there and the only things I can see are two feet sticking out into the aisle. It’s one of the choice seats in the emergency exit row with extra legroom, to boot. Which, of course, meant that that person wouldn’t be able to perform the duties in the event of a, you know… But here’s where shit gets really crazy!

“The plane all of a sudden shudders, like, violently—it’s like a cruise ship hitting an iceberg or something, which, of course, causes all the cabin’s lights to flicker. The captain tries to come across the PA system and say something, but he gets cut off when the power flickers again. Crazy turbulence is shaking the fuselage and I’m positive that, had I not just used the facilities, I’d have pissed myself right then and there. No joke. So then, this totally unbecoming—I mean, for lack of a better term—scream comes outta my mouth, but the rest of the passengers are just way too freaked out to notice. I mean, wind speeds at takeoff were gusting to fifty miles per hour, so I’d assumed this was going to be a bumpy flight from the get go.

“So to take my mind off the whole plane-violently-shaking thing, I start making my way up to the center of the aisle where all the ruckus is occurring. The seatbelt lights overhead keep dinging repeatedly like someone got the button stuck. Since it can’t seem to make up its mind, I just figure the system’s gone on the fritz.

“Once I make it to the emergency row, I see that the feet belong to none other than Mr. Fucken Twitchy, again! The flight attendant who’d been doling out the peanuts earlier acts as if she’s never seen me before and asks me if I know CPR. Do I fucken know CPR? Can you believe that? So in return, I look at her like a deer in the headlights. The truth is, of course I know CPR—all of us down here know it, right?—but Mr. Twitchy has a strange looking foam accumulating around his mouth and I know there’s no way in hell I’m giving him rescue breaths without one of those plasticky breathing barrier things—or even with one, truth be told.

“So there are lots of Jesus Christs! and You gotta be kidding mes! and regular, old Fucks! being tossed around in this big, loud verbal exchange of overall disbelief. What I gathered from the four flight attendants is that there was not a single medically trained person on the entire flight, and this guy, a Mr. Oliver, is in need of something along the lines of a real-life fucken miracle.

“And amid all the panic surrounding the downed passenger, the lights flicker again, the seatbelt ding goes berserk, which results in this really annoying stutter-like effect, the lights blink twice and then nothing, just the most abrupt and unwelcome silence I’ve ever heard… or, you know, not heard…

“The floor tilts a little forward and we feel like we’re dropping. It’s very clear at this point that the plane has lost all of its fucken power and we are gliding at an unreasonable speed toward the earth. This is embarrassing, but I screamed again, high pitched and shrill, like a high school cheerleader, only this time, I elicited a few Oh my Gods! and a Will someone shut him the fuck up!? which I kind of found somewhat offensive, given the current predicament we were all in.

“Free falling in a dark and unpowered plane is not a pleasurable experience. I mean, you can imagine it, right? I can’t see myself recommending it as something a guy might want to put on his bucket list. Anyway, there’s like this overwhelming sense of doom and panic in the air so thick you can even taste it, and let me tell you, it tastes really fucken salty.

“So now, some of the passengers are crying, others are crossing themselves and saying Hail Marys. At this point, I’m promising no one in particular that I’ll stop stealing women’s anxiety pills—and sometimes their underwear—if we can just pull through this alive. I also begin looking around for Mr. Twitchy because his unconscious body is no longer where the flight attendants left it. In fact, I can see that now he’s basically crammed headfirst under the seat of this overly large man who’s sweating more than seems physically possible. We’re talking about impossible sweating here.

“Some people say that situations like this cause one’s life to flash before their eyes. That’s not true for me, personally. Whoever wrote the book on near-death experiences must be a liar or incredibly underqualified to speak on the subject, you know what I mean? My first reaction, actually, was to imagine that damn ticker tape they got on CNN. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. But in my head, it reads: Plane falls out of sky in giant ball of flaming death!—I mean, I don’t think they use exclamation marks on professional national news stations, but my vision had them for sure. And then I think about how they’ll probably misspell my name later on when they do one of those memorials to those passengers who died. Probably it would say something like Tavis McElroy or something like that. But, I mean, it’s a small flight so all this seems realistic at the time, not to mention we’re all plummeting rapidly to a certain, collective death.

“And then, for some reason, I also start to think about Mr. Twitchy, and to what extent his utter fuckedness is quantifiable in what, in all likelihood, is our last minutes together not-exactly-on this planet. So I’m trying to think about what could have been wrong with him before the plane all of a sudden more or less just fell out of the sky. And then it hits me: his mouth. It all started coming together and I got a little pissed because I realized he’d probably chewed up what I figured was the rest of the Xanax I’d pilfered from that chick, Nicky. I’m not sure to what end a person would or could rationalize consuming a half bottle of anxiolytics but that’s precisely what I figured Mister Twitchy had done.

“So in between adrenalized shots of terror, my anger, like, surfaces because that rat bastard stole my bottle of pills—which, yeah, OK, I’d actually stolen prior, but that isn’t the point; who argues semantics on a crashing plane? But I was thinking, those were some pills that could definitely help in this particular situation, especially if I crushed ‘em up and snorted ‘em. Then I was thinking that I might literally—no joke—punch a screaming child in the face right then for just one of those little orange beauties.

“But that in and of itself was a forgone conclusion, I figured. I briefly thought about searching Mr. Oliver Twitchy’s pockets, but then I thought, if I wasn’t going to give the guy mouth to mouth, I sure as hell wasn’t going to fondle around inside his pockets. And during all of this, I somehow stopped to think about how lucid I felt given that we were plummeting toward terra firma at what I can only imagine everyone on board would agree was an alarming velocity.

“So anyway, people are all screaming and basically freaking out, but it’s not like you think. It’s not like the movies. I don’t think there were enough passengers on this particular flight for true mass hysteria. This was more like minimalist hysteria, I dunno, postmanic mania or something, but either way, everyone was more or less freaking everyone else the fuck out. I mean, really, you don’t need a mob for that effect.

“Now is also probably a good time to mention that I can be somewhat prone to overreacting in stressful situations. My mom and my brother? Same way. The reason no one else’s level of freaking out was comparable to my own at that point—at least this is my theory—was that the plane seemed to actually be gliding, rather than falling. The power was still MIA at that point, which is a pretty big fucken deal if you ask me.

“So then there’s Mr. Twitchy who is really jammed under that seat. The sweaty, fat guy seems paralyzed like someone with a reality altering remote control has paused just up and paused his fat ass. Flight attendants are all trying without much luck to unstick Mr. Twitchy, whose khakis have turned a darker shade in- and around- the leg, crotch and ass areas. So I’m thinking, like, man, when he wakes up—if he wakes up—he’s going to be really fucken embarrassed!

“Me, I was personally bouncing between seats to make my way over to Mr. Twitchy because I’d kind of changed my mind about touching him. I asked the flight attendants if there was anything I could do to help, but before they can answer, I’m rifling through Twitchy’s pockets, searching for the bottle of pills I’m sure he took, and hoping there are at least a couple left that I can chew up myself. The flight attendants ask what the fuck am I doing? and I say I’m looking for his allergy card to see if he’s maybe allergic to anything—which, of course, doesn’t even make sense, they tell me, because nobody’s allergic to CPR.

“Unable to find the bottle, I trip backwards and mutter, ‘Sorry, just trying to help!’ I mean, plane crashes are fucken stressful! You know what I mean?

“So finally, I redirect my attention to Mr. Twitchy’s seat where his carryon bag is still stowed underneath the seat in front of him. Now I’m basically certain the pills are in there; they have to be. I’m thinking my heart is going to jump out of my chest. I’m feeling like, if I’m not sedated when this plane hits the ground at hundreds of miles an hour, I’m going to lose it—a sort of irony I was only acutely aware of at the time because no one is rational in the face of imminent death. BlackBerry chick sits across the aisle from me—seatbelt fastened, tray table in its upright and secured position—and gives me a funny look in the middle of hyperventilating, a look I usually only get from women I’ve slept with and have forgotten the names of, but run into later.

“But then, just as quick as shit’d hit the fan, all the lights came back on and the engines started back up. Boom! Crisis averted. And here’s the real fucken kicker: the pills were in Mr. Twitchy’s carryon bag—I fucken knew it!”

Ben is surprised he’s stayed with Travis’s story this long. Neither Ben nor Travis notice that Sabina has tuned out, clicking away on her own smartphone, probably attending to business that is actually Agency-related.

“So, OK, wait,” Ben says. “You still went through the guys bag even after the lights came back on?” Travis himself seems even a little amazed Ben’s stayed with the story this long, but retains his momentum without skipping a beat.

“Of course I did! I took them bitches back with me to my seat, chewed up two and reclined my seat back as far as it would go—which, you know, isn’t very far, but still.”

“Then what?” Ben says.

“What do you mean, then what?” Travis says, his own attention beginning to wane a little.

“What happened to Mr. Twitchy? Did you get a free flight out of the whole ordeal? How come a plane losing power for that long didn’t make the news?”

“You know, I’m not too sure about that either. Turns out, Mr. Twitchy had some kind of peptic ulcer issue and had eaten like a whole bottle of Rolaids before the flight, which explains the mouth foam. I don’t know if you can OD on Rolaids, but Mr. Twitchy sure gave it his best shot. It also turns out no one else even remembers the engines cutting out—just some turbulence and the lights going off, but I know what I saw, right? I mean, who could make shit like that up?” Travis says, shaking his head, laughing. “You fucken guys, I tell you.”

Travis sees Darrell Sweeney and trots off—“Hey Drrl! Wait up man! You’ll never fucken guess the crazyass weekend I had!”—without another word to Ben and Sabina, leaving them standing just outside Sabina’s office, looking at each other in disbelief, realizing they’ll never, ever get those fifteen minutes of their lives back.

“That’s it?” Sabina says. “You fucken guys, that’s it?”

Tom Banerjek materializes from an adjoining cubicle and rejoins the dumbstruck Ben and Sabina.

“Geez, Tom, perfect timing, you missed the whole story. I bet you’re pretty upset about that,” Ben says.

Tom just shakes his head. “I really fucking hate that guy,” he says walking in the opposite direction.

Ben and Sabina notice that it’s currently 9:50 AM.

1 One of two, actually; Rachel Bauman is the other.
2 Whose mother is Italian, but his father is half-Irish, which explains his non-Italian last name. 3 Travis is originally from Chicago.
4 Eppley Airfield is Omaha, Nebraska’s only major airport.
5 Travis McEvoy has a tendency to tell stories that alternate between past and present tense—the latter of which he does, according to him, to give his listener a sense of “really being there.”
6 Ben hates very few things more than when Travis McEvoy calls him “Big Ben.” During orientation when Ben and Travis were both new employees, Ben told everyone his full name—Benjamin Stanley Palko—at which point Travis began calling him “Stan-the-Man” and has since, never ceased.
7 “Now?” Ben thinks.
8 Omaha’s Metro Area Transit bus system, pejoratively a.k.a. “Haz-MAT.”


Joseph Owens Joseph Michael Owens

Joseph Michael Owens is the author of the 'collectio[novella]' SHENANIGANS!, and has written for [PANK], The Rumpus, Specter, Grey Sparrow & several others. He is the blog editor for both InDigest Magazine and The Lit Pub, but you can also find him online at Joe lives in Omaha with three dogs and one wife.

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  • Joe M. Owens

    This is an chapter/excerpt from my novel-in-progress, HUMAN SERVICES — hope you enjoy!

  • Brooks Winchell

    Feels like an excerpt more than a story, but lively writing! I am definitely interested in Travis’ meandering tales and, probably, the rest of his office. I will keep an eye out for other excerpts or the whole novel. Thanks.

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