By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

— MacBeth, William Shakespeare

Monday, November 2, 2043 (New Moon)
Cardiff Airport, Rhoose, Wales

     The druid from Caernarfon loitered outside Medical Security. I’d dumped him at the festival. How did he get here so fast? He waved; I groaned. Dude, buy a clue. You got lucky last night, and I ticked do-it-with-a-druid off my bucket list. MOVE ON! 

     “That took a while,” he said. Charming accent. Less than brilliant observation.

     “Gee, could that have anything to do with it?” I gestured at the overhead newsfeed with the screaming headline and kept walking.

WHO declares Strabovirus-3 the decade’s third Worldwide Pandemic.

     So that was the reason MedSec was slow and pissy. But why? Seriously, WHY? My Bio-Bit ran like a hose, sending a constant stream of virus, health, and temperature data to MedSec’s reader. Was it necessary to wand me and ransack my carry-on?

     An announcement echoed through the terminal. “This is the final boarding call for British Airways Flight 94, service from Rhoose-Cardiff to London-Heathrow, now boarding through gate two.”

     “That’s me.” My airport stride kicked in, my carry-on bumping along behind me.

     The druid panted to keep up. Didn’t he have a flight to catch, too?

     Last night, the black lion and Celtic knots tattooed on his arm distracted me from his straggly ginger beard and hair. A red cloak tossed over one shoulder concealed a paunch spilling over his kilt. Still, his aura, running the gamut from boring beige to gloomy gray, should have been a clue. All I saw was a perfect guy for a mistake. Turned out, nothing was perfect but the mistake. Typical.

     “Slow down, Maren.” He grabbed my wrist.

     Whoa! We’d left the realm of unfortunate one-night stands and entered the land of Dude, hands OFF!

     “Don’t.” I hissed in a damn good impression of a rattlesnake. Holy Hekate! I warned the moron about my boundaries last night, and grabbing my wrist was the biggest boundary of all. I’d have kneed him in the balls (my taser was in my check-in), but the final boarding announcement played again. I kept going.

     “Sorry.” He wheezed.

     My gate. At last. Before I could flash my e-ticket and disappear down the jetway, he wrapped me in a bone-crushing hug followed by a tongue-probing kiss.

     Goddess forgive me, but how about granting me the magical skills Hollywood ascribed to witches? Three-fold law be damned; somebody would be turning into a frog right about now. Go with it. Don’t cause a scene. You’ll miss your flight.

     His bushy beard and rough wool sweater reeked of sweat and the apple-mugwort incense from the closing Samhain ritual. His scent was an aphrodisiac last night when we were rolling around naked in a tent. This morning in an overheated airport lounge? Not so much. Not after grabbing my wrist.

     “So, keep in touch, Maren.” He squeezed my butt.

     “Definitely.” Fat chance, Gwilym. No, Gwydion. His mother named him after the magician. Always knew he’d have a gift for it. Riiiight! “And if you’re ever in Austin, look me up.”

     “Hwyl fawr,” he called as I ran down the jetway.

     Right there was the metaphor for my life: make a mess and then run like hell. I embraced it and waved over my shoulder.

     At the door to the jet, I pressed my Bio-Bit against Door-Med’s gold harp insignia. Druid Gwydion and I had flaunted the social distancing rules and exchanged a few bodily fluids last night, but MedSec had pronounced me all clear. That final kiss stung my lips; my kingdom for anti-bacterial gel! Thirty-seconds later the harp flashed green and announced Maren Lilienthal.   No virus detected; temperature range acceptable. Two thumbs up, and onward to London!

     After a short flight, I galloped through the crowds at Heathrow, my least favorite airport in the world, boarded the non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, and settled beneath the clear plastic hygiene cube, a perk of first class. After tying back my hair to keep it out of my mouth while I slept, I popped two Valium and gulped a complimentary Bloody Mary.

     An hour into the flight, sweet sleep still eluded me. I squirmed in the seat, turned it into a bed, returned it to its upright position, and flipped through in-flight movies. Nothing I hadn’t seen. Nothing worth watching again. My e-reader was loaded, but the combination of reading, motion, alcohol, and drugs made me nauseous.

     I switched to in-flight television. The Wheel of Fortune was on every channel. Odd. Still, the giant roulette-style spinning wheel with dollar amounts and phrases like Bankrupt and Lose a Turn mesmerized me. Maybe it would be more effective than another Valium. As the game preceded, I realized it was electronic Hangman. My brother Manny and I used to play the game during church. I beat the pants off him every time.

     A Hoboken housewife solved the puzzle phrase. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

     “Macbeth!” I didn’t know a single witch who didn’t have a problem with the way the Bard depicted us in the Scottish play. Old hags cackling over a cauldron. Really!?!

     A screen blip marked where a commercial used to be, and the next episode started. The host introduced three contestants who droned on about their lives. Spare me!

     “Let’s get this game started,” the host said. For some reason, his call to action hit my system like black coffee, obliterating the last of the Valium and Bloody Mary. I leaned forward, humming with anticipation. “The category is Quotations.”

     The electronic board lit up squares in shades of gold, green, and white, reminding me of the harp insignia on the door of the jet.

     The blonde hostess in the tacky evening gown spun the wheel. It stopped at $900.

     Take an M for Maren. The female contestant called for an M. Way to listen.

 

     When the wheel landed on $800, I craved an N. Another contestant, a software project manager from San Francisco, complied. Who says Magick doesn’t work?

     “Excellent choice,” the host said. “There are three Ns.”

     “I want to buy a vowel. I’ll take an A,” the software project manager said. Vowels cost $250.

     There were four As. The wheel spun. The woman claimed the consonants R and S for a total of $1400 before saying, “I want to buy an O.” Then, “I want to buy an E.”

 

     I bounced in my seat. I knew this! Damn, these people were slow. It took another two consonants before the project manager claimed the right to solve the puzzle.

     “A fool and his money are soon parted!” I mouthed along with him. Go, Team Maren! Did they still broadcast this game in real life? Maybe my cousin Liliane could get me on the show. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? I wiggled in my seat waiting for the next round.

     All of a sudden, the roulette wheel changed into the Wheel of Fortune card from the Waite Rider Tarot deck. Esoteric symbols replaced the numbers. The television screen shifted into a pulsating Tarot card. An angel, an eagle, a bull, and a lion floated on clouds in each corner, flapped their wings, and bellowed. Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, the four elements of the Minor Arcana. The Sphinx rode on top of the wheel, the Egyptian god Anubis on the bottom. They rotated in a perpetual cycle. Whatever goes up must come down.

     A faint whiff of mugwort, its sage-like scent well-seasoned with Frankincense and cinnamon, tickled my nose. A sure sign whatever premonition coming my way was a true sending. Breath caught in my throat.

     On the screen, lightning struck a tall tower perched on a mountain. The plane rattled and shook. Acrid smoke chased away the earlier scent, and the tower caught fire. Two people leapt from the tower, now spitting flames , and fell head first toward the ground. Roaring back in, the mugwort-Frankincense-cinnamon odor insisted this was genuine. My stomach lurched. The Death card terrified most people, but The Tower was the true card of chaos and destruction; the moment of unforeseen catastrophe. My mentor once said, “It’s a bomb exploding your life.”

     I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to my breath. I exhaled more than inhaled. My head started spinning from lack of oxygen. Sweat dribbled inside of my shirt.

     It’s going to be OK. I peeked through my eyelashes. See, the oxygen masks haven’t come down yet. It’s OK. Everything’s Tickety-boo. Were my ema’ma’s last thoughts as her plane plummeted from the sky into the chilly Atlantic everything’s going to be fine?

     I braced myself against the seat. Why was no one crying or screaming? Why weren’t the flight attendants giving us crash instructions? I’d heard putting my carry-on between my legs and assuming the fetal position was the right thing. No time for that.

     The lightning striking The Tower turned into a fireball. Any minute burning fuel would roll down the aisle, decimating seats, melting the plastic shield, and burning off my face. They had to identify my ema’ma and dad by dental records.

     The plane jolted. I clutched the arm rest and waited to die. Instead, my eyes popped open. The familiar dry, brown landscape of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport sailed past my window. So, I’d slept after all? The Valium did its job? The plane skidded to a stop. Three sharp chimes sounded like a demented doorbell. A voice came over the speakers, barely audible over the sound of my panting.

     “Howdy, y’all. Sorry about the turbulence we experienced during landing, but welcome to ATX, the live music capital of the world. The local time is 16:45. The outside temperature is a balmy 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Please remain in your seats until we come to a complete stop at the gate.”

     The captain babbled on. The reek of mugwort, Frankincense, and cinnamon still permeated my cube, but I was alive. Alive, damn it! In the premonition game, you couldn’t always bat a hundred, and one false premonition was a small price to pay for a stay of execution.

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