“Lag,” Sean Riley

It’s 6:40am JFK El Al flight LY001 to Ben Gurion and I’m in Tel Aviv and I am fine. It’s 11:21am Tel Aviv AirBaltic BT772 to Riga International and I am fine. And it’s 1:32pm Ryanair FR233 to John Lennon. I am fine. I am fine for now.

I didn’t start at JFK, of course. You need to really give it a good hard kick before you can get going, something to really slam you out of your comfort zone and into that point where you’re good and lost. I started in Sydney, (Winston-Smith), which felt goddamn risky because nearly every flight out of Australia reroutes through LAX, and that was the last thing I needed since… since…

Damn it. Lost it there. Everything’s hazing out. Somewhere in my bag I have a bottle of water, and I rummage about in it for a while before realizing I drank it all (will drink it all?) in Charles de Gaule which is in about three hours time from now or five hours or twelve. Or right now, of course. That’s as far as I’ve gotten and I’m now having to slow down.

More water. That’s what I need. More water. When you start playing this game, all the rookies go for coffee. Bad choice, of course. Coffee is the last thing you want; jet lag plays hell with your bowels. Constipation is pretty common, but I go the other way. I never park myself too far from a bathroom, and I know it’s stupid, but I try to book seats on the planes near the back. It’s stupid, though. I’m never on a plane. In between I don’t exist. In between I’m in transit, lost. I’m never between JFK and Ben Gurion, I’m in Ben Gurion and JFK; right now.

And I am fine. But only for now.

If only my stalker were a rookie. He’s not drinking any coffee, that’s for sure. He was right onto me the moment I landed in Las Vegas (McCarran International); which was really sharp because that somehow the seventeen hour flight didn’t knock me into lag, and I was all alone. Just me in Las Vegas, with my stalker.

He found me staring at the baggage carousel, staring at all those classic tchotchkes dangling above and oblivious that he was staring at me. My gaze dropped down, lazily and calmly when I saw him, and I just about wet myself. He could have walked right up behind me and put the knife into me right then. (I wince just thinking about the knife.) But he didn’t. And I broke into a quick walk, back into the terminal. I didn’t even know why I tried to stay for my luggage; when you’re jumping through these many planes it gets lost eventually.

Something had to give. He’d found me. I’d been unsharp right off the bat. And all I had to save me were the rules.

There’s only two rules in this game we play. The rest is, after all, pretty self-explanatory. You fly places. You fly to a lot of places. And sooner or later, you stop leaving them. And then you’re in JFK while you’re Ben Gurion and in Riga International and John Lennon and Charles de Gaule. (I’m fine.) But there are two parts which don’t make immediate sense, and it’s worth knowing those rules.

Rule one states: “If the airport is a person, that person will stand in for you when you die.” Weird, but true. Airports named for people are just safer. And that was my mistake: I’d not yet lagged by the time I hit McCarran. I existed only in one space, so if I died in McCarran, I’d die for good. But I’m betting my Stalker had. If I killed him here, good old McCarran Field would just step in. His personality would hold the spot, and the Stalker would live at every other airport he was lagged in. Truth be told? I’d have been safer at LAX.

The only advantage I had was this: Rule #2: “By plane you’re everywhere. By front door you’re nowhere.” Goddamn true. Everyone in this games knows the tales of people who got dragged out the front door by the police and just … vanished. Everywhere. You can never leave the airport until you’re unlagged. No stabbing me in front of everyone.

So all I had to do was keep sharp. I wish I could keep sharp now. I need another bottle of water. God, I wish I could stand up. Wish I could take my hands away from my stomach.

But at the time I was sharp. I walked nervously away. He followed, cold and hard and purposeful. We both turned the corner as I saw the restrooms. A random man walked into the men’s, so that was out. I walked into the ladies’ and the Stalker followed me a second later, but by then I was in a stall, pressed up behind the door. As he walked in, I kicked the door hard, slamming it into his head. As he reeled back, I jumped on him and broke his neck.

Pretty sharp. But then, I wasn’t lagged then. My mind hadn’t gone fuzzy yet. Now, it is. Now I’m fading.

Because somewhere, and I wish I knew where, the terminal was empty. Somewhere, no security guard or passerby spotted the Stalker’s knife. Somewhere, he reached around and sank it deep into my stomach. And left.

If it was in JFK, I’m fine. If it was at John Lennon, I’m fine. At Charles de Gaule, fine.

It isn’t in Riga. I know it it’s not in Riga. I was careful at Riga.

I’m fine.

I just need to focus.


  • Wow. How did your brain think of this?

    I get it. I mean, I think I *almost* get it. Like my brain scrabbles at the edges of it. Which leads me back to my first question. How?

    At times your choice of words (like “unsharp” instead of dull–I see what you were going for, though) would hit me like a pot hole and jolt me from the story. It’s of note only because the tone becomes immersive pretty quickly.

    I came into it going “What?” and left going “Huh. Tight and interesting.” Good go.


  • Very interesting. I hope you’ve read “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” somewhere along the way?

    R: I’ve often not been on boats.
    G: No, what you’ve BEEN is NOT on boats.

  • Hi Sean,

    This is very neat!

    I must admit that I’m still not quite getting the central concept, but I think that’s a fault in my reading comprehension, not your writing.


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