Missing Freight


"You gotta check the mutt," Stevens called over the roars and screams of airplanes landing beyond the gloomy hangar. Feeling rather self-important, he hauled his oversized body over to the dog crate. Wasn't everyday he had a junior to boss around.

"What?" Rawlinson shouted back, lifting his ear muffs off and flinching at the sudden increase in noise.

Wimp, Stevens thought with a secretly pleased smile. He'll get used to it, the voice in his head said, sounding bored. Stevens wiped his grimy hands on his overalls, adjusting his ear muffs with a shove of his shoulder. His gaze never once left Rawlinson; making sure the junior employee felt his juniority deeply.

"Standard protocol," Stevens explained. He'd slowed his words to a crawl in case Rawson was hard of hearing as well as stupid. He slapped the air freight crate. "Visual confirmation of all merchandise. Make sure they're still alive and all that. Just part of the service."

Rawlinson eyed the enormous crate dubiously. Its dark breathing holes were too small to see through, and the shining wire door covered in the requisite paperwork.

"Have to open the door," Stevens advised, "mate." He leant casually against the side of the box. His nose wrinkled in a sniff of disdain, no longer noticing the heady lung-burning fumes of vapourised fuel that always hung over the runways. He hadn't smelt it for years. Nor much else, come to think of it…

"Gotta be kidding," Rawlinson muttered. He rubbed at his skinny arms with the side of his thumb. "What if it's a bloody Rottweiler? That's one big cage."

"Don't be such a pansy. There's no growling, is there? Just open it up and have a quick look."

"I'm not a Rottweiler," came a voice from inside the crate.

The men stared at it, snap frozen in time. A plane landed.

"What's a Rottweiler?" the voice came again. This time, it sounded less sure.

Stevens ripped open the door. At the far end of the crate, huddled against the plastic corner, pinched with cold, was a small child.

The men straightened, looked at each other then stooped back down to look again.

A small child. Still.

"He looks cold," Stevens murmured.

"How cold does it get under there, in the fuselage?" Rawlinson replied in a voice just as distant.

"Dogs seem to cope." Stevens shrugged.

"They got coats," Rawlinson replied.

They looked at the boy again, staring lengthily. The boy had grown bored and resumed staring out the breathing holes towards the distant planes.

"I bet it was an evil stepmother," Rawlinson said quietly, nodding to himself.

"No, it's Aunties, isn't it?" Stevens said, "Maiden aunts. Evil maiden aunts."

An unconvinced frown tilted Rawlinson's lips. "Maybe not necessarily evil. Just cheap. Didn't want to buy another seat."

"Can I get out now?" the child asked. The men froze. Rawlinson stared hard at the ground.

"Er," Stevens said, grabbing the paperwork and flicking through it blindly. How long had he been in there for? he found himself thinking as he flipped it back to the front page. No bloody meal service in there. No toilet breaks for that matter either.

"Sam, is it?" he asked, reading off the form using his bluff professional voice.

The boy nodded.

"7 year old male?"

Another nod.

"Yeah, alright." They backed away from the entrance to give him room to crawl out.

The minute the boy's feet touched the concrete, he took off, running erratically on cramping legs. Bemused, the men watched him go. He bounced once off a crate by the entrance and disappeared into the blaring square of sunlight beyond the sliding doors.

"Shit." Stevens shoved his hands deep into his overall pockets.

"Should we…?" Rawlinson asked, one eye still on the blind sunlight framed by the doors, waiting for the boy to reappear. He didn't.

"Better call it in," Stevens sighed. Rawlinson drifted over to the phone hanging on the wall.

"Uh, Jones?" he said, "We've got a missing freight item in hangar two…"

This was written for the Review Game's December Writing Challenge Contest. The prompt was 'in transit' :). Please check out the link on my profile to check out the other entries and vote for you favourite :)