It’s about 7:30pm and I’m taking my break. The sun is setting and I like how it looks making the mountains pink then orange then finally purple.
I work at Denver International Airport. I’m a bartender at the Coors Silver Bullet Bar which is a popular sports bar and often very crowded. But it’s Tuesday evening and Tuesdays are generally pretty dead business-wise. So Ronny, the other bartender I work with said it was fine if I wanted to take my break a little early.
I’m actually outside the airport right now. I’m standing in the East Economy Parking Lot and I’m smoking a cigarette. I might not go outside for my break otherwise. But there are a very limited number of smoking areas at DIA and smoking is generally frowned upon by the Higher Ups. I know I’m not setting a good example but smoking comforts me. It’s one of my few indulgences.
At the moment standing outside in the economy parking lot is quite pleasant. The sunset is pretty and it’s surprisingly warm outside, about 75-degrees. People don’t realize that Denver gets quite warm especially in the summer. When people who have never spent time in Denver hear “Denver” they think about mountains and champagne snow and people shushing down double black diamond slopes. The thing is we never get much snow here because it all gets dumped in the mountains. Nope Denver is more desert-like: hot and dry.
Looking West from the parking lot I see the Westin hotel which is a very cool looking place right next to the airport. It looks a little like a fat pair of wings with the roof swooping down to the center and then up again. It’s a very ritzy, expensive place. I could never afford to stay there. No way.
So here I am. Standing outside, enjoying the sunset, enjoying the warm evening looking at the foundation of the hotel and I see a movement in the shadows. Not a little movement like a bird or rabbit (you would be amazed by he number of rabbits we have out here). It looks more like a person who has been standing in the shadows and they’ve moved a little out of the shadows.
This isn’t especially strange. Although the hotel is very swanky if you’re looking from the airport or from one of the roads around the airport, the base of the hotel is built on the dry, weedy land which is most of Eastern Colorado. It’s tidy of course but most people wouldn’t want to be hanging out here unless you were looking for a little privacy.
There’s something wrong about the shadow though and this is bugging me a lot. For one thing it’s too small to be an adult and that’s what I’d be expecting. Maybe a maintenance guy for example. And there’s something strange about the head as well. It doesn’t look like a human head but that could easily be a hat.
I take a few steps closer and say “Hello?” I’m curious and wondering maybe a little kid somehow got lost. It’s easy to get lost here; the place is enormous.
The shape freezes briefly and melts back into the growing shadows.
“Are you OK?” I call out softly. If it’s a kid I don’t want to scare him or her.
No sound. No movement. I’m aware of the always present sound of traffic moving on I-70 close to the airport.
Did I imagine this? Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me. My break is up. I stub out my cigarette on a concrete barricade and start back through the garage into the airport.
When I return, the Silver Bullet Lounge is still quiet. There are a few men sitting on stools drinking beer and watching a game on one of the big screen TV. Airport bars do quite well because there are so many people with time to kill between flights. Although the Silver Bullet Lounge is more family friendly, most of our customers tend to be traveling business men. We offer a gourmet burger bar with all kinds of not-diet-friendly toppings. I wonder how many men are pigging out on blue cheese burgers and chili cheeseburgers out of the judgmental eyes of their wives and girl friends.
As I walk behind the bar, Ronny is putting out cardboard coasters and asking a couple sitting at the bar what he can get for them. “Want me to take care of them?” I ask him.
“Nah, it’s just a white wine and a draft beer. Would you mind drying the glasses on the rack he moves he head slightly behind where a rack of washed glasses sit.”
“Of course,” I say. I grab a towel and begin drying huge glass beer mugs each of which have a logo and the slogan “Ride the Silver Bullet.”
“I saw something weird by the parking lot,” I tell Ronny after he places a glass of white wine and mug full of beer down for his customers.
“I think it’s a really bad idea to hang out by the hotel, Clara,” says Ronny. “There’s minimal security and it’s easy to hide in the shadows.”
“Oh come on,” I say, a little irritated, “what’s the worst thing that could happen, I find a homeless guy sleeping?” This has happened a few times. Denver has a lot of homeless people and some of them, always men, travel along the roads and rail tracks looking for places where they’ll be left alone. They’re good at blending in and being invisible.
“It’s still rural out here,” Ronny says, “I’ve seen coyotes out there. I’ve even seen Mountain Lion tracks. They keep getting pushed out of their habitats and they show up here. Ronny is an Urban Planning major and he’s very concerned about how humans tend to build and build without considering the effect on the existing ecology.
“Especially at dusk,” Ronny continues, “that’s when predators are hunting.”
“Hmm,” this makes me a little nervous. I don’t want to think about having an encounter with a coyote or even worse, a mountain lion. No way could I outrun a hungry, motivated predator.
A large man with wearing a T-shirt which reads “Best Dog Dad Ever” waves at me over and I forget about my strange experience. For the time being.
One week later. I’m in the same spot enjoying my third of four daily cigarettes. It’s a little earlier and brighter outside. I’m taking Ronny’s comment about coyotes and mountain lions seriously. Still, it’s another warm, mellow evening and I’m enjoying the relatively (for an airport) fresh air.
And again, I see movement. I definitely see a shadow moving. The same size and shape I saw before. This is not an illusion or trick caused by the shadows. There is someone watching me.
“Hey,” I yell and I take a few steps towards the shadow. “I’ll leave you alone if you want. I’m just worried that you’re a little kid and this isn’t a good place for kids to be.”
A pause. It seems to be thinking. Then, again, it melts into the shadow.
I’m really curious now but I’m not going to chase who ever it is. I’ve spent a lot of time with stray animals and I’ve learned how important it is to create trust and how long it can take to earn trust. I figure whoever this is, eventually they’ll show themselves or they won’t.
It’s 9:45 pm and I’m in the garage walking to my car. The garage is well lit and I generally feel pretty safe. I press my key and my Subaru beeps in response.
And then I see it, the shadow. It’s near a wall behind an enormous dark green Dodge Ram Pickup.
“Hello?” I say wondering if this is a good idea or not.
Hello the person says back very softly. The voice is light and feminine. Girlish. Not what I was expecting at all. Now I’m worried that this is a little kid who’s lost or maybe homeless.
“Are you OK?” I ask. “Do you need help?”
“Ok,” I say, I’m not sure what more there is to say. I’m not sure I want to talk to someone who hides in the shadows at the airport even if that person seems to be relatively harmless.
“What do you want?” I ask
Why do you stand outside when the sun is going down?
Huh, this was not what I was expecting at all.
“Well,” I said, “I work in the airport and I’m inside for a long time and when the weather is nice, I like being outside. Plus there aren’t many good places to smoke and this is a nice place to smoke a cigarette.”
Silence. She seems to be thinking.
I like being outside too, she says. I don’t get to go outside very much either. I like to see the sun. I don’t see the sun very often. It’s beautiful.
I notice that she seems to have a speech impediment, a slight lisp. I wonder whether she has some kind of deformity, a disability.
“Well,” I say, “I need to go home and feed my cat. It’s getting late.” This was all true and honestly I was getting more than a little unnerved by this strange conversation with what seemed to be a ten year old girl.
And as usual she disappeared into the deep shadows and was gone.
Copyright © Judy Murdoch