01 Feb I Used to Deliver Lost Luggage from the Airport: This Bag is Why I Quit
So, I’m a guy in his early thirties with a four-year degree and a poor temperament. There isn’t much in the way of career options out there for someone like me, but I do what I can to get by. I live alone in a month-to-month studio apartment with a communal bathroom that everyone who lives on my floor uses (great…) and I embraced the new “gig-conomy” as soon as it started in my area. I use an old smartphone to download apps that are work related, but it does the trick for now. I hunt for jobs on Craigslist every day when I have a few minutes of down time. I eat like crap, I sleep like crap, and what few romantic prospects I’ve ever had in my life were few and far between a very long time ago. I worked at two or three jobs, I can’t quite remember, in my field of choice for a grand total of two years. The longest job that I’ve ever held beyond that was as a pizza guy for three miserable years.
I’ve seen some strange things in my time as a delivery boy. I’ve walked up to a door answered by a naked person, or sometimes, naked people. I’ve nearly been mugged a few times driving around Wilmington. Hell, there was this one time I talked a guy out of SUICIDE!
He was a good tipper.
But, all of those things pale in comparison to the last gig job I took. Well, it wasn’t so much the job, but the last delivery that I ever made for it.
I had been hired by a baggage courier service in Philadelphia. They put out a Craigslist ad and I managed to email a resume to them from my phone. They’re located in Essington, PA, right outside of the town of Chester, Philadelphia International Airport, and the Delaware River. The pay seemed good, not great, but the hours were good. I worked second shift, two-to-ten p.m., which allowed me to get some sleep after my paper route. The job involved driving a crappy white Ford Econoline van to the airport and stop at each baggage office at each terminal. Once there, we went to each airline’s lost baggage office to grab what hadn’t made it off the flight for whatever reason. After all of the lost bags were collected we drove the van back to the shop and unloaded it all based on routes in Jersey, the Philadelphia suburbs, and Delaware. Even though I’m from Delaware (yes, it’s a real state that exists), I never actually got to take the Delaware route.
Often, I was relegated to Jersey.
After the bags were sorted, we used a lost baggage app to cross reference each bag to our own delivery code so that the passengers of the airline would know that we had their bag, that we were bringing it to them, and what our personal vehicles looked like.
What the app didn’t tell them, something that they never seemed to understand anyway, is that we often took 10-to-15 bags at a time, thus their bag was part of a route and everyone had a window of four-to-six hours to receive their bag. When I started the job, I figured that people would be grateful enough just to have their stuff back, but that was never the case.
They gave me dirty looks, I received nasty phone calls from them, and they gave me every sob story under the sun. But I never received a single thank you or a tip or any form of gratitude.
I had half a mind to say to these people, I’m sorry sir, I’m sorry madam, this is my job and I do the best that I can at it. I’m sorry that your Samsonite is one of fifteen bags and I had to stop for gas as well. If that bag is worth less than your time, perhaps I could have chucked it into the Delaware River, thus ridding us both of this inherent pain-in-the-ass suitcase.
I hate people almost as much as I hate July.
But this little tale of mine isn’t about any of those ungrateful people. This is a story about the last bag I ever “delivered”. I had only been with the company for about three weeks. Doing any form of manual labor in Philadelphia in July is humid death and the sun stays out until about nine in the evening.
But, this was the only job I could immediately find.
One particular day I was getting ready to take the Jersey route, a total of eight bags that day, when I got called into the office by Heather, the owner of the company. She told me that Frontier has just received another bag and they begged us to take it.
“Where’s it going?” I asked her.
“Tom’s River,” she replied, cringing a little bit as she braced for my reaction. Tom’s River was only about two hours from the courier office, that’s all. Included with my other eight bags why would I be so angry about having to drive two hours out of my way?
“Get the hell out of here!” I immediately yelled back.
“It’s a lot of money!” she snapped back at me. “You’ll make $120 dollars off of this bag alone!”
I rubbed my chin and sighed, pacing in the office and thinking hard about the delivery. I must have given myself away because when I looked back at her she had a slight quiver of a smile on her lips.
“Well, I guess I don’t have much of a choice,” I told her. “I’ll head back to the terminal. Don’t get any ideas about making something like this a regular thing, by the way. This is a one-time only favor that I’m doing for you.”
She scoffed. “I’ve heard that before, Richard. Anyway, when you get back to the office I won’t be here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I took my own Camry to the terminal this time. I hated that damn van anyway and it just made sense to drive my own car. I parked outside with the blinkers on in the pickup lane. I let the nearby parking authority and state police know who I was with and ran inside to the Frontier baggage claim.
The woman behind the desk, Gina, was on the phone when I got there. I’d met Gina before, and she smiled as I made my way to the desk. She held up a finger to me and said goodbye into the phone and hung up the receiver. Then, she turned to me.
“Hey, Ricky,” she said to me, cheerfully. “I’m glad you could make it, I just got off the phone with Heather.”
I ran my hand through my hair.
“Tom’s River Gina, really?”
She threw her hands up. “I’m sorry! They just send them to me and I call you guys! I told my supervisor how expensive this bag would be and he didn’t care, so here we are.”
“I know,” I replied. “I’m sorry. Are there any special instructions with the bag?”
She sucked air through her teeth, it’s a sound so vile that I’ll never forget it. “Well…” she started, but then trailed off.
“Gina,” I replied sternly.
Without saying a word, her eyes darted to the corner of the office. I whipped around and stared for a moment, saw it in the corner, and then I threw my arms up in disgust.
The bag was this old, blue pleather Jet Flite brand piece of crap. Well, most of it was blue. It yellowed in a few places and some of the pleather chipped off. It was from the 1950’s, before rolling luggage was a thing, so this was just a handle suitcase. I turned back to look at Gina.
“I don’t know,” she said to me, apologetically. “We ran it through the x-ray machine and there’s nothing but clothes in it. The name, address, and phone number are on the slip. That’s the best I can do, Ricky. I’m sorry.”
I looked down at the suitcase and pulled the tag off. I pulled out my phone and called the phone number on the suitcase tag. It rang twice, and I swear to God it did the strangest thing afterward. There was a click on the other end, like someone picked it up, but there wasn’t any ambient noise in the background. No one said hello, no one breathed into the microphone, and I didn’t hear any noises in the background. I didn’t even hear the static of the landline itself.
There was nothing.
I hung up and tried calling back but this time I got a message that the number was out of service, which made even less sense. I looked down at my phone to make sure I had the number right and then I looked back at Gina again.
She started to say something but her phone rang. She said her greeting and then shrugged at me and mouthed sorry, and then she turned back and walked into the office behind the desk.
I took a breath and bent down to get the bag. I nearly blew out every muscle in my body when I tried to lift it by the handle. My back felt like it strained muscles in three different places!
What in the hell is in this thing, cement? I asked myself as I worked to massage the pain out of my lower back. What did Gina say was in the bag, nothing but clothes?
Not knowing what else to do I notified a security guard that I was leaving the bag in the office. I walked down to the Delta Airlines hub to grab their baggage cart. They were always jackasses as they used a different recovery service and they usually mocked my company in the few times I had to deal with them. They always made me leave my ID with them but I didn’t really have a choice this time, all over the other baggage offices were closed by now. I entered Delta and eyeballed the smirking representative. With some coaxing, eventually the rep let me use the baggage cart.
When I made it back to Frontier the lights in the office were still on, but there was no sign of Gina. I readied the cart next to the bag, I braced myself to pick it up (using my legs this time), and I put my hand on the handle.
When I pulled, I flew backwards and landed on my back, carrying the bag with me as it landed on my stomach, nearly taking the wind out of my lungs.
It weighed about as much as a feather this time.
I rolled onto my feet and looked around to make sure that no one saw me make an ass out of myself. Then, I looked down at the suitcase.
Did someone tamper with it when I went to get the baggage cart?
I grabbed the handle and tried it again, this time with only a little force. Yep, it was just as light this time.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes in that moment. What happened with this bag? Am I fatigued? I asked myself trying to rationalize things.
I rubbed my chin and grabbed the bag again, and then I tossed it on to the baggage cart. As dumb as that may seem, I went out of my way to get that damn cart so I was determined to use it.
I wheeled the cart out to my Camry and I popped the trunk, which was already weighed down by the other bags. I was burning daylight now and I had to get out on my Jersey route, so I just tossed it in and ripped the tag off to keep with the other tags. I shifted them around so that the old Jet Flite bag was last, thus it would be the last delivery on the route. I closed my trunk and grabbed the baggage cart so I could take it back to Delta.
I started the Camry and drove up 95 north and over the Walt Whitman Bridge. As I drove towards Camden County, New Jersey, I noticed a smell in the air. It was a faint but foul aroma. I chocked this up to me simply driving through New Jersey and programmed Google Maps towards the first destination on my route.
The route was as scenic as it always was. With stops in Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Glassboro, and Vineland, the office made sure that I would beat my car to death in the July humidity with as much back tracking as I usually had to do. Yes, this is the way we did things; in order of distance from the office and time received as opposed to some straight line during delivery. One by one I dropped the bags off until I was left with only the Jet Flite bag.
I programmed the street address to the destination in Tom’s River into my phone’s GPS and started up 295 North from where I was. It would take another hour and a half to get there as I expected. As I passed through Trenton, I noticed the smell again and began to think about it. It had fluctuated between pungent and faint but it never left the Camry. Not only did the smell linger, but now it was getting overbearing.
I looked to each shoulder for cops and I accelerated faster. I raced toward Tom’s River so that I could drop this damn bag off and call it a night. My stomach was killing me with hunger pains but I was closed to the exit for the town now and according to Maps I was about 30 minutes away altogether.
I noticed that I was taking shallow, measured breaths at this point, and that I was starting to get dizzy. To wake myself up I slowed down to check the tag again. The name on the tag was, Richard Higgins, and other than a phone number that didn’t seem to work correctly, the tag showed the Tom’s River address, a bar code, and an IATA number. I wish Gina would have been able to give me more information, like if Frontier had ever even spoke with Gloria or if I could just leave the suitcase on the porch and waive the signature, but that was the nature of the beast with this job.
Some pop-punk son from my high school days blared from the radio as it came back from a commercial break. I smiled and sang along a little bit until I had to look at my GPS again to make sure I was still within spitting distance. I turned the radio down to plan my route in my mind.
*”*What in the God damn hell?” I screamed out, nearly swerving into a car in the lane to the right of me. The shock sent me into a panic while I tried desperately to move to the right-side shoulder. It had been the sound of an elderly woman. Well, kind of, I mean that’s the best way to describe what I heard. There was something…off about that voice, something that I couldn’t figure out while I was parked on the shoulder and trying to calm myself down.
I thought to myself, what was that, and how did it know my name?
With the Camry in park I got out as fast as I could. Someone blared their horn at me as they nearly took my driver’s side door off. I walked around to the front of the car to try and calm down. I stared into the back seat through the windshield, but there was nothing there except for my discarded Burger King wrappers. I opened my door again and popped the trunk, then made my way around to the back of the car.
The Jet Flite bag was still in the trunk. I grabbed it’s handle and pulled it out, half expecting to throw my back out again. But, it was as lightweight as an old bag filled with pajamas should have been.
I put the bag back in, shut the trunk lid, and took a few deep breaths. Everything us fine, you’re fine, you’re just tired and working too hard, I told myself. If anyone needs a vacation, it’s you, Rick.
When I got back in my car I noticed something…good, actually. The smell was gone.
But it’s absence, for some reason, only served to make me more paranoid than I was when I pulled over.
I should have been able to locate that smell. It’s sudden absence didn’t mean that the problem was gone. That put me on edge.
Behind the wheel of the Camry, I sat in the driver’s seat for a moment, hesitant to pull out into traffic. I looked over at my phone and the GPS map on it. I was only about 15 minutes away from the location now, which gave me a little relief.
I shifted into drive and merged back into traffic.
I finally wound up at my last delivery. It was 9:30 by that time which made me curse myself in frustration. That always bothered me about people who complained I was taking too long to get to their houses with their bags. It was never my desire to drive around until 11 o’clock or midnight with their bags just so I could end up back at my shitty apartment at three in the morning. I shook my head at that thought and checked the bag tag again.
1260 Landing Way
Tom’s River, NJ
Staring at the sign for Landing Way, I pulled my car down the street, checking the numbers on the houses as I drove so I could find 1260.
I pulled close to 1256 and I noticed that there weren’t any other houses on that side of the street, and about half a mile down the street there was a dead end sign. I pulled up beside 1256 and gauged the situation. My GPS notified me that I had arrived, but at the time I didn’t think that was possible.
I shifted to park and looked at what was supposed to be 1260 Landing Way. This is supposed to be the part of the story where I lock eyes with a cliche’ of some kind. I figured I would pull up to the Bates’ Mansion or Ed Gein’s house or something to that effect. I wish I could write about things like boarded up windows, gothic additions, or someone looking at me through a curtain. If I would have seen ANY of those things, maybe that day would make a little more sense to me now.
But, when I looked out of my driver’s side window, there was nothing. There was no house at all.
From the car, I even shined my phone’s flashlight on the land to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Don’t get me wrong, it looked like there may have been a house on that land at some point. But, that point was a long time ago, certainly not that day in July.
There was the remnants of what looked like a driveway, not counting the tall grass that grew out of the cracks. The sidewalk kept going from 1256 to the dead end, and there was nothing out front except and old, rusted fence with a gate that was maybe three feet high. Well, there was a part of that fence, anyway. The fence only covered about four feet of the land in either direction. The gate hung poorly off of the hinges, what was left of it, anyway. The grass was overgrown; it looked almost like a couple of odd, concrete structures growing in a field.
This made me scratch my head for a minute or two. I turned the flashlight on my phone off and looked at the app. I turned the overhead light on in the Camry while I gauged the situation. The GPS and app both told me that I was at the correct address. I breathed a long and deep sigh and got out of the car, leaving my keys in the ignition.
I turned my flashlight back on and slowly walked towards the…I don’t know, the driveway I guess? I looked around using the light and made my way further onto the parcel of land. The hair on the back of my neck then stood up, which didn’t help the fact that I already knew something wasn’t right. When I made my way up to the top of the driveway, long cracked and worn and being reclaimed by the earth beneath it, I looked to my right, and I was glad I walked up the driveway slowly.
There was a foundation to the right that resembled a basement. There were footers and columns, and a couple of old appliances that were rusted through and through sat down in the pit, surrounded by a few puddles of standing water. There was a washer, a dryer, and a water heater. The water heater was lying down on the ground horizontally. I then noticed a furnace nearby as well.
I took a deep breath and carefully made my way back to my car. I broke into a sprint and opened the trunk. I tried the phone number on the tag again.
This time, the line was not dead.
It rang three times and someone picked up. I heard heavy breathing on the end of the line and alarm bells went off in my head. I managed to stammer out a weak, hello?
“Hellllloooooooo, Riccchhhhhaaaarrrrrddddddd,” I heard again, and it cut through my ears and down my spine.
I dropped the phone on the ground and popped the trunk open with my key. I grabbed the handle on the Jet Flite bag, and of course it again felt like there were cinder blocks in the damn thing.
I felt dizzy and right away noticed that the foul odor had come back. But instead of being localized to my car, it was all around me as I tried desperately to get the bag out of the trunk. With what strength I had left in my legs, I pulled the bag out and threw it on the asphalt behind me.
The latches popped open and the contents spilled out. Like Gina had told me, all that was in there was an old nightgown and slippers. I didn’t spend long processing the contents of the bag I just grabbed my phone off the street and made a break for the driver’s side door. I noticed that the call was still going on the phone and I shut it off. I got in the car and turned the key in the ignition.
Thankfully, I was two for two against cliche’s and the Camry started right up. I threw it in gear and blasted back down Landing Way. Within a few moments I was back on 295 heading south. I tried to avoid police when I noticed that the smell was overpowering now.
Why was it so bad? I ditched the bag and everything.
It clogged my nostrils and made me dizzy again. As I gasped for air, it came from the back seat.
Fury replaced fear as I pulled over to the shoulder and popped the trunk while my car idled. I stomped to the rear of the car and threw the trunk lid open.
Sure enough, there it was, sitting in the space above the spare tire compartment.
It was the Jet Flite bag, the damn Jet Flite bag. I have no idea how, but I was still in possession of it.
Oh well, I guess I was one-for-three in horror cliches tonight.
I yelled, I just looked to the New Jersey night sky and yelled as loud as I could. I yelled so loud that cars driving by slowed down and nearly rear-ended each other. I grabbed the handle on the Jet Flite bag, which of course felt like grabbing a boulder with a handle, and I pulled it to the mouth of the trunk. I was able to git it over and dump it on the side of the road. Again, the locking mechanism snapped open and the contents of the bag poured out.
There were photographs now, old photographs, some in frames and some loose prints just lying on the road. Where in the hell did the nightgown and slippers go? This didn’t explain the weight fluctuation of the bag at all. Why did the damn thing feel like a boulder sometimes?
I looked down at the photos. They had burn marks on them, most of them did. Some were singed on the corners and some were burned beyond recognition. I picked up a few of the legible ones.
Mostly, the photos were of a family. Thee was a husband, a wife, and two kids. I’d have to estimate that the kids were ages 10 and 12, a boy and a girl, with the boy being the older one. The man wore a business suit with a fedora and the wife, who kind of was a looker, wore a contemporary dress of the late 50’s or early 60’s, if I had to guess. Based on the color tone of the photo I guessed that the pictures were taken around that time frame as well, maybe later.
A few things about the photos were…off, though. There were a few words scrawled on them in green marker, from another language. Except it wasn’t marker, come to think of it. It was wax, candle wax.
I noticed something else in the photos, too.
There was a house in every photo. It was a small, brick ranch house and the family was standing in front of it.
The surrounding land looked exactly like Landing Way.
I took a closer look at the photo. In his left arm, he held his wife. And in his right hand…
It was a blue, Jet Flite suitcase.
Right there on the highway I started looking feverishly through other photos. One of the photos showed the man and a woman, a completely different woman, in bed, taken through the window of a completely different house. There was another photo that showed candles on the wooden floor of a dark room,
There were five of these candles to be specific, and in the middle was a fedora and the suitcase. The next photo showed the ranch house on Landing Way on fire. There were figures in the widows of this photograph, all of them had their hands on the glass.
Six pairs of hands, and four of them belonged to children.
I dropped the photo I was looking at when I heard my name again. It was…different this time. This time, the voice was deep, even guttural. I slammed the trunk shut, leaving the Jet Flite bag and the pictures on the street and ran to the driver’s seat. I slammed my door shut, found my key, and tore off the shoulder back into traffic.
I was trying to outrun the smell and this damn bag and whatever memories were attached to it.
I hoped that escape was possible.
The smell only became stronger as I made it to Trenton. It was then that I made the mistake of looking in the rearview mirror.
I saw her eyes first. They had no detail to them, they were just these damned, yellow orbs sunk into black sockets. She was old; at least she looked ancient, anyway. Her hair, what was left of it, was grey and stringy. She had a grin…I think it was a grin. Her teeth were a disgusting shade of brown.
She was completely nude; I don’t know why I’m thinking about this now, but maybe that’s why the nightgown was in the suitcase? I’m not sure what bags get inspected upon traveling down to hell. Her skin was pale white, all wrinkles, but no veins. In retrospect maybe she didn’t have any blood left in her. Hell, maybe that’s what she wanted from me.
This time I watched her mouth open, but she didn’t say my name.
Frankly, I don’t know what in the hell she said. Whatever she said in that moment came out backwards and deep. Yeah, her words really came out backwards, just like a tape being rewound at regular speed. Sweat poured down my brow as I tried to stay on the road while keeping an eye on her in the rearview mirror.
I had to swerve as a car hit the brakes in front of me suddenly, and this was a mistake.
She had an opportunity and took it. All at once, I found bony, cold fingers wrapped around my neck. She dug her long, dead fingernails into my jugular and squeezed and squeezed. The smell was worse than ever now as I gasped for my last bits of oxygen. I started to see trails and my vision faded out.
I had one chance. I checked out of the corner of my eyes to see if there was a car to my right. The lane was empty, so I jerked the wheel with all my might in that direction. I swung the Camry over two lanes of traffic with cars honking and drivers screaming at me as the car cut. I wasn’t trying to pull over, though. I jammed my foot on the gas as I barreled towards the guard rail.
I cursed myself for not wearing a seatbelt as my body jerked forward and then from side to side upon impact. Glass shattered everywhere. All of the console lights in the car came on at once as the radio abruptly cut off. I felt a fire run through my spine and my leg and my arm, jolting me back into consciousness. Warm blood caressed my face starting at my forehead and running down my cheek.
But, most importantly, my neck was free of her hands.
I seized the opportunity and jerked the driver side door open. I stumbled out of the car and to the ground. I crawled past the car over to the rail itself. With my last bit of consciousness, I looked at the front of my poor Camry. The front end was crumpled in on the right side and the headlight was completely smashed in. The windshield had shattered and glass from the windows was all over the place. There was fluid leaking from the undercarriage.
I then cursed myself one last time for not having collision coverage as I slipped into blackness.
I awoke some time later in a hospital bed in Camden, which would definitely not have been my first choice. I was in traction with casts on my left arm and leg. I used my right hand to feel my face, which had gauze all down the right side.
I let out a sigh when I realized my predicament, but then I took in a hearty breath.
I’ll take the smell of a hospital over the smell of death and decay any day of the week.
The coming days were a mess. A New Jersey state trooper came by and presented me with a ticket for reckless driving, despite my story. There were enough witnesses at the scene to describe the lane-jumping magic act I had to put on. I also got a bill for the impounding of my poor little Camry and for damages done to the guardrail on impact. I think Heather texted me about the bag once. I simply texted back, “I won’t be delivering bags anymore”, to which I never received a response, a visit, or anything else from her, for that matter.
The few friends I once had never showed up or even called me to ask how I was doing. My family hates me and I’m not sure if they even know where I live. But it kind of hurt that Heather didn’t show up, or any of the other guys from the courier service. It was only me, lying in traction, alone in my thoughts.
I was diagnosed with a broken femur, a fractured forearm, lower back trauma, and head trauma. I had to go through about six weeks of medication and then rehabilitation. Well, I only was able to do four weeks of that thanks to my liability policy that came to about $15,000, and then they cut my casts off and I was booted from the hospital with nothing but a pair of crutches. My leg never healed properly and I have a limp now. I used what money I had in the bank to take an Uber down to the airport.
I picked up my last check from the bag service. When I came, Heather luckily wasn’t there. No one else would talk to me, which is fine; I didn’t have anything to say to them. If they weren’t there for me when I went to the hospital, what was I going to tell them now? I wouldn’t be able to drive again until I could get to New Jersey for my reckless driving hearing. I couldn’t drive for a while anyway, I didn’t have a car anymore.
I doubt I’ll be driving for a long time.
I’ve been home for two months now. I saw a 90-day notice to evict slide under my door the other day. I let my phone shut off. I put everything I could into my internet and electric. I’d rather watch YouTube videos all night on my laptop, desperately trying to stay awake, than talk to anyone. And who would call, anyway?
But at least that Jet Flite bag is gone. The smell is gone. Those damned yellow-orb eyes that occupied my rearview mirror are gone. She’s gone, so at least I’ll figure it out again some day soon, and rejoin society.
At least, I hope she’s gone. Sometimes at night, I think I hear that soft, ancient voice call out my name.
I tell myself it’s just the wind outside.