Subway — A short, mostly fictional story
12 people, myself included, sat scattered around a subway car when it lurched to a halt and the brakes screeched. As always, collective groans were made, with an extra uneasiness about the timing of it all.
Everybody here should know better, myself included. We all paid to hop into an underground train on the eve of another hurricane, knowing that it was dangerous but in too much of a rush to do otherwise. If anyone was surprised, it was less from the train stopping and more from the sounds of splashing water filling the tunnels. Everybody here thought the city should have closed the subway, myself included. And they should have. But we all still got on, just bitter the city had the gall to tempt us with it.
A few moments after we stopped, a gurgling message played over the loudspeaker as the distant conductor explained what was going on. It sounded like gibberish, but they always did this. If passengers actually knew what was happening, they’d get mad, but often times simply hearing the conductor talk nonsense in a calm voice was the reassurance we were looking for.
Hours passed. Sounds of water splashing grew busier, possibly higher. At hour five, when anyone who hadn’t found shelter from the storm was either foolish, forgotten, or running terminally behind schedule, we came close to admitting we had a problem. The conductor had gone quiet hours ago, and we could never understand them anyway. But this was a long train, and there were 12 of us. Enough that we wouldn’t be forgotten in the storm, we hoped. We went to sleep.
In the morning, not that we could tell from underground, we all woke up. There were 11 people in the train car. We were short one person from last night. We pointed at people, trying to identify who was who. But nobody could remember who was even here yesterday, we didn’t know each other’s names, and no one could determine who had gone missing.
The whole thing reminded me of a fish I used to have when I was a kid. It was a tiny, gray fish named Rex that my parents picked up from a pet store. There was another fish in the tank too, we’d bought a pair, but I couldn’t remember its name. Rex and the other fish swam around together for just a week, until one morning, we woke up to find Rex swimming around by himself.
We never found that other fish, or figured out what happened to it. Nothing was floating on top of the water, we put Rex in a baggie and combed the tank for some sort of skeleton in the gravel, we thoroughly checked the living room to see if the fish had possibly escaped and died in its freedom. But we never found any trace of the second fish. Rex just swam around as normal, having seen whatever happened but still going about his day. We eventually decided Rex must have eaten the fish, swallowing it whole.
Passengers began murmuring. The water outside the train was thundering. Single droplets were sneaking in through the bottom of the doors, although they were still impossible to force open.
Someone managed to force a window open slightly, but it only opened an inch for our own safety, and freezing wet winds blew in until we managed to shut it. Someone else opened the window and stuck out their phone to see if they might get cell service, dropping it into the flooding waters before they knew whether it’d worked.
The smells started to get worse, people started to yell about some important things and mostly petty things. Afternoon turned into evening, and even though we’d done nothing but sit around and argue, we were all tired.
We all reclined back on empty benches. I fell asleep pretty quickly, but just as I closed my eyes, I looked at a man sitting by himself in the corner, and I remembered that another man sat next to him the night before. Surely he would have remembered. But I fell asleep before I could keep thinking about it.
My eyes opened, and I could hear a new sound. It sounded like motion.
My head hurt, because I was reclined against the hard bench, and I still felt tired, because it was probably still late. I forced my head up and saw that everyone else was asleep.
The train wasn’t moving quickly, but it was finally moving. I put my feet into the inch of cold, dirty water on the floor and passed the sleeping passengers to the closest door.
On a gut feeling, I turned around to take another look at the sleeping passengers. The man sitting in the corner was awake, and no longer in his corner. He was a few feet away from me, leaning against the nearest pole, staring at me. I hadn’t heard him move through the water.
I told him that we were moving, and he nodded and said yes, we were. I asked him if he remembered the passenger who used to sit next to him, the one who disappeared, and he shrugged and said he did. I said I could barely remember that man, and he agreed and said he felt the same. I asked him why that passenger disappeared, and he stepped forward toward me.
On another gut feeling, I told the man that he reminded me of my fish. He simply nodded, the statement passing right through him, with the sort of nonchalance suggesting he’d either heard that enough for it to no longer be unusual, or he was so quietly hopped up on adrenaline that he never really considered what I said at all.
He took another step forward, and I tried to step back, but there was nowhere to go. The man was right in front of me, and he still looked at me distantly, and I imagined that his teeth were sharp in his mouth.
He was inches away when a loud creaking noise rocked through the train car, and the train started to slow, and an electronic voice announced the approaching stop over the intercom. The doors jolted and then they opened. Everyone else woke up.
I stepped to the side when I saw the man looking at me with something that might’ve been impatience, might’ve been disappointment. And then he pushed past me into the dark and flooded subway station, his footsteps splashing as he glided up the steps and disappeared.
The electronic voice on the intercom announced what the next station would be, and that we should stand clear of the closing doors. But besides that man, none of us left. The other passengers stayed in their spots, and we waited for the doors to close.
This wasn’t our stop.