This One Time, 118

This one time I was on the subway, zoned out and occasionally napping, headed home from working the overnight shift at my weird job that I really don’t feel like explaining at the moment. It keeps my sleep schedule all screwed up, and that means that sometimes I don’t sleep at all, and sometimes I can’t keep my damn eyes open. And that’s really bad, because if I fall asleep at work I can get fired. Will get fired.

So I was on the train, dozing off and on, and that’s okay because I get off at the last stop. And nobody much gets hassled since it’s the morning rush. It’s less that the cars don’t get empty and more about who’s got what it takes to be a predator before the coffee kicks in. And apparently I can keep a death-grip on my purse and my bag even while I’m asleep.

If you are the sort that can doze off on the subway, you can usually wake up when something unusual happens. Trains break down. Trains stand in the stations waiting for another train ahead of them to get out of the way. People get drunk and fall off the platforms or even deliberately jump in front of the trains — though really, if they’re looking for a quick death, all they really have to do is say that they want to die and will jump. The platform will be full of volunteers to kill them by hand to keep them from screwing up the commute.

Maybe that goes against what I said before about violence before coffee, but I guess it’s all about breaking the routine before coffee. I’d expect a mugging or an assault to be something you’d have to be ready to improvise for, every one of them different. Maybe it’s more accurate to say nobody is much willing to screw with their routine before coffee.

The reason I snapped awake is that we’d been stopped for a while, and it wasn’t at a station, much less at the end of the line. There are places in the tunnels where the trains will stop, right before a switch, basically so they can wait for someone to throw the switch for them. Sometimes the signals will be screwed-up and all the trains on the line will stop, wherever they are, until someone sorts them out. So it’s not really uncommon to just be parked underground for a while. My personal record was around 45 minutes, and that was in a hot tunnel in a car with a busted air conditioner. Kind of memorable.

We were stopped in a place where there were a lot of parallel tracks, like an underground railyard. There was some very dim lighting, so I could see other trains out there, a way ahead, a long way behind. This place was enormous, and it was no place I knew about.

There were really only about ten people in the car, maybe fewer, and I could see out most of the windows. I turned around to look out the window behind me and nearly jumped out of my skin. There was a train parked on the track right next to mine on that side. All the lights had been out in the other train, but they snapped on as I was looking, and I could see a bunch of people in the car next to mine. And the more I looked, the more I saw that the same people were in that car as in this one — or at least it really looked like it. It was at least as close as it would be if there were doubles, like for movie stunts. I didn’t get a chance to look for as long as I needed to work it out. But it certainly wasn’t just a mirror. People were in different places in the car. And there was the thing with the lights. Our lights hadn’t gone out or flickered once I was awake.

I scanned as quickly as I could to try to find my double, and there she was, slumped over in a corner, eyes closed. Her eyes snapped open the instant I was looking at her, and then she sat bolt upright.

And then I remembered being her, and being stuck in this underground railyard, and seeing myself in another train car looking out at her. At me.

Then the lights snapped off in the other train, and in the yard itself, leaving me staring at my stunned reflection in the window against the blackness. Then the lights in my car went out too. And when it was completely black, the train started rolling again. Outside I could make out the occasional distant green or red or blue light that the signals used, but that was it. Then the lights came back on in the car. Across the car from me, there was an old man with a newspaper folded in his lap, patiently waiting for the lights to come back on so he could read. He acted like nothing had happened.

And maybe nothing had. But I sure as hell couldn’t get to sleep when I got home.


April 28, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


Leave a Reply