Riding the Rails

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Fiction, Flash Fiction Challenge
Tags: ,

So, over at terribleminds the Flash Fiction Challenges for the coming weeks are apparently revolving around a “Round-Robin” style concept, which unfortunately doesn’t really work toward what I do around here. No problem, I can roll with the punches. So, in lieu of any kind of prompting from the Wendig Quarter, I got inspiration for a quick piece from a recent Gizmodo article, “Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism”. Now, obviously, one could get sci-fi horror vibes from a headline like that (spoiler: the reason why half the DNA doesn’t match is because, shocker, our databanks of sequenced genomes isn’t complete), but my feelings were more along the surrealist route and prompted “Late Nite Ride”:

Alfonse barely made the train.

After making it passed the turnstile, he vaulted down the concrete steps – all four flights of them, the stairwells themselves empty of others – and sprinted across the platform just as the door to the last car was closing. His chest heaving and his hands full from the effort of trying keep his messenger bag and mp3 player from flying around him as he ran. He collapsed onto the seat and looked around, still getting his breath back. The car was empty and even though it was one in the morning, Alfonse found it odd, but he shrugged it off and leaned back in the seat, turning up his music and closing his eyes.

It had been a long day, running across most of Midtown trying to get things set up for the release of his graphic novel along with taking care of his girlfriend, Abbie’s, birthday party plans. He was exhausted and let himself drift away in a half-conscious doze to the beat of the music and the rhythm of the train.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he suddenly became aware that the train had stopped. Opening his eyes, Alfonse rose slightly in his seat and hurriedly looked out the car’s windows, trying to see what station he was at. The doors closed and the train lurched a second later, eliciting a swear from Alfonse. He stood and crossed to the other side of the car, peering out the window at the rapidly departing station, trying to see if he could even get a glimpse.

Nothing.

“God damn it,” he muttered and turned, intending to slump back down in his seat and wait for the next station. But, he stopped mid-turn, his heart lurching to a stop for the briefest of seconds before starting again.

There was a cow on the train.

Or, at least, it looked like a cow, with long horns and a shaggy coat. Do cows have big horns? Alfonse wondered, his brain breaking in with a non sequitur. The beast just stared at him, its mouth moving in an odd, slow chewing motion, it’s big eyes dark and blank.

“How the–? Why the–?” Alfonse said, pulling his headphones off and taking a tentative step backward, swaying slightly with the motion of the train. “What the fuck is this?”

The beast was taciturn.

It didn’t move toward him or display any hostility. It just stood there, chewing. In the subway train. He backed up until he got to the last seat in the car and slowly sat down, watching the animal as it placidly watched him.

Eventually, the train slowed to a halt, the doors hissing open. Alfonse stood and moved slowly toward the doorway, keeping an eye on the animal, but jumping back into the car as something brushed his leg.

“What the shit?!” He yelled, scrambling toward the far wall of the car and tossing his headphones at the ground near the door. A small, black animal – resembling something like a two foot long rat with a furry tail – dodged out of the way and roared in a tiny way at him, following that up with raucous barking as it charged. Alfonse let out another exclamation as he hopped up on the bank of seats in retreat. The animal stopped, glared up at him and then continued on down the length of the car before hopping up into its own seat.

The larger animal continued to chew cud.

Alfonse watched the two for a good long while after the train started up again, unable to move from the seats he’d climbed onto. The trio stared silently at one another as the tunnel-lights flickered by outside the car, with Alfonse occasionally glancing down at his cell-phone and decrying the horrible reception.

Finally, the train slowed once more and came to a stop. Alfonse watched the smaller black creature hop down from its seat and bark softly at the bovine. As the doors slid open, both quietly exited, though Alfonse swore he heard the smaller one grumble, “Asshole.”

Alfonse blinked, his brain still processing the status of the now-empty train car. He stood and slowly wandered over to the windows that faced the platform. He didn’t see either animal, but did see a proliferation of potted plants, natural lighting emanating from the station ceiling, and what looked like some kind of bear sitting on a bench. The doors hissed shut, the train swayed and lurched back into movement, carrying Alfonse on down the tunnel.

He spent the time traveling to the next station in silence, the only sounds being the clacking of the train on the tracks and the tinny music still piping out of his fallen headphones. At the next stop, he picked up the headphones and stumbled out onto the platform, wary of where he was getting off. The only other person on the platform was an old Asian lady who gave Alfonse a dirty, suspicious look and clutched her purse closer to her body. He ignored it and hung the headphones around his neck and numbly made his way back to the surface.

The random, ambient sound of Queens greeted him as he exited the subway and he took solace in that. Standing on the sidewalk, he kept his eyes on the street, examining each passing car.

“Only taxis from now on,” he muttered to himself. “Only goddamn taxis.”

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