By G R Emery.
Heavy footsteps echo down the length of an empty subway station. An indistinct image of a man reflects on the porcelain-tiled walls and pillars in the harsh light of naked florescent bulbs. A section of the station at the far end sits in shadows from the failing incandescence, the ceaseless electrical buzzing an undercurrent to the ambient noise of the station.
The hour is late, and Terry Lassiter’s fatigue is evident in the slight sag to his shoulders. It’s been a long day, and he is anxious for home and the comfort of a warm bed. He wrinkles his nose at the sweet sticky odor of urine and sweat that seems to be the subway’s signature. Angrily kicking at an imagined rock, he ponders his predicament: a broken down car, non-existent taxi service and a winter storm that has already dumped inches of heavy snow. His only choice this late at night is a ride on the subway.
The steel tracks pop, momentarily interrupting his thoughts. A train is coming, and he can hear the far off rumbling staccato as it races towards the station. The beams of the train’s powerful headlights reflect off the steel tracks as they race ahead of the train swaying through the tunnel. A shadow, indistinct and unnoticed, darts across the glaring beams and disappears. In the next instant, a rush of warm fetid air greets Terry as the train pushes through the tunnel and into the station.
The last car stops and he checks the side roll sign. 207th St Manhattan, his train, the ‘A’ train. A bell tone sounds and a loudspeakered voice announces the stop. The sliding doors open. The car is empty and warmer than the station. Terry picks a seat next to the emergency exit door. Leaning back on the hard plastic bench, he succumbs to fatigue and, closing his eyes, begins to nod off.
A sudden cold gust of air and a flapping sound like the wings of a crow about to take flight briefly stops his somnambulant glide into sleep. The doors close. He is not alone; someone has entered the car at the opposite end. He is groggily aware of a passenger sitting next to the engineer’s closet. A woman, judging from the slight build. She is covered from hooded head to toe by a nondescript black cape, dress more in vogue in the late 18th century. She seems unaware of him, lost in her own thoughts. Thinking that the woman is probably on her way to a ‘village’ party he soon losses interest and, as the train accelerates out of the station, he drifts off again surrendering to the gentle motion of the car…
the lights flicker as the train clamors noisily over the cross-ties. There is a sound of rustling leaves, and she is standing, holding onto one of the center stanchions at the far end of the car. She lets the hood fall back from her head. Her Slavic heritage is evident in the narrow face and high cheekbones. Her hair, the color of ravens’ wings, cascades down her back forming lazy ringlets. She moves towards him in the stuttering light like an image on a movie screen out of sync.
The lights flicker again and she is closer. She stands in the middle distance opening her arms, beckoning him. Her exhaled breath mists in the crystalline air. Her steps are halting, sporadic, almost spastic in the changing light.
“Barbara?” A memory smiles from his past at him. Has she plumbed the depths of his mind recreating a forgotten encounter? He calls out to the fading apparition. In its place, a swirling mist advances closer, coalescing into a flaxen haired sorceress with obsidian eyes. There is an essence, a musky redolence of unwashed clothes and musty walls, an ancient smell of decay and death like an opened tomb…
A shriek and Terry shudders awake. Shepherd Avenue with its white on blue mosaic sign and pillarless platform, next in local stops behind Euclid. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he shakes off the memory of the nightmare, and curious, he turns toward the far end of the car. The woman is still there, ominous, perched like a black bird of prey. The din and squeal of brakes interrupts his thoughts as the wheels cut across another intersection of tracks as the car rolls to a stop entering Van Siclin Ave. The familiar doorbells chime again and the subway doors open and close like a steel valve. But, the memory of the dream still lingers just out of reach, and sleep is hard to find.
The train gathers momentum, and Terry watches as the mosaic signs become a blur. Soon the porcelain walls of the station are left far behind. In its place, the tunnel with its dim marker bulbs shining palely like the glowing eyes of hungry wolves on a moonlit night. Before long, the rhythmic clatter of wheels on iron tracks soothes Terry and he begins to nod off once more…
the breeze carries with it the odor of a newly dug grave. He can see a group of mourners at the top of the hill standing on either side of an opened pit, the mounds of piled earth like Charon’s cloak enclosing them. A canopy shields them from the bright rays of the sun. They murmur, their voices rising and falling in response to the minister’s intonations. The graveled pathway crunches as each step brings him closer to the top of the hill. He comes even with the crest. A coffin sits opened, mounted on a catafalque. He tries to pull away, but an adult grip holds his child’s hand fast in its painful grasp. He looks up at his tormentor. She stands above him uncloaked, the hooded cowl removed, her dark hair cascading down her bare shoulders. Her widow’s peak prominent, like fate’s finger pointing down at him. A keening sound is abruptly smothered by her hand across his face. He cannot stop the inevitable as she forces him to look in the casket. A corpse lies inside the satin walls, the hollow cheeks and bloodless lips grimacing in death, a mere caricature. His face stares up at him, eyeless.
…the car sits in semi-darkness. In the half light shadows shift and flow like phantasms in a child’s dream. There is movement, something large. He can hear a scratching at the other end of the car. A low coughing growl coming closer, a hint of air carries the rancid odor of decaying meat. A flash of light exposes the source. A four-legged beast with bristling, blood encrusted hackles, its mouth a gaping maw with fangs glistening in anticipation.
…a shriek of brakes, or is it Terry screaming? Unsure, he tries to move, but something holds him secure in the seat. In the gloom of the car, he watches as station after station thunders by in a blur of beiges and blues and blacks. Street signs riffle past like cards shuffling…
Across from him, the woman stands and slowly opens her cape. She rips away her blood soaked peignoir. Underneath bodies writhe in anguish and pain as an unseen fire licks their tortured flesh. She comes closer, and the stench of burning bodies is overwhelming.
…the car lights flash, she stands as before but the cape is gone. A white peignoir is all that covers her. He can see the line and curve of her femininity and feels the first stirrings of desire. He can see the blue traceries of veins on her alabaster face. Reaching for him with a taloned finger, she pricks his neck drawing blood. Her serpentine tongue flicks at the prize. She swallows, smiling with feral satisfaction. She slithers closer, her mouth opens. Her blood-drenched fangs glisten in the half-light…
The air brakes scream like pigs led to slaughter, and he is awake. As the car shudders to a halt, he stands, looking for the woman. She is there as before, draped across her seat, her cape like wings furled. Shivering at the memory of the dream, he hears the familiar chime of the bells announcing the opening doors. The station sign, Dyckman Street, his stop. He is glad to be off and on his way. Smiling to himself, he walks towards the station exit as the door chimes sound and the train begins to move off towards its last stop. As the last car, his car, is about to pass, he absently touches his neck and is horrified to find blood. He turns towards the moving train just as it passes by. She is standing at the emergency door smiling her fanged smile, her thoughts reaching him from across the receding distance.
We will meet again…my love!
G R EMERY lives in South New Jersey with his wife and Plott Hound named AJ. He is currently working on his first novel.