I became aware or at least I waded in the waters of the outer fringes of awareness. I could not say that I had awakened because the act of waking never felt quite like this; like some mysterious force outside myself suddenly prodding my cognizance to remind me I existed. My mind was plunged in the deepest layers of unconsciousness, the lowest notch on the coma scale before brain death, but an infinitesimal scrap of self dug its fingers into the loose soil walls of a bottomless grave of oblivion and slowly clawed its way up in search of normalcy or at least something familiar.
When I realized I had absolutely no idea where I was, bewilderment shifted to dread and I began to shake. I was lost in a forgotten place with no memory of how I had gotten here or even the faintest recollection who I was. Then there was pain, almost if I remembered to feel it, not excruciating but a dull throbbing ache in my head and back. I imagined myself broken, shattered to pieces, a hollow porcelain shell of a person that in no way could ever be properly reassembled. This feeling seemed familiar but distant, an old vague memory of being stricken with a plague of night terrors in which I had been paralyzed in a similar manner. I could not name what terrified me then but it lurked in the dark, always in the dark and perhaps it was a patient thing that had waited for my return. Perhaps it was here with me now. I tried to call out but I had no voice and that call strained to become a silent scream as my mind thrashed about in black confusion.
After a long helpless moment, the fog lifted and all at once I knew myself, I remembered tumbling into the subway shroud. I entered falling but how far I fell or for how long, I couldn’t rightly say. Somewhere during the process of spinning head over heel in the void, I had lost consciousness. When my senses eventually returned I found that I was resting prone on a surface, hard yet to my fingertips it had the texture of material. The black was so dense my eyes couldn’t locate enough light for me to see my own hand in front of my face let alone to make out any detail of my surroundings. I took a deep breath to calm myself because losing my presence of mind at the moment wouldn’t have produced the most advantageous outcome. I sat up and took stock of my situation. I was still alive, still able to take in air and there was indeed air to be taken in, I still possessed the sensation of touch as I could feel both the surface below me and my body, which seemed to be intact, but still had no clue as to my whereabouts. Inside the shroud, yes, I knew, but where was here exactly?
I fumbled in my pocket for my smartphone to use as a light source but my pocket was empty. In fact, all my pockets were empty, turned inside out, then I realized my backpack was gone as well. I remembered seeing footage of a man being struck by a car with enough force that his shoes flew off his feet when his legs whipped out during impact. Had that been the case here? My shoes were still securely fastened to my feet but if I had been thrown into an alternate dimension what were the rules governing what objects and matter could cross over and what could not?
Was this even an alternate dimension? The surface beneath me made me exclude the notions of being in a void or limbo. I stood up, arms stretched wide, fingers wiggling like feelers, testing my surroundings. My first thought was to look for the portal that brought me here. Was the shroud still on the train? Could I find my way back home? Were Madi and the others safe?
“Hello, hello!” I shouted into the intense darkness as I took a few tentative steps forward.
“I’m here, I’m here!” I repeated until my mouth went dry and I was about to abandon all hope of anyone hearing me in the abyss.
Suddenly a hand landed on my shoulder and I felt myself leap out of my skin; and I heard, yes, I heard these words pronounced in my ear,
“I hear you, Horton.”
It was Madi’s voice and I recognized the reference from a Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who! even though she got it wrong. Horton was the one doing the hearing when he discovered a world the size of a dust speck. Not that it mattered at the moment.
“Madi, is that you?” I spun and collected her thin frame in my arms.
“Who else would it be?” she answered.
“The shroud swallowed you as well?”
“No, when it reappeared, I jumped in after you.”
“You foolish—,” I said, my face buried in her neck as I hugged her to me. I was filled with a mix of emotions, happy that I was not alone here, angry that she risked her own safety for my sake and flattered that she had.
“I’m sure what you mean to say is thank you and you’re welcome. Now, how about you break this bear hug and we find a way out of here?”
I let Madi’s body slip from my arms but took hold of her shoulders, “Do you have your phone? I can’t find mine and we need some light.” But I knew the answer before she said it because when I hugged her, I didn’t feel her backpack.
I could hear her patting herself down. Her pockets were as empty as mine.
“We’ll just have to make do without them,” I said, placing the back of my hand on the back of her hand to let her figure out where my arm was. She held my arm just above the elbow and walked a half step behind me. “Since there definitely was a way into wherever here is…”
“Then there has to be a way out,” Madi said and I wondered if her inability to see physical dimensions in the dark was having any effect on her claustrophobia? “I hope you’re right.”
“I am,” I assured her. “Though the exit may not exist at our point of entry.” Without the aid of a cane, I had to test the ground with each foot I put forth.
“At least our situation isn’t absolutely terrible.”
“How do you reckon that?”
“Because we’re not dead, Darius.”
“And where there’s life there’s hope.”
“If we can’t believe that, what’s left? Besides, the film crew must have gotten all or some of what happened on tape, so there’s proof and perhaps our disappearance will spark an investigation and Andrew can lead a group of people much smarter than ourselves to find a way to rescue us.”
Madi stated it in such a self-possessed manner that I couldn’t bring myself to point out the flaws in her scenario, the biggest one being the next date scrawled on the 1924 subway map was two years away so even if McKissick mounted a rescue the plain and simple truth of the matter was we only had ourselves to rely on. So, I resolved to be the soil she could plant her hopes and faith in, whether I agreed with them or not.
Madi stopped suddenly and tugged on my arm. “Shhh! Did you hear that?” she whispered.
I held my breath for an instant and listened. It might have only been my imagination playing tricks on me, but it seemed to be a scuffling noise.
“Did you hear?” she murmured.
“Yes.” This time there was no mistake! A groaning sound accompanied the scuffling and it was close by! An insane thought flashed through my mind as insane thoughts had been known to do. Just for a moment, I wondered if we were truly dead and the sounds were of approaching demons coming to ferry us to processing place for final judgment. I quickly pushed it out of my mind.
It made more sense the sounds were coming from some other unfortunate soul who had been swallowed by the shroud and the most logical assumption was the old woman I sought to protect.
“Miss? Miss, are you all right?” I called out.
“What is it? Do you see something?” Madi’s grip tightened on my arm.
I ignored her and cocked my head straining to locate a sound I scarcely heard, a sound that was growing closer and closer. And after a moment something brushed past me and when it felt the contact, it clung to me.
“Madi, stand back!” I pushed her away and bawled my fist because the grip on me hadn’t felt like it belonged to an old woman.
“Madi?” the feeble voice asked. “Is that you, Quaice?”
“McKissick?” I murmured.
“Andrew!” Madi cried.
“Where are we?” asked McKissick.
“Inside the belly of the subway shroud.”
“Did you come in with the old woman? How many more of us should we be looking for?” I asked.
“My brain is still a little fuzzy but I remember the shroud skipping over the woman and thinking how fortunate she was that she didn’t move and then I woke up here.”
“Do you have a phone or lighter or anything we can use to see where we are?” I asked. “Ours are gone.”
A moment later McKissick confirmed that all his pockets were empty. There was something unnatural about our missing personal effects, a missing clue wandering in the back of my mind that I was missing. Best not to focus on it, I would let my subconscious sort that bit out.
I instructed McKissick to take the crook of Madi’s arm the way she had taken mine and we made our way slowly in a direction. I groped about and in a matter of steps, my fingers made contact with something smooth, polished and hard. I swung my foot forward, kicking it, and the blow produced a metallic sound and my fingers found a row of small protuberances which made me think the wall was made of riveted plates. Were we in some sort of a room or other enclosure constructed by a human?
Madi and McKissick joined me in searching the wall for a door frame or vent or some other aperture but the bare wall revealed no trace of window or door. I asked McKissick to lend me a hand in hoisting Madi up to see if she could feel how high the wall extended. She was barely able to feel a ridge but not enough to secure a handhold. We then began pounding on the metal wall in order to communicate with whoever built this, to let them know we were trapped inside or were we outside banging for them to let us in? It was impossible to tell in the total darkness.
Questions began forming in my mind daring me to find the answers to what the metal wall was for? Who built it? What type of beings lived inside the shroud? Were we even inside the shroud or teleported to another place?
Suddenly a noise, like iron works violently pushed aside, came from our left in the darkness. A door opened and the dense darkness suddenly gave way to extreme light so strong that I could not bear it at first. My eyes were so dazzled that I was barely able to distinguish the movement in the doorway from the figures that stepped through it. I shielded my eyes and squinted to better make out the backlit shapes. After the last had entered, the door shut immediately with a bang. The area remained lit as two of the figures attached phosphorescent domes to the walls with a magnetic clank. I blinked several times as my eyes adjusted to the light and I saw six people standing in front of the closed door.
We were in a long narrow room, metal riveted plate walls, a domed metal ceiling and a wood slats floor with a runner carpet laid down the center of it. Of the six individuals, five were men of varying shapes and sizes, from short to tall, wiry to muscular, hairy to bald, each looking like they had been plucked from Dick Tracy’s rogue’s gallery. But in the center stood a supple, statuesque woman who radiated enormous self-confidence. Her ochrous hued skin was impeccable, framed by midnight hair that tumbled over her broad shoulders and highlighted by dew-pond round champagne-brown eyes. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life.
While I was mesmerized by this woman, Madi and McKissick were asking questions in rapid succession. Where are we? What is this place? Who are you? How did you get here? Do you know the way out? And so on. But no answers were forthcoming. The six merely stood there in silence examining us with great attention which sparked annoyance in Madi that quickly escalated to anger.
“Madi, give them a chance to speak,” I touched her arm gently, though I did not, could not take my eyes off the raven-haired woman.
“Perhaps they don’t understand us,” offered McKissick.
And as confirmation of that, the tall, wiry man turned to the woman and spoke to her in an unrecognizable language. Although I spoke no other language besides English and Jarberish, I could identify most languages easily, but what they spoke, the harshness of vowels and the harmony of consonants, it seemed almost extraterrestrial, sounds the human tongue would have difficulty making.
To be continued…
Week 12 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and now the story truly begins. No more floundering for ideas. I finally know where the story is heading. I think I may have even stumbled on the story’s voice (though that, like everything else is subjectto change.)
As a recap to newcomers:
This story is an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite.
I always knew this story would either be in a speculative fiction, sci-fi or horror vein but I never anticipated it would be a time travel story as I’m not the biggest fan of those. Just goes to show you, a story can sometimes take you where it wants to go, not necessarily where you want to go. There are seven more characters that have yet to be introduced but I have a sneaking suspicion that at least one of them will make an appearance in the next installment. Don’t hold me to that, though. The characters are still in complete control of this (pardon the pun) train wreck.
I’m still lagging behind in my progess but you know what, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air. Falling flat on my writerly face is not an option at this point in time.
Previously I asked if you can spare a moment, I invited readers to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. But I’m past that point now. I will gladly accept attaboys and constructive criticism, but if you’re on a negative vibe, you can keep that to yourself. I already own more than my share of that.
‘Til next week,
©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys