Time was a bizarre creature. It crept in its petty pace from day to day, as Shakespeare once said via Macbeth, and I was anxious to get to the heart of this investigation, to confront the mysterious subway shroud and dissect it and disprove its mythical existence by exposing the reality behind it. And at the very same time, it sped by far too quickly, the handwritten date on the map was upon us so suddenly that we were not prepared for an encounter, not by a long shot.
True to his word, McKissick brought the 1924 BMT map to our office two days after our meeting in Beach’s pneumatic transit station. We asked the astrophysicist if the men who paid him a visit left a business card by any chance. They did and he fished it out of his wallet. It was identical to the one in our possession. A one-sided cornsilk card with no logo, organization identification or personnel name, only a toll-free phone number in raised Odile Initials lettering. But if the same men visited the both of us, why use different aliases on people they paired to work the same case?
Madi asked if he had attempted to contact the number. McKissick claimed he was waiting until we had something more solid than wild hunches to offer them. One of the possible plans we discussed two nights ago was to somehow convince the MTA to shut down train service on the elevated J train line between the Marcy Avenue and Cypress Hills station stops on March 12th in both directions.
“It shouldn’t raise any suspicion,” Madi said. “The J train is undergoing extensive track and station repairs at the moment and while people aren’t exactly thrilled with having to contend with shuttle bus replacement service, they’re used to it fouling up their daily commute.”
A unanimous vote found Penny dialing the mystery number and putting it through to Madi’s office, which was still the more presentable between hers and mine, and we three seated ourselves around the phone. The voice on the line identified himself as Duffy though he hadn’t sounded like the man we originally spoke with.
“Ms. Wasonofski and Mr. McKissick are also in attendance, so I’ve put you on speaker, I hope that isn’t a problem.”
“Not at all,” the unfamiliar voice of Duffy said. “Have you worked out your proposed turnaround time?”
“We’re actually calling to ask a favor,” Madi chimed in.
We each took turns revealing what we had discovered so far as well as our hunches and asked if their agency had enough pull to affect a partial train shut down for a twenty-four-hour period.
“For both dates?” asked Duffy.
“For March 12th, certainly. The next date is two years away. I doubt you’ll want to keep us on retainer that long,” I said.
“Let me see what I can do. Are you reachable at this number all day?”
“We’ll wait for your call.”
We moved out into reception and brought Penny up to speed, though we suspected she overheard most of our phone conversation with Duffy and went through the plan again over Chinese takeout. Having Penny be a part of this was crucial as she had the uncanny knack of spotting flaws and weak points and punching holes in our logic, which allowed us to devise several backup plans.
Two and half hours later the phone rang. It was Duffy. He wasn’t able to convince the MTA to partially suspend J line service but he had managed to secure an alternative option.
On Sunday, March 11th, we met at the Jamaica Center Station which was the last stop in Queens for the J train. We arranged a rendezvous time of 11:00 pm and while I was on-the-dot punctual, I found that Madi and McKissick were already there as well as the three-person guerilla film crew we hired to document our endeavor.
Project DaVinci, that was the name listed on the driver’s license of guerilla film crew director–what type of parent would do that to their child–held up a blank sheet of paper in order for Sarah Legere, the director of photography, to white balance the Sony PMW-300 One XDCAM mounted on the iso-elastic arm of her Steadicam harness. And Dennis Rokdo, the audio technician, clipped lavalier mics to the collars of Madi and McKissick’s shirts while they were engaged in what appeared to be an intimate conversation. Or perhaps just a conversation. I was being foolish and I was aware of it and I was slightly ashamed of the jealousy within me I hadn’t known existed until now. Though I pushed the thought aside, this was clearly a matter that needed to be addressed one way or the other once we concluded our work on the subway shroud case.
First to greet me was the station manager whose name might have been Peterson or Patterson but I wasn’t paying attention during the introduction and felt it would have been rude to ask the man to repeat himself.
While Duffy had been unable to suspend service on the section of the J line that we requested he had done the next best thing, which was probably the only other option available to him, he secured for us a test train.
“The test train models are called the R179,” Peterson/Patterson said as he pointed to the spotless silver beauty that sat on the local track, “which the MTA paid $735 million to the Montreal-based company Bombardier for the purchase of 300 new cars. The first of R179s were delivered in September 2016, and the first test train of eight cars was placed in service in November 2017.”
I knew this information as well as the fact that although the R179s passed their 30-day in-service test in December 2017, there had been a number of failures, which included train operator consoles erroneously indicated doors were open when they were closed, the emergency brakes kicking in when a bucket fell onto the tracks from the 121st Street station platform in Richmond Hill, Queens, and a test train leaving the Sutphin Boulevard station in Jamaica losing motor power in an ascent uphill at half speed over a standard gap between train equipment and the third rail, among others.
“Just so you know, this train won’t be in operation between the hours of 7:00 am to 10:00 am and 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm,” said the station manager.
“We were informed we would have access to the train for 24 hours,” Madi said.
“And you do, but this train will not congest our rush hour schedule. Whatever strings you pulled to gain access to a brand new train, it wasn’t high enough to convince my boss otherwise.”
“Then what do we do during rush hour?” McKissick asked.
“Rely on normal train service like the rest of us, I guess,” said Peterson/Patterson.
It wasn’t bad enough that we weren’t able to narrow down our search to either the Queens-bound or Manhattan-bound track or pinpoint one or two stations out of the sixteen Brooklyn stops but now we had to contend with commuters. Although I was not a superstition man by any stretch of the imagination, I knew better than to incur the wrath of the dreaded jinx by asking, could this get any worse?
Only one door of the train was open, the last door of the last car. There were signs taped to the windows of all the doors which read,
R179 TEST TRAIN
NOT IN SERVICE FOR PASSENGERS
If our train had been put into service, it wasn’t noticeable to me. The R179 was spotless and still had the new train car smell about it. For some reason, we were given a tour of it and I think it had more to do with the station manager attempting to get in a little screen time for himself as the film crew was recording everything.
“This train is equipped with updated control systems, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning or HVAC as we call it and public-address systems,” Peterson/Patterson continued. “It also employs FIND, an advanced Flexible Information and Notice Display, which includes an LCD screen displaying the route, route information, and advertisements, as well as a dynamic red, yellow, and green LED strip map that displays the next ten stations, plus five consecutive further stops to riders. And you’ll notice each car iss equipped with looped stanchions to provide passengers on crowded trains with a greater amount of pole surface area to grab on to.”
We were then introduced to our motorman and conductor and advised that the train would depart promptly at 11:45 pm.
“So, what were you thinking?” asked DaVinci.
“First off, a walkthrough of the full length of the train then hovering around the middle four cars. That’s where the shroud sightings seem to occur most frequently,” I said.
“And we have film rights?” DaVinci’s gaze skimmed our faces, catching each of our eyes for just a moment.
“Did you bother reading the NDA you signed?” Madi said. “If we capture anything abnormal on film, be it the subway shroud or some related phenomenon, there’s a six-month embargo before you can broadcast the footage in any form on any platform.”
“And you’ll need our written consent for any footage we appear in,” McKissick added.
DaVinci waved a sure, sure as he moved to the DP to discuss strategies for shooting around us to minimize our appearance in shots. I also heard DaVinci grumbling over the fact we vetoed his idea to have a pair of parapsychologists on hand, not because he believed their participation would have made any of this more successful but he wanted to edit in shots of them fiddling with their supernatural detection equipment and close-ups of dial measurement readings. If he truly wanted them so badly, he would have to shoot b-roll on his own dime.
Jessica Ettinger’s voice came in over the public address system announcing, “This is a Manhattan-bound J local train. The next stop is Sutphin Boulevard/Archer Avenue.”
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please,” said the recorded voice of Charlie Pellett, veteran Bloomberg Radio news anchor/reporter. Following the door chime familiar to New York City commuters, the R179’s doors closed and the train pulled out of the station.
“And so, it begins,” I said.
Despite his ridiculous name, DaVinci seemed a decent sort once we had begun talking and seemed, from my limited point of view, an experienced filmmaker, from the way he went about framing shots and discussing dramatic angles so that each car we walked through took on a slightly different appearance from the one before. His personal opinion of the subway shroud was that he believed it to be a trans-dimensional doorway which could be opened at spots where two realities pressed against one another and both sides simultaneously generated a harmonious resonance frequency, such as trains traveling at a certain velocity in the same direction at the same time on either side of the divide. But he gave me his assurance that he wouldn’t let his views bias the outcome of our findings today.
Legere and Rokdo were of similar beliefs and openly discussed and calculated the possibility of a sighting and hopefully of a physical interaction. They promised that should such an interaction occur they would leave the investigation and exploration to myself, Madi and McKissick, and stated their desire was nothing more than to document the shroud but their sincerity was put into doubt by the eagerness in their eyes and manner when discussing the matter. I spoke with Madi in Jarberish to advise McKissick that we would have to keep our eyes on the filmmakers should we make contact.
The guerilla crew had armed themselves with enough backup batteries and memory cards for a 24-hour shoot but hadn’t thought to bring provisions. We hadn’t suspected they might but Penny had over-packed our carry sacks, so we divided food and waters amongst us evenly if for no reason other than to lighten our load. In addition to food, we equipped ourselves with compasses, GPS, flashlights, a first aid kit, multitools, duct tape, rope, harnesses, locking and non-locking carabiners, prusik cords and a Geiger counter.
Once the journey was underway, Madi, McKissick and I fitted the harnesses around ourselves and ran the length of rope between them, with myself in the lead, Madi following and McKissick acting as the anchor.
McKissick had a knack for chatting and little by little his conversations included me. The thing I began noticing about the man was his ability to draw information out of people. There was an attentiveness to his listening that made it seem he was genuinely interested in what the speaker was saying, regardless of the topic. He also shared himself with anyone willing to listen and was not afraid to give an opinion on popular astrophysicists and their popular theories. When he spoke of his adventures in astrophysics, he made gestures like he was reciting verses from Old English epic poems, as if he was Beowulf doing battle against the Grendel that was the universal unknown.
He made fast friendships with DaVinci and his crew as he has done with Madi and he attempted it with me but I was a tougher nut to crack and I think he was beginning to sense it. The thing that put me ill at ease, aside from the fact that he was an absolute stranger who was thrust upon us, was the fact that he wanted me to like him. Almost as if he needed me to like him. But I pretended, as much as I could without getting roped into his duplicity, that we were comrades brought together by fate and our connection was cemented by the unknown and possible extreme dangers that awaited us. I had the sneaking suspicion that if I lived another hundred years and spent every day in the man’s company that I would not know the man any better than the day we first met.
McKissick also loved to debate. He hadn’t shared DaVinci’s view of the shroud which the filmmaker had trouble wrapping his head around. “How is it possible you’re not convinced that we’re dealing with an interdimensional doorway here?” asked the director. “You’re a hypothesizer by profession; you’re used to confronting the impossible and trying to solve it with a math equation. Out of everybody here you should be the first one to embrace the likelihood under the circumstances!”
McKissick countered that he could posit theories to support each and every opinion people had regarding the shroud and if he was truly invested, could present a math equation, as DaVinci put it, to support every single one of them, but that didn’t mean he believed any of them to be true.
And the conversation went on, to the positive and negative energies that ley lines emitted and their connection to the attraction of UFOs, to ley lines and their connection to adverse spiritual phenomena, to Planetary Energetic Grid Theory and Sacred Geometry, to the Becker-Hagens Grid, Curry lines, Hartmann net and so on.
Their debate pulled everyone in, even Madi but I was bored with the conversation almost immediately which meant the next seven hours passed like a montage in an Orson Welles film based on a Marcel Proust novel.
To be continued…
Week 10 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and this is the moment before we get to the meat of the nutshell. I pretty much have a handle on where the story is headed but I won’t say that definitively because the characters might toss me a curveball.
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.
There is at least one character floating around in my gray matter that hasn’t made it to paper yet and if I commit to that character there are six more characters that need to be added to support the storyline. As mentioned above, a plotline is starting to take shape and it definitely will be a time travel story (Why? The world may never know) The ending is still anyone’s guess. Maybe I’ll get lucky and one of the characters will clue me in.
Though I’m lagging behind at the moment, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.
Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.
©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys