17 June, 2005

Take Two: Week Two

Well, it's week two for this brilliant project, imagined by this brilliant lady. Last week's participants were outstanding, incredible, captivating, hauntingly good, and exemplary. Those of us up this week can only hope to maybe come close.

Our premise: "A person gets on a subway, then nods off only to waken just before the appointed stop. When this person exits the station, the surroundings are completely unrecognizable. Individual then realizes he/she had not seen another human since getting on the train."

[As a warning, I have never made any claim at having a hand at fiction. Also, this has me somewhat nervous, but I prefer brutal honesty in response rather than false flattery. Thank you.]

Here it is, my maiden voyage, which, if I counted correctly, is exactly 1,000 words long [if I miscounted, 1,000 apologies!]:

Liam hurried along the streets of the METROPOLIS. He glanced to the left, sweeping his gaze to the right, across the street, the cityscape looming over him. Stopping at a shop window, he cast his glance to the concrete path he had just traveled. Nothing. No one behind him. The young man couldn't help but feel watched. He walked on more quickly, and darted down the steps to the underground.

He raced ahead, boarding the subway just as the doors were closing to leave. "NEXT STOP, SOUTH DISTRICT. EAST QUADRANT TO FOLLOW," the cold, impersonal voice of the computer announced over the speaker system. Liam nestled into a corner seat, keeping his eye out for other travelers encroaching on his space.

The seat was well-worn, patched in many places with tape. The floor held small bits of litter and dust creatures in the shadows. The lights slowly dimmed as soft music began to wisp its way into the car. Liam's body succumbed to the regular vibrations of the subway like a kitten to its mother's heartbeat. Slowly, his eyelids closed, as he drifted off...

"Subject is sleeping on train S137, in car 11, sir," Karen reported, her fingertips dancing over the keyboard. She focused on four small screens in the control center as she spoke to the tall, greying man standing before an enormous screen. Dr. Zahn, director of this operation, cued an attendant with just a few finger movements to pull up the view of the subject. Turning, he beckoned Karen to join him.

"Now, my dear Miss Hastings, observe how the subject responds to the environment at this, his next stop. I believe you will find it quite intriguing...."
"ATTENTION. APPROACHING EAST QUADRANT. PREPARE FOR DEPARTURE." That voice again, booming over the system woke Liam so abruptly that he fell out of his seat, hitting his arm against the metal pole in the aisle. Wincing, he jumped up, looking around, noting with relief the lack of people around him. He preferred it that way, what with where he was.

The doors screeched open, and he crossed to them, staring out, his jaw agape. He was above ground, and the magnificent house was no more. Where it had stood were charred remains, grey rubble.

He stepped out of the train, glanced down at the puddle beside him. Mallory's pale, white face stared up at him, silently pleading with him to help her escape her watery prison. As he reached down, she vanished, and only the murky water of the puddle remained.

He looked at a half-burned oak tree standing in the yard. Wasn't that Mallory's limp corpse hanging from a rope attached to a prominent limb? He stepped forward for a closer look. The wind sounded a set of chimes higher in the tree, and when he looked back from this distraction, the corpse was gone.

Sobbing, he reboarded the subway. He noted again, with relief, that no one else was on the train....
"He does that everywhere he goes. It doesn't matter which place it is; they're all the same to him," explained Dr. Zahn as he and Karen Hastings watched Liam cry himself to sleep again in the sleep-inducing car. His breathing kept halting as he shuddered, slowly coming to a peaceful rest once again....
"NORTH END. ALL THOSE FOR NORTH END, DISEMBARK NOW." Liam woke to the sound of the doors screeching open, and hurried out the door. He now stood in a park. There had never been a park here before, to his knowledge. Where had their home gone?
And he saw her again; Mallory, sitting on a park bench, smiling, beckoning him to come closer. He started toward her just as she fell forward, blood spraying everywhere from the gunshot wound to the back of her head. He cried out, stumbling toward her as she disintegrated before his eyes.

And suddenly, blinking back tears, he whirled around, and there was the church. The park had faded away, and in its place was a cathedral, its bells ringing as a couple descended the steps. Liam's heart constricted. He could see himself, attired in a tux, very sharp, and there, on his arm, was Mallory, resplendent in an elegant wedding dress. She looks so beautiful as she goes ahead, looking back up at him over her shoulder -- and then, the knife is thrust into her chest, and he watches in horror as she slowly crumples to the ground, lying in a pool of blood, the look of shock frozen on her face, the white dress becoming redder and redder as he rushes to her -- but it's too late; she's dead.

Now the church is gone, too, but that doesn't matter; he remembers. He remembers losing her, and as the tears stream down his cheeks, he wishes yet again that he could hold her just once more....

"He just keeps following this subway loop. It's all psychological. He can't get her out of his head," Zahn concluded, pulling up file after file of Liam on record.

"South District, East Quadrant, North End, West Landing, Harper Street, the Docks -- he's been everywhere, hasn't he?" Karen queried.

"Yes. He just hasn't been able to pick life back up again and start over. All he sees is her." Zahn pointed to the screen, where they saw Liam looking back over his shoulder and heading on toward another subway. "Still, it's an interesting study in which to partake, isn't it, Miss Hastings? How often do we find anyone that emotionally involved anymore?"

"Hardly ever, sir. It's a good thing we have him isolated from the general populace -- wouldn't want them all to end up like that!" she replied...
He couldn't help but feel watched as he hurried down the street. He looked to the left, sweeping his gaze to the right, across the street, the cityscape looming over him. Stopping at a shop window, he cast his glance back to the concrete path he had just traveled. Nothing. No one behind him. The young man couldn't help but feel watched.....