“What is it this time?” Brook says.
“I think somebody’s got a pebble in their shoe, or something,” says the guy in front of us in line, Doug he said his name is.
It’s been over an hour since we left the train, and it feels like we’ve hardly made any progress. Every couple dozen yards, we have to stop because somebody’s shoe laces came untied, or their contact lens came out. It is a serious pain.
“Shreya must be freaking out,” Owen says. “How many messages do you think she’s left by now?” There he goes. Why is it always Shreya with him, huh?
“Dozens, I’m sure,” I say.
“That’s assuming she isn’t stuck in a tunnel like us,” Brook says.
“It’s possible, but I don’t think there was enough time for the next Orange Line train to come along,” he says. “She’s probably back at the station, or she’s gone up to wait outside.”
I change the subject. “Maybe we should get off this walkway. We’d move faster if we weren’t all in a single lane.”
“What if the trains start again?” Brook says.
“The lights would come on, we’d know.”
“I dunno,” Doug butts in. “What I’ve read, the third rail can retain a static charge even without power. Get too close, bzap.”
I wouldn’t mind bzap right now. It’d be something different. I’ve been staring at the spotted pattern of Brook’s blouse for way too long. There are three colors—mauve, fuschia and turquoise—spread seemingly at random, but repeating after a fixed interval. I’ve been playing connect the dots in my mind. I’ve managed to find a giraffe, a dolphin and a dong. If keep at it much longer, they’re going to start moving and talking to me.
But before I can suggest we take the risk, the traffic jam clears and the line moves forward again.
We pass two unlit lights, and one lit. I counted off the distance earlier, and there’s about a dozen yards between each one, so we’ve moved nearly a quarter of a football field. Hooray. This is the longest continuous movement we’ve managed so far. But, just when I’m thinking we might reach Rosslyn while it’s still daylight, we come to a halt.
Brook’s squirming on her feet. “If we don’t get to the station soon, I’m gonna have to pop a squat somewhere.”
I could use a bathroom break myself. It’s not urgent yet, but my bladder’s full enough that it’s uncomfortable.
“Why didn’t you go before we left the march?” Owen says.
“In a Porta Potty? I don’t think so. And how was I supposed to know this would happen? If it weren’t for the quake, we’d home by now.”
“I hear ya, li’l sister,” Doug says. “I’ve got a Big Mac in me that’s ready to be recycled.” Thank you for sharing. With that image in mind, I may never eat at McDonald’s again.
“Shreya told her mom she’d be home in an hour, didn’t she?” Owen says. On the one hand, I’m thankful for him changing the subject, but did it have to be back to this topic? “You guys haven’t met her parents, have you? They’re going to kill her. They’ve probably called the cops.”
“If the Metro’s shut down, it’ll be all over the news,” Brook says. “They’ll know Shre and her sis are gonna be late.”
“I don’t think that’ll make a difference,” Owen says. “Her mom’s hardcore.”
Brook’s no more interested in discussing Shreya’s family than I am, so she lets the subject drop.
The minutes drag by, but we don’t get moving.
“What’s the hold up?” a man calls from behind us.
“I think we’re at the station,” a woman ahead of us says, “but there’s something wrong.”
“If the tunnel’s collapsed and we have to go back, I am going to scream,” Brook says.
“Please don’t,” the guy behind me says. We haven’t talked much, but I’ve overheard his conversation with his wife, enough to gather that they’re ex-hippies who are none too impressed by us Millennials and our half-assed protests and our Bruno Mars music. He’s been doing the, “Back in my day…” thing since we left the train. “We would’ve stormed the White House!” “We had songs about Kent State. They’re singing about Michelle Pfeiffer!”
“Hey, somebody’s coming,” a man way ahead of us says.
We all lean to the side and try to get a look. There’s a person—a man? Looks like—coming down the tracks. I sure hope he’s a Metro employee. Somebody in charge needs to know about the leak in the tunnel. If the crack worsens, it’ll shut down the entire line, maybe even flood the station.
“Okay, folks, we’ve got a situation.” The guy’s shouting, but this far back his voice is muffled and I have to strain to hear. “You need to turn around and go back.”
“C’mon, man, quit shitting around.”
“I’ve gotta get to work. I’m late already.”
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” the guy shouts. “The station is filled to capacity. We had one train sitting on deck when the quake struck, and we’ve already had two more trainloads walk in. We don’t got any more room, ‘kay.”
“Why can’t we go up?” Owen shouts. He’s not the only one saying this.
“You don’t wanna go up,” the guy on the tracks says. “Trust me on that. You do not want to go up.”
“What happened?” people shout.
“You wouldn’t believe me. Just turn around and head back to DC.”
“Fuck you man.”
“Yeah, who put you in charge?”
“We can’t go back. The tunnel’s flooded.”
That last bit gives the guy pause.
“Flooded?” he says.
“The roof’s leaking.”
“Water’s pouring in.”
“You better get a repair crew up in there, now, or the system’s gonna be out of commission permanently.”
“There aren’t any repair crews,” the guy says. “Is the tunnel completely flooded?”
“Not yet. Not when we left at any rate,” a guy towards the front says. He’s got a deep, smooth voice, sounds like he should be on the radio. I strain to see him, but he’s too far up.
“Then you best turn around now. Get back there while you can.”
“Give us some answers, man?”
“Okay, look, I’ll go back and talk to my guys. But they’re gonna tell you the same thing I’m saying. You can’t come in.”
He turns around and leaves.
“What the hell is that?” Brook says.
“I don’t even think he works for Metro,” Doug says. “Didn’t have a uniform.”
“This is some bullshit,” the guy in front of Doug says. “Fuck it. I’m not standing up here and waiting.” He jumps down to the tracks. That opens up a little space, and I don’t feel quite so crowded. Though only relatively so.
“You know what,” I say. “He’s right.” I sit on the ledge and push myself over.
“Damn right.” Brook follows me down, then Owen.
A lot of people are doing it, now, and those who remain on the walkway sit down on the ledge.
“Stick close,” Owen says.
I put my backpack down. I hadn’t brought much, but I have a Snickers bar. I take one piece for myself, then offer the rest to Brook and Owen.
“Thanks,” Brook says. She stuffs the whole thing in her mouth, chews three times and swallows. “Oh, that’s better.”
Owen takes a small bite and chews it thoroughly. “When we get outta here, what say we find a Denny’s?”
“Yeah,” Brook says.
“Sounds good,” I agree. Owen and I barely had time to talk during the protest. Even on the train, before the quake, we’d been too crowded to have a conversation, and the discussion since has consisted of, “Sure is a long way,” and “Think we’re almost there?” But if we go to Denny’s… well, nobody ever goes there for a quick bite. You always end up chatting for a couple hours after eating.
And best of all, no Shr--
“Plus, you know, we can wait for Shreya. If the Yellow Line’s still running, she can at least get to Alexandria, and Metro’s probably going to run emergency buses over. There’s still a chance we can meet up.”
Why is it always Shreya with him? I know she has big boobs, but so what? She’s so uptight, she’s never going to let a man touch her, so what does it matter how big her chest is? And besides, she clearly has goo-goo eyes for Josh. She barely pays attention to Owen.
Wake up! You’ve got no chance with her. I’m right here!
God! Men are such shallow idiots. They’ll waste their time on a girl they have no chance with if she has a nice chest, but they’re blind to what’s right in front of them. There are times I wish I was lesbian. Be less frustrating.
There’s a commotion from down the tunnel. Looks like the guy’s back, and he’s brought some friends along. Those of us from the train crowd around.
“What the hell’s going on?” one of our guys says.
“Yeah! We want answers.”
“Don’t give us any runaround.”
“Look!” one of the new men says. “We can’t let you through. It’s just not happening. You gotta trust us on this, it’s for you’re own good.”
“Can’t or won’t?” the guy with the nice voice says.
“Physically we could. Morally, we can’t allow it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Enough with this BS.”
The guys from Rosslyn look at each other.
“Tell ‘em,” one of them says.
“You wanna tell ‘em, you tell ‘em.”
“Tell us what?”
“Stop playing games!”
“Okay! Fine! Fine!” says the first guy who’d come out. “You all felt the earthquake, right?”
“Kinda hard to miss.”
“Wasn’t an earthquake,” the guy says. “We’ve been nuked,”
“Don’t lie to us.”
“Even Fox said the North Koreans can’t hit DC.”
“Well somebody hit us. The surface is a mess. Buildings toppled, cars crashed, and everyone who was up there is dead. We got a few hundred people in Rosslyn, and we can’t hold any more. You all gotta turn around and make do in DC.”
“What the hell, man? If Rosslyn’s wrecked, DC’s gonna be worse.”
“You’re asking us to commit suicide.”
“I’m sorry,” the guy from Rosslyn says. “We don’t have a choice.”
“Fine!” Doug steps forward. “You don’t want us in your station, we’ll leave. But we ain’t goin’ back to DC. My family’s in Fairfax. Let me through, I’ll walk my ass home.”
“Let us through.”
“We don’t wanna stick with you sorry ass losers anyway.”
The three guys from Rosslyn huddle together, but before they can even discuss the proposal, Doug steps forward and shoulders them aside. He had plenty of room to walk around them, but he makes a point of plowing through them.
“Hey, you can’t—” one of the guys shouts after him.
“Yeah? Watch us,” another guy from our train says.
The crowd surges forward. I’m swept up with them. Even if I didn’t want to go with them—and I’m kinda mixed on that question—I’d have no choice.
I look around, but Brook and Owen aren’t with me any more. I catch sight of a blonde with her hair in a ponytail, but I’ve seen at least three women with that style besides Brook.
We surge out of the tunnel.
Those guys hadn’t been lying. The station is packed. There are so many people on the platform, we couldn’t get up there if we tried.
Rosslyn has a funny layout compared to most stations. Instead of the tracks all being on the same level of the station, it’s split into two floors, with trains heading away from DC using the lower one. Both floors are equally packed—people are smooshed against the railing on the upper level—and even the escalators are full.
“We don’t have room for you,” a woman on the platform shouts.
“Go back to DC!”
“We aren’t staying here,” Doug yells back.
Somebody on the upper deck—some bratty teenager, looks like—tosses an empty water bottle at us. It bounces off a woman’s head.
“Hey, fuck you guys!” a man next to her shouts. She puts a hand on his shoulder and tells him to let it go, but it’s too late. Other men are taking up the calls. Both sides are shouting at each other so loudly I can’t make out what anyone’s saying.
A bunch of men jump off the platform and block Doug’s way. They shout at each other, and then Doug shoves one of them. It’s not a hard shove, only sends the guy back a couple steps, but his companions act like Doug threw a punch. One of them tries to headlock Doug, but Doug pushes his shoulder into the guy’s chest and rams him into the side of the tunnel.
Guys from our train rush to Doug’s defense, but that only brings more guys off the platform. No, not just guys. I see some women jumping down too. The whole trackbed turns into an arena.
I back against the wall, thinking that might keep me out of the melee, but a man comes rushing towards me.
“You stupid chink, this is all your fault.” He smashes his fist into my nose. Hot blood spurts down my lip, and I think—oh God, he knocked one of my teeth out.
The man’s about to take a second swing at me, but somebody grabs his arm and yanks it around behind him.
Huh? Was that somebody calling my name?
Yes! Owen and Brook are wading through the crowd. They’re trying not to fight, but Owen has to push a guy down, and Brook knees a guy who makes a grab at her.
I move towards them, but Brook waves for me to go towards the far tunnel. Yeah. Good idea. Let’s get the hell outta here. We can meet up when we’re safe.
I stick to the edge of the tracks, where the crowd’s lightest. I have to step over sprawled bodies. I don’t think anyone’s dead, but a bunch of people are knocked out.
I’m almost to the far side of the station, but I have to get around a massive fist fight before I can leave. They’re taking up most of the trackway. My only choice is to cut close to the platform. I make a run for it, but as I get close to the ledge, somebody kicks me in the back of the head. I fall to my hands and knees.
“Quick, get up.” The guy with that great voice stoops next to me and pulls me to my feet.
He gives me a little shove and takes off towards the tunnel. I run after him.
“They’re getting away!” someone on the platform yells.
I plunge into the tunnel. The next light is a long way down, and the tracks are barely visible, but I don’t care. I sprint as fast as I can until I catch up with the guy who’d saved me.
“No problem.” He’s in his mid-twenties, with one of those beards that’s barely crossed over from stubble.. He’s wearing black frame glasses that don’t have lower rims, and his hair’s gelled to the side. He’s got on a plaid button-down and khaki pants. It’s a very trendy look, and he pulls it off like fashion model. Except that his outfit is scruffed up. The side of his shirtsleeve is torn, he’s got dirt all over his back, and his lower lip is puffed out.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Not really. You?”
“Same.” My mouth is full of blood. I spit out a gob. Eww. And I’ve got more on my lips and chin from my bloody nose.
We’re a good ways down the tunnel now, and we slow to a halt.
“God damn.” He’s huffing for breath. “What the hell was that?”
“Jesus, that was like a zombie movie, the survivors fighting over canned soup.”
“Yeah. But did you hear what that guy said?”
“The nuclear bomb? Yeah.”
“If that’s true, we are… ah man.”
There are more people coming down the tunnel. More, but not nearly our entire group. Not even close.
One guy’s got a hand over his mouth, and when he takes it away, he shows us three teeth that are hanging by their gums. Egh. At least mine came out clean.
A woman’s clutching her arm against her chest like it’s broken, but she won’t let anyone look at it unless they’re a doctor—which nobody is.
Other people are bruised and bloodied to varying degree.
But what about Brook and Owen? I don’t see them anywhere. Oh God. This is horrible. What am I going to do? I can’t very well go back and look for them. But we can’t sit in this tunnel forever, either. We’ve gotta go on. But if Brook and Owen make it down here after we get a move on, I don’t want them worrying about what happened to me.
“What do we do now?” a man asks. It’s the ex-hippie guy. Somehow he and his wife are still together.
“If they’re telling the truth about DC being nuked, we wanna get the hell outta here,” the woman with a broken arm says. “I mean, Rosslyn’s pretty deep—have you ridden that escalator?—but there’s no door to keep radiation from getting in. Anyone who stays there will pus up and die.”
The guy with the bloody teeth says something, though it takes me a couple seconds to make sense of his words—“Isn’t that true wherever we go?”
“Not necessarily,” the guy with the deep voice says. “Nuclear bombs are big, but one isn’t enough to take out the entire region, and prevailing winds around here will push the fallout into Maryland. If we can get out to—where does the Orange Line go above ground? Falls Church?”
“Between East Falls Church and Ballston,” somebody says.
“Yeah, that’s going to be plenty far enough away.”
“You’re assuming there was only one nuke,” the woman with the broken arm says.
“On MSNBC they were saying North Korea only has a few dozen,” I say. “They wouldn’t use them all on DC, would they?”
“I watch Morning Joe, too,” the woman says. “But they were also saying Kim doesn’t have a missile that can hit the East Coast. Either they were very wrong, or the idiot in the White House did something very stupid and the Chinese stepped in. It’s very possible the entire country just went up in flames.”
“It’s possible,” a black guy in chinos and a tan T-shirt says. “But if that’s the case, we nuked the hell out of China right back, and it’s going to be nuclear winter. We’re all dead, no matter what we do.”
The woman doesn’t have an answer to that.
“Look, we only have two ways we can go,” the guy with the deep voice says. “Forward or reverse.
“We don’t wanna go backwards, that’s for sure,” a middle aged man says.
“Right. So we go forward. And if we do that, we might as well go all the way to the end of the tunnel. It’s as safe an option as we have.”
“Yeah,” the guy in chinos says.
The guy with the bloody mouth nods.
“Makes no difference, I guess,” the woman with the broken arm says. “But before we go…” She tries to shrug her purse off her shoulder, but it’s on her bad side and she winces when the strap slides to her elbow.
“Here.” I help her get it off.
“Thanks. If you look inside, I should have a tube of lipstick.”
“Really?” the ex-hippie woman says.
“Not for my face.”
I find the tube and hand it to the woman. She gets the cap off and holds it up to the wall with her left hand, then stops.
“Here.” She hands it back to me. “Can you write where we’re going and sign my name? That way if my girlfriends come this way, they’ll know where to go.”
“What about those assholes back there?” a man asks.
The guy with the deep voice shakes his head. “They’re happy where they’re at. Why would they come after us? If they do, it’ll be after we have a big head start.”
“Yeah,” the ex-hippie says.
“Okay.” I write, “WE ARE GOING TO E FALLS CHURCH” under a light. “What’s your name?”
“Kelly,” the woman says.
I write that underneath, then add my own. “Anyone else?”
“I’m by myself,” the guy with the deep voice says.
The guy with the bloody mouth says something which I take to be, “Jonathan,” so I add that to the wall. A couple other people give me names, but most don’t. The guy in chinos is Malik—he pronounces it Maleek but corrects me when I try to spell it that way.
After that, we set out for the next station. We don’t bother getting on the walkway this time—it’s obvious that we don’t have to worry about the trains starting again, and it’d take a freak accident for us to get electrocuted by the third rail now.
“If you look in my bag, I should have a jar of wet wipes,” Kelly says.
“Thanks.” I dig through the main compartment, going by feel rather than trying to see in the dim light. My hands touch a plastic cannister, and pull it out. “You a mom?”
“Dead giveaway, isn’t it? Yeah. Two kids, boy and a girl.”
I pull one of the wipes out and start scrubbing my face. The bleeding’s stopped and the blood’s had time to dry, so it flakes right off. I spread the wipe around my cheeks and forehead while I’m at it. There’s no telling when I’ll be able to wash again, might as well make the most of it now.
“Are they…” I trail off. Her kids aren’t with us, which means they either got separated in Rosslyn, or they weren’t on the train. Either way, that’s not a wound to be poking right now.
But Kelly guesses what I was about to say. “They’re in Manassas. Hopefully that’s far enough away that… hopefully.”
“I’m sure they’re okay.” I twist one of the wipes into a makeshift Q-tip and dab it at the blood still in my nose. As I do, I notice the wedge of cartilage in my nose—what is that, my septum?—is wobbly. Has it always been like that, or is it broken? It doesn’t hurt when I wiggle it, so I suppose it’s okay.
“Yeah,” Kelly says, “my husband probably threw them in the van and hightailed it east when the news hit Twitter. We’ve got a cabin up in the Blue Ridge. Even if it’s global armageddon, things should be less bad up there. The mountains should shelter them from the fallout, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” If it helps her keep going, yeah, sure. But if it’s really “global armageddon,” I’m not sure surviving longer is something to aspire to. If that’s what’s going on, I’m gonna find a pharmacy and pop some pills.
But hopefully things aren’t that bad. Hopefully it’s just DC, or at the very most a couple other big cities.
2019, right? Every day’s worse than the one before. You wake up each morning thinking things are as bad as they’re going to get, and by the time you go to bed, you’re hoping only ten million people died today.
“Listen, I’m gonna see if anyone else needs these.” I shake the cannister of wet wipes.
Jonathan accepts one of the wipes, but it does little good. He’s put his teeth back in his mouth, but his face is twisted in a constant grimace, and the way he has to keep his mouth open means drool is overrunning his lips.
“Is there anything I can get you?”
“Zhizzorz,” he says.
The mere idea sends a shudder down my back, but I suppose if I were in his situation, I’d be thinking the same thing. Better to cut those strips of gum than yank them out.
I search Kelly’s purse and come out with cuticle scissors. Who knows how sanitary they are, but in the circumstances I doubt we can come up with anything better. I hand them over. “Go ahead and keep them.”
I move away before I have to see anything.
Several people accept wipes to clean out cuts, and a couple people use them to wash their faces and hands. By the time I get to the guy who rescued me, the cannister’s almost empty.
“Last one?” I offer.
“Oh, thanks.” He dabs it at his swollen lip, flinches. “I think I can get by without it.”
“At least clean your cheeks.” I take the towelette from him and wipe a smudge off the side of his face.
“Thanks, mom. I feel like I’m a kindergartener now.”
“Hush. And lift your chin.”
He stops walking and does as I say. I scrub the soft patch under his jaw and down his neck to his collar.
“That’s better,” I say.
“Sure, mom. I’ll try not to get dirty again before dinner.”
I scowl at him. “My name’s June.”
“Really? You look more like an April.”
“They say that April is the cruelest month of all.”
“Yes, you’ve got cruel eyes.” He taps my temple. “I bet you’ve ruined many a poor lad.”
“I have not.”
“Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Come along, cruel April, we don’t want to get left behind.”
He starts walking again. We’re trailing behind the group now and have to hurry to catch up.
“And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“You do have a name, right?”
“Oh. Yeah. I’m Rick.”
“Really? You seem more of a Dick.”
“Nope, sorry. Dick is short for Richard.”
“Isn’t that what Rick’s short for?”
“No, my full name is Patrick.”
“Shouldn’t you be Pat, then?”
“No, absolutely not.”
“What’s wrong with Pat?”
“You ever see those old Saturday Night Live skits?”
“No. What skits?” I never actually watch Saturday Night Live unless somebody posts a video on Facebook, and half the time it’s not even funny.
“They used to have this character named Pat who was totally androgynous and nobody could figure out what pronouns to use.”
“I haven’t seen it in years, but yeah, probably. This was the ‘90s. But whether it was transphobic or not, it was extremely Pat-phobic. And those episodes were on Comedy Central all the time when I was in elementary school, not to mention there was a feature film and… ugh.”
“So you got bullied a lot?”
“No, actually I told everyone to call me Rick and kicked their ass if they didn’t.”
“I mean, I wasn’t a bully or anything. They started shit, I finished it. Simple as that.”
“Hey, I’m a nice guy.”
“Uh-huh, that’s what they all say.”
We stop. The whole group’s come to a halt. We’re at the point where the tracks split between the Blue and Orange/Silver Lines, and we have to figure out which way’s which.
“Blue follows the Potomac, so it’s the one that splits off,” Kelly says. “Orange Line goes straight.”
“Are you sure about that?” a douchey looking teenager says. He’s in an Insane Clown Posse T-shirt, and has a tattoo even though I doubt he’s eighteen.
“Pretty sure, yeah,” Kelly says.
“I think she’s right.”
“Does it make a difference?”
“Yeah. We left a message we’re goin’ to Falls Church.”
“More importantly,” Rick speaks up, “we wanna get as far away from the city as we can.”
“I dunno,” the douchey boy says, “I think we should go this way.”
“That’s going to take you closer to Ground Zero,” Rick says. “You’re going to get yourself dead if you go that way.”
“Yeah, right,” the douchey boy says. “You don’t get to tell me what to do.” He turns and walks into the Blue Line tunnel. A couple other boys go with him, and one pudgy girl with her hair dyed blue.
“Idiots,” Rick says. He stares after them. “We should… ah, screw ‘em.”
He heads into the Orange Line tunnel. After a moment, the rest of our group follows.
But we’ve barely gone any distance when we come to another halt. I’m at the back of the group now, so I can’t tell what’s going on at first, but I see Rick and a couple guys climbing onto the emergency walkway.
“What’s going on?” I ask the ex-hippie woman.
“Looks like there’s a train up ahead.”
I squint, but can’t see anything. I wish I had my glasses, but I left them at home today.
We end up standing there for an awfully long time. What’s the hold up?
I wander up to the front of the group. There is a train, and everyone’s milling around it like there’s no hurry. The rear door’s open, and I see some guys moving around inside. Rick’s nowhere around, so I suppose he must be in there.
“What’re they doing?” I ask Kelly.
“Checking out the train. Seeing if there’s anything useful on board.”
“Wouldn’t the passengers’ve taken their stuff with them?”
“Not necessarily. If this is the Silver Line, there would’ve been people going out to Dulles.”
Ah. Yeah, they’d probably leave their baggage on board rather than lugging it through the tunnels.
“Hey!” Rick leans out the rear door. “I’ve got a suitcase in here, if anyone wants to sort through it.”
“There could be medicine in here. Food. Who knows what else that’ll be useful.”
Well, it beats standing around. “Yeah.” I wave and step forward.
He squats down and extends his arms to me. I grab them and he pulls me on board.
The way the train’s stopped, hardly any light from the tunnel is getting into this car. I can only see the other people in here by the dim glow of their phones. They look like space explorers in a derelict ship on some inhospitable planet. Oh God, that is not a movie I wanna be thinking about right now.
Rick hauls a suitcase over to a seat and hefts it up.
“All yours,” he says. “We’ll be in the next car.”
“You’re leaving me all alone?”
“There’re people right outside.”
“Yeah, I know. But… abandoned train cars in tunnels…”
“It’ll be all right.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“We’ll just be a few minutes,” Rick says and heads forward.
Dummy. You’re supposed to volunteer to sit with me. Why are all the guys I meet totally oblivious?
I take out my phone and sit down. I’ve only got 28% left on the battery—I forgot to put it on the charger last night—so I can’t use the flashlight too much, but ten minutes shouldn’t hurt.
I unzip the suitcase and flip it open. It’s mostly clothes, and judging by the rumpled state they’re in, they need washing. They’re also huge—none of the women in our group are even close to this size. Even most of the men would be too small for these jeans.
I toss the clothes onto the seat opposite me, though half of them end up on the floor.
I uncover an overnight kit on the bottom of the bag. I’m not keen on using somebody’s toothbrush or comb, but the shampoo, soap and whatnot could be useful. Even better, there’s a bottle of Tylenol. Inside a side pocket on the suitcase, I find a novel—Blind Side by Catherine Coulter. That was a good movie, so even though it’s not immediately useful, I stuff it into the overnight kit. Who knows when we’re going to find another book? For all I know, this is all that’s left of American culture.
Anything else in here? Hmm, there’s a lump in the side of the case, but… where’s the pocket? Ah, there it is. But when I slip my hand inside, I can’t find anything. I flip the case around. There’s a zipper on the side. I pull it across and… oh. Ew. Ugh. She’s got a dildo in here. Who brings a dildo on a plane? You know TSA’s gonna find it!
I’m almost afraid to search that pocket further, but I force myself to. What’s this? A belt? Doesn’t feel like belt material, though. Kinda stretchy canvas. I pull it out. It’s more of a harness than a belt, reminds me a bit of crotchless panties, except there’s a plastic ring on the front with… wait, is this… what I think it is?
I pray to God this woman is a lesbian, because otherwise that dildo has been up some guy’s ass. Get it away from me! I pick it up by the base and hurl it down the car.
“What the hell was that?” Malik is standing at the other end of the car. He’s got a couple suitcases with him.
“You don’t wanna know.”
“Okay. You wanna look through these?”
Not particularly. Not after that. But I’m here, so… “Sure.”
He drops the larger bag on the floor and puts the smaller on top of the case I’ve already looked through.
Thankfully this one is less gross. I mean, there’s some dirty underwear with skid marks on them, but I’ve done laundry for my dad and brother, so it’s nothing I’ve never seen. Mostly, though, it’s men’s T-shirts and jeans that’ve been balled up. I don’t think anyone’s desperate enough for a change of clothes to wear these, so I toss them aside. What else? No toiletries in this one, but there are loose jars of aspirin, Valtrex, Viagra, and a half-used bottle of Nyquil. There’s a pack of condoms, too—box of three with one missing. I go ahead and put all the drugs in the woman’s overnight kit, the condoms too, figuring you never know who might need it.
The bigger bag is all clothing, though some of this is clean. I dunno if we should take any—it might come in useful eventually, but do we wanna be carrying it around with us? Hopefully we’ll be able to scrounge clothes when we get to the surface. I go ahead and stuff them into the little bag. I’ll let someone else decide whether to take it.
I’ve got everything situated when Rick comes back with the others. Besides Malik, he’s with a sharp-dressed, young Hispanic man. The guy’s hair is immaculately coifed—like, I wouldn’t spend that much time on my hair unless I was going on a date, and only if the guy was taking me to a damn good restaurant.
“That’s everything we could find,” Rick says. “Looks like the driver took all the emergency equipment when he left the cab. Sucks.”
“I didn’t find much,” I say. “We’ve got some medicine and stuff, but nothing major. A few clean clothes, if anyone wants to carry this bag.”
“Seems like a waste of effort,” Rick says.
“If there’s still civilization topside, we won’t need it,” Malik says. “If not, we’re gonna hafta loot stores anyway. I say leave it.”
The guy with the impeccable clothing shrugs.
“Okay, so just the overnight kit?” I say.
“Yeah,” Rick says. “Why don’t you tell the others we’re ready to move?”
While I do that, he starts fiddling with the emergency exit controls.
“What the hell’s going on?” a middle aged guy asks when I poke my head out.
“We’ve gathered up some supplies. Nothing much, but we’ve got some medicine and toiletries if anyone needs them. Now we’re about to get rolling again, so everyone...” I point over to the walkway. “Okay?”
“Yeah sure,” the ex-hippie guy says. He’s been sitting on the track with his wife. He stands up with creaky movements and then helps her to her feet. Neither one looks to be holding up very well. I hope they can last until we’re out of the tunnels.
People clamber onto the walkway. The more gentlemanly of the men offer to help ladies up, and the more feminist of the ladies refuse. That includes Kelly, but when she tries to get up with one arm, she has to relent and ask for an assist.
With that taken care of, I go back into the car. The side door’s open now, and Rick and the others are outside on the platform. I join them.
“You think we’ll get outta here tonight?” the stylish guy says.
“I wanna try,” Rick says. “Who knows how long the emergency power’s gonna last. I don’t wanna be walking down here with only our phone lights, that’s for sure.”
“How far do you think it is?” Malik says. “Ten miles?”
“Not even that,” Rick says. “Maybe five.”
“Shit, I could walk that in two hours,” Malik says.
“If we were on the street, sure. But these tunnels are slow going,” the nice dresser says. “I’d say three, four hours, depending on how many pitstops we gotta do.”
“We also have to consider, not everyone in our group is in shape,” I say. “I don’t know that some of the older folks are gonna hold up.”
Rick pulls his phone out and checks the time. “It’s six-thirty now. We probably won’t make it by sunset, but we’ll make it tonight.”
“If push comes to shove,” Malik says, “there are other stations between here and Falls Church. We can always go up to the surface there.”
“Yeah. I wanna get as far from the city as we can, but like you say...”
“What about people in those stations?” the stylish guy says. “Think they’ll give us any shit?”
“Maybe, but I doubt it,” Rick says. “Rosslyn’s a special case. You have three lines through there, and there were people coming in from multiple trains. There shouldn’t be that kind of pressure at the other stations.”
He looks over his shoulder. Everyone’s up here now, so we start forward. Up on the walkway, we have to move in single file, which keeps our pace down, but once we get around the train and move back to the tracks, our speed picks up again.
We move without interruption for five minutes, and I keep expecting a station to come into view ahead, but the tunnel just goes on and on and on and on.
“Anyone have any water?” a woman asks.
Speaking for myself, I’m less worried about water going in than coming out. There’s been pressure in my bladder for a while now, since before Rosslyn, but it’s building and building and building. The constant motion isn’t helping, either. I don’t want to ask for a pit-stop, though; I don’t wanna be the one holding us up. Maybe if I drop off to the end of the group, I can take a quick piddle and then catch back up. Not like I can get lost down here.
But the thought of being all alone in the tunnel fills me with dread. Doesn’t matter if it’ll only be for a minute. I’ve watched too many horror movies. I know what happens to people who leave the group—especially without saying anything.
I’ll wait until we reach the next station. That seems like a good point for a break. I’m sure other people will want one, too.
But dammit, I hope that station is clooooose.
I have to walk with my thighs pressed together, otherwise I’m gonna spring a leak. I’m just thankful I had my period last week, I don’t have to worry about a tampon or sanitary pad right now.
I try to put my mind onto a different subject, but everything I can think of right now is depressing.
Is my family okay?
How about Josh, Shreya and the others?
Are Owen and Brook following behind us? If they were, wouldn’t they’ve caught up while we were searching the train? Did something happen to them?
And what’s waiting for us above? If we come out the tunnel and find everything around us is a radioactive wasteland, what am I going to do? Kill myself right there?
The pressure in my bladder is almost a relief from these thoughts. But I can’t hold it in much longer. I’m… oh, I can’t make it. There’s no way. Even if the station came into sight now, I couldn’t hold out.
I slow my pace. The rest of our group starts passing me.
I’m almost to the end when, “You okay, hon?” Kelly asks.
“Yeah. I just need… a quick break.”
“Oh. One or two?”
“Want me to wait with you?”
“Would you? That’s great.”
We stop, and once the group fades into the darkness, I drop my shorts and squat.
Kelly turns away while I do my business. “So, that guy, is he nice?”
“Rick? Hmm, yeah. A little weird, but the funny kind.”
“Isn’t that always the way? You meet a cute guy, but it’s the end of the world. Isn’t it ironic, doncha think?”
My pee patters on the ground. Despite what I told Kelly, now that I’m down here, maybe I should try for number two. I don’t feel any need right now, but I will eventually. Getting it all done in one stop would be for the best.
Except for the part where we don’t have any toilet paper. Being stuck in a hot, narrow tunnel with a dozen other people isn’t a situation where you wanna have stank ass.
“You think it’s really the end of the world?” I ask.
“I dunno. We haven’t seen anything. We just have the word of those guys at the station, and I don’t know how much we can trust them. Part of me wants to think, maybe they were lying to get us to turn around. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? If there isn’t something wrong up above, why would they’ve been crowding in the station?”
“Yeah. But it’s like, you don’t wanna accept the end of the world based upon what one person says, or even two or three. It’s something you gotta see for yourself.”
“Uh-huh. It’s not like they can know for sure,” Kelly says. “Maybe something bad happened, but it doesn’t have to be the end of everything.”
“I just hope Rosslyn isn’t what it’s going to be like from now on. All Mad Max and stuff. I mean, I think Furiosa’s a cool character and all, but that doesn’t mean I wanna be her.”
“Yeah, less survivalist, more picking up the pieces. That’s how I like my apocalyptic fiction.”
I stand up, pull up my pants. “Only problem is, we’re in DC. We don’t have people with good, handy know-how. We’ve got lawyers and military contractors.”
“You put it like that, we’re definitely going the Mad Max route.”
We start walking down the tunnel.
“I’ll tell you this much,” Kelly says. “If any of those guys start talking about how we need to go back to ‘traditional’ society, or how the first order of survival is procreation, I’m stabbing him in his throat.”
“Yes. Matriarchy for the win!”
Kelly laughs. “Though hopefully most of these guys are from the protest, they’ll be progressive and none of that MAGA bullshit.”
“Hopefully.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at college, it’s that guys who seem hip and liberal turn into sexist ass-wipes after a couple beers. There are also guys like Nick who mouth the right words, help you with petition drives and come out to protests, but it’s all an act to pick up girls.
“Hey. What’s going on up there?” Kelly says.
I squint, but again I can’t see what she’s talking about until we draw closer.
Our group is standing in the middle of the tunnel, not moving. Did they notice we’re missing and stop? Maybe I should’ve let somebody know what I was doing?
But as we get nearer, I realize that’s not the case. The issue is something else entirely: just beyond the group, the tunnel comes to a dead end.
To Be Continued...
-by Sean O'Hara