I don’t remember walking back to the station, but I must have since the next thing I know I’m standing at the bottom of the escalator. I’m coated in dust, and the inside of my mouth feels like a vacuum cleaner bag.
“You all right?” It’s the barista, come to check on me.
“No, I don’t suppose I am.”
“Hmm, yeah. Don’t suppose any of us are. Come on, the Metro guys went into the break room and broke open their vending machines. We don’t got much, but there’s soda and chips, some candy and other stuff. Bottles of water, too, you can rinse off.”
Wait, what? “Why with bottles?” Don’t the Metro workers have a bathroom down here? “Is the water out?”
“Well, it’ll run, but it’s coming out funny. I mean, no problem if you’re going to the toilet, but the stuff coming out of the taps, I wouldn’t drink it.”
“Yeah. Good times ahead.”
I follow the barista across the mezzanine to where everyone’s set up camp. She takes me through a door and into a tiny room with a folding table in the center and a couple blue plastic chairs on the side. Junk food and bottles are piled in the middle of the table.
“Bathroom’s through there.” The barista points to a door in the side of the room. “No light, though.”
“S’okay.” I pull out my flashlight and grab a couple water bottles—they’re tiny ones, only sixteen ounces. That’s plenty enough if you’re drinking, but it’s not much if you’re washing up. I’ll have to stretch it, and even then I should consign myself to not getting totally clean.
The bathroom is on the grungy side, with chipped tiles and rust stains around the faucet. The toilet is at least usably clean, though who knows how long that’ll last.
I set my flashlight on end and check myself in the mirror. The light coming at me from below gives a horror movie effect, making it hard to judge how bad I look, but it’s not good, that’s for sure.
“I’m Wendy, by the way,” the barista says.
“Heather.” I squirt a bit of soap onto my hand and pour some water on it, lather up.
“You work around here, right? One of those think tanks, foreign policy and stuff?”
“Yeah, how d’you know?” I pull up my sleeves and scrub my lower arms where they’ve gotten dusty.
“I’m not deaf. People come into Starbucks with coworkers talking about work, you learn what everyone does.”
“Is it interesting?”
“Sometimes.” I smear the soap across my forehead and cheeks, up under my chin and around the back of my neck. “But it’s not a job where you want excitement.” I unbutton my blouse so I can get at the dust on my upper chest. God, it’s gotten way down in there. My shirt doesn’t expose the least bit of cleavage, but I’ve got dirt halfway down my breasts. I really need a shower.
“I suppose not,” Wendy says.
“What about you? You work full time, or?”
“Nah, I’m in college. Doing grad work at GW. Computer science.”
“What’s your favorite type of statistical regression?”
“You have one, don’t you?”
“I’m more into graphics, really. I mean I guess, uh, Bayesian?”
“Everyone says Bayesian. I prefer multinomial probit myself.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re weird?”
I’ve gotten soap on everything that looks dirty, but now the problem is getting it off. I don’t have enough water to rinse everything clean, and besides it’d get my clothes wet, so I settle for wetting down some paper towels and wiping myself off.
“So what were you doing?” Wendy asks.
“Going home for the day, or coming out for something?”
“My parents are down in Richmond. Hopefully far enough away that…”
“Yeah.” I’ve got my face more or less clean, and my neck. I toss the paper towel into the trashcan and get a new bunch. I wet it down and wring it out, but when I start wiping my chest, I still get bits of water leaking out and dribbling onto my clothes. Annoying. “So no one around here?”
“Fiancé, yeah. He’s a lawyer.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone says.”
“There’s a reason for that, you realize.” I’ve got my chest done and start wiping off my hands.
“He has a soul, you know.”
“Until the devil comes along to collect.”
“He works for the ACLU, actually.”
“That’s even worse. The point of dating a lawyer is they have money.”
“Do you have any friends?”
“Yes.” There. Done. I drop the empty water bottles into the trashcan and rebutton my blouse. “Do I look better?”
She reaches out and fixes my hair. “Much.”
We go back to the mezzanine where the others are. They have candy bars and a half dozen bags of chips spread between them and are chowing down. The guy with the blisters is still on the other side of the fare gates, looks to be asleep or otherwise comatose. Nobody’s watching him, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to snuff it any time soon.
“I’m telling you, that idiot went and started World War III,” the guy with a beard’s saying as we approach.
Everyone agrees, except the guy in a MAGA hat. “You’ve all been brainwashed by the fake news media. If it’s World War III, the Chinese started it. They musta realized America finally has a President isn’t gonna take their shit anymore, decided to strike first and hope to kill us all before we can nuke ‘em back.”
“Oh come on,” the station master says. “You believe that shit?”
“You can’t trust the Chinese. Look at Pearl Harbor. Sneak attack. It’s what they do, ‘cause they know they can’t win a stand-up fight.”
“That was the Japanese,” the older of the Metro employees says.
“Ain’t no same difference,” the younger employee says.
“Yes it is!”
“The Chinese are Communists. Japanese got anime.”
“I’m not stupid. Yeah, they’re different countries, but it’s the same culture. China, Korea, Vietnam. They all worship Gandhi.”
“That’s Buddha, and they don’t,” the stationmaster says.
The conversation doesn’t sound acrimonious right yet, but I don’t see it staying that way for long. Best to derail it now. Get them talking about something more productive.
“Are you sure you guys should be pigging down the food like that?”
They look up at me.
“What’s the problem?” the stationmaster says. “I mean it’s not healthy, but there’s enough to keep us all fed for a couple day until…” He shrugs. He has no idea what’s going to happen in a couple days; he’s just assuming that help’s coming at some point.
“What about for everyone else?” I say.
“Everyone who?” the stationmaster says.
“I’m not the only person who was on my train. I’m just the first to get tired of waiting. The others are going to be coming at some point. And in fact, there was another train that left right before mine. We could have two entire trainloads showing up here.”
The stationmaster’s face goes dark. He hasn’t been thinking. Everyone’s been deferring to him because he’s the guy in charge, but he hasn’t considered anything outside of his immediate domain. Everything in the station is okayish, so the stationmaster’s been thinking he has the situation in hand. That’s as far as he can see.
He recovers after a moment. “Well if need be, there’s a Starbucks up above. A couple other restaurants in the vicinity.” Yeah, assuming none of them are under a collapsed building. “We’ll have enough to get through until help arrives.”
I don’t buy it, but I’m not going to argue the point. “What about the people on the trains? Are we going to let them sit in the tunnels all night, or do you think we should let them know the situation?”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” The stationmaster looks to the younger of his men. “Jorge, we should have high powered flashlights in the equipment room. Run and get them.”
“Sure,” the guy says with absolutely no enthusiasm. He grabs a Kit-Kat bar and stands up.
“I’ll go with him.” I can’t sit around waiting for help to drop in. I need to be up doing something.
“Passengers shouldn’t—” the stationmaster starts.
“Have you looked upstairs? The city is wrecked. We’re on our own. Maybe FEMA’s gonna come in here searching, but if they do, it could be days before they get to us. And if they don’t…” I hold my hands up in a whatcha-gonna-do gesture.
“I guess you have a point.”
“Thank you. Now there are trains down both tunnels, that means we should have two parties go out, it’ll be faster.”
The stationmaster hesitates. He doesn’t want to get off his ass and do anything. He’s comfortable sitting here, nice and cozy.
“I’ll do it.” The older of the Metro employees stands up.
The two youngish guys get up as well.
“Beats sitting around,” Wendy says.
“You two,” I tell the stationmaster and MAGA Cap, “can keep an eye on the injured guy, ‘kay?”
“Yeah,” the stationmaster says.
MAGA Cap scowls but doesn’t speak.
We follow Jorge across the walkway to the other side of the mezzanine. He leads us to a heavy metal door and unlocks it. Inside is a room full of equipment—the batteries powering the emergency lights, the transformers, the servers that run the ticket machines and arrival boards. Most of it’s inert now, except for the batteries, which have LEDs signaling they’re on. They’re all shining green, but they have yellow and red lights as well.
“How long are these things rated for?” I ask.
“Eight hours,” Jorge says. “Dunno if there’s a plus-or-minus on that, though.”
“It’s emergency equipment,” the older employee says, “the rating should be on the conservative side.”
“Still, that won’t last much past midnight, one o’clock at the latest,” I say. “We’ll want lights in the morning so we can get outta here safely.”
“We can cut them off when we settle in for the night,” the older guy says, “then turn them back on in the morning.”
Jorge retrieves three flashlights—big, heavy duty ones that are nearly as powerful as a headlight. He distributes them to me, Wendy, and the bearded guy, then picks up a pair of headlamps, puts one on himself and hands the other to his coworker.
There’s a stack of helmets on a shelf, but only four of them.
“Don’t suppose OSHA’s gonna ding us,” the older guy says. “Here.” He hands the helmets out to us civvies, leaving himself and Jorge uncovered.
Once we’ve got them on, we head down to the platform.
“My train was down this way.” I point. “Jorge, Wendy, why don’t you come with me; the rest of you check the other tunnel.”
“Sure.” The older Metro employee has no problem with this, but the two young guys look disappointed they aren’t going to have any ladies in their party. Well too bad, so sad.
Jorge takes the lead again, and when we get near the end of the platform, he sits down on the ledge and slips onto the tracks.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” Wendy says.
“Power’s off, there’s nothing to worry about. And it’s easier to walk on the track than the emergency walkway. Just watch your steps so you don’t trip on the ties,” he says.
“What if the power comes back on?”
“I don’t think that’s worry right now,” I say.
“Maybe.” Wendy lowers herself over the edge, and Jorge helps her down.
Once we enter the tunnel, we flip our lights on. They’re a lot better than my little flashlight, but they still leave a lot of darkness around us. Though that’d be true even if the tunnel lights were all functioning. I doubt this place has ever been fully illuminated, not even when it was being dug out.
I feel like one of the Ghostbusters. There’s a scene in the second movie where they’re in an abandoned subway tunnel, exactly like this. Ray and Egon start having fun with the echo of their voices, but when Winston tries, this creepy, groaning voice calls his name instead. That scared the hell out of me when I was ten. I’d had to leave the theater—I told my dad I was going to the bathroom, but really I stood out in the lobby for five minutes until my heart calmed down. It wasn’t until I saw the movie on DVD years later that I discovered the full scene is even scarier—when the guys turn around to leave the tunnel, they’re surrounded by severed heads on pikes, and then a ghost trains blows through the tunnel and runs through Winston.
I hadn’t thought about the scene on my way out, but now that I’ve seen what’s happened on the surface, it’s set my imagination adrift. Now with every step we take, I imagine we’re going to see something on the tracks ahead—who knows what.
I shouldn’t be thinking about this. I’m going to freak myself out.
Focus on our goals.
Gotta get to the train and tell everyone to come back to the station. Should only take us ten minutes to get there, maybe as long again to get everyone off. The walk back will be slower—groups always move slow, especially if we’re watching out for stragglers. But once we have everyone with us, the tunnel will be a lot less scary.
I gotta keep telling myself that.
We continue down the tracks. The air in here is stiff, not even a trace of breeze. And the smell… what is that? I sniff.
“You smell it too?” Wendy says.
“Yeah, that’s …”
“Smells like raw meat,” Jorge says.
That’s exactly it. Where’s it coming from?”
“Up ahead,” Wendy says. She holds her flashlight with both hands so the beam’s steady. There is something on the track up ahead, but at this distance I can’t judge its size.
“A backpack?” Jorge says.
“Maybe,” Wendy says. “But if somebody left it there, where’d they go? If they came this way, wouldn’t we have seen them by now?”
“Let’s keep on,” I say, though I really don’t want to. A sick feeling’s entering my stomach.
I shift my weight forward to take a step, but my heel’s barely off the ground when Jorge shouts, “Holy mother!”
I snap around.
For a second I think there’s somebody lying on the emergency walkway, their face spotlighted by Jorge’s headlamp, but then I get my own light around and I see the head has no body attached. Almost as bad, its eyes have been torn out, and the mouth is caked with blood. It looks like a someone who’s been too enthusiastic at chowing down on barbecue, got sauce smeared across his chin and cheeks.
“Oh my God,” Wendy says. “How the hell did that happen?”
“Accident with the train?” Jorge says. “Got run over, and…”
“How?” I say.
He shakes his head.
We’ve made a mistake. We’ve seen what it’s like topside—clearly something beyond human experience happened up there. But we’ve been assuming we’re safe down here. We didn’t die during the quake, so nothing can get us now.
How stupid can we be?
I set my flashlight on the walkway and pick up the head.
“Don’t touch it!” Wendy says.
“Jorge, get your light on this.”
“You crazy, lady!”
“Just do it.”
He bends his neck so his headlamp is shining on my hand, but he closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to look.
The neck wasn’t cut through in a single motion. It’s jagged, as though the blade had stopped and restarted multiple times. There’s also a slight but noticeable curve to the scission—either the killer had changed the angle of the cut, or the neck had shifted in the process. Was it possible the guy had been alive during this, struggling to get free?
There’s something else, it takes me a moment to notice. The neck’s been cut in two directions at once. I can tell because there are little strips of skin where the blade had cut and pulled back and cut again at a slightly different point, like a child who still hasn’t mastered scissors. And these flaps of skin are pointing in different directions on each side of the neck. It’s like he’d been beheaded by giant shears. But how would that ever happen?
“I vote we go back,” Wendy says.
“What about the people on the train?” I say.
“This guy was on the train, right? I mean, where else did he come from?
“You’re probably right, yes.”
“Then probably everyone on that train is dead. I mean, this is not natural. Something fucked up happened down here.”
“We can’t know that until we see for ourselves.”
“I’d rather not see.”
“I’m kinda with her,” Jorge says.
“No,” I say. “We need to find out. If there is a danger down here, we’ll be better off knowing what it is, that way we can make an informed decision about what to do next.”
“My informed decision is, let’s get the fuck outta the dark tunnels,” Wendy says.
“What makes you think the surface is any safer?”
“The lady’s right,” Jorge says. “We’re screwed no matter what.”
“Shit. Okay, whatever. Have it your way. We’ll go down, take a look at the train. But we see anything move that don’t look right, we turn around and run.”
“Agreed,” I say.
We head down the tunnel again. We get to the backpack we’d seen earlier, turns out to be the body that goes along with the head. Whatever had gotten the guy hadn’t been satisfied with decapitation. His belly is torn out, his guts strewn across the tracks. He must’ve eaten lunch right before getting on the train, because there are bits of hamburger bun and half chewed pickles mixed in with the porridge of his stomach. If you’ve ever smelled somebody’s breath after they’ve vomited, that’s the stench here.
We walk by as quickly as we can, no one daring to open their mouth to speak lest they add their own vomit to the mess.
Not long after we’re past, the train comes into view ahead.
We approach cautiously. When we get up to it, I climb onto the rear hitch and peer inside. I have to angle my flashlight so I can shed some light on the interior without creating too much glare.
It’s an abattoir. There’s blood everywhere. The floor’s coated with it. So are the walls and windows—there’s a smear across the one I’m looking through, as though somebody had put a bloody hand against the glass and wiped it.
There aren’t any bodies that I can see. The car’s deserted.
Given the amount of blood inside, I don’t see how anyone could’ve walked away from this, which means that whatever did this—and there must’ve been multiple whatevers—took the bodies after they finished.
I dismount the hitch.
“Dead?” Wendy says.
I tell them what I saw.
“Well, where does this get us?” she says.
“Let’s go in. See if there are any clues.”
“Let’s not and say we did.”
I sigh. This is getting tiresome. “You can go back if you want.”
“I want, yes,” she says. Then to Jorge, “You with me?”
“There could be survivors,” he points out.
“Yeah, and whatever did this could be lurking around.”
“We should check and be sure.”
Wendy looks back down the tunnel. The long, long dark tunnel. She holds her flashlight over her head, but after about ten yards the beam’s too diffuse to be effective. “Dammit, don’t make me go down there alone.”
I hoist myself onto the walkway and offer a hand to Jorge. He grabs my wrist and pulls himself up.
“Okay guys, I’m coming,” Wendy says.
We help her up.
“Should we split up? We each take one car?” Jorge suggests.
“Hell no,” Wendy says.
“Let’s stick together,” I say. “And one of us should stay outside as a lookout.”
“Me,” Wendy says.
“You’re not gonna run off and leave us to die, are you?” I say.
The last door of the train is still standing wide open from when I’d left. Jorge and I go in. Blood squelches under our feet, and I have to hang onto the stanchions to keep my balance. It’s a damn good thing I’d worn sneakers today instead of dress shoes, otherwise I’d have zero traction. Jorge in his work boots is better off, but even he’s grabbing the backs of seats as he moves.
“Look up there,” he says.
The door between train cars is open—except “open” implies it was done in the manner intended by the designers. This is more like something had burst through the bulkhead, and the door’s opening was incidental to that. We can see clear through to the next car, and it looks like the far end is exactly the same. Our lights can’t penetrate the full length of the train, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been turned into one continuous interior.
“What the hell could do that?” Jorge says.
“Terminators. Xenomorphs. Velociraptors.”
“This shit’s not funny, lady.”
“I’m not trying to be.” Clearly something had happened here that is several sigma beyond the ordinary. We truly are in the realm of science fiction.
We move into the next car. This one is wrecked up more than the last. Several stanchions have been pulled loose from the floor and ceiling, along with bits of the horizontal rails at the top. They’re bent and twisted as easily as if they were paperclips.
Jorge kicks something by accident, and when we shine our lights on it, we see it’s a severed hand—male judging by the coarse hair on the back, and married going by the wedding ring.
“Not totally thorough,” I say.
“Nothing. Let’s keep going.”
But we’ve only managed another couple steps when Jorge stops me. “Something up ahead.”
I don’t see it at first, but then the beam of his headlamp reveals a thin, iridescent strand across the next doorway. I play my light across the entire doorway and pick out a polygonal web stretched across the opening. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a long deserted building, not a Metro car that was filled with people just an hour ago.
“I’m getting creeped,” Jorge says.
I fish in my purse for my Swiss Army knife. I pull open the longest blade it has.
“You sure that’s a good idea?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I just got a feeling.”
“So do I. So would anyone right now.” I slash my knife through the web in an inverted L. The strands cut as easily as the air, and the whole tangle flutters to the ground. I wipe the sticky residue on a seatback. “It’s natural cuz we should be scared and running the hell away. But there’s nobody in here.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Jorge says.
I step into the next car—this is the last one on the train, or rather the first one since we’re moving towards the driver’s compartment. There’s a sweet aroma to the air, though with a burnt tinge to it.
And on the floor there are lumps, about a dozen of them, all wrapped in—at first I think they’re bandages, like the dressing on a mummy, but once I get my light focused on one, I see it’s spider silk, just like what I just cut through.
“Or maybe not,” I say.
I drop to my knees next to the nearest lump. It’s the size of a person, and judging by the shape, a woman.
I slip my knife into the cocoon, but these threads don’t give way as easily. I manage a five inch incision before Jorge calls out, “Hey lady.”
I look up.
There are spiders crawling towards me, about a dozen of them, some on the floor, some on the windows, and even a few on the ceiling. They’re big suckers, too—their bodies are the size of Jack Russell terriers, with legs like giant lobsters.
I’m so startled, I lose my balance and fall on my bum. I get my hands behind me and crab-walk backwards as fast as I can, which isn’t nearly fast enough. The damned things are closing on me.
Except—when I fell down, I dropped my flashlight and kicked it over. When I did, the beam played across a couple of the spiders and they hesitated for a second. When they started forward again, they scurried around the beam.
I spin myself around and lunge for the flashlight. I grab it as the spiders are almost upon me, but the moment I blare the light at them, they stop and retreat. The only problem is, I only have the one light—if I aim at one, the others will surge forward.
But Jorge picks up on what’s going on and he takes his headlamp off and starts pointing it at them. That’s still not enough, though.
“Wendy! We need you!” I shout.
While we’re waiting for her to come—assuming she comes—I pull my purse around to the front of me with my elbow and dig inside with my free hand. My other flashlight is right at the top. I put it in my mouth and twist the front around until it comes on. It’s only a fraction as powerful as my other flashlight, but it proves powerful enough to ward the spiders off.
“What’s going on—holy shit!”
I don’t dare turn back to see Wendy. I just shout, “Shine your flashlight at them.”
She takes a couple seconds to respond, and I’m afraid she’s made good on her threat to leave us, but then a fourth beam joins mine and Jorge’s.
With four lights, we’re pretty well able to hold the spiders at bay, but that’s all we can do. The batteries won’t last forever, and it’s not like we have the wherewithal to keep this up. We need an exit plan. Will the spiders let us go if we retreat? And can we be sure this is all there is? As scary as these bastards are, there aren’t enough of ‘em to’ve overwhelmed all the passengers. There have to be more somewhere. What if they’re outside right now, trying to outflank us?
Dammit. We didn’t think to bring any weapons with us. All we’ve got is my Swiss Army knife, and despite the name, it’s not meant for combat.
Though now that I think about it, I do have something else in my bag. Who knows if it’ll do any good, but it’s better than nothing.
“Wendy. Dig in my bag. You should find a cannister in there.”
“You think that’s gonna work?”
“Honestly, I have no clue. But I don’t have any other ideas, do you?”
“No.” She reaches into my bag. The strap pulls against my neck. Our lights waver and the spiders advance towards us.
She takes her light off the spiders for a moment so she can make sure she has the nozzle pointed the right way, then she takes aim and fires. I don’t think it worked at first, but then the spider that took the brunt of her attack screams—a low, rattling scream, like a seagull with something caught in its gullet—and scrambles backwards.
Wendy sweeps the spray across the spiders. By the time she gets to the last one, it’s retreating without being asked.
“Let’s get outta here,” she says.
“No,” I say.
“You nuts?” Jorge says.
“We get them while they’re hurt.” I step towards one of the spiders, which is quivering on the ground in pain. I put my foot on top of it and press down. It’s surprisingly resilient. I have to put my full weight onto it before I hear its carapace crack. For a second that’s all that happens, but then my foot sinks to the floor with a sickening squuch. Yellow spider guts shoot out from all sides.
Jorge’s following my lead. With his extra bulk and heavy boots, he’s able to crush them with little effort.
Wendy’s more squeamish about it. Instead of stomping the bodies, she steps on their legs, cracking them into little pieces. The spiders go wild when she does that, snapping their mandibles vainly at the air.
A couple of the spiders are on the walls or ceiling, but one more blast of pepper spray and a burst of the flashlight is enough to dislodge them. One scurries under a seat, and we have to drive it out before we can kill it, but at last they’re all dead.
“Next time I say we get out of here, we get the hell out of here,” Wendy says.
“What she said. That was crazy.”
“It was indeed.” I kneel next to one of the cocooned forms on the floor and pick up my Swiss Army knife. I don’t see the opening I’d made earlier, so I start again fresh. I have to saw the knife to cut through the silk, but after a minute’s work, I’ve got the cocoon open.
There’s a middle aged woman in there, her face deathly white except for smudges of rouge on her cheeks. Even her lips barely have any color to them.
“She’s dead,” Wendy says.
I touch the woman’s throat. The flesh pulses faintly against my fingertips. “No.” I slap her cheeks gently. A natural flush appears, but she doesn’t wake up. “Here.” I offer my knife to Jorge. “You get the others out.”
“Yeah sure.” He takes the knife and kneels next to me, starts cutting open the next cocoon.
“Look, I don’t wanna sound cold,” Wendy says, “but we should be scramming.”
“Why would we do that?” Jorge says. “We killed the spideys, right? What we gotta worry about?”
“Yeah, but this here, this is not everyone who was on the train. Am I right?”
“You’re right.” My car alone had had twice as many people as I see cocoons. The whole train must’ve held a hundred plus people when the power went out.
“So something dragged the others off,” Wendy says. “And the things we killed—I mean, scary big for spiders, sure, but not nearly big enough to drag human bodies around, not unless there were a helluva lot more of them.”
“So what’re you saying?” Jorge says. He’s stopped cutting for a moment, and I nudge him to continue.
“I think these were kiddies. I think their parents left them here to stand watch while the adults dragged the bodies back to… wherever.”
“Spiders don’t act that way,” Jorge says. “They’re loners. And they aren’t smart enough.”
“Spiders aren’t the size of a cat, either,” Wendy says. “This is not normal. What happened up above is not normal. None of this is normal. We can’t say, ‘Spiders don’t act that way,’ because maybe they do. Now.”
“You’re probably right,” I say. I’m holding the woman’s hand, giving it squeezes to see if she’ll squeeze back. Nothing so far. “I have no idea what happened, but I think it’s clear we’re through the looking-glass right now. And yes, there probably are bigger spiders out there.”
“And if they show up and they’re the size of a border collie, or a donkey, or—God forbid—a hippo, we’re dead. Half a can of pepper spray won’t do shit.”
“A hippopotamus would never fit in here,” I point out.
“You are missing the point. Let’s vamoose while the vamoosing’s good.”
“Ehhr. Ehhhr. Yerrrt.” The woman in the cocoon is rasping for breath. Her eyes are open, but one of them is twitching.
I slip a hand under her back and get her to sit upright. “You’re okay.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
She shakes her head. Her whole body is trembling.
“Get the others loose,” I tell Jorge.
He nods and goes back to cutting the cocoons.
Then to Wendy I say, “And if you’re worried about more spiders coming, go outside and stand watch. If you see anything, you can take off running. Just pound the windows as you leave, so we’ll know.”
“Yeah. Sure.” She shakes her head and heads to the front of the train. The driver’s compartment has been torn out, and she can slip outside that way.
“Whaz goey ah?” the woman from the cocoon says.
“What’s the last thing you can remember?”
“Morney. Goey to rally.” She flexes her lips, puzzled at why they aren’t forming the sounds she wants.
“Touch your nose with your finger,” I suggest.
She tries, but ends up tapping her upper lip instead. The spiders must’ve poisoned her—not something lethal, at least not to humans, but enough to paralyze her. The effects are just wearing off.
“Well it’s afternoon now. Maybe even evening,” I say. I explain to her the basics of what’s happened, not skimping on the bad news, though not dwelling on it either.
“Yeh kiddey,” she says.
“I’m not, unfortunately.”
“My huzbee, he aza wiz me.”
I look around. Jorge’s got most of the people loose now. There are plenty of men, but only one or two are close to the woman’s age. “Do you see him here?”
She examines the faces. She shakes her head.
“The spiders must’ve got him.”
“Yeh stih sezeyat?”
She speaks again, slower, “Yeh stih sezey zat.”
Am I still saying that?
“Look over there.” I point to one of the crushed carcasses. She flinches when she sees it.
“No, lady, it ain’t,” Jorge says. “Not a crab, not a lobster, not Sponge Bob Squarepants.”
Some of the other passengers are showing signs of wakefulness, but before we can get them up and moving, Wendy comes running.
To Be Continued...
-by Sean O'Hara