“Back up! Everyone, now!” the station manager shouts.
“What’s going on?”
“C’mon, let us out!”
“Listen to the man,” I say. “You can’t get out up there.”
The burning engine is roaring behind me, though the way the escalator shaft is shaped, you have to be standing right there to hear it. The flames are also sucking air upwards. It’s not a strong updraft, but I can feel the air flowing around me. Good thing this isn’t a closed space, or we’d be suffocating right quick.
“What’s wrong?” a woman asks. She’s about my age, in a business suit that’s coated with dust.
“Looks like a plane crashed right on top of us. The entrance is blocked,” I say.
“Oh, fun,” says a man in a polo shirt and khakis.
“Isn’t there an elevator around here?” another man says. This guy’s with his whole family, tourists probably.
“Power’s out,” the manager says.
“Whaddaya mean power’s out?” a young guy says. “Light’s are still on.”
“Backups,” the manager says. “We’ve got about eight hours of battery.”
“So what’re we gonna do?” the woman in the business suit says.
The station master looks up the shaft. He blows out through his mouth. “I think we needa evacuate.”
“How do we do that?” the young guy says. “Is there an emergency exit?”
“Tunnels,” the guy in the polo shirt says.
“Yeah,” the manager says. “There are emergency walkways. They’re meant for people on trains to get to the next station, but they work the other way, too.”
“We’re gonna miss our flight,” the tourist guy says.
“Don’t worry,” Polo Shirt says, “if there’s a plane crash, there are gonna be delays. C’mon.”
We turn as a group and head into the station. When we get through the fare gates, we see the woman who’d been beaned by the falling concrete earlier. She’s sprawled on the floor like she’s taking a nap, except the side of her face is painted with blood. The guy who’d stopped to help her is kneeling beside her, his head cupped in his hands. He hears us and looks up.
“What the fuck?” he says.
“What happened here?” the station manager says.
“Part of the ceiling fell in,” Polo Shirt explains. “She took it on the head.”
“And you guys, you just pushed past her, not even bothering to stop, see if she’s okay.”
“Hey man,” Micah says, “it was pandemonium. We were panicked. Situation like that, you do what you gotta do to survive.”
“Yeah?” the guy on the floor says.
Nobody says anything for a moment, then a teenage girl with a teddy bear backpack says, “Is she …?”
“She’s dead,” the guy says. “I’m pretty sure. We should get an ambulance just in case. You’ve called 911?”
“We can’t get out,” Polo Shirt says and explains the problem.
“Great.” The guys stands up, brushes himself off. “Well come on then, let’s get the hell outta here.”
As we move to the escalator, I put an arm around Ali. “You okay?”
“No. I’m terrified.” She looks it. It’s like when we’d tried pot, back when we were first going out. Weed’s supposed to make you mellow, and back then Ali really needed some mellow, so we decided to give it a shot. Didn’t work. It made her paranoid. We’d been in our apartment with a couple friends, and Ali had freaked the fuck out, convinced the cops were going to bust in and arrest us. We’d had to hold her down and stuff a washcloth in her mouth to keep her from shouting so loud that one of our neighbors would’ve called the police. That was before she started her medication.
“Nothing to worry about.” I give her a squeeze. I’m still pissed at her, don’t think I’m not, but a freak-out is the last thing I want right now.
We file down the escalators. There are few enough of us that we don’t end up crowded. Ali and I have one almost to ourselves, just the station manager a few steps ahead of us, and the woman in the business suit behind. Micah’s on the next one over. We look at each other, nod, but don’t say anything. Good. He’s gonna respect our space.
At the bottom, there’s a guy still on the platform. He’s sitting on a bench, reading a novel in the dim light. I’d thought everyone had gone upstairs after the explosion, but apparently not. He has a bicycle parked next to him.
“Uh, excuse me. Sir?” the manager says.
The guy looks up. He’s got a salt-and-pepper beard, short cropped. Just thick enough to give his cheeks texture. “When will the train get here?”
Nobody says anything.
“It was supposed to be here three minutes ago.”
“I don’t think it’s coming,” Polo Shirt says. “Didn’t you feel the earthquake?”
“A properly functioning subway system should be impervious natural phenomenon.” Is this guy for real? His expression doesn’t look like he’s trying to make a joke.
“Yeah, this is Metro,” Polo Shirt says.
“They charge enough. They shouldn’t have service interruptions.”
“Well. They do. They’re having one right now.”
“Mmm. So when will service be restored?”
“We’re not sure, but there are some problems above ground,” the manager says. “We’re going to evacuate through the tunnel.”
“We shouldn’t have to evacuate. The Metro should restore service, or provide us a bus for transport to a functional station.”
“Well, be that as it may,” the manager says, “that’s the situation we’re in.”
“Will I be charged for my ticket if I have to walk to another station?”
“No ... we’ll let you out for free.” The manager looks to the rest of us, like, This guy’s nuts, isn’t he? It’s not my imagination?
“But my ticket was already processed through the turnstile. Even if I leave through the same gate, I’ll be charged a minimum fee.”
“We’ll reimburse you.”
“I still don’t think this is fair. I will be writing to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to complain.”
“You do that, man,” Polo Shirt says.
“Okay. I will go.” The man stands up and grabs his bike. He raises the kickstand.
“You can’t take that,” the manager says.
“But it is my bike.”
“I understand that, but the emergency evacuation platform isn’t big enough.”
“But if I leave my bike here, how can I be sure it will be returned safely? I need this to get to work and to go grocery shopping.”
Jesus! What is this guy’s issue?
“Look,” I say, “if the power’s out, that means the third rail’s off, there aren’t any trains moving, right?”
“Yeah,” the manager says. “There might be a static charge, I dunno, but should be safe, I think.”
“So why don’t we let the guy take his bike on the tracks if that’s what he wants?”
There’s a murmur of agreement from the rest of our group. Nobody wants to be stuck here arguing with the guy.
“Okay, yeah,” the manager says. “Do you need help getting the bike down?”
“It is my bike. I will move it.”
“Okay, dude, you be you,” Polo Shirt says. “Now, which way do we go?”
“The next stations are about the same distance from here,” the manager says, “but Reagan National is above ground. We’re only a couple blocks from where the tunnel comes to the surface.”
“That’s my vote,” the woman in the business suit says.
“Good by me,” the young man says.
“That’s where we were headed anyway,” the tourist guy says. “Though I don’t suppose we’ll be taking our luggage.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Micah says.
“Yeah.” The sooner Ali gets some fresh air, the better.
“I need to go the other way,” the guy with the bike says. He’s managed to get onto the trackbed and is wrestling his bike down. “I live in that direction.”
“We’ll call you a cab,” Polo Shirt says.
“A cab might not have room for my bike.”
“Go whatever way you want, man,” Micah says. “Nobody gives a shit.”
Nobody had wanted to be the asshole to say that, but now that it’s said, everyone nods agreement. Even they guy who’d stopped to help the dead woman.
The bicyclist considers. “I will go with you. Never split the group is the number one rule in situations like this.”
“So we’re all agreed?” the manager says. “Let’s roll out, then.”
We head into the tunnel. At first, the bicyclist is the only one on the trackbed, but once we get a look at how narrow the walkway is, people start climbing down. The station manager tries to stop them at first, but he gives up once it’s clear nobody’s gonna listen. He gave one person permission, so nobody sees a reason not to.
But once the walkway clears, it isn’t so bad. So I figure, why get off? The woman in the suit is the same way, and the station manager doesn’t want to give into the demands of the crowd.
I put a hand on Ali’s shoulder. “You doing o—” I don’t get the sentence out. She jumps when I touch her, nearly falls off the walkway. I catch her by the waist.
“Jesus, don’t do that!” She says it loud enough that Polo Shirt looks up at us.
“Sorry. I just wanted to see if you’re doing okay.”
“I’m not a baby, you know.”
“As long as I can get out of here fast, I’ll be fine. Okay?”
We haven’t traveled far when the literal light at the end of the tunnel appears. The closer we get to it, the fresher the air tastes, though it’s also getting hotter as we go. More humid, too.
Micah’s the first one to reach the mouth, then the other young guy, but they only step out a few feet before turning around and coming back in. The light outside is too intense to see what’s wrong.
“The track’s blocked,” the young guy says.
“Is the tunnel collapsed?” the station manager says.
Oh please, no. I don’t wanna have to backtrack.
“No, not that,” Micah says. “There’s a car, an SUV in the way.”
“What?” Polo Shirt says.
“There’s an overpass,” the young guy says, “just outside the tunnel, looks like the car flew off it, straight through the guardrail.”
“What the hell?” the woman in the business suit says.
“What about a rescue crew?” Polo Shirt says. “Are they out there.”
Micah and the other guy trade looks.
“Didn’t look like it.”
“I’ll go check.” Micah turns back.
The rest of us hurry towards the entrance, and those of us on the walkway climb down to the trackbed.
“There’s nobody out here,” Micah says.
“What about people in the car?” Business Suit says.
“I can’t tell. The way it fell, it’s on its side, its wheels towards us.”
“I dunno,” the manager says, “maybe the rescue crew has already gotten people out and they’re waiting for heavy equipment to move the car?”
“Maybe,” Polo Shirt says. “Let’s check it out.” He looks around our group. “You two, you and you.” He points to Micah and the other young guy, me, and a teenager I think’s with the tourist family. I don’t know who put him in charge, but his choices make sense so there’s no reason not to go along with him.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.” I kiss Ali on the cheek. She scowls but doesn’t say anything.
The tunnel comes out on the slope of a hill, and there’s a retaining wall on one side to keep soil from spilling onto the track. A crack bisects the wall, and given the way it bulges out, I dunno how much longer it’s gonna be retaining anything. To our other side is a freestanding concrete wall that separates the tunnel we’re in from the one going the other way. That one at least is still solid.
We can’t see down the tracks thanks to the SUV, but the overpass—looks like an on-ramp if you wanna get technical—is deserted. No firetrucks, no ambulances, not even regular cars and trucks moving up there.
The SUV landed smack in the middle of the track, with its front end pancaked against the retaining wall. I doubt anyone survived that, but Polo Shirt insists we should check inside first.
“Here, get on my shoulders.” He crouches down and gestures for me to step up.
I do, grabbing the side of the SUV for balance.
“Careful,” he says. “We don’t wanna tip it”
“Yeah.” Like it’d be that easy.
He stands up and my view elevates.
Something is seriously wrong. The hillside is black. All the grass on it is burnt to a crisp. There are trees a little ways beyond the SUV, and they’re likewise burnt—there’s still smoke curling from their branches. It’s like a wildfire swept the area. Except we’re in the middle of a spaghetti bowl of roads. There shouldn’t be enough open space to sustain a fire. What the hell happened?
“Can you see into the car?” Polo Shirt says.
Yeah. That’s what I’m up here for. I lean forward, one hand on the retaining wall, but my vision’s all messed up from the sudden change in light, and I can’t see into the dark interior.
“Hang on.” I step off his shoulder and onto the door.
Yeah, I heard you the first time.
I grab onto the retaining wall and scramble over to the hillside. My hands come away black with ash when I stand up. My pants are a mess too. No time to worry about that, though. I rush down the hill until I’m low enough to jump onto the track bed, and then double back towards the tunnel.
I approach the SUV from its top side. The windshield is smashed almost opaque, but there’s a clear patch in the upper—well, it would be the upper left corner if the SUV were on its wheels, but the way it’s lying, it’s actually the lower left. I crouch on the tracks and peer inside, but I still can’t see anything. I take out my phone and activate the light, shine it through.
“Empty,” I call out.
“Empty?” Polo Shirt shouts back.
“I don’t see anyhing, dead or alive.”
But that’s not exactly true. There’s a thick sludge on the ground, looks to be oozing from the SUV. It has a nasty smell, like meat that’s gone bad. The toe of my shoe’s in it, and it acts like glue when I lift my foot, nearly sucking my shoe off.
“Okay, get back over here and we’ll push it over,” Polo Shirt says.
I climb back up the hill, and then lower myself over the retaining wall. Micah and the other young guy help me down.
“What’s that black gunk all over you?” the young guy says.
“This ...” How do I explain what I saw? I don’t even understand it myself. Honest to God, it looked like the end of the world out there, but I don’t wanna say that out loud. They’ll think I’m crazy. “There’s something wrong out there.”
“Wrong how?” Polo Shirt asks.
“I think it’s best we push this over and you can see for yourselves.”
They all look at each other.
“Okay. Might as well,” Polo Shirt says.
We line up along the SUV.
“Let’s go on three, okay?” Polo Shirt says.
We lean against the chassis and dig our feet in. I’m on the tracks, so I lock my heels against the ties.
“One ... two ... and three.”
We push. The vehicle tips maybe two degrees.
I remember in college, my friend Brian’s car had broken down while we were on our way to Virginia Beach. We were actually at a gas station when it happened, just finished filling up, and the engine wouldn’t start when he cranked it. There’d only been three of us, but we’d had no problem pushing it away from the pumps.
Of course, that had been a Honda Civic. And on its wheels. This SUV probably weighs three times as much. But still.
“C’mon, dig those feet in,” Polo Shirt says.
They are dug in! I push with all the power in my knees. My calves feel like they’re gonna explode.
We’ve got the SUV about fifteen degrees from vertical. The tires are a good eight inches off the ground. A little bit more. A little ... bit ... more!
“We need more help,” the young guys says.
“Nah, we got this,” Micah says.
The vehicle’s standing on the edge of its roof. All we gotta do is move its center of gravity another foot or so, and it’ll go over.
I’m leaning way in now. I lift my rearmost foot and bring it forward. There, I can put the weight on my other leg now.
The vehicle’s moving on its own. Gravity’s doing the work now.
“It’s good! It’s good!” Polo shirt says.
The car crashes onto its roof. A cloud of dirt flies up. We cough and step back towards the tunnel.
“Can we get through?” the woman in the business suit asks.
“Dunno,” Polo Shirt says.
When the air clears, the SUV ... well, it’s not totally blocking our way now. There’s a space between the rear fender and the tunnel divider that’s wide enough for a person to squeeze through if they turn sideways.
“Probably the best we can do,” I say.
“Yeah,” Micah says. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Getting everyone past the SUV takes a while. While everyone’s lining up for their turn, I go and find Ali. She’s still in the tunnel, sitting on the track with her back to the wall. She keeps squeezing her hands into fists and then opening them.
“How you doing?”
I wanna ask, “Are you sure?” but I don’t wanna risk a blow up, so I let it go. Instead, “We can get out.”
“I heard.” She gets to her feet. She’s wobbly, but when I offer her an arm, she slaps it away. “I don’t need your help.”
“Sorry, I just ... whatever.” I go outside. She’ll be out eventually.
“What the hell happened out here?” the woman in the business suit asks. She’s on the other side of the SUV now, along with Micah, Polo Shirt and the tourist family. They’re standing far enough out to see the state of vegetation on the hillside, though i doubt they can tell how far the devastation spreads.
“I dunno,” Micah says, “but this don’t look like no earthquake to me.”
“This is really strange,” Polo Shirt says.
They all have their cell phones out, but they’re holding them the way you do when you’re searching for a decent signal and can’t find it.
“Hey man, c’mon, leave the bike already,” the young guy says.
The bicyclist is trying to get his bike around the SUV. He’s not having any luck—the handlebars are snagging on the grille.
“I need this bike for commuting to work.”
“Here.” I pick the bike up and lift it over the chassis. “You can grab it from the other side and get it down. Jesus.”
“Thank you, I most appreciate that.”
“Yeah. Uh-huh.” Weirdo.
The young guy goes next, then the teenage girl with the teddy bear backpack. She’s got a bit of a limp I notice, and she has a friend who’s helping her.
“You okay?” I ask.
“I fell when we were running up the escalators, twisted my ankle. I’ll be fine once we can sit down.” She’s skinny enough that she can get through the gap without turning sideways, though her friend’s on the pudgy side, and even sideways with her gut sucked in, her belly scrapes against the bumper.
That leaves me and Ali as the last to go through. I gesture for her to go ahead of me.
“I just wanna look at your ass, that’s all.”
She flashes a weak smile. It’s something. Hopefully if I can keep her happy, she won’t have another panic attack.
Once we’re over to the group, Polo Shirt says, “Looks like there’s a fence on either side of the rails. We can either try knocking it over—God knows how long that’ll take—or we keep going to the next station.”
“The station’s not that far,” the manager says. “I don’t think it’ll take more than half an hour to get there.”
“I dunno, half an hour in this heat, I’m gonna be exhausted,” Micah says.
“I already am,” the young guy says. His T-shirt’s soaked through.
“Knocking over the fence isn’t going to be easy, either,” Polo Shirt says. “I vote for the next station.”
There’s a general consensus that we should go on.
“You know, it’s funny though,” the woman in the business suit says. “If we’re that close to the airport, where are the planes?”
She’s right. They should be coming in for landings almost on top of us, but the sky’s clear.
“Maybe they had to shut the airport down from the quake,” the tourist man says. “Or the crash.”
“Could be,” Business Suit says, “but that doesn’t explain the grass. Or the lack of emergency equipment. Or our cell phones not working.”
“You don’t suppose we got nuked?” the young guy says.
“The mushroom cloud would still be visible,” Polo Shirt says.
“It’s aliens,” Ali says. Everyone laughs except me. I know she’s not joking. And honestly, it’s as good an explanation as anything.
“Well, only way we’ll ever find out is if we get moving,” Polo Shirt Says.
“Yup,” Micah says.
And so we start trudging down the tracks.
After a few steps, the chubby girl starts singing, “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” That draws stares and head shakes.
Her friend with the limp hangs her head. “Shut up, Nicole,” she mutters.
But not only doesn’t Nicole shut up, Ali joins in. Now it’s my turn to be mortified. I don’t know this person, swear to God. Just met her.
Though I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Ali’s always liked singing, and her therapist says it’s a good outlet for stress if she’s ever without her medication.
We pass under the highway ramp, and when we come out the other side, the control tower for National is visible. It’s intact. We’re still a good ways away, but I don’t see any activity around the airport, either in the air or on the ground, though we don’t have a good view of the roads yet.
That changes as the ground continues to slope down towards the Potomac while the rails remain on the same level, running atop an embankment. As we rise—or rather, as the grounds sinks—we can see down onto the roadways. They’re far too empty, even for a Sunday. I don’t see any vehicles at all.
No wait, there’s one up ahead, a sedan of some sort, a newish model. It’s run into a Jersey barrier at an on-ramp. Must’ve hit it at full speed, too, because the barrier cuts halfway through the front end.
“I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” Business Suit says.
“I hear ya,” Micah says. “It’s like, Denzel’s gonna come walkin’ down the road at any moment.”
“I prefer the one with Aragorn and the kid,” Business Suit says.
“Book was good, movie was shit.”
Ali and Nicole have finished with their song and switch to Rodgers and Hammerstein, “Favorite Things.” The tune is utterly out of place given the environment, though the incongruity is itself comforting. Makes it feel like we’re on a nice little stroll in the country, not walking through a wasteland.
The track curves slightly, and when we turn onto the straightaway, we see the embankment ends ahead and turns into a pair of bridges that pass over the roadways below. One of those bridges is clear, but a train’s derailed on the other. The front-most car is lying on the ground, and two more are dangling like sausage links, with the rest still on the tracks.
“Ouch,” the young guy says. “What the hell happened?”
“Good question,” Polo Shirt says.
There aren’t any rescue vehicles around. With the SUV, you could suppose that emergency services were busy elsewhere, dealing with the plane crash and other earthquake damage. But a train derailment—that’s major. The place should be crawling with ambulances and firetrucks.
“Do we check it out,” I ask, “or go around?”
“I just wanna get to the station,” the girl with the limp says.
“Yeah,” the tourist man says. “I’m about ready to fall over. Get me some shade and a place to rest my legs.”
“We should at least look inside,” the young guy says. “There might be people hurt in there.”
“Yeah,” Polo Shirt says.
“Well, nothing says we all hafta go,” Micah says. “Why don’t everyone wants a rest go on to the station, we’ll catch ya up later.”
I remember what the bicyclist said earlier, about not splitting the party. It’s been a while since I played D&D, but that’s always sound advice. Though in a D&D game, you never have players saying, “Let’s go rest.” There’d be no question we should check out the train.
Of course life isn’t a D&D game. Who cares if we split the party? What’s going to happen? We get attacked by orcs?
“Yeah, that sounds like an idea to me,” I say.
We divide up. Most people opt to go on to the station, but me, Micah, Polo Shirt, Business Suit and Young Guy opt to check the train.
“If we’re gonna be more than half an hour, we’ll send somebody to let you know,” Polo Shirt tells the others.
Ali frowns at me. Looks like the therapeutic value of song is short lived. “Why are you going?” she asks me.
“Seems the thing to do.”
“Why aren’t you staying with me? I’m your wife.”
“What happened to you can get along without my help?”
“I can. That doesn’t mean I don’t want you there.”
“Look, you can see the station from here. We’ll be maybe a hundred yards apart.”
“The bridge could collapse.”
“So could the other one.”
“Yeah, but if we’re going to die, I want it to be together.”
“I don’t want either of us to die.”
“Don’t abandon me.”
“You are. You hate me now.”
“I don’t hate you. I’m kinda pissed, yes, and we have issues that need working out, but I don’t hate you.”
“I saw you talk to that girl earlier.”
“The one with the limp. You were hitting on her.”
“No. I wasn’t.” She’s like sixteen! “I asked her if she needed help.”
“Her friend was helping her. She didn’t need you. You wanted to play the White Knight, didn’t you?”
“She’s a bit young for me.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. If I were lying, wouldn’t I be going with everyone else so I could be closer to the girl?”
“Maybe you want to try your luck with the other woman.”
“Jesus, what’s wrong with you?” Ali’s the one who fucked around without telling me, but I’m getting the four lights treatment? How does that work?
“I don’t want you to leave me,” she says.
“I’m not going to leave you. All I’m gonna do is pop my head into this train and see if there are any survivors. Nothing more.”
“Are you coming or not?” Polo Shirt calls to me.
“Yeah, be right there.” I kiss Ali on the cheek. “Half an hour, no more, ‘kay?”
“Everything all right?” Micah whispers to me when I join the group.
“Yeah. She’s freaked out, doesn’t like me leaving her alone.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t. We got enough people, makes no difference whether you’re here or there.”
“She’ll get over it.”
The train derailment is about a third of the way down the left-hand bridge. For that first length, both groups keep pace with each other. I keep one eye on Ali, but she’s staring straight ahead, ignoring me. Ignoring everything. Nicole strikes up first verse of “Anything Goes,” but peters out when Ali doesn’t join in.
I’m tempted to double back and switch groups. If I don’t, I’m going to walk into a mess when we finally make it to the station. When Ali’s mad, she’s vindictive. She’ll find ways to make me pay.
But I’m not gonna give in. Not after what she pulled. I’m the one who has the right to be mad here, not her. She’s not gonna pull this bullshit where she changes the subject and makes me into the bad guy. No way.
We reach the train. There’s a car hanging half on/half off the track, though it’s not see-sawing like in a cartoon, so we might be able to get on board, as long as we stay to the one end.
Polo Shirt and Micah peer through the windows.
“I don’t see anyone,” Polo says.
“No, but the place is smeared with, I dunno, looks like jelly.”
“Can we get the doors open?” Business Suit says.
“I don’t see any controls,” the young guy says.
“There have to be some,” Polo Shirt says. “Emergency crews need some way to get inside.”
“What about the doors between cars?” Micah says. “They’d be useless if you can’t open them from outside, right?”
“Yeah,” Business Suit says. “Only problem is, how do we get to them?”
The way the train’s run off the tracks, the rear end of this car is tight against the safety fence.
The young guy kneels down and peers at the space between the carriage and tracks. “I think I can crawl under here.”
“Don’t do it if you aren’t sure,” Polo Shirt says. “If needs be, we can circle around to the other end.”
“I can do it.” The young guy gets on his belly and shimmies his way through the space. It’s a tight squeeze, and he nearly pulls his pants off doing it, but he comes out on the other side.
While the rest of us are watching him, Business Suit has her eyes directed towards the sky.
“See something?” I ask.
“I dunno. I thought it was a plane, but it’s wings are moving, so it must be a bird.” She points eastwards.
I squint, but don’t ... no, there is something. I can understand her confusion. It has the faded indistinctness of a distant object, but if that’s so, it must be the size of a Leerjet. No way that’s a bird. But as I watch, I catch the distinct motion of a wing flap.
Well, with everything being burned, there’s probably a ton of soot in the air. That’s making things look more distant than they are.
The young guy’s gotten into the train, and he releases the lock that keeps the doors closed. Without that, he’s able to slide the twin panels apart.
Polo Shirt moves to step inside, but the young guy elbows him aside and jumps out of the car.
“Ker-riest!” The young guy waves his hand in front of his nose. “Outta the—hurk!” He pukes all over the track.
“You all right?” Micah says.
“Jesus God, it stinks in there like you would not believe.”
He’s right. The stench is wafting out the doors, that same rotten meat smell I’d noticed earlier around the SUV.
“Did you see anyone in there?” Polo Shirt asks.
“I—maybe. Kinda. I think.”
“What’s that mean?” Business Suit says.
“You better look for yourselves. You’ll think I’m crazy otherwise.”
Polo Shirt takes a deep breath and climbs into the car. Business Suit follows, and then me, with Micah bringing up the rear.
The interior is covered in that thick jelly from the SUV. It’s dripping from the seats and running across the floor.
“What is this shit?” Polo Shirt says. He’s speaking funny, trying not to breathe as he does.
“The passengers,” I say. I understand what the young guy was talking about. In the seats with the biggest puddles, there are discarded clothes, wallets, glasses ... pretty much everything people would be carrying with them on the train. “They melted.” I have to draw a breath, but I do so through my mouth. A taste of rancid meat glides across my tongue, and I nearly gag.
“Don’t be stupid,” Polo Shirt says.
“I don’t think he is,” Business Suit says. “Something happened.”
“Something ... I mean, I don’t wanna go all sci-fi, but something not of this world.”
“What does that even mean?” Polo Shirt says.
“It means we’re in trouble, I’m pretty sure,” she says.
“I’m thinking she’s right,” Micah says. “I didn’t wanna say this before, I thought it was too crazy, but this is straight outta a sci-fi movie.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“You’re all nuts.” Polo Shirt sits down on the threshold and slides himself down to the ground. “There’s a ration—”
He never finishes the sentence.
I catch a flash of movement on the edge of my vision. It starts from the farthest window on the train, but in a second it traverses half the car. A second after that, it hits Polo Shirt. Whatever it is, it catches him by the head and whips him after it. His legs fly up off the ground, and his neck snaps.
“What the hell?” Micah says.
We rush to the windows.
There’s a ... well, I was going to say a bird, but that’s no bird. It has wings, yes, but no feathers. Its skin is a leathery amber, with a texture—it’s moving too fast to tell for sure, but it sure looks like scales. Its head is a bit like an iguana, with a snub nose and two horns over its eyes, though it also has spines protruding from its cheeks, with thin membranes stretched in between. If I were to call it the first word that pops to mind, it’d be a dragon, though it only has two legs—talons, really, thin but vicious. And those talons are holding Polo Shirt tight.
The dragon rises up until it’s a hundred feet above the roadway. Then it drops Polo Shirt. He plummets like a load of bricks, not flailing at all. I hope that means he’s dead already, or at least unconscious. But if he’s not, he is the moment he hits the concrete. His head shatters, and pulp shoots across the pavement. His body flops to the ground.
The dragon lands on top of him. Its head dips and tears off a hunk of his arm.
“Oh God, we’re in trouble.” Business Suit points to the sky. There are three more dragons circling.
To Be Continued...