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Vol. 2, No. 2

Attention, Passengers
by Len Kruger

~

Attention, passengers! Due to a situation at the Foggy Bottom station, we will not be moving backward, I mean, reversing directions toward Courthouse Square. Correction, Rosslyn. Repeat. We won't be going back. Do not panic. Stand by for further instructions.

 

~

I ran into the tunnel, Andy, on a grooved cement bed between the two rails, about as wide as a sidewalk. There were puddles of water on the track bed, grimy drippings from the undersides of steaming engines. The tunnel was very dark despite the lights fringing the sides, one every ten feet or so. They don't illuminate space; rather they mark the line of travel, the soft curves and ridges stretching into the distance, forward and backward. I ran farther into the tunnel, the station behind me a tiny dot of light, the station before me still unsighted. I ran under layers of rock, slatherings of topsoil, shell of sidewalk and street. Above me was the National Zoo, the elephants braying, the lizards silent and stony behind thick plexiglass. It was so quiet, Andy. All I could hear was the sound of my breathing, the pitter-patter of my hobbling feet. The third rail ran alongside, enticing me, beckoning. Don't you touch him, Helen said. Don't you touch! In front of me a faint rattle echoed, a soft breeze growing in intensity, a whiff of motor oil and mechanized locomotion. I had thoughts of a disturbing nature. I am an unauthorized person on the tracks. It is me they are talking about in every announcement in every Metro train and station in the system. I am making people late for work.
      And I may be a murderer.
      A distant rumbling became less distant. A choking wind blew into my face, extinguishing, making it harder to breathe. An eddy of light curled through the faraway outline of metal rail, suddenly shiny now, and getting brighter, closer. MONSTRO! Two headlights like eyes, one brighter, one dimmer, that blunt squareness of face: flat, massive, inexorable. It was upon me, Andy. I hurdled the third rail and dove against the side of the tunnel, into a little crawl space under and below the train, flush against a wall. The train passed over me, engines whirring, wheels screeching. I pressed my face against that sweet Three Musketeers wall, feeling its coolness against my cheek. This is not going to be pleasant! Just like me, the chimney sweep also had this crawl space available to him. He had the time, he had the inclination, but did he have the knowledge? He could have been crouching in that closed constricted space, so much like a chimney, his beard scratching cool smooth cement, his stomach feeling those awful vibrations.
      You're simply bursting with questions, Andy, I can tell. You want to tell your colleagues at the office, your wife and children when you get home. Did the chimney sweep live or die? Am I a murderer or a lunatic or a liar? You think it is important to know these things, that it makes a difference?
      Let me tell you about a dream I once had, sitting where you sit now, Andy. I leaned my head against the window, felt the vibrations propagate from substrate to substrate, from the metal of the rails, to the glass of the window, to the soft squishy tissue of my brain. I dreamed I was a foot soldier hiding inside the Trojan horse. I could hear the wheels creaking as we rolled into the city, behind those impossible walls that had mocked my inadequacies for so many years. I shifted positions, trying to get comfortable. The hilt of my sword dug into my thigh, I was sweating under my armor. It was so hot in that horse, Andy, so stuffy. I could feel the breath of my neighbor against my face, smell the breakfast on his weary sighs. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. I could see the faint outline of my huddled colleagues, crouching and squeezed, fingering their instruments of destruction. Nobody talked. It wasn't like me and you, right now, just shooting the breeze. We were supposed to be quiet. King's orders. I mentally went over the day's business: wait for signal; jump out of horse; loot, rape, and pillage; capture the fair Helen; and be home in time for dinner. And then I heard it. Bing, bong. Then a voice, an announcement. Attention, passengers, it said. At the sound of the chimes, the doors will be closing.
      Do you know Pinocchio, Andy? Do you know the scene where Gepetto, his cat, and his goldfish are trapped inside the belly of Monstro the Whale? The goldfish swims in tiny circumscribed circles in a small fishbowl of water, all while inside the belly of a great whale, all while deeply immersed within the vast and limitless ocean. Do you know what I mean? Fish within fish, and water within water! It's like an elevator falling down a shaft. You're on the falling elevator, but you're calm, perfectly calm, because you think you can save yourself by jumping before it hits bottom.

 

~

Attention, passengers! This train must be evacuated immediately. Repeat. This train must be evacuated immediately. Please exit in an orderly fashion. Doors opening on the left. Remain calm. Proceed in the direction of Rosslyn station. Walk on the ledge against the side of tunnel next to the guide lights. Do not panic. Do not, I repeat, do not touch the third rail, which may or may not be electrified.

 

~

But jumping in that elevator won't work, will it, because you're part of that downward plummeting spiral, you're inside that whale retreating into the depths, and it doesn't matter what you do, it just doesn't matter.
      Look, Andy! There's smoke seeping through the doors of the train. Do you know what that means?

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