“Hey, Sleeping Beauty!”
My eyes fluttered open.
I was crumpled in a subway bench, my head resting against the window. By now it was empty – save for the girl who had just spoken.
“What time is it?” I glanced at my phone – 9:32pm. Dammit, I had missed my stop. “What’s the next stop?”
“Franklin. We’ll be there in an hour.”
Franklin? I hadn’t heard of that one before. I plopped back down in the seat, and stared at the map on the wall. Thompson, Greenville… but I didn’t see a Franklin.
“Heard you talking in your sleep,” she said, drawing my eyes away from the map. “Nice dream?”
“Oh – uh – it was nothing.”
To my surprise, she grinned – a wide, toothy grin that lit up her face. “Ooooh, was it a sexy dream?”
The heat rose to my face. “No! It’s just – it’s weird, telling you my dream. You’re a stranger.”
“True. But I don’t have to be.” She smiled at me, one finger twirling a lock of her black hair. “I’m Angela.”
My heart fluttered. “Mike.”
“So, Mike –”
The subway lurched.
The lights flickered, sputtered –
And then went out.
“Angela?” I said.
A few lights zipped past the window, flashing the car in an eerie green. I could see the faint outlines of the benches, the poles, the windows, and –
A large, black shadow where Angela was sitting.
“Angela?” I said, my voice shaking.
And beside it, something metal, gleaming in the low light…
I felt the air shift, as if something walked right by me.
And then –
A cold, bony hand on my shoulder.
“Get off me!” I screamed.
The lights flicked back on.
Angela stood next to me, her hand on my shoulder. “Did I scare you?!” she said, breaking into laughter.
“Uh – no, of course not. You just startled me, that’s all.”
“Right, right. I startled you,” she said, snickering. “Of course.”
I crossed my arms – but I couldn’t stay mad at her. That pretty black hair, that infectious laugh…
The subway lurched upwards. The black outside faded into the purple of night. Pines lined the track, their branches swaying in our wake. A small sign read: ENTERING AMBLETON COUNTY.
“I’ve never taken the subway this far,” I said.
“Of course not. You city slickers never go out into the suburbs.”
“Aren’t you from the city, too?”
“No, just visiting.”
My heart sank. “Visiting? For how long?”
She laughed – a warm, tinkling laugh that filled the entire car. “Don’t worry. We’ll see enough of each other.”
“Uh – what?”
“We’ve still got almost an hour, stuck here.”
“Oh, right.” I laughed uneasily. “How much longer do we have?” I slipped the phone out of my pocket, and turned it on.
“So, Mike, tell me about yourself,” she said, as the subway dipped back underground.
“Uh, I’m 27 years old, an accountant for Bauer & Hofstetler –”
“No, no, no. I don’t want the standard name, age, job. That’s what resumés and obituaries are for.” She leaned against me, ever so slightly, and I blushed. “Really tell me about yourself. Your likes, your hopes, your dreams.”
“Okay. On weekends, I play Magic the Gathering –” no, no, that makes me sound so boring – “I mean, I go kayaking with my cousin, upstate.” I mean, I did do that, once.
“To be honest, I always wanted to…” I paused, glancing over at her; she smiled back, her brown eyes staring into mine. “I always wanted to find that special someone.”
“Did you?” she said, her eyes sparkling.
“Maybe,” I said, softly.
Even in the terrible, fluorescent lighting, she was beautiful. Her warm smile, her brown eyes… and her talkativeness, which I at first found annoying, was actually quite fun. I extended my hand out to hers…
The subway lurched.
Reflexively, I turned back to the window. The black faded, again, as we resurfaced from underground. The pines swayed in the wind, and a sign approached –
ENTERING AMBLETON COUNTY.
“Wait, we’ve already seen that sign,” I said, yanking my hand away.
“Are you sure?”
My heart began to pound. “I’m positive.” I stood up, my knees shaking. “Are we – are we just going in circles?!”
But I had not felt the subway turn – not once.
“Mike –” Angela said, rushing over to me.
I swatted her away, and ran to the windows. “And that fallen pine – I remember it, too!” The windows rattled under my fists.
“Calm down!” she yelled.
I backed away. “You’re in on this,” I yelled, so loud that the car shook. “Making small talk, keeping me distracted. To think! I was falling for you!”
Her eyes clouded with tears. “Mike, please…” she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Where are you taking me?” I yelled. I stared out the window, cupping my hands against the glass. “Where in the hell –”
The scenery of the trees, the moon, the sky –
There was something terribly wrong.
I squinted –
And my blood ran cold.
They had no detail. The moon was just a white circle – all the craters were gone. The pine trees were just rough silhouettes.
“Angela – where are we going?!” I cried. My voice was softer now – stripped of its anger, replaced with gnawing fear.
But her hands were already on my shoulders. I could feel her warmth, her calm permeating my body. She snuggled her head against me, and whispered: “I’m taking you home.”
“What are you talking about?”
But then I remembered.
A crushing pain in my chest.
“There was a terrible accident,” she said, looking into my eyes. Such warm, beautiful, brown eyes.
I blinked, and – for a second – I saw the black shadow in her place, holding a scythe.
“No!” I yelled, tearing myself away from her.
“Mike, please, it’s not your decision!”
I turned to the door.
I took a deep breath. Shaking, I ran forward, ramming myself into it as hard as I could.
I was flying, falling, out in the cold air –
My eyes flew open.
The air stung my lungs.
“He’s alive!” A flurry of sound – sirens, yells, screams. A rush of motion, as paramedics hoisted me on to a stretcher, asked me my name.
As I was wheeled into the ambulance, I saw, out the corner of my eye –
A dark-haired girl, standing in the crowd.