3 am


You wake up with a start; you hadn't even known you dozed off.

You look around, and see that the subway car you're on has stopped in the tunnel. There are some other passengers, and they seem to be dozing off as well. Must be stale air. You try to peer out the door of the subway car to see where you've stopped, but it's too dark. The lights flicker. For a moment, the "Emergency Exit" sign above the window seems to read just "Emerge".

You realize you don't know where you're going.

You then realize you don't know where you got on.

Or how you got on the subway.

Or who you are.

With a growing sense of panic, breath quickening, I pat myself down, looking for anything I might have on my body: keys, wallet, a phone. As I do that, I scan the other passengers.

What do I see?

You find a set of keys in one pocket. Looks like house keys, three of them, and a smaller key, like to a lock or safe. Nothing that looks like a car key, but then, you're riding the subway, aren't you?

You also find a wallet in the other pocket. It contains some small bills, a few credit cards (something in the back of your head tells you that they're maxed out), and a driver's license, which expires in a few months. You read the name off of the card, and stare at the picture, but it doesn't seem to click. You stare at yourself in the window opposite, and there's a sort of resemblance. Maybe it's just a bad DMV picture, or maybe they've been using the same picture for so long that you no longer look like that. Older, shorter hair, that sort of thing. It must be you.

The other passengers mostly look bored and sleepy, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. For some reason you know this is different. Something in the back of your head.

***guys? feel free to drop in***

I look around the subway car, trying to find clues as to what line I'm on, or, indeed, in what city.
"Hey, what's the next stop?" I ask the person closest to me. I move my hand across my scalp, not sure if I should be stressed, scared, or what. Maybe I got hit on the head?

Recovering from a period of shock, I begin to look at myself for some clue as to my identity and just what the hell is going on here. Looking down, I see a railway conductors uniform over a tall, thin, black body. I look further through my pockets for a name, identification, name tag, anything of the sort.

What do I find?

One of the folks on the train starts to look around, curiously. "Hey, what's the next stop?" he asks the person beside him. That person, an older lady, looks confused, and to cover up for it she quickly masks it beneath annoyance and moves away, towards the back of the car. The man ignores her and feels his head, as if looking for a bump or bruise, but there is no sign of injury. Externally, at least. Just a vague dizziness and a strange sense of... purpose?

At the other end of the car, the rail conductor seems to gather himself together to take stock of the situation. Though locked within his little booth, the plexiglass window makes it easy for him to see out, and vice versa. He sifts through his pockets, but finds nothing there; perhaps it was left back in his locker? He vaguely remembers being mugged, but is not sure when. Maybe he lost the wallet that way? Maybe he just learned not to bring money on the train. He has a set of keys, that look more for business than home or car use, and a name tag on his lapel that reads "Steve." His name? Could be. Or maybe he grabbed the wrong uniform in the locker room. At any rate, it seems he runs the train; why else would he be in here? He looks down at the control panel, which though simple is completely foreign to him at the moment. The radio makes sense, but it's not operational. And he is pretty sure that the row of red lights is not a good sign. It would appear the subway car is, at least for the moment, stuck here.

(Ed. I have conflated driver and conductor here for story purposes; I realize they are separate functions. Let's just say that on this train one guy does it all. Budget cuts.)

I begin to try each individual key to the lock on my booth. Also, I look around for anyone else wearing a uniform like mine, feeling that maybe they can tell me who I am, as we probably would know each other...

There aren't many keys, so you begin to try them all. However you get it right on the first one and the door opens. Luck? Maybe...

No one else on the subway seems to look like you. You're the only one of you here. You're all alone, yet strangely not lonely.

As you scan the car, you see that there's a cat on the subway car, near the back. Calico. Someone brought a cat onboard. This doesn't really bother you, but you wonder if it's against the rules. Probably. I mean, seeing eye dogs, sure. But cats? That has to be against the rules.

Then you notice someone has spilled a cup of coffee on the floor. You KNOW that's a problem. No food or drink on the subway. It's right on the sign. Right there. Damn it. You have to clean up some mess every night. On your hands and knees, scrubbing congealed coffee off the floor. Callouses on your fingers, and arthritis, you swear.

But the thought ends abruptly, because you see some guy rubbing his head, like he hit it or something. Maybe he's hurt? Maybe others are hurt? If you're the Subway Guy then it would seem to follow that you're responsible for these people, for now. The coffee and cat seem to drip from your mind as purpose takes hold.

How many keys do I have?

I approach the man rubbing his head, "Are you alright, sir?"

***I'm pretty sure my chars talking to yours, zip, though we'll be lax since you've got the kid now and all :)***

There are 5 keys on the keychain: 2 of them look pretty similar (one of these is what opened your door), and the other 3 also look fairly similar, and perhaps non-subway related.

I stand up. My hair is greasy and dishevelled. I catch a flickering glimpse of myself in the window. Even through the loss of memory, the loss of self is not complete -- so I stroke my hair, rub my face, and feign clearing my head. In truth, I am far less bothered by my disoreintation than I am about my hair. Half way between an old man in a suit and myself is a red and blue gym bag. I smile at him and look down at my clothes. Jeans and a T-shirt. I take the bag and smile a second time.

Emerge. Awaken. Flee?

Serrupticiously I bounce the bag lightly in my hand trying to measure the possible contents. I look down the train at the people. For some reason I am searching for conflict; looking to calm the conflict, or engage it. I watch the two who were talking, but presently stand quiet.



There is an old man in the back of the train, sitting beside a younger man with greasy, disheveled hair. The two of them exchange a smile.

The old man is dressed, well, like an old man. Baggy gray trousers, argyle socks, white dress shoes, a white dress shirt and a gray suit coat over the top. His white hair is long, and reaches just past his shoulders. On his head, keeping his hair in place, is a tattered black and white "Keep On Truckin'" cap. His tie, likewise, is black, and along with the hat the bits of black seem to stand out. Like his eyes, which are also black.

He seems nice, and has that vague air about him that suggests senility is on the way.

He looks at the man next to him and says something that only he hears. It sounds something like "Antsy?" Perhaps something to do with your current demeanor. Perhaps something in another language. Perhaps just the mutterings of an old ruined mind.

"I'm lost," I whisper as I lean close to the old man. I offer him my hand to help him up.

"It's time to go." Spoken loud enough for all to hear.

I turn toward the disheveled young man speaking. "Go where?"

I also keep my eye on the man rubbing his head to see when he responds.

"We need to start moving." I say gesturing to the flickering "emerge" sign. "We can sort the rest out on the way."

I gently help the old man to his feet.

"I'm ... Eddie." As I shake my head slightly side-to-side to see how the name bounces off my ears. Looking upwards I conclude that I've made a good choice. Liberation from my former self, like the shedding of some unwanted skin, happens so easily that I briefly wonder if there was something that I was trying to forget, escape, or ignore.

I turn back to the train official. "Do you want me at the back or front?"

I rummage into the bag I picked up to see if there is an Ipod or, miraculously, a flashlight. "Now where did I put that ..."

The old man acknowledges "Eddie" but does not give his own name as he stands and then moves aside, trying to stay out of the way of those who are apparently running the show, content to watch, and listen.

Eddie opens the gym bag. Beneath a layer of sweaty gym clothes is a pile of money. Stacks of $100 bills, in what looks like stacks of 100. A really quick estimation puts the total value at somewhere between $100 and $200 thousand dollars.

Eddie does not know how he knows this, how it got there, who took it, or why he has it.

There is also an iPhone, which Eddie does not recall owning.

No one seems to notice any of this, so Eddie closes the bag and zips it tight again.

"Front it is." I reply in the absence of a response.

I walk to the exit window and push on the glass. After a few moments, I pause to survey the instructions plastered on the window in bold letters and accompanied by drawings. I lift the handle and slide the glass out of the way. I hop onto a seat, peer my head out the window, and, if all is clear, roll out the window and into the tunnel.

I place the bag on the ground beside me and turn back to start helping others down.

A small... person emerges from a closed and weary wooden door, inset into the filth-covered subway wall a short distance from the subway car. One wouldn't be at fault for wondering why a child was roaming around in a subway tunnel, but the unkempt beard, crow's feet, and seen-better-days fedora indicates a maturity grown not by the rays of the sun, but rather a slow trickle of leaking water accompanied by squeaks: those of mice, rusty wheels, screeching rails, and ancient bones scraping. A Roloff he..., I... am not.

I stop just short of the drop into the rails itself, hands firmly on my waist, wondering what you've brought me.

I follow...Eddie out of the subway, too confused to answer to much of anything right now. I stare in something akin to wonder at the man emerging from what appears to be his home in the subway. After he stops at the edge and a small pause I ask, the words feeling right and yet so strange to my throat, "Are you...authorized to be down here?"

I laugh; for a moment and then stifle my response.

"My name is Eddie. Is that your cat in there?" I address the creature I am now convinced is a tengu. Unsure why I would think such a thing, I look back to the conductor to see if I can gauge his response. He looks as bewildered as I, but my outward face continues to show a sense of surety.

I am liberated. As such, I experience no doubt or hesitation -- even in the face of utter confusion. I am one with the wonder of it; like a child, at peace with miracle of discovery as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I hand my bag to the conductor and walk slowly towards the tengu.

As you deboard the subway, a half-dozen or so of the others on the car jump off with you. There's the old man and - surprisingly - the cat. There's also a young boy and his overweight mother, a teenage kid who looks like he's in some sort of gang, and his girlfriend. They all sort of mill about, waiting to be told what to do. Only the old man seems to have any sense about him. He immediately climbs up off the rails and onto the narrow platform on the side, warily eyeing the person that Eddie has dubbed a "Tengu." He seems amused by this moniker.

Several people remain on the subway car, but they don't seem inclined to get off. There are, notably, three other cars behind this one. The last seems empty, but the middle two seem to have some people on them, although in the flickery dimness it's hard to tell how many, or what they're about.

A chill wind like a forced exhalation drifts down the tunnel, blowing debris towards the back of the subway, but as soon as it came, it's gone.

"Come on everybody! Let's get to it." I approach the "Tengu" and go to shake his hand, raising my free hand to touch him on his weathered shoulder. With the greeting out of the way I turn back with my outstretched left hand towards the conductor as I walk half-backwards towards the platform. I'm looking at my bag as I do so. If he wants to return my bag to me, he'll have to catch up a bit.

I'm grinning like a child on a field trip. A lot like a child.

"Let's move. Help each other out and mind your footing. That wind is going to get worse. We don't want to get caught up in it again!" A lot like a child who makes up stories. Or maybe there is some instinct that he is tapping into; Eddie's not sure either way. He "knows" it's time to get going, wherever the knowledge comes from.

I look around to see if anybody else is following, then silently chide myself for "always following someone else's lead." The words seem to come from some place outside of me, something someone else said that I never let go of. Setting my jaw I approach Eddie and drop his bag at his feet.

Fighting down the small rush of apprehension that comes with confrontation for me, I declare, my voice somewhat more unsteady than I'd like, "I'm a conductor, not a baggage carrier." I then begin to make my way down the tunnel, wondering what on earth Eddie was talking about with the wind.

I smile and step in line beside Steve.

As we walk I look around, surveying the scene. I keep my eye on how the groups form and wait for a lull when everyone's attention is drawn elsewhere.

In a slow casual tone I speak loud enough for only the conductor to hear. "The bag is important. We have to do something important with it eventually, but I'm not sure what."

We walk for a few more moments. "When it comes time for you to take charge of the group, I'll back your play. Until then, I think we're in the hands of the old man."

I unzip the bag just enough to slip my hand in and pull out the iPhone. I start the Compass App and take note of where we are going. I flash the screen to Steve briefly too. Are there any unusual Apps on the phone?

The iPhone contains the basic set of apps that come preinstalled, as well as a Chess game, already underway.

White (the player) appears to be losing, and Black (the computer, presumably) is ahead.

Black has 13 pieces. The Queen and a Bishop are deep behind white's forces, and apparently threaten the White King. On Black's side, both Rooks, a Bishop, two Knights and five Pawns surround the Black King.

White has 11 pieces. Six of them are Pawns, and trail behind the others, with the King in the very back. Up front are two Knights, a Bishop and a Queen.

The setup of the board seems familiar somehow, and although you aren't a chess player (at least you think you aren't), you get the sneaking suspicion that if White sacrifices its strongest piece, it can win.

I look at Eddie playing with his phone. Me take charge?

"What the hell are you on about? Take charge? And where are you getting this information? We've just gotta walk out of the tunnel and then it's all over. I go home, you go home, we move on."

I'm starting to get very frustrated with this whole thing. No memories, no directions and no idea just what in the world is going on. I don't like it one bit.

You suddenly vividly recall the first time you felt frustrated. You awoke to find yourself in a dark place, unable to move. Voices shouted at you from outside your enclosure, and you pounded on the walls and tried to get their attention. They didn't seem to hear you. And then the walls began to close in, to crush you, and just when you thought you would burst from the inside, you emerged from the dark place into bright white light.

And then the doctor handed you to your mother.

"Hello Steven," she says.

And your first conscious thought is, "that's not my name," but then it suddenly is. And almost at that instant, your memory fades, the edges blurring and dimming, as if the bits of you that could focus were cut away like the umbilical cord, and then once again there is darkness, and amnesia.

You don't know how you remember this, but you're sure it's real.

My step falters as the memory comes in but I quickly regain my footing, trying to concentrate, to pull more from this unusual memory. My mother? What does she look like? Soft brown skin, big eyes, small features swimming just below my reach. I concentrate harder, trying desperately to pull my childhood into the light, to know what I was and perhaps figure out what I am.

But my concentration slips on that and focuses on another thing. What was my first name? What was I before I was Steven? I desperately claw along the contours of memory to reach just a bit deeper and reveal the answers to questions that suddenly seem to vital and so key.

Eddie smiles and looks to Steve. "It's the immortal game." He looks gestures at the iPhone, and then at the tunnel. "All of it."

Stuffing the iPhone back into the bag, he continues forward.

Rats scurry in the distance, beyond the gentle creak and groan of the subway cars, shifting slightly in the ill breeze. When that passes, it becomes deathly quiet, the only sign of life being that in your small group.

Quite nearby, not too far off in the darkness, a dim emergency bulb illuminates what seems to be an access door of some sort, beside a phone (your only option, since cell reception down here is nonexistent). Both the door and the phone are smashed in, perhaps by some homeless fellow on a rampage, the damage evidently done long ago.

It seems likely that these sorts of things would be spaced pretty evenly in the subway tunnels, so a short journey should bring you to another. Perhaps this one will be in working order.

I stop at the phone, looking at it for a little while as I think. Then I turn to the group.

"Alright, these phones and doors are spaced evenly throughout the tunnels. We can either go up this door, though I've no idea where it leads, or go on to the next phone and see if that's working so we can contact the station. Thoughts? Should we put it to a vote?"

No one answers.

Suddenly I pull back into myself. Perhaps I wasn't aggressive enough...people never listened to me anyways. I always followed, never lead. Maybe I'm meant to be a follower. These thoughts sting so deep I feel tears beginning to come but fight them back. Alright then. If they won't think for themselves, I'll just do what I want. If they wish to follow me, so be it. If not, so be it. I'm not gonna be responsible for them.

I can't recall where the stairs lead and decide it would be best to proceed to the next telephone and see if I can get some help there. So I walk on.

[Sorry -- I'm surprised to see a post missing from me. It must be lost somewhere in cyberspace.]

I follow Steve towards the next exit.

The short trip proceeds uneventfully, the small group trailing behind with the curious old man at the back, keeping up though he's a bit winded. When you reach the exit sign, the group clusters together again, but the old man pushes through the crowd and steps up to the door.

He knocks rapidly, five times, then steps back, cognizant that others are staring in wonder. He smiles.

"It's always polite to knock first," he says.

Then he steps back and takes his place at the back of the party once again.

Eddie positions himself to the left of the door. Unzipping the bag and reaching in he fishes out a wad of hundred dollar bills, stacked neatly into a pile of approximately one-hundred bills. "Can you hold onto this?" He passes it to the closest person.

"We may need these on the other side...we may not. I don't know." He begins distributing the money until every one who wants a stack has taken one. As he hands out the money he takes his time to survey each person; scanning from the bottom to the top he takes special note of their shoes, their jackets, and their faces.

"There's more in here, but we might use it yet to do something...I'm just not sure. I wanted everyone to have some in case we got separated."

Eddie pauses. "I don't know what kind of life I've had. I just have feelings. Feelings like I've squandered opportunities...maybe wanted things like money." He looks down at the bag. "What I really needed was to be alive, living in the moment, working on my dreams."

"I'm wondering the same thing that you are all wondering." His voice trembles a bit. "Are we people, or are we souls -- crossing some kind of purgatory, waiting to be born. With memories and without them. "

Under his breath Eddie starts a chant, a litany, building in his head. "Live in the moment; follow your dreams." He zips up the bag and rests it back on his shoulder. "Live in the moment; follow your dreams." He turns towards the door and braces himself. "Live in the moment; follow your dreams." He grabs the handle, turns it, and with a mighty push, tries to step through the door.

Live in the moment; follow your dreams...

The door flies open, and a hot, foul-smelling breeze wafts down into the subway tunnel. Beyond the door, there is nothing but a well-lit staircase, gray stone slabs and sterile white walls. The heat inside is stifling, as if someone's left the heat on all this time, possibly since the emergency exit was built.

It occurs to you that the emergency exit itself seems odd, either in construction or in its very presence here. Do such things really exist? They must; you're looking at one.

Stranger still: the staircase not only ascends towards (presumably) street level, but it also descends, at least several levels.

Momentarily Eddie turns towards path upwards -- towards the surface -- towards new life. "Let's get on with living," he mutters under his breath; drawing it out into a question by pausing at the last and raising his tone. The whispered question falls into the void as he looks down into the depths. He is on the verge of so many answers, and if he takes the easy route and ascends he'll never know.

"The mystery lies beneath." Eddie proclaims to the group as he moves to stand beside the stairs down. He draws a sweaty towel from the bag and ties it around his head, gathering in his mess of hair, and lets the rest hang down his back. He puts the iPhone in his front pocket and pulls his socks up over his pant legs. He puts his arms through the bag handles, trying to wear it like a backpack. Once on it hangs loose and slack. He takes it off and crosses the straps so that the slack is taken up. A bit snug, but much better. He touches his terry-cloth hat. Fancy gyms and recreation centres, he muses to himself, have towel service. At that moment he is sure that if he searches the bag he'll find a roll of toilet paper too.

At the verge of the greatest mystery he finds himself dressed like an idiot, ruminating about bum-wad. He snaps back to awarness and the rest of the group. Have they forged ahead without him...which way are they going?

The group splits in two. About half of them remain here, milling about and waiting for something to happen.

The other half, led by the old man, begin to ascend the stairs, giving Eddie strange looks. The old man looks at Eddie and smiles.

"That's the way I went, last time," he says softly, so only Eddie can hear. "But I'm too old for that now."

Then he pats Eddie on the back and follows some of the others up the stairs without looking back.

Within moments I have reached the first landing, hovering down the stairs as on a cloud. After years of running stairs you develop a talent for not stopping on any step, but lightly pushing so the descent is swift and uninterrupted. I can feel the swell of awareness filling me. The smell of whispers on skin -- then the voices rush in like a sigh. I close my eyes and let the waves of emotion wash over me. This place is old. My body sways under the influence; like the circling of water down a drain.

"Live in the movement; Keep your dreams whole." I can smell it now. Someone's rank breath: whiskey, tequilla, cigarettes, and ... perfume, wait .. women's perfume, a scent a don't recognize, but oiled naked flesh in the torchlight rises to my mind. Other things rise as well, swelling with my quickened pulse. Naked women in the moonlight... my mind wanders, and is shocked awake.

I glimpse the shadow-beast! Blood and pus and shadow, it travels to all places, and hunts all things. I see a room covered in blood and writing. My bowels swim with terror. My eyes snap open as the lights flicker up the stairs. I suppress vomit and the urge to flee, swallowing burning bile, leaving a raw ache in my throat. It hunts!

"Live in the moment. Follow your your dreams." I repeat aloud. My feelings return. I draw the answer from the air around me, tapping into it easily. "We all have reasons to live in the movement. I move to keep my dreams whole," responds the voice in my head -- now tuned to perfect clarity. It is so loud I cannot believe it is not audible. Loud enough for everyone could hear it. Maybe they will get their own voice.

I call up the stairs. "Quickly come down. We cannot linger. We must keep moving. There is a room here that we have to find." I look for any signs of what level I'm on.

I wait for those to descend. Who is joining me?

"I'm with you," says a woman's voice.

You turn and look. More from the subway have gathered, and about a half dozen seem prepared to follow you down. Two of them are women, but it's not clear which one spoke. If, in fact, it was either of them.

Regardless, they seem to be waiting for you to do something.

There's no indication of how deep you are, or what level this is, no signs but for a skewed Emergency Exit sign hanging limply over the door you came in, arrow pointing down.

"Hey, I'm speaking to you. You with the towel on his head...", I say, "I'm with you."

Having woken from the strangest dream I've ever had (I can say that with certainty, because for some reason I can't seem to remember anything beyond the last small piece of time), I was startled to still hear the word "emerge" echoing through my head while staring at a busted down and peeled away "Emergency Exit" sticker that merely said "Emerge....Exit". My stomach hurt, my teeth hurt, and I seemed to have an awful lot of keys in the pocket of my fancy looking wind breaker. Multiple sets And pop rocks. Half a packet of pop rocks. And loose candies of other varities. Maybe that's why my teeth hurt. Either way, their was something important happening here. I could tell. It felt like premature enlightenment.

Maybe it was the last bit of E wearing off. I could remember that now. Every time I leave these stupid raves I go to (despite being too old) I ended up falling asleep on the train and having the most bizarre Egyptian dreams. I'd never died in one of them though.

"*Wow*," I thought to myself, "*that's an awful lot of detail for someone that can't remember their name. Whatever...maybe I'm still high. I'm certainly still careless. Why else would I be about to run off down a strange flight of stairs with a strange man?*."

"*Because you don't end here...*" a familiar voice says in my head.

I smile the crooked drug grin of the recently addled and giggle nervously around the string of my jackets hood clenched between my teeth.

"Seriously man, I'm with you..."

"Come to me." I call up the stairs. "Don't stop moving."

I continue to look for exits, for options, as I move further down the stairs.

I head down the stairs as well, looking around as if for a sign from god.

The stairs go down about 10 flights, just far enough to drop the temperature noticeably and make you a bit more aware of how much of the earth is weighing down on you. At the bottom is a small square room, not nearly large enough to comfortably fit everyone now strung out upon the stairs like a DNA helix.

On one wall of the room is a door, beside which is a numeric keypad. Over the door is a camera, which has been smashed to pieces.

The other three walls, the ceiling, and the floor are covered with graffiti, years worth. You're obviously not the first ones to find this place.

I look around at the graffiti, trying to find my writing.

"I get the feeling I've been here before," I say around the string in my mouth while putting my hood up and tightening the drawstring. I nervously jingle the keys in the ront pocket and scuff my shoe against the floor.

"I was dreaming about Egypt before...this," I murmur, "and dog headed men. Weird, huh?"

I sift through the contents of my 'breakers front pocket, past coffee shop punch cards and the jumble of keys to fish out a handful of gummie bears.

"Anyone want some candy? I have pop rocks too."

I look around at the serious faces around me.

"Sorry...I get weird when I'm scared."

Dear Diary, today I stuffed some dolls       When in doubt unload a full clip.
full of dead rats I put in the blender.
I'm wondering if maybe there really        Jetzt bin ich leicht jetzt fliege ich
is something wrong with me.            jetzt sehe ich mich unter mir
                                                 jetzt tan2t 3in G0tt durch m1ch

You should kill me if you can.

GNIMOCEB MA I                    it didn't work the last time

You have to consider the possibility that God doesn't like you.

"holy shit," I say as I glance around the room.

My eyes flick from the German I can't read to the backwards writing I'm too hasty to recognize, finally settling on the possibility that maybe God doesn't like me. Maybe he filled me up with two measures of self-importance and only a half-measure of talent; dooming me to a lifetime of unfulfilled ambition.

I shake off the distraction and rush over to the door, straddling my hands either side of the keypad like a suspect being frisked. I try to recall some important numbers. I stretch out to my inner voices, and am flooded with words...not numbers. I drop my head as I shut out distractions. I don't want to stop. This is not the kind of place to stop in. My hands drum feverishly but nothing comes to me. I glance up with a panic and speak to the candy-girl.

"I'll take a candy if you give me a number, a code..." As I say this I scan the group for anyone wearing a number, a 747 jeans ... anything.

Scanning the graffiti, I mumble very quietly under my breath as I absently hand a couple of gummie worms and a sweet tart to the man with the towel on his head.

"I'vereadthatcomicIthinkIsawthatmovieIspokeGermanoncethough...weird. FlyingeasilyseeingmyselfbeneathmyselfGodandabunchofothercrap. It doesn't rhyme though."

"Holy f*#k," I say at a normal volume. "It's his damn luggage code. How's that a coincidence?"

I mumble some more useless stuff under my breath, thinking about my ex husband, my son, foster care, child protective services, and how I shouldn't have been living in a place where they'd come and take him from me anyways. It really was all my fault. I remember that now. I sure hope he isn't around here somewhere; but why would he be? He's still across the ocean in London, right? Why wouldn't he be? The Big Smoke he used to call it. I don't know why, but I somehow know I should be terrified of him, that's why I left.

"*Pull it together Jenna, I won't let him hurt you again*," the words seem to swirl out of a dozen little places all around me. The same familiar Voice that told me why I should go down the stairs. The Voice from my dreams.

I then continue at a normal volume.

"My names Jenna. I have a son somewhere, but they took him. I can't remember why exactly. I have this thing with patterns. Math and stuff...it speaks to me. The formulas unfold in my head and the numbers just come to me the right way. Loud music's the only thing that shuts it out. I see the patterns everywhere the rest of the time."

"It's 2301...it really has to be," I shove a handful of sour peaches in my mouth and twirl one of the locks of died purple hair sticking out from under my hood around my finger and look around sheepishly while putting in one of my iPod headphones and turning on some kind of wildly repetitive music. Dubstep, dark and gritty played at top volume.

I key it into the keypad. 2-3-0-1 ... *

The display above the keypad lights up. 2 3 0 1 _

There's room for a fifth number.

High above, you hear a sound. Gunfire.

"Well it's started then," says a voice from the shadows; the little so-called tengu, the subway urchin who's been following along since you met him. He tries to push even farther back into the corner, but fails.

"What's started?" asks a faceless someone from the crowd.

"You'd better hope you don't find out," he says. "And what's more, you'd better hope I'm wrong."

He nods at the keypad.

He looks at Jenna.

"You know pi? How far?"

"Damn man, I don't know...I never thought about it...how far does it go? Like, forever right?"

I count off a few hi hat hits in the iPod headphone, count over the bar change in the churning bassline, and mumble under my breath a bit more.


Louder now, "Hey! It's at eight thousand one hundred and sumthin! 23014! Punch in the 4! 4!"

I jerk the headphone out and look at the old man, caring for some reason about his approval.


The door slides open. In front of you is a vast expanse of shadow, a large room that stretches beyond your sight.

Beside the door, just on the other side, is a small pyramid of cinder blocks.


Steve, watching Eddie suddenly take the lead as he faltered, wonders at his courage, at his daring as he just descends he stairs. Soon, the group has split, one half up, the other half down, and I am left alone, swallowed in darkness. I take a few nervous, shuffling steps forward. I really don't know if I can do this. One way light, the other dark...I'm just not sure about anything. Never been...sure. I mean, I know the subway...right? That's what I...what I know. You don't know what's beyond here and...you just don't know.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

I stop, realizing I've been speaking out loud, and melting into an old thought, a memory. A father, pathetic, sad, loving, staring into space most of the time. He kept his job, a miserable job, a racist boss who used and abused an small, insecure man. A man who never stood for anything. When they marched he stayed home. He understood, and believed as they did, but...well, those cops could put you in jail and you could lose a lot, and he had a family to support. A little boy. In the end, he had to choose his priorities. Mother never forgave him for that. She marched, and wondered why her husband wasn't there when the cops beat her, when she ran before fire houses and god knows what else. She came home, and he took care of her, but he always had a hard time looking her in the eye after that. And me? It broke mother's heart when I turned out like him. Insecure, sad, lonely...pathetic. It broke my heart to break mother's heart.

I come back, staring down the steps. I reach out slowly, my hand trembling, and grasp the handrail like a lifeline. I steady myself, trying to choke the fear, trying to be strong. "F*ck the devil," I say, though it's not nearly as strong as I'd like it to be. I can't stop the trembling in my voice.

But I move, slowly, of course. My foot begins to inch forward as if it's a stone slab being pulled by a tow truck. Then, it's in the abyss, floating above, and I let it fall. It lands, carefully, on the first step, being sure it's secure and in place before it's willing to move any farther.

Then she dies. Something seems to enter me, pulsating, full of life and vigor, strong and never backing down, filling everything. She would've made wonderful children. Perhaps a life that wasn't wasted. She's bitter, angry. She didn't want to die, and it's worse that she couldn't save her friend, that the only other one who wasn't vacant and willing was slaughtered. And she did nothing. I cry, and she cries, and we both sob, sob for the useless futility of man and his endless attempts to shape the world into something more to his liking. But these things don't mold. They only break. And they stay broken, like a lonely old man, his firebrand, brave wife long gone, his son like him, wanting to make a life worth living but never really doing anything to make it so.

I can't be like this forever.

So, bolstered by a woman from long ago, I make the next step.
And the next.
And the next.

Soon I've made it to the landing and am moving confidently, strongly, a way that is so new to me.

Then I hear something above, someone trying to move quietly. Instinctively, I turn my flashlight off. Soon lights flash about the stairs and the open doorway, searching. Those who wield them soon move into the soft light from the upstairs passage. Men, women. With guns. They're dressed normal, but there's no confusion on their faces, no wonderment about where they are. They don't even glance upstairs. They know where they want to go. They move like professionals. And I've been standing here on the landing like an idiot. A flashlight attached to gun scope bursts down the stairs, and I stand revealed, like a deer in headlights. I bolt, heading down the stairs, two at a time. Bullets fly off the wall behind me, and they begin to shout.

In seconds I reach the small room and rejoin the group.

The room behind the door appears empty, waiting to be filled.

Above, boots tramp down stairs, growing ever closer.

I rush into the room, ushering the others in. Time slows like the pause of a wave before it goes back to sea.

The Tengu, Jenna, the women, and finally Steve. They rush into the room. The hammer of boots -- drums in the deep. On the other side of the door I look for a keypad, but there is none. Moments linger on the edge of my mind. Frantic seconds draw out like the long shadows at sunset. I remember the game. The immortal game is only won through sacrafice. The hammer of boots -- gunfire -- drums in the deep. Game changing sacrafice that seems reckless, not bold.

I step back out into the graffiti room. I punch in the code 2-3-0-1... the boots are nearly upon us. I look up to meet the gaze of Steve and Jenna -- I catch a flash of their destiny, but there is no time left to speak it. I toss the iPod to Steve.

"We need to kill him. It doesn't matter when."

I press the "4" and the door slides shut. Without hesitation I turn towards the stairs, planning to run, to attack with ferocity, to do so much more ...

As the door slides shut, the shadows seem to thicken and slide in upon one another, and for a moment everything grows dim except for the keypad. Dully, Eddie realizes that he doesn't know who's coming down the stairs - they very well might know the code too. This knowledge comes as a sort of gentle intuition, not spoken as such, but a dim Voice nonetheless.

"Did he realy just lock himself out there with...whoever's shooting?" I ask no one in particular.

I wrap my iPod headphones around the iPod and put it in my front pocket as I pick bits and pieces of code and numbers from everything around me. 7 sets of keys in my pocket, 5 digits in the code, 1 towel headed guy. 751. 7:51. The time our son was born. 2301, the stupid code for his stupid briefcase. 4, the exact number of times I left him before I left him for good. 23014, the code for the door. 9 pieces of candy left. 2 more stops on the subway before I'd have been home. 2001 individual cracks or chips in the floor of this room. 922001. 9-2-2001. July 9th, 2001. The day we were married. The number of people in the room combined with the number of shoelaces on our feet was the time he took me to Rome, only for me to find out he was there on work and I was his cover. The number of cinderblocks in the pile mulitplied by the time it was taking to think about this, then divided by the number of heartbeats between here...and here was our address back in London.

The Voice was telling me in it's quirky special way. I may not want to hear it, but what it was telling me was loud and clear. He was the only one that could help me right now.

"Is that phone getting a signal down here?" I ask Steve, gesturing at the iPhone, "I isn't, is it? Damn."

15, 34, square root of 7.

"The bricks! Quickly!"

I start stacking the cinderblocks in the doorway.

The cinderblocks are heavy, but two of you to a block makes the work go fairly quick. Of course there's no mortar, so you're just stacking dry blocks on top of each other. Still, it seems healthy to put some more space between you and whatever's on the other side.

And whatever is going on over there, you have no idea. The door appears to be soundproof.

As the door closes behind Eddie I reach in vain, knowing that this isn't right, I've (she's) already watched some friends die, no more, no more. And it's my fault.

But the door closes, and Eddie's gone.

Suddenly, the girl next to me begins to move. She'd been speaking before, but I didn't hear a thing. But now I saw what she was doing. Blocking the door. I stoop down mechanically and help. Soon we've moved all the blocks we can, and I crouch facing her.

I look at her. "Why didn't you think of that before?"

Using the wall as a springboard, I jump up and grab the smashed camera -- ripping it loose from its connection. The wire is a problem and I land on the floor with the small camera still attached at the ceiling by the cable that feeds it. I spin and smash the keypad with the hard edge of the camera. Just once. Once is enough, as the camera slices into the keypade membrane and the whole faceplate with keys lifts. As my right hand winds around the camera cord, winding it up my forearm, elbow, and upper arm, my left hand grabs the faceplate by then edge and rips it off. Miraculously I have the keypad, leaving a series of small connectors and broken wires. I launch myself backwards and with a mighty heave of my right arm rip the cord from some junction a few feet into the wall. My arm is sore, but I have a weapon. A hard camera on a long cord can be used as a club, a bolas, a garotte. Some way I can make it back to the tunnel and down the first door that the passed on.

But, there wasn't time for any of that: not to rip the camera out, nor smash the keypad, there was just time to turn around and get shot. I guess sometimes it is your future that flashes across your eyes, not your life. My left arm explodes with pain, not from the imagined camera-cord, but from searing metal burning through it. A bullet violates my body as an unwelcome intruder in the night. I'd always solved my problems with my physical body. That wasn't going to help me here. There is a strange calmness and serenity as I stand calmly blocking the doorway. If this is the immortal game, then ...

The second bullet doesn't come right away. I reach out to every voice I can. I open myself to the universe and summon words as if casting a great spell. Words that may be misenterpreted by whoever just shot me.

"Speak to me! Speak to me now! I summon all voices!"

"Geez, sorry dude," I say to Steve, "I was doing math and trying to figure out how to get us out of this. Guess I'm bad at this sort of thing. Confrontation always makes me waffle. Seriously though, is there a signal on that phone? The voices in the numbers and patterns are trying to tell me who can help us. I don't like it, but if they're right...he'll do it. He'll help."

"There he is," you hear, and a half dozen guns take aim at you. You raise the impromptu weapon, preparing to strike, and then...


A voice, a real one, cries out from above. Down the stairs comes a man, dressed like the others but more slender. In his arms is the cat from the subway. He strokes it gently, and you can almost feel the static in the back of your mouth, taste it.

"Who are you?" you hear yourself say.

He smiles.

"I'm your friend. I can help your...problem."

He gestures, and two of the men lower their guns and pull out tasers. Before you can even begin to mouth a protest, they fire, and the prongs latch onto you, one set in the base of your jaw, and the other in the middle of your chest, right below the left nipple. Electricity courses through your body, and A tingling fills your body, some trace amount of electricity raising the hair on your arms, causing the filling in your back molar to spark. You fall to the ground, twitching.

With you incapacitated, the man who spoke (your "friend") approaches and kneels. As you begin to regain strength, you feel a needle pierce your left arm, and a growing numbness washes over you. Your ears ring, and your vision fades, and you can feel bits of you drifting into the shadows. A woman cries out and falls into a void. A man shrieks and is torn apart by shadows. And then there is only Eddie, and then not even that, as you fade away.

But somehow, you can still hear Voices inside of your head, fuzzy with white noise. It hurts, it hurts. New Voices. Different, angry.


"Take him. And make sure he doesn't get away again."

"Can't go through there."

"Have to go around the long way."

"We should just kill him."

"Hey. Think he heard that?"

"How would he hear us?"


"Still, we should just kill him. He's dangerous."

"Plenty of time for that. We still have a lot to learn from him. Have patience."




and then there is blackness...