Copyright 2007 by Jeff Howe
stood on the train platform in the lazy light of early evening. Here
in the suburbs, the train was above ground, four stretched silverish
boxes playing follow-the-leader for all to see and hear. When it
approached the city, it would plunge underground to race through
tubes of tile and concrete rumbling the sidewalks above.
platform was darkened from the footsteps of thousands of commuters
passing through this station daily. Dingy white concrete pillars
which supported the rigid overhead cover were chipped and marked with
names and odd symbols in dark brown spray paint.
Green Hill Station was deserted except for Jason. The evening was
windy warm, pleasant, wafting an odd mix of luscious scents from a
nearby restaurant and the familiar subway sourness. He stood at the
edge of the platform, for he heard the ringing of the tracks below
indicating an approaching train. It was a metallic shearing sound
that happened well before the train actually pulled into station.
was Jason’s last trip on the subway. He would be moving away in
two days, leaving the city for the wider, open vistas of the arid
southwest. He was trading in his straight, perfect canyons of glass,
concrete and steel for those of sandstone, rivercut and windblown
into dreamish shapes. He wanted to see the city again, to walk the
streets again amid the honks and toots of traffic winding its way
between silent towers whose inner lights create a Mondrianesque
pattern against dark skies.
rails were loudly ringing now. Jason could look up the track, see the
headlights of a rolling behemoth cresting a small hill on its
approach to the station. Trains fascinated Jason. Powerful and dense,
mighty and fast, they were slow to start, and even slower to stop.
They made a lot of noise, even these electrically-powered trains of
civilization. They exuded an impressive amount of noise, for it is
impossible to move this much mass silently. For all their bluster and
bravado, however, trains are limited to a narrow corridor of
influence. They must obey their equidistant boundaries. If they
don’t, they die, usually with spectacular and wrenching
train rolled into the station with a squealish bumble. It stopped
beside the platform, heaved a loud sigh and opened its doors. Jason
walked onto the vibrating floor inside the train and found a seat
near the back end of the car. Air was blowing from the vents that was
noncommittal - neither warm nor cold. Its freshness was dubious as
were a few other people in the car. They were scattered among the
seats individually. There were no couples or groups, just one here,
one there, another over yonder. No one spoke to anyone else, and, as
far as Jason could tell, no one even looked at anyone else. Trains or
buses can be very much like elevators. Elbows and hips may bump,
bodies may inadvertently touch, but minds refuse to connect.
was another loud sigh. The train made noises as if it grew impatient
with waiting. Jason felt a familiar, subtle change in the ubiquitous
vibration indicating that preparations were being made to leave this
station for the next. The doors began sliding shut when there rose a
cacophony of shouts from outside. Jason looked toward the door. A
hand appeared in the narrow opening that remained between the closing
doors sprang open. In leaped an elderly gentleman who looked like he
was jumping over a gaping ravine. His hair was mostly white, cropped
closely to his head. He sported a large white mustache sprinkled with
darker strands giving it a dichromatic appearance. His clothes were
worn and faded, but neat. He walked toward the back of the car and
sat down in the seat across the aisle from Jason. Jason nodded as the
man looked at him while settling in.
doors closed quickly then, and the train pulled away from the
station. It moved sluggishly at first, but soon was rolling on its
shiny, smooth tracks at a speed that was both exhilarating and
turned to look at the elderly man in the seat next to him. He looked
away quickly when he saw the man staring at him. None of the other
riders looked his way, so he ignored the man and slumped down into
his seat, while leaning against the side of the train.
stared absently out the window, not so much lost in thought as he was
mired in momentary observations of the passing landscape. It made him
think of hallucinatory experiences with a world rushing by
frantically, but one’s own sense of captured time standing
still inside this pocket of a train car. In the rush, colored lights
became drawn out tendrils of neon glow. Buildings next to the track
became a blur, yet the rhythmic sway of the train muted any active
consideration of such. Jason could feel his desire to think, his will
to be soften, melt down into a gelatinous ooze.
Jason sat up with a start!
train was no longer plowing its way through the lazy air of suburbia.
It had entered a tunnel. All the sounds of the train were compacted
into the relatively small space of the tunnel and hammered at Jason’s
train was descending - going downhill at a rapid rate that increased
with every minute. He couldn’t see ahead, but he knew the
feeling. It was like the beginning of the descent down the large
first drop of a tall roller coaster.
had ridden this train for years, and he couldn’t remember any
place in the system where there was a long downward slope.
the transportation authority was working on the regular tunnels?
this train had been diverted to a different track due to some
the reason, the train was rocking wildly back and forth now and going
faster faster faster. Jason held on to the seat in front of him to
keep from getting thrown onto the floor. Another lurch and Jason felt
his stomach rise up into his throat.
train was no longer on the tracks.
was free flying through the dark vapors of this subterranean chasm,
turning and tumbling about. Jason could sense bottom coming closer,
closer, reaching up through the void to grab the train. To smash it
against itself. The air was growing warmer, stuffier. Jason wanted to
get out of the train car desperately, but the bottom was out there,
somewhere, chuckling mercilessly until....
don’t support the war, do you?”
Jason sat up with a start! He opened his eyes, blinked them several
support the war, do you?”
he replied, groggy from dozing.
elderly man still stared at him. Or maybe he was staring again. He
said nothing. Jason felt dislocated, out of phase.
the war?” Jason mumbled a bit irritably. “What are you
saying? Why are you asking me this?”
elderly man sat back in his seat and gazed forward, finally breaking
are young. You have not yet seen the likes of what I know.” He
turned back to Jason. “There are many things in this world that
are questionable, but we can’t think of the right questions.
There are few things th at are answerable, but everyone thinks they
already know all the answers.”
what of it, mister?” Jason continued to grump.
you know that if you take an action, you will never know the results
of not taking that action?” the elderly man smiled. “Your
actions put into motion things that may or may not have been better
left still. Be careful, young man, where you place your foot as you
take your next step. Ahhh, looks like my station is upon us.”
a good rest of your trip,” he said, standing as the train
approached the Falls Crossing Station. “And make sure you keep
your eyes open.”
train slowed and sidled up to the platform, which looked much like
the station from which they had left. It came to a stop with a jerk.
The elderly man nearly fell over, but his gnarled hands gripped the
overhead rail as he shuffled to the door. It opened with a sound of
exasperation, and the man disappeared into the evening. Jason watched
him disembark with puzzlement. It was an odd way to start a
the war. Support the troops. Jason shook his head.
didn’t even know what those statements meant. He could just as
easily say that he supported the Rocky Mountains. It would have had
as much meaning. War seemed like an inexorable thing
Jason. It was something that would be studied by college history
classes a long time in the future. They would be able to look back
and determine if it was a good thing or bad. But for now, there were
two sides to it, and each side seemed intent on stirring up as much
opposition to the other side as possible.
wrong, left, right, liberal, conservative.
had a hard time understanding what politics had to do with it all.
You either had to send your Army against another army or you didn’t.
It should be as simple as that. Shouldn’t it?
suspected that if the politicians were all put on the front lines
with a rifle, most of them would turn tail and run away. They talk
big in front of TV cameras and at cocktail parties, no doubt.
wouldn’t make good foxhole mates, though, and that says
the ongoing mantra, support for the war, support the troops. And
there were those who said, rather goofily, Jason thought, that they
supported the troops, but not the war. It was like saying you support
Major League Baseball, but they better not schedule any games. Let’s
just watch them working out in their uniforms during Spring Training
while we drink beer and dream of summer.
question to them, if he ever met ‘them’, would be “what
do you do to support the troops?” After all, support is a verb.
It implies action. Do these people send care packages to the
soldiers? Offer financial or emotional support to the families of the
deployed? Jason suspected the answer would be “no” to
both questions. Most people just talked a lot these days. They didn’t
sighed. The doors closed, and the train pulled away from the station.
was startled by the young, blond head that popped over the seat back
in front of him. But he smiled and replied,
Andrew! What’s your name?”
Andrew, I’m Jason. Did you get on at the last station?”
Daddy’s a Army man!” Andrew announced. His eyes sparkled.
great, Andrew,” Jason replied peering around, a frown forming
on his face. “Are you on the train by yourself?”
look like a bad man. Why is your face mad?” Andrew asked, his
where is your mommy?” Jason asked a little harshly.
looked down at the floor. He mumbled, “Mommy’s at the
softened his voice. “Hey, that’s not far. Why don’t
you just stay in your seat, or you can sit next to me. That way we’ll
be sure you get off the train where you should. OK?” He made
himself smile the biggest smile he could.
looked up at Jason and returned the smile. “OK, mister Jasey!”
Jason, Andrew, not Jasey.”
an impish look Andrew said, “OK, mister Jasey!” With that
he turned around and sat in his seat.
blew quietly and shook his head. A child on the train by himself.
Where had he come from? Jason didn’t see Andrew when he got on
the train, didn’t see Andrew get on the train. All he could
conclude was that somehow he missed Andrew, overlooked him. It was
entirely possible that he had been sitting at the far end of the car
and moved his way down to Jason’s end when he was distracted.
seemed the most likely answer.
the fact that a young child was riding the train alone was
disturbing. Jason had no children. He had never been married, didn’t
have a girlfriend at the moment. He didn’t even know any
children personally. Yet, he felt a cloak of protectiveness fall upon
him as he watched the small tow head in front of him bobbing up and
down to some nameless tune Andrew was singing.
smiled. Andrew’s childlike trust of him was both warming and
frightening at the same time. It was far too easy to see how
predators would use that trust to their advantage. He shivered at the
thought and made a surveillance scan around the train car. Except for
a few human forms huddled near the front of the car, there was no one
relaxed. He watched the passing landscape as he listened to Andrew’s
little concert. More and more lights twinkled on as the remaining
vestiges of sunlight shriveled into the distant horizon. A line from
the Band’s song “Twilight” formed in Jason’s
alone in the twilight, ‘cause twilight is the loneliest time of
had no idea what the Band meant by that lyric, but he agreed with it
wholeheartedly. There’s something about that transitional time
when the day grudgingly gives up its light.
a bittersweet time that hints at omens and whispers of portents. It’s
alive with a spirit of urgency for all things temporal; a longing for
just a little more day to accomplish, to finish before the big
finish. It’s a primal feeling. Jason wondered if prehistoric
man viewed twilight the same way - as the time to pull all activity
back into the cave before the nocturnal predators began slinking
musings of twilight were cut short as the train plunged into the
tunnel that began its underground journey below the city. The heart
of the city was about 4-6 stops down the line; any stations before
then were for the more dense but still residential or industrial
areas that fringed the city.
were only seconds now from the Winter Street Station, which is where
Andrew said his mother would be waiting. Jason had never disembarked
at this station, so he didn’t know where to look for the woman.
He hoped that Andrew was right and would be able to beeline it to his
mother. Then Jason could hop back on the train and head off to his
train sailed into the station, groaned to a stop, its long aluminum
torso lined up neatly with the platform. Jason peered through the
windows into the brightly lit, tiled cavern, but he couldn’t
see anyone waiting on the concrete. With its characteristic sigh, the
doors opened to allow passengers to spill out.
stood and tousled Andrew’s hair. “Come on, mate, we’ve
a mother to find.”
climbed out of his seat and took Jason’s offered hand. He
seemed quite small to Jason who estimated him to be about 5 years
old. Jason shook his head again. They walked out of the train onto
was no one waiting anywhere on the platform. In fact, the entire
station seemed empty. Jason and Andrew had only walked about ten
feet, when the train heaved a loud breath and the doors closed. Jason
spun around only to see it pull away from the platform.
Wait!” he yelled, waving his left hand. He stepped toward the
train, but it was starting to pick up speed as it dove into the
tunnel leading away from the station.
mister Jasey?” Andrew asked.
nothing,” said Jason glumly. “I was going to hand you
over to your mother and get back on the train. Now I’ll have to
wait for the next one to come through.”
Hey!” A woman’s voice echoed through the station. Jason
turned to look where the voice was coming from. On the platform along
the eastbound train tracks stood a woman who appeared to be about
Jason’s age. She was wearing patched jeans and a loose-fitting
blue t-shirt. Her blond hair was cut short. She looked vaguely
familiar to Jason; he didn’t know why. He was sure he’d
never seen her before, but a feeling of disquiet came over him. Maybe
it was simply impatience. Maybe....
there!” Jason yelled back. “Is this guy yours?” He
held Andrew up. Andrew squirmed and giggled while he waved.
he’s mine! Andrew, where have you been?” Her voice
mommy! Mister Jasey brought me home,” squealed Andrew.
ma’am. I can’t get over there from here. I’ll bring
Andrew upstairs. We’ll meet you there,” said Jason.
she said. Then she disappeared down a corridor that led to the stairs
on her side of the station.
lowered Andrew, took his hand, “C’mon kid. You got a date
with your mom.” He walked swiftly toward the stairs that led up
to the world, up to fresh air. Andrew ran alongside him whimpering.
Jason ignored him and kept walking.
tripped and fell, forcing Jason to let go of his hand. He started
crying. Jason knelt down beside him.
sorry, little dude. I was in a hurry. Here, do you want me to carry
you?” He held out his arms.
just nodded. He leaned between Jason’s arms. Jason picked him
up, then climbed the stairs to ground level. There, still holding
Andrew, he ripped through the turnstile. He found himself outside the
station standing on the sidewalk.
had never been
to this part of the city before, so he didn’t know what to
expect when he came up from below. He lowered Andrew and looked
around. It was mostly dark now.
sky must have been overcast, for he could see no stars, just a lamp
black void. There were a few streetlights on the street, but their
glow seemed ineffectual, merely pooling in small spots on the
sidewalk beneath the lights.
buildings surrounding the subway entrance didn’t look like
apartment buildings or even business-type buildings. They all looked
more like warehouses, dark and solemn. There were no cars parked
along the side of the street. Jason couldn’t see any parking
meters either. He turned around and around, but all he saw were the
warehouses. They looked like they went on for blocks.
looking around, Jason absently said, “Where’s your
mother, Andrew?” There was no answer.
looked down. Andrew was not where he had set him. He spun around; saw
no sign of Andrew anywhere.
ran back into the subway entrance.
he called down the stairs. There was no sound but the echo of his
voice. He glanced back out at the sidewalk and then fumbled in his
pocket for a subway token. Thrusting it into the turnstile, he pushed
through the triple-armed monopod. It ratcheted slowly at first, then
threw him out on the other side.
dashed down the stairs to the platform below.
the platform, Jason slowed up. “Andrew!” he yelled again.
The word bounced around the tiled walls and dissipated down the
tunnels. Jason, heart racing with worry, contemplated the empty
station. He heard the familiar sound of the tracks ringing ahead of
an approaching train.
walked to the edge of the platform, peered down the tunnel. There was
a long straight section, and Jason could see the headlight of the
train about a half mile away. It was an inbound train, going west to
was tempted to forget about Andrew and just get on the train. He
could ride it to the Park Station go into the city hit his favorite
pizzeria take a walk through the park maybe go into some stores and
reminisce about the years he lived here in this culture of urbanity
and theaters and good restaurants and colleges with all the co-ed
women he met and….
you know how parents are these days, very lax and liberal in their
child management, leaving them behind in day care all day while they
power-brokered their lives squeezed behind the steering wheels of
their BMWs, talking into their hands-free phones as they sip
Starbucks and fast forward Sheryl Crow… Andrew probably knew
his way home from this station…
talk, no walk. Jason looked at his feet. He looked at the train now
pulling into the station. Somewhere, there was a 5 year old boy
wandering by himself… he should be with his mom or dad. His
dad - what did he say about his dad? Something about the Army. The
war? Did Andrew say something about that? No, that was the elderly
fellow. Andrew shouldn’t be alone; his mother was…
THERE! WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS MOTHER??
train was resting at the platform now, its doors open wide. Jason
could see inside. It looked full of people - so strange that the
other train had been mostly empty. Jason started pacing back and
forth beside the open doors. What were they waiting for? No one was
getting on or off.
Jason noticed that the commuters were all dressed in some kind of
uniform. It looked so very familiar, like those guys who were in the
parade riding in their big desert sand-colored vehicles wide and
rugged and loaded with danger. As he then remembered looking down on
children by the road waving, running for the tiny pieces of candy he
threw, there was light, sound, an earthquake and numbness…
ran back up the stairs. His heart felt like it would burst out of his
chest. He was panting to the point of hyperventilation.
He leaped over the turnstile this time, not even bothering to push
skidded onto the sidewalk. It was as deep a night as he had ever
seen. The hulking dark warehouses seemed even more ominous than
before. They had crept a bit closer to the subway entrance, towered
menacingly. Their dull windows revealed a vacancy behind their facade
that raised the hair on Jason’s neck.
breathed deeply trying to calm his racing heart. He forced himself to
become quiet and listen. Nothing.
his hands around his mouth he yelled louder.
the subway station echoed, his voice seemed to fall flat among the
he heard it. Very faint, off to the left somewhere. A small giggle or
squeal, he wasn’t sure. It was at the edge of his hearing
range, almost more imagined than real. But Jason jumped in that
direction. He ran for three blocks in a heated craze, coming to a
breathless stop when he realized that he had no idea which way to go.
He called for Andrew again.
Jasey, help!” The voice rang out, startlingly clear behind
whirled around. There was no one behind him.
Where are you?” he called.
waited. And waited. No response.
walked back to the last intersection and looked to the left and
right. All he could see were more rows of warehouses in either
direction, their ill-defined shapes backlit only by a very slightly
lighter sky. The streetlights at each corner of the intersection
didn’t provide much light. Instead, they made him feel exposed
more than anything else, so he stood in the shadows away from their
Jason saw a movement with his peripheral vision. It was off to the
right, there by that car parked at the side of the street. He
immediately, instinctively moved around the lamp post to the middle
of the intersection and began walking softy in the direction of the
was troubled by the car parked halfway down the block. In an area of
the city where he hadn’t yet seen any cars, either driving by
or parked, he was suspicious. It was a strange feeling, he knew. Cars
are as much a part of the city landscape as pigeons are, but he
couldn’t ignore a blossoming sense of unease about it.
Jasey, help me!” The voice leaped out of the darkness ahead of
him this time. Beyond the car, the next block down. Jason stiffened.
high, child-like, blood-curdling scream followed the plea for help.
The warehouse silhouettes crowded closer to the streets. Jason stared
at the car, paralyzed with fear. He had to go to Andrew, but there
was something not right about that car. The night turned gooey and
liquid. The air and the buildings seemed to warp, to stretch around
Jason’s concrete legs.
felt a white-hot anger rise within him. It exploded his paralysis
with molten energy flowing through his muscles.
it, you bastards! He’s just a kid!” Jason screeched at
the top of his lungs. His legs drove into the asphalt like pneumatic
hammers as he sprang ahead with the force of vengeance. Within
seconds he was parallel to the car. His arm went up reflexively to
the side of his head as if to shield it.
the same time, the car exploded, lighting up the night and throwing
the warehouses into a brief stark relief that revealed them as merely
buildings of brick and wood. Empty, perhaps, but nothing more.
was blown off his feet. He landed on his left shoulder and tumbled to
the other side of the street. He expected to hear bones snap, or to
feel ragged shreds of metal rip into his body, but
of these happened. He lay in the gutter taking inventory of his
the street, the car burned. Jason raised his head to look. Standing
in the aura of light from the flames was Andrew. He had a big grin on
his face as he waved energetically at Jason.
Jason whispered. He sat up, leaning on one arm.
skipped over to Jason and flung his arms around Jason’s neck.
His grip was tight, almost a stranglehold. Jason put his arms around
Andrew, sniffed his little boy hair. He held Andrew for years, it
seemed, reluctant to let go.
love you, Andrew.” Jason stunned, didn’t know why he said
that, it just seemed appropriate.
you too, Mister Jasey,” said Andrew, letting go and stepping
back. He smiled, gave a little wave and said, “Goodbye.”
he started skipping down the street, singing a nameless tune. Andrew
disappeared into the darkness, his singing still reaching Jason’s
ears for a while after.
there was nothing.
Andrew,” said Jason. He felt strangely peaceful. He felt as if
he had satisfied a spirit of urgency to finish something before the
stood up, brushed some dirt from his pants and walked back to the
intersection. He could see a figure standing under the closest
streetlight on the right. The figure seemed to be waiting for him. As
Jason drew closer, he recognized the elderly man that had spoken with
him on the train earlier.
was first to speak. “Sir, how are you? What are you doing
elderly man chuckled. “You weren’t supposed to get off
shook his head. “Huh?”
weren’t supposed to get off that train.”
was looking for a lost little kid. I needed to find him, to protect
him,” he said with an edge to his voice. “His mother was
missing; I didn’t know where his father was.”
know,” said the elderly man sympathetically. “It’s
time for you to go back.”
didn’t move. He stood still thinking about Andrew; wondering
why he didn’t scoop him up and try again to find his mother.
elderly man was silent for a moment as he looked at Jason, then
softly he said, “I will tell you this. Andrew is doing just
fine. He is happy and playing and growing. He is a good, young man,
free to choose his life’s path. His memories will not make him
bitter. His mother is also doing well now. She has moved on, but she
won’t ever forget you.”
me? Why would she even remember me in the first place?” Jason
asked. An uncomfortable feeling began forming in his stomach. He
seemed on the verge of a realization that threatened to shatter his
reality, to make the trip unbearable, if not impossible.
thrust down the feeling vehemently. He swallowed, then said, “Maybe
I’d better go back to the train.”
elderly man smiled and nodded.
turned from him and walked back to the station. He arrived at the
entrance and took one last look before descending the stairs.
dark warehouses no longer loomed ominous. They were just barren
shells in orderly rows, sad and somehow natural, inevitable.
sky was still starless. There was no moon to brighten up this silent
area. Jason walked into the subway entrance, through the turnstile
and down the stairs.
train had not moved from the platform. It sat in the same spot
humming not quietly, but not loudly either. The doors were still wide
open, just as they were when it first pulled into the station. Jason
approached the train. A man in uniform stepped out onto the platform
and stood in front of Jason.
Christianson,” he stated formally. Then, with a wink, he said,
recognized the man as a comrade. As a walker who did very little
Captain.” Jason saluted.
back aboard, J.C. We still have a trip to make,” he said
returning the salute. “And, by the way, you don’t have to
salute anymore. We’re all equals now, just like we always
held out his hand.
smiled, took the Captain’s hand, and gave it a firm shake. Then
they boarded the train. The doors closed with a sigh.
train slowly pulled away from the station and disappeared into the
most everyone I was born to a woman and was quite young when doing
so. This was in Maine where the signs say, "The Way Life Should
my inauspicious entrance, I tarried for about 18 years before leaving
for college and, after that, a stint in the Army. It was in the Army
that I met the woman I would marry and we have been together ever
we returned to Maine I brought back many years of subject matter
which I keep trying to untangle and write about in a coherent manner.
The last fifteen years have produced 30 short stories, over 1100
poems, about 300 essays and a novel that remains unfinished to this
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher