Jack usually finished his work at 8:00 PM and got the 8:20 train at the central station downtown. He lived a walking distance from the last station, in a not well-to-do suburb, at the end of the northern line, over an hour’s ride, a world away from his workplace.
That Friday night, the restaurant was unexpectedly busy with its usual customers and two large group bookings. Though he was exhausted, Jack stayed back. He needed the extra money. When finally customers left, and Jack finished his job for the night and left his workplace, Oregano’s restaurant, one of the top five Italian restaurants in the city, was ten past midnight. Though the metro station was not far from the restaurant, and he ran all the way. Upon his arrival, Jack found the last train for the night was canceled because of routine line maintenance. He had two options, one to get a taxi home that would cost him a fortune and the latter to kill his time somewhere around the station until morning.
In a few minutes, security officers began directing people out to close the station gates for the night. Therefore, Jack left the underground station, and with no preference, walked south along the station street until he came close to a 24/7 eatery at the corner of a small lane, the Fast Eddy’s. When Jack walked into the shop, its original interior design mesmerized him. An old-fashioned place froze in time, as it just came out of an old Hollywood movie, with its old neon light and interior decoration. Even its name, Fast Eddy’s, was antique. For Jack, walking into that shop was like being time traveled. Travel to the past, to a time when his parents hadn’t met each other yet. Jack was a daydreamer, a science fiction fan, and fascinated by the concept of time travel. So he immediately fell in love with the place. ‘I like this place. I will come here more.’ He promised himself.
Though he wasn’t hungry, Jack ordered an early breakfast, pancakes, and coffee, black with no sugar.
‘Don’t you think it’s a bit early for breakfast? Young man.’ The middle-aged woman who worked at the eatery asked. It looked like she just came out of the Hairspray movie, Jack imagined.
‘Yes, it is. I missed the last train home. And I need some sugary treat and caffeine, a boost, to keep myself awake until the morning, to get the first train.’ Jack responded.
‘Sure thing.’ She said and left toward the kitchen.
Sooner than he expected, she returned with his order. ‘Here you are. This is your early breakfast, your boost as you call it.’
The dish looked larger, and the pancakes were thicker than usual dishes he had ordered in other places.
‘I asked my husband to make a few extra pancakes for you.’ She responded as she read his mind.
Before Jack could say anything, she added, ‘That’s on the house. A young man like you needs more energy.’
‘Thanks for your consideration.’ Jack responded and began cutting through the first pancake with a knife and fork. Pancakes were lovely, and he devoured them in no time. Jack killed the rest of the night by sipping on his black coffee and two refills and surfing on Facebook and Instagram.
Jack arrived at the central station at around 5:00 AM. To his surprise, the station was full of commuters. He had never been in the station that early. It was busier than what he had expected for that time of the morning. He walked to platform 7 and got on the train. Half of the seats in that car had already been occupied. By a quick browse, he found a vacant row in the middle of the car. He walked there and grabbed the window seat. He sat there, not because of the view. The train traveled in a dark tube, tens of meters below the surface, but Jack felt safer at the window seat and wasn’t in physical contact with the people moving in the gangway.
A barely audible message lost in the mayhem of the crowded train spilled out of the speakers that were installed somewhere in the ceiling, ‘doors are closing.’ Soon doors closed. At 5:15 AM sharp, the train began its routine journey with a sudden jolt and quickly sped up. In a matter of seconds, the station’s lights disappeared in the distance, and the tube’s blackness enveloped the train. The concrete inner surface of the long metro tube was hardly visible under the pale light permitting out of the train windows. Jack leaned at the window, rested his head on the large glass, and absentmindedly looked into the darkness, registering nothing. His eyes were open, but he was not looking at anything in particular. Concentrating on the outside’s pitch black detached him from his immediate environment, and unaware of what was going on in the train, Jack began thinking about himself and his current situation. He was weary and tired of his job, his life, and his long daily commutes. He traveled twelve times, twice a day for six consequent days per week on this long route and on this gloomy train.
Jack’s body ached for sleep, but sleeping was out of the question. On a train passing through underprivileged suburbs, with some dodgy passengers, it was not wise to take a nap and put his guard down and became an easy target for opportunistic criminals, cowards who took advantage of vulnerable individuals. He remembered his mom’s word of wisdom, ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry.’
To get rid of his dark thoughts fueled up by his fatigue and lack of sleep, Jack let his imagination free and envisioned himself on a train traveling through a forest, a tropical forest in particular. His vision reminded him of a movie he saw not long ago, Predators, in which a group of specialists, a trained soldier, a mercenary, a Yakuza member, a black ops operator, and a few others mysteriously found themselves in a tropical forest. Later they discovered the forest was on a moon orbiting an exoplanet. An alien race hunting ground, and they all were preys for alien hunters, an alien recreational sport. Jack remembered his adrenalin level was on the roof while watching the action movie.
Jack’s nagging mind outsmarted him and brought him back to the present time and his current situation. His life was tedious with no excitement. He needed some changes in his life. ‘I need a big change. I need some action in my life, an opportunity to test my survival abilities.’ He thought resentfully. But Jack had trapped in his dull and routine life, with no way to escape. Days and nights were following each other, and by each passing day, he was getting older and closer to the end of his life. Jack didn’t want to be like his parents and the other people he knew who conditioned to accept their routine nine to five or more jobs until a day their bodies refused to follow the unnatural routine. They all felt useless at the end of their lives, like a discarded paper coffee cup. Jack didn’t want to end like them, but the force of modern life was taking him toward a similar faith. Jack felt powerless. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
While he gawked into the endless darkness and was deep in his gloomy thoughts, a subtle change in his visual perception attracted his attention. Something unexpected was happening. The outside’s pitch black was gradually getting brighter, and it continued until the train wasn’t inside a dark concrete tube anymore. It was traveling in a bright tunnel, a tunnel of light. Soon the brightness of the glow pouring into the train car subsided, and Jack found the train was traveling on the surface and under the sun’s bright light. He could feel the warmth and the weight of sunlight on his skin, and it felt great. It was after his eyes accustomed to the bright light, Jack noticed the woods. To his surprise, the train was traveling fast through a forest, a dense tropical forest precisely as he imagined. Though he couldn’t hear the forest noise, he saw exotic birds with their colorful feathers flying from one tree to another. Some birds looked bizarre. They appeared like extinct birds belong to another geological era as if the train was crossing thru Jurassic Park.
The scenery was mesmerizing, but Jack’s rational mind was analytical, trying to decipher the unexpected change. How on earth the train he rode almost every day for the last two years, now was in a forest? Where was the place? He didn’t recall any forest near the city. Weather-wise the region was cold, and tropical trees and animals couldn’t thrive in its harsh winters.
While busy finding an answer to this unexpected change, the train began slowing down and eventually stopped at a station in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by thick woods. A group of humans and the beings looked precisely like the aliens from the Predators movie walked in the train’s car. ‘What is going on? Where is here?’ Jack asked himself scare to his wits. The aliens were well-mannered, acting like human commuters. Like others, without causing a problem and attracting no one’s attention, they took available seats or stood in the gangway.
Jack didn’t dare to look at those scary aliens but kept observing their reflections in the large glass that made the train’s window.
The man seated next to him got off at the next station, and an alien swiftly took his seat. Jack’s heart sank. He was scared to death. His brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism was activated, urging him to escape. But to where? He was trapped in a fast-moving train with fixed windows. There was no way to escape, and fighting was out of the question. Jack had never been a fighter. ‘What chance do I have fighting this alien?’ He desperately asked himself. The only option had left was to hold on, to hide his fear, to pretend everything is as usual. He squeezed his body closer to the window and got as far distance as he could from the alien next to him. Jack watched other passengers through their reflection in the large window’s glass. Oddly enough, everyone was calm and behaving in a way as nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
It seemed the alien next to him was asleep. It made Jack calmer. Still, his mind was racing fast to decipher what was happening around him.
While he was still deep in his thoughts, all of a sudden, the alien who was seated on the next seat turned toward him, put his hand on his shoulder, and began shaking him and calling him, ‘Sir, sir.’
Jack jumped as a lightning bolt hit him. It took a few seconds before he calmed down and registered his environment. A transit guard was standing next to him and calling him, ‘sir.’
After Jack partially gained his awareness, the guard added, ‘this is the last station. This train terminates here. You should get off here.’
With a shaky voice barely audible, Jack thanked the officer, and staggered toward the nearest door, and got off into the station.