2 comments

Speculative

The telephone rang. I pulled it from my pocket to see who was calling. The woman in the seat next to me glanced to my screen.

UNAVAILABLE

I rejected the call and the woman shifted back to her hunched position, closing her eyes to the view of the city out the train window. I waited a few seconds to see if I would receive a voicemail, then slid my phone back into the inside pocket of my denim jacket. I opened the book I had been reading and tried to find the line I had left off on. Just as I got back into the story, my phone began to ring again. 


The ringtone shattered my concentration. I shut the book and pulled my phone back out. The woman next to me cleared her throat loudly, then opened her eyes back up and glared at me. I looked to the screen. 

UNAVAILABLE

I swiped the screen to answer the call and pulled it up to my ear. “Hello?” I tried my best to not sound agitated, but I failed. The woman let out a sigh and got up from her seat. The other end of the phone was mostly static, but I heard a voice that sounded far away.

“Hello? I – your help. Ple – get off – 113th Street – only hope.” 

The call ended. I looked down at my phone, confused at what I just sat through. The woman was now standing at the door with her hand on the rail, still glaring at me. The sun was beginning to go down, and the lights lining the street were coming on. The woman left the train car through the door and I stared sheepishly out the window, still trying to make sense of the phone call.

I was too rattled to get back into the book, so I put it into my bag under the seat and looked down at my phone. I opened up my web browser and looked at the news on the home page. 

Council votes to reinstate mandatory curfew for Eastern District starting this weekend. Of course, damn council might as well shut the whole city down. They can’t stop the invasion, so they will just keep everyone locked inside. I put my head against the window and close my eyes. I hope I have time to grab some food at the corner store before they put the barriers up.

My phone goes off in my hand and wakes me up. I look out the window to gauge where we are. 209th Street. Almost to the Eastern District border. We passed by a street corner, and a woman was standing under the street light. She looked just like the woman who was staring at me earlier. I looked down at my phone before fully making the connection.

UNAVAILABLE

I swipe to answer, then my brain connects what I saw, too late. We were already rounding the bend into the 200th street station. “Who is this?” I do not try to hide my irritation this time.

The signal was a bit clearer this time.  The voice sounds familiar, but I couldn’t recall quite who it was. “You have to get off at 113th Street. We cannot get through without the key. Bring the key to 113th Street. Don’t go back to sleep.” The call ended. I stared at my phone, more questions racing through my mind than ever. 

Don’t go back to sleep? Who was that, and how did they know I was sleeping? I looked around. The train came to a stop at the 200th and the doors opened. Most of the crowd got off. Everyone rich enough to live west of the blockade, or smart enough to grab the westbound train out of the center of the city. I looked out the window, trying to piece everything together. The woman was standing on the platform, staring in at me. I froze. She didn’t move as the wave of bodies exited the train around her. 

The doors shut and the train began to pull away. She stood there, her head following my window as we left the platform and entered the tunnel. She must have been the first one off the train. Must have been really upset about missing out on her nap

I was feeling exhausted. I stood up and picked up my bag. Underneath it was a bus token. I picked it up and turned it over. No, not a bus token. It was larger, heavier. I began walking down the aisle, turning the coin over again. I had never seen the writing. I walked a couple of carts up and found a section that was empty. One perk of going to the Eastern District, it’s a lot easier to get privacy when nobody wants to go where you are going. 

The train was going full-speed now, the tracks raised above the street through the center of the city. The buildings were a blur. Only another half hour to the end of the line. 3 more stops. I sat down in a bench seat with my back against the wall and looked down at the coin. What the hell is going on tonight? It had to be my brain playing games with me. I had been on the clock 26 hours trying to get all of the orders out before the Council decided to shut down the whole city. I leaned back against the wall and stared straight ahead. I blinked.

The phone went off again in my pocket. I jumped. I pulled it out of my pocket and answered the call. “I told you not to fall asleep. Your stop is coming up. Don’t forget the key.” The call ended and I stared straight ahead, mouth open. Outside, the buildings were coming back into shape. I could make out the different windows as we slowed into the 113th street station. A family was sitting down for dinner. A man was leaning out with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. 

A woman was standing on a balcony, staring at me with a stony gaze. The same woman from the train. She turned her head to follow as the train rolled down the track. A few buildings down, she was standing on a roof, the same gaze following me. The train slowed to a crawl as it entered the tunnel into the 113th Street Station. The woman was standing there on the platform, staring at me when the doors opened. “The key. Give me the key.”

“What the hell is going on? How are you here?” My head hurt. My mind was racing, and I had no idea what was happening. 

               “The key, boy. It was on the train, and I can’t get out of this worthless suit without it. I know you have it, I can smell it on you.” Her eyes went white. I dropped my bag and stumbled backward toward the train. The doors shut behind me and pulled away. I was on the wrong side of the door. “You fool. You don’t have it anymore. You have no idea what you have done. This district will be gone by morning, and I was the only one who could stop it. But NOT! WITHOUT! THE! KEY!” She grabbed me by the arm and shook me violently.

“I never had your key. What do you mean, the district will be gone? Who are you?” I began to cry. She slapped me.

“We don’t have time for this. I dropped the token on the train. It would allow my ship to find me and pull me back now that I know the locations of the bombs, but now I have no way to get back to them. We are all dead now.” 

Things were starting to make sense. “Bombs? Why isn’t the Council doing anything to stop this? What can we do? Where are the bombs?” I still didn’t understand everything, but I understood that someone was trying to destroy my home. 

“Dammit, don’t you get it? There is nothing left to do. The Council isn’t doing anything to stop it because they planted the bombs. They are pinning the city’s problems on invasion, but they are out of resources and they are cutting off the tumor to try to save the host. We are trying to stop them.. Were trying. It looks like we failed. Unless.. Let me see your telephone! I can’t reach the ship, but I may be able to reach the coin.”

I didn’t ask questions. I pulled out my phone and handed it to her. She dialed a dozen numbers and handed me the phone. “Tell the person on the other end that they are our only hope, and that they need to get off at 113th.

February 04, 2023 04:29

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2 comments

Jane Andrews
19:26 Feb 17, 2023

Hi Jesse. A good story causes the reader to have lots of questions at the end, and I think you've managed this really well. I thought there was quite a 'Twelve Monkeys' vibe to this: the fragmented phone call, the idea of someone calling a number to try to prevent a disaster, etc. There's a strong dystopian feel to it - it reminded me of some of J G Ballard's speculative fiction set in a future version of the world with overcrowding, long train rides and a growing mistrust of the government. Well done for creting a story that unsettles the r...

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Jesse Upchurch
23:42 Feb 17, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind words! I will have to look into JG Ballard, that sounds right up my alley!

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