Sebastian stands above the yawning maw of blackness that is now the New York City underground. The jagged crumbles around him once stood over the 96th street subway station. The street and building ripple back in a bilbao esque pile of asphalt.
The underground entrance was built in the middle of Broadway during the first part of the twenty-first century. It was a rounded glass roof with brass accents. The whole thing sat on huge cement girders as if the architect knew something was coming and was preparing a place for people to go and be safe.
It did not work.
Nowhere was safe.
Many New Yorkers died here that day. In matters of numbers many people died everywhere that day. Those on the surface of the planet in many places just melted into shadow scarred cement. Those underground had to find out the hard way what monsters they would become when pushed.
Those that were already monsters thrived the best.
The good thing about Sebastian is he does not hold a grudge against any of them, but has trouble recalling which he was, a monster, or person pushed.
Baby is draped over his shoulders like a cape. He gently rubs at the hand gripping him tight around the throat.
Baby tightens her hand in response and he coughs. When his adam’s apple moves he can feel many of the specific twenty-seven bones he tied together with scraps of wire.
It helps remind him he’s one of the lucky.
It’s an easy thing to forget.
On the day everything changed this place was probably crowded and busy. Typically he never used it. If he did, it was late at night when he could get all his bags into the elevator without anyone giving him looks.
He hated looks.
New York looks made his skin crawl.
When on the train he liked to cover his head with a thick worn white wool shawl he found on the street one cold Spring morning. It had a thick pattern on it that reminded him of sheep. The holes were just big enough that he could see through them and guard his stuff, but small enough to make him feel invisible.
He lost it and everything else he collected in the old world deep within this dark labyrinth.
He misses that thing when he feels hunted. Sometimes he wishes he still had it to slip over his head and close his eyes and hide from the world.
Maybe its best he doesn’t have it, he decides. Pretending to be invisible is not as useful as learning how to actually blend.
Back in the old world he knew how to blend even without the magical properties of the shawl.
Every car on the subway has a conductor’s booth. Next to it is two seats then a door.
When he would ride the train he would look for a car with those seats to be empty then sit next to the conductor’s booth and put his biggest bag on the empty seat next to him. This kept anyone from sitting there. The bag was a huge purple suitcase closed with multiple bungee cords. It rolled on warped and broken wheels. Inside it were the treasures he most wanted kept a secret.
His second biggest bag was a green army duffel. He would slip it between his legs and shift through it fondling his finds, pretending to search for something particular, or taking everything and lay it all out on the floor of the train. Then he would repack it all. He did this slowly and meticulously. He did this over and over again. He did this with no other thought in his head. Save for the looks. If the other riders started to stare he would put the shawl over his face and pretend they couldn’t see him. It worked. It made him invisible and people would stop looking. He was never entirely certain that it didn’t make him invisible. He would like to find that shawl again some day and try it out in this nightmarish world. Maybe the dogs wouldn’t worry him so much. Maybe the giant carrion birds would stop stalking him. He sees them sometimes swooping below the bile colored sky waiting for him to die.
Underground it will be something else that gets to feast on him when he dies, not that he would make much of a feast these days. He is no more than skin and bones.
Baby gives him a jealous nudge to the ribs.
He shrugs in response.
Weight is not all he has lost in this world.
His mind jumps to thoughts of his stunner and Sebastian almosts tears up. He wants to go back and see if maybe he can grab it. Maybe other things would be useful here also, but most importantly he just wants his things. Maybe it’s not too late. He hasn’t seen another person on the surface in months. Maybe his stuff was still there. He knew the worms wouldn’t touch his belongings and the dogs would only sniff through them, he had no food and what smelled like him he wore in layers on his back and legs. His bag only had the tools he found and that baby would let him keep.
Baby shifts on his back. He knows her patience is crumbling and her ever present smile presses against the back of his neck. Her beautiful white gleaming teeth spread ever so slightly as she whispers, “go,” into his ear.
He sighs, his gaze shifting to the black opening in front of him. The entrance to the underground is available through a small crack in the rippled road.
He slips through the opening and stops, fear echoing through his body. The atmosphere suddenly feels cold and stale. His skin tightens. The muscles in his back and upper legs begin to ache before he realizes he is standing in a total body clench. It’s like he is being forced to dive into a cold black pool of water.
He tries to take a deep breath and it catches in his lungs. The air tastes of mold, rot, and chemicals that make him want to vomit. He fights against gagging sure if he allows his stomach the option it would empty its contents on the ground in front of him.
Besides the caloric waste, worm eggs are much better in than out, plus who knows what down here would appreciate the mess and come looking.
He feels frozen in place until Baby nudges him with a bony patella in the ribs and he has no choice but take one step then another.
Before he knows it he has passed the debris that is the entrance. He remembers it as it was. It kind of had a rounded fifties vibe to it like it was attempting to blend into a Morningside Heights that gentrified many decades before.
How dare it.
Maybe the universe has disdain for things that try to be what they are not and the world was punished. Maybe humans were just animals meant to crawl through muck and debris scratching out an existence.
Like humanity the entrance all but collapsed. The remains are a neat little ramp that feeds into the broken street. He walks down into the what he thinks of as a basement. His footsteps are hollow against the cracked asphalt. Baby jangles with the movement as he works himself down the rubble. He navigates steel beams, twisted wires and piles of fresh dung, from what animal he can only guess.
The bones slapping against each other make Sebastian nervous, “Can you stop?’ he begs.
Baby does not answer. He waits a few seconds just on the cusp of the tunnel at the foot of the ramp. He listens for signs he might have a stalker lurking out in the dark. The answer to his concern is a hollow whisper of hot air from the surface. If a predator awaits him in the dark it does so completely silent.
“Go!” Baby demands with a sharp command.
Startled he pushes on into the blackness in front of him.
In moments he is swallowed by the pitch and the sounds of his feet hitting the naked dust covered cement is impossible to quiet. He stops, aware of his breath and of his heart beating the inside of his chest as if trying to escape the stupidity of being down here.
“l don’t think this is wise Baby,” he whispers in a quiet hiss.
“No one asked you,’ baby’s voice says back unconcerned for silence. “Just go you fucking pussy.”
He wants to argue, but knows it’s useless, Baby always wins, so he takes another step followed by another then a third and before he knows it his eyes have adjusted to the dark and he can easily navigate the rusting and useless lines of track and tented beams holding up the street above.
He hears the click of claws on the broken cement ground. The shuffling of dust and debris. In the deep dark he thinks maybe he can see the glow of green eyes. Maybe a snuffle.
Sebastians stomach begins to ache. He holds his hand over the lump. It feels hot and throbbing.
Under his fingers it seems to ripple.
Then he is sure it does.
Like a mouth stretching with a yawn.
Baby nudges him with her heels. The bones are sharp and dig perfectly at the soft spot in front of his hips. He feels like neighing in response, but this isn’t the time, or place for a joke.
He stumbles forward the pain in his lump growing worse but the snuffle is replaced by a low growl and he is distracted from his discomfort.
He wants the angry growl to be a trick of the darkness. That maybe it’s not really there. Maybe it’s the sounds of his own feet or breathing or heart beat. Deep inside his lizard brain though he knows the truth, a predator has caught his scent and there is nowhere to hide.
What is death when life is so painful?
He has been prepared for years.
Maybe even would have done it himself, but he doesn’t like heights.
He stops and holds perfectly still. If he is being hunted and there is a thing out there in the dark slinking around watching him and waiting to make a safe meal out of him, he isn’t going to walk right into its mouth.
Then he hears a sound that makes him even more scared then the idea of a potential predator lurking out in the dark.
Over the rush of the blood pressure in his ears the sound of a phone ringing rends the air.
It says, “Bring!” echoing down the tunnel. In the small silence that follows he hears the running of something large bounding away.
“Bring!” the phone brays again.
He looks off into the dark and thinks he sees where the noise is coming from.
Tripping over the stones and cracks and rubbish by his feet he scrambles into the black of the underground.
“Bring!” it calls.
As he gets closer he sees a phone booth, like the ones that would stand on the occasional New York City street corner before being replaced by information and charging kiosks. The ones that at one point were everywhere, but eventually dwindled down to a few broken down stand alones with small walls separating banks of three.
It was a law or something that dictated there must be pay phones available. Sebastian never had anyone to call so he never used them. Rumor was they never worked.
“Bring!” the phone screams into the dark as he nears the upside down relic. Twists of long thick wires stretch from the top like an uprooted tree system.
He spots the phone receiver on the floor by his feet.
He picks it up. A long snaking metal cord hangs from the end brushing loose against the ground.
“Bring!” the ringing is louder with the receiver in his hand.
He holds it to his ear. The plastic is cold. It feels wets and dusty at the same time.
He doesn’t hear any sound coming from the thing and thinks to put it down and continue on this insane underground mission Baby has set them on.
“BRING!” it screams into his ear.
“Jesus fuck me what?” he yells into the receiver, shocked.
“Hello! I am calling on behalf of Home Security experts. May I speak to Sebastian, please?” says a happy voiced man.
“Speaking,” Sebastian replies more calmly than he feels.
“Sir I am afraid I have some news. Are you sitting down?”
“That’s good, very good, because sir, things are about to get pretty funky.”