<--Uptime | Park Ethereal | Downtime-->
Park Ethereal - Chapter 2
The door was the same, unsurprisingly. I opened it cautiously as always, but there was nothing there except darkness. When I found the bulb, by touch, and gave it a half turn, then there was light and my rucksack, still in its corner. I closed the door behind me. The ladder was cold, but I climbed it nonetheless, to the level immediately above my room. The floor was grating, such as you might find inside a ship, and appeared firm. The corridor extended away parallel with the tunnel in both directions as far as I could see, and appeared to be lit intermittently by pools of pale cyan fluorescent light.
At random, I turned uptown. The corridor was mostly unchanging, grimy, with no doors. Interestingly, I didn't pass any ladders leading down, although several led up at regular intervals. Nothing much interesting was to be seen until, two blocks or so later (it was difficult to tell) I hit an intersection. Another corridor extended itself west for several hundred feet, terminating in what might, in the gloom, have been a wall, and to the east a corridor stretched into the darkness. I turned west, and after only twenty-five feet found a door.
Curious and with not much to lose, I tried the knob. Unlocked, it turned reluctantly but silently and opened inward, to show a short room created by the door frame and another, identical one a few feet further down. Its door was closed as well. I stepped in, and examined the door I'd come through. I found that it had a fairly standard key lock, with a push knob on the outside (the tunnel side) to allow one to unlock it. I pushed the knob, and the inner handle turned. Allowing it to click closed, I tested it once-and it opened. Turning my attention to the inner door, I found that as I suspected, I was locked with the keyhole facing me. It seemed a backward way to design a security system, but I didn't care. Trying the door produced no result, and I began to inspect the frame. There was a slight draft from around the edges of the door, which suggested that it led somewhere other than the tunnel system.
A muffled crescendo of mechanical physics announced the passage of a train through the tunnels behind and below me. I was just about to turn and give up the door as a bad job, when I noticed the thin wire hanging from the latch area. I examined it, and found that it had a handle; a bit of broom stick I had thought was just lying on the floor. The wire led between the door and frame and out of sight. Experimentally, I pulled the stick.
There was some slack, and then the wire went taut, with a hint of give at the end. I pulled sharply, and with a ker-chunk, the door opened. I swung it wide, and found that the wire led to a push-bar opener on the far side. Stepping through, I placed the wire outside the frame, and shut the portal carefully. Obviously not the first one through this door. Straightening, I turned to face my new troglodytic world, and found myself facing instead a long narrow corridor with concrete walls that rose to a dizzying height- perhaps twenty feet- above my head before arcing into a ceiling barely visible between the glare of the hanging high-watt incandescents lighting my way. The walls, however, were only about forty inches apart, and the resulting squeeze made me feel like a rat in a maze. I caught myself before I looked up instinctively, telling myself that if I could, indeed, see a large disembodied face floating above me, I probably didn't want to.
Setting off down the corridor, I moved perhaps a hundred feet before turning a corner, the first change in scenery. The corner opened into a wide open area, with concrete stairs up one side and a large closed metal garage door which all added up to 'loading dock.' It was deserted, however, and I tried three of the four exits before finding the washroom. Smiling, I dove for the faucet, and washed what I was able before re-emerging into the dock area and wondering, a bit belatedly, where everyone was. It was, after all, only the afternoon of a Monday in New York City, and one would expect that a facility such as this would be in high gear, so as to avoid paying workers the overtime they would undoubtedly collect if the operation was run after five.
I listened at the metal door, but could hear nothing. The other exits I had tried had all led to empty, deserted rooms of bare concrete, and all that remained to try was the door at the top of the concrete stairs across the way. I moved towards it, suddenly aware of the large number of bulbs which didn't appear to be working. This didn't penetrate until I had reached the top of the stairs and eased open the door by pushing the bar release. It was dark outside.
Surprised, I poked my head through and could see nothing further. I tried the door handle, and found that the door did not seal (a bit of needed luck, as I had nothing to wedge it with) and continued through into yet another area of the urban underground.
Silence. Well, not quite; the far-off rumble of traffic which, as I listened, appeared to be coming from above me. As I listened, there was a vibration, more felt than heard, which reminded me of my primary dwelling's proximity.
Looking around, the picture became clear. An unfinished, or more likely, unrented tower, with a sub-basement, ramp-access loading area. Now unused. Grinning, I ran across the empty cavern of the basement until I located a stairway, and climbed back up from the depths to emerge from a construction site (idle, Lord knew why) on Fifty-seventh street between Park and Madison.
Whistling, I turned downtown towards the bench as another small piece of New York fell neatly into place in the dismally incomplete map in my head, and I felt, for the first time that day, as if something in the world might actually be under my influence.
The bench was cold, and I shivered a bit waiting for dark. As soon as it came, however, I rose from my vantage point, and walked a block and a half uptown, to the middle of the block between Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth. There I crouched against a building, smiling hopefully at passers-by, and waited the nine hours until midnight alternately sleeping and smiling. Come the witching hour, I found that to my surprise I had taken in seven dollars and change, enough to keep me eating for a couple days if used frugally.
It was twelve-thirty that I was interested in, and it came, tripping rhythmically along the watch dial until suddenly there was a strange silence, and for a brief moment, there were no pedestrians or vehicles in sight, and I knew, knew she was coming even before I heard the measured click of heels on pavement south of me, and was instantly as awake as possible, watching the pillars of steam which obscured my view downtown. The steps moved faster, and then she was running, you could tell from the scraping paradiddle of boot heels and I was standing, in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting, as she burst through the steam, still looking over her shoulder and thus unable to see me. I spread my arms, shouting wait, wait and was bracing myself for the impact as she neared me, turned her head to see me, screamed and came apart, falling with the disjointed glide of unconsciousness as limbs tried to go their own separate ways, and I jumped forward as she came apart again, this time literally, into wisps of steam and tricks of light that I couldn't touch but tried to anyway and barely missed catching myself before hitting pavement. I rolled over frantically, but she was still gone, and in terror so was I, pushing myself backwards instinctively before getting to my feet still moving and almost falling on my face with only the digging of my heels keeping me upright by forcing my feet ahead of my torso.
I shouted wordlessly all the way to Thirtieth street before I collapsed against the side of a building and panted great wheezing gulping moans of air, my head against the wall underneath my right arm, looking left downtown at the steam clouds from which I'd fled in terror of the unknown.
Somewhere in the night, a patch of air was burst asunder by the groaning steel impact of a train rushing past to trumpet its dominance to the world through subharmonic vibrations of the city's bones and thence to mine.
Falling, I noticed with remarkable calm how very clear the sky was, and that there was still no one in sight before my vision switched off and my awareness followed it half a second later.
The first sensation that returned was, interestingly, not pain, or sight, or even sound. It was the overpowering realization that my toes were cold. I cranked open one eye to find that I was lying on my back, and the world was dark. I tried to lift my head to look at the frigid digits, but was rewarded with a gold bar of pain across my skull and neck for my efforts, so bad that even letting my head slam back down onto the ground didn't make an appreciable difference. I groaned, I suppose; I'm not sure. After listening to my heart beating for several minutes, I tried again. This time, braced for the pain, I managed to force my head up enough to see that my left foot was shoeless. I rolled over on my left elbow and looked about me, to find that I was in someplace dark that smelled of steel and water. It took me three seconds to recognize the Grand Central tunnel system, although I was in a place I didn't immediately recognize. You have to go down there to know what I mean; looking out the window of a train just doesn't convey how big the damn place is. And there's two levels of it, also. At least, two levels of tracks that I've found, not to mention those mysterious corridors I'd been traipsing about in earlier.
Nothing happened for all of five minutes, except for my dry-heaving into the darkness from the pain and nausea that struck me. Then I became aware of a singing noise, and was so bleary that it took a half-minute more to recognize the sound that rails make when a train is approaching. The stereo effect, I realized a split second later, was because I was lying between the rails in question. Horrified, I twisted around to see the glow of headlights approaching from down the tunnel, and they were moving, too, perhaps thirty miles an hour or so. I scrambled to my feet and lost ten seconds realizing that I was on a track next to the wall and had to go the other way. As I was struggling to get off towards the clear space next to the track (where, thank God, there didn't appear to be a third rail) the world went reddish in a long, booming wail, which proved to be the indignant horn of the Metro-North Monster at close range. As I rolled clear, it blasted past me, compressed air tearing at my clothes from the brake systems, and the flickering of lighted windows seven or eight feet above me catching my eye as I rolled to put my back to it and shield my head from the gravel that was flying about.
I didn't realize I was sobbing until the train had passed and it was (relatively) quiet once again. Then I lay in a near-fetal position and cried for a few minutes, in despair for what the world was doing to me. I had no idea how I'd gotten into the Tunnels from Thirtieth street. I knew I'd lost it on Thirtieth; I remembered looking up at the street sign to see how far I had come from Ellyn's disappearance. For me to be where I was, which judging by the clip the train had been traveling at had to be at least in the Seventies somewhere, meant I had traveled around fifty blocks and gotten underground. I didn't think I had walked in a stupor; the pain in my head and nausea didn't seem to indicate that I could have made that much progress even if unaware. Struck, incongruously perhaps, by the chill on my toes, I cast about for my shoe. I found it a few moments later, and it wasn't until I had put it on and laced it that I realized that it had been sitting on one of the rails which the train I had just escaped had been riding on.
In terror, I looked about, but saw no-one. I struggled to my feet and began to stagger downtown, looking wildly around, but again, there was nothing to be seen except the tunnels. They weren't any help.
Eventually, I reached my bolt-hole, and was especially paranoid for the last few meters before reaching it. If there was someone or something messing with my life, I certainly didn't want them/it to know about the bolt-hole. I wondered, for a fleeting fraction of a second, where the hell that word came from before slipping through the door and collapsing against my rucksack, still in the corner. I think I passed out again; I'm not sure. When I next looked up, nothing had changed, but I felt slightly better. I must have slept a bit. Rousing, I made my way up the ladder to the loading dock washroom to wash myself. There was a mirror, and although I couldn't feel any damage on the back of my head, I checked as best as I was able, and found nothing. Some small comfort.
Eventually, I found myself sitting in the bolt-hole, wondering a) what time it was and b) what the hell to do next. That occupied a fruitless half hour before frustration at inaction set in, and I found myself ambling down the tunnels towards the Main Lobby for lack of anything better to do. I was still a bit too fuzzy to try to figure out what the hell had happened to me, exactly, and it promised to be warmer in the Main Lobby, besides. The temperature in the tunnels had dropped a bit, and I had been a bit chilly ever since waking up in the tunnels.
A purpose reached out and grabbed me as I was about halfway down the platform towards the Lobby. I dodged irate commuters (what time was it, anyway?) and tried to figure out what this eager tension was, and how it came to me, and most important, exactly what it was that I felt I had to do. The answer came as I realized the source of the drive; the music that curled over the raised end of the platform and down the ramp towards the trains and me. Saxophone notes dipped in chocolate and sprayed lightly with vodka wafted down to me, and I quickened my pace. Bursting into the Lobby, I found him in the same place, still playing the sax for the commuters around him.
I pushed through the ring of folks standing about the bank wall, and caught myself just before rushing up to him and grabbing his shoulders to blurt out my story. He saw me arrive and grind to a halt, and smiled at me slightly and nodded once while playing his horn at the ceiling. I deliberately padded over to the wall and sat down, my back against the (marble? Granite?) and waited, closing my eyes. My legs crossed, I found myself swaying slightly to the music, and I realized I felt better than I had since the shower at Kelly's. I simply sat there and waited for the swim through musical liqueur to reach a sugared shore, but before it did, I fell asleep.
When I awoke, it was to the smell of something hot, something I hadn't tasted in many a day, something...chocolate. I pried one eye open to investigate and found a steaming cup of hot cocoa about three inches under my nose. I followed the hand that held it and came up to the face of the saxophone player, split in an almost comical grin. He was squatting in front of me, holding the chocolate in one hand and a pastry of some sort in the other. I lifted my head back so it was against the wall and smiled. He proffered the food.
I still wasn't quite coherent. "Morning?"
"Ten thirty. Take the cup, son."
Levering myself to a true sitting rather than slouching position, I did as he had said, and my hands were warmed by the dark liquid inside. I took the pastry with one hand, and he sat next to me. Holding the pastry in my mouth, I began scrabbling in my pocket, but he stopped me with a hand on my arm. "I didn't buy it, so don' pay me none for it neither." He adjusted himself against the wall. "Man waiting for the ten twenty eight wanted to know if'n you was hungry, and if you was with me. I says I didn't know if you's hungry, but that I knew you. Got us both some brek." I noticed that beside him was also a cup and pastry. He picked it up, examined it with infinite satisfaction, and bit into the...cruller? with great care. I watched him chew for a moment, thinking how good that looked, before remembering mine, and taking a bite. Sugar. Ahhhh. The half-forgotten taste hit so suddenly my salivary glands ached with the effort of spinning solution for the feast.
The cruller (what a word.) lasted for about a minute and a half of freshness, and then I was left licking my fingers for the smear of confectioner's sugar there. Reverently, I drank the cocoa, wondering idly how many calories of nutrition and how many calories of heat the cup contained, and how long it would be before they slipped between the pores of my skin into the New York winter. All the answers I came up with were depressing, so I concentrated on the dark residue of chocolate at the bottom of the cup, straining to reach it with my tongue before it, too, cooled as my satisfaction had.
My companion was just finishing his 'brek', and rubbed his chin in what I thought was an appreciative manner. "You're a lost 'un," he said finally, before turning his head back to drain the last hopeful sip of cocoa from his paper gourd.
"You can always tell," he continued thoughtfully, "by the eatin'. I been set down next to by reporters, curious folks who dressin down fer the day. Even when they remember not to wash them clothes, even when they's able to lie on a floor without changing their face, you can tell, 'cause they don't notice when they're eatin'. They don't remember ev'ry time's a gift of God, and they bolt it down like their mammas told them not to. Nobody says Grace anymore, and them that do don't say it with the eatin' like it's supposed to be said. They say it with their mouths, but not their hunger and their stomachs. My momma tol' me Grace's supposed to be said when you're so hungry you can't bear it no more, and then you says it so God knows you're not an animal, and that you can hold off the eatin' till you's said your piece to Him. Then Grace means something." He rearranged his legs to a more comfortable position, and stretched as he did so. His sax rested at his feet in its home of velvet and nylon plastic, and he patted it absently. I regarded him curiously, and thought how peculiar it was that no one had ever told me to seek wisdom in the subway.
"Hey, last time I saw you, you said...what's your name, anyhow?"
He looked at me sharply over an imaginary pair of glasses. "Don't matter. Yours don't."
I stopped, shaken, and then realized he was perfectly right and continued. "Last time I saw you, you told me about...the Angel. Who is she? Have you seen her? What's known about her? Was she..." An upraised hand halted my interrogative babble.
"Whoa. Slow yerself. She's the Angel, is all. She's been 'round for, oh, least fifteen years. That's when I first heard of her."
"Have you ever seen her?"
"Yep. First time, years ago, in Madison Square Park, when I was trying to sleep without freezin'. That where you seen her, eh?" I nodded quickly, once. "Yeah. She don't move much from her favorite spot. You chase her, ever? Yeah? Yeah. We all did, I guess. She run from you, like all the others, and you chase her, and then one day you realize you never going to catch her. She gone, like Legba in the night in the city. Gone. Nobody there 'tall."
"Who is she, though?"
"Nobody know. Could be ghost. Could be demon. Could be dream. Usually, though, you see her, it means something serious goin' to happen to you. Me, it was I found this baby" -he patted the sax again- "at a bus stop. Twelve years. Jes' sittin' there on the ground, and I opened the case, hoping it was something I could hock for a meal or five, and there it was. Never touched one till then, jes' started playing in the tunnels for my own time, and finally put a cap out, and here I am."
"And you saw her right before that?"
"Mm-hm. Last time, right before I find the sax. Now, I guess, she feel I don't need her no more."
"What did she do when you first saw her?" I was facing him fully now, hungry for this, the first actual information I had had about the whole crazy thing since the beginning. He was oblivious, quite obviously still seeing her behind his eyes as he related all of it to me.
"Oh, what she always do. She walked past, and then she ran, and then she was gone. Always the same. Every time. No different. Every time for fifteen years or so I guess."
"You ever chase her?"
He looked sharply at me again, and I felt his curiosity behind the restraint. "Once. Didn' catch her though." He didn't ask the question, and I felt that meant I didn't need to volunteer the answer. His gaze swept back to the clean gleaming bottles behind the bar of the Café at Grand Central, across the lobby and up one level. We sat in companionable silence for a moment or so, before he levered himself up.
"Gots to keep warmed up. If'n I stop, takes 'bout an hour or so to git goin' again." He reached for the sax and sighed once before straightening, and with a last nod at me, and a friendly smile, he said "Stop by, son. Lonely out here."
I stood, brushed myself off, and said seriously, "Yep." He played; I departed. I left the station, up the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance for no other reason than to pass the Café and see if I could see what it was he had seen in the bottles, but they simply stared ahead unwinking and every so often quietly and birdlike regurgitated their crop to the waiting mouths of the commuters.
It was cold outside, much as I had expected. I turned downtown, heading once again for Madison Square. I was beginning to hate the route, more from boredom than anything else. I avoided Madison avenue; walked for Park and slogged homewards in the unblinking shadow of the Park Avenue bypass roadway.
The bench was much as I'd left it. I wondered what indeed could change a city bench short of destruction; even paint seemed to fall a bit short of altering that implacable wood and metal stare. I sank down onto the benchfor a moment, then wondered what I was going to do for the day. It was around eleven fifteen; I had twelve hours, plus, before anything might happen.
He'd found the sax.
That had changed his life, his world.
Nothing, so far, had changed mine, at least for the better.
Nothing happened for at least an hour.
Death by freezing, they say, is numbing, you don't feel a thing. Indeed, I had been close and not felt anything. This time was different; I felt nausea as my shivering passed the point of my control, and still I was unwilling to rise. I wondered where Officer Kelly was, but he did not appear, and I finally began trying to convince myself that action was the best plan.
"If you don't move you'll freeze, you know."
"Would that hurt?" it was asked reasonably.
"No." Thoughtfully. "It'd solve a lot of problems."
"Still," -equally as serious- "George Lucas might one day make the first or seventh movie. And you'd miss that."
"Is Star Wars really enough of a reason to stay around here?"
"Possibly. What was the line? 'Ad hoc, ad loc and quid pro quo-"
"-so little time, so much to know.' Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D. pronounced Phud, the Nowhere Man."
"As you are now." "I'm in Madison Square park, in New York City, in the United States of America, on Planet Earth." A woman passing looked at me strangely with that contempt/pity/fear look that New Yorkers get so much practice throwing. We smiled at her, and it took several seconds to realize that there was only one of us on the bench. When it sank in, I leapt to my feet with hands still in pockets and began to stomp around determinedly.
"I am not" -stomp- "going to freeze" -stomp- "and let the damn Citywin" -stomp stomp- "at least until I know what the FUCK IS GOING ON!" The last shout slapped roughly back at me from placid concrete visage and silica smile, to rush past me free into the day, turned loose on the world. I sighed, and turned uptown where it was warmer in the tunnels-
-and there she was, in full daylight, looking at me in terror, just turning to run uptown. Checking my muscles by main force, I stood my ground, and said, calmly and clearly, "No."
It must have worked, she didn't run but turned back to me slightly, looking inquisitive through her fear. "That's the problem, isn't it? We all want you. We chase and chase and you run like any woman would, even though you smile when you go by. No, no, no." I turned and sat down on the bench and stared fixedly at the building across the street. I didn't breathe, though; I couldn't muster that kind of calm. I didn't even look towards her, so I felt more than saw or heard her return hesitantly and sit beside me on the bench. After thirty seconds, and not at all sure if I wanted her to be there, I turned my head slowly. She had been looking across the street as I was, but had turned her head when I did, and we looked at each other over the unimaginable gulf of maybe forty inches. There was a silence, and without looking around I knew, knew that there was no one in sight, no cars, no nothing, and that was flatly impossible given where we were sitting. Or, at least, given where I had sat down a few moments earlier.
She was silent as well. I still had my hands in my pockets, afraid, perhaps, that she would bolt like the quivering animal she reminded me of if I so much as withdrew them. We looked at each other for a few moments, then she carefully turned her head back towards the court building. "So you trust me." She didn't answer or indeed acknowledge my voice, but she had heard.
"So what's my story? What will I get? A sax? A job? A second chance? What? My name?" I stopped, overcome with a sudden urge to shake her, which was silly. The mere thought of my identity had awakened a longing for a place, but even as I restrained myself, she turned back towards me, and I knew that even if she knew it, she wouldn't tell me. I nodded wearily and studied Dachau again. There was some more silence, and I wondered how long she or whatever could hold all of New York in abeyance for this conversation. I felt them, all of them, the cars, the people, the buses, the subways, all pushing at the linen walls that held them back from view in the crowded realm of the imagination. Soon, I knew, I knew, the wall would tear, minutely, and there would be an enormous shredding sound as a rent that would swallow all that is Manhattan would open and the City would pour forth in unceasing mighty streams of reality which would wash Ellyn away as a lava flow would erase an iceberg, yet with more violence.
I shuddered, for the image and the chill, and again resisted an urge to turn to her. Looking at her face under its blonde cap, I suddenly reached one hand from my pocket to my shirt (she flinched and I only just held myself from reaching for her to reassure her) and pulled out her beret, which had nestled there ever since. I offered it to her, shyly, and she looked at it a moment before looking at me askance and taking it with a small brief dimpled smile that twisted my heart.
She got up, and reached out as if she might touch me, but stopped and instead turned her head away and looked off into the distance for a moment at nothing, and when she turned back there was a different expression on her face, one of stark terror. The sheer suddenness of the change caused fear to rise up in me like bile, followed by the warm flush of an adrenaline surge in my lower belly and back as I stared at her in confusion. She was still staring at me, at my face, intently, but she was shaking her head in small minute jerks, slowly, back and forth, refusing something. Her hand came up, once, and she once again almost touched my face before stepping backwards once, twice and before I could reach for her she turned and ran again, ran up Madison towards the Thirties like all of the Roaring Twenties were after her. Up off the bench in all of half a second after I got control of my body back, I lurched after her, yet another time, accelerating into a run towards the towers of steam. I called to her, but she didn't even look back. Running, I suddenly had a detached feeling that the back of her neck looked familiar as I ran along behind her, gaining slowly and my hands closed about her neck, choking off the scream that was trying to force its way past them as she crashed through the darkness and the columns floundering but unable to keep her feet as I pulled her backwards, bringing us both down in a smash of gravel and debris as balance yielded to us on our way down. I landed next to her, and turned to see her with her hand to her throat, terror in her eyes as she tried to scramble away from me. I reached out for her I reached out to herwith the snarl building in my throat ripping its way past my teeth and I caught her dress and pulled, the fabric ripping as she tumbled from her hands and knees to a prone position, screaming, screaming and I juddered to a halt in the middle of Madison avenue with my hands confusedly to my head and someone somewhere right behind me was screaming bloody murder bloody murder who, I realized with part of my awareness, might be me, as the world went away again in confusion and redness and I barely felt the pavement reach up and touch me lightly on the side of the head
and there was a long period of nothing
followed by a longer period of haziness punctuated by grinding roars of pain and destruction which I eventually recognized from experience as the cry of the homeward bound locomotive and I rolled over, feeling my stomach trying to retch but having nothing to throw out to the world, and found myself lying the center of the tunnel with tracks on either side of me. I moaned, with feeling, and levered myself far enough onto my side that when I dropped it was onto my back and turned my head to spit until my mouth was reasonably clear. There was silence, or as near as one can find silence in/under the City. After an eternity (five minutes?) I sat up slowly and rested my head in my hands. My clothes were intact and still on me; my limbs were but felt like they weren't, and my sanity I had no idea about but feared that it had been broken badly some time in the recent past. Light washed across me, and I watched the train approach with a sort of Zen calm, watched as it tore past me and rushed away down the tunnels of the urban underground. I stood up. Slowly.
I couldn't for the life of me tell where I was. I couldn't see light in either direction, which could mean that either I was too far from an end or that it wasn't daytime or both, and I couldn't tell if the trains that had passed had been slowing or accelerating. Which meant that I simply had to pick a direction and go, and hope I didn't end up walking to Ninety-Sixth and Park and have to walk home again. I shrugged, and smiled at the world, with teeth, and began to trudge down the tunnel.
I didn't want to think about the events of the recent...well, recent events. Other than being terribly confused about my role in the small drama which I had blundered into, I wasn't sure if it was a message, a warning, a punishment, or something indescribably worse than any of them, or simply a sign that I was indeed long past help.
The next train passed after perhaps two blocks of walking, and as it passed, I heard the ringing circular screech of brakes on steel. Since it had been going in the same direction, I assumed that meant that I was headed towards the station, and kept going. Eventually, I saw a familiar door on the side of the tunnel which had a familiar sign which was missing familiar letters, and I opened the door and stepped inside.
There was nothing there. No rucksack, no bulb, and not even and footprints in the patina of dust on the floor. There was a ladder up, in the same place. Confused, I went back outside and examined the wall. There was a light socket there, but it was firmly stapled to the wall and hung over the doorway. Muttering, I continued down the tunnel.
Surprisingly, the next sight was that of the platform at Track Twenty-Eight, which meant that that had indeed been my bolthole. I raised my head to the (ceiling) sky, and shouted "Oy!" at the top of my voice, in hopes that whoever was Doing This To Me would have mercy. I didn't think so, though, and when I had retraced my steps, a door with no light socket above it awaited me. I flung the door open with my heart pounding, and recoiled from the giant shape inside - a shadow thrown on the wall from the rucksack sitting on the floor next to the brightly burning bulb. I collapsed against the wall after shutting the door and stared about me for a few minutes, unable to muster up any more animate action than that. I realized that although I still felt...unwell, I was extremely tired, and helplessly, I curled up to go to sleep.
I was awakened by my bladder, and after sleepily staggering out into the tunnels, I relieved myself against a wall some twenty yards down. I was struck by the dark color of my urine, and thought about it for several seconds before realizing that it meant I was dehydrated. Which might explain the headache and general sticky feeling. Returning to the bolthole, I moved upstairs to the loading dock and performed ablutions. On returning, the high walls of the access corridor leaned over my head. I couldn't tell if they were being friendly or threatening, so I stuck my tongue out at them and continued back into the tunnels.
When I reached the corridor paralleling the tracks and one level above my home (strange, to think of something as home) I paused and took stock. For lack of a better term, I mentally dubbed the corridor Troglodyte Way and looked around the intersection. Right and downtown would bring me back to the bolthole; back would bring me to the construction site, and I had not yet explored the other two options. Uptown looked much the same as downtown, but east looked dark and foreboding. Very few of the light bars in at direction were functional, and left watery pools which were the exception rather than the rule.
"I need," I announced to the darkened arteries of the world above, "a flashlight." There was no answer, and the words were muffled by the darkness and heavy weight of the manmade mountains above until they seemed no more than a fleeting wisp of imagination, even as I finished speaking. I turned deliberately and walked back downtown towards the station, but instead of stopping at the ladder leading down, I kept walking. The corridor was lit adequately, and continued on into the distance for as far as I could see. There wasn't even a rhythm of heels to pace myself with; my faded sneakers made barely any sound on the grating. I walked monotonously. I tried singing. There wasn't enough music in my voice to lift the dead zone of the world below from my shoulders. I felt it drape, a thick velvet cloak of the type you see worn in medieval period movies which drape over their wearer's shoulders in thick folds of black or green or rust or red or gray, with their soft fabric clinging in thick rich bends. I felt the silence shifting on my body as I walked, dragging slightly in the grime behind my feet. Still the words came from my mouth-
"-on the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two double A's, and a Maglite in a pear tree. On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three red flares, two double A's and a Maglite in a pear tree. On the-" and on and on. Eventually I wearied of forming the words and resorted to shouting melodies, settling down finally to belting out the chorale from Ludwig's Ninth, which sounded appropriately subterranean.
After many blocks, and no more ladders, the corridor ended, as corridors usually seem to, in a door. The door was scuffed with grime, and there was a large red and white warning stripe underneath the grime on top of the paint on the middle of the door. I tried the handle; open. I swung the door, and stepped through without looking (in fact with my eyes tightly shut. It seemed appropriate. Somewhere Schrödinger nodded in appreciation of this application of the cat to self-preservation) and nothing happened, save that the door clicked to behind me. I turned and opened my eyes to find that there was no handle on this side; merely a smooth metal surface with a keyhole. Turning with my eyes open at last, surrendering my limbo state, I found myself in an equipment room of some sort. There were grimy outfits and shovels and pickaxes and hammers and buckets of bolts (no kidding) and spikes and other train-type hardware and helmets and boots.
No flashlight, of course.
I tried some of the boots on, and finally found a pair that fit appreciably well and weren't clunky enough to look totally out of place beneath my jeans or inhibit running, which I seemed to have been doing a lot of recently. There was only one other door to the room, and shrugging, I took it.
The hallway was done in aged marble, which was reassuring, as so are all the public areas of Grand Central. I looked left and right, startled by theemptiness, and found that I was just a few feet to the west of the Main Lobby, and could in fact see it from where I stood. The door I had exited from also had closed impenetrably, but I didn't really mind. I had cached my sneakers inside, on the off chance that I might need them again some day, and turned to clunk my way into the Main Lobby.
Just to the South of the Main Lobby is the Waiting Room, or at least a large closed off space that used to be the Waiting Room before They got Their hands on it. Now, its simply a corridor from the Main Lobby to Park Avenue with construction plywood on either side painted so as not to look too shabby and to tell you, apologetically, that it will grace your sight for some time to come. There was some sort of commotion happening in this artificial corridor; there were raised voices and that peculiar clanking that the equipment belts that New York cops carry make when they run or are exerting themselves. Batman, move over; I've seen some of the stuff they have in there and wonder how they ever catch anyone with all that stuff hanging off them.
The clock above the Information Booth stated proudly that it was four twenty-eight. I didn't know what day, but the windows which looked proudly if wearily onto Vanderbilt and Lex and Park told me that that was an A.M. figure.
That, at least, explained the emptiness. I shuffled my way across the lobby, finding that it made less noise, and plunked my body down against the still lit Chemical Bank building to watch the room for a few minutes. The time meant that my errand would have to wait.
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