The next time she opened her eyes, it was night. Once again, when she woke up it was sudden and unnerving. For a second she thought she was somewhere else, because all she could see was big shadowy girders and nice, even rows of huge rivets. Then she sat up and looked around, and things became more familiar, at least from photographs she'd seen. She was sitting in the middle of a bridge, a big bridge that could carry at least four lanes of traffic.
She had seen bridges like this in newspaper pictures and on television, but that hadn't prepared her for how enormous everything was. It was as if this bridge had been built by and for giants. The lanes for traffic seemed ridiculously wide, the girders enormous, but she thought it was probably just because she'd never been in a city before.
She got to her feet and walked to the edge and looked over at the water. This must have been where she'd woken up the first time, lying at the edge and looking over, without being aware that she was on the bridge. Of course, this didn't explain where she was, or why, or how, but at least it was one question answered.
She looked around a little more, walking slowly across the pavement toward the center of the bridge. At one end of the bridge she could see the lights of a city. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of lights. Most were white, but all other colors were represented as well, some glowing steadily and many others blinking or flickering. She stared at the lights for a long time, moving slowly across the roadway to see the parts of the skyline which were blocked by the dark shapes of the big uprights of the bridge.
Then she turned, expecting an equally intoxicating view in the other direction, but she saw only blackness. The contrast was so striking that she had to glance back over her shoulder to make sure the lights were still there. She remembered a comedy routine she'd heard once, about urban planners who'd accidentally built a bridge in the wrong direction, so that it stopped in the middle of the ocean.
It slowly occurred to her that the bridge probably did go somewhere, even if it was somewhere dark, and she was probably inviting trouble by standing in the middle of a lane of traffic. She looked around, though, and didn't see any cars, in fact she saw nothing moving anywhere.
She walked across the white lines toward the center of the bridge, looking across at the two lanes of pavement on the other side. No traffic there, either. She looked down between the two strips of macadam and saw rows of railroad tracks in the gloom down below. So, this bridge carried trains as well as cars, only it didn't seem to be carrying either at the moment.
It was cold and rather windy in the middle of the bridge, and she put her hands in her pockets. She looked down, startled. They were pockets, but they weren't really her pockets, because they were in a leather jacket, and she'd certainly never owned a leather jacket. There were streetlights at intervals along the bridge and she moved closer to one in order to look at her clothes.
Black leather motorcycle jacket, black T-shirt, tight jeans and high-top sneakers. She wished she had a mirror, she looked like her mother's worst nightmare. It was probably just as well she didn't have a mirror just then, though, or she would have found out about her ears.
Well, she thought, it was probably time to get off the bridge. She looked in both directions, but it wasn't much of a contest. She started toward the lights, coming off the top of the bridge and walking down the gradual incline toward the city.
Vicki figured she was about halfway to the base of the bridge when a searchlight stabbed up at her, and a voice started yelling distorted but urgent-sounding instructions through a bullhorn.
Suddenly, a helicopter appeared over the side of the bridge and she heard gunfire. She wasn't sure if the shooting was coming from the helicopter or the ground, or both, but she didn't wait around to find out. Before she even consciously thought about it, she was running back up the slope toward the other side of the bridge. She heard engines behind her as she ran, and the helicopter now had a spotlight on her, but if there was anyone chasing her they didn't seem to be getting any closer as she topped the middle of the bridge and ran down the other side.
She was running so hard she felt like her feet were barely touching the pavement, then there was more gunfire from behind her and she veered toward the center of the bridge. She'd heard the sound of the train almost without being aware of it, and as the spotlight on the helicopter swung around, trying to keep focused on her, she looked down and saw the top of a train passing below her.
Before she could decide which choice was worse, her foot slipped and she fell from the roadway onto the top of the train, cracking knees and elbows on the dirty metal. She had a momentary thought that this wasn't going to turn out to be a dream after all, because she didn't think things in dreams were supposed to hurt this much.
She was in the center of the wide, sloped roof of the train, but as it slowed and then lurched into motion again, she realized how precarious her position was, and she flexed her fingers by reflex, trying to hold on. Belatedly, she realized that she had poked her fingers directly into the surface of the metal.
The train suddenly entered a tunnel and then screeched to a stop. She was grateful that there was enough room for her between the top of the train and the roof of the tunnel. There were no lights in the tunnel, the only illumination came from below her, from the windows of the train.
She took a deep breath and raised one hand to wipe the sweat from her forehead, sweeping her long black hair back off her face. Despite running as hard as she could from the helicopter, she wasn't particularly winded. She lay her hand down on the top of the train again, and her fingers slipped into the holes they had made before, rather like picking up a bowling ball.
This familiar image made her think. If this wasn't a dream, and her throbbing elbows and knees said that it wasn't, then where was she? She figured this must be some other country, where bridges are blocked by men with helicopters who shoot at unarmed teenage girls.
The train jerked into motion again and so, clinging to the top of a moving subway train, with her fingers sunk into the sheet metal, Vicki Wasserman, age 15, started her first night in the big city. And it is worth reporting that at no time did she wish she was back home again.
A tall, thin woman sat alone on a subway train, reading a magazine. She was quite absorbed in an article about the country she had recently returned from. One finger held a place further on in the magazine, though, where there was a fashion layout.
She herself was well-dressed, but was probably not about to be featured in any fashion layouts. She was tall and skeleton-thin, wearing a man's three-piece suit in a chocolate brown color, with a cream-colored shirt and tan tie. There was an ebony cane leaning against one of her long legs. Her face was narrow, dominated by large, thick eyeglasses. Her brown hair hung limply around her face.
Periodically, she would look around furtively to make sure nobody was watching, then she'd flip to the back of the magazine and look at the evening gowns being modeled there.
The train stopped and lurched into motion again. She glanced at the window opposite her and saw that they were now above ground. Her first thought was that she must have overshot her stop, and then her second thought was that it shouldn't have been so dark out yet. The water reflected the city lights below her, and she looked around at her fellow passengers. That was when she realized she was now alone in the car.
She was sure that the train stayed underground between where she'd got on and her destination. And, as she thought about it, she was sure she'd been on the train far longer than the twenty minutes it should have taken between those two stations. The article she'd been reading was not short, and she'd been almost to the end. That would have taken more than twenty minutes, even without the occasional peeks at the back pages.
The train went into another tunnel.
She felt acutely embarrassed and her gaunt frame seemed to crumple into itself. He always teased her about this, and here, her first subway ride in a year, and she'd done it again. She wondered if she should just stay on the train, get off at the last stop, change her name and stay there. But she could hear his voice reminding her that she was far too peculiar-looking to do this. She sighed and straightened up, putting the magazine down on the seat next to her. She frowned as she started going through her pockets in search of the directions he had given her.
Before she could find them, or even begin to frame a plausible excuse for all this, the train went aboveground again, though it was only the sudden reappearance of stars which told her so, since there were no lights from the big, dark shapes which she assumed were buildings as they slipped by.
Then the train stopped. She couldn't see a thing out the window, so she picked up her cane and limped to one of the doors. Cupping her hands around the sides of her face to screen out the lights from the car, she tried to see out. There were no lights visible but the vague shapes she could see gave her the idea that the train was stopped at a station. However, the doors weren't opening, and, even if they did, she wasn't sure she'd want to step out into a completely lightless platform.
Just as she was thinking that this wasn't the worst situation she'd ever been in, there was an explosion, quite nearby. She'd heard enough explosions of various kinds in the past year to know that this was a bomb, probably powerful enough to demolish a small building, or for that matter an elevated subway platform.
And then, as if emphasizing exactly how bad things could get, the lights in the subway car all went off.
(I just felt like posting this. If you want to know what happens next, go here.)
Add comment December 13th, 2010