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Crazy Man in the Subway
A short story
It’s too late to change direction.
Once a predator has locked onto you, running the other way rarely has the outcome you desire, especially when that predator is faster than you and so close you can feel their fetid, hot breath on your face. Even more so when there are two of them. I’ve seen many nature shows in which that was the last lesson the impala learned.
I don’t want to be the impala.
The hoodlums locked onto me are hungry, strong, agile, single-minded, alert, hostile, cunning, and dangerous. Their gray hoodies, lacerated black jeans, and dirt-entombed Nike’s are the perfect camouflage in this charcoal world.
They loiter at the bottom of the stairs, rocking on their toes, ready to pounce.
It’s 1:35 a.m., and I’m entering the IRT station at 116th Street, my mind numb and reflexes dim from an endless river of digits floating in and out of focus on a screen in my Office of Infinite Boredom. All of New York is tucked safely and securely in bed while I am alone at the entrance to a tunnel illuminated by the afterglow of fallen ghosts.
It’s just us, prey and predators.
Their breaths are discordant, air rushing by layers of fangs.
The taller one slides his hand into a pocket, a hand that can transform with the press of a button into a sharp, steel talon to slash and pierce my flesh. The other predator licks his lips, anticipating the spoils.
I have no defenses, only a soft underbelly. I am the perfect prey.
The cold concrete stairs sap heat from my body like I’d plunged into a frozen lake.
The predators ignore an enormous rat that emerges from a crack in the stairwell wall. The rat glances at them, twitches its whiskers, and retreats back into the hole, its scratchy footsteps swallowed by the rumble of a distant train.
The predators' intentions are clear, their will unstoppable, and my fate inescapable. They will take my wallet, watch, and life.
There is no ticking clock because the moment the predators saw me, my time was up.
An idea sparks my impala brain, an idea born out of nothingness, as explosive and monumental as the birth of the universe. Will it work, and will I live?
I jump, a wild, crazy, surreal dance. Not up and away from them because I would never escape. I leap down and over the steps, pirouetting through space as I fly toward them, a klutzy creature engaging the air.
My feet thunderclap onto the subway platform.
I spin around, raise my arms to the ceiling in a V-formation, and bellow, “Look at the moon! Moonbeams are what hold humans together.” I acknowledge the predators one at a time, opening my eyes wide, offering them a glimpse into my deranged mind. I wink with my left eye, then my right. “Moonbeams smell like mint and purr like kittens.”
With a shaking hand, one predator retracts his switchblade-talon, while the lips of the other tremble as if in an earthquake’s epicenter. The hunters hold their breath and step backward, afraid of confronting diseased prey, no doubt fearful they might catch the pathogen that infects me. Shoulders hunched, eyes locked on me lest I pounce on them, they retreat in a widening spiral. When they reach the stairs, they bolt; predators now the prey.
I board the subway toward home, confident I will survive.
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