An excerpt from
I took a seat by the window. It never made sense that underground trains had windows, and it made even less sense that I thought my proximity to one might improve the quality of my final journey.
The car filled up pretty quickly. Some people chose not to sit for whatever reason. Perhaps when faced with death it’s best to be on your toes. But I wanted to be comfortable. If at all possible, I wanted to drift peacefully into unconsciousness and succumb to its sweet silence.
But I knew there were those less willing than I.
When we started to move I closed my eyes. It became all too real. My stomach twisted and my heart began racing. I tried to convince myself it was all right. Death was rest. Death was peace. It was just a moment and afterwards I’d be fine.
I opened my eyes. Holding onto one of the overhead rails near me was a vaguely familiar young man. “Laura Baily?”
I looked him over, trying to remember. “Do I know you?”
The way he looked at me was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was like he was dreaming, like everything around him was a little out of focus and he wasn’t quite sure how he’d gotten there.
“Uh, yeah, we…we went to school together years ago,” he stammered. “Will Noble?”
Well, someone had aged beautifully. We must have been in fifth grade the last time I saw him. I hardly recognized him as petrified as he was, but I couldn’t really blame him. I wondered how he’d ended up on my train so young. He’d always seemed so well adjusted.
“Yeah, I remember you.”
He smiled, seeming slightly more at ease. “You should. We were only best friends.”
It didn’t feel right smiling on the train. Just speaking felt wrong, but I wasn’t going to ignore him.
“As I recall, you were best friends with everyone.”
He nodded. “True. But I’m sure you were my favorite. Can I sit with you?”
I scooted closer to the window. “Be my guest.”
I had wanted my last moments to be for isolated contemplation. I’d thought I could use the train ride to mentally prepare myself for whatever came next. Will seemed to have had another idea. He sat down in the seat next to me.
“So,” he began, “we’re heading out.”
“Yes, we are,” I said quietly, hoping we weren’t disturbing anyone.
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. That was totally what I needed to hear as we sped off towards certain death.
“Only when you draw attention to it,” I muttered a little too harshly.
He looked at me. “I’m not trying to make this hard, honestly. I just don’t know what to talk about.”
“You want to talk?” I glanced around at the other passengers. They were expressionless, all facing their respective versions of forward and not meeting anyone’s eyes.
“Well, yeah. What have you been up to?”
I choked out a bitter laugh. “Obviously not enough.”
He stared at me for a moment. “Okay, I get it. I’ll just shut up.” He sat back and turned away from me. He didn’t look right that way. I remembered him as the happiest kid in school. He was always smiling and joking. It killed me to see that part of him die.
I sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ve been doing mediocre work in the artist community and dabbling in exploring the other options. What about you?”
He gave me a sideways glance, deciding whether or not my attitude was worth his trouble. “To use your terms, I’ve been dabbling in law. I wanted to get into enforcement.”
“Like a cop?”
“Apparently the preferred term is keeper of the peace. I thought it’d be cool to patrol the city in my uniform of authority, keep people in line, inspire justice.” He shrugged, but I could tell he was trying to impress me. Oddly enough, it was sort of working.
“Wow. Sounds like you’ve got a hero complex.”
He chuckled nervously. “You have no idea. Anyway, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. A lot wasn’t meant to be.”
It was so much worse for people who actually had a life to lose. Will had found his calling, and it was a wonderful, necessary calling too. Tickets were only supposed to be sent to people who didn’t contribute much after a considerable opportunity to do so. Will was still so young. Why hadn’t they given him a chance?
“My mom says it’s not the end,” I said quietly. “She says it’s another chance to find what we’re meant for.” I didn’t know why I said that. Giving people false hope was the last thing I wanted to do.
“I wish I could believe that,” he said. He turned to me and spoke softly. “Laura, we’re dying. Maybe death is beautiful; I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I had a good life. And right now, I can’t imagine finding something better when we get to the terminal. This feels bad. It feels like a punishment.”
Ordinarily, that would have freaked me out. But there was something about the way he opened up to me so readily that comforted me.
“I know it’s been years, but from what I know of you, you’re not a bad guy. You believe in justice, right? You’ll get what you deserve.”
He nodded. “I just… Justice in my mind may not be the justice in play here. People have different concepts of right and wrong. Sometimes what seems right ends up getting you in trouble.”
“What do you mean?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m just saying, what if?”
“Well, your intentions have to count for something. I think as long as you meant to do the right thing the actual result is arbitrary.”
He was quiet for a minute. I suppose it was possible that we’d be judged by standards we hadn’t considered. But he was just scaring himself. We’d be fine. We’d die and that was that.
At least, that was what I wanted and what I thought I deserved. I hadn’t asked for heaven nor would I be so presumptuous as to ask for it now. My actions had condemned me to this fate. I had no right to ask for a reward when I’d been so inconsequential. But a punishment? I hadn’t done anything despicable. Not really.
“How long until we know?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I’m literally in the same position you are. Your guess is as good as mine.”
He nodded and kept nodding for quite a while.
“Um, this is weird, but I’m really glad you’re here,” he said at last. “Not that you’re dying. I’d just hate to be alone right now.”
That made me feel really good. Maybe this was my calling. Being here with him in his last moments. Callings didn’t have to be big or lasting; I was sure they could be moments. It didn’t feel the way Patrick had described it. I could have easily been by myself and stuck to my original contemplation plan. But fate had placed Will on this train with me. I couldn’t ignore the possibility it was for a reason.
“Well, I’ll be here,” I said, a genuine smile on my face. “You have nothing to worry about.”
He started nodding again. Fairly suddenly, he wrapped his arms around me. I felt him taking deep breaths. He didn’t seem to have any intention of letting go, but I was comfortable enough.
We didn’t talk anymore. The physical contact seemed to be enough for him. So I did get my contemplation time. Unfortunately, I was just the slightest bit distracted.
Why were people so opposed to the idea of death? If they had reason to fear the afterlife that was understandable, but death itself, the simple action, was so easy. You just stop. You just aren’t.
I closed my eyes again. Will was still right there holding onto me. I would have felt just fine dying like that. It was almost full circle that way. Eyes closed and nestled against someone.
Oddly enough, he was really soft. Not pillow-like or anything, but his body was relaxed despite the fear in his head and the pounding of his heart. And, not to be weird, but he smelled nice too. Familiar maybe. Overall, he was a pleasant concoction of sensory material that I had not anticipated accompanying me to my death. It was almost enjoyable enough that the situation lost some of its formidable gravitas. Just a boy and a girl sitting on a train.
Which begged the question, when was the last time I’d felt like this? Had I ever? Mom hugged me all the time, and just last night I’d been in a similar position with Patrick. But this was new. It was camaraderie, kinship, a special bond like no other. We would be each other’s last memory. He was my final sensation, and my doomed mind interpreted that as something vivid and meaningful.
Dying was beautiful. The accommodations of one’s own subconscious, preparing you for the end, make the final moments beyond compare. I could die peacefully, even happily. Which should have been impossible for me.
I opened my eyes. Had we stopped? Being underground, the window offered me no answers. But we were no longer in motion. Whatever happened next happened here.
Toward the front of the car, the door slid open. Those near it began to exit. Will let go of me as we stood but took my hand as we joined the procession out.
It was a terminal almost identical to the one we’d come from. We’d made it off the train alive.
Then I panicked. If the train didn’t kill us, what would?