by Randi MacWilliams
The young woman had dozed off once or twice before, on the transit ride home from the airport to her Westside neighborhood station. But this time, the book she had been reading, fell from her lap and awakened her to the realization that she must have missed her stop.
She bent down to retrieve the paperback from the grimy floor of the transit car and noticed a dull pain in her head. She tucked the book into her briefcase and looked around. It was then she noticed that not only had she missed her stop but that she was completely alone in the transit car. Not another soul in sight. Also, the pain in her head now throbbed down into her shoulders and she had no feeling in her right leg.
It must have fallen asleep too, she thought.
The woman made no immediate attempt to rise from the bench she was seated on, instead, she gazed around to find some clue as to just how far away from her neighborhood station, the rapid transit had taken her. Nothing looked familiar, in fact, the transit seemed as though it were running the length of some sort of long dark tunnel. The odd thing was, she kept seeing glimpses of passing directional signs that read “HOME”. No other signs were in sight, to give her an idea as to where the transit was headed next. She decided to seek help from the driver, barely visible, in the dark box seat of the forward car. But the pass-through door leading to that car was locked.
Defeated, she sank back into one of the well-worn seats nearest the exit door. Her leg now throbbed with an unexplainable ache, as did her head and shoulders. Out the dark windows, the graffiti-covered tunnel walls indicated that the transit was traveling through the seedier portion of the city. Never had she been this far east on the rapid transit before. And just how far east was she? Should she exit at the next station and take her chances waiting on an unfamiliar platform for the next west-bound transit to arrive? Or should she ride all the way to the Windmere station? Windmere was the end of the line, and at least there, at the turn-around, she knew the driver would exit and she would not be alone.
Her headache worsened, and there was a stiffness now in her right leg.
click-click, click-click, click-click, click-click.
The mesmerizing sound of the steel transit wheels striking the seams in the tracks was unnerving. She began to wonder if the transit would ever come to a stop. She checked her watch but found it had stopped precisely at 5:38. Funny, it was running fine when she got on at the airport station. How long had she been riding in the wrong direction?
Finally, the train was slowing to a stop, but where?
Meanwhile, in a west side hospital, Paul Sherman sat alongside the bed where his comatose wife, Katherine lay. For three days she had lain there, unresponsive, and clinging to life. Paul held his hard hat between his hands, tapping on the top of it with his fingers, feeling completely helpless. He had to get back soon, to the construction site, where his crew had worked without his supervision for three days now. But he couldn’t leave Kathy until he knew the results of her MRI. He gazed at the bruises on her pretty face, and the plaster cast on her long, slender leg. Her bruises would heal as would her leg, but would she come out of her coma? He brushed his tears back and bowed his head, as he had done a hundred times in the last few days, and whispered a silent prayer that Kathy would come back to him.
The transit doors slid open to a dark, foreboding platform. The young woman gazed out across the platform to see another empty transit car there, waiting for her. Her eastbound train had stopped a full 15 seconds, and she knew she had to decide to exit and enter the other train or remain on the eastbound train before the doors of both trains would close, leaving her there alone. It was then, that she noticed a different directional sign which suggested that the new train was heading “BACK”. “How odd, she thought, was this some kind of prank?” She stepped out onto the lonely platform. To one side of her, behind two pad-locked doors, was a staircase that led up towards an exit. The other side led to the dark cavities of the tunnel. She hesitated for a brief moment, before deciding to enter the new train, which she assumed, would take her back to the west side of town. Why she hesitated, she had no clue. She took a seat nearest the door, and waited several tense minutes until the doors of the car finally closed, and the transit started moving westbound.
The tunnel seemed endless on the trip back towards the west side, but the pain in her head had eased, though the numbness in her right leg persisted. For several minutes, the transit moved through the darkness, but oddly, as she turned her head to look back, she noticed a blinding, bright light, coming from the end of the tunnel where she had just been.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, the doctor entered Kathy’s room and put his hand firmly on Paul’s shoulder. Paul turned to face the older man and waited for him to speak, trying to read the stolid expression on his face.
“We have the results of your wife’s MRI, Mr. Sherman.”
“Will she be all right? Will she come back to me?” Paul asked.
“Well, it’s too soon to say about the coma,” the doctor replied, “but at least the test results did not reveal any major trauma to her brain. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait and see. Why don’t you go home now and get some rest?”
Paul felt better than he had for days, but cautiously, he would not allow himself to be too optimistic. Since there was nothing more he could do for Kathy but wait, Paul decided to go
home and shower and return to the construction site to check with his crew. He would return to the hospital later that day, to keep vigil at Kathy’s bedside, as usual.
The wreckage had all been cleared from the tracks, and the trains were up and running again. But sadly, three people had lost their lives, and a dozen others were injured. Some of them, critically. The Engineer on the westbound had hoped that the girl in the yellow dress would pull through. She looked badly hurt when he stopped at the scene to help. Three days had passed since then. He would make it a point after his shift was through, to check in on her at the hospital.
Back on the transit, the young woman opened her book again. The monotony of the long return trip home was wearing on her nerves, and she began to nod off.
click-click, click-click, click-click, click-click...
ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding,
“Doctor Lopez, you’re needed in operating room C.”
Kathy’s weary eyes popped open suddenly, as if from some bad dream. She looked around the sterile room of the hospital, a bit confused. A familiar voice spoke to her from a fog, and her head was spinning.
“Kathy honey, it’s me, Paul. Hang in there, baby and I’ll go and get the nurse.”
Kathy suddenly felt a stream of nausea come and pass and felt the weight of the cast on her right leg, and the pressure of the large bandage around her head. The memory of the accident came flooding back to her. She remembered the horrible crash, and the kind face of the stranger, looking down at her, as he cradled her head in his arms. And then, all went black. But now, as she lay here, safe in a hospital bed, she realized how lucky she was to be alive. She was not on the rapid transit anymore; she had awakened from her nightmare.
As Kathy watched her husband return with the nurse, she recalled then, what the odd directional signs in her nightmare had read. She was glad now; she had chosen to take the transit going “BACK”. She would always wonder what would have happened if she would have stayed on the one heading towards someplace called “HOME”.