Being in college is rough. Sure some people have fun at parties, but when you’re an artist, or just a student in general, you’ll lack three things. Food, sleep, and money. Sometimes (most likely during finals) you’ll lose a bit of your sanity as well. I, myself, am a ‘clean person’ if you catch my drift, but let me tell you about an experience that changed the way I spend my time and money. In the weirdest way possible.
So, I was sitting in my apartment, paint smudged on my face and hands, and I hear my roommate knock on my door. I take out my earbuds and I yawn a ‘come in’. In walks Melissa, just as tired as I was.
“Hey Mel, how was work?” I ask her. She was still in uniform, ugly yellow and blood orange stripes covering every inch of her work shirt. She took her cap off and scratched her blonde hair.
“Bad. I couldn’t grab any pizza for dinner tonight.” She broke the news. I winced. I always looked forward for Reject-Pizza-Friday’s. Sure it’s unhealthy, but hey, when you’re working minimum wage, food is food.
“Dang, do we have any ramen left?” I asked. She shook her head. “. . . so what now?”
“You’ll have to go to Maple Plaza and see if anything’s open still. I’ll give you the cash.” She told me. I shook my head, placing my paintbrush down on the easel.
“Wait, you want me, to go out in the middle of the night, to go get some awful convenient store food?” I really didn’t mind going on a food run, but it was so late I doubt anything decent was open still. Melissa sighed, taking her wallet out for the cash.
“I have to wash my uniform and start on my essay. You’ve been here longer and I don’t have the energy for it. Unless you want to go through my laundry hamper and do my research for me, then go right ahead, if not,” She shoves twenty five dollars into my hands. “Take the subway and I’m sure you’ll find some cheap leftovers or something.” She told me. My stomach groaned. I’d gladly take the leftovers.
“Alright, but you owe me one.” I agreed as I slipped a hoodie over my stained shirt. “Does it matter what you want? Chinese? Vegan?” Mel followed me into our barren living room.
“Just grab something cheap that tastes good. That’s all I’m asking for.” Mel made her way to her own room, slamming the door behind her. I sighed and checked the time. It was about two thirty in the morning. Making sure I have the apartment keys I took my leave and began my descent into the dark and dirty part of Abiliz City. The subway.
The subways weren’t awful. They ran all day, twenty four/seven, and all you really needed to get through the tolls was a membership card or a buck or two. Usually there’d still be people at night who used the subway, getting home from a late shift or heading into work for an early one, but I sat on an empty bench, in a very vacant station. I was admiring the graffiti on the opposite wall of the tracks before hearing the subway halting into the station. I looked at my phone and then at the schedule near the toll booth. It was about sixteen minutes early, usually early for the three-fifteen subway. Must’ve been my lucky day. Nothing about the subway looked strange. It was just like the other ones, covered in grime and filth, graffiti shining in the dim lights. The doors opened and I stepped on. Looking at both ends of the car I had the entire place to myself. I sat down in a decent spot and relaxed.
“This’ll be a quick trip.” I thought. But I saw that the doors were still opened. Wide open despite no one else being at the station. “Hope it’s not a malfunction.” I heard horror stories of subway cars acting up. Doors getting and people clinging to the poles and their seats for dear life. But urban legends are legends. Right?
The doors slid closed not a second later. The conductor went over the intercom and spoke much to my relief. I was expecting a gargled old voice to come through, but instead it was an enthusiastic tone that came through.
“Good morning folks! Hope you all had a wonderful trip getting here! This is Co-Conductor Esper speaking,” I sat up straight, half wondering if it was just a recording for a quick giggle, while the other half of me questioning why there were two conductors on board. “The time now is three o’clock in the A.M! We are going to begin our trip to Nowhere shortly. Please be patient with us as this will be a quick, but slow ride.” This time I stood up. Looking up at the doors I see the directory signs flip. ‘To: Maple Boulevard’ became ‘To: Nowhere’. The subway started, the lights flickered, and before my eyes I see the seats suddenly fill with people. They appeared as if they were candlelight coming to life, there, but now here. The air felt electric, people were talking and chatting as if they had just boarded. The subway turned from dull gray to a mishmash of colors. I stumbled back into my seat, blinking my eyes in shock. Maybe I had too many late nights, but I hadn’t seen anyone walk onto the car with me. Then I realized that I wasn’t seeing people.
All around me sat and stood creatures. Monsters, ghouls, ghosts, all of the sort. Causing me to be sandwiched between a large orange, furry monster and a mount of oozing green goo. I pinched both of my cheeks as hard as I could. I forced my eyes closed and winced from the pain. But opening them back up confirmed the worst. I wasn’t dreaming. I could cling to the hope that I might’ve passed out in my room, but it all seemed too real.
“H-e-y,” I hear a hoarse gurgly whisper in my ear. “d-o y-o-u m-i-n-d-?” I twisted my head and when I caught the stare of a two headed lizard glaring at me through his shades, I screamed. My body slammed onto the disgusting floor, and all eyes turned on me. The chatter ceased, and murmurs and whispers began.
“A human? A mortal?” Something spoke. Several creatures stood up to reach for me and though I could see their mouths and faces move, all I could hear was my heart beating in my ears and the thought of ‘I’m dead meat’ playing on repeat in my head. The creature that had sat next to me reach a long muscular orange arm to grab my shoulder, but I screamed again and squirmed back under I hit the subway door. More chatter came. But before they could get to me, the doors opened. I jumped up to my feet and ran into the station. Then I slip, flailing onto my back, staring up at the haze of movement and color beyond the station platform. I saw different shapes and sizes of feet, and ones that slithered, tails with fur and scales and trails of ooze. Some were gradients of color, a few were floating. I nearly screamed again, until someone pulled me up and onto my feet.
“Woah! You okay there pal?” Despite being two hundred and thirty pounds, this thin, black, translucent spirit had picked me up by my hoodie strings. I just stared at it’s mask, which had only a simple, but crooked frown on it, it’s eyes each were just two, equal signs? They bent like eyebrows as it stared at me, his frown enlarged. He also wore a blue conductor’s hat, the bill pushed to the side. “Hey, you deaf or somethin’?” He asked me, shaking me gently.
“Yes! I mean no! I-I’m not deaf. I-I’m fine.” My voice shook. His grip loosened, letting me free of his grasp.
“You look like you’re ’bouta pass on.” The frown on his face changed to a smile. “Here, pal, tell ya what, follow me.” His hand was freezing as he pushed me forward into the crowd. My shoes went from stepping on tiles to stone, and what had been a subway station lead up to a cityscape greeted us, almost modern day. There were restaurants lined up almost like a food court on one side of the street. My stomach growled at the savory smells. “You hungry? I know this great place Thai place. And it won’t poison you!” The ghoul told me.
“What exactly is all of . . . this? Am I dreaming? W-What’s your name?” I asked him. He let out a chuckle and patted my back.
“Snny, this is Nowhere. A place for spirits, ghouls, monsters alike to come and get away from the city. It’s one of many places in the city for us in the afterlife to grab a bite to eat and shop. Basically right now you’re in a plaza. It all connects together, but the subway’s the only way to and from Nowhere and the Real World.” He explained as we approached the end of a line. “Not often we get humans through the system, you’re the first in a while.” I almost smiled. “Name’s Leopoldo, but call me Lee. I’m one of the co-conductors for the subway. And you?” He introduced himself. I cleared the lump in my throat and replied.
“I’m Ryan Makurt. I’m an art student at Abiliz University.” I told him. His smile grew a bit.
“College is rough ain’t it? I remember back when I was alive it put me through hell. Heard it’s more expensive now than ever.” Lee commented.
“It not . . . all bad, well it’s not easy either. Got a scholarship anyways, so no worries.” I felt myself easing up. Lee seemed like a pretty cool . . . dead guy. While we waited in line I looked around, and I could see how normal this Nowhere could look without sight. I could hear kids laughing and running, couples muttering to each other and friends talking about gossip. I smelled food, like pizza and fried chicken. It all sounded so normal, but seeing it was bizarre. The signs and posters and writing were a mix of acid hues and scribbles. It was so diverse and colorful it almost hurt my eyes to bare witness to it. It gave me the itch to run back home and paint this mysterious place. Record what kind of colors I’ve seen here, try and capture the weirdness of it all. Lee pushed me forward and pointed up at the menu. To my surprise the chicken scratch morphed into clear as day English. I let a smile peek through as I ordered two buckets of the ‘Thai Noodle Surprise’ and Lee ordered next. It was cheap, very cheap for something that so fresh and great smelling. It even came packed in styrofoam to-go bowls in a recyclable bag.
“Wanna find a place to sit or do you want me to take ya back already?” Lee asked me as we made our way from the counter. My gaze turned from his translucent arms to his masked face.
“I can go home right now?”
”Yeah, of course! The tram’s mystical. Since you’re still alive, whether we liked it or not we have to take you back whenever you feel like it.” He snapped and I grinned.
“That’d be perfect. Thanks man!” I wasn’t sure if he was just being generous or just guiding, but either way it was the best service I’ve ever received from the subway. Lee smiled at me before reaching a hand up to what I would label was, his chest. His hand disappeared into his apparition and came back out with a mint condition card. He handed it to me; it was the size of the regular subway card. It was purple and green, with the words ‘Mortal Passage’ in bold white letters on the front.
”Use this whenever you want to come back here at any time of the day. Just don’t stay around for more than a day. Oh, it’s also good for the phone booths here too, so if you’re in a jam on this side you should be able to call Good Ole’ Lee for some help.” Lee explained as we boarded the train.
“Neat. So I can come back whenever. No consequences?” I asked. His face faltered for a moment.
”Well, we got a few rules here. The only way you got here so quick is because you got here at the Witching Hour. Three o’clock on the dot is when us, ya know the spirits, have the most energy to do things.” He told me, and I tilted my head in confusion he rephrased himself. “You know, like haunt your gross apartment, make people see stuff, or get to Nowhere the quickest way. You try and get here any other time, it’s gonna be about a thirty to forty minute trip.” Lee finished.
”Oh. So at three’s the best time? Can I bring, let’s say my roommate with me next time? Would she be able to see all of this?” I was curious about this place. I doubted Melissa would ever believe me if I told her about this place. Lee’s face frowned for a moment. He shook his head.
“It’s a fifty-fifty chance, depending on who’s driving that day. Just if you bring ’em, get them a card as soon as possible from a toll booth.” He warned. I shrugged it off, but as I watched him walk back to the driver’s cabin, I felt a question rise up in me.
“Why’d you help me?” I asked him. He paused, the plates hitting against the steel door. He turned and he smiled at me.
“To be honest, I just wanted to get you to quit being so noisy. But you ain’t so bad kid.” He answered me in true honesty. He went on, opened the door, and before he closed it he gave me one last look. “See ya around.” Then he shut the door. I sat down with the bag in my hand and the card in the other. The subway started, and before I knew it I was back home, unlocking the door to the apartment.
Walking in I see Melissa jump from our old couch and onto her feet.
”That was quick! You were only gone for like, ten minutes!” She told me before grabbing the food and taking it to the table. I sat across from her and got my bowl while Mel stuffed her mouth full. “Ah! This is so delicious! Where’d you get this from? Nothing this decent is cook at this hour!” She raved on with her mouth full, rice and noodle flying out. I was tempted to tell her to show her the subway card, but I only smirked.
”Would you believe me if I said it was from a food court in a subway station that’s full of spirits and monsters? Or that I ran up to some dude and stole it?” I joked but her glare said she didn’t want a joke. Sighing I lied instead. I took out the change I got back and put it on the table. “New late night place opened up nearby. Pretty cheap.” Her expression softened.
“We should go there sometime then. Is it clean? You know, a decent place to eat?” She asked me.
“Yeah, it has a lot of um . . . supernatural themes going on. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls, the three G’s. Lots of nice colors too. Blue hues with orange and purple and vomit green.” I chuckled.
“Yeah yeah, you’re a real nerd when it comes to that stuff ain’t cha?”
“Says the Economics Major.”
I scanned the card at the tool the next morning cough*afternoon*cough and entered the station. All around me were people, old, young, kids too, all waiting for the three o’clock tram to get here. I wasn’t quite sure if the card would work, or if I had really dreamt last night up. But when a tram pulled up at fifteen till, and no one got on, I smiled in disbelief. The doors slide open, I stepped on, waiting for the train to go.
“Alright folks. Our next destination will be in about eighteen minutes to Nowhere. Enjoy the trip,” Lee’s voice came over the intercom. I found a seat and as the tram began to move. I watched the lights flicker, and only for a moment did I panic when the empty tram suddenly gained a full house. I relaxed, plugged in my earbuds, and enjoyed the right to grab the best food in the city.