CW: Mentions of Explosions, Implications of Terrorism
Synopsis: A woman meets a strange man on a subway, and a chance to hear a whole new world around her.
Word Count: 1104
Date Written: May 2021
“Do you hear it too?”
His gleaming eyes flickered like the lights in the subway we were on.
“What do you hear?” I asked.
He swayed with the subway car, hanging onto the strap from the ceiling. His white hair was strange, bangs growing out over his brow, a mullet covering his neck. His voice was soft as he spoke:
“A beep-beep-beeping coming from somewhere. It just doesn’t stop. It gets louder then quieter and I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Can you hear it too?”
I listened, but I could only hear the rumbling of the subway and the chatter around us. “It’s all in your head.”
He shot me a half-grin. “That’s what they all said to me. Ah, miss, if only you could hear it too. I can hear such beautiful things sometimes…”
I edged away. Obviously my parents had warned me against talking to creepy men on the subway, and this guy was definitely no exception.
“Are you sure you don’t hear it?” He locked eyes with me once more.
“I - I’m sure I don’t,” I replied. “Do you need to go see a doctor?”
He gave a soft chuckle. “Things just haven’t been the same since the explosion…”
“Explosion.” His eyes flicked up back to mine, then down again. “Oh, the sweet ringing, the distant ringing and stinging of the eyes… And my father and the others, oh, the things they’d say: ‘Gui Shami, stop pretending.’ ‘Gui Shami, you’re lying again.’ ‘Gui Shami, I thought that your doctor said you were getting better. Why are you acting like this again?’ But I? Well, I just pretended that their words were part of my hallucinations too. My delusions, if you will. They? Well, they never listened. They never heard. Have you ever heard the sound of rose petals falling?”
“N - no.” The way he was staring so intently at me sent prickles over my skin, and I tried to edge farther back, but ended up bumping into someone. When would my stop arrive?
“Well, roses in general are very soft. And so the way that they wither is also soft. People say that they go silently, but no. They go near silently. But not quite. Such a vain flower won’t leave without a last gasping breath, don’t you agree?”
My eyes trailed to his hands. Peeking out from behind his sweatshirt sleeves a pattern of black roses was tattooed on his wrists and the back of his arms.
“You can hear roses falling right when it’s the loudest around you. Just right then, yes, there, there’s the sound of the flower falling, so graceful. And then, being trampled beneath someone’s feet, leaving behind such a fine scent… Can you hear it? Isn’t it so marvelous?”
“This is my stop,” I said, making a beeline for the doors even before they opened.
“But surely…the swaying of the subway, the fresh winds, you can hear that? You can feel that?” He followed, his backpack slung over his shoulder.
“I can,” I replied. “Please, I have a train to catch.”
“Well, we’re going in the same direction. And I grow tired of hearing the same voices, both inside my head and out.”
The bustle of the people. The blurred voices from the intercom. The winds, the wheels on the tracks, the platform rumbling beneath my feet. Sounds, sounds, sounds…
As we emerged from the underground, he exclaimed, “Oh! So many sounds, so new, so fresh…”
I sighed. “So just what do you hear?”
He turned around to face me as he walked. “Oh… I think I hear someone singing. French opera, is it? Yes, someone singing. Can you hear it too?”
He seemed so earnest, that I gave a small smile. “Sure.”
“No. No, it’s all in your head.”
“Well, that’s not very nice, miss…”
“Look, I’ll pretend to hear it, okay? Opera, right? And the sizzling of the oil in the frying pans... Butterflies landing on flowers. Can you hear it?”
“Isn’t it amazing?” He laughed, some life sparking into his eyes. “All of this, miss…”
I checked my watch, and lost my smile. “I have a train to catch. I’m sorry.”
“We’re going in the same direction…”
“Please…” I brushed past him. He stared after me, eyes wide.
“That beep-beep-beeping…can you hear it too?”
His voice, so soft, so shadowy. It sent chills up my spine.
“I can’t, okay? Please leave me alone. It was fun playing games with you, but…”
“Ha…” He caught up to me again. “Games. That’s what they all say. ‘Stop playing that stupid game, Shami. No one else can hear it. It’s just you.’”
“Well, maybe it is just you! Why are you talking to me anyways?”
“Well, miss…I thought you were different.”
“I’m not. Please stop, or I’ll call the cops.”
I left him standing there. After going through the train station, buying my ticket, and finding the right car and bed on the sleeper train, I let out a sigh of relief. Creeps… I never wanted to be bothered by people like him again. What was he, insane? All those sounds…
But truly, for a moment, they had sounded wonderful.
As the train began to pull out from the station, I thought I caught a glimpse of him through the window.
In the middle of the night I was awoken by some strange beeping and a weight on my legs. I opened my eyes to see that same guy from earlier sitting on top of my covers. His eyes… Something wasn’t quite right. Gleaming, reddened…
“The beeping…” His voice was soft. “Do you hear it too?”
My eyes trailed to his chest. There was a bomb strapped to him, a red countdown flashing. The beeping…
He grinned, a small chuckle escaping his lips. “I’ll blow this train and its passengers to the Western Heavens. You know…an explosion is a marvelous thing. You’ve never felt so distant from death after one. The ringing in your ears, the blur before your eyes, the sweet stench of smoke and flames… Miss, I’d love for you to experience what I have.”
“Help!” I cried. “There’s a man in here, and he’s got a - ”
The other passengers in my section groaned. The man sleeping across from me sat up and said, “Miss, there’s no one there. You’re alone.”
I glanced back at the guy in front of me. He smiled, tilting his head to the side, palely illuminated by the red numbers counting down.