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Fiction #529
(published March 10, 2011)
Midnight on the M Line
by Steve Abney
Midnight. The platform at Powell Street is deserted except for a few sleepingderelicts and muttering drunks. An M train outbound with two cars pulls up and I get on. The cars are as empty as a graveyard. I slip into a seat near the front of the first one as the train resumes its journey through the city's subterranean darkness.

At Van Ness, the M jerks to a halt, the doors open and an enormous black man with a linebacker's build and a shaved head boards. The sleeves of his grey sweatshirt are cut off to accommodate the rippling muscles of his arms that clutch plastic bags stuffed with cereal boxes, water bottles, clothing, newspapers and blankets. He scans the rows of empty seats. Without a word, he sits beside me, his bags press my face up against the window.

After the M rocks into motion, he pulls out a yellow plastic walkie-talkie, the kind sold years ago in toy stores. Into the mouthpiece, he grunts, squeals, snorts and shouts an indecipherable gibberish. I lean forward and peer around the overthowing bags into eyes that are cold and intense. I raise my hand slowly and wave. His gaze pierces, but does not acknowledge me.

At Civic Center, I rise, push past the bags and quickly exit the first car. I run down the platform, glance over my shoulder to make sure I'm not followed and jump onto the second car as the train pulls out. I know he's up there on the other car talking his crazy shit but I'm relieved to have escaped and sink into a vacant seat.

"Begone, Satan!"

The words cut through the silence, jagged and angry. I whip around and see the car's only other passenger. He's shriveled, hunched over in tattered rags. His wild neon eyes glow from a wizened face etched with crude tattoos of crucifixes and tear drops. With the forefingers of his hands, he forms a cross and, snarling, thrusts it at me, "I curse you, Spawn of Evil."

Jumping up, I run down the aisle and stumble through the narrow corridor that links the cars. Squeezing by the big man, I retake my seat beside him, nestling behind a buffer of plastic bags. He holds the walk-talkie to his lips and rambles on in his secret language. There is much to report from Planet San Francisco.

Steve Abney writes from San Francisco, CA.

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