Saturday, October 31, 2015

Eureka Station : Part Three



I couldn't go home, so I went to the park to think things through. It was too late to check into the hotel I'd booked. I was in the tunnel for nearly four hours. The bars were still trying to send everyone home as I walked past them. I wished I could've bought a beer. I wished I had a way to calm my nerves. I wanted to look up Kilroy, but my phone died.

Corona Heights Park was nearby, so I took my time walking over there, then hiked to the top of the hill to clear my mind. I stayed up there with the rocks all night, watching the flickering lights of the city around me and thinking. It was one of those rare San Francisco nights where the fog didn't come in, and barely a breeze swept by me. I could only see about 10 stars but that was comforting enough. Come to think of it, any light is comforting after spending the night in a dirt pit.

When the sun rose, I checked my watch and waited until 9am. My wife had a "Ladies Who Brunch" or something or other this morning and she'd be out of the house by then. I needed a shower and I had a date with my computer.

I snuck into my apartment, listening for noises. My heart jumped when the door squeaked; I chuckled to myself. It was all for nothing; the apartment was empty. I took a quick shower and the leather couch squeaked as I sat down with my laptop. Finally. Answers.

I searched for "Kilroy was here" and was surprised by the results: 1,170,000. Including photos, memorials and even tattoos. It was referred to as a symbol of courage, pride and encouragement for soldiers during World War II. It was found on trucks, tanks, bombed out walls, literally everywhere it could be, as a way for soldiers to show each other that they weren't the first in a given area, or the first into battle. It gave them comfort. This silly cartoon was found everywhere from Oakland, California to Vietnam: A symbol of the soldiers. I was fascinated. I read as many articles as I could swallow. But as for who was Kilroy? Nada. Nothing on who created the cartoon, or why. I read rumors of Hitler thinking it was a Super G.I. and rumors of Kilroy on the moon. How did this small cartoon become so viral? The cartoon found 'round the world. I realized quickly that searching for the black shadow graffiti was pretty much worthless, those searches brought up ghost stories and drawings. I gave up, closed my laptop and put golf on. 

I woke up to my wife coming in, er, falling in would be more accurate. She was rather soused after her champagne brunch and couldn't stop giggling.
"You're back!" she said gleefully, as she ran over and jumped on me. I groaned from her weight and she kissed me. "How was your trip?"
"Dull. I'm exhausted. Couldn't sleep." I yawned and she stuck her finger in my mouth. Little jerk of a woman.
"Well if I don't nap, I'll need another drink. Make a decision, Mr. Knight! The adventure begins, which path do you choose?"
She looked at me competitively and I laughed at her. "Mr. Knight." Her pet name for me was always my last name, it was only when we got married that she included the "Mr."
"Well, Mrs. Knight, I just took a nap, so a drink sounds nice."

Mrs. Knight distracted me from my troubles; she always did. The rest of the day I was consumed by her, we had champagne and tapas at my favorite restaurant, then walked around The Marina, glaring at the hipsters and the latest wine bar that opened.
"Can I punch the next person with a curled mustache?" she asked me with a deadly serious tone. Mrs. Knight always knew how to put a smile on my face.
We went home late, watched movies until later, and fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms. The next morning, she got up so early for work I didn't hear her leave. When I woke up I felt weird and unsettled. And hungover.

I called in sick. I realized halfway through my eggs that while there wasn't information on Kilroy himself, perhaps someone who was well-versed in World War II might know more. I looked online and found there was an old professor named Doctor Robert Caldwell, degrees from Stanford, who appeared to be one of the most well-known historians on World War II. Online it said he specialized in the "Kilroy was here" lore. As luck would have it, he lived in San Francisco. It was worth a shot. After dinner I called the number, my heart racing until the fourth ring ended. Thank God. A woman's voice came on the line, his receptionist, no doubt.
"You have reached the office of Doctor Robert Caldwell, please leave a message after the tone."
The beep was longer than normal. I took a deep breath.
“Hello Doctor Caldwell, my name is Will Knight. This may sound very . . . strange, but a couple days ago the subway shut down between stops and I heard a . . . noise. I ended up heading down the subway shaft when it shut down for earthquake repairs. I uh . . . I stumbled into an area that was blocked off and there were a couple things that drew my attention. There was graffiti of black figures and then that cartoon from World War II, the “Kilroy was here” man. When I was researching them online your name came up. I was hoping to ask you a few questions. Please call me back at your earliest convenience. Thank you.”
I hung up and sat down on the bed. It was done. I took my phone off silent and plugged it into its charger, then went back into the living room to watch some terrible TV show the wife was watching. I went to sleep that night relieved. It was the first time I didn't fall asleep with anxiety medication.

The next morning, I went to work.

Nothing was out of the ordinary. Or what was now considered ordinary. The sounds were their stable low rumble. I heard them at Van Ness now, so they must be getting louder.

When I got home, I noticed I had a voicemail. I picked it up and there was a gruff, older man's voice crackling through the phone, he coughed before he spoke.
“Hello Mr. Knight, this is Doctor Caldwell. I received your message and would very much like for you to come to my office to chat. Please meet me at my office at 2942 Chestnut Street at this evening if you can make it. Ring the buzzer for #5. Or call me back with a time more suitable to your schedule."
The voicemail prompted me to save or delete the message and I simply hung up. It was 6:00pm, I could make it across town in twenty minutes.
"Babe - I'm going to meet Jordon for a drink," I called to her calmly. I'd never lied so much to my wife than I had in the past few days.
"Where?" she hollered from the living room.
"That sports bar he likes by his place. Back around 9."
"Kay!" she yelled back, unaffected.
I hopped in a cab over to Chestnut Street. The building was smaller than I expected. It looked more like a big townhouse. I pressed the buzzer for #5 and a chipper female voice came through the speaker.
"Doctor Caldwell's office, do you have an appointment?”
"Yes, my name is Will Knight."
I didn't hear another word out of the speaker, but instead the electrical buzzing of the door to let me know she’d let me in. The elevator was closed for repairs so I walked up the creaky, burgundy carpeted stairs to the fifth floor. There was a gold plated sign outside the door that said in all caps:

ROBERT CALDWELL, PH. D.

I tapped on the door and a brunette in her mid-twenties opened it. She was cute. I noticed her perfectly coiled hair and how her dress hugged her hips.  A younger, single version of me would have tried to find a way to hit on her.
"Hello Mr. Knight.  Sorry about the elevator. Please follow me." She flashed a smile and turned. Her vanilla perfume followed her down the hall as she took me to a room at the back of the building. She opened the large door at the end of the hall, and then closed it softly behind me. I heard the clicking of her heels back down the hall.
No introduction.
I glanced around the room and it looked like an old library. It was a dusty office with bookshelves on every wall. Thick burgundy curtains covered the floor to ceiling windows, dark floral wallpaper surrounded me and stacks of books lined the floor. In the center of the room was a large carved wooden desk that dwarfed the old man that sat behind it. He was wearing a full suit that seemed a little too big for him. It looked like it might have fit perfectly once, but now he was shrinking with age. He was wearing round reading glasses. In front of him lay a pile of open books, but he seemed only interested in one. He was busy, peering over a leather-bound diary.
“Doctor Caldwell?” I asked uncertainly.

The old man closed the diary he was reading and looked up at me, “Mr. Knight, I presume?” Doctor Caldwell set his reading glasses down on his desk and held out his withered hand out for me to shake. “Please take a seat.”
“Thank you,” I responded and sat down in the red velvet chair that was as weathered as the man who owned it.
“I’m glad you contacted me. Would you like some water?" he asked kindly, and pointed at a glass by the window.
"I'm fine, thank you." I don't know why I said that, my throat was parched and my heart was pounding from the five staircase hike.
"Well, then I suppose let’s dive right in. Tell me your story." He sounded calm and serious. It reassured me. 

I told Doctor Caldwell everything. From the first time I heard the sounds, to when I was walking alone in a tunnel. He listened intently and did not comment or ask a question until I was finished.
"Mr. Knight, what do you know about the cartoon, ‘Kilroy was here’?” Doctor Caldwell raised his eyebrow at me and tilted his head.

“Only what I read online. I couldn’t find anything reliable until I came across your name. You’re a doctor after all.”
Yes. I am." It came across as factual. "Did the graffiti in the tunnel have any features, or simply black shadows?” I had no idea who this man was but the way he spoke made me feel like a child.
“There was more, but I didn’t want to say it over the phone.” I felt sweat start to form on my brow. I had never spoken about this out loud and it felt wrong.
“Yes?” Doctor Caldwell prompted.
“The black figures had no nose, no mouth or ears, but they all had yellow eyes. It was very disturbing. Especially by flashlight.”
Doctor Caldwell nodded before narrowing his brow, asking, “What brought you into the subway shaft? I can’t imagine pure curiosity would lead a man to travel down those black tracks?”

“I heard a noise I couldn’t place in the subway. I didn’t trust it. It sounded like a gong, or a clock tower going off on the hour, only it wasn’t like a clock. It came in random intervals, 10 seconds, then 15 seconds, 18 seconds. I went to go check it out.”
“And that’s when you found the graffiti?”

“Yes.”
Doctor Caldwell furrowed his brow. He stood up, put his hands on his hips and leaned to stretch out his back, then put his reading glasses back on. He grabbed the leather bound diary in front of him, flipped to a page in the center and handed it to me.

“Do any of these drawings look similar to what you saw underground?”

The drawings were a match: The shadowy, humanoid figures and empty soulless eyes. Underneath the drawing it said in script, Schatten Menschen, 1939. I turned the page of the book but that was the only drawing, the rest was handwritten in German.

“The graffiti was nearly identical to this . . . Schatten Menschen?” I looked up at Doctor Caldwell skeptically.
“Yes. It translates from German to shadow people."
“Shadow people?"
 “And then the ‘Kilroy was here’ was beside it?” I nodded and Doctor Caldwell paused in thought. 
“It said online the cartoon was very common during World War II, that’s why I contacted you. What does it have to do with shadow people?” I asked him before I set the diary down on the desk again. The drawing was creepy. I didn't want it near me anymore.
Doctor Caldwell didn't answer. He stood with his back to me and asked another question, “Where did you begin your journey into the subway?”
“Well I researched it. The subways were closing for repairs at 10:00pm, I saw there was an old subway station that was closed down - Eureka Station --"
Doctor Caldwell turned to face me and raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Eureka Station? After 10:00pm? You’re a far braver man than I, Mr. Knight.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Doctor Caldwell placed his hands together behind his back and began pacing the length of his office before he began, “When I was young, Mr. Knight, I was fascinated by war. World War I grabbed my attention but World War II took hold of me and didn’t let go. One of my favorite topics was the cultural phenomenon ‘Kilroy was here.’” He walked over to the north-facing bookshelf, ran his finger along the edge before blowing the dust off and continuing. “A cartoon that was reproduced all over machines, stations, and large monuments during World War II. It was so common it was associated with the G.I.’s. in the 1940’s, but the cartoons showed up everywhere. Places they should never have been able to reach. It’s said that this cartoon is at the top of Mt. Everest and on the underside of the Arc de Triomphe.”  He was standing over a colorful globe in the corner, and he put a finger on Nepal and then France, respectively. He shook his head in amused disbelief, then frowned. “The more implausible sightings were ruled out as legends, and the stories became those of folklore; a cartoon commonly used by all G.I.’s to inspire each other. But my experience, my knowledge is far more sinister. Have you heard of shadow men outside of this room, Mr. Knight?” 
Doctor Caldwell walked back over to his chair, sat down and leaned in towards me. I shifted uncomfortably and coughed, “I think I saw movies about them --”
He waved his hand for me to stop.
“-- The movies are fluff; a writer’s imagination. There was a hum throughout the second World War of a cover-up. A legend of sorts that there was almost a war on U.S. soil, but not between the Nazi’s nor the Russians. You see, when we were a young country, we were an arrogant country. We built underground rails for safer and faster travel!” His bright enthusiasm turned dark as he crossed his legs, resting an ankle on his knee. “Yet, as we dug into the earth, the workers began to mention shadows. Of course, like all urban legends, it was blamed on Indian burial grounds and curses. Back then the news stories ended almost as soon as they began; a blip in the radar, before they were erased from history. A few stories survived - word of mouth kept them alive. Workers told their friends and families; but anyone who spoke of them publicly were taken to asylums.”
“Geez," I responded. I sounded like a teenager. I felt so out of my element. Doctor Caldwell walked over to the window again.
“Back then, these stories of shadows intrigued me. I was curious why they disappeared from history, as I imagine some feel about those pilot UFO sightings from the 50's . . .” He peered up into the sky like he was checking for one now. I stood up and walked over to the window with him. “Over the years I was able to hunt down a handful of diaries. Mr. Knight, I hope you don’t find this next part farfetched. These diaries contained horrifying experiences the workers had while they built the rails. The workers kept disappearing. One minute they would be installing tracks with a hammer like the rest, the next they would vanish, seemingly into thin air. Others seemed to go insane, run around screaming about "The Eyes," only to choke on air and fall down dead. It spooked the workers and local law enforcement, so the C.I.A. was sent to check out the problem. After that, there was never a word on the shadows again."
Doctor Caldwell paused, took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers. I stood and walked over to the water pitcher, “Do you mind if I –“
“Go ahead.”
My hands were sweating as I chugged the ice cold water. I realized I didn't know to respond to anything Doctor Caldwell was saying. Was he serious? He looked deadly serious. I asked the only question I could think of, “What’s this got to do with Eureka Station?”
He put his glasses back on and looked at me soberly, “Mr. Knight, the tunnel written about in this diary is Eureka Station.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
"Mr. Knight, the diaries implied that the subway tunnels were not dug by man, but that we stumbled upon them. We built the tracks into their living space. One of the most informative I found, was the diary of a man who had seen what he described as ‘creatures of the underworld.' He produced drawings of what he saw." I pointed to the diary on the table, and the doctor nodded. "His name was Arman von Zastro. A first generation German-American who worked in Eureka Station. He wrote about these experiences in his native tongue.” He picked up the diary and thumbed through it thoughtfully, then placed his finger on the page, “Here he described them as black shadows that had the silhouette of man, but with the glowing yellow eyes of the devil himself. Later this diary tells of a terrifying encounter. A huge amount of these shadows came out of the tunnel, flooding the workers in the station. The workers panicked and filled the tunnel with concrete to block the stampede of shadows under the earth. Many shadows escaped, and many workers died. These shadows were described as solid, otherwise they would not have been able to keep them in. I think, Mr. Knight, that you stumbled onto the concrete walls that hold the shadows underground."

The way he looked at me, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking anymore. A blank page. He handed me the diary to look over with my newfound knowledge and I stared at the drawing.
“I've been hearing shadow people?" I asked steadily and looked up at him.
"Yes."
"They’re a scary story! To frighten the gullible! You're telling me it's shadow people and C.I.A. cover-ups? Please, enlighten me, Doctor Caldwell, how does Kilroy fit in?" I was stuck somewhere between terrified and the uncomfortable feeling you get when you think someone is making fun of you. It was like he was trying to convince me that unicorns were real. Deadly, horrifying, 'eyes of the devil', unicorns. Doctor Caldwell’s face did not change. He was calm and collected as he spoke.
“Mr. Knight, they continued building the subways after they found the shadows, but when they were attacked by them, in the second tunnel, they abandoned construction of Eureka Station. Now let me explain, I began to suspect a few years ago that these ‘Kilroy was here’ cartoons, were not created by the G.I.'s. Furthermore, I believe that workers left those images of the shadows -- A warning of what lies ahead. My theory is that the shadows locked above ground took over the Kilroy cartoon.” He reached into his desk, unwrapped a peppermint, and tossed it in his mouth. “They used that cartoon to display their presence; a reminder to the humans of sunlight. We were not here first. Mr. von Zastro believed we were encroaching on their city -- for the shadows were becoming violent. The diary talks of how when they filled the first tunnel, the workers began to hear sounds from behind the concrete. Their description similar to yours. You were not the first to hear those sounds in the subway, Mr. Knight.”

“Have you heard the sounds?”

“Not in many years, but yes, I’ve heard them. Based on Mr. von Zastro's diary, what we were hearing were sounds of the shadow people. He wrote that when they ceased construction, he never heard the sounds again. He was convinced they had filled it enough and we were safe. My concern is . . . If you can hear them and the tools they are using to break through the concrete . . . They must be getting close to the surface.”
"Tools to break free? Those are the sounds? What will happen if they come out?”

“I’d imagine they wouldn’t be very pleased with us.”

“What can we do?”

“Wait for them.”

My blood ran cold. I looked into Doctor Caldwell's eyes and began to wonder if he was insane, "That's it?"

He leaned back in his chair and looked at me as if he was deciding something, "Well there is one thing that you personally could do. I spoke of those that were brought to the asylum with psychiatric fits about the shadow men?" He asked as though he couldn't remember.

"Yes."

"Well, I went to visit them and against the other physicians’ advice, I spoke to them. I listened. The patients told me that the shadows were feeding on their fear. Fear made the shadows stronger. Something I highly suspect as the reason why when you went down there, the noises got louder."

"What happened to the patients?"

"A few months after my visit, I was told they died."
"So I'm supposed to just quit being afraid of them? How the - How on earth would I do that?" I was scared now. Scared of believing him and scared of not believing him.
"Ignore the gongs. Go on with your life. One day they will break free and then they will feed on the frightened. Stay stoic."
"That's my prescription?
"I'm afraid it is."


I stood up. Doctor Caldwell was looking at me gravely. I thanked him and walked out of the office numb. I barely heard the brunette calling after me to take care. It was only when I got to the street that I realized I hadn’t said anything back to her. I never wanted to take the subway again. I grabbed a cab home that night, pretending to be calm when I was anything but. How do you stop fearing what frightens you? Especially when you know fear makes it stronger?


Over the following days it felt like the gongs were getting louder. There was no other explanation. I did what Doctor Caldwell said and pretended not to notice them.


On the subway one morning three weeks later, I was actively ignoring the thrumming gongs, when a man across the train from me looked up puzzled. It was early morning and everyone around us was either asleep or with headphones in. I ignored him and closed my eyes to sleep, but I had the feeling he was looking at me. I didn't want to look up at him, but I couldn't stop myself. I made eye contact and he seemed relieved. He cleared his throat, "Did you hear that sound too?"
I looked at him, frowned and forced my face into a look of blank confusion.
"What sound?"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Reading vs. Writing

Have you ever noticed that what you're reading affects your writing style?

Well if so, it's your lucky day because I'm gonna talk about it for a while.

I first noticed it when I was writing a short story after reading Jane Austen. Emma, to be precise. I was editing it when I realized how unnecessarily complicated my sentences were. (And So. Many. Semicolons.)

But only when I set out to write a full novel did I really begin to see the similarities and influences of what I was reading. When I first started RTS I was reading The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I have a soft spot for classics and I haven't read them all yet, so I find myself enchanted by them. While I'd seen the film (TPB) 15 MILLION times, I had yet to read the novel. (Which by the way, is easily in my top five favorite books now.) The first part of RTS I had William Goldman's fairy tale style in my head. I loved the way he made me chuckle and was very pleasant and light, then the juxtaposition where the scary parts were TERRIFYING. Re: Zoo of Death.

When I finished it, I was writing Chapter 6 of RTS. I was trying to decide what to read next when I went to a friend's house who had all of the Twilight books. I asked to borrow Breaking Dawn, so I could finally find out what happens at the end. I enjoyed the stories and I've seen the films, but the writing style just... It wears me down. I still don't understand how nothing plot-wise can happen in an entire chapter, and unless I like the character, I don't want to spend hours stuck in their head. So since I am not a huge fan of Jacob, (#TeamEdward), this book DRAGGED. I have tried to read it three other times but was bored to tears, but this time, I was going to know. Aaand this is where I feel like I may alienate readers, but please, stay with me, and take comfort in the knowledge that Mark Twain DESPISED Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens HATED Hans Christian Andersen. Here's a bunch more actually. So my dislike for Ms. Meyer's writing style is entirely my own: We writers pick each other apart, and we aren't known to be kind about it. I preemptively apologize to the Twi-hards out there for what I say next:

It was while I was reading Breaking Dawn that I noticed Chapter 6 of RTS was dull as dirt. I had done nothing with the plot and was spinning my wheels just hanging out with two girls and a cat. I re-read it and was horrified. I'd gotten about 100 pages into Breaking Dawn, (which, by the by, 100 pages in: Edward is still sulking, Bella is still being eaten alive by her cancerous vamp-baby, and Jacob is still whining about it), when I realized I couldn't finish it. I had to know what happened, but good lord not that badly. Reading Twilight was making my book like Twilight.

I gave the book back to my friend and decided I'd watch the movie later. I couldn't spend another 668 pages in these character's minds. I completely re-wrote Chapter 6, with a new plan in place and a new theory. I decided I would re-read the first Harry Potter book and see if that helped, because I didn't mind if JK Rowling's writing style rubbed off on me.

"Please God..."

When I finished Harry Potter, I realized that going into HP2 wasn't the best if I was still writing my first novel, so I read Ender's Game. Reading Ender's Game became extremely helpful during the training scenes and war scenes of RTS. I knew how to convey what I wanted, because Orson Scott Card is a GD genius.

This simple connection between reading and writing has become so interesting to me. What you read becomes what you write. When I'm writing I cannot let myself read books that are predictable and have a bad writing style, because I don't want that to rub off on me regardless of the genre. I generally give a book 100 pages but if the plot is bad and un-original, it's not something I want to keep reading. (This reasoning is also why RTS builds until the 100th page.) I know they say to read books that are in your genre, but I 100% disagree. Why on earth would I want to write a book that is like another book? Why would I write a book that has been written over and over again a million times? Everyone else is writing that book. I don't want to read books that are similar to mine, because I don't want my book to be like one already on bookshelves. My book is coming out of my spirit, I'm playing with a web of character's emotions and reactions. It's a subtle art and I want it to be entirely original, with unusual backgrounds and fun plot devices I don't always see. I want a quality story.

A serious disconnect has been made in the book industry. It's a similar one to what we're seeing in the movie industry. Remakes make money. Movies that are created out of books tend to do extremely well, but if you have a non-book movie and give the director too much money, the movie will be total crap

But in the book world it's the same thing, the same story repeated and repeated. However, I don't want to bad mouth these two, the Cinderella story is the female version of "The Chosen One." It's never going anywhere and it's loved across the globe. Honestly, even RTS *sounds* like every other book if I don't describe it right. Oh, kids go into the forest and find an adventure? That sounds like 231,025 other books currently available on Amazon.

After I finished reading Ender's Game, I realized that in order to close my story, it wouldn't make sense to be in the Ender's Game style of writing. I had to go back to the fairy tale style. Full circle. So I actually read The Princess Bride again.... (Unrelated tangent: Something about the way Goldman writes is so entrancing. It still shocks me that this is one of his books. He wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He writes serious, serious stories, and then his comedies are pure gold. Did you like the film, Mavrick? That's Goldman too. Marathon Man? Goldman.)

I needed to manipulate myself. I knew that by reading a new book, RTS would close with a different tone. I didn't read the WHOLE Princess Bride again, but I kept it with me and I kept that spirit with me as I concluded RTS. 

I have come to a unique problem. I feel like I have my voice, but by reading something while I am writing, especially if I'm fond of it, I will write about 60% in my voice, and 40% the voice of the author I'm currently reading. Perhaps I'm easily influenced by writing styles, but this is my argument (or excuse) for only reading really good books.

I want to write like my idols. So I've given up sappy romance novels. However, I can't give up scary stories during Halloween, so #EurekaStation is the outcome of that obsession.

(And this doesn't even touch on how when I read books, I will read a plot point and immediately have a million ideas for RTS and have to put the book down to take notes, getting completely distracted and it taking 3 months to finish a 350 page book. The struggle is real.)

So now I must choose...

To read or to write? That is the question.


All my love,
L.B.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eureka Station: Part Two


It’s been three weeks. I’ve heard this sound every single morning and no one has mentioned it. It isn't there after work when I head home. I don't understand and I wonder if everyone is as scared as I am, but they've chosen to ignore it. Ignore it and it will go away. I did that. I thought it would go away at first, but now I know better. It hasn’t faded into the background. It hasn’t.

I've decided I’m going down there. If I don't find anything, my next step is a psychiatrist.

The last time I mentioned it – No – The last time I wrote about it, I went to work and completely forgot about the gong sounds. I was 10 minutes late for my call, but the rest of the day went off without a hitch. I came home to my wife making my favorite, spaghetti carbonara, and she was letting a bottle of 2012 Zinfandel breathe on the table. A tumbler of scotch, neat, was waiting for me in the kitchen with a kiss. This is why I love this woman.

She was reading a book on the couch after dinner when I remembered the sounds. After thinking about it, I decided not to tell my wife, at least not yet. Instead I pulled up the San Francisco Muni on Wikipedia and began reading about its history. It was built in 1912 then updated in the 30’s and 40’s. The T – Third Street was the last track built, and the only one whose letter matched the street it was on. The N-Judah and L-Taraval are confusing to those fresh to San Francisco. As I was reading I came across an article about Eureka Station. A station that was built so close to Castro Station that they shut it down in the 70’s because they didn’t need it. It said there was an entrance that was blocked off but could still be seen from the street. An abandoned subway. I hunted around for photos of the subway but the only two to pop up were of what looked like blue prints from the 40's and then the subway station. A black and white photo that showed the station's white pillars. In the back of the photo there was the outline of a man standing, but he was solid black. It looked like a shoddy photo. But then I found another photo of the entrance; still in its original spot and unlikely to be guarded for the earthquake repairs. This was my entrance. 

It was going to be a long night, so I decided to tell my wife I had an overnight business trip. I know, I know, why would I lie to my wife? Because I love her, and I don’t want her to think her husband is a psychopath that goes roaming in abandoned subways at night. She would probably convince me I was crazy and to let it go. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. This was eating at me now.

I looked up when the Earthquake Safety Construction Updates would be taking place and decided the best time to go in the subway would be Saturday at 10:30pm. They would be shutting down at 10pm and re-opening at 5:30am. They started shutting down the Muni for the earthquakes Friday night, but I didn't want to test it then. Saturday was better.

Saturday at 8:00pm, I grabbed my unnecessarily large luggage filled with black clothes, a bolt cutter, pepper spray and a Maglite. I gave my wife a kiss and said I‘d see her the next morning. I hopped in a taxi to a bar a few blocks from the abandoned subway entrance. I needed to stay busy a few hours until the subways shut down, and I couldn’t just leave the house at 10:30pm without arousing suspicion.

I had a couple of beers and spent a while talking to the bartender, Joe. Joe was nice enough, a divorcĂ© that used to be an attorney. He quit after he paid off his student loans and became a bartender. I was impressed by Joe, he seemed happy. Happier than most people I knew.

I had one more beer than I expected and walked out of the pub feeling a tingling buzz. I began walking towards the abandoned subway station, part of me wondering if it was still there. I mean, I had looked it up, but how many other things have been lied about on the internet? I was ready for there to be nothing left, but when I got to the corner, there it was: A strange door absolutely covered in graffiti. Colorful and aggressive graffiti informing me of what they did to my mother the night before, which made me wonder if I wanted to go down there after all. But I couldn’t turn back now. I climbed down the tile steps to a metal door that was wide open. Of all the things that made traveling into the subway creepy, this stood out to me and gave me the heebie-jeebies. The entrance was open and I could walk right in.  

I climbed over the hand rail, down the steps into the subway and turned on my Maglite. I was immersed in darkness, the faint smell of gasoline and stale human urine filled the air. A part of me thought of when I was a child and how terrified I was of the dark. This was far beyond dark. This was pitch blackness. I could hear them working on the subway in the distance, hammering away at something. I flashed the light around me to take a look at the station and it was white pillars and tile. Gang graffiti painted the walls that in my photo were white.

 The sounds of hammers and men yelling at each other filled the subway. It was coming from ahead of me, in the direction of my work where I had first heard the gongs. I looked around the subway for the third rail, I wasn’t about to fry myself on that thing, when I heard it. I felt strangely relieved. It was louder than I remembered, but the same GOOOOONG. I got chills down my spine; I'd forgotten how deep it was. Asian gongs are lighter, more refreshing and used for meditation, and this was deep, thrumming in the pit of my stomach. Even though it was the only reason I was down there, I froze in place. It took me a second to gather my bearings before I could control my feet again, then I hopped off the platform and started walking along Eureka Station's tunnel. I followed the tunnel with my light. As I walked there was less and less graffiti and the empty walls reminded me of blank pages. I guessed no gangs wanted to be hit by a train - Unlike my genius self. 

I was thinking about how stupid I was when my flashlight moved across a deeper black. When I turned back, I could see another tunnel heading away from the main subway. I shined my light down the tunnel and the tracks continued about a hundred feet and then stopped abruptly. I kept walking, noticing that the third rail was never installed down this path. About eighty feet beyond the last track, I came upon a solid concrete wall. It wasn’t the subway’s metal walls and bolts, this was solid, sealed concrete. There was some older graffiti on it, names like “John,” and “Kyle,” with the date 1973, and the expected, “STAY OUT!” art. There was also a tent in the corner, some decomposing papers and an old coke bottle. It was like it was frozen in time, as if the little turnoff had not been traveled down in decades. There was nothing else there, so I turned to head back to the main thoroughfare.

Weird things happen to your eyes in pitch black darkness. It’s as though your eyes expect to see things and so the more your eyes convince your brain, the more likely you are to scare the bejesus out of yourself. That night I kept thinking I saw faces, or bubbles of light that traveled around, but now I think my eyes were fooling me. Like the piece of dust stuck in your peripheral vision. It’s a weird feeling to not be able to trust your eyes. It made me nervous of my ears. Were my senses fooling me?

GONG

I walked along the dark tunnel for a very long time. I set the pedometer on my watch to track the distance I’d walked and it seemed as though I might be nearing Van Ness Station soon, but that didn't make sense. I saw lights ahead of me, but the map I printed didn’t show the tunnels intersecting. The old blueprint made it look like they had never even finished building the tunnel. The further I walked, the quieter the gongs became. Where the tunnel ended on my map, I continued walking and arrived at Van Ness Station.

I was confused. The lights of the workers ahead of me appeared to get brighter. I could barely hear the gongs over their hammering. They were coming toward me, so I booked it back toward Eureka Station. I didn't come all this way to watch them make repairs.

When I was out of sight, I reset my watch to track how far I was walking. It seemed like time slowed in the tunnel. The ticking of the screen showed how very slowly I was walking. 0.03 Miles, 0.031, 0.032. Being alone in the dark is frightening. I've never truly gotten over it. My mind rushed to form figures in the blackness. I heard a loud squeak that echoed off the walls, I jumped and dropped my flashlight. Behind me the clicking of tiny feet scurried past. Freaking rats.

My heart was pounding my chest now. I felt nauseous and my legs were having trouble walking, my movements were disconnected as I tried to force my body to obey me. My body wanted me to run.

GONG.

Way louder now. What the hell?

I walked past where I first entered at Eureka Station and the gongs were definitely louder. The farther I walked down the tunnel, the closer I was getting to them. I walked past the station along the tracks, now in the direction of the ocean. At least I think I was. My hands were shaking uncontrollably now. The blue prints online were wrong. As would make sense, there is little to no information on this station. What on earth happened here?

Down the tunnel in this direction there was no graffiti, no litter, absolutely nothing. Normally finding human debris is unsettling because that means you aren't alone. Here, not finding anything, it felt like I was the only human in existence, making my way down into the armpits of the earth. There was nothing but gravel crunching under my feet and the gongs. The gongs. The gongs.

There it was. The end of the tunnel. It just ended in a hundred feet. It was simple and abrupt. There was no answer. No explanation. What was in the damn tunnel? What is making these noises?!

I wanted to scream my madness away. 

I felt sick knowing it had to have been in my head. In my head. I'll need to be locked up.

I broke out into a run, tears streaming down my face in frustration. Why is this happening to me? Why can't I even imagine what life was like before the gongs...

I reached the end of the tunnel and stopped, staring up at the wall. My last footstep echoed as silence engulfed me. No gongs. I didn't remember the last time I'd heard the gong. Where was it? Was that just it? Now that I was in the tunnel, was that all whatever was driving me to insanity, wanted? 

"IS THAT IT?!" I screamed at the wall. My yell echoed, bounced off walls and fell quieter as it traveled down the tunnel back towards Eureka Station.

I sat down and stared blankly at the wall. No fear was left in me. 

GONG.

It was louder still. Much louder. It was as though I was next to it. Was it coming from behind the wall?

I shined my flashlight at the edges of the wall. I walked up and placed my hand on it - Concrete. This tunnel was filled as well. Just like the other one. I followed the walls with the white glow of my flashlight until I jumped at a terrifying black mass with bright yellow eyes. I dropped my flashlight in fear. My blood ran cold. I shakily picked up the flashlight and pointed it at the mass again, but the mass didn't move. I walked closer and saw that it was a drawing. Graffiti. It was a black seven foot tall mass with no features at all, just piercing, soulless, yellow eyes staring coldly out.

I pointed my Maglite at the walls around me and surrounding me were the same pictures. There were at least twenty of them lining the walls. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something else that piqued my interest. It was different graffiti. It was familiar but I couldn’t place why it was familiar. It was a cartoon of a man with just one curly hair who was peering over a wall. His enormous nose protruding out. Written below it in large capital words it said, "KILROY WAS HERE."

From the 50's or something, wasn't it? It was something my dad would know if he was still alive.

I pulled out my Maglite and in a rush of insanity I began hammering at wall. The echoes pounded down the tunnel and I knew the workers might hear me, but I didn't care. I didn't care about anything but the damn gongs that had infested me. I needed answers. I pounded and pounded on the walls, caught up in a fury --

GONG                                                                       

It shook the subway.

A deafening sound that shook me to my core. Rocks and pebbles fell to the ground around me. The tunnel was filling with disturbed dust. What if the tunnel was collapsing? I panicked and ran.

I ran as fast as I could all the way back to Eureka Station.

I ran out of the subway and down the street a few blocks before I passed a bar with a bunch of people smoking outside. I wasn't alone anymore.

Now, who the HELL is Kilroy?!
 
 

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Trail of Thoughts

A blank page is so intimidating. Until there is a word on the page my anxiety levels go through the roof, but the second I start tapping on the keys and see the words up there, my brain takes over and starts pumping, well -- Nonsense, but I organize it.

Oh god...

When I was little, I used to write stories all the time on my mom's enormous computer (Don't feel too old, think black screen and blinking green words). My favorite memory of this was absolutely heartbreaking to young me. Even though I could just barely read or write, I sat down and typed out a story of two dolphins playing in the sea. I wrote of them playing above and below the water, and the sun shining on the glittering oceans around them.

Something like this. Only two of'em.

When I was finished I printed it. (This was on the continuous fax paper that has holes on both sides that you have to rip off but are impossible to clean up, and you find litter all around your house years later.) Then I ran over to my mother who was watching TV, and I asked her to read it to me. I wanted to know what she thought of my story. I was so proud. I have no clue what age I was but I remember my mom beginning to read the story, and telling me about the dolphins I'd written about. I was so excited as I sat next to her watching her read MY STORY, and pictured them perfectly, until she asked me what a word meant. Then I was *such* a good writer, that I made up how to spell words I didn't know how to spell. I was so mad at my mom for not being to read my writing. My mother, being the saint she is, asked me if I would read it aloud to her, and I happily obliged.

So I began to read to her about the dolphins and the big ocean waves, the seagulls and the fish, but when I got halfway down the page -- I couldn't read what I typed. It wasn't English; I don't know what it was. Five consonant words. All vowel words. You name it. I looked up from my story, looked into my mom's concerned face and burst into a flood of tears.

I cried my eyes out that night because I couldn't share my story with my mom.

Even as I grew older and wrote a (terrible) book at 13, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I was 15 and kept a notebook on me at all times to write down hilarious jokes my friends made, I thought I was documenting them to share and laugh about with the same friends later.

When I was 21, I came home from college for Thanksgiving. I invited all my friends over and we got into a long discussion about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Everyone had these very serious and obvious dreams that they were many steps towards realizing, and I said I didn't know. A close friend of mine turned to me with the most dumbfounded face and said,

"What? You always carry that journal - You're going to be an author."

I think that simple sentence changed my life. I was left speechless. I had been in denial for so long, because I knew I wouldn't make money from writing. I felt more that I was doing it for me. I was writing stories that I wanted to read, because the one's I had read were simply not cutting it. I kept reading fairytales where the end left me extremely dissatisfied. I wanted a very specific fairytale, and I spent years reading books, trying to find it and coming up disappointed. I wanted a boy's book about girls. I wanted it to be cool and *about* faeries, but not girly 'Tinkerbells'.

No. Get out.

I didn't want it to be a romance novel, either. I finally realized that I had to write it myself, so I did.

Even now, my hope to someday be able to support myself writing seems like a daydream. Like... When you're a teenager and your lifelong dream is to become a famous actress and you really, really believe it.

Maybe one day it won't be a dream any longer. But until then, you'll find me on here, sharing short horror stories I've written in my spare time to frighten, because I've always loved a good campfire tale.

I write both fairytales and horror, because the balance makes me happy.

And if it doesn't make me happy, what on earth would the point be?

All my love,
L.B.



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fiction Short: Eureka Station: Part One


The sounds haven't stopped. It's daily now and maybe I'm losing it, but it seems like they're getting louder. No one else has mentioned anything. I can't believe it's all in my head. I tried to ignore it for weeks, but now. Now. Before I investigate I wanted to leave a note; some explanation.


It all started a few weeks ago on a Wednesday. I woke up at 1:00am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Sleep is never something I have trouble with. Even though I normally fall asleep immediately, this time, no matter how much I tossed and turned, how hard I squeezed my eyelids shut, sleep wasn’t coming back. That’s my fault for falling asleep so early the night before. When my alarm went off at 5:00am, it was more of a relief than anything. At least I wouldn’t be tossing and turning anymore. I got out of bed in the dark. My wife had yelled at me enough times for using the bedroom light, that I staggered over to the hall light instead, cursing as I stubbed my toe on the bottom of the bed frame. I do that every morning. We need a new frame. The wife has been saying that for weeks. My foot screamed at me as I hobbled over to the light and flipped it on, squeezing one eye shut while my eyes adjusted to the light. I turned on the water, hopped into the shower and got dressed as usual. On my way out I grabbed an apple to make the wife happy, and ran to catch my train.


Nothing was out of the ordinary.

I work across town and it takes a while to get there. I leave so early I usually fall asleep on the ride and I’ve missed my stop a couple times. This morning I woke up two stations before mine because the train stopped. I looked up bleary-eyed as the mechanical, stilted woman’s voice projected over the intercom, “Mont-gom-er-y Sta-tion.” But we hadn’t reached Montgomery yet. I looked around outside and we were between stations in the tunnel. The train very rarely stops this early in the morning; it's more common during peak hours. I peered out the window and the glow from our cabin was the only thing lighting the area around us. Blackness ahead of us, and blackness behind us. The tunnel walls were lined with metal panels and large bolts the size of my fist. Soon after the train began to move again, so I folded my arms across my chest and shut my eyes.

Nothing was out of the ordinary.

Half of the passengers got off the train at Montgomery Station and we took off barreling down the black tunnel again, but screeched to a stop abruptly between Montgomery Station and my stop, Embarcadero. It was early enough that everyone had their eyes closed in the cabin and we all looked up at once. Then I heard something I’d never heard in the subway before. It was very faint, but it sounded like a gong. You know, that Chinese instrument. It was like a deep blend of a drum and an old bell. It resonated a few seconds and was gone. I chalked it up to an auditory hallucination. But close to 15 seconds later, there it was again. I thought, maybe it is a church tower belluntil I remembered I was underground. In the subway. The silence inside the train felt louder, the air conditioning was off. I could hear the person texting behind me that hadn’t turned off the keyboard sounds on their phone. The sound of my own breathing; my heartbeat pumping through my ears. The gong hit again, resonated for a second and faded into nothing. There was something eerie about the unpredictable sound. Why would there be a gong, or really, any noise making device, underground? And why would it be going off at 6:45am?

The train conductor came on the loud speaker with a thick Asian accent I couldn’t place. He mumbled something incomprehensible about why the train was stopped. The man across from me laughed loudly,

“Did anybody catch that?”

I looked up at him, shook my head and chuckled. Train conductor speech was next to impossible to understand without an accent. Laughing felt forced and unnatural, but it distracted me for a moment from the feeling of dread growing in the pit of my stomach. I thought of the gong again. Part of my head was screaming at me to simply ask the man if he heard the noise too. But something about being on a train with a ton of people, stuck between stops . . . The last thing I wanted was for them to say no. I didn’t want to frighten anyone. Or worse, what if I was the only one hearing it? Ten seconds later, another gong. I stopped breathing for I don’t know how long. Thoughts were stockpiling in my head. I needed to time them. How far apart were the gongs? If they were predictable maybe it could be some sort of clock.

I opened my phone to the stopwatch app and tapped “Start.” I waited 5 seconds. Nothing. 6. 7. 8. Nothing. I focused on the metal wall of the subway, hoping if I relaxed my eyes, I could heighten my other senses.

GONG.
15 seconds.

I stopped the timer and then started it again. Except for the one guy who seemed surprisingly cheerful and awake, I was surrounded by sleeping passengers. 10. 11. 12. Nothing. Did they stop?

GONG.
18 seconds.

My curiosity changed to fear. I felt like I was hearing something I shouldn’t, like when you’re a child and you can hear your parents whispering in the next room. Goosebumps spread across my arms and I waited with bated breath, hoping that someone else would mention the sound. I dared glance up and the three closest passengers to me had headphones in. Two others looked fast asleep. I wasn’t going to ask.

It seemed like we’d been stuck there for a while when I checked the time. I was running late. It’d been fifteen minutes in the damn tunnel. The thought of work brought me back to reality and I stopped thinking of the creepy sounds of the subway. It was just my imagination running wild. I focused on work - I was going to be late. I had planned a call with my client, John Pryor on the East Coast at 7:00am and I needed to shoot him an email that I’d be late, but I was stuck between stations. No service. All I could do was wait. I closed my eyes in an attempt ignore my mounting frustration. The train started to move again. The air conditioning came back on. The air conditioning in the train seemed louder than normal, but maybe that was because I was scared. I felt relief though, at least with the air on I wouldn’t hear the –

GONG.

It was fainter, but definite. As we pulled into Embarcadero, I listened for the sound, but I didn’t hear it again. It was as fascinating as it was disturbing. Once I was at my station I heard it, but at the top of the escalator the noise was drowned out by the crowd. I wondered if the sound was always there, but hidden by the noise of the subway.

Did no one else hear this? Did it not concern them?

As I stood on the second escalator I began to wonder if maybe I was imagining it. But no, it was there. When I got to the top of the escalator there was a sign for the Muni that said the trains would be shut down. They need to make “Earthquake Safety Construction Updates,” and it would be closed in a month or so from 10:00pm – 5:00am. That would be inconvenient.

As I walked to work there were two things that kept creeping back into my head. Images of what the sound could possibly be, and the only explanation: What did we uncover when we built subways? Or what did we hide in them?

It's all I can think about. I hoped it would go away. I really did. I hoped that would be it. But it's been weeks. Weeks of this unending, unpredictable gong. It taunts me in my dreams. I'm barely sleeping.

I have to know what's down there.