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 bell, until 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.
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?
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 –
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.