Authors: Danielle Vega
My body feels heavier as I climb back down the ladder and drop to the ground next to my friends. “It's stuck.”
“You don't say,” Woody mutters, cocking an eyebrow.
The rest of them look at me, waiting. I wipe the grease from the ladder rungs onto the back of my jeans.
I don't want to think about what happens next, but Shana's right. It's better to get it over with now. Before the candles die.
“Okay,” I say.
“CaseyÂ .Â .Â .” Sam puts a hand on my arm. The same hand that touched Shana's skin and hair and lips. I pull away, disgusted.
“Don't,” I warn him. I still can't look him in the face, so I stare at the toe of his sneaker. “Let's find another exit and get the hell out of here.”
Sam nods and peels the candle off the floor. The flame sparks as he holds it out in front of him.
“Let's go,” he says.
SAM LEADS US DOWN THE TUNNEL, HOLDING THE
candle in front of him like a beacon. Shana's arm brushes against his as they walk, and I look away.
I always thought she hated Sam, or that she was jealous of how much time I spent with him. Now I know better.
I should have figured it out the night of Jasper's party. I was crouched in the bathroom, waiting to be rescued by Sam, when I heard Shana's gravel-on-sandpaper voice on the other side of the plywood door.
“Where's Casey?” she demanded, but she started toward the bathroom without waiting for an answer. Her high-heeled boots bit into the floorboards, making them shake.
I wanted to crawl into the dirty shower stall and hide. I wanted to back up against the door and hold it shut with my body. But that was stupid. Shana was my best friend.
Seconds later, she threw open the bathroom door. “What are you doing in here?”
I swallowed, feeling the last grains of oxy dissolve on my tongue. “Hiding from that creep you left me with.”
is our hookup. He's going to score us some H.”
Shana wiggled her eyebrows, but I just stared.
. As in
“Are you crazy?” I hissed.
“Duh,” Shana whispered, giggling. “Come on.”
She started to stand, but I grabbed her wrist, pulling her back to the floor. “Wait,” I said. “What did you promise him?”
Shana's smile faded. “What?”
“What did you say you'd give him in exchange for the drugs?”
Shana chewed her lip. Her eyes traveled down my body. “You wouldn't have to do much,” she said. “Just make out a little.”
Disgust turned my stomach. “
,” I said. Shana started to argue, but a car rumbled to a stop outside, cutting her off.
“That's Sam,” I told her.
Shana rolled her eyes. “Of course you called Prince Charming to come and save you,” she muttered.
I pushed past her and dashed for the front door, ignoring the whistles and hollers that followed me out.
I kick a beer can, watching it rattle down the subway tunnel. Sam had been furious. He broke up with me the very next morning. It hadn't occurred to me until now that all of it had been Shana's fault. If she hadn't dragged me to that party, Sam never would have seen me like that. He wouldn't have dumped me, I wouldn't have been sent to rehab, and he never would have ended up with Shana. Everything would have been fine.
Woody elbows me. “You want?” he asks, holding a silver flask engraved with a marijuana leaf. I shake my head.
Woody shrugs and takes a drink. “Right,” he says. “Shana mentioned you were doing the whole sober thing.”
“Yeah,” I say. “They look down on drinking in rehab.”
Woody nods, like I just said something deeply profound. “I get that.” He takes another swig from his flask. “So. Are you a Jesus freak now?”
“What?” I cough.
“My cousin went to rehab last year. When she came back she was, like,
into Jesus. She started saying all this stuff about how
was driving her car, and that
takes over when she can't handle her life.” Woody fumbles with the flask's lid. “Apparently there was a lot she couldn't handle, because she prayed all the time, too. I mean, she prayed like it was her job. Come to think of it, I don't think she had a real job.”
“I'm not into Jesus now,” I say, cutting him off. “It wasn't that kind of rehab.”
Woody nods, solemnly, like he's well acquainted with the many types of rehab. “Do you think it's God?” he asks. He stretches his arms over his head and his shirtsleeve moves up, revealing the Japanese characters he had tattooed on his bicep sophomore year. He thinks they read “peace” but Aya told me they actually say
, which translates to “creep.”
“Do I think what's God?” I ask.
“Whatever happened to Julie. Maybe it's the Rapture and God is killing all nonbelievers.”
I think about the bloody wound hollowing out her gut and the way someone strung her up across the tunnels for us to find. I twist Julie's ring around my thumb. It's too big for me, and I'm afraid it'll slip from my finger. “It's not the Rapture,” I say.
“Then what do you think it is?
Something thuds to the ground ahead of us. I stop walking and grab Woody's arm.
“Oh, God,” Aya moans. “Oh God oh God oh God.” She huddles against Shana's back.
Sam squints into the darkness, holding the candle before him. The light illuminates only the rough stone-and-brick wall. “I think it was just some dirt crumbling from the ceiling,” he says.
We start shuffling forward again. It definitely could have been dirt, I tell myself. These walls are old enough. I'm surprised we don't hear more bits and pieces crumbling off them.
But the noise didn't really sound like dirt.
I huddle closer to Woody, pushing that thought to the very back of my mind. He drops a hand on my shoulder and squeezes. It's a nice, brotherly gesture and I feel a rush of gratitude toward him.
“Well?” Woody asks. “What do you think it is?”
It's a second before I remember that he's asking me what I think killed Julie. “I think it was a man,” I say. He raises an eyebrow, and I tell him about the girls I heard talking about the homeless serial killer who lives in these tunnels.
Woody blows air out through his teeth. “That's messed up,” he mutters. “Do you think he's down here now?”
I stare straight ahead, into the darkness that's like a wall outside the safety of Sam's candlelight. If I think too hard about all the things that could be hiding out there, I wouldn't be able to take another step. I swallow, and the back of my throat tastes like ash.
“Yeah,” I say. “I think he's down here now.”
We continue moving through the tunnels in silence, eventually reaching a fork. Woody gives my shoulder one last squeeze and jogs up next to Sam.
“This way,” he says, pointing down a narrow tunnel that twists away from the main subway system. It's much smaller than the tunnels we've been walking through so far, and there aren't any tracks stretching across the ground.
Sam frowns. “You're sure?” he asks.
in the subways,” Woody says. A clump of blond hair falls over his forehead, and he gives his head a practiced toss to get it out of his eyes. “This one's headed north, yeah? Should take us to Chambers. There's definitely a way out there. We'll probably find something after, like, twenty minutes of walking.”
minutes?” Shana hisses.
“Tops,” Woody says.
“Look, if he thinks there's an exit this way, we should take it,” Sam says. “Better than wandering around lost.”
“I guess,” Shana mutters.
The new tunnel is too narrow for us to walk side by side. We form a lineâWoody, then Sam, Shana, Aya, and me. Our footsteps echo off the curved walls around us, and water drips from the ceiling. I slip my cell out of my jeans pocket and check the timeâ4:37 a.m.
We'll be out of here before five, I tell myself. I try to picture what will happen next. Would we go right to the police station to report Julie's murder? I imagine someone wrapping a blanket around my shoulders, and drinking watery coffee while I explain how we found her. The thought makes me shiver. It's equal parts comforting and horrifying.
The tunnel slopes upward. I lean forward to keep from losing my balance. A broken lightbulb juts out from the wall, and glass crunches beneath my feet. A cockroach darts over the bricks. I cringe, looking away.
The wall ends, abruptly, replaced by thick wooden slabs that stand several feet apart. Sam's candlelight flickers over another lane of thick metal rails on the other side.
I dig my cell phone out of my pocket and aim the light past the tracks. Chicken wire stretches between the two lanes. It comes up to my waist, affixed to the wood with bright orange zip ties. A wooden beam cuts across the slabs, dividing the space in half.
“Do you think there's something over there?” I crouch to peer below the beam, shining my light over another brick wall on the other side of the train tracks. “An exit or another platform?”
A train thunders through the tunnels before Woody can answer. I don't see it, but dirt rains down from the ceiling, coating my hair. My heart leaps in my chest. Trains mean people.
“There must be a working subway directly above us,” Woody says, shaking the dust from his head.
“How do we find it?” Aya asks.
“The tunnel's sloping up,” Woody says. “They should connect at some point.”
The others hurry forward, but I stand too quickly and smack the back of my head against the wooden beam. Pain spreads through my skull and a wave of dizziness washes over me. For a second, I can't see.
“Shit,” I mutter. Someone drops a hand on my shoulder. “It's okay,” I say, rubbing my head. “I'm fine.”
“Casey?” Woody calls. I blink, and my eyesight clears.
Sam and Shana huddle together at the far end of the tunnel, the candle flickering between them. Woody stands a few feet away, Aya hovering behind him.
They all stare at me, eyes wide with horror.
“Oh my God.” Aya lifts a trembling hand to her mouth. Fear trickles through me.
I turn my head.
Meaty gray fingers rest on my shoulder. The flesh is mottled and waterlogged, the fingers swollen to twice their size. Jagged black nails jut out from them, looking like they might pop off. There's a raw, bloody wound where the pinkie should be.
I scream and jerk forward. The hand tumbles from my shoulder and smacks onto the dirt-covered floor. Two bones jut out of the bloody, decaying stump.
I STUMBLE INTO THE WALL, SWATTING MY ARMS AND
shaking out my hair. I still feel those fingers on my shoulder, the fingernails grazing my skin.
“Holy shit!” Woody shouts. Sam lunges forward and yanks me away from the decaying hand. I shudder violently. I can't seem to catch my breath.
Shana takes a step forward, her eyes wide. “What's that?” she says, and I jerk my head around to where she's staring.
The decaying remains of an arm stick out from a narrow crevice just above us. Bloody flannel rags cling to what's left of the jagged bones and shredded, meaty flesh. Nausea turns my stomach. I sink against the wall and ball up a fist at my mouth to keep from vomiting. I'm dimly aware of a cold hand brushing against my arm.
I flinch away.
“Hey, it's just me,” Sam says, holding his hands in front of him. “Are you okay?”
“I'm okay.” I take another deep breath and clench my hands to still the trembling. Sam aims the candlelight at the arm.
“It looks like he got caught on the tracks,” Sam says, nodding at the arm. “See the rail? There must be another tunnel above us.”
I squint into the shadows behind the arm. Metal train tracks glint back at me, barely visible through the crevice. I swallow. Maybe Sam's right. Maybe this poor man just got caught on the rails and lost his arm. I take a step closer, fear prickling the back of my neck. I can't help thinking of those girls I overheard at the party again.
They never found his body
, they'd said.
“Let's go,” I say. I swipe at my shoulder again, even though I know there's nothing there. “I want to get the hell out of here.”
“Amen,” Shana adds.
We hurry forward. I slide my phone back into my pocket. Then, thinking twice, I pull it back out and turn up the display. A narrow, bright spotlight appears in the inky darkness, illuminating the back of Aya's leopard-print dress. She flinches and glances over her shoulder at me.
Blue eyeliner streams down her cheeks, mixing with her tears. Her narrow black eyes look small without it. Black hair falls loose from its fancy chignon and clings to her head, limp and lifeless.
“We're gonna die,” Aya whispers, lips trembling. Her lipstick's gone, too, except for the faint smudges of red around the corners of her mouth. I lift my phone higher, but Aya flinches and shies away from the light before I can illuminate her pupils.
“Sorry.” I reach for her hand. It feels skinny and fragile, like it belongs to a sick person, but then Aya squeezes my fingers, and she feels strong again.
“I'm so scared, Case,” she whispers. She tries to keep a sob from escaping her lips, and her chest rises and falls. “We're gonna die. Just like Julie.”
I picture gray skin and black fingernails. I feel the cold hand resting on my shoulder. My heart starts beating faster.
“We're not going to die.” I squeeze Aya's hand. “Remember when we spent the night at Julie's house last summer?”
Julie's place is the only one with a finished basement, so we stayed over one weekend. Her mom set us up with popcorn and ordered pizza, and then left us alone for the rest of the night. We drank a bottle of peach-flavored champagne that Shana had stolen, and gossiped till four in the morning.
Aya stares past me, her small black eyes flitting about like a bird. I don't think she heard me. But she nods.
“She made us play that game,” she says. “The scary one.”
“The Ouija board,” I say. Julie spent the whole night trying to freak us out. She made us say “Bloody Mary” into her bathroom mirror and kept trying to get us to tell scary stories. But the Ouija board was her favorite. She lit a bunch of candles and poured us all a glass of the sickly sweet champagne and announced that we were going to contact the spirit of some long-dead serial killer.
“Right,” I say. “Remember how you couldn't sleep? And we stayed up half the night, painting each other's nails and talking, until you finally passed out on the couch. Remember?”
Aya nods. “I remember,” she says.
I squeeze her hand. “And the next day, you woke up and realized there was nothing to be afraid of. That Julie just made everything up to scare us.”
My phone blinks off. I hear Aya's raspy breathing in the darkness. I fumble for the power button and switch the phone back on again.
is real,” Aya says when the light hits her face. “And Julie's dead.”
She pulls her hand away from mine and shuffles forward in silence. Every few minutes I hear her sniffle, and she wipes her cheek with her hand.
We follow Woody down one tunnel, and then another, deeper and deeper into the subway's depths. Sam's candle bobs ahead of me, and I play a game of letting it move farther and farther away. Like I don't care about him. But there's an empty space that grows larger as the distance between us stretches. I want to feel his arm around my shoulder, and I want to hear him say that everything's going to be all right, in his quiet, confident voice. He has the kind of voice you can't help believing.
I wrap my arms around my chest, trying to shake the feelings away.
I look away from the candlelight and check my phoneâ5:12. I walk a little faster and open my mouth to call out to Woody. Something glimmers in the tunnel ahead. My mouth hangs open, but I forget what I was about to shout.
“What the hell was that?” Shana says.
“I think it was a light,” Sam says. He starts moving faster. “Maybe this is Chambers.”
We walk faster, hurrying toward the glimmer. The ground angles down slightly. The tunnel opens up and we spill into a wider, open space. A stone ceiling arcs high above us, and rounded brick walls surround us on all sides. Two more tunnels twist off from the walls, and all are just as narrow and dark as the one we came down. I look around the space for the glimmerâand step right into a puddle of water.
“What the hell,” I mutter, shuffling back. Water seeps through my flimsy leather shoe and soaks the bottom of my jeans. Shana splashes into the puddle next to me.
“Shit,” she says, staring down at her soaked leather boot. Disappointment flashes across her face. “You guys,
must've been what we saw. Our lights reflected off the water.”
We're quiet as it sinks in that we're no closer to finding an exit. I make my way around the side of the space, cringing as water seeps into my shoes. I use my phone to illuminate the two new tunnels. Water pools along the bottoms of both.
“This must be why these tunnels are closed,” I say. Woody comes up behind me.
“Is that a sign?” he asks.
I frown. “Like, from God?”
He gives me a look and takes the phone out of my hand, sending a beam of light toward the wall. Faded black paint labels the tunnel.
, it reads. I glance at Woody, wondering if he recognizes the name. Frown lines crinkle his forehead.
“Shit,” he mutters.
“What do you mean
?” Sam asks.
Woody scratches the back of his head with my phone. “Look,” he says. “I must've gotten a little turned around.”
“Turned around?” Shana asks.
“I thought we were heading toward Chambers.” Woody turns and glances at the sign reading
. “But, um, it looks like we veered east at some point.”
“We've been walking in the wrong direction for
half an hour
?” Sam yells.
His mouth is a hard, thin line. Heat climbs his neck, and red splotches color his cheeks. He rakes his hand through his hair and kicks the floor of the tunnel. Something skitters through the dark and splashes into the puddle.
“Damn it!” Sam shouts. Woody clears his throat.
“Look,” he says. “I thinkÂ .Â .Â .”
“I don't care what you
.” Sam rounds on Woody and shoves him. Woody stumbles into the water and falls against the wall.
“Watch it!” he shouts. Sam stares daggers at him. For a second I'm sure he's going to hit him again, but then he shakes his head. Some of the anger fades from his face, and he offers Woody his hand.
“Sorry,” he mutters, pulling Woody back to his feet. Woody shrugs and straightens his shirt.
“If you two are done, will one of you explain how we're going to get out of here now?” Shana asks.
Sam sighs, and looks over Shana's shoulder, down the tunnel we just walked through. “I guess we double back? See if we can find the way to Chambers?”
“Double back?” Woody shakes his head. “Look, there's definitely an exit down toward City Hall. A bunch of other trains crisscross the tunnels up there. It's probably just ten more minutes on.”
“Um, it's flooded.” Shana stomps around in the water with her heavy boots, splashing the walls. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. There's maybe an inch of water sloshing around on the ground and our feet are already wet.
“I'm up for going to City Hall,” I say. “The water's not deep.”
.” Shana cocks an eyebrow, looking at me like I'm crazy. “And the tunnel slopes down. We're trying to go up, remember?”
“So you want to turn around?” The idea of going back the way we came makes me feel suddenly very tired. “Come on, he said it was just ten more minutes!”
“He also said we were headed toward Chambers!” Shana shouts. “He doesn't know what he's talking about!”
“Hey, I don't see you helping,” Woody says.
“Guys, stop.” Sam moves between us. Turning to me, he says, “Look, we have to turn back.”
Anger flares inside me. “Of course you'd side with Shana.”
“I'm not siding with Shana. I'm trying to be logical about this.” Sam slams his fist against the tunnel wall. “Woody doesn't really know where we're going.”
. That sign clearly says
.” Woody waves his hands at the faded black letters. “You do
it, don't you? I'm not hallucinating?”
“Well, what if we go down that tunnel and can't get back out?” Sam asks. “Or what if it's so badly flooded that we wind up trapped?”
“What if we head back the way we came and get
?” I shout back.
Something shuffles behind us, and I flinch before realizing it's just Aya. She steps away from the wall and puts her hand on my arm. Shana looks from me to her.
“I guess she's the tiebreaker,” she mutters, crossing her arms over her chest. “Well, Aya? What do you want to do?”
Aya sniffs and rocks back and forth on her dirty heels. “I'm with Casey,” she says, her voice raw from crying. “Let's go to City Hall.”