Journey to Nowhere

For those not from the New York area, there is an annual tradition of the Mermaid Parade held each year at Coney Island. It’s a fun day where people dress in their most fabulous and in many cases, skimpiest outfit. Plus you can enjoy a Famous Nathan’s hot dog and ride the Cyclone roller-coaster. Of course, that might be a dangerous mix.

Another aspect of attending the Mermaid Parade is getting there if you don’t live close. It’s a long trip for many New Yorkers, depending on where you are. Below is a log of one such trek, written in an old-timey style. Tally-Ho!

An Excerpt From “Journey to Nowhere, the Failure of The MTA in the Early Twenty-First Century”
By Professor Nari Applebaum

It is a well-documented fact that the mass transit system of the five boroughs of New York City was a disaster of unimaginable proportions. So much, that the early part of the twenty-first century were known as the “Age of Tardiness”, due to the chronic lateness that plagued the citizenry.

While many tales of being delayed have been passed down through the generations, like any story, they have grown with the telling. One of the most famous, “The Rerouting of the 4 Train by the Albino Alligator of Union Square” is considered to be apocryphal. (Editors note: It is a proven scientific fact that the last of the albino alligators were devoured by the Rat King in 1957.)

What we are presenting is a rare document of an expedition from northern most part of Manhattan, Washington Heights, to the Mermaid Parade, a celebration once held in the southern region of Brooklyn, called Coney Island. The journal of this journey was discovered during the excavation of the long disused Hoyt–Schermerhorn subway station, preserved in what was known at that time as a smart phone.

For those of us who enjoy the smooth, efficient teleportation of today, what you read below will seem horrific, but just remember, it was a savage time.

Friday June 15th, 2018 9:37 P.M.
The day for which I have pined for is at long last is but one slumber away! A parade of Mermaids at the Isle of Coney! Last year inclement weather ruined the proceeding and sorrow was my only suitor. But that is no worry as all climatologists agree that it shall be sunny, warm and any clouds will be of the whitest and fluffiest quality!
I fear that Morpheus’ kiss will be withheld but I shall do my best to rest for the festivities on the morrow.

Saturday June 16th, 7:03 A.M.
It is at last the day I have longed for! I have donned my spangly-est summer flock and a mock tiara! Accompanying me is my dearest friend, Mina, who has also bedecked herself in a most shiny manner. We shall certainly catch Neptune’s gaze!

Our journey is about to begin as we enter the 181st. Subway station! Although the trip from Heights of Morningside to the Isle of Coney will be a lengthy one, I have placed a flask of water and a lemon flavored Luna bar in my purse, if I should become peckish while we travel. Though I must save my appetite for Mr. Nathan’s world-renowned sausages!

We are also to be joined by our gentlemen friends, Justin and Roberto. I tried to persuade them to travel uptown so we could set out together, but they insisted that they could join us en route. If this is our greatest misfortune, I shall count myself blessed. Oh, the trolley is arriving! We are on our way!

Saturday June 16th 7:37 A.M.
Fiddlesticks! The trolley has sped past the station at 96th Street! Apparently there is some work being done on the tracks! Mina has just spotted the notice posted in the car. I suppose we were too exited to see it. I have sent a message of text to Justin to meet us at station in Times Square with Roberto.
I feel as though we would not be in our present predicament if the gentlemen had listened to me and we had all set out together. This is a minor inconvenience and will soon be forgotten.

Saturday June 16th 8:23 A.M.
It seems fate is indeed fickle. We have been immobile betwixt stations due to a sick passenger ahead of us. I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person, who can put her own needs aside for the greater good. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think wonder why someone who was ill would ride the underground trolley and not go to hospital post haste. Does this make me a terrible person or are they inconsiderate for putting everyone else in this position?

Saturday June 16th 8:57 A.M.
We are finally on the move again and are fast approaching the 42nd Street Station. I hope that the ailing passenger has gotten the care they need. Perhaps my vexed mood might be attributed to the fact I did not eat a proper breakfast. Am tempted to consume some of my Luna Bar but I steel myself with thoughts of the culinary treats that abound at the Isle of Coney. I will be strong.

Saturday June 16th 9:17 A.M.
There is a passage that allows passengers from the A trolley to go to the Time Square Station. Inexplicitly, that passage is blocked due to more construction! While we are given a transfer token, Mina and I have no choice but to brave 42nd Street aboveground. The street is littered with tourists, all of whom walk at a snail’s pace, and for some reason, performers dressed as Elmo every ten feet or so. That must be bewildering to any child. Despite this obstacle course, we get to the proper station. Finally.

Saturday June 16th, 9:25 A.M.
Mina and I have arrived of the platform for the N and Q trolleys and spot Ricardo who is waving enthusiastically. Hugs all around but where is Justin? Apparently, according to Ricardo, Justin has been delayed, but his message of text proclaims his intent to be there as swiftly as possible. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday June 16th 10:18
Although he promised an alacritous arrival, Justin has only now joined us. If there is anything more agonizing than waiting for someone to arrive whilst standing on an underground trolley in summer time, I cannot imagine it. I know that it is still technically spring, but it seems summer has arrived early, like an unwanted guest. While I am sorely tempted to use my sharpest tone with Justin, but he is so apologetic and insists on paying for our feast at Mr. Nathan’s that I cannot help but forgive him. A Q trolley just pulled in and we are finally on our way. Huzzah!

Saturday June 16th 10:31
As the trolley clatters, we have been chatting about the things we wish to do once we arrive. Mina is keen to ride the mechanical attraction, the Cyclone. Roberto is not as enthused, having ridden it once before, resulting in some intestinal distress. Mina teases him, though gently. She confided in me that she is rather smitten with him. Perhaps love will bloom like a sea anemone in a mermaid’s garden? These thoughts quickly fade as someone has begun to scream!

Saturday June 16th, 11:08
They speak of the rodents that dwell in the depths of the tunnels but to see one brazenly strut within the confines of a trolley car is beyond belief. A panic gripped the passengers as they tried their best to avoid contact with the foul vermin. In the past, I had chortled at the antics of the pizza rat, but the reality, minus the slice is most distressing.

A woman with the mightiest purse I have ever seen, full of courage and many containers of makeup, has bludgeoned the offending creature, to much cheering by passengers, myself included, and is proceeding to punt its unconscious form towards the door at the end when suddenly with a deafening screech, we are all flung to the ground!

Saturday June 16th, 11: 32
It seems that during the fracas with the rodent, someone panicked and pulled the emergency stop cord. There was much moaning and cursing in the wake of this. I shall not repeat what was said, but know that the denizens of the Five Boroughs pride themselves on their colorful expletives and this was as fine a demonstration as you could ask for.

A conductor soon came through demanding to know why the cord was pulled and who the culprit was. He issued many threats as to the severity of an unwarranted trolley stop but no one confessed. In the kerfuffle, no one seems to have seen the act. Our conductor, clearly apoplectic with rage stormed out of the car. I considered asking him when we will be moving but he seemed disinclined to polite inquiries. Let us hope that we will be moving shortly.

Saturday June 16th 11:51
Know this, if you pull the emergency stop cord on a trolley, it will result in not merely a brief halt to travel, but one of indeterminate length. We waited for what seemed like hours to continue, even though I know that it is but minutes.

An announcement issued forth from the speakers that this train is now out of service, we are to be lead through the tunnels to the next station, accompanied by constables of the transit ministry. Had I know that I would be indulging in some spelunking, I would not have worn my flippy floppy sandals. They are not practical footwear for trudging though the decades of filth that have accumulated on the bottom of a trolley tunnel.

Just before we arrived at the Beverley Road station, I would swear that I saw the selfsame rodent that plagued us scuttle away into the inky darkness, with what I can only describe as a wicked grin. Can a rat grin? Lest I be thought mad, I keep such thoughts to myself. My eyes are firmly locked on the prize. Nothing shall stand in my way.

Saturday June 16th 12:03 P.M.
The Q trolley will not be running for hours but Roberto has suggested we summon an Uber carriage to take us the rest of the way but it seems we are not alone in that notion. The wait time is unacceptable. I suggest we walk to the Ditmars Avenue station, as the F trolley will bring us directly to our destination.

There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this plan, as our misfortunes have robbed my companions of both vim and vigor but I inspire them through my force of will.

Ditmars ho!

Saturday June 16th 12:29 P.M.
Our trudge was brutally hot, and accompanied by a fair bit of grumbling by our gentlemen, but we have arrived! Mustering our energy, we dash up the stairs and into a trolley in the nick of time! Ahhh… The sweet chilled caress of conditioned air, it is balm for our ragged spirits. Soon we are laughing and all seems right with the world. It seems the worst is behind us.

Saturday June 16th 12:46 P.M.
I journey on alone. Whilst traveling, a troupe of those acrobatic young men who leap about the bars and polls of a trolley car accompanied by rhythmic music entered the car and began to perform. Everyone secretly fears being kicked inadvertently even though it never seems to happen.

Well, Fate has struck another blow to this day. Mina, who was enjoying the show up to the point, was kicked in the face. The acrobats fled the car, to where I cannot say. Mina is inconsolable. She is sporting a rather nasty bruise, I have assured her that I can remedy it with some judicial applications of cosmetics.
She however, is having none of it. Mina insists that this expedition is cursed and sworn to leave at the next stop to return home. I point out that it is ridiculous to abandon this as we are so close to our destination.

The eyes of my closest and dearest friends turn upon me as if I were a bedlamite. An awkward silence falls upon the car, broken only by the clatter of the trolley on the tracks.

Mina and Roberto exit at the next stop. I ask Justin, sweet Justin if he will finish this with me. He simply shakes his head and joins the others.

If the universe thinks that I will give up, they are sorely mistaken. I will enjoy the parade, eat at Mister Nathan’s and perhaps even brave the Cyclone. Needing no one else, I will complete this voyage.

This was the last entry. It is unknown if the author of this journal finally attended the mermaid parade, but the device that contained this journal was found miles from her final goal. It might have been lost as she returned home or perhaps stolen. Sadly, there is no way of knowing. Although speculation is a fool’s errand, I like to think she made it to the parade and home safely. I can admire her fortitude even as I pity her for the time she lived in.

An Odd Missive-Part One

This is part one of a short story I wrote a while back. I’ve broken it up into three installments, partially because is it longish for a short story, and partially encourage readers to come back for more. On a self-indulgent note, story won the 2016 New England Science Fiction & Fantasy Association Short Story Contest, which, if you’ll forgive my bragging, is something I’m quite proud of. Now that that’s over, please enjoy An Odd Missive, Part One.

The letter arrived inside an interoffice envelope and was put in Paul’s inbox, and in that way it was ordinary. But there is where ordinary stopped. The address read like this:
Messrs L. Parsnip & P. Looseleaf
752 Inside Thoughtful Lane
Chamber of the Next to Last A
North-South Webbton, Old York
The Borough
123456-654321
The names were odd and the address absurd. There was no place called “Old York”; even the one in England was simply called “York”.
It also was handwritten, with the sort of care only given to weddings and other such events. The envelope itself was made of a thick paper — clearly handcrafted — and the very feel of it was smooth. The final touch was it had been sealed with wax, a copper-colored wax that was impressed with the image of a bottle.
There was a heft to it; whatever was in it was heavy, but not rigid like metal or plastic. The idea that it was plastic seemed somehow wrong. It had a slight give when pressed, gently of course; something told Paul to press gently.
There were no other instructions on the envelope, no memo, no stickies, nothing. Picking it up, Paul went to his supervisor’s office, Ms. Barbara Karkowski. Ms. Karkowski was a good boss in Paul’s estimation. She neither micromanaged nor attempted to be pals with those in her department. Questions would be answered, if asked, and paychecks would be passed out twice a month, which was all he asked for.
Paul stuck his head in Ms. Karkowski’s office and said, “Boss, I have a question.”
Ms. Karkowski did not look up from her laptop screen; she continued to tap away but did say, “Shoot.”
“I got this odd letter…” he began to say, which caused his boss to stop whatever she was typing and look up.
“Close the door,” she said, as she shut her laptop and gestured to the chair in front of her desk. The whole office was super-clean and functional, as if it had been decorated by Scandinavians from the future. There were no personal touches. No photos of loved ones, no tchotchkes, no themed calendar of dogs or cats, or anything else, for that matter.
She took out a key ring from her purse and unlocked a desk drawer, removing a wooden box and placing it in the center of her desk. The box was in sharp contrast to the rest of the office, as it was battered, stained, and clearly extremely old.
“What’s –“ he began.
“Please be quiet,” she said, but not unkindly.
Paul did as he was bid; this was odd, she almost seemed nervous. She was never nervous, occasionally irritated, but not nervous.
Paul watched as she pulled out a tiny key that hung from a thin chain around her neck. It looked a little dull to be jewelry, and Paul had never noticed it before. Ms. Karkowski didn’t wear a lot of jewelry, and the chain the key hung from was thin, so it must be normally hidden inside her blouse.
With a loud click, the box was unlocked, and she removed a leather-bound notebook. Like the box, it was stained and worn, but it did not seem in any danger of falling apart.
“What is written on the front of the envelope?” she asked.
Paul tried to hand it to her, but she made no move to grab it, saying, “Put it on the desk, facing me.”
He did so. She read the address and said, “Now turn it over.”
Again, he complied. This was getting odder and odder.
“Huh,” she said, and opened the notebook. She checked several pages and found what she looking for. Taking a card from the box, she wrote down what looked like several sentences. She then put the notebook back in the box, locked the box, placed the box in the drawer, and locked it once more.
“Paul, it is very, very important that you do exactly what I tell you to do,” she said.
“Can you tell me what is going on?” he asked.
She stopped and looked him in the eye for a good minute. He felt as though this was a test of some sort, not that he could tell what for, but he didn’t look away.
“You need to deliver that envelope,” she replied, and handed him the card she had written on. “Follow these instructions exactly.”
Paul read the card and said, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Just do exactly what I wrote, and there should be no problems.”
“Listen, is this some sort of hazing? I know I’m the new guy but –.”
“Paul, you’re a good worker, please just do this and it will sort itself out,” she said.
He looked at her; there was no hint of humor, no twinkle in the eye, no sly smile. There was however, a slight furrow of the brow.
“OK, I’ll be back when I’m done,” said Paul.
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you be?” she replied.
He was about to step out of her office when she added, “Be careful of the Coppermen.”
Paul wanted to ask if he had heard her correctly, but she was back to her tip-tapping on the laptop, and he knew that meant this conversation was over.
* * *
Paul put on his coat and left the office, the letter in his inside pocket. He pulled it out. The first part of the instructions were, “Take the 6 train downtown to the end of the line, riding in the last car”.
The 6 train was just two blocks from the office, but it began to rain, so he ran most of the way.
Paul walked to the back of the subway platform, and the train arrived just as he got there. Some good luck, he thought, as he pushed his wet hair out of his eyes. The car was crowded, but he was able to wedge himself in. Stations came and went — 50th Street, Grand Central Station, 33rd street, and so on — till they reached City Hall, end of the line. By then, it was only Paul, an old lady with a shopping cart, and a tall, thin man with a handlebar mustache and wearing an old-style suit with enameled pins on his lapel — clearly some sort of hipster, Paul thought.
Paul got off and looked at the card again. “Go down the metal stairs at the end of the platform till you reach the seventh step. Then walk backwards (this is important!) five steps and then forward nine”.
There was a metal stairway leading down at the end of the platform. It looked like there was normally a chain across it, presumably to keep people from doing what Paul was about to do. The area was poorly lit as it was, and it looked dark down there. This had to be some sort of elaborate prank. Paul didn’t like pranks, usually because he was the victim of so many, but he tried to be a good sport about them.
He counted out his steps carefully, watching his feet: forward seven, backwards five, and forward nine more. On the ninth step, he looked up and saw a tiled archway and an old-fashioned turnstile ahead of him. Oddly, the lighting seemed better now. There was no slot for a Metrocard, but he saw a metal sign reading “Entrance” and below that “5 Cents”.
He looked at the card his boss gave him. There seemed to be new instructions on it somehow: “Enter the turnstile, DO NOT JUMP! Wait for the Y train. Get on and ride till you reach Stuyvesant Square station, but before that, go to the hot pie stand and buy two”. Paul, who had never jumped a turnstile in his life, fished through his pockets and luckily found a nickel, dropping it in the slot and pushing through the turnstile, which made a metallic thunk as it turned.
Walking down a tiled, arched corridor, Paul eventually came out to the platform for the W train. Like the corridor he had just passed through, it was tiled and had a curved but higher ceiling. It did look like a subway station might’ve looked when you only had to pay a nickel to ride. Must be one of those station restorations the city did to commemorate the subway’s long history, and he probably entered it through some little-used back entrance — a shortcut, Paul thought. There were even people dressed in what, at first glance, seemed like period costumes. Upon closer examination, though, there was something off about the clothing.
One young woman wore a hoop skirt with denim jacket over a yellow tank top and a tiny hat with blinking lights. The man from the subway with the handlebar mustache was there, reading a newspaper. Another gentleman, in a bowler and goggles, checked his pocket watch and raised his eyebrows. Three women wearing military jackets, jodhpurs, well-polished boots, and some sort of veiled hats that suggested a very stylish beekeeper nodded at Paul as he passed them, murmuring something he couldn’t make out.
This was clearly some sort of subculture gathered here, Paul thought; hipster-ish, what with all the old-timey clothes and affectations. He figured it was best to go along with it. Then he saw a cart selling, according to the sign, “Hot Pies”; so Paul walked up.
“Two hot pies, please,” he asked.
“Sweet or Savory?” asked the old woman standing behind the cart. Paul consulted the card his boss had given him; it now said, “Buy both, eat neither”.
“One of each, please,” he said.
“I like your manners,” the Hot Pie lady said, with a smile. She pulled two pies out of the cart, wrapped them in paper, and placed them in a brown paper sack.
“Ten cents” she said, as she held out bag.
Paul fished a quarter out of his pocket and received the change. Glancing at the coins she gave him, he saw that the nickel had Jefferson on one side and an owl on the other. The Dime had a wasp and the profile of a woman he didn’t recognize.
“Ummm… my change,” Paul began.
“Would you rather have pennies?” asked the Hot Pie lady, who held out a handful of copper coins of varying sizes and shapes.
“No. I’m fine,” he said, “Thank you.”
Paul mingled in with the others waiting for the train. As he looked around, he saw, worked into the tile, the name of the station: “New City”. If this was a hazing, it was the most elaborate he had ever been in.
He felt a light breeze and saw a light coming down the tunnel. The sound of clattering was heard and the train thundered into the station in a cloud of steam. The train stopped, doors opened with a hiss, and a new group of unique people poured out, and Paul was fighting a rushing river of lace, crinoline, old leather, silk, and canvas. With some effort and more than a few excuse-mes, he made his way onto the train just as the doors slid shut.
Paul fell into the wicker seat, and nearly into the lap of a spindly man as the train took off. The man was dressed as if he were submarine mechanic, based on the brass and steel tanks that sat on the floor between his legs, the helmet with many small, thick glass faceplates that he held on his lap, and the many tools that hung from his broad, rubberized belt.
“Sorry,” Paul said, over the noise of the train. Submarine Mechanic said something in what sounded like Chinese, and shifted down two seats with a dirty look.
Normally, Paul enjoyed reading on the subway; it made the time go faster and usually prevented strangers from talking to him. However, he didn’t want to miss his stop and get lost. A little voice in the back of his head told him that would be bad, very bad.
A short man wrapped in a coat many times too big looked up at Paul, then closed his eyes and lowered his head. Paul normally took great care in picking out clothes that blended in with his surroundings, but now he was the odd man out. If he were dressed in a Napoleonic Calvary officer’s jacket and a kilt made of fur, he’d blend right in. Of course, that would be silly, as there already was someone sporting that particular ensemble at the other end of the car.
Stations came and passed: Pieter’s Point, Inside Star, (the Submarine Mechanic got off there), Old Amsterdam, Widower’s Walk, Svetlana Boulevard, and Lonely Hill, to name a few. Paul glanced at the card, which now read “PAY ATTENTION”, and he looked up and saw they were pulling into Stuyvesant Square Station.
He leapt up and exited, carrying the paper sack with the two hot pies, which seemed to still be hot. Looking around, he saw people walking towards an archway with the word “EGRESS” across the top. He vaguely remembered that was another word for exit, albeit an old-fashioned one, but that seemed to be the order of the day