Published: 9th April, 2015
Age: Young Adult
Something is wrong with Esmé.
Kicked out of school in New York, she’s sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn’t seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag. Something is wrong with her grandmother’s house, a decrepit mansion full of stray cats, stairs that lead to nowhere, beds that unmake themselves. Something is wrong in the town where a kid disappears every year, where a whistle sounds at night but no train arrives.
And something is wrong with the friendly neighbor Ez’s age with black curls and blue eyes: He’s dead.
The train was less crowded than yesterday, but slow, and the car I had picked had bad air-conditioning, the windows steaming over in the afternoon heat. Someone had cracked one open, a slit through which I could see the black tunnel. When we stopped at 168th Street, I could see something on one of the tunnel walls: graffiti. A tag. A name in bright green. I read it.
There was more. There was a whole, terrible sentence.
Acid Loves You.
I got out of the train. It wasn’t my stop, but I pushed out of the car just as the doors were starting to close. My bag got stuck, and I yanked it free, nearly falling onto the platform. People were staring, but I didn’t care.
Everyone who had gotten off went up the stairs to street level. With a shudder, the train left too. And I could see it now, the graffiti, see it clearly: Acid Loves You. It was painted in bright green, acid green, almost florescent in the tunnel.
The subway platform where people waited was tiled in white, but in the tunnel through which the trains traveled, the walls were black. It was here that the message had been painted. Someone had climbed down from the platform, and into the tunnel to do it.
The platform ended at the mouth of the tunnel, at a sign that read CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER. But a little walkway continued into the tunnel beyond the sign, an access path for subway workers. I looked down this little walkway, peering into darkness. The only light came from the work bulbs strung across the ceiling every few feet, and the signal light: a kind of traffic light for trains.
The signal light was red, which meant no train was coming.
I glanced behind me. There were only a few people waiting for the downtown train. No one was looking. I stepped over the sign, crept onto the walkway—and went into the tunnel.
I wanted to see the graffiti up close. It had to be from my friend, it had to be. How many people in our neighborhood were called Acid? I balanced on the narrow walkway. There was a railing, but it was low and spindly. It wouldn’t hold me if I fell.
I just wouldn’t fall, I told myself.
The graffiti was only a few feet inside the tunnel, painted a little above my head. Whoever had written it hadn’t been much taller than me. And they were sloppy: a line of green paint trailed down the tunnel. I followed the paint splatter, crouching until I was kneeling, until the paint disappeared into the wall.
Into the wall?
I spread my palms, scanning the wall. It felt smooth. Then I felt a rough line. I worked my fingers into the crack and pulled until a door popped open. It was a crawl space, little more than a hole. Inside was darkness—and green polka dots.
Green paint spotted the floor, so bright it glowed. I didn’t think; I crawled. I pushed in, my knees dragging on cement, trying to examine the paint. With a groan, the door to the crawl space swung shut behind me.
My chest swelled and I couldn’t breathe. I shot forward, knocking my forehead into a wall. Pain. Then everything was blackness.
When I woke, it took a moment for me to remember where I was.
I was cold and stuck in the subway tunnel, in some sort of recess. I couldn’t turn around so I pushed back as hard as I could, shoving my backpack against the door. It swung open and I fell out onto the tunnel walkway. I saw a light.
The light was moving in the tunnel, jostling up and down. I stood. I wanted to run, but I was afraid I would fall. I saw a man beneath the light. The light was attached to him, a big headlamp, and he was running, coming right at me. I would have been scared, except he looked funny with the oversized headlamp, like a kid playing dress up. He wore a pair of overalls, and they were filthy, as was his shirt. Even his face was smeared with dirt.
“Child,” he said. He waved his arms. “Child, get out of here. A train is coming.”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “The light is red.”
“The light?” he said, confused.
“The signal light.” I pointed behind me, then turned back to the man to show him, but he was gone. The tunnel was empty. And I felt something behind me, arms wrapping around my waist and lifting me, grabbing me, yanking me out of the tunnel.
It was a man, another subway worker who had grabbed me. He wore a bright orange and yellow safety vest, goggles, no headlamp—and there was a policewoman with him. The radio on the cop’s shoulder squawked.
“We got her,” the officer said into the radio. Out on the platform, a crowd had gathered.
The subway worker was sweating. He set me down on the platform, and wiped his forehead with his hand. “Girl,” he said. “You are in so much trouble.”
And I was.
About the Author
ALISON STINE’s first novel SUPERVISION will be released by Harper Voyager UK in 2015.
Also the author of three books of poetry: WAIT (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), OHIO VIOLENCE (University of North Texas Press, 2009), and LOT OF MY SISTER (Kent State University Press, 2001), she has worked as an actor, an artist’s model, a high school teacher, and a professor. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Ohio University, and is an avid urban explorer.
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