I turn to my left. The woman beside me casts a disapproving look at me and says, "You shouldn't be here." Her face is covered by a half-mask made of dark gunmetal. I reach out to lift the mask, but when I see her face, I realize she's not who I thought she was.
I turn to my right and see a man sitting in the previously-empty seat, his face covered in a grotesque black mask pocked by red boils oozing puss. A long crooked nose protrudes from his mask, and underneath his lips part to reveal a mouthful of jagged yellow teeth jutting out from purple, bleeding gums.
The man in the mask starts laughing - a tinny and mechanical laugh, like the sound of a clanky old film projector.
When I came to, my assailant was gone. I struggled slowly to my feet, feeling my head throbbing and my stomach stinging like hell. Then to make matters worse, that damned phone in the hallway started ringing again.
Once I finally regained my bearings, I realized that the vent cover had been fully removed and the box had been taken.
My head still swimming, I staggered out into the hallway in time to see the leopard-print lady from the lobby pick up the phone.
"Hello?" she answered and then turned her head to look directly at me.
by Moxie Mezcal
Moxie Über Alles
San Jose, California
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons or institutions, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
My My Metrocard | Le Tigre
Compared to What | David Holmes + Carl Hancock Rux
Red Dress | TV on the Radio
Id Engager | Of Montreal
Sheela-Na-Gig | PJ Harvey
Stagger Lee | Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
1. They Watch You Fuck
"They've got cameras everywhere, man. Not just in supermarkets and departments stores, they're also on your cell phones and your computers at home. And they never turn off. You think they do, but they don't.
"They're always on, always watching you, sending them a continuous feed of your every move over satellite broadband connection.
"They watch you fuck, they watch you shit, they watch when you pick your nose at the stop light or when you chew out the clerk at 7-11 over nothing or when you walk past the lady collecting for the women's shelter and you don't put anything in her jar.
"They're even watching us right now," the hobo added and extended a grimy, gnarled digit to the small black orbs mounted at either end of the train car.
There were some days when I loved taking public transportation, and other days when I didn't. On a good day, I liked to sit back and watch the show, study the rest of the passengers, read into their little ticks and mannerisms and body language, and try to guess at their back stories, giving them names and identities in my head. It was fun in a voyeuristic kind of way.
And luckily, today was a good day.
I watched the old Vietnamese woman with the cluster of plastic shopping bags gripped tightly in her hand like a cloud of tiny white bubbles. My eyes traced the deep lines grooving her face, and I wondered about the life that led her to this place.
I watched the lonely businessman staring longingly across the aisle at the beautiful Mexican girl in the tight jeans standing with her back to him. He fidgeted with the gold band on his finger, and I couldn't tell if he was using it to remind himself of his commitment or if he was debating whether he should slyly slip it off and talk to her.
I watched the two black teenagers making out, completely absorbed in the novelty and excitement of newfound love. It never occurred to them that their public display might seem cliché or rude or vulgar; their hearts had still not been hardened with the inevitable cynicism that familiarity and experience breed. Absorbed in their own private world, they were touching the divine.
And I even watched the bum with the wild, fiery orange mass of hair exploding from his pores, covering almost his entire face but for the small, narrow-set blue eyes peering out through the roughage. They were such a brilliant shade of blue that they made me think of the Fremen from Dune. In my head, I decided he was named Seamus Freeman.
"Everything gets streamed back to a giant server farm they keep up in the mountains, a massive concrete bunker that's buried nine-tenths underground like an iceberg, so they'll still be around after they take us all out with their WMDs."
Mostly, though, I just tried not to watch the blonde sitting next to me - specifically, I was trying not to notice the satisfying way that she jiggled under the low cut of her pink Sate University tank top as she bopped her head pleasantly to whatever was being piped through her tiny white earbuds. I wasn't altogether successful in that effort, but fortunately she seemed too engrossed in her Abnormal Psychology textbook to notice.
Finding myself staring again, I quickly averted my gaze and made eye contact across the aisle with a gruff middle-aged workman in black coveralls. He had looked up from his newspaper just in time to catch me ogling the blonde and shot me a sour, disapproving look.
I briefly thought about saying something to him, but before I could come up with anything smartass enough to be worth the effort, my cell phone went off. Several other passengers whipped their heads around to look at me as my ring tone sang out loudly:
I tried to call you before, but I lost my nerve.
I tried my imagination, but I was disturbed.
I pulled the phone out of my pocket; the display read: Jenny.
"Hey, what's up?" I answered.
The chipper female voice on the other end said, "Not much, just getting ready. Last minute stuff, you know. Trying not to let my nerves drive me crazy."
My eyes drifted back across the aisle to the workman's newspaper. He had it folded around so I could see one of the interior pages, the one before the article he was reading. It had a full-spread advertisement for Abrasax, the search engine and software company. Along with their corporate logo, a stylized red drawing of a rising sun, the ad contained a photograph of their CEO, Dylan Maxwell, looking straight into the camera with his giant, creepy fucking eyes. It was the kind of picture that seemed like it was staring right at you no matter what angle you looked at it from. My skin crawled just looking at the fucking thing.
"So what are you doing?" Jenny continued over the phone.
"Not much, just trying to stop staring at some college chick's tits," I replied nonchalantly.
The workman again raised his eyes from his paper to glare at me disdainfully.
I chuckled, "Nothing, I'm just on the Light Rail going to meet someone for an interview."
"Cool, cool," she responded dismissively and followed up with a carefully-timed pause before adding, "So you're still coming tomorrow, right?"
"Of course I'll be there. You think I'd miss my sister's wedding?"
"It's just that I know how you are, D," she said in the voice she used when she wanted to nag without it sounding like nagging. It wasn't actually as effective as she seemed to think. "I hardly ever see you anymore - ever since you got back from Oak Hill, you're so... withdrawn. We used to be so close, and it means a lot to me for you to be there."
I looked up and saw the workman watching me, eavesdropping on my half of the call. He quickly dropped his eyes back down to the newspaper and began riffling randomly through the pages. Anything to pass the time on a long train ride, I thought to myself, and then repeated to Jenny, "I'll be there."
"Great. It'll be nice to have at least one person from my family there," she continued. God, she could be so fucking relentless. "I mean, I'll have friends there and everything, but it's mostly all going to be Brad's side, between his family and business contacts and all the politicos his uncle knows."
The workman stopped fussing with his newspaper and held it fully spread out in both hands with the cover facing me, as if trying to hide as much of himself from my view as possible. It was a tabloid-sized alternative weekly with the title Concrete Underground spelled in cut-out lettering like a Sex Pistols album sleeve. The cover was a photo of city hall superimposed over a background of hundred-dollar bills with the caption: City Contracting Scandal Exposed, by D Quetzal, page 33.
I felt my spirits lift a little as a smug smirk spread across my face and I replied into the phone, "Speaking of Brad, I was meaning to ask you if he read the article yet."
Jenny didn't respond, but just let out a prolonged, exasperated sigh.
"That's a yes. What did he think?"
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said tersely. "Please try not to be an asshole."
I slid the phone back in my pocket and couldn't help but feel a little triumphant. Call me immature, but there was something about getting under Jenny's skin that I still found as entertaining as I had when we were kids. I guess that's the beauty of siblings.
I whistled across the aisle at the workman to get his attention. He folded the newspaper sloppily on his lap and looked at me with blank, listless eyes.
"So what do you think about all that stuff going on with the city?" I asked, indicating his paper.
"I don't read the fucking articles in these things," he grumbled. "I just pick them up to see what movies are playing."
I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. "Yeah, I'm with you, brother. A bunch of liberal paranoia bullshit, far as I'm concerned."
He didn't respond one way or another to my comment, but kept looking at me with a glazed-over, uninterested expression, as if waiting impatiently for me to get to the point of whatever I'd interrupted him for. I glanced at the logo sewn in bright red letters into the breast of his coveralls, which read: Asterion Record Management.
"Hey, Asterion," I said, pointing at the logo. "Didn't you guys just get that big contract from the city?"
He jerked forward suddenly and jabbed a thick, calloused finger at me. "Look, faggot, I don't know what you're getting at, or if you're trying to hit on me or what, but if you don't get off my nuts and stop staring at me, you're gonna be picking your teeth up off the floor."
I bristled at his epithet and thought it was a pretty broad assumption to make as I smoothed the lapels of my crushed velvet jacket with a couple black-nailed fingers. I let my lips hang open loosely in a mischievous grin and stared him down, keeping my eyes locked unwaveringly on his.
The passengers immediately around us shifted uncomfortably in their seats and watched nervously. The blonde next to me bobbed her head obliviously, still buried in her textbook. And Seamus the hobo kept right on preaching.
"They use biometric analysis to sort through all the hours and hours of footage so they can follow you from one camera to the next, keeping you forever under their watchful eyes."
I saw the workman's eyes drift over to one of the opaque black orbs that housed a security camera. He sank back into his seat. I pursed my lips together and made an exaggerated kissing face at him.
The train lurched and jerked to a sudden stop.
"Well, girls, looks like this is where I get off," I said, addressing the blonde's chest with a tip of my hat as I stood up.
She yanked the earbud out of one ear and looked at me quizzically. "Huh?"