by Melissa Monks
The subway car’s seat vibrated as the train rumbled through the dark underground. Overhead, fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed. Adam sat scratching at the angry red swath of skin that had appeared on his right forearm earlier in the day. Now, it was almost two AM, above the tunnel a storm was driving snow into inconvenient drifts all over the city. The car was mostly deserted. Near the exit an old woman wearing a black headscarf hunched protectively over a plastic grocery bag. A guy in steel-toed boots and a fluorescent orange shirt sat nodding off across the aisle from the old woman. A few seats away a girl wearing headphones sat with her nose in a book, Adam was the only other person in the car.
He scratched his arm. He’d scratched it so much the skin was red, raw and tender. The itching had started during the matinee showing of Nosferatu. He remembered because on his way to the projection booth he’d bumped into an old woman in a long black cloak. She’d hissed and flashed fake fangs. Invaded by a fictional character. While Count Orlok’s long, shadowed fingernails ensnared the cunning Ellen, Adam’s arm had started to itch. It hadn’t stopped since. The rattle and hum of the nearly empty subway car was usually enough to lull him to sleep this time of night, but his arm was beyond annoying.
He pulled the sleeve of his fleece jacket up to his elbow and angled the underside of his forearm to get the best view he could in the erratic light. A couple dozen pea-sized welts marred the skin. He ran his fingers along his arm, the welts felt hard. The old bag in the cloak probably had fleas. Was he supposed to suck out the poison? Sucking anything out of his own body sounded counter productive. If fleas even had poison. The subway car swayed around a curve. Adam put two fingers on either side of the biggest welt and pinched. The welt moved out of the way. It just slid underneath his skin. From one spot to another. And it hurt. Adam glanced up. Clearly the subway car had rocketed to another dimension and his fellow passengers would have sprouted tentacles and chicken feet. Or not.
Situation normal. For them anyway.
Pain stabbing at his arm made him look back down. All the bumps had moved. Adam closed his eyes and counted to ten. It was late. Really late. And he’d been watching horror movies all day. When he opened his eyes he decided not believing what he saw was for the best. He pinched one of the welts again. Pain ripped through his skin as the little bump moved out of the way. As soon as he pulled his fingers away, the welt moved back to where it had been. The fluorescent light flickered. Adam wiped sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand and looked again.
The little fuckers had spelled out sunlight. Adam flipped them off. Was he supposed to talk to the welts? What did sunlight mean? Did they need sunlight? Adam clenched his fists and counted to ten again. Fucking sunlight. He worked in a theater, it was winter, it was night, he was on the subway, and a huge storm blanketed the city. If they wanted sunlight they were shit out of luck.
As though they’d read his mind the welts pushed up against the barrier of his skin. Adam felt it stretch and tighten.
SUNLIGHT SUNLIGHT SUNLIGHT
The word pulsed like a triple X marquee.
There is no fucking sunlight. Not here. Not now.
They moved so quickly the flash of pain made him gasp and he had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming. What am I supposed to do? Spin the planet faster for you?
This time he snarled at the pain and his eyes shot up to the other passengers. No one noticed. Adam grabbed his phone from his pocket and checked the weather app. If the storm cleared, sunrise was at 7:30.
Stop fucking moving! Adam heard himself whimper out loud as he screamed in his head. I can’t make time go faster. I can’t.
Host? Oh Jesus Christ. The skin was so tight around the welts Adam could see the impression of the monsters underneath. Like squirmy, tentacled mini-brains, they stood out purple against his bloodless white flesh. It felt like his arm would rip open if they pressed any harder. The car jolted. Adam laughed. Fine. Fine. He’d just help them get out of his arm. He grabbed a pen from his jacket pocket and uncapped it. Fine tip with a sharp nib. The skin popped when he punctured it just under one of the welts. Blood welled to the surface, running quicker than he’d expected down his forearm. The pain was worse too. The welts pressed up against the skin surface, moving quickly for the pen, they shoved it out of Adam’s arm. He heard it thunk against the dirty rubber floor mat. For a moment, the subway hummed and all Adam felt was tired. Then they moved again.
They dove back under the skin and were gone. The surface of his arm was smooth, except where he’d stabbed it. He felt a twinge in his upper arm, right under his armpit. The slight pain spun out into full throttle agony and moved out of his arm into his chest. Adam screamed and clutched his heart. A blinding burst of pain, then he slumped to the floor.
The man in the steel-toed boots reached him first and felt his neck for a pulse. There wasn’t one. As the man stepped back to push the emergency intercom, his brow creased, and he scratched the palm of his hand.