This is a short story that I wrote last year. I would like to thank the VR staff for allowing me to publish it here, and please leave any constructive criticism that could potentially help me improve my writing.
A depressed look was pasted across the face of the individual whom not too many knew. He was mysterious, mystic, and held the atmosphere of a recluse, of an aloof man – and yet he was completely open, like a deep, deep swimming pool ready for business, ready to share his sorrows with anyone. Near the room he sat, the room of the metro driver, with a small white towel wrapped around his thick dark head, and a cooler filled with semi-refreshing beverages, ready to make any willing customer all-the-more thirsty. This was the young man who you will never know, but will always see, wherever you go on the metro.
His name? Hardly anybody knows that. Barely anybody even knows his alias, but you will know now and up front that he calls himself the Metro Man.
The Metro Man waits, waits all day, surrounded by grimy train seats with large intimidating ink from markers intended to scrape away society with messages such as “we’re all rotting in hell” or “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” He attempts to ignore these messages of contempt, to disregard anything that has any correlation to his past.
Out of the corner of his dark eye, he caught the metro driver, moving from the other side of the train to his side, preparing for the odyssey from Government Center to Downtown by reading a raunchy magazine and slurping on a slushie, both items in separate hands. Without looking up from the publication, the driver whisked the keys out of his uniform pocket and jammed one of them into the rusty lock of the door, a grisly door with an overly-blackened window for maximum privacy. Without as much as a “boo,” he stepped in to the small driving room and shut the door back with an ugly snap.
Metro Man gazed back down as soon as the driver’s commotion was lost. To watch him was to wish for him some gleeful reading material, for his graphic displeasure crept into your mind like a venomous spider. It was almost startling when he snapped out of this funk to put on his salesman demeanor with the entry of a man dressed in extremely formal attire. As the formal man sat down, the Metro Man paid close attention to every movement of each bone in the man’s body so as to discover the fabric of what this man was, the stuff that composed his nature.
No more and no less than two seconds passed when the Metro Man knew what he needed to know about this man who was sitting adjacent to him, who had recently took out a newspaper from his briefcase. He was obviously a broker of some sort, a man who received nothing but jovial feelings from broadcasting his formal looks to others. He was the kind of man who would put a revolver to his skull and pull the cold trigger if anyone saw him in a non-powerful position. Regardless of whether or not he would accept a drink was slightly irrelevant to the Metro Man – the Metro Man only cared about what would be in this man’s wallet that he had a chance of getting at. After all, the Metro Man knew what nobody ever thinks about – everybody loves a cool drink. Some people deny the offer to purchase one, but deep down…EVERYBODY wants one.
In the past, the Metro Man’s sales were mixed-to-low. People on the metro wanted nothing but to ride from point A to point B, and that was that. Salesmanship was something that these people felt that they had to deal with enough in the extra-train world, a world that the Metro Man had little to do with in these times. But despite his past failures, the Metro Man had a philosophy which he vowed to stick with – the philosophy that told him that you can always convince a person to buy your products, because EVERYBODY loves a cool drink. He recited this philosophy in his mind over and over and over again, as he pulled his cooler slowly over to the broker, who was still reading his newspaper. The broker did not lift his head up even for a second.
“Good day sir,” said the Metro Man, cooler handle resting softly in his palm, attempting to broadcast an ambient atmosphere. He felt that if he broadcasted an atmosphere such as this, there was a greater chance that he wouldn’t spook potential customers.
Taking a gulp of saliva, he proceeded with his first sales pitch of the night.
“I have some exquisitely cool drinks right here in this cooler, sir. You look like a very hardworking man, and I happen to believe that every hardworking man –”
An invisible sock’s cold wool filled his throat as the broker held up his hand. Solemnly, the man didn’t let his pupils wander even a centimeter away from the text on his paper.
“You got one thing right,” he said. “I am indeed hard-working. Now scram, punk.”
The gaze of the Metro Man was one that was never new. This man would have loved a drink – but the Metro Man, putting all of his rage behind, remembered his own philosophy, which told him of how this man, like so many others, had constraints, specific ones which would forbid one from purchasing a beverage on a train from a stranger.
Pulling the cooler back over to his old seat, the Metro Man sat down on the torn-up foam, returning to his previous demeanor of gloom and visible misery. Memories for him were always such a foreign Satan, a Prince of Darkness that endlessly rewound and replayed. He used to be precisely like that broker, he remembered. With a fashionable sense like a modernized wolf, currency to waste away, and any other luxury that one could find. Oh, it pained him to think about it, to think about all that he had, all that he had lost.
The thought of the present was the Metro Man’s only stimulant, the only thing that kept his clock from running out of energy. This thought would come back to him like an old friend, smacking him in the brain and forcing him to concentrate on the task at hand. This time? Well, this time the thought got him right when the train lurched forward and began to slowly move, the gentle electronic sound starting up like on old mechanical amigo coming home to visit.
And all pain was suppressed. Stations were coming, and there was always a potential customer ready to get on.
The wooden door cracked open like a whip. Stan entered, loosened his tie, and flopped down on his leather chair, an object that was to him the equivalent of any welcoming pal. The extreme desire for sleep would always creep up on him one time after the next, but he was never defeated by its tempting hand. It was time for work – sleep could wait, for it was secondary.
A quick hesitation was followed by the snapping open of his briefcase, filled with endless sheets of fine working material. With a careful heave, he managed to gather all of them on his desk in a fairly organized fashion.
Now to –
A knock on the wooden door was heard, interrupting the impending nirvana of his working process.
“What!?” He yelled, making it overly obvious that he wasn’t in the mood.
“It’s Jason,” the voice on the other side said. “Should I come back later?”
Stan tossed the blue pen he was holding back down on the desk.
“No, come in.”
The door squeaked open, with Jason, a young-to-middle aged man wearing a business casual shirt and tie peeking through before entering the room all the way. It was almost as if he was expecting an ambush, but if that was the case, it didn’t seem to matter anymore to him as he walked inside.
Stan sniffed, like he might have allergies.
“Hey, shut the door, will you?”
Softly, Jason pulled the door to a close. Glad that chore-time was over but not ruling out the possibility of more, he uneasily sat down on the other side of the wooden desk.
“I came in to see how you were doing,” Jason said. Not responding immediately, Stan opened the wildly shaped drawer built in to his fancy desk and pulled out a pack of zero-filter cigarettes.
“I’m good. You?”
Within seconds, he produced a flame. As soon as he had produced it, it went out, just as the capsule snapped shut with a click.
“Um…yeah, I’m hanging in there. Is that…”
“Does that say no filters?”
Stan casually picked the box back up and held it in front of him, looking at its front cover.
He couldn’t have been any more casual in his simple response of, “Yup.”
“Jesus, Stan. You quit, and then you come back with the ultimate way to get the cancer. What’s eating at you, seriously?”
A drag went by. Popping the cancer stick out of his mouth to be held by his right two fingers, Stan said, “Damn car broke down today, if that’s what you’re asking. Had to take the train.”
“What, you mean the Lotus?”
“No, I mean Herbie the Beetle. Of course the Lotus, what else?”
Visualizing the full extent of Stan’s moodiness, Jason felt that coming back at a later time would not be unwarranted. Stan caught on to this somehow, amidst his agitation.
“Hey. I’m sorry.”
Jason lifted his hand up off of his knee, signaling that it was fine. A beat passed before the two of them said anything again.
“Is it in the shop?”
“Yeah,” Stan responded, jamming his cigarette in to the ashtray. At this point, the office held the aroma of a busy Indian casino.
“Then what’s to worry about?”
“It’s gonna be in there for two days.”
“So, you’ve obviously never taken the train before,” Stan said with a sad smile stuck to his face. “It’s filled with goons to the brim, let me tell you that. Just recently I had to blow off some goon who was trying to sell me a drink. Who knows what the word ‘drink’ was a codename for. Speed?”
Jason, who had indeed been on the metro before, chuckled.
“You shouldn’t rule out the possibility that you’re just being paranoid,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been on that train, Stan. You’re gonna find those kinds of people all across the city. It’s no big difference on the metro. C’mon man, we’re both adults here, we can use public transportation without our Mommies and Daddies.”
“Yeah. Nice,” said Stan, giving a fake, snarky smile back. “Except it ain’t necessarily about me. Sam’s going to be riding it.”
“Of course. She doesn’t believe in driving cars, for some…I don’t know, some fashion reason. She’s a kid, let’s put it that way. And she’s going to be going to college.”
“She starts tomorrow. I’ll be able to ride with her for her for the first couple of days obviously, but it drives me mad when I think about her riding on that thing all by herself…”
Stan’s voice trailed off, lost in a sea of clearly painful thoughts. Jason started to understand what this was all leading up to. A delicate subject on his verbal hands, Jason leaned forward in his seat, clearing his throat.
“Look, Stan,” he said, scratching his arm as a distractive habit. “I know that losing Stella wasn’t easy for you. It was sad to all of us, it really was.”
Stan’s face slowly leaned up to look at Jason, almost disturbing in the nature of the action.
Jason made the choice to continue anyways.
“But you have to realize that Samantha…well…she’s there, Stan. You can’t follow her around everywhere just because…well, just because of what happened to Stella, Stan. Just moving on, is all I’m talking about, you know? Just moving on.”
An awkward silence followed, right there in the casino-smelling office.
The train had always felt rocky, but the Metro Man noticed its unusual instability tonight. It wasn’t as brutal as a Beetle on gravel, but it wasn’t as gentle as the cradle of an infant. Construction? Mechanical issues? All was unknown to the Metro Man. The aspects of the train? Only secondary. The primary aspect of this ambient, grisly night was to scout out people to sell soda to. This was of utmost importance to the Metro Man because, like the philosophy dictates, “everybody loves a cool drink.”
With a retro-style crackle, the intercom popped on with the train driver fuzzily announcing the loss of speed near University Station. This was good – potential customers, college students, who would want nothing other than a massive sugar rush after a long day of school work.
The train skidded to a stop, the gritty audio of the electrical sound going down in volume with the speed of the train, but never ceasing. The doors slid open, and several young people entered with backpacks, obviously students. A jackpot for the Metro Man by his standards.
Before he could lock on to any one person, a man and a woman rushed by him, the man bumping in to him while trying to get past, which knocked him down into the seat. It was that same businessman, that broker, from the other day. He looked the same – but the woman…or the girl he was with, well, the Metro Man didn’t recognize her. As the broker practically dragged her out the doors in a frenzy, she turned around to look back at the Metro Man.
“I’m sorry!” She yelled across the train, before being pulled out into the station.
The train doors slammed shut.
“Who were you talking to just a second ago?” Stan asked. Sam fixed her hair, blowing in the wind as the train took off again.
“Dad, you knocked down some man.”
“Yes. I was trying to tell him that I was sorry.”
Stan sighed a deep exhale, not quite knowing what to do with his daughter.
“Listen, Sam. I’m not going to be riding with you on this thing pretty soon. I just found out that the car is getting out of the shop early. But promise me this….”
Sam waited for him to continue.
“Promise me that you won’t talk to anybody on that train, okay? Just do that for me, will you?”
“Dad, don’t you think –”
Knowing that her Dad wouldn’t let go of his paranoia, she finally said yes. She probably wouldn’t talk to anyone after all, or at least that was what was in her mind.
Metro Man sat back down, stunned. The college students who had boarded the train phased out in his mind like a blown-out candle, just like all other thoughts. All he could think of was that girl. Who was she? Why was she apologizing? Was she apologizing for that broker?
Normally, your standard individual would not think too much of an incident of that level. But the Metro Man, mind you, was no ordinary individual. It had been years, years which felt like epochs since anybody had apologized to him for anything, let alone by a nice-looking female. That was the other part of his bewilderment – her beauty. He did not think that people such as that existed, people who were beautiful and willing to apologize for actions. He wanted to follow her and the broker out of the train, but by this time it was much too late. It was time for lunch, anyways. His stomach rumbled with the unstable train as it made its way through a jungle of concrete, headed towards the next station of Douglas Road. The thought of the girl stayed in his mind like an overly-sticky stamp stuck to his brain, which would not be washed off until the very moment his left foot stepped in to the restaurant.
Ever since he had lost everything, this low-cost Cuban eatery had been a lifesaving resource. It just so happened that today he had just enough dough to scrape by for a cheap, small meal.
Wanting to be respectful despite the casual, quaint atmosphere that disseminated from the style of the restaurant, he unwrapped the towel from his head, about to put it down on his seat. The towel slipped from his oily hands however, falling into the dark canyon below the table. Sticking his thick head underneath the table, he, rather easily, grabbed the towel and resurfaced. What met his focusing gaze on the table was none other than a dark, gangster-style cap, thrown on to the table casually.
Jake sunk down into the booth seat opposite of the Metro Man, giving a huge grin that would have melted a hole into the heart and soul of the world. It was horrible.
“What’s goin’ down, yo?”
The Metro Man hated that particular style of speech which Jake utilized so much, but what could he do? Jake, getting impatient while waiting for a response, piped up.
“You know, the money that you’re spending here would look real nice in my pocket, too.”
“I told you the last time that things have been a little slow, Jake,” Metro Man said, trying to keep his cool. Oh, how he abhorred dealing with Jake, the slimy snake sustaining his fake, devilish grin. Metro Man bit his teeth wishing that the grin would cease…but it never did.
“Yeah yeah, I know what you told me. But this…” He shook his head. “This ain’t workin’ out, man, you know what I’m saying? You don’t pay me and I keep letting you fly, it’s bad for the rep, man. Really is.”
Pausing for a moment, Jake chuckled as he saw Metro Man look down at the table.
“I mean, I know you don’t have to worry about a rep, being that you have like…virtually…none, but some of us have asses to cover, man. Loose ends. Nothing’s ever tied into place when I have you skating by at every corner.”
The waitress, a Cuban woman (probably the daughter of the owner) came by the table with two large red cups of water, gently setting them down in front of the two of them.
“Oh yeah,” Jake said, taking a crude gulp of his water. “I’m eating lunch here too, if that’s all right.”
There was nothing that MM could say in response, really. Anyone could imagine that the following meal was rather uncomfortable, with a delightful, optimistically-seeming Jake smirking all the way through his food. At last, the meal was finished, with the Metro Man taking the last bite of his rice-and-bean dish, and Jake sipping the very last drop of water. Upon doing so, Jake leaned in close. The optimistic act wiped away.
“Listen,” he said, with extreme seriousness. “I didn’t come here for the food. I think this place sucks anyway.”
He paused in his little memo as the waitress came over to gather up the plates. As soon as the kitchen door behind her came to a close, Jake proceeded.
“Believe me when I say you had better get your act together. I’m not self-employed, as much as it may seem that way. Boss is getting impatient, you know? Just the other day he had another dealer’s finger cut off because he was too late in getting the dough through.”
Metro Man stared back blankly; just letting it all hit him smack in the face.
“You have three days…three days. I like my life better than yours, okay? You don’t get the cash through, well…I’ll do worse than cut off a finger.”
With that, he reached down below the table and pulled his wallet out, which had a red skull-and-crossbones embroidered across the front.
“Lunch is on me, eh?” said Jake, in a rather snarkish manner that bothered Metro Man and could bother just about anyone on the planet. Throwing the bills casually on the table, he departed, leaving a quiet Metro Man to contemplate the weight-baring thought of getting a fortune to someone in three days.
Dragging his cooler down the sidewalk past a crowd of people walking towards him, the Man of the Metro looked up at the moon, which was unusually bright out tonight, creating that stereotypical image of the city that everyone had heard about. Unfortunately because of the disturbing message that Jake had delivered to him in the restaurant, he figured that it was best if he took his operations to the ground. It was strange, being on the ground for this long, where all other people were going about their business using their feet, rather than some grungy seat. He made a couple sales – until a cop came over to him.
“Excuse me, sir.”
He turned around.
The cop took a step forward.
“I’m going to need to see a vendor’s license,” he said.
And that was the end of the ground operations.
Metro Man had been getting sick of it anyway, raising an amount of money that wasn’t even suitable for a child’s piggy bank. What else was there to do other than go back on the train? Out here on the ground, the extra-train world, he was no longer the Metro Man.
The nearest station was Viscaya, which he took the escalator up to and hopped on a split-second before the train departed. He was back in his own, familiar world. It was calming – but the thought of Jake’s vow kept coming back to him like the tide of the ocean destroying multiple sand castles.
He immediately took the seat near the door to the driver’s room – his favorite. Sitting there, he told himself over and over in his mind that right now would be the time that he would sell cool drinks, he would be a professional, and would not be distracted. These thoughts and others withered away of course when he saw that same beautiful girl that apologized to him the other day, when she was being dragged out by that broker. She was sitting at the other end of the car…and it looked as though she was alone this time.
Thoughts of curiosity came back to the mind of the Metro Man, with him wondering about her apology. Maybe the inquiry about the apology was just an excuse for him, an excuse used in order to get closer to somebody who was beautiful and seemed, from just two words and an expression, to have feelings, like somebody who was…real.
Pulling the handle of his cooler back out and standing up, the Metro Man took his first step towards the girl, who was reading a book…what was it? Ah yes, it was Doctor Zhivago.
In the manner of the broker, she did not look up from her book as Metro Man approached her, even with the racket of the rolling cooler.
The girl looked up from her book. The Metro Man paused when she looked up, taking a moment to register her face in his mind before he continued.
“I was just wondering…” He let his voice trail off for a second, and then snapped back. “Were you the person who apologized to me the other day?”
The girl looked down, like she was thinking, and then looked back up at him.
“Why yes,” she said pleasantly. “I was just saying I was sorry, because I think my father might have bumped in to you in a bit of a hurry.”
“Oh. That man is your father?”
“Yes, that’s right. He’s a bit of a paranoid one, if you know what I mean.” She laughed, and the Metro Man laughed too.
“I’m Sam,” she said. She held out a hand, flipping her book closed with the other. “Please to meet you.”
“Likewise,” said Metro Man.
“My Dad said I’m not supposed to talk to people on here. Can you believe that? I’ve just started college and he’s telling me not to talk with strangers.”
“Oh yeah, that’s…yeah.”
“You seem a little nervous.”
The Metro Man knew he was. At this point, he was beginning to wonder if his nervousness was being generated by her, or Jake’s prom –
“What’s your cooler there for?” She asked.
“Oh, that? I’m a drink salesman. I sell drinks, you know, for money.”
“Oh really? Right here?”
“Hmm. I can’t imagine business must be all that good on a train. Is it?”
“No no,” he said. “You’re actually very much right. I’ve been struggling a lot. Before I got back on here, a cop actually asked me for a vendor’s license. I had no idea you were supposed to have one of those.”
She smiled and said, “yeah it is pretty ridiculous, some new city law. How long have you been doing this, anyway?”
And the conversation went on and on from there. They talked and talked and talked, rambling on and on about themselves. The Metro Man poured out more to her than he had to anyone in years. How and why was a beautiful and smart girl like her interested in him in the slightest? Everything that he told her didn’t just hint at him being a loser – it blurted that fact straight out. He told her about how he used to have a wife, kids, and a business, how he lost the business to inflation, how he lost his wife and kids in a nasty divorce…and when he had told her almost everything; he decided that he would go full swing.
“And then I got in debt for trying to rid my pain. Do you get what I’m saying?” He asked.
Sam, who was intensely interested in all that he was saying, nodded. She was solemn, as he shared with her all of his problems, and how they both found out their respective ages of twenty-seven and nineteen.
It was safe to say that by this time, thoughts of Jake had escaped Metro Man’s mind entirely, as he intensely poured his mind out for Samantha to see. Through the time that was swung away during their deep conversations, the train passed through all of the stations time and time again, with them reaching the end of the line at least four times in total.
In the early hours of the morning, Sam finally snapped out of the state that both she and the discombobulated Metro Man were in of intense sharing, and she informed him that she had to depart. With a final goodbye and the disappearance of her into the station, Metro Man felt what he had not felt in ages – joy. No more need for uplifting thoughts. No more need for anything. He was there. He thanked his seat, thanked the train, thanked the stars. He had what he had never had before – a true friend. Someone to talk to, someone who would understand him like no one else ever seemed to.
After she left, he realized just how many drinks she had purchased from him. More than he had sold in a month, he realized. His joy boosted. Pure bliss. With a grin on his face like the Cheshire cat, he looked out the window of the train, over the skyline of the metropolis. For the first time, he looked at it with not a philosophy, thoughts of money that he owed, horrible times in the past or simple pessimism – but rather, with a heart full of pride.
She was there the next day, too. She bought even more drinks this time, and the sugar rush that she had at home must have been incredible. But it didn’t matter in the now. In the now, it was just Sam and the Metro Man, talking in the middle of a gritty train passing through a gritty neighborhood, a slice of heaven in the middle of a grimy area. She asked him more about his past, and he let it all out, about how he had inherited the business that was once operated by his great-grandfather, and how he lost his family when the business crashed down due to inflation. He told her how he had hardly ever stopped feeling guilty over how the business crashed under his management, and how sometimes he couldn’t help but think that it was his fault.
And all she would ever do was just listen. And that was enough, too.
And she was there the next day, as well. This time, she talked about herself, which is something that the Metro Man had been asking her about, but she kept on denying for the longest time, wanting to hear his story some more.
“My Mom…she died. That’s why my Dad has been really worried about me, really paranoid. He’s been scaring me lately, by starting to smoke again, along with other things. He’s really a great person at heart, so I hope you didn’t take it that bad when he said what he said to you, or pushed you out of the way.”
The Metro Man shook his head rapidly, anxious to deny such a thing despite his previous feelings on the matter. “Not with me, no ma’am. I just remind myself of my philosophy and keep going forward.”
They said it simultaneously, while grinning with amusement- “EVERYBODY everywhere loves a cool drink!” They laughed after saying it. What followed was something unfamiliar between the two of them, and something that the masses always detest – an awkward silence.
Time passed, and they sat in silence. Metro Man was unsure of what to do. Weren’t awkward silences bad for relationships? Wait; was he calling this a relationship now? Did he want it to be serious? Did he –
“You know, we’ve sat here talking for who knows how long about the most personal things imaginable, and you haven’t even told me your name,” said Sam. The Metro Man knew he’d have to answer this question soon enough, and for an unexplainable, hidden reason, the idea of telling anyone made him nervous. Sam saw the look on his face in response to this question.
“Why does that make you upset?” She asked.
The Metro Man opened his mouth, like he was going to say something, with a long hesitation. He had to do it. He had to tell her. A voice appeared in his brain – You want to keep this friendship? Tell her your name, doofus! Do it! You’ll never have a chance like this again! Tell her TELL HER!
In a blink of an eye, it happened. As he leaned back in his seat, a disgustingly loud noise filled the train car. The Metro Man felt some sort of liquid fly on to his face, like…what was it….
Panic filled his entire mind, his entire body, as he looked down on the ground. This was followed by physical pain, as a bullet hit his right arm. Where did it originate…he thought to himself, as he looked around. He didn’t have to look very far. A young man stepped over to him pointing a revolver at his head, towering over both him and Sam’s dead body. A smile appeared on this person’s face as he started to squeeze the trigger, with the Metro Man closing his eyes…
A gunshot was heard. No…several gunshots. Opening his eyes, the sight that greeted the Man was the bullet-ridden man holding the revolver, which dropped to the floor. Moments later, the man himself dropped to the floor. Glancing to where the sound of the gunshots originated from, his gaze was met with the sight of the metro driver, holding an automatic pistol.
On the way back home, the Metro Man wasted no time through things like crying, or doing any of those things people do to grieve. No, he was empty, as he dragged his cooler back to his crummy Opa-Locka apartment building, which he immediately threw in the dumpster outside it. Inside the lobby, he ignored the shouts of the fat landlord about rent, and took the stairs instead of the elevator, his arm bleeding quickly but to absolutely no notice given by him. Once on his floor, he took out his only key and turned the lock, eventually revealing his crummy-looking apartment.
Was he in there for a nap? To grieve? To go to the bathroom? No. Underneath the bed he pulled out a case, which contained a .44 magnum pistol. He stared at it for the longest time, never blinking for one second. It is unknown to everybody what he did with it, but it is known that neither Jake nor the Metro Man was ever seen again. Some claimed to have seen him on the train, just riding for the hell of it with a blank look on his face, like he was a ghost, back from the dead to remember where his one true friend had died, and the short time they had shared each other’s company, but these have been dismissed by most as hoaxes.
Over time, his story was lost, like all others.
Written by skepticalmetal/John Houston
Protected by registration with the WGA.