[First, a word of explanation. Creative OSer designanator blogged a post called "steal this post", encouraging readers to steal the beginning of a sentence and a photograph. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and almost immediately I felt inspired to steal both and put my own spin on them. Thanks, designanator, for your Abbie Hoffman-esque generosity, and for a really fun writing experience! I hope others will take you up on your offer!]
As his train crossed the Harlem River on that cloudy morning . . .
…George wondered how he’d gotten here.
He remembered being on a train, indeed, but not the same one. He turned from the strange view at the window and examined the interior of the car. His heart jumped alarmingly in his chest. No, not the same one at all.
What was this illumination, flickering with the movements of the locomotive, surely, but not as a gas lamp flickers? What was this material that coated the car, too cool to the touch to be wood, but with a very slight stickiness to it that did not resemble stone?
A piercing noise behind him made his whole body jump this time, not just his heart. He settled back into his seat and unconsciously straightened his waistcoat. Even the seats were not what he knew – but there was little time to think on that, as the piercing sound tore through the air again.
Between his seat and the wall was a small space. He twisted slightly and let one of his eyes peer through it.
A man was sitting on a seat like his own. He wore a strangely long cravat – or perhaps a thin one that he’d loosened – perhaps he, too, was suffering from a heart pounding far too fast, and needed fresh air -- but the windows here did not open. George observed him more closely. The rest of his clothing was cut quite too loose. He began to wonder if the man had subdued some innocent bystander and stolen his garments – hence the cravat that had not yet been properly tied and the ill-fitting su –
-- But all his theories left him as the piercing noise came a third time – and now, the strangely dressed man reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a small, rectangular object. He touched it lightly with a thick finger, then held it to his ear and began to speak softly.
What was this madness? Was it merely that? How had he gotten here, he wondered again. Was he dreaming? Was he, himself, mad?
The strangely dressed man laughed quietly, then drew the object away from his ear, touched it lightly once more, and returned it to his pocket.
George wondered what he should do. All his life he’d dreamt of being a man of action, but he’d never done more than watch, just as he was doing now. The years had passed him by like a train. In his four decades of existence, nary a moment of real interest had occurred. Had he ever felt passion or powerful conviction impelling him forward like a locomotive? He closed his eyes and tried to recall.
Suddenly, a metallic, muffled-sounding voice called out: “Gr….entra…”
George’s eyes popped open and he sat up straight. All around him, other passengers stood up in front of their seats, reaching for baggage they’d left on the racks above their heads. George wondered if his valise would be there. He glanced up and saw nothing but the strangely dull metal grille.
Sheer panic started to wash over him – not the stops and starts of his nervous body and heart, but a chill that began somewhere at the base of him and went all the way to his scalp. For a very, very short moment he wanted to scream. Where was he? What had happened? He looked desperately around. No one seemed to notice him. Everyone was dressed strangely. Individuals whom he’d first taken for boys, turned out on closer inspection to be women with strangely short hair, and wearing tight blue trousers….. George felt he might faint.
The metallic, disembodied voice came again. This time he could hear it more clearly: “Grand Central Terminal.”
Grand Central? This, at least, he knew. Watching the others now, but not too closely, he got in line, facing the thin metal doors whose narrow oval windows showed an exit to the right. He inhaled subtly, bracing himself to be caught up in the inevitable rush of the crowd on the platform just outside.
If the Grand Central Terminal was here, that was something. He felt quickly in his pocket and found his papers and some money. He decided that before taking any other course of action, he would leave the terminal and find something to eat. It was essential to fully recover his faculties.
His hat was nowhere to be found, but the others seemed to be mostly bare-headed as well. Perhaps he wouldn’t shock anyone at the restaurant. He took a breath and concentrated on the thought of a delicious plate of oysters that awaited him somewhere. He hoped.