Several of us squeezed onto the train and looked for a seat. The only kind left were the ones that make you sit sideways. I never like riding this way, but after a long day of dashing here and there for interviews and errands for the more experienced staffers, I was ready to sit for a while.
At every stop, people anxious to get onto the train crowded the platform, leaving little room for those exiting. Just another typical commute. I considered opening the novel waiting patiently in my bag, but too many thoughts fought for attention, so I decided on people watching. A headline in the newspaper the guy across from me held caught my attention. “I Surrender All in Chicago Tonight.”
Well, now, that headline should have had quotes around the first three words. “I Surrender All” must be the name of a Christian band or ministry group. A lump clogged my throat. Pa’s favorite song. First time in years I’d thought of him. As the subway train sped along, the song played unbidden in my head.
“I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my blessed savior, I surrender all.”
A tear welled in the corner of my eye. Time to give up people watching. I dug in my purse for the novel and pretended to read through the watery veil poised at the brink of my lashes. What was the matter with me today? Why was I thinking of Pa?
The doors opened at the next stop and a chill shivered my spine. Then my hands got hot and tingly. Oh no. Not this again. My own personal alert system hadn’t gone off since my pa kicked me out. Please not again. I can’t.
A passenger brushed past me and plopped heavily into the empty seat beside me. I took in his details in a glance, automatically using the skills being a busybody turned writer had honed. He looked like so many other men, wearing a suit, wind-blown hair like everyone else in Chicago, tie askew, hollow eyes, slouching in his seat, but one detail made me want to get off the train as fast as possible. I could catch the next one heading my way in a few minutes. I dashed for the exit too late. The doors smacked shut right in front of my nose, mocking me. The rude ol’ train squealed and lurched into action. I resisted the urge to rub my burning, tingling hands against my legs. Nothing I did would stop the sensation. I instead gripped the pole, so I wouldn’t fall as the train rocked and rushed along the track.
Did I really see a creature attached to him? I glanced over at the man again to be sure. Yep. I did. A wave of nausea roiled in my stomach. A pair of hard black eyes stared at me from the nasty thing. The shiny red snake-like being on the man’s shoulder pulled needle sharp fangs out of the back of his neck and leaned toward me. I would bet nobody else saw it, but I felt sure it knew I could see it.
I averted my eyes, but the man must have caught me looking at him. Both he and the serpent stared at me. I looked up and smiled, hoping a compliment would excuse my gaze. Quick, find something nice to say.
“Uh…nice suit. It’s a rich gray, not bland like most of them.”
I sounded like an idiot. Not creative at all, but evidently the best I could do at this awkward moment. He gave me a perplexed look and mumbled thanks as he unfolded the Chicago Tribune and started reading. Was he aware of the creature attached to him, sucking out his life energy? Probably not, or he might have recognized that I could see it. The glossy red serpent coiled into a spiral and fixed its gaze on me.
My ears rang. My heart beat as if it had to forcibly pull the blood into and through its four chambers then shove it onward through the rest of me. All around me, the cranky, tired, despondent passengers read, talked or stared out the windows, oblivious to the creature I alone could see. I knew what it meant. What should I do? Why was this happening again? What had I ever done to deserve this accursed so-called gift?
The train blasted to the surface and upward to the elevated tracks, trading stifling underground dark for open nighttime black. Gulping for air, I gripped the cold metal pole so hard my knuckles went white. I felt I would leave a layer of skin sizzling and smoking on its frigid surface. As soon as the doors opened, I pushed into the November night to await the next train and continue on home.
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