Suburban Station

Written in response to Angela’s photo prompt for Tell the Story Challenge. Her beautiful poetry can be found at Heartbreathings. As I’m in the midst of, and bogged down on both my works in progress, I was happy to attempt this piece of short fiction as an alternative. So based on the photo below, here is my story: Suburban Station.

I was a pop superstar. I had an agent and a stage name. I got discovered at age 16 when I made the cut for Next American Star and spent most of my twenties either in the studio or on the road. I was a household name. I had all the girls I could want but I never fell in love. I had a house in California and an apartment in New York. I owned three sports cars before I even got my driver’s license.

You know what comes with that kind of life. It’s a cliche, really. Late nights, parties, booze, drugs and then other drugs the next day just so you can get up to do it all over again. And of course, the inevitable hangers-on, the leeches that form your entourage, managing your affairs so you can concentrate on being creative while they suck away your fortunes. I still have some of mine. I guess I was lucky.

It’s been two years. I’m thirty-one now but I look a lot older than that. The drugs and the pills and everything else have taken a toll. One morning, I woke up and didn’t know where I was. A hotel, yes, but what city? I had stumbled to the bathroom and puked, only to find, when I pulled my head out of the toilet, some dude sleeping in the bathtub. I didn’t recognize him. Nor did I know any of the other partiers passed out in the room. Was it even my room? I checked the closet. Yeah, those were my clothes. I had to get out of here.

I left the hotel room, found out I was in Miami, and vaguely recalled playing Hard Rock Stadium the night before. I took a cab to the airport. Tour canceled, the star is unwell. That concert was my last. I fired my manager, I sold both my homes, all my cars and hoarded what was left of my wealth.

I went home to Philadelphia and bought a small townhouse. I go by my given name. At rush hour I take my guitar to Suburban Station and play for the passengers boarding the trains. Sometimes people look at me funny –like maybe I seem familiar or something. Nobody’s ever asked. The rest of the time I volunteer to teach music in after school programs for inner city kids. That’s where I met my girlfriend, Jill. She’s a teacher, too. And she’s the only one who knows my secret. I’m not sure how long my money will hold out, but for the first time in my life I am happy.

***

Gone For Good – A Short Story

By Meg Sorick; 2017

Moving day was finally here. I’d always hated living in the Philadelphia suburbs and at long last I was saying goodbye for good. The plan was pretty simple. Kim and I would recruit friends and neighbors to help load up the moving truck on Sunday, we’d stay with her family Sunday night, and first thing Monday morning, we’d go to settlement. With cash in the bank account, I would hit the highway in the truck, towing one of the cars. Kim hated the idea of a coast to coast road trip so I suggested she fly out five days later. “You’ll have some private time with your mom that way,” I had said.

The sale of the house netted us $53,000. Not a fortune, but enough to get started someplace new. Kim kissed me goodbye outside the realtor’s office and I took the cashier’s check with me to the bank on my way out of town. I promised to call her when I stopped for the night. My plan for the first day was to reach Knoxville, Tennessee.

At the bank, I deposited the check in our joint checking account and withdrew the small balance in our savings account which I added to the stash of currency I’d been accumulating over the past few months. The black Addidas backpack held $21,000 in tens and twenties.

The trip to Knoxville would take longer than if I were simply traveling by car. I was counting on that fact in keeping Kim from worrying if I didn’t call until late in the day. My first stop was actually going to be in Lancaster, at an auction, where weeks ago, I had negotiated a lump sum for all my worldly goods. The proprietor had also agreed to pay me in cash. When I drove away with my empty moving truck, I had another $8,000 to add to the backpack.

Next, I returned the truck to the local rental office and transferred my bags to the back of the Subaru. Now, I would hit the road for Knoxville. I arrived only an hour past my estimated travel time. Kim hadn’t worried at all.

The bank had said the money from the cashier’s check deposit would be available in increments of $10,000 per day on the first four days and the final $13,000 on the fifth day. I wouldn’t have time to access all of it before Kim boarded the plane for San Fransisco, but I’d be able to get a sizable chunk. I had planned my route based on branches of the national bank being close by. First thing Tuesday morning, I withdrew $9,990, just below the limit that would attract attention from the Internal Revenue Service. I did the same thing in Asheville, North Carolina the next day. And again in Atlanta, the day after that. Enough was enough. I was cutting it close.

That night in the hotel, I smashed my phone to pieces, cut my driver’s license and my credit cards into tiny bits and said goodbye to Perry Reynolds for good. My new driver’s license issued in Florida, read Michael Johnson, a name so common, it would never stand out.

The next morning, I parked the Subaru in the long term parking lot of the Atlanta airport and took the shuttle to the terminal for international flights. Instead of boarding a plane, though, I circled through the terminal to the area for arriving flights and hailed a taxi to take me back to the city center. After replacing my cell phone using my new identity, I made a single phone call.

“Hey, it’s me,” I said, the smile apparent in my voice. “I’m on my way.”

Inhuman (6)

To read from the beginning: Parts one, two, three, four and five.

Self consciously Amanda brought a hand to her cheek, gently touching the tender area beneath the orbit of her right eye. These injuries had sent her down this murky path. One that would surely not end well, not as far her overwhelmed mind could conceive at this point anyway. The shock of it all had prevented her from even grieving the loss of her husband. Feeling the sensitive skin brought all that anguish to the surface, swamping her with loss, loneliness and heartbreak. As she began to cry softly, Nathan put an arm around her and led her to a chair. He said gently, “I know how hard this must be for you. I’m very sorry. Can I get you anything?”

Information, Amanda thought. So far all the answers she’d been given had only raised new and more dreadful questions she was afraid to ask. Would they ever let her leave? With the knowledge she now possessed, would they even allow her to live? An arcane government organization would certainly be able to arrange things to look like she had died in an accident. Perhaps even her and Brian together. Brian. How could she even go on without him? Pull yourself together, girl. There must be a way out of this…

She wiped her tears away and nodded. “Water. And maybe the bathroom.”

“Of course. Lydia will show you.”

The foursome exited through the secure foyer out into the hallway. The men waited while Lydia escorted Amanda to an unmarked door just a few yards away. If Amanda had hoped for privacy, however, she wasn’t going to get it. The other woman followed her into the two-stall bathroom and waited while Amanda used the toilet and washed her hands and face. When she was finished they rejoined the men where Nathan handed her a bottle of water. “Shall we go meet the doctor, then?”

Maybe meeting with her husband’s —she couldn’t stop thinking of Brian that way— creator, she would have a clue as to what to do next. Then again, with the task completed, would her usefulness be over as well? Nevertheless, did she really have any other options? She cleared her throat. “I will talk to him.” 

Alexander said, “Nathan, we’ll leave you to it. Report back to me when you’ve finished.”

“Of course,” Nathan replied and he and Amanda were left alone. He gestured for her to follow. “Right this way, then.”

They walked down the corridor toward the bank of elevators in silence. Once the doors closed behind them, Amanda took a deep breath. “How long was I out?”

“Just a couple of hours.”

So they hadn’t traveled too far from home, she thought. If Nathan could be trusted, that is… Yet, there was something about him that reassured her. She asked, “And where are we exactly?”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Centralia, Pennsylvania. Ever heard of it?”

“No. Should I?”

He shrugged. “It was big news thirty years ago. At least in Pennsylvania. It’s a small town in coal country. A seam of coal caught fire in an abandoned mine and it’s been burning ever since. The town had to be evacuated and all the residents relocated. Since the government had to buy out all the homeowners anyway and it would never be able to be developed for either residential or commercial use, it was a perfect place to locate a highly secure research facility.” 

Amanda paled. “Are we in danger?”

“No, not at all. The mine fire was actually extinguished long ago, we only keep up the appearance of smoke leeching from the ground in the unlikely event that someone would come looking. The old roads have been diverted around the area and the town is clearly marked as hazardous to keep the curious away.” He paused as the elevator doors slid open. “The old mine tunnels provided a ready-made infrastructure. This facility is entirely underground.”

 Amanda tried to digest the ramifications of this revelation. Finding her way out of here would be difficult enough, but to try and get back to civilization from an abandoned coal town would be nearly impossible. Which way would she even run? No, her only hope was to enlist the doctor’s help, if he was willing. And able. After all, it sounded like he was just as much a prisoner as she. One thing at a time.

“Here we are,” Nathan said, stopping before yet another anonymous door. After opening it, he gestured for Amanda to enter first. The room within contained a single bed, a small table with two chairs, and a shelf with about a dozen books. The figure of Dr. Leo Knight was reclined on the bed reading. He jumped up when Amanda and Nathan entered. “What is this?” he asked, surprised.

Nathan said, “This is Amanda. She was Brian’s wife.”

“Wife? Was? You mean…”

“Yes, Leo. He’s been retrieved and purged.”

The doctor sat down hard on the bed. “Oh no.”

“They want you to talk to Amanda, listen to her story, everything she’s been through. Brian was violent with her, Leo.”

The doctor looked sharply at Amanda, noting the bruises beneath her eyes. “Brian did this?”

Amanda nodded. “It wasn’t his fault. He had these horrible nightmares and would thrash around while he was asleep.”

“It’s the glitch we told you about, Leo. We observed the same behavior in Christopher before he was purged.” He pulled out one of the chairs from the table and signaled for Amanda and the doctor to sit. After they were positioned opposite one another, Nathan stepped close behind Amanda, keeping his back to the entryway and whispered, “Just play along, Leo. And maybe between the three of us we can find a way to save the others.”

***

Just a quick note about Centralia: this is a real town, with a real mine fire, not far from the region where I grew up. Centralia is a borough and near-ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from more than 1,000 residents in 1980 to 63 by 1990, to only seven in 2013—a result of the coal mine fire which has been burning beneath the borough since 1962. (Wikipedia)