I hear the woman’s scream before the thud of the body hitting the floor. She jumps out of the subway seat and bolts towards the elderly man’s lifeless form, crumpled on the filthy ground of the train car. She leaves her child, unforgotten, six feet away, tucked beneath a blanket inside of a stroller as she rolls the man onto his back. I catch a glimpse of his face and resist the urge to cry. Oozing from his nose and the top of his head is bright red blood; it engulfs his facial features in a cherry colored, dripping mask that pools onto the floor as it reaches his ears. When the train pulls into the station, one person bolts off in disgust while another person runs to alert the train conductor.
The lady sitting across from me takes out her phone to call 911 for an ambulance. "Hello? Yes, we have a medical emergency! I’m on the subway. An elderly man fell off his seat and now he's bleeding on the floor," she says in a rushed, panicked tone. She peers outside the door and repeats the name of the train station off the sign on the wall.
My stomach lurches and I barely register getting up. My feet have a mind of their own as they guide me out of the train doors to the nearest trash can. I stumble into the metal can just as the contents of this morning's breakfast come tumbling out of my mouth and into the garbage bag waiting below. Wiping my mouth on my sleeve after I'm done, I feel a sharp prick on my back, and swivel around quickly. It's a horrible decision that causes my head to spin and I stumble backwards, clinging to the trash can to steady myself.
It's only then that I notice the woman directly before me, observing me. My eyes take in her folded arms, her hands ending in long, glittering nails, her pin-straight blonde hair disturbed only by the sunglasses atop her head, the black-vinyl trench coat enveloping her slender figure and the sharp point of her red stiletto heels. She would be the center of attention in any room she entered or any painting in which she was the main subject. But no one seems to glance in her direction.
She smiles up at me and asks, "Are you okay, sir? You still look quite green."
"I'm fine, thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find another way to get to work."
I release my hand from the garbage can and take a step forward only to feel another wave of nausea. Unable to grab onto the trash can this time, I find myself momentarily weightless, and suddenly lying on the platform floor.
"I don't think you'll make it to work today, Elias. Or tomorrow for that matter," the woman says. She kneels down to my eye level and reaches her hand out, tilting my chin up.
"What are you talking about?" I ask as I try to scoot away from her. Suddenly, my face feels very hot, like the thermostat in my brain has been turned up to the highest setting.
The woman smiles sympathetically at me. "You should really wipe your nose, Elias," is her only reply.
Swatting away her outstretched hand and reaching up to touch my face, I feel something sticky just above my upper lip and dripping from my nostrils. Pulling my finger away, I freeze as I see the red stain. Panicking, both of my hands shoot up to my cheeks and are met with the same, sticky residue instead of my smooth skin.
The woman's smiling face remains unfazed. "I'm sorry, but I hope you understand that this is just business. And don't worry, you won't be alone."
Turning her head to the right, she points at a teenage boy completely absorbed by the phone in his hand. "See that kid? He's next." She straightens up from her crouched position and slinks towards her third victim of the day.
Kaitlin Fisher is 17 years old; she lives in New York, NY. Kaitlin loves singing, spends her summers hiking and biking, and would love to have a pet dog.
image: Jarek Levandocki