A "Hidden City" Story
Ryan P. Macklin
Michael revved the engine on his classic, cherry red Mustang, waiting for the light in front of him on Sunrise Boulevard to turn green. He didn't care that it was 5:30 P.M., right smack in the middle of rush hour. He wasn't fixing to race anyone in particular. I just need to be free.
He saw the cross-traffic light turn yellow. Knowing that his light was next in the cycle, he hit the clutch and gas in perfect succession, narrowly missing a car that sped to make their yellow light.
A nearby car honked. Michael thrust his fist in the air and extended his middle finger. He bared a wicked grin, and took another drag off of his cigarette.
He passed through a dozen lights, most of them red for him, darting past vehicles and through spaces in traffic like a needle. Though he left many angry people in his wake, miraculously, there were no accidents. Michael ran his fingers through his wind-blown hair. Freedom!
Another car honked. He thrust his fist in the air again...
The alarm went off again. Michael slapped the snooze button. A moment later, he opened his eyes.
Just a dream. That dream.
He glanced at the clock. 7:25 in the morning. His eyes widened in an instant as adrenaline filled his body. He threw off the covers and darted into the bathroom, immediately jumping in the shower.
He showered quickly, only taking time to wash his hair and dab some remaining shampoo lather under his armpits. The water was barely warm by the time he jumped out and toweled off.
Michael grabbed some clothes hung in his closet and haphazardly threw them on. As he buttoned his shirt, he peeked his head into the kitchen to look at the microwave clock. 7:39. He fumbled around, looking for his wallet. After finding it, he grabbed his keys, some change from his change jar, and his briefcase. He did a mental checklist as he unlocked the door to head out. Okay... wallet, keys, briefcase... I'm forgetting something. Damn it, no time!
He locked the deadbolt behind him and jogged downstairs to the street. As he unlocked his car, Michael was approached from behind.
"Spare any change?"
Michael turned around and saw a middle-aged black man, dressed in layers of ratty, dirty clothing and smelling strongly of old sweat and grease. He reflexively fished around in his pocket, grabbed a few coins he had in there, and gave it to the man.
"Thank you very much." The man smiled, revealing missing and blackened teeth.
"No problem." Michael got into his car and turned the ignition.
The stranger said "Have a good day," just as the radio kicked on Eighties hair metal filled the car, drowning out the rest of the man said. Michael put a hand up, biding the man good-bye, as he drove off.
Michael looked at the clock on his dashboard. 7:43. Damn! I'm going to be late!
Every stoplight was green for him, though, and the two mile stretch of freeway he crossed was considerably light, especially for rush hour. As he got off the freeway, he saw a bright red classic car out of the corner of his eye, waiting at an intersection he just passed. He quickly glanced back, and got a good look at the car as it turned. Michael chuckled and focused on the road.
As he pulled into the office parking lot, the dashboard clock read 7:58. Record time! Maybe this will be a good day after all.
Michael walked into the office, and sat down at his desk.
After spending half an hour replying to email, Michael had a bit of time to kill before the staff meeting at ten. He opened up the document he had been working on for the past week, and starting typing away.
A dark-haired gentleman sporting a tie walked by Michael's desk. Without looking up, Michael said "Hey, chief."
"Morning, Michael. Listen, about the report..."
"We can't take another change, Daniel. This is due today, and I already have to revise most of it." Michael saved the document and turned his eyes toward the other man.
"No, no, this is good news. The big man's out of the office today, and will be gone next week. You got a few more days. I want it on my desk by Wednesday, so I have a chance to review the final draft."
Michael exhaled a sigh of relief. "Sure thing. Wednesday isn't a problem."
"You need anything, I'll be around." Daniel walked off.
I could use a break. Michael got up and walked to the break room. He put three quarters into the soda machine, and pressed "Diet." Two cans of diet soda fell into the catch below, as coins dropped into the change slot.
Neat. This is turning out to be a good day indeed.
He picked up the two sodas, and reached two fingers inside the change slot to grab the coins. To his surprise, he found three quarters. He smiled, confident that this was a good sign.
Michael walked over to Carolyn's desk. He took in the view -- her blonde hair, blue eyes, shapely body -- as nonchalantly as possible. She looked up at him, obviously stressed out and busy. "You need something, Michael?" she snapped..
Handing her one of the sodas, he smiled and said, "You look like you could use some refreshment. And a break."
Carolyn starred at him for a moment, and smirked. She took the can from him. "Thanks." She popped the top open and took a small sip. "Sorry for being a bitch. You're right about needing a break." She knocked on her computer screen with her knuckles. "This is being a royal pain."
Michael took a look. "Still working on that spreadsheet, huh?"
Carolyn rolled her eyes and joked, "El Capitan isn't satisfied yet."
"Well, I got some stuff I'm in the middle of right now, but later I could squeeze in some time to help you out. My report's not due until next week." After a moment, he added, "I mean, if you're interested."
Carolyn took another sip. "Sure. I'll let you know."
Michael grinned. "Alright. I'll let you get back to work." As he walked off, he jingled the change in his pocket. A mighty fine day indeed.
The staff meeting ran for an hour and a half, half an hour longer than Michael expected. He was thankful for that, though, because they finally addressed some of the personnel concerns that had been plaguing the office, opening the door to possibly hiring more assistants to help with the work load.
Daniel, Carolyn, and a couple other co-workers walked out with Michael. Daniel asked the group, "What do you feel like for lunch?"
Carolyn immediately responded, "Ernesto's?"
"Works for me. How about everyone else?"
Michael declined. "Mexican and me don't agree. I think I'll just grab something and work through lunch anyway." The other co-workers decided to go along. The four grabbed their coats and left.
Michael went back to his desk and worked for another half an hour before deciding to take off to grab lunch. He walked out to the parking lot, but his car wasn't where he remembered parking it.
Hmm. That's odd. He started looking around for his car. After five minutes, he cursed not having a clicker to help him find his car. After ten minutes, he started to panic, and went to the security office. After a half hour of searching, Michael's car was no where to be found.
Michael stormed back up to his office. There's goes the fucking day.
He spent the next hour talking with the police. The officer he spoke with took some information over the phone, and said that another officer would be by later. He didn't bother calling his auto insurance broker; he only had insurance for liability, and he didn't want to deal with another phone call right now. The rest of the afternoon was completely ruined. Michael couldn't focus on work. Earlier, he was looking forward to Carolyn asking him for help, but she found someone else less distracted to assist her. People came by to try and cheer him up, but all he could think about was how screwed over he was.
Michael waited until 6 P.M., but the officer never showed up. By then, anyone able and willing to give him a ride home was gone. He missed the first bus as he walked out of the office, and the next bus didn't show up, Michael finally arrived at the light rail station, over an hour after he left work. He wasn't able to read the novel in his briefcase until he got on the bus, as there wasn't enough light on the street to read.
Shortly after the bus pulled into the station, the train arrived. Finally, something right this evening. Michael got on board, and sat down. He pulled out the novel again, but was unable to concentrate on his book with the two teenagers on the other side of the train car drumming and rapping. Michael didn't like to think he was racist, but he knew that he would have said something if the boys were white. Instead, he sulked.
Fuck this day. Michael buried his head in his hands.
"You look like you've had a hell of a day."
Michael looked up and saw the man from this morning, the one he gave change to, sitting across from him. "Oh, it's you, from this morning."
The man grinned. "Thanks for the change. Was able to get some coffee with that."
"Sure." Michael looked back down, hanging his head low.
"No car? You got into one this morning."
"Stolen. From the parking lot at work, before lunch."
The man nodded. "Damn, man."
"And my day was going pretty well up until that point, too."
The man got up and pressed the Stop Requested button. "Maybe it was being a good day to soften the blow of your car getting stolen. Maybe it had to happen, you know, for a reason."
"My car was stolen for a reason? And today was treating me alright to prepare me for that?" Michael raised his head, his face filled with anger. He spat back, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
The man shrugged as the train came to a stop. "I don't know, man. Was just a suggestion. Have faith. Look on the bright side. The city provides." With that, he left.
"Whatever," Michael muttered under his breath.
The intercom announced the next stop: 16th Street Station. Two more stops to go. Michael sat there for a moment in silence before he realize that he no longer heard the loud ruckus from behind him. He looked back, and didn't see the kids there. He left out a relaxed sigh. Small miracles.
The train ride made a screeching noise as it west past a curve before stopping at the station. The lights flickered on and off as it came to a stop.
Doors opened. People left and people boarded. The train stayed motionless in the station for a full two minutes before someone behind Michael complained loudly. "C'mon! We have places to be!" Others nodded and muttered in agreement.
Another minute or two passed before the intercom clicked on. "Looks like we have some technical problems, folks. We're going to need everyone to get off the train. We apologize for the inconvenience" This was followed by a massive groan of complaint from everyone in the car, including Michael. Great. Just fucking great. What's next?
Michael complied instantly. Most of the other passengers did as well, though the man who complained earlier loudly protested moving. As Michael got off the train, a security guard addressed the crowd. Michael didn't bother to listen -- his feet keep going. Home's only twelve blocks away. I'm not waiting around.
He walked down a block before he realized he wasn't carrying his briefcase anymore. He stopped in his tracks, too furious to move. "Christ!" he shouted into the quiet of the night.
As if in reply, a woman's voice screamed "Help!" Michael snapped out of his angst, and turned his head south, toward the scream.
The woman cried out again. "Help!" Michael's eyes focused on the alley. There were no streetlights in this area, so he could barely make out the edges of the buildings. He couldn't see anything else.
"Hello? Is someone there?" Michael called in response, slowly walking toward the alley.
"Oh god! Please help me!" Michael ran. As he reached the alley, he could hear labored grunting and clothing being torn. He turned around the corner, and vaguely saw the silhouette of someone ripping the clothing off of the screaming woman underneath him.
"Hey!" Michael pushed the man. "Leave her alone!" Why am I doing this? He could be dangerous! Please, oh God don't let him have a knife or gun. In spite of the whirlwind of thoughts ran through Michael's head, he appeared focused.
The figure punched him in the face. Michael was taken completely by surprise, unable to see any body movement. He landed on the wall behind him with his shoulder. The figure then ran off. Michael followed the sound of the footsteps with his eyes as he assailant crossed the street. A car stopped in front of it. For a split second, Michael thought he saw claws -- red claws. Then the figure seemed to leap away, disappearing into the shadows.
Michael blinked. The figure was gone. He shook his head. Just socked hard, that's all. He turned his attention to the woman. "You alright, miss?"
The woman was silent. He could tell she was looking at herself, assessing her torn clothes. Michael took off his overcoat and held it up. "Here. Wear this."
"Thank you." The voice sounded familiar to Michael.
"Are you alright?"
"No. I was just attacked! He got my purse. But, he didn't get..." She breathed deeply, "...anything else." She put on his coat.
A car passed by them. For a moment, the headlights illuminated them enough to see each other.
"Heather?" Michael remembered her from college, back in Houston. They took some general Ed courses together.
"Michael?" Her face was filled with confusion, but after a moment, she smiled weakly.
In that moment, Michael forgot about his car having been stolen, losing his briefcase, dealing with delays and malfunctions, and the rest of this horrible day. He even forgot about his little office crush on Carolyn, seeing Heather again. He thought about what that bum said. "Maybe it had to happen, for a reason." Damn, maybe he's right.
"I live a few blocks away. You want to use my phone?"
She nodded then brushed his cheek with her fingertips. Michael smiled until he saw the look on her face. "Michael, you're bleeding." She turned her fingertips toward him. They were smeared with blood. His blood. As the adrenalin faded, his cheek started to sting and he could feel the blood running down his face.
As they walked to his apartment, Michael eyed every alley and tree fearfully, waiting for that... thing... to attack again. He tried to put up a brave front for Heather, but it was everything in him to not to break down right then.
Story by Ryan P. Macklin, Copyright 2006
Photo by Sasha Pixlee, copyright 2006