Boundless Page 75

“No one else,” he repeats sharply, talking loudly to make himself heard over the engine of the train as it slows to a halt in front of us. “Keep your heads down. Do not look anyone in the eyes.” He glances at Christian. “Try to maintain physical contact with your friend, but any outward sign of affection or connection between you will be noticed, and you do not want to be noticed. Stay close to me, but do not touch me. Do not look directly at me. Do not speak to me in public. If I am to stay with you, you must do exactly as I tell you, when I tell you, without question. Do you understand?”

I nod mutely.

The train shudders to a complete stop. Samjeeza takes two golden coins from his pocket and drops them into my hand. “For passage.” I pass one to Christian.

“Your hair,” he says, and I pull my hood up over my head.

The doors hiss open.

I step closer to Christian so that our shoulders touch, take a deep breath of what is all at once oily, stale air, and let go of his hand. Together we follow Samjeeza into the waiting car. The doors close behind us. There’s no going back.

This is it.

We’re going to hell.

It’s dark inside the car. I’m immediately overpowered by a claustrophobic feeling, like the grimy walls are shrinking, enclosing us, trapping us. It’s not helped by the fact that there are people crowded around us like shadows, insubstantial and ghostlike, sometimes immaterial enough that I can see right through them or they seem to overlap one another, occupying the same space. There’s an occasional moan from one of them, the sound of a man who’s coughing wretchedly, a woman weeping. The lights over our heads are red and flickering, buzzing like angry insects. Outside the window is nothing but black, like we are passing through an endless tunnel.

I’m scared. I want to clutch at Christian’s hand, but I can’t. People would notice. We don’t want to be noticed. We can’t be noticed. So I sit, head down, eyes on the floor, my heart going pump pump pump, and every now and then my leg brushes his, and his anxiety in this situation, his own fear, pulses through me and mixes with my own until I can’t tell who’s feeling what exactly. The train shudders and rocks, the air inside heavy and stifling and cold, like we’re underwater and slowly freezing into a solid block of nothingness. I have to fight not to shiver.

I’m scared, yes, but I’m also determined. We’re going to do this, this impossible task that lies before us now. We’re going to rescue Angela.

And I’m thankful, in that moment, full to the brim with gratitude that Christian is with me. He’s here. My partner. My best friend.

I don’t have to do this alone.

If I had my gratitude journal on me now, that’s what I would write.

We stop, and more people get on. A man in a black uniform passes through the car and takes the gold coins. I wonder where the gray people get them, if there’s some sort of coin dispenser for the dead somewhere out there in the world, or if someone gives it to them, like the coin is a metaphor for what people want to take with them from one life to the next, only now they must give it to the man in the black uniform. Some of them seem reluctant to hand it over. One guy claims he doesn’t have a coin, and at the next stop the man in the black uniform takes this guy by the shoulders and hurls him off the train. Where will he go, I wonder? Is there a place that’s worse to go than hell?

The man in the black uniform gives a wide berth to Samjeeza and asks him no questions, I notice.

At the third stop, Samjeeza moves toward the door. He glances at me, a signal, and steps out. Christian and I stand up and push through the gray people, and each time I brush hard enough against one of them I receive a jolt of some raw and ugly feeling: hate, lost love, resentment, infidelity, murder. Then we’re standing on the platform, and I can breathe again. I try to look discreetly for Samjeeza, and I find him a few feet away. Already he looks different here; his humanness is fading. He’s larger and more menacing by the moment, the blackness of his coat a stark contrast to the gray of those around him.

Where are we? Christian asks in my mind. This looks familiar.

I turn around.

It’s Mountain View, I recognize immediately. The structure of the buildings is largely the same, only there’s a cold, thick mist passing between the buildings, and no color to be seen, like we’ve stepped onto the set of a horror movie inside a black-and-white television.

Look at them, Christian says with an inner shudder of revulsion.

The gray people are walking all around us, heads down, some with black tears flowing down their faces, some scratching at themselves violently, their arms and necks raw with the marks of their fingernails, some muttering as if they’re talking to someone, but no one speaks to anyone else. They are adrift in their own oceans of solitude, all the while pressed in from every side by others just like them, but they never look up.

He’s on the move, I say to Christian as Samjeeza starts to walk, down what would be Castro Street on earth. We wait for a few seconds before we follow. I slip my hand in Christian’s under the edge of his jacket, thankful for the warmth of his fingers, the smell of his cologne that I can only faintly detect in this congested mixture of what I identify as car exhaust and burned-out fire and the reek of mildew.

Hell stinks.

The street is empty of cars, no one driving, but the mass of people on the sidewalk never ventures onto the road. They part around Samjeeza as he walks among them, sometimes moaning as he passes by. A black sedan is idling at the corner. As we approach, the driver gets out and crosses to open the door for Samjeeza. He is something other than the gray people, something like the man in the black uniform was, and indeed he wears a kind of uniform himself, a fitted black suit and a chauffeur hat with a curved, shiny brim.

Don’t stare, Christian warns me. Keep your head down.

I bite my lip when I see that the driver does not have any eyes or mouth, just a smooth expanse of skin from nose to chin, a pair of slight indentations in his face where his eye sockets should be. Even so, he appears to look at us when we stop behind Samjeeza, and without words he seems to ask a question:

Where?

“I am taking these two to be marked for Asael,” Samjeeza says. He puts a finger to his lips, and the message to us is clear: This man can’t speak, but he can hear. Be quiet.

The driver nods once.

I feel Christian’s wave of anxiety at Asael’s name like a new surge of adrenaline hitting my system. This could be a trap. We are walking right into it.

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