By Kelli Short Borges
Wheels screech to a stop, metal hissing in complaint as the train doors open with a thud. Nina, sitting left of the door, chokes on the exhaust now permeating the compartment.
The perfume of the city, she thinks, wondering how many years of her life will be cut short due to her stubborn insistence upon staying in this place, despite her mother’s pleading for Nina to move home, closer to family. Where she had been cocooned as tightly as an unwilling caterpillar, struggling to escape the suffocating silk bindings of her childhood. Never again.
The exhaust is a small debt for the freedom she feels now, the glorious spreading of her wings, the breaking free. Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, Nina’s life is finally unfolding, its endless possibilities as exhilarating as she had imagined. Her mother’s repeated warnings of lurking danger went largely unheeded and ignored.
Still, this morning, as she sees a dark-haired man with a jaw as chiseled as a knife’s blade pushing his way through the metal doors, a primal twist of fear lodges itself deep within her gut. Nostrils flaring, the man sits heavily in the seat across from Nina.
Something about the man nags at Nina, feels familiar. The familiarity isn’t the comforting kind. It’s nestled beside a sense of foreboding. But, why? Where has she seen him before? The thought persists, sitting in the back of her mind like a pesky insect intent upon drawing blood.
Nina, brain still foggy at this ungodly hour, attempts to brush away this inexplicable worry, writing it off to exhaustion. She takes a slug of much-needed coffee, extra hot, from the mug she cradles in her lap, just as the compartment jolts unexpectedly forward.
Scalding coffee arcs from her cup, splashing across the white silk blouse she carefully ironed this morning.
“Shit!” Nina yelps, jumping from her seat.
Shaking, she attempts to wipe off the stain which has already begun to settle into the fabric.
“Get a grip,” she mutters under her breath, glancing once again at the man, who is now staring straight at her, his sharp, bright blue eyes framed by a cobweb of fine lines.
Nina’s chest constricts. Her breath becomes as thin as skim milk. In that instant, she knows. Knows why it’s all so familiar. The choking smell of exhaust, the scorching coffee, the man. His face appears before her, exactly as it appeared last night.
In the dream.
White knuckled, Nina grips the arm of her seat and turns toward the man, who is now pinning her with his eyes like an insect to a board. At his feet, as in the dream, sits a large black backpack, the edges of the straps frayed and worn.
A faint sound is coming from inside the pack. Like a muffled version of the grandfather clock in Nina’s childhood home, the “tick, tick” is barely audible, almost completely obscured by the normal creaks and groans of the train.
The man’s thick fingers grasp what Nina now knows they hold—a small electronic device. A button lies just under his thumb, the faded blue color barely visible from Nina’s seat.
Nina’s head squeezes like a vise, the pounding of her pulse accelerating with such rapidity she wonders if everyone in the compartment hears its frantic drumming. Her eyes are wild, shooting through the car as quickly as silver orbs in a pinball game. No one else is paying attention. Nobody sees.
Flashes from the dream, from what comes next, play out in her brain like a movie reel from hell: the pressing of his thumb, the blinding white flash, the deafening crack and pop of the explosion, the sucker punch of heat, the spray of metal a gruesome firework. Afterward, the sparks, the fallout. The moans. Everything coated a slick, crimson red.
Gasping for breath, Nina realizes it’s up to her to stop him. She stands, panting, legs taking flight as she launches herself at the man, frantically grabbing for the device, the man’s mouth curling in a feral snarl as he twists and holds the button high, beyond her reach.
His thumb presses down.
Nina opens her eyes, head throbbing. Squinting in confusion, she tries to place herself. Her eyes slowly adjust as a shaft of light brings everything to focus.
She’s in bed. It’s morning, 6 a.m. Time to get ready for work. If she doesn’t get up soon, she’ll miss the train. Looking over at her dresser, she sees the blouse she set out for work today. The white one. It just needs to be ironed.
As she pulls herself up wearily, her roommate knocks softly, peers through the door.
“Nina? Good morning. I brought you your coffee. Extra hot.
* * *
Kelli Short Borges is a former reading specialist and forever reading enthusiast. Her work has been published or is forthcoming at Across the Margin, Flash Fiction Magazine, Drunk Monkeys Literature + Film, and Pure Slush, amongst other journals. Kelli also enjoys hiking the Arizona foothills, photography and traveling the world in search of adventure. You can find her on Twitter @KelliBorges2.