Once upon a time there was a girl named Faye whose hair was so long that you could still see summer growing out in its tips. That summer was a magical time for Faye; she experienced a love deep and true, but he was there and gone like the flick of a cat’s tongue. Autumn stole him away, and Faye found herself back in the cold city, alone.
One day, as she waited for the train to take her to work, Faye was approached by a pale young woman in a fur coat.
“You ooo un-appy.”
Faye removed her headphones. “I’m sorry?”
“I said, you look unhappy.” The stranger spoke with a slight Eastern European accent.
“It’s just cold out.” Faye started to pop her headphones back in, but the young woman stopped her.
“That is not why you are unhappy. You miss your lover. If you are cold, it is because your heart no longer glows from his adoration.”
“How do you—”
“You can win him back,” insisted the woman, laying a gloved hand on Faye’s cheek. “He waits for you on the very train you will be taking to work. But in order to attain his love, you must face three challenges. They, too, await you on the train.”
The end of her statement was almost drowned out by the rumble of an incoming Brown Line train. Before Faye could question the woman, she shuffled to the other side of the platform and hopped on. The doors closed, and she was gone.
Faye was still trying to sort out what had just happened when a Red Line train zoomed in front of her eyes. “Whatever that was,” she thought, “no matter how crazy, I still have to go to work.” She slowly filed on with the other commuters. More filed on behind her. And more. Faye moved into the aisle to make room, but soon she was wedged in just as tightly as she had been near the doors. She grabbed the back of a seat to steady herself; its occupant glared at her when her purse banged into his shoulder. A young college student leaned against her back, and her breasts pressed against the chest of an old priest with foul breath. The air in the car was warm and unforgiving and relentless. From somewhere behind her, a hand slithered up Faye’s thigh and squeezed her ass.
Faye knew she couldn’t stay there any longer. “Excuse me!” she cried, shoving her way past the other passengers. She continued on though the gauntlet of bodies and murmurs; angry whispers slipped into her ears: “Ow!” “Bitch!” “Fuckin’ whore!” Many of the people stood strong and firm like soldiers determined not to let her pass. Somehow she wound her way through them all. At the end of the car she even had to duck down and crawl beneath someone’s legs to reach the emergency exit. As quickly as she could, she passed through the shaking, empty space between cars, careful not to look down as the train rattled along its tracks.
“Well, that’s one challenge down,” she thought bitterly as she entered the next car. Faye took a deep breath, and immediately regretted her decision. She had never smelled a scent so putrid. Or was it scents? She looked around to find the cause of the odour and quickly stumbled upon one source. A young man with wiry hair leaned against the nearby doors. His eyes were red, and the skin around them was baggy and green-tinged. Everything in front of him—his chin, his chest, his feet, the floor—was splattered in vomit. Chunks of undigested food rolled across the ground with every lurch of the train. A small stream of the stuff was still gurgling out of his mouth.
Disgusted, Faye leapt over the puddle and ran to the other end of the car. There she found two homeless men sitting across from each other. One was urinating, inefficiently, into a plastic soda bottle. Faye averted her eyes and stepped to the side to avoid the spray. She focused on the other man, who appeared to be covered in lint. Moving lint? She leaned closer and saw dozens of maggots creeping across his body. “What’s the matter, little lady?” he asked with yellow, rotting teeth. “Never seen a bug before?”
Faye did not even think of replying. She rushed through the next emergency exit door without fear, as steadily as she would if she were strolling down a sidewalk. Once safely inside, she sat in the nearest seat and caught her breath, enjoying the much clearer air. She glanced down the length of the car, and there he was. Her love. He was just standing there, lost in thought, looking as handsome as ever. His skin was still tan from last summer.
Faye stood up and began to talk towards him, when her eyes fell upon another familiar face. It was the young woman with the fur coat! Only now the coat was slipped down around her shoulders, revealing a long, thin neck and a low-cut top. Before Faye could even begin to wonder how the woman managed to get on this train, she noticed that the woman’s long-lashed eyes were staring up at her love. And he was not, in fact, lost in thought; his eyes were staring right back, adoringly, a slight smile showing above his dimpled chin.
Doubts began to poke and prod at Faye’s mind. “If he’s been in the city all this time, why didn’t he call me? Maybe he doesn’t want to see me. Maybe he doesn’t even remember me. I should sit down. Talking to him would be stupid. Ours was just a summer fling. Nothing more.” Her confidence dipped low, and she started to sit back down, when the young woman’s eyes glanced back over at her. The orbs burned with such cruel, merciless triumph that Faye was galvanized; she couldn’t let this stranger win.
She marched over to her love and grabbed his arm. When he saw who it was, his grin blossomed, and his eyes blazed with sunshine. He couldn’t believe it.
Whoa! An extra-long story today. It's actually slightly over 1,000 words, which technically means it's not flash fiction. But just barely.