Sakari ran down the dark, damp street toward the subway station, splashing through puddles left behind by the rain. Buttery gold street lights guided him through the night to a high-rise office building sandwiched between two theaters. A brightly lit sign printed with the subway system’s wheel-shaped logo and the words “Paulownia Square” marked the entrance to the station.
The wide stairwell led Sakari underground to a single, long train platform. Just like the city above, the station was silent and empty. A sign posted on the first concrete pillar showed a map of the subway’s Red Line. Sakari followed the arrow to the northbound platform first and ran up to the wide white line painted along its edge. He looked up and down the tunnel. No sight or sound of an oncoming train. He ran over to the southbound side and looked up and down that tunnel. No sight or sound of a train there either. Sakari groaned, impatient.
He heard footsteps slowly descending the stairs behind him. “Hello?” Sakari asked the emptiness. He ran back to the stairs to see who was coming. He saw a boy about his age with brown, feathered hair partway up. “Hey! I know you,” Sakari called out to the familiar face.
“Oh. Hello,” the brown-haired boy replied as he continued stiffly down the stairs. “Sakari, was it?”
Sakari chuckled, happy to hear that his acquaintance remembered him.
“Still haven’t found your friends yet?” That was who Sakari was searching for the first time these boys crossed paths a few months ago. They ended up spending the better part of an afternoon together as the brown-haired boy helped Sakari navigate the city.
“No, I found them,” Sakari reported. “Kate’s back with our teacher. Rafael and I – we’re out searching for something.”
“Oh? Searching for what?”
“Something called ‘The Light of the Dragon.’ All I know is that it’s very old and very valuable. I was going to meet someone at the Phoenix Fountain who could help me, but she never showed up. Then there was the rain, then it was suddenly night, and then that text.”
“Meet at Coldessi Park by three?”
“You got it too?”
The brown-haired boy nodded yes.
Sakari asked him, “Say, David – do you know what it meant by ‘be removed?’”
“Removed?” David repeated. He pulled his orange phone out of the back pocket of his jeans.
“Meet at the park or ‘be removed.’”
David pulled up his text messages and found the latest one. It came from a random number and read, “Meet in Coldessi Park at 3pm or be removed.” The phrasing felt familiar to David, but he wasn’t sure what that familiarity meant. He answered Sakari, “If I’m right, then it can’t be good.”
Sakari switched to a worried tone as a thought struck him. “Wait. They’re not threatening to kill us, are they?”
A horn blared over the station’s loud speakers. The lights embedded in the southbound platform started flashing. David flinched, his hand clutching his heart. It took him a second to realize that a train was approaching. He groaned as the foolishness of his reaction sunk in.
“Hey. You okay?” Sakari asked. He’d never seen David surprised before, and to Sakari, it looked like David tried to jump out of his skin.
“Yeah. Just surprised me,” David said, a hand still over his heart.
“Does this mean the subway’s coming?”
“Uh-huh. Any second now.”
David walked over to the southbound platform and down the row of flashing lights. Sakari followed David’s lead, staying behind the white border this time. Like David had predicted, they soon heard the train coming, and about a minute later, it pulled into the station.
As the train doors opened and the two boys stepped aboard, they heard a recorded message play inside the train. The pleasant female voice said, “Now boarding Red Line to Nielsen Quay. Next stop: Crystal Towers.”
David took one of the red vinyl seats next to the train doors. Sakari sat next to him and cheerfully asked, “So how’ve you been?”
“What have you been up to? It’s been a while since we last ran into each other.”
David answered with a wave. “Oh. Just the usual. Well before all this happened.”
By the look in his gray eyes, David knew Sakari wanted more.
“Nothing exciting at all. Really.”
“Now departing for Nielsen Quay,” the recording announced. “Please stand clear of the doors.” The doors closed, and soon the train was traveling again.
David leaned back, resting his head against the window, and closed his eyes. The subway was running, but the train was completely empty. Back at the station, there wasn’t the usual announcement of which platform the train would be leaving from. Just the lights and the warning horn. Why was it heading in the direction that David and Sakari needed to go? It was too convenient. Something wasn’t right. David was sure of it. He wanted some quiet moments to think.
“Now headed toward Nielsen Quay. Next stop: Crystal Towers.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Sakari asked. David wasn’t acting the way he did the last time they were together.
“I told you I…” David began.
“You look like something’s bothering you.” David also looked tired. “Maybe I can help. I do owe you.”
David could hear the concern in Sakari’s voice. He glanced over at his traveling companion. Sure enough, he was greeted by that same expectant look in Sakari’s eyes. He’d keep asking questions till David answered, wouldn’t he? Giving in, David leaned forward and said, “I hate not knowing what’s going on. There’s a lot of questions that I need answers to.”
“Who sent that text? Why? Did they send it to anybody else? What’s their plan? And what’s wrong with the city?”
“Yeah. It’s a lot emptier and quieter than it was before.” Looking on the bright side, Sakari added, “Well, whoever texted us is gonna be waiting at Coldessi Park. Once we’re there, we can ask around. Don’t worry. By three o’ clock, you’ll have all the answers you want.”
“We ask around?”
“Yeah. You’ve got me curious too. Besides, the woman I’m supposed to meet could be there. Or somebody else who knows about the Light of the Dragon.” He smiled and held out his hand for David to shake. “What d’ya say?”
Having a partner was an advantage David couldn’t refuse. And there were worse people than Sakari that destiny could have paired him with. Returning the smile, David took Sakari’s hand and said, “Deal.”
A comfortable silence fell between the boys. Sakari stretched his arms out in front of him before settling in for the train ride. David leaned back and closed his eyes again.
©2020 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.