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Support System, by James Merkin

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Support System

a Boys on Trains flash
by James Merkin

Sometimes, when I’m having a slow day and I don’t swing along fast enough, a trainman will shut the doors in my face just as I get there and leave me standing on the platform.  I’ve looked up and caught his sneer but fuck it, it’s just one more thing to deal with.  Sometimes someone will hold the train by standing against the edge of the sliding door until I can swing myself into the subway car.  It’s usually an older guy, somebody’s dad, and I flash him a grateful smile.  Of course he’ll look away quickly and avert his eyes.  I’m used to that.

If it’s a good day I can just make it to the train when schools have let out.  I always try to find a seat in the middle of the car.  Those seats face into the center and I can see best there.  I can watch the schoolboys as they jostle and push and stand or sit in groups full of talk and camaraderie.

Every once in a while a cute boy will catch my eye.  I live for those moments.  I’ll look him over and daydream about him and commit him to my memory.  Sometimes he’ll notice and look back at me.  Once or twice when that happened the boy even smiled at me.  I dreamed about that boy for weeks.

But usually if I look too long and he senses my glance he’ll turn away or make a face or say something rude or angry about me.  I guess if I were in his shoes and an ugly dwarf with bent legs and crutches stared at me I’d get angry, too.

They never bother me or try to retaliate.  They can tell right away how strong I am.  Nearly twenty years on crutches will do that for your upper body and arms.  No, they just turn away, maybe whisper something to a friend, and make a point of not looking in my direction for the rest of the trip.  I generally stop looking, too, once they turn away and lose their cuteness to some other emotion.

Yesterday, though, I saw a really cute boy come onto the subway car.  He was very young – maybe only fourteen or fifteen  -- and he had that soft fresh complexion boys have before they have to start shaving.  He had brown hair that touched his collar and his big brown eyes, pert nose, and soft lips made a portrait I won’t forget.  He even noticed me looking at him and he gave me a brief grin, then blushed and looked away to find a seat across from me not too far away.  He concentrated his attention on his cell phone.  I guess he was playing a game or texting because from time to time he’d frown in concentration and his thumbs were flying.  Every once in a while he’d laugh at something on his screen.  He was so cute I memorized as much of him as I could.  Luckily the train wasn’t crowded and I could watch him without interruption.

I soon noticed that someone else was watching him, too.  I don’t miss much, particularly the attentions of other boy watchers, and the other watcher was a guy I’d seen on the subway a couple of times already.  I get a really bad vibe whenever I see him.  He is always watching boys, especially very young boys, and he always looked as though he hated them.  You could see the rage in his face, and his fists were clenched.  His whole body looked like it was ready to spring.  I’d seen him bump boys deliberately when the car was crowded and riders had to stand.  It looked to me that he wanted to force them into a corner or something.  A couple of times a smaller boy would seem terrified after encountering him.

I kept an eye on the creepy guy, as I’d labeled him – quick glances to check on him, even though it was interfering with my own enjoyment of the boy we both had focused on. 

The boy finished with his phone and put it away as we pulled into an underground station.  It appeared to be his stop, since he was standing up, unsteadily balancing himself as he hoisted his backpack and turned toward the doors in the center of the car.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the creepy guy stand, too.  His eyes were boring into the boy’s back and his expression was truly frightening.  As the car slowed to a stop the doors opened and the boy slipped out onto the platform.  He was alone and he set off in the opposite direction from most of the departing crowd.  He was heading into darkness and I knew I would soon lose sight of him.

Then creepy guy made his move.  He gathered up his scruffy gym bag and headed toward the doorway.  I knew he was going to follow the boy.  As he moved past me I stuck one of my crutches out slightly, as though it had slipped from my side.  It was enough to catch his right foot.  He went down immediately, full face onto the floor of the subway car.  The gym bag fell from his grasp.  As it fell it flipped over and a wicked long sharp knife fell onto the floor.  Entering  passengers who had just stepped onto the car gaped and drew back.  The doors finally closed as he lunged for the knife.  I brought my other crutch down hard on his hand.  It made a satisfying crunch as I pinned his hand to the floor.  He screamed.

I told the guy sitting beside me to pull the Emergency Cord.

I didn’t much mind spending the evening being interrogated by the transit police, after they’d cuffed the creep and taken him away.  Turned out he was a known sex offender, and was already wanted for questioning.  One cop even called me a hero.  I just want to be able to see the boy again.


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Bravo, James! You gave us a dark but relatively happy ending.

I didn't like it. It made me shudder: powerful, but frightening. Would the protagonist have seen a twenty second piece about a murdered boy in the subway on the morning news bulletin, or would the boy have simply vanished? One or the other, probably.

A perfect flash.

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Brilliant tale, well presented. Certainly not on one of our trains though, where a creepy jerk carrying a large knife would scarcely raise a ripple. That kid (and those kids) are lucky y'all are in your town!

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Thank you, fellas.  It's a great theme to work with, and the possibilities (and characters) on a train are wide open -- as Agatha Christie herself discovered.

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I liked it. I like it when there's a unexpected hero who saves the day, or a boy. Especially a boy.

Colin  :icon_geek:

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I too have fond memories of commuting in the Bay Area before I broke down and bought an automobile a few years ago.  In my phone, in the notes section, I have a long rambling story written out in disjointed scenes that were written on the hour train work to and from work based on the riders of B.A.R.T.  I've often thought about putting them together and writing it out completely but it seems disrespectful to change what I wrote on those lonely rides.

But this is about the above piece, and wow, I loved the darkness around the edges and the descriptive nature of the scene.  Very well done flash.  Me likes it muchly.



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