The BART train was empty when it wheezed to a stop and the doors slid open. Gina had never been in a completely empty car before. The air smelled stale, and the stains on the torn blue velour seats stood out with no people. An empty beer bottle rolled back and forth on the dirty floor when the doors snapped shut and the train jerked to a start. She’d forgotten to set the alarm and awakened late, dream-logged and exhausted, moving in slow motion as she pulled on her office clothes, made coffee, ate her usual bowl of cereal. Her boss didn’t care whether she came in late if she stayed later, but she liked to get to work by 9am. It was already 10am now, well past rush hour, but usually there were stragglers, East Bay workers with flex schedules starting their jobs in San Francisco, commuters returning home to Oakland from San Ramon or Pleasanton after night shifts. She figured they’d pick up a few at the next stop and she could ask. “Where is everybody today?” But instead of stopping at Bayfair, the train sped up. There was no announcement over the loudspeaker. Was it out of service? Gina thought she’d seen a few would-be passengers on the Bayfair platform waving their arms, but perhaps they’d been waving the train on. It was hard to tell, and by the time the train passed the San Leandro stop it was moving too fast for a clear view. She held onto the cold metal bar on the seat back in front of her. Surely traveling this fast must be dangerous. There had been accidents, hadn’t there? Were they rushing to get away from something? Or to get somewhere, a demonstration, a march? Some sort of emergency? Her therapist had suggested reading less news—every day new hate crimes, mass shootings, constitutional crises, dangerous standoffs with powerful enemies like China, Russia, Korea. She wasn’t keeping up these days. Overpasses emblazoned with indecipherable graffiti, deteriorating Oakland apartment buildings, tidy brick schools and green sports fields, empty lots filled with rubble, homeless encampments dotted with tents passed by in a blur. The train rattled as the cityscape gave way to darkness when they plunged into the tunnel under the bay. The pale fluorescent lights drained the interior of color. She pulled out her phone to check the news, but of course there was no reception underground. Why hadn’t she looked earlier, when she got on the train? Her Wi-Fi had been out at home, either that or the Internet itself was down, which was unthinkable. She hadn’t been able to check the weather or glance at the headlines on her laptop with her coffee this morning. She lurched to her feet to look at the color-coded map of BART routes by the door only to discover that it wasn’t there, not that it would have told her much. This was the Dublin SF Daly City line. Only two trains stopped in Castro Valley on this track. They must be headed to San Francisco and if something were wrong, wouldn’t people be crowding BART platforms to get onto the train instead of staying off of it? Unless there was a quarantine. Gina couldn’t breathe. Her chest was tight. It was probably panic, must be panic, not something in the air. But who knew these days? Chemical weapons. National Guard at the borders and in the airports. White supremacist uprising. Everything was changing so fast. The unthinkable materializing in the blink of an eye. She had no idea where she was headed, or whether anyone else was on the train. Could they be hurtling through space without a driver? “Hello? Is anyone there?” She gripped the metal railing in front of her.
Jacqueline Doyle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has recent flash in Little Fiction/Big Truths and The Collagist, and forthcoming in CRAFT and Pithead Chapel. Her flash chapbook The Missing Girl was published by Black Lawrence Press. This is her second publication in Ellipsis. Find her online at jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.