It took twenty minutes, but at last the bus came to the end of the line. From there, it would venture back the way it had come, albeit with a new set of passengers after disgorging those that were already on it. Since Joel was at the front of the bus and stood for the entire trip, he was among the first to depart.

When the driver opened the door, a gale force burst slammed into the bus, staggering those trying to enter the force while leaving the bus, and the wind brought with it a torrent of ice cold water. Stinging needles threatened to lacerate the unprotected flash of the passengers, and tried to sweep new passengers, who rushed toward the opened door of the own accord to escape the brutal winds, into the bus before the old ones could disembark. Joel fought his way clear, literally pushing an old lady in front of him much the way a halfback tagged along with a fullback entering the teeth of a stingy football defensive line, and slipped past once the fullback was engaged with a linebacker.

Somehow, his wide brimmed hat wasn’t ripped off his head as he hastened in a forward leaning trot toward the subway entrance. The winds pummeled him front and back, side to side, as if angry fists of invisible force trying to beat him to the ground. It was savage, and the stinging microscopic balls of frozen mist driven by the force, blinded him and he was literally shielding his face with his left shoulder turned into the wind, while groping forward, blindly, with this other hand. The ground had grown slick beneath him and his flat-bottomed oxfords had no purchase and he shuffled like an unbalanced skater, his feet trying their best to fly out from under him and send him crashing to the ground on his back.

At least he made it to the stairs leading into the tunnel, but not before an invisible last punch in the back nearly made him plummet face-first down the stairwell.

He took a moment to look up the steps, and it was with amazement that he did so. He had never felt anything like the force before, and if he didn’t know better, he would have sworn that the assault had been directed at him personally. But such a notion was absurd, and the fact that none of the other passengers who had disembarked with had yet to make it to the subway entrance assured him that he wasn’t the only one who had to brave such conditions to make it safely down. No doubt, the others were coming, but they had probably taken more care in getting there.

When he saw the vampire girl holding on to the edge of the balustrade around the stairwell with white knuckle-force and sliding her feet over the ground to round the corner, he knew that his assertion had been correct.

At last, the depression of the stairwell sheltered her enough from the winds that she could proceed with a more normal gait, and she did so with a deep sigh and a disconcerted shake of her head, doubtlessly impressed by the overwhelming vigor of the conditions. Joel looked at her long enough to make sure that she would not fall headlong down the stairwell, but not quite long enough for their eyes to meet when her eyes raised to see his lone figure at the bottom turn to continue his descent.

Commuters from other stairwells poured down onto the first level where Joel was hastened, looking much like ants pouring from punctures in their hive. He quickened his pace when he saw the masses, all of whom needed to pass through the two turnstiles bracketing the ticket booth to continue down to the train platform on the second level beneath the surface. He didn’t want to get caught in that bottleneck, for it was all too often that the train came and left before many of the mobbed people could pass through it. He juked past a mindless high schooler who suddenly found the urge to fiddle with her portable music player just before she got to the entrance to the ticket booth aisle. The mob behind her crashed into her and sent her flying into the aisle, but Joel had already slid his transfer into the automatic ticket taker, and was through the turnstile in a flash. The attendant in the booth was oblivious to everything except his newspaper.

Descending to the train platform, Joel’s eyes quickly scanned for the vampire girl, but she was nowhere to be seen in the rush of humanity trying to get to their destinations for the day currently log-jammed.

The train platform was only sparsely occupied, and the distant taillights of recently departed trains in the dark tunnels leading in either direct. Twin rows of stainless steel pillars running the length of the platform supported the twenty foot concrete ceiling that was scalloped to attenuate the sound of the trains entering and exiting the station. There were three stair cases leading up to or down from the level above, and a smattering of the mob descended.

Running the length of the platform down the center like the broken line of a highway were ten foot long wooden benches. There were no backs on the benches so one could sit facing either of the two train tracks, one of which took trains north and the other of which took trains south. Joel quickly made use of one of the benches before the masses could descend.

He sighed and hunched over with his elbows on his knees. Standing on the pitching, rolling, bouncing, bobbing bus with other passengers leaning against him as the bus sways to and fro always made his knees ache and his back burn. He felt worse after a twenty minute bus ride than he did after a 40 minute bike ride in to work.

Speaking of work…he whipped out his new PDA and powered it on. There was something that he had wanted to check out on the way into work, but standing on the sea-sickening bus, surrounded by jostling people was not very conducive to operating a PDA. He’d learned that the hard way only a few days ago.

Although he wasn’t quite used to this particular PDA, he quickly maneuvered through its databases and programs to call up the information that he needed for today’s project. Today, he was going to prepare to meet with the city counsel as an expert source for controlling the fugitive emissions from the city’s sewer lines. Those emissions, consisting of carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide and a compendium of volatile organic compounds was causing the city to violate any of a number of its air emissions requirements and concentration limits. From causing nuisance odors in residential areas to posing health hazards to people when sewer gases back-drafted into their homes (particularly in the older sections of the city where old curb traps meant to protect residence from sewer gases failed regularly), it was something that had to be dealt with and corrected.

As a true environmental scientist (not an environmental engineer), Joel had a better grasp on the nature of the problem, and would let the by-the-numbers engineers in his firm deal with the technical corrective action aspect of the problem.

While he looked at the sewer gas emission trend analysis data, and flipped to some sewer line schematics, he felt a presence beside him. In fact, he felt someone, as that person taking a set on the ten foot long bench had sat close enough to him to rub arms with him. When he scooched over an inch or two, the person beside him was apparently stuck to him with Velcro, for that person moved the exact same distance at the exact same time and was still sitting shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm with him.

His eyes flashed over, and he saw raggedy black combat boots that looked as if they had seen a couple war’s worth of combat, for they were scuffed to the point of being thread-bare and the stuffing was literally hanging out of the knotted laces. But what really caught his eye were the thin, pale legs wrapped in black fishnet stocking that were torn open at various places,, particularly around the knees, between which two pale, long fingered hands, replete with maroon fingernail polish, lay clasped together. Each finger had a silver colored ring of different designs and silver bracelet crowded her wrist and the heel of her hands. Her shorts were very short and they were, of course, black and frayed around the hem. They looked like cut-off black denim. Her belt was a silver chain that one might find holding a bike against a pole, and, not surprisingly, the ends of the chain were held together with a lock. A real lock, not a fastener made to look like a lock. She wore a white blouse cotton blouse which looked bright and clean and was parted enough by the curve of a breast to show a lacy black bra. Over this she wore a black fishnet vest, which, too, was parted and adorned with myriad strange and unusual emblems, badges and trinkets. And over this, she wore a black cloth trench coat, which she sat on.

Then he looked at her profile. She was looking straight ahead as if oblivious to everything, including him. She was much younger than he had supposed when he saw her on the bus, but with so much make-up on her face, it was impossible for him to guess at her age. Still, the paleness of her face did not appear to be the result of makeup, for the texture was smooth and did not seem powdery. In fact, her face showed the remnants of the wind-blown icy mist in the form of water droplets, and they were as clear and as sparkling as tiny diamonds. No doubt, the mist would have scoured any makeup and would have been clouded with pancake if she had had any on her face. The faces of other women walking onto the platform bore testament to that particular belief.

He cleared his throat and turned his attention back to his PDA. The vampire lifted a hand and the jingle of the bracelets on that arm, which had to number in the dozens, instantly drew his attention back to her. She lowered her hand between her knees a moment later, and drew a deep breath before sighing it out.

"I’m Minerva Snow," and suddenly there was a jingle of bracelets and hand between Joel’s face and his PDA.

He looked up and at the girl sitting on his right. He wasn’t sure what his expression was, surprise most likely, but she looked pleased and her eyes flittered to her hand, which was still extended toward Joel and awaiting a response.

Finally, he smirked a little, and took her hand in his. "Joel. Goldstein."

He quickly released her hand. It was cold and felt fragile, as if the slightest squeeze would shatter it like an ice figurine beneath a snowplow.

Her black and maroon lips parted unveiling her bright white teeth (usually teeth look yellowish when surrounded by pigment not flesh-colored, but hers were white—like snow) and her eyes squinted and twinkled pleasantly, although darkly. They were dark from her eyeliner, but bright with her irises’ bluish-gray lightness.

"Are you Jewish? African-American Jewish?" The idea seemed novel.

Joel preferred ‘Black,’ but many people had decided on calling the Americans descended of slaves ‘African American.’ He always thought that ‘Black’ pretty much described the existence of his progenitors in the American history, if one uses the accepted Western idea of black being something that is filled with misery.

"No, I am not. Are you?"

She shook her head too. "You’ve probably never heard of my faith. But your name does sound like it’s Jewish."

"Yeah, it does." Joel could feel more questions coming and didn’t feel like hearing them again right at the moment, so he said: "Long story."


"Maybe later, hun. I have some work to do."



Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton