I'm a subway train engineer on the R line. Been on the R since it was the RR, and that's thirty years now. I was in my two year countdown towards retirement when the zombies started popping up. Now I'll never retire. They'll have to pull the lever from my death-stiff fingers to get me out of this cab.
It's not the pension I lost. Now that the city is broke dealing with the Z's, and we ain't getting any help from FEMA since DC got overrun, all of us city employees have been well and truly screwed. It's not like many people are making it to retirement age, you'd think the city fathers could take care of them what does. But that's politics, man. I'm not bitter. There are bigger problems then what happens to my retirement money. Things keep going the way they are, money won't be worth a shit anyway.
No, I'd do this job for food. I'd do it for free. I fuckin' love this job.
Back before the badness, running the train was a pain in the ass. Pushy New Yorkers cramming themselves into crowded cars, jamming the doors. Banging on my cab if we got a red signal, like there was something I could do about it. The occasional jumper. There was no appreciation. People don't realize, it takes skill, a steady hand, a capacity for dealing with stress and noise, and an endless, repetitive workload, like that guy pushing the boulder of up the hill.
But since the Zs appeared, that's all changed.
It was tough at first. I remember, it was after reading about the Campion virus in the Post, it was a Friday, and the movie ads thickened up the paper. I was at the terminal in Bay Ridge waiting for the 1:23 run, I got the light and headed out. Just when I pick up speed, I see this guy on the tracks. I hit the brakes, sound the horn, but it was too late. We were still doing twenty miles per hour when we hit him. I couldn't close my eyes, so I saw everything-- his mouth open in a scream I couldn't hear, his eyes all red. Then he slammed back as the train ran him down and ground him up. That sickening lurch you hear about, and hope you never feel. I felt it for the first time that day.
The douchebags in the front car were already banging on the door the second the train stopped. I let 'em bang for a little, trying to catch my breath. I ran the procedures in my mind. I radioed the alert to central, secured the keys, and tried not to think about that angry scream as I ran the poor guy down.
There was blood on his face. Before I hit him.
I grabbed my flashlight and opened the cab door, and a whole herd of angry commuters were massed outside my door, packed so tight I could barely squeeze through. There were nosebleeds, and a little kid crying, holding his wrist, and some fat old lady promising to sue. I gave 'em the standard "Thanks for your patience" speech. I spotted Murray, the conductor running up the car. "Joey. Was that what it felt like?"
I nodded. "Gotta check it out. You coming?"
"Do I get hazard pay?" he asked. He looked nauseous already, and we hadn't seen anything yet.
"I'm a doctor," one of the passengers said. "Do you need me out there?"
I took control, like they trained me. "We don't know if there's anything out there, Doc. That's why we're checking it out. Folks?" I said, raising my voice, "We have an obstruction on the track. We're gonna check it out. The sooner we do our jobs, the sooner we can be on our way, so please, take a seat, keep the doors clear, and, thanks for your cooperation." Murray nodded, we worked the keys, climbed out, and shut the civilians in.
It was a relief being out on the tracks, away from the noise, the complaints and the threats to sue. I took a deep breath of the chilly, dank air, and for a moment, I felt good. Then the guys face came back into my mind, and I remembered what I was doing out there.
"So, you don't know what it was? You didn't see it?" Murray asked hopefully.
"I saw him," I said, squatting to shine the flashlight under the train.
"Jesus. Oh, jesus. Maybe you missed him at the last minute, or..."
"Naw, there he is." I shone the light beam on a hunk of bloody rags. The silhouette of a face stared impassively at the bottom of the train car, full head of hair dangling off the bloody scalp. A heavy resignation washed over me. This was the kind of thing that gets an old guy like me canned. Right or wrong, they say I hit him because I was on old fart, and they retire me two years early and with half benefits. What a shitty day.
He was bundled up near the rear of the first car, so Murray and me grabbed the body by the scruff and pulled him out from under the train. His arm was wrenched loose from the body, trailing by a thin scrap of meat. It twitched a little as we pulled it out. We lugged the guy up against a metal pillar, scrawled with graffiti. Murray bent over and heaved, tears streaming. "Jesus. Paperwork alone... jesus..."
An express train blew a warning shriek as it passed on the side track. The lights from the train strobed across our John Doe, making it look like he was moving in slow motion. Everything seemed unreal to me.
"You know? Fuck it. Let's just throw him to the side and leave him here," Murray said. "Probably a homeless guy. No one will miss him."
"We'll call it in," I said, and headed back for the front of the train.
That's when I heard it. Rats, I thought, but so soon after an express went by? Then a low growl from out of the dark, like a rabid dog. "Who's there?" I demanded, the light beam shaking across the darkness. Then behind me, Murray screamed.
"He's still alive! Oh, Jesus! Jesus! He's still alive!"
I turned the flashlight back at Murray. Damn if he wasn't right. The guy was reaching up with his remaining arm, gurgling bubbles through the blood in his mouth. Murray kneeled down. "Hey, buddy. How're you doing? You know where you are?" He turned to me. "Joey, you're gonna have to help me carry him--"
With a sudden lurch, John Doe tipped forward and sank his remaining teeth into Murray's neck.
"Ow! What the fuck!" Murray yelled, swatting the guy back. He kept snapping at Murray's hand. "I'm trying to help you!"
"Murray," I said. I was thinking about the Post article, and the blood on the guys face before I ever hit him. I was thinking about the growl I heard, about twenty feet away. I was thinking I wanted to get the hell back inside the car. "Murray, leave him and get the fuck over here!"
"But the guy--"
"Now!" I heard another rustle of paper, a bottle being kicked. Couldn't have been more then ten feet.
Murray stood up and hustled over as I put the key in the door slot. The door slid open, and a wall of lookie-loos leaned out of the car, trying to get a peek at the corpse.
"Move!" I said. "The fuck out of the way!" And man, they moved. Not one stayed behind to help me up into the car. I scrabbled in and got the key into the slot. "Murray, come on..."
Murray got to the door, took my hand, and I started to lift him up--
This thing fell onto him. Naked, flesh streaked with green veins, black fingernails tearing his uniform, and a smell like bad cheese and shit. That thing tore Murray right out of my grip, and I had to grab the door to keep from getting pulled back out. "Agh! Get the fuck--Agh!" Murray screamed, and his terror-filled voice echoed off the tunnel walls. "Joey, help! Get this thing-- Joey!"
The sliding door muffled Murray's last words. I took the key out of the slot and looked at the passengers. The ones that weren't looking at Murray being killed were all looking at me.
"I can't--" was all I could say before my throat closed up. I hurried into the engineer's cab and locked the door. I ripped off my gloves, stuck the heel of my palm into my teeth, and bit as hard as I could. Tears streamed down my face. I barely knew the guy.
Now, faintly though the glass and walls,I heard the sound of hands slapping the train car, coupled with moans and growls. A few wandered into the train light. They were way too skinny to be so strong. Their gums were blue. Their eyes were all red. In the car, passengers were screaming and crying.
Something clicked inside of me. I pick up the microphone, I say, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your engineer. We apologize for the delay. If you could all please take your seats, the train will be moving shortly." I turned the key into the starter, drew full steam from the rail, and pushed the lever forward.
I don't know for sure if zombies can feel pain, but I looked hard into the eyes of the guys in front of the train, and I swear I saw some surprise as the train erupted from its paralysis, pinning them beneath the wheels. Blood shot across the walls to my left. Prettiest thing I ever saw.
I went full speed into 85th St. The commuters on the platform eyed the cars as we pulled in, first with irritated relief, then with dawning horror, at the blood and gore smeared across the aluminum sides. I opened the door like there was nothing wrong. Some of the more frightened passengers ran screaming off the train. Most of them stayed on until their stop further down the line. Almost all of them thanked me or waved to me from the platform-- another first. I thought about the zombies still in the tunnel. I figured as long as we kept things moving, there was nothing wrong. "Step all the way into the car, stay clear of the moving doors," I said. "This is the R train making all stops to Astoria Queens. Stand clear." The bells bonged like they always do, and we took off.
It later came out that the Transit Authority had come to the same conclusion that I did; Zombies had infested the tunnels below the boroughs. We could send a SWAT team, but that would just cost us a SWAT team. We could close the subways, but that would get us nothing but lost revenue, and send the commuters up to the street, where the zombies would get them. The trains were the best way to clear out the tunnels, a high speed 'dozer that would kill or temporarily incapacitate any infected bodies, as well as providing a safe way for New Yorkers to get where they needed to go. The subway instantly became the preferred method of transport.
And the subway drivers? We're the city heroes, killing a hundred zombies or more with every run while performing a public service. Those pussy firemen that've been lording it over us since 9-11, they're not the big boys anymore. Now people are wearing t-shirts that say "MTA". I started getting laid again, first time in seven years. I just show up to the bar, in my uniform-- I have to beat 'em off with a stick. And I thought zombies were bad.
Sure, I want my pension. Sure, I'd like the Campion virus to be cured, and the zombies to be gone. Sure. I'm not demented. But in the meantime? I'm admired, respected, loved, when I used to be ignored and neglected. And I get to kill those things by the thousands, just by doing my job. Money isn't everything.
Life is good.