Not In Service
Martin tugged at the corner of his mouth with his index finger. Leaning into the mirror, he examined each and every tooth appearing in the foggy glass. His eyebrows creased, the left incisor seemed to exhibit a slight buttery coating. Martin snarled at his reflection, finger still in his mouth.
What the fuck? I only whitened them last week.
His eyes wandered upwards, to the bathroom light. Maybe it’s the fluorescence. I will check again after work tomorrow, he told himself, finger finally dropping. He continued his nightly routine, taking the brush from atop the sink and running it through gray hair exactly 42 times. He carefully removed and then neatly folded a luminous MTA jacket, next came the meticulous boot shining.
“Time for bed,” he addressed the mirror.
The door creaked open, the bedroom lay in utter darkness, and only slight silhouettes—rudimentary outlines—of modest furnishings could be made out in the gloom. Martin did not need to see, in fact, he preferred not to. He entered—taking large strides towards the bedstead, hands reaching for the sheets with expectant glee—hardly waiting to sleep with them. With perspiring palms he took hold of the comforter. A deep breath preceded a hard tug. Running hands along the mattress he felt them—both physically and spiritually—fingering the deep groves, fondling the jagged points, and caressing the smooth edges. The excitement was overwhelming—the majority of which stemmed from his crotch.
Standing before a bed obscured by hundreds of bones, he let out a high-pitched moan. The bulk of the hollowed frames were once attached to chickens, rats, and other small animals, but some were human. Martin had found a human skull fragment on the tracks of Grand Central after a pretty young girl had been pushed in front of the 7 train—the investigators must have overlooked it. A hefty femur protruded from under one of the pillows—a trace of his childhood dog. Through blue eyes he scanned the mattress until they fell on his prized possession: a fully formed human finger recovered at the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue station. He loved his job; it allowed him to save these bones from powdering on the city’s tracks, or from becoming a ceremonial object at a funeral service. Martin climbed into bed and embraced the bones. Within mere moments sleep had taken him.
He awoke with a start. Sweat poured down his forehead—something was not right. He crawled out of bed, feeling the mattress cling to damp skin.
“One, two, three, four…” He counted the bones. They were all there. “No, no, no.” Something was definitely not right; he could feel it burning in his core, hear their voices rattling around his head, begging him to understand their pleas. Sitting on the edge of the bed he glared at a blank wall, lost in a swirling whirlpool of voices and confusion.
“Give it to us.”
“That’s it!” a sudden stir after an empty hour. “My bones are lonely, they need a skull… a complete human skull.”
Martin arrived at the 34 St-Hudson Yards station at one A.M., hauling a black garbage bag over his shoulder. This newly constructed train station lengthened the 7 lines. It was his workplace, castle, and favorite location in all New York—a dome of white that sang to his soul. If he were an architect, he would have constructed it in the same exact way: glass oval greeting pedestrians, extensive escalators plunging riders far underground, concave walls studded with hundreds of lights, and, most importantly of all, it remained spotless—unlike the rest of the city’s subway system.
Phillip, a stocky, red-haired man decked out in an MTA uniform stood at the bottom of the stairs, dipping his head in a pronounced nod.
Martin despised social interactions—his mouth grows dry, his voice adopts a rasp, and his upper lip sweats—their eyes always judge him, especially Phillip’s. Upon reaching the platform, Martin bowed in return, before scurrying away from his colleague.
“What’s in the bag, Marty?” Philip’s voice chased him, but Martin kept moving. “Damn, weirdo,” Phillip said, purposefully loud.
The platform led Martin to his pride and joy, a train used to pickup garbage littering the tracks. Connected to five carriages with the purpose of luging the waste to the borough’s depot, and prominently labeled with the words Not In Service, this metallic, subterranean snake served as the portal to his precious bones.
“Let’s go clean up NYC, Marty,” Philip said, stepping onboard and taking a seat.
Martin followed his contemporary into the snake’s belly. The carriage dated back 30 years. No longer employed commercially, the passenger car had started to yellow, akin to the pages of a timeworn book. The remnants of an 80’s teen could still be felt thanks to a line of faded graffiti that had survived numerous acid washes. Striding up to the controls and dropping his bag, Martin started the powerful engine, feeling the machine tremble beneath his fingers, hearing the rumble echo down the long tunnels far ahead. Fighting the lump forming in his throat, he asked: “Wh-where are the rest of the guys?”
“They’re in the back carriage, playing cards, I think,” Phillip called back, resting his boots on a rusting pole.
“Go-good,” Martin replied, pulling back on a lever, inciting the doors to slide shut and the train to move.
The wheels let out a whine as they began to carry the substantial vehicle under the island of Manhattan. With one hand on the controls and the other slipping into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a crumbled photograph. His childhood self stands with arms around his mother’s waist, eyes beaming with youthful innocence, an excited dog sitting beside him.
“I miss you both—Mom, Wolf.”
He wilted from the unwanted thoughts, concentrating his mind on the shadowy passageways whizzing by at high speeds. He thumbed the photograph back into his pocket before slamming on the breaks. The train wailed, almost as if it were in pain. Sparks propelled upwards, covering the windshield in blinding light. Martin clung steadfast to the controls. Phillip was not so lucky. The redhead fell from his seat and slid along the grimy floor, hitting his crown on the steel-plated wall. The train lights flickered, a voice, heavy with static, emitted from the control panel after the train had come to a halt: “Martin, what’s happened, everybody okay?”
Martin stood motionless for a moment, glaring at Phillip, a steady stream of blood descending from the downed man’s forehead. Reaching for the communicator, the driver finally replied.
“We had a-a slight st-stall. No need to wo-w-worry. I will have it working again in a jiffy.”
Martin smiled again. He needed a complete skull, and he needed to kill for it. It could be a little cracked and beaten up, as long as it was complete. With shaking hands he reached into his bag, pulling out a bone the size and width of a baseball bat. He kissed the femur, whispering, “Let’s go, Wolf.”
Lunging, large bone lifted overhead, arms bulging under the tight jacket. The femur changed course, now heading downwards… for Phillip. Martin closed his eyes and waited for the crack, thud, or bang to occupy the air, for he did not know what death sounded like.
“I always knew ya were a crazy fuck,” Phillip said, clasping the bone with both hands, mere inches above his head. That was not the sound of death. Their gaze met, each one waiting for the other to make the next move.
“Let go of Wolf.”
They struggled for control of the bone—yanking it back and forth like two small children fighting over their favorite toy. Phillip glared at his newfound adversary, questioning if he should continue his vie for the bone or release it and bum rush his workmate. He dove forward with an attempted football tackle. Martin jumped backwards and swiftly swung the makeshift weapon, clobbering Phillip with a golfer’s swing, shedding a small portion of flesh. Phillip immediately collapsed, his body twitched violently for a few seconds before coming to rest.
“Ha,” Martin spat. I did it. “F-f-fuck.” He experienced a concerning revelation: How do I get my skull home? Something he never considered. He visualized the desired separation. Within that mental picture heavy wheels divorced the valuable skull from the undesirable frame. He knew what to do. It would just be a nasty accident… all just an accident.
He had to be quick about it; the boys in the back carriage would surely be growing suspicious. With heavy, guttural groans he dragged Phillip’s rotund physique alongside the tracks, listening to the exasperated rasps reverberating around the passage. He draped the man’s neck over the silver rail, blood dripped onto the shimmering metal. It seemed to glow in the dim light. Martin shuddered with anticipation. He leaned over the body and rested his head on Philip’s, “You belong t-t-to me now,” he hissed.
Philip’s eyelids rolled up, his pupils focused.
Martin screamed. The shrill howl carried itself along the track.
“What’s going on out there?” a voice from the back carriage asked. “Martin is that you?” Another voice.
“Help!” Philip cried. “Help me, I can’t move.”
Martin panicked. He ran, abandoning Wolf for the opaque tunnels, gentle darkness blanketing him. He was back at home now—in his bedroom—a step away from the bed of bones. Heavy footfalls echoed in the gloom, the faint warmth of flashlights on his back, dim voices dancing on dust. He reached for the bed; it crumbled, along with the reassuring fantasy he had made for himself. At the next station he climbed onto the platform.
The platform was almost empty thanks to the early hour, only a drunk sat slumped on a bench. The lights appeared harsh to Martin’s eyes after his time in the dark. He took a seat alongside the slumbering commuter, to catch his breath. The sound of the snoring drunk was somewhat appeasing. A soft gasp, a nasally wheeze.
Radiant MTA jackets emerged from the tunnel, Martin could not waste anymore time. The voices felt like they had arms, arms with clawing hands that tried to pull him back, but he broke free, jumping down, into the adjacent track.
Soft, snickering laughter. Martin could not help it, believing he was now home free. They can’t catch me in my tun—
A snap echoed. He fell, head striking a rail, a tooth exploding from his mouth. Martin looked back, through a flurry of white dots. A bloody bone protruded from his leg, skin frayed, foot tangled beneath the opposing rail. An almost orgasmic joy swelled within him, he had never considered his own bones. As fast as it arrived, the exhilaration faded, for the tooth lay inches away. As he reached for the incisor it lit up in a pool of brilliance. The vibrations, the clattering, it could mean only one thing: the 7 train was coming. Martin did not attempt to move, he lay mesmerized by the tooth and its yellowish hue.
How the fuck is it yellow? I only just whitened my—
The tooth sailed out of sight on a gust of hot air. The 7 train came to a controlled stop at the station. The drunk awoke and hurried onboard, never knowing that he had sat next to Martin, or that he now stood above him.
Dean Moses is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. He authored A Stalled Ox from 1888 in 2015 and has composed a host of short stories for various outlets. His writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, including the New York Amsterdam News, Spring Creek Sun, and Queens Courier. He began his career by transcribing for the New York Times’ Lens Blog. Dean was born in England in February of 1991. At the age of nineteen he moved to New York City, where he hoped to fulfill two of his longtime dreams: marry the love of his life and become an author. Dean currently resides in Manhattan with his wife and four cats.