Eve unzips her leather handbag and carefully places the black folder inside. She sighs. After six gruelling months the story is finally finished. Tomorrow she’ll meet with the editor-in-chief and pitch the final edit. She’s tired. She’s been working non-stop, channelling her energy into what could be the biggest story of the year, in the hope of transforming her career and reputation as an investigative journalist. But success comes at a price. After countless nights of sleeping less than three hours a day, she feels the full weight of the work deep in her bones. Tomorrow can wait, she thinks. Besides, she has a headache. She rubs her temples and pinches the space between her eyes. All she wants now is to go home and soak in a hot bath with a cup of chamomile honey tea to soothe her nerves and aching limbs.
Like most nights, she’s the last person to leave the office. The halls are dark and she can hear the faint hum of electricity pulsing through the building. The newsroom looks peaceful this way, but only at this time. Tomorrow at the crack of dawn it’ll be up and running again, buzzing with the day’s most important events. Eve thrives off this pace - it’s why she fell in love with journalism ten years ago. But with only five hours left until she has to return, she can’t help but feel worn-out. Just once it would be nice, she thinks, to arrive in her apartment with ample time to cook dinner, watch a movie, read before sleeping (at a reasonable hour) to start the next morning anew. Perhaps tomorrow night.
On her way out she turns off the lights and locks the door, leaving the day behind her. Outside the wind is cold and unforgiving. She feels lonely walking through the vacant streets, gazing up at the city lights. Were there always been this many skyscrapers? In the last five years she spent more time in the office than she did anywhere else. London - the city she used to adore, when had it changed so much? The thought left a weird knot in her stomach. The same knot she gets when thinking about her family back in New Zealand. She should call them. She hasn’t spoken with her mum since Christmas. She feels bad for not thinking about them for so long. It makes her ache for sleep. She wouldn’t be so sad, she thinks, if she had someone waiting for her at home. As a thirty-year old who’d spent the last five years living alone in her studio apartment, the idea of waking up to someone every morning seemed further out of reach. But what did it matter? Soon her name would appear on the front page and her story would be shared a million times. She’d call her parents to tell them the good news and maybe go out for drinks with friends she hadn’t seen for while. Yes, she concludes, it would all be worth it.
Eve walks to Bethnal Green and then down into the metro. Underground the wind is humid, it teases her hair by blowing it in all directions. The light is bright and Eve’s eyes start to water. She sneezes and takes off her coat. It’s too hot. She sneezes again. Oh great she thinks as she fumbles for her nasal spray, I’ve really picked the best time to be sick. In the distance she can just make out a faint noise echoing through the blackness and preternatural space of the tunnels. The rumbling of the approaching train. Even though she’s always careful to “stand behind the yellow line” the closeness of the train makes her nervous. It always has. She imagines what it would look like if her body was to land distorted and bloody on the tracks, if she were to fall or worse be pushed by someone. She wasn’t sure if that was normal, to think things like that. But she couldn’t help it. She shudders and tries to push the image out of her mind. She’s glad she’s the only person on the platform. Is she? She looks around. No… that can’t be right. True, it’s a little late but there was always someone waiting for the train. Strange she thinks. The absence of people, as much as she didn’t like them in her way when she was in a hurry to get home, made her anxious.
The approaching train hurtles past then slows to a stop. Eve heads for the last carriage and presses the green button OPEN until the doors slide aside invitingly. She looks behind her just to see if anyone else has arrived. Nope, she really is the only person on the platform. Shaking her head in disbelief she takes a step inside and her foot touches the floor of the train. The world stops. What was it? A strange feeling… For the fraction of a second her body is rigid as if telling her to go back and she thinks she might fall through the gap. But as quickly as it happens it passes, she steps inside just as the doors slide shut and brushes off the strange feeling as a symptom of weariness.
Inside the carriage is empty except for one person sitting far back in the corner shrouded in darkness. The light seems to be flickering and shadows play across the walls. Stranger still was the absence of people here. Was there an event on? A festival? Or was everyone just tired? It was the middle of winter… maybe no one else was crazy enough to stay at work as late as she did. Eve takes a seat facing the door adjacently, holding the pole tightly for support while the machine jerks to a start, gaining speed until it’s once again hurtling through the blackness. The overhead announcement is drowned out by the screeching of metal on tracks. She leans her head against her hand holding onto the pole. She frowns at the pole and wonders how many different kinds of germs might call it home. Reflexively she reaches for a bottle of hand sanitizer but then thinks better of it. She’ll just wash her hands when she gets home. She’s so tired. She always thinks about cleanliness when she’s anxious. She starts rehearsing the following day in her mind and how it might pan out, from walking in to the office to talking with her boss to then seeing the article in the press - but then her thoughts steer her back inside the carriage. Something is wrong.
Her body is rigid with nerves like she’s on the verge of a panic attack. Her pulse is beating rapidly and the pressure behind her forehead feels like it’ll pop. But why? For the most part, her surroundings looks like an ordinary carriage with seats and a map of London underground. But they all seem more dated than she remembers. And the colours are different. The seats are purple, and the map is mostly greens, blues and pinks. Had they changed them recently? She was often absent minded on her daily commute, maybe it simply slipped her mind. There was something else bothering her, what was it? Eve glances to the side. A pair of eyes watching her. It’s the figure sitting in the corner dressed in all black. A woman. With hands in her addidas sweatpants, slouching in her seat, chewing on gum. She can hear the faint sounds. Eve turns away quickly so as not to draw more attention to herself, then hears a pop as the bubblegum bursts, she looks back and the woman keeps chewing. Eve thinks she’s smiling at her by the way her mouth moves side to side. She can’t see her face only an outline, and big round hoops decorating her ears. The woman is definitely staring at her.
At first Eve hadn’t thought much of it – after all it wasn’t unusual for people to stare at other people on the train. But now… mixed with her anxious feeling, everything seems stranger by the minute. Her hands clench around her handbag. The train feels smaller and she can’t see anyone, anywhere. It becomes harder to breathe. The pain in her stomach grows worse and threatens to make her gasp in pain. What’s happening? She feels dizzy and light headed.
Then a thought hits - she hasn’t eaten lunch or dinner. No wonder she feels off. She sighs and rubs her head. She needs food and a glass of water. Maybe she was imagining things. She leans back and rests her head. Aside from the sound of the tracks, the carriage is quiet for a few minutes. She takes a deep breath and her lungs fill with grimy underground air.
Then a voice breaks the silence of the carriage like a rip in the dark.
“Hey, mind if I sit there?”
Eve jumps. Did she fall asleep? What was this woman’s deal? Out of all the empty seats, why did this woman want to sit next to her?
“No I don’t mind…” she replies but makes a point to sound like she clearly does.
The woman chuckles and sits down.
“I do that all the time.”
“Do what all the time.”
“Make people sorry they asked.”
“Sorry if I made you sorry to ask”, she said in the same tone. Eve is growing annoyed. Couldn’t this woman see she was exhausted?
Something about her is extremely unnerving. The way she talks, her voice catching on the last letter of every word. It was an unusual habit, yet Eve feels like she’s heard it recently. The woman is smiling, her front teeth crooked and one is slightly chipped. The way they slant, seems oddly familiar. Hadn’t she seen them just this…
“Sorry, but do I know you from somewhere?” Eve frowns at the woman now. She doesn’t have time nor the patience for games.
The woman laughs this time. She has several rings around her fingers, and the rolled up sleeves of her hoodie reveal forearms covered by strange tattoos. Was she like, in a gang or something? And why is she laughing at her?
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. It’s just, really weird, y’know, like, just having this conversation with you.”
Obviously this person is crazy, Eve thinks. She wants to move away, quickly, but she’s scared the woman will follow her.
“Man you really need to relax, I mean, look at you, your nails are like bitten to the flesh and you’ll ruin your makeup if you keep sweating like that. And people tell ME to relax. Jeez. Haha.”
“E-e-e-xcuse mee but I think I should be getting off soon. So if you don’t mind-”
Eve stands up and is about to move away when she realises the train is still moving at full speed. Has she missed her stop? Her station was only fifteen minutes away, surely the train has to stop any minute now…
“You’re refusing to grasp the weight of this situation. The train isn’t stopping. Not yet. Not until we’re done.”
Eve looks at the woman with a frown. Her skin is pale. She has a few sores on her neck as if she’d been scratching really hard… was she a junkie? Was she about to get robbed? Why hadn’t the train stopped?
“Look I don’t know who you are but I don’t appreciate this it’s really late and I’m really tired and I’ve got somewhere to be. So if you DON’T MIND.”
“So you really don’t know who I am?”
Eve has a nagging feeling that she’ll regret what she’s about to say. But she can’t take the frustration anymore. What’s happening??
“Look do you want me to get you help or something? Money? What do you want? Want me to call the police? An ambulance? A hotel? I’ll give it to you whatever it is you want, and then you can leave me alone and I can go home and sleep ok?”
“Look. I feel sorry for ya. I really do. Clearly you’ve never done this before and I’ll admit it’s a bit scary at first, but hey look at me ok? It gets easier. Look at me will you? That’s right. Recognise me yet? ”
The woman pulls back the hood of her jumper. Her face is now in visible in the full light of the carriage. She’s smiling, showing off her crooked smile.
Eve realises where she’s seen this woman before.
“I know huh, when you got up this morning the last thing you thought would happen would be meeting a theoretical you from another reality right? Haha… “
This alternate version of Eve smiled apologetically as if she truly was sorry, like the whole thing was out of her control. Like it was the most normal conversation ever.
Eve’s mind is blank. I’ve finally cracked, she thinks. She hadn’t realised how serious her condition was, until then. Because what else could this be, but a delusion? Like in that movie The Machinist where the insomniac starts hacking people’s limbs off because he’s paranoid they’re all turning against him. Psychosis, was this it?
“Damn kiddo. You look like you’re about to pass out. Please don’t… that would be awkward. Honey, you’re not crazy. I mean, yea I can see the irony of me, um well you, reassuring yourself. But trust me, it’s um not as bad as you think it is. And try not to think about the uh, logic. It’s a purely mathematical problem you see. This was bound to happen eventually, in one possible world or another. And yea I guess it happened to us. Um, are you ok?”
Eve is crying, tears are streaming down her face smudging her makeup but she doesn’t realise until her hand wipes her wet cheek in disbelief and confusion. She watches herself staring at herself, and then she screams.
* * *
“Ok are you calm now? You’ve been sitting there staring at me for like fifteen minutes. You’re starting to creep me out…”
Eve can’t move. She she’s sitting on the ground hugging her knees to her chest.
“How about I start from the beginning. So like this train, it’s actually not real and you really did lose it. You’re in an asylum right now rocking back and forth, it’s actually 1928.”
Eve hears a laugh and looks up confused.
“I wish you could see your face right now haha. That was too good. Ok I’m really sorry. Got you there though didn’t I huh? Haha you’re alright. You gotta have a sense of humour honey or you won’t survive here. Ok sorry couldn’t help myself. It’s not a simulation, or your imagination, this train is real and it just fucking rides around. I guess you can call it the train to nowhere I mean once you’re on it you kind of keep riding ya know. But see I figured out a way to stop it. And this is where you come in, you and me can stop this train. Together.”
Eve speaks for the first time. “W-w-what... are you talking about!!!?”
“You’re stuck here with me until we find a way out. The only way out is for us to get to know each other. Once we do that – we’ll be free to part ways and go off into our own little worlds again. Ok?”
“I-I-I thought you said… we’re stuck here? But there’s a way out? And why was it inevitable? You mean me, us going crazy, that’s what you meant? That’s what you’re talking about right.”
“YOU’RE NOT CRAZY. Just please listen to me ok? Look it’s probably better if I just start. Let’s get this show on the road. My name is Eva, you look like you’re about to pass out please can you just like, hold off until I finish the end of my story? Ok. Thanks. So, yes we are the same person. But we’re also not the same. At some point we, uh, went down different paths. Split. Diverged. Whatever you want to call it. But um, now, well you were drifting too far away from me. From this part of your uh character. And in order for us both to go back to um normal and be one again, we have to uh come to an agreement. You have to let me into your world a bit, as in, stop being such a freaking control freak. And I’ll um you know START being more in control of my life. Catch my drift? God you’re stressing me out staring at me like that with that blank look seriously is it ok if I light this cigarette? I need a drag man.”
“YOU CAN’T SMOKE HERE.”
“Dude relax this is a completely theoretical train to other people, really, it doesn’t even have a driver. It’s some pretty high-tech shit man.”
Eve runs through their conversation in her head. She can’t take anymore but maybe Eva is right. Maybe there is a way out. If this WAS a delusion, maybe Eve was in control. Maybe she could stop it before things REALLY got out of hand. The fact was: Eve was stuck here, talking to herself, until she found an exit. Maybe she wasn’t crazy. Maybe she was. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore. A door had opened and there was no going back. But maybe she could find a way out.
“Ss-s-so I guess it’s not every day you get to meet a different version of…myself…”
Eva looks up smiling brightly, happy Eve is finally talking.
Eve continues: “I guess I want to know how you, um how you came to be you, I mean, what happened to me to turn into you? Wait that’s not what I mean but…”
“You know what you’re problem is Eve? You’ve always been a control freak. OCD. Whatever you want to call it. I have my moments, too. But I guess I get obsessed with different kinds of things… than you do,” with that Eva looks at her tattooed arms.
“But you know we’re really not that different you and I. We both love stories and telling them. I always had a flair for journalism but I could never quite get my feet of the ground like you did. Guess the motivation just wasn’t there. But maybe that’s about to change… anyway. I guess I don’t know exactly at which point I think we were the same up until moving to London I guess, you know you-I mean we were always quite intelligent and I guess I was always interested in doing well and all. We had loads if friends. I enjoyed writing and stuff but I guess I, well this version of you, kind of fell of the rails when my-our boyfriend dumped us for that bimbo what was her name…”
“Yea. Well we broke up and instead of continuing to work I um, just kind of, didn’t? I started drinking instead. Hanging out with uh, the wrong crowd. You know it’s like one thing after another, before you know it you’re thirty living on the streets in London walking around asking for change hoping not to get caught in the metro but a cop starts chasing you and you decide to take the train, any train, to try and runaway- well I guess you can fill in the rest. Anyway. What happened to you?”
“Well… when I found out that Ben was cheating on me with my/ our best friend Heather, I just decided to put my head down and work. Eventually I became a journalist, and I’m about to break a massive story that could change my career forever. Really change the face of the newspaper. But now I’m not so sure I’ll make it out of here… “
“Are you like loaded then? Since you’re pretty successful and you’ve been working for like, five years straight now?”
“Um well kind of yea I mean I live in my own apartment in central London. It’s a studio, but I own it…”
Eva nods her head. “Cool, cool.”
Eve’s eyes squint in suspicion. “You want money don’t you?”
“WHAAAAT no way man haha you’re like, well you’re like family to me. I mean, we’re like sisters.”
“Yea sure. Blood is blood.”
Eve grows impatient.
“Look, you said if we got to know each other we’d be set free. So what’s happening now?”
“It’s slowing down can’t you tell?”
It was true the train WAS slowing down.
“I have one more question.”
“You said you’re a journalist and you’re about to break a huge story.”
“Is the story in that fancy bag of yours?”
“This?” Eve pulls out a large black folder.
Eva’s eyes widen.
“Yea. Looks important. Does it have all your contacts and sources, interview transcripts etc.?”
“Yea, I’ve been working on it for six months. All the pieces are there.”
“Mind if I have a look?”
“I guess…blood is blood…”
The train is pulling up back at Bethnal Green Street station. Had they gone around in a circle? Had she ever left? Eve was so tired she thought she was about to pass out. She had to get off this train. Maybe she wasn’t crazy. Maybe this was a dream. Maybe she would walk out of here and get on another train and it would be as if it had never happened.
“Don’t worry. The real train should be here any minute. I mean when I get off, this train will disappear again and no one will see it. It’ll pass through to the next world. “
“What do you mean when YOU get off??”
“Oh yea about that. You see only one person can get off at a time, and actually, you won’t be able to get off until you uh, leave another person behind. So let’s just say you’re stuck here till you find another one of us.”
Eva laughs and throws Eve’s folder from one hand to the other.
Eve stands up slowly.
The two lock eyes.
This time, Eve doesn’t look away.
“Only one of us huh…” says Eve slowly. She takes of her heels without breaking Eva’s gaze.
The door slides open.
They look quickly to the door then back at each other.
* * *
“Well done! This is great! Can’t wait to take it to print. You really out did yourself this time.”
The Editor-in-chief smiles as he pats her on the back.
“You know, I’m pretty sure you’re overdue for a holiday. This might be a good time. The story will drive people crazy! Might be better if you disappear for a while to avoid the heat... And you’re looking a bit pale, might do you some good. You’ve earned it.”
She smiles. She sure did.