A face loomed in the darkness outside our stopped subway train. Outlined in glowing white lines. Xs for eyes. A hand-drawn, rictus grin. A mask. It bobbed along up and down the cars, pressing against the windows, fingertips tapping the glass. Giggling echoed down the tunnel, accompanying a high-pitched voice asking, “Who smiled? Whooo smiiiiled?”
Within, some of us glanced around at each other, wondering who had broken the taboo. At all stations, ancient signs declared, “Do not smile at strangers.” Relics of a time of scams and con artists. Now the tunnels were too dangerous for casual opportunists. Suggestion had become rule.
The voice of the conductor buzzed over the intercom. “Who pulled the emergency brake? What’s going on?”
In front of me, the face had paused, tilted, as if curious. A bare finger rubbed against the glass. Over and over. “Was it youuuu?”
Behind me, a woman stuttered a reply to the conductor. “No one,” she explained. “S-someone smiled at a stranger.”
A curse word sounded through the intercom before the conductor remembered to close the channel. Without the presence of an authority figure, the entire car held its collective breath.
The face watched us like fish in a bowl.
As the engine revved, the train lurched forward. Before me, beside the mask, the white outline of a hand bloomed, fingers outspread. They waved cheerfully at me. As the face receded, the voice sang out, “Byeeeeee.”
Thanks for reading!
Subscribe to my list of readers who get new stories, sneak peeks, and book reviews delivered to their inboxes.
Little Blue Marble 2022: Warmer Worlds
Featuring “I Hope This Email Does Not Find You!”
The last eight years have been the warmest on record.
Little Blue Marble‘s anthology of speculative climate fiction and poetry from an international slate of authors mourns and hopes in equal measure for the fate of our world and its ecosystems.
May these visions of the future inspire collective action before climate chaos becomes irreversible.
Show Your Support
If you enjoy my writing, please consider leaving a tip. All amounts welcome!