This story is by Lauren Hester and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Next stop, Virginia Square.
At least, that’s what the seasoned commuters heard; the tourists looked at each other quizzically, heads topped with Washington DC caps and bucket hats bobbing back and forth, chirping, “What did he say? What did he say?”
Next stop, Clarendon.
I recognized the usual suspects. The bespectacled gentleman with a carefully manicured beard, the old woman who got on at Ballston and smiled and nodded solemnly as she entered and exited the car, the group of high school boys who skipped school to go to the city at least once a week.
I recognized one of them. If I were younger, I would definitely hit on him. He had blonde hair that was shaved on the bottom and long on top, hanging over his watery blue eyes. He wore a red plaid button down cuffed above the elbow, untucked, and Clark Kent-style glasses he probably didn’t need to see.
Next stop, Courthouse.
I usually watched him surreptitiously, but today I accidentally met his eyes. I blushed, but he just smiled. Then he gave me a curt wave, his palm sharply pointing left then right, tick tock! I dropped my eyes and stared at my phone, whose screen had gone black.
When I dared look up again, I allowed my eyes to hover around his knee, which was unbelievably bony and hairy, sticking out of a deliberate hole in his jeans. I saw him reach down to scratch the back of said knee violently before I saw — it.
It was a small lizard. Its skin was deep purple, which shimmered black in the fluorescent light. It crawled down his pant leg, slithering and then stopping suddenly, flicking out its tongue, fanning out a colorful, feather-like crest on its head.
Next stop, Rosslyn.
It dropped on the floor in front of the doors and laid there, its crest slicked back, throat puffing in and out slowly. Fewer people got off than on, resulting in a large group battling for position in the center of the car. I lost sight of it for a moment amidst the bodiless legs and feet.
Next stop, Foggy Bottom.
I hazarded a peek back at the boy when the crush of bodies parted. Now his eyes were rimmed in dark purple, like bruises, his blonde hair streaked with orange and red. His tongue flicked out in my direction, then flopped down limply against the plaid.
“What the hell!” Some passengers looked up from their phones to peer at me with close knit brows before returning their eyes downward. The overweight, suit-clad man next to me attempted to scoot away, smashing himself against the divider.
“Hey,” I said to the man. He opened a book that had been shut the whole ride and attempted to look engrossed in it.
“Does he look okay to you?” I pointed toward the boy, whose hands lay placid on each knee. The fingers were growing longer and bulbous at the tips. The man looked in the direction I was pointing, then looked back at me.
“That guy! Right there! In the red plaid with the purple skin!” The man got up, muttering to himself, and moved toward the back of the car.
Next stop, Farragut West.
I was getting some open stares. The boy’s eyes were yellow with a black slash of an iris. Long purple claw tipped toes protruded from his sneakers. I slid over on the bench against the divider, registering only a slight bit of disgust at the big man’s residual warmth on the seat.
Next stop, McPherson Square.
I spotted the small lizard again, resting on top of the boy-lizard’s foot, and felt my body go rigid. I looked around again, willing someone to notice, but even his companions didn’t acknowledge what was happening to their friend, or that he was there at all.
It scuttled toward me. I stared at it, transfixed, and reached blindly into my bag until my fingers closed around a ball point pen. The lizard reared back, balancing on its tail, its crest fully unfurled, and let out an otherworldly screech that reverberated in my chest. I answered with a scream of my own, and stabbed at it with the pen.
Next stop, Metro Center.
I missed, and I was still screaming. The lizard had spit some strange sticky substance into my face that I desperately tried to scrape out of my eyes. Through the orange curtain I noticed a crowd of phones floating around me, some of them flashing and momentarily blinding me.
This is Metro Center.
The doors opened and I stumbled backward out of the car, away from the disembodied cell phones trained on me. I fell onto my backside and crab walked backwards until my back hit the escalator. I noticed with some relief that the crowd was dissipating and the platform was steadily emptying. I eyed the tunnel where the train had just disappeared, and suddenly craved the dark.
The closer I got to the tunnel the less my eyes burned, though it was now difficult to make out discrete shapes. I ran into the wall and felt the skin on my cheek scrape off, peel off, and clapped a hand to it to keep my face from unraveling.
I gasped as I felt a tight pinching at the back of my knee. The pain grew and intensified to a fiery point, then faded into blissful, cool darkness. I noticed the mortar between the bricks with startling whiteness, as if under a blacklight.
I turned, my tongue lolling out of my mouth and caressing my chin. He was there, watching, a now fully reptilian head emerging from the red plaid, the glasses having stretched to fit over the broad snout. The smaller lizard perched on his shoulder, puffing its throat placidly.
“This is our stop,” he said, inside my head. He dropped off the platform onto the tracks and walked into the tunnel. Having nowhere else to go, I followed.