This story is by Emily and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
North Station was crowded with Boston commuters. It was always crowded at 7:30 on a Monday morning. Arthur Pennington went to cross an ankle over his knee when he realized his shoe was stuck to the floor.
“Going to be a beautiful day,” said his friend Luke brightly flipping through the morning paper.
“Perhaps we should have walked,” Arthur said, scraping a fresh piece of gum off the bottom of his shoe. “Why do you still buy those?”
“The paper? It makes me feel important. My grandfather read the paper.”
“You know that you can find everything that’s in there on your phone… which you already pay for,” Arthur said.
“Always so practical.” Luke flipped to the next page.
“Always so emotional.” Arthur settled back on their bench. That’s when he caught sight of a man across the tracks – looking directly at him.
Arthur elbowed Luke and nodded in the direction of the stranger.
The man pointed and mouthed, “Behind you.”
Arthur slowly turned his head. There was a large, muscular man rushing out a set of double doors, shoving a young woman along by her upper arm.
Arthur turned back to the stranger and raised his eyebrows. The stranger nodded and continued to point. Arthur looked at Luke and they seemed to decide at the same time.
They followed through the double doors and stepped into a hallway. Luke looked to Arthur, waiting for him to make a move.
Suddenly, they heard a scream from down the corridor. Arthur started running, Luke right behind him. Arthur was listening hard for another sound to tell him where to go, when a second scream issued from a room on his right. Without thinking, he shoved the crash bar and the door flew open.
The large man angrily swung around to face Arthur, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
Arthur saw that the young woman was shaking slightly and had a cut above her eye that was bleeding down the side of her face.
“Did you touch her?” Arthur asked.
“We’re just talking, buddy. Get out of here,” the man said shooing Arthur out.
“Come on, Arthur. Maybe we should just leave,” Luke said.
“How’d she get that cut on her eye?” Arthur asked.
“Listen!” the man shouted, “Mind your own business.”
“It’s really not —“
The young woman gasped as the man slapped her across the face. “No one asked you to talk!” he spat at her.
“That’s enough,” Arthur said, stepping in front of the man and the young woman and pulling out his phone.
Luke looked a little pale.
“Put that away,” the man said grabbing for Arthur’s phone.
Arthur threw his phone to Luke, “Call 911!” But Luke missed, and it slid out into the hallway.
“Oh geez, Luke, come on.”
“Hey, what’s that?” came a voice from down the hall.
Everyone in the room looked towards the door as echoing footsteps got closer and closer. A security guard appeared outside the door picking up Arthur’s phone. Noticing the group, the guard simply said, “Who’s phone is this?”
“Mine, sir,” Arthur said.
“What going on?” the guard asked, gesturing toward them with the phone.
“Just having a chat,” the large man said.
“Looks like it,” the guard said, assessing the young woman. “Come with me, ma’am. We’ll get that eye cleaned up.”
She quickly ducked past the large man and left with the guard. Arthur stuck close to them as not to be left alone with the large man, who was glaring at Arthur with a look that could kill.
The stranger continued to show up over the following weeks, alerting Arthur to present dangers big and small.
“You’re like a real-life super hero!” Luke said one afternoon.
“What do you mean?” Arthur said.
“It’s like you’ve been chosen. Why else would this stranger keep showing up asking you to right wrongs?”
“I kind of thought I was being tested,” Arthur said.
“Really? What for?”
Arthur just shrugged. He was struggling between pride at being chosen and a quickly growing uncertainty.
Nevertheless, Arthur continued to heed the stranger’s promptings, hoping that he would someday introduce himself properly and explain why Arthur had been singled out for this task. Then, walking back to his apartment one day, the stranger beckoned him to cross the street. There was a dog pulling a little girl with so much force that she was being dragged behind, pulling the leash with all her might. Arthur put himself between the dog and his target and wound up in the hospital with multiple lacerations on his right arm and face.
“I’m not sure about this, Arthur,” Luke said at the hospital.
“I’m fine,” Arthur said.
“I don’t know about fine,” Luke said with concern. “Perhaps we should lay off the crime fighting for a while.”
As if his ears had been ringing, the stranger appeared in the hospital doorway. Luke and Arthur looked at him and then back at each other.
“Am I interrupting?” asked the stranger.
“Actually,” Arthur said, “We were just talking about you.”
“I imagine you were,” he said stepping into the room. “We have been most pleased with you, Arthur.”
The stranger smiled and stuck out his hand. “Welcome to The Neighborhood Watch.”
“What do you think?” asked the nurse.
“We’ll want to keep him for observation,” said the doctor.
“Who does he think he’s talking to?” the nurse asked.
“Well, there is a ‘Luke’ who seems to be Arthur’s emotional side. And there is a stranger who personifies Arthur’s observations. It’s as if his subconscious has been given proper form.”
“He thinks he’s a super hero you know,” the nurse said.
The doctor nodded. “I’ll send some transfer paperwork down to the desk.”
“All right,” she said and continued to watch as Arthur spoke to an empty room.