This story is by Jane McGowan and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The cold hit me the moment I stepped onto the subway platform at Broad and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. “Doors closing” in a faux British accent echoed in the background as I funneled into the exodus. My destination was an Urban Planning class way across campus and I was running late as usual.
That is when I saw her. She was standing there in a faded cotton mumu dress with no shoes, scowling down at me from the top of the escalator. I blinked in disbelief. Her expression was mostly blank but with a deliberate sternness that chilled me more than the freezing weather. It was Mrs. Hazen, my childhood neighbor who did not live in Philadelphia, was not dressed for the weather, and most importantly was no longer ALIVE! I looked again for confirmation, but she was gone, as quickly as she appeared, replaced by a steady flow of people and cars on the street. WEIRD. I rode up to street level and did a quick surveillance before continuing to class, the vision gradually leaving my mind the way a spritz of perfume disappears into the air.
Being a part time student, I was not back on campus until the following Wednesday. It was pouring rain as the train pulled into its stop. I stepped cautiously into the crowd and noticed we were not heading in the familiar direction. A ribbon of black and yellow caution tape prevented access to the escalator and explained the detour. The crowd diverged up the concrete steps and I followed accordingly, making a beeline to class.
Three hours later and too exhausted to cook, I poured myself a bowl of cereal and plopped down on the sofa in my off campus apartment. I turned on the tv and and the local news was broadcasting the top story: A young boy’s life tragically cut short by a horrible accident on the campus of Temple University. Most of the details were precluded, but the general communication was that the death was gruesome. The hairs on my arms stood up as the tv screen flashed the crime scene – an exact view of the escalator I was diverted away from earlier that day. My memory raced back to the week prior recalling the strange sighting of Mrs. Hazen glaring down at me from the top of the moving stairs. It remains with me to this day like a mental postcard – Greetings from the Grim Reaper in a sundress.