As the train hurtled through the bowels of the city, Hannah breathed deeply. Hanging on to the blue rod above her head for stabilisation, she almost felt like she was flying. She was, in fact, swaying, moved by the momentum of the train, synchronised with the other passengers.
In any other setting, standing in such close proximity to other people would be an opener for a conversation, perhaps initiated by a laugh of embarrassment. On the Underground, however, words were for emergencies only. Silently standing barely centimetres from other passengers was the norm; speaking was the deviation.
In another era, these people would be Hannah’s friends. Most of them took this same train every morning. The familiar faces should have been familiar names and familiar stories. Glances over shoulders, a little deduction and some Google searches had, however, revealed the identity of three of Hannah’s regular fellow passengers.
There was a man with a guitar case. His name was Derek, as revealed by the cover of the pages of sheet music he often carried. He was a session musician at a studio in Central London. His rhythmic strumming could be heard on the albums of some of the top artists in the country, as well as international artists.
There was a woman with a large bag. Her name was Agnes. Agnes had left a life as a nun to become a doctor. The film The Sound of Music had inspired her to seek out a convent, but just like the film’s central character, she had felt God’s call to a different life’s work.
Then there was Bidemi. A thousand feet tall with a bald head and over a million social media followers. Bidemi was an epidemiologist and a model. She specialised in research on diseases that no one else was working on. Online, she raised awareness about the diseases, and in the lab, she worked to cure them. This winning combination had made her a medical influencer, where her research led, others quickly followed.
Suddenly the train came to a halt. The passengers stood or sat silently. This was not unusual. Invariably, trains were made to stop, sometimes at platforms and sometimes in tunnels, to regulate the service. No one knew quite what ‘regulate the service’ meant, but it was a thing that happened, and it had become an accepted part of subterranean travel.
Fifteen minutes passed. The driver had said nothing over the intercom, and the passengers were becoming agitated. Fifteen minutes was the difference between being on time and being late. Podcasts and playlists were paused as the passengers made futile attempts to access the internet and transmit their excuses digitally.
Another fifteen minutes passed. Still, the driver had not communicated with his passengers. Hannah mustered up the courage to pull the emergency alarm. She waited for a response from the driver; none came. Though the silence remained, the passengers now dared to make eye contact. Glances were exchanged, and soon, the whole carriage was connected by an invisible chain of wide-eyed worry.
Suddenly, there was a slight buzz in the air, and all the lights went out. It was pitch black.
“What is going on?” said a woman’s voice.
“This is ridiculous,” said another, a man’s voice this time.
“Can someone hold their phone up to give us some light,” another woman said. “Mine seems to have stopped working.”
The faintest clicks and taps could be heard, but no light sprang forth.
“My phone is not working.”
“Neither is mine.”
“All of our phones! How is that possible?”
A rumbling shook the train.
“What was that?” someone whispered.
Another sound followed shortly after the rumble. It was part scream and part roar. Silence descended on the train once again. The light came back on, illuminating the looks of terror on the faces of the passengers. Hannah looked around. Something was different.
“Where did Agnes go?” she blurted out.
The other passions looked at Hannah in confusion.
“The woman who was sitting there,” she said, pointing at a now-empty seat. “She was sitting right there.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Hannah snapped. “Were there any empty seats when we left the last station?”
“No, all the seats were taken,” someone conceded, and a few of the other passengers nodded in agreement.
“She’s…gone,” Hannah said, looking around nervously.
“People don’t just disappear.”
“Oh my gosh, was that her screaming in the tunnel?”
The lights went out again. Nervous chatter filled the air, as well as panicked breaths. Before long, the light returned. Now there were two empty seats. It was undeniable.
“Someone… something is taking people,” a woman said.
“We have to get out of here,” said a man.
All of the passengers were on their feet now. They gazed at the seats as if they were responsible. As if they were swallowing up the passengers.
“We should hold onto each other, so it can’t take us,” someone suggested.
Hands were held. Arms were linked. The passengers, who only minutes ago were avoiding eye contact, were now clutching each other. The lights went out again. Hannah felt the hand of the woman she was holding onto being snatched away. She fell to the floor. As she attempted to get back on her feet, the lights came back on. She looked down the train in both directions. It was completely empty. Fear and confusion pricked against the back of her neck. She cupped her hands over her mouth.
“Hello!” she called. “Is anyone there?”
No answer came. She was alone. She pulled the emergency alarm again. Once more, no response came from the driver. It occurred to her that he had been the first to be taken.
Just then, the train started moving again.