The Night Train

It was the smell that gave it away. The soft sweetness of decayed wood thicken with each step. I’ve been gaming since I was nine. I’d practically lived in VR during high school. My husband Charlie and I used to play before life got too busy. I’d heard a few of my coworkers whispering about a new underground VR Sims meets Grand Theft Auto, typical nerd boy banter. My ears sparked up.
I asked my assistant Boyd about it. Just making small talk, ever since April out of HR said I could come across as intimidating I’ve been attempting banter. He told me the graphics were cool but the storylines were paper thin. Boyd’s a good guy just a little scattered and disorganized. I know I can be a bit much at times but I really hoped this assistant would last more than six months. Boyd shared the game’s link with me.
Charlie was in Columbus at a convention and Julia was staying overnight with a friend, tonight was my night. Watching Dateline, I ate shrimp fried rice in bed. Then I remembered NIght Train. I dug the slip of paper out of my briefcase. I took the Pandorica VR googles and gloves off the top shelf in the closet. I sneezed from the dust. I popped an edible, refilled my glass of Riesling, and paired my VR set to my laptop. Snuggled into a nest of decorative pillows I dove in.
It was boring. Realistic yes, my character was following signs to get to this Night Train. The clues were pretty simple the sideways wide and tree lined. There were birds in the skies. I cheered with I descended the steps to the train platform. The steps seemed endless. I was slurping my wine when I first smelled it. First I thought it was mulch and the gardeners had done some landscaping earlier in the day. Then came the smell of old piss and industrial cleaner, the tell-tale indicator of public restrooms and poverty. I started thinking of hurrying with a suitcase through 30th Street Station. That’s when I remembered there are no aromas in virtual reality.
I touched the subway tunnel wall. My avatar was a perky redhead in striped tights and a puffy jacket. My fingers came away greasy from the clammy subway tile. My gear wasn’t this good. I ripped the googles from my face.
Nothing happened. I was still in the game, still in the underground subway. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Would I try for the surface? Then I heard it. Breathing, the noise was soft but very close. Air stirred and rushed. The train was coming. My train was coming. A horn screamed. Scarred and graffitied, my train slid into the station. I turned into something smaller and faster. I turned and ran.

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