“Who are you?”
The sound of the train disappearing in the darkness echoed out into the tunnels, leaving the station in a dead kind of silence. The few peoeple who were still inside at that time of night seemed completely detached from the rest of the world, some of them even mumbling cryptic sentences to themselves. An old man with a torn-up jacket slept peacefully underneath a rag that had once been a blanket; a pale young woman silently held a briefcase tightly against her black clothes; a middle-aged businessman leaned on one of the station pillars, smoking a soon-to-be cigarette butt; and at the edge of the station floor, looking out at the tracks below, three children stood, in heavy winter coats and scarves, holding hands. The one standing in the middle was a girl and, being the shortest, she ended up having to lean the farthest out to see the tracks.
“They’re really rusty.” The yellow-eyed boy said, blinking in curiosity. “The subway must be really old.”
“My father told me his grandfather helped build it.” The blond one replied from underneath his thick white scarf. “It took them many years to finish.”
“I want to ride it. Even if it’s rusty, I want to ride it.”
They both looked at the girl, who cheerfully looked into both tunnels, wishing the train would arrive soon.
Neither of them had ever been in the centre of the city before, not on their own at least, so they had never seen the subway outside of the city guide Ms. Claire had lent them. They had read it so many times, especially Kael, that they all knew the stations by heart; thus, it had been much easier than they had expected to find the station nearest to the Manor.
“I want to ride it too!” Kael shouted, the pale young woman turning to him, like a corpse, rising from the dead. “I really want to ride it, all the way to the end of the line!”
“We can even change lines along the way!” The girl shook the brown-haired boy’s arm excitedly.“I want to visit Park Station. Ms. Claire said there was a candy store near the exit!”
The blue-eyed child had fallen silent, facing the wall of the station with a vacant look, his hand limply holding the girl’s right one. The other two turned to look at him, both curious and worried. Akira didn’t usually talk much, but he only fell completely silent when he was deep in thought, and that usually, according to their code, meant something bad.
“Aki, did something happen?” Kael asked leaning forward, in order to be able to see his friend’s eyes. He still wasn’t looking at them. The girl bit her lower lip, shaking his arm, trying to get a reaction.
“Aki, what’s wrong?”
“There will be blood. There will be betrayal.”
Before Kael could reprimend his friend, the girl had already let go of his hand and stood directly in front of the blond boy.
“Don’t ‘huh’ me! You were staring at the wall like an idiot! What’s wrong?!”
“Oh…” The kid smiled nervously, feeling cornered. “…Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. I was just distracted.”
“Yeah, by what?!” Kael held the girl by the shoulders, frowning at Akira from behind her.
“I… I just…” He took a deep breath. “I heard something—-”
The end of his sentence was cut off by the loud commotion of the train running on the tracks, emerging out of the tunnel like a giant snake with stars for eyes and screeching to a halt right in front of them. The metal door opened right in front of them, like a gate to an unknown paradise. Immediately after, the businessman walked away from the wall and the pale woman stood up from her chair, both walking right into the train. The children took their time, never letting go of each other’s hands and stepping in as carefully as they would into a swamp. Kael was the first one to enter, his expression of effort coinciding with his idea of himself as a pioneer and a hero for stepping into the great dragon of the city before anyone else. The girl followed suit, jumping into the train in fear of being left behind and pulling Akira by the sleeve right after her, making him lose his balance and nearly fall on his knees, were it not for the metal pole right in front of them. For a few minutes, not one word was uttered. Like beggars in a city of gold, they stared in awe at the dirty glass of the windows, the stained light-blue floor, the rusty metal ceiling, the dark, hard-looking seats. They looked at it all, at all those monuments of sadness and abandonment, like beautiful, priceless works of art. All of a sudden, Kael punched the air, feeling triumphant.
“We’re inside it! This is it, this is the subway! We’re riding it, we’re really riding it!” His golden eyes had lit up, his smile fed by an absolute joy. “Come on, let’s sit down!”
They chose a seat carefully, letting themselves rest on the single line of four seats near the end of the car, the girl still holding her friends’ hands tightly. It was horribly cold, even inside the train, and everytime she let out a deep breath, a small cloud of white smoke formed in front of her, disappearing shortly after. When she looked at him, Akira seemed to be looking at his own white clouds with a curious look in his eyes, his white face now blushing in a soft pink, due to the low temperatures. Kael had thrown his head back and was looking at the ceiling, distracted by the dark spots forming in the junctions between the walls and the aluminium ceiling.
The girl smiled, tightening her grip on their hands, swinging her feet back and forth, as she wasn’t tall enough to reach the floor yet.
“Let’s always be together.” She finally said, smiling at Akira and then at Kael. “Let’s never ever walk away from each other, let’s never ever be apart.”
Akira blinked at her, confused. Why would she be talking about such a thing at a time like that? But seeing Kael’s heartfelt happy reaction and loud positive reply, Akira couldn’t just not say anything. Smiling, he nodded.
“Yes. Let’s always be together.”
That night, there was a snowstorm.
Just like tonight.
When they were still children, three best friends made a decision, and a promise to each other and themselves.