Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Tunnel Vision

A few years ago I was in New York City, and for a country hick I got pretty proficient at using the subway. I was on the F train one morning when there was a slowdown -- something about a train delayed for mechanical reasons, slowing down all the other trains that shared that line -- and sitting there on the stopped subway, looking out into the dark tunnel, I noticed there were grimy-looming alcoves, probably for workers to use when making repairs. 

So naturally, considering how my mind works, I started wondering what monsters might be lurking down there -- and the result was this story.



The F subway train, from Queensbridge Station to 34th Street/Herald Square, rattled along the track at 6:30 a.m., carrying Adria Haines to her job at Starbuck’s.  Even though she had only lived in New York City for three weeks, Adria was adjusting to city life, and most of her anxiety about having to ride the subway to work had evaporated.  It was already being absorbed into the ordinary parts of day, so familiar that they hardly merit a thought.  This was despite her mother’s dire warnings about “city people” who were almost all amoral, and who would rob you blind if you dropped your guard for a moment.

“Don’t make eye contact,” Vera Haines had told her daughter, two weeks before her planned move from the rural streets of the little upstate town of Guildford, New York to the crowds and noise of New York City.  “Try not to call attention to yourself.  If you stand out, you’re more likely to be mugged.”

“Mom,” Adria said, “just yesterday you told me that I should look tough and self-confident, because otherwise people would know I wasn’t from the city and would mug me.”

“Well, yes.  Of course.  Self-confident and able to take care of yourself.  But not flashy.  You know what I mean.”

“Not really.  I don’t know how to be anything other than what I am.”

“That’s an odd thing for a theater major to say.  And let me remind you that it wasn’t so long ago that you spent hours pretending you were Athena and Medusa and all of those other mythological women you love so much.”

Adria rolled her eyes.  “Mom, I’m not a child any more.  And you know what I meant.  I’m not going to get mugged, so you need to stop worrying.”

“You don’t know what it’s like.”  Vera sniffed.  “And those tiny, squalid apartments you’ll be living in… I can’t believe you’re leaving here for that.”

“If I want to get anywhere in the theater world, I have to live in New York, mom,” Adria said, her voice tired.  This had been a constant refrain for almost six months, since she had announced her decision to move to the Big City, and it was beginning to sound dubious even in her own ears.

“I just want you to be safe, dear.  It’s a big, scary place.”

“It’s just a place, mom.  Yes, it’s a big place.  But it’s no scarier than anywhere else, and it’s a hell of a lot more interesting.”

And indeed, in her three weeks of residence, she hadn’t seen anyone more threatening than a drunk homeless guy who sat in the Herald Square subway station, mumbling to himself and in his moments of greater lucidity asking for money.

The train stopped at Roosevelt Island, and then at Lexington and 63rd, and as the train pulled away from Lexington, Adria dozed off, despite the fact that her iPod was blaring Tegan & Sara in her ears.  Her fingers, closed around her backpack strap, relaxed.

There was a shudder as the train pulled into the curve that began its traverse southward down the center of Manhattan Island, and the train braked.  The tunnel lights, which before had been flying past too quickly to see, slowed to a heartbeat’s pace, and then slower still.  Adria half-woke, and her eyes opened to see the walls sliding past the windows, interspersed by dark openings into service corridors.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Downtowngal, Subway train in tunnel, CC BY-SA 3.0]

And that’s when she saw the figure of a man in the gap outside the train window.

He had his back to the train.  He was clothed in crumpled folds of some dark material, whose color was uncertain in the dim light.  She could make out the lines of the edge of his head, one ear, and saw the curve of his neck where it met the collar of the shapeless garment he was wearing.

And just as the train squealed to a complete stop, the man moved, turning toward the train window, and she saw that he had no eyes.

His face was skeletally thin, with skin stretched tight over high cheekbones.  Long, yellowed teeth were exposed by lips pulled back in a grimace.  Where his eyes should have been were two dark, empty cavities.  Yet he moved toward the window with purpose, and reached out one bony hand toward Adria.

Then the train gave a lurch and the figure slipped backwards into darkness.

All of this happened in less than five seconds—it takes longer to tell than it did to occur.  Adria jerked to full wakefulness, suppressing a scream at the last possible moment, and looked around her.  No one else had reacted.  The elderly African American woman sitting across from her had her eyes closed, one hand clutching a purse.  The preppy young man next to her was staring at an e-reader of some kind.  The middle-aged businessman in the seat next to Adria was perusing a newspaper.

Adria rode the rest of the way to 34th and Herald trying to convince herself that she’d been dreaming.  By the time she got to Starbuck’s and donned her apron, she had more or less succeeded.


For the days following the incident, she found herself staring at the gaps in the subway tunnel wall as she rode to and from work, and was especially alert as the train rounded the curve after Lexington.  She didn’t doze on her daily subway ride, and in fact had to force herself to breathe slowly, to try to keep her heart rate normal.  But a week passed, and then two weeks, and gradually her fear faded.  The train didn’t slow down again, and she saw no sign of the eyeless man in the tunnel.  The whole experience was mentally filed under “odd dreams I’ve had.”  In fact, she had almost forgotten about the incident, when, three weeks later, it happened again.

She’d had insomnia the previous night, probably triggered by a late afternoon cup of strong coffee with a friend, and didn’t get to sleep until after 2 a.m..  When her alarm went off at 6:30, she felt as if she had just closed her eyes, and she showered and ate breakfast in a sleep-deprived mental fog.  When she boarded the train at a little after seven, she sat down and dozed off almost instantly.

It wasn’t at the same place.  This time the slowdown was just past Roosevelt Island.  The train’s brakes creaked, and an announcement came on, “We are being held in place by the dispatcher for a few moments because of a routing problem on the tracks.  Thank you for your patience.”  Adria stirred from her drowsing, and opened her eyes halfway.

On a concrete ledge next to the track was a child, bound with hempen ropes.

The child was female, dressed in ragged clothing.  She had unruly dark hair, and wide, staring eyes.  She was standing upright, and the ropes twisted around the body, holding her legs together and her arms to her sides.  A dirty cloth gag was tied across her mouth and around the back of her head.  At this point, the train was still moving slowly, and the image of the tied child slid past and vanished.

The child’s eyes never left Adria’s the entire time, imploring, terrified.

Adria’s whole body jerked, and her head rocked back and soundly smacked the window behind her.  This brought her to full wakefulness, and she stared at the dark glass across the aisle, breathing hard.  An athletic-looking teenager, sitting on the same side of the train as she was with a backpack at his feet, looked at her oddly, but then looked away again.  Other than him, no one else seemed to notice.

Adria tried to regain control over her racing heart.  That boy had been facing the window, too.  Surely he must have seen her?

But he showed no sign of having seen anything odd.  She looked over at him.  He met her eyes momentarily, and then looked away again, the thought of, Stop staring at me, crazy chick, clearly readable on his face.

The announcement repeated, and the train stayed motionless for another minute.  Adria scanned the black gap outside the train window, looking for any sign of a person out there, but there was none.  Then, without warning, the subway creaked into motion again, and soon the walls were whisking by too fast to see.

She should call the police.  She opened her backpack, but paused as she reached for her cellphone.

What if it had been a dream?

She looked over at the teenager, who had resumed staring at the window across from them.  She cleared her throat.

“Excuse me?” she said.

The boy looked at her again, a little reluctantly. “Yeah?”

“Did you see anything in the window?  When the train stopped?”

He frowned at her, the expression that said You’re a nutjob deepening.  “No.”

“Just after the announcement came,” she persisted. “In one of those gaps.  The service corridors.”

“No,” he said again.

“Were you looking that way?”

He looked around, but the other people on the train were steadfastly ignoring them, were immersed in books and newspapers, listening to iPods.  “Yeah,” the boy said.  “I was looking.  There wasn’t anything there.”  He looked uncomfortable.  She had the impression that if she persisted, he’d get up and move to another seat.

Adria swallowed, and attempted a smile.  “I guess I must have been dreaming.”

The boy didn’t respond except to shake his head, and went back to looking at the tunnel lights flashing by in the dark windows.

Adria was glad to arrive at her stop, to get away from the teenager and the other people in the train, but mostly to ascend the escalator out of the depths and see sunlight again, leaving behind the dark, empty tunnels—inhabited by an eyeless man and a bound child, who were still down there, they were, it couldn’t have been a dream, it was too real…

Her heart was still pounding when she arrived at work

During the lull following the morning Starbuck’s rush, Adria leaned on the counter, recalling the image she’d seen in the window.  Although it had been over in moments, she could recall minute detail—the way the girl’s unkempt hair had fallen across her shoulders, the coarse fibers of the rope that bound her, the horrified look in her large, luminous eyes.  She thought back to the slouching figure of the eyeless man she’d seen three weeks earlier, and shuddered.

“Wake up, Ade,” said her coworker, a multiply-tattooed New York University student named Jonah.

“I wasn’t asleep.”  Adria shuddered again.

“Out partying late last night?”  He gave her a grin.

“No. I…”  She stammered, fell silent, closed her mouth, and looked away.  Jonah raised one eyebrow, and she could tell what was going through his mind: She’s got guy problems.  She sighed, but at that moment a customer came up, and the next five minutes were involved in making a mocha cappuccino.

“Jonah,” she said, after the customer had taken his coffee away, “have you ever had weird dreams when you’re just dozing?”

Jonah’s face became animated.  “No, have you?  My psychology professor was just talking about those last week.  Dreams in light sleep.  They’re called hypnagogic experiences.  Only about five percent of people experience them regularly.”

Adria managed a smile.  “I’ve had a couple of doozies.”  She described her visions of the eyeless man and the bound girl, interspersed between interruptions to attend to other customers.

“Wow,” Jonah said, “that is so cool.”

“Cool?” Adria said, a little heatedly.  “It wasn’t cool.  It was scary as hell.”

“Well, yeah.  But dreams in light sleep are just pretty unusual.  Most people dream in REM, which is a much deeper stage in the sleep cycle.”

“Why would it start happening all of a sudden?”

He shrugged.  “So, you’ve never had them before?”

She shook her head.  “And why does it just happen on the subway?”

“I don’t know. I could ask my professor if he has any idea what could be going on.”

At that point, a cluster of people came into the store, and all conversation was tabled for a time.


Over the next two weeks Adria tried her hardest to stay awake on the subway.  She also attempted to forget what she’d seen, to dismiss it as bad dreams, but the residual fright of the visions stayed with her.  She woke at night, shivering and drenched with sweat, thinking about the hollow cavities in the eyeless man’s face, and the bound girl’s terrified expression.

She pondered, briefly, if she should try to find an alternate way to get to work.  Adria had no car, and in any case trying to park daily in Manhattan would have eaten the lion’s share of her salary, if it were even feasible.  Buses were a possibility, but were costlier than a subway pass and took about five times as long, given the necessity to cross the Queensboro Bridge.  In the end, she resigned herself to taking the subway, but vowed to stay awake the whole time.

That resolve lasted a week, and was defeated by Benadryl.  The combination of stress and bad dreams finally left her sleep deprived enough that she caught a cold.  She didn’t feel bad enough to justify staying home—and she hadn’t worked long enough to have accrued any sick time—plus, the symptoms could be kept at bay by taking cold medicine.  The antihistamine, however, hit her like a pile driver, and she was asleep five minutes after sitting down on the subway.

The train jolted to a stop at Roosevelt Island, and after picking up three people—one was the teenager who had given her the odd look the day she’d seen the bound girl—it rattled into life again, and the doors closed.  Adria’s eyes opened slightly, just as the window slid past the end of the station and across a slab of blank concrete.  A few feet further on was a rectangular opening, chest high, with a bleary-looking light giving it dim illumination.

Crouched in the opening was a twisted grotesque, a figure that was not much taller than a child, but had an aged countenance covered with a fine maze of wrinkles.  The face was asymmetrical, the chin angling to one side, and the left eye far closer to the bridge of the nose than the right one was.  The forehead slanted back, fringed by a thin covering of gray hair.  The creature was leaning forward, its long arms in front of it, hands on the edge of the opening, the fingers splayed out like a frog’s.  She could see the taut muscles in its legs, as if it were about to spring at the train.

And then it was gone.

This time Adria did scream.  Everyone in the train turned to look at her.  She stared at the now-empty window, darkness alternating with flickers of light as the train gathered speed, and then she looked from one face to the other of the people who shared the train car with her.  And she burst into tears.


She had more or less gotten herself back together by the time she arrived at work, but Jonah recognized something was wrong before she’d even hung up her jacket.

“Damn, Ade, what’s wrong?”  His eyes widened.  “Oh, god, it happened again, didn’t it?”

She nodded, fought back the tears that were just beneath the surface, and successfully modulated her voice as she answered, “Yeah. It did.”

“I won’t ask you to tell me the details,” he said.  “Not till you’re feeling better.  But I did ask my professor about what happened to you.  He said that it’s unusual for hypnagogic experiences to happen consistently in the same place, but other than that, he said what you’re experiencing is ‘classic.’  That’s what he called it.  You feel like you’re awake, but you’re not, and you see something that isn’t real.  You are still aware of where your body really is—your bed, the sofa, or in your case, the subway—but crazy shit happens.  Then you actually wake up, but you still feel like you’re where you were in the dream state, so it really seems like you’ve been awake the whole time.  He said that people find them really disorienting.”

“That’s the truth,” Adria said.

Jonah started to fill the coffee maker with grounds.  “He said that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.”

“Well, that’s good.  I just want it to stop, though.  It scares the hell out of me every time it happens.”

“What does?” Lissa, an even more recent hire than Adria but whose accent showed her to be pure Bronx, leaned against the counter and grinned.  “I like scary stuff.”

“You wouldn’t like this,” Adria said.

“Try me.”

Adria gave a brief description of what she’d seen—leaving out most of the details of the hideous dwarf-figure she’d glimpsed out of the window only a half-hour earlier.  That one was simply too fresh, too real, to bear more than a glancing consideration.

“Sounds like you saw the Tunnel Monsters.”  Lissa popped her gum and grinned again.

Jonah rolled his eyes.  “Get to work, Lissa.”

“You ain’t doing much, yourself, Jonah.”

“What are the Tunnel Monsters?” Adria said.

“My uncle told me about ‘em.  My aunt used to tell me to watch out for muggers and rapists on the subway, and my uncle said, ‘Naw, what you gotta look out for is the Tunnel Monsters.’  Then he told me that when they dug the subway, they found out the tunnels was filled with all sorts of creatures.  It’s because New York is such a big city, he said… so many people, and we’re all afraid of so many different things, so to keep all that fear from building up, we just stick our fears down in the subway tunnels.  And that’s where the Tunnel Monsters come from.  Some can hurt you, some can just scare you, but they all sit down there and wait.  And they can tell who is weak, and if you let your guard down, the Tunnel Monsters will catch you and steal your soul.  Then you won’t be afraid any more, because you won’t have nothing to be afraid with.”

Adria thought about the eyeless man, draped in his folds of cloth, and the bound, terrified child, and the horrible grotesque dwarf that had been about to spring at the train, and then she looked at Lissa, still smiling and chewing her gum, and Adria’s thoughts went into a dizzying spiral, I will not faint.  I will not faint.  I will not

She opened her eyes in the back room of the Starbuck’s, with a wet cloth on her forehead, and Jonah looking down at her with concern in his dark eyes.

“Damn, Adria, that was freaky.  I thought we were going to have to call 911.”

“I’m…”  She started to sit up, but he put pressure on her shoulders, and she slumped back into the chair again.

“Uh-uh.  No way.  I’m not catching you again.  You almost hit your head on the counter the first time.”  He gestured angrily toward the door into the main part of the shop.  “I told Lissa she should mind her own goddamn business from now on.  She’ll take your shift—you should just go home and rest.”

“But… I’d have to get back on the subway.”

“You could call a cab.”

“I can’t afford it,” she said weakly.

He knelt next to her.  “Look, I know this probably won’t help, but Lissa is full of shit.  There are no Tunnel Monsters.  You’re just having some weird dreams in light sleep.  It’s something scientists know about, and they’re scary, but they can’t hurt you.”

“Lissa said they could.”

Jonah rested one hand on her shoulder, and looked into her eyes.  “Adria, you know what is real.  It’s what’s around you.  These visions, whatever they are, are not real.  They are lies, created by some subconscious part of your mind.  They’re only able to scare you if you let them.”  He looked at her, his forehead creasing with worry.  “Do you believe me?”

She didn’t respond for a moment, but finally just nodded.

“Good.  Now go home, get some rest.  And if it happens again, just remember what I told you.  You know what reality is, and where it is.  You’ll be okay.”


In the end, she decided to take the subway home.

Jonah was right.  These were just weird nightmares.  They were frightening, but she didn't have to let them freak her out completely.  She shuddered.  And now, she was going to get home, crawl into her warm, safe bed, and sleep for the rest of the day.

Sleep…  The antihistamine was still coursing through her veins, and before she got to Lexington and 63rd she was already fighting to stay awake.  As the subway creaked its way around the eastward turn, her eyelids were sagging, however desperately she struggled to keep them open.  But she wouldn’t sleep… she wouldn’t…

This time, the pause was only momentary.  The train didn’t even come to a complete stop.  The openings into the service corridors crawled by slowly enough to see the damp walls, the yellow light bulbs that seemed to illuminate almost nothing.  And in one of the openings, there was a smoky, shadowy figure, so dark that it seemed to absorb every photon of light that struck it.  Adria looked toward it, horrorstruck, thinking, Oh, god, it’s happening again…  The thing seemed to register her presence at the same time as she did its.  It turned toward her, its face shifting and flowing like clouds in a windstorm.  Two eyes, black as pitch and visible only because their glossiness made them shine against the dull slate gray of the creature’s face, regarded her with curiosity.

A dream.  Only a dream.  They couldn't hurt her.  Not real.

And that’s when there was the sound of shattering glass, and the thing thrust both hands right through the subway window, grabbed Adria by the shoulders, and yanked her out of her seat and out into the dank, still space of the service corridor.

She tried to scream, but nothing came out but a strangled squeak.  She felt her shoes dragging against damp concrete, and smelled mold and a faint whiff of ozone, axle grease, and sewage.  Then she was unceremoniously dropped, and fell, arms splayed, to the cold cement surface beneath her.

Adria looked up, and saw the Cloud Man looking down at her, his face undulating and roiling, glittering black eyes staring at her with malign intensity.  But he wasn’t alone.  She was surrounded by a crowd of dark figures, moving and jostling each other to get a look at the prey that the Cloud Man had captured.  She saw the skeletal form of the Eyeless Man, and the twisted, asymmetrical face of the Dwarf, his mouth open in a grimace of soundless laughter.  The Bound Girl was standing in the corner, the gag still across her mouth—but her luminous eyes no longer seemed fearful, they were filled with a triumphant mirth at Adria’s capture.  Nearer, she saw other nightmare creatures.  There was a pale man, nearly as thin as a stick-figure, clothed in black.  It had no facial features, its head as smooth as an egg, incongruously topped by a silk top hat.  There was a dog with a man’s face, leering up at her, tail wagging.  When she looked at it, one eye closed in a salacious wink.  A white-faced woman nearby, dressed in a nightshirt, had the wild, savage expression of an actress in a mad scene—a Lucia di Lammermoor, an Elvira, an Ophelia.  Nearer was a tall, powerful figure, wearing nothing but a loincloth.  Its rippling, muscular torso was human, but it was crowned by the head of a cat.  The cat’s head looked at her, the ears turned in her direction, and the dark pupils in its golden eyes narrowed to slits.

“Look at what I caught,” the Cloud Man said, his voice hoarse and airy.

“We could eat her,” the Dog said, licking its human lips with a long, red tongue and smiling at her.

The Madwoman opened her eyes even wider, and she gave a wild peal of laughter.  “No!  Let’s keep her. We can keep her here forever!”

“You can’t,” Adria said, her voice high and tight with terror.  “You have to let me go!”

“Have to?” the Eyeless Man said, his long, thin fingers reaching toward her, and the dark folds of cloth that draped him rustling softly.  “We don’t have to do anything.”

“Nothing we don’t want to,” said the Madwoman.

“What are you going to do to me?” Adria said.  In her mind she could hear Jonah’s voice, solid and reassuring: These visions, whatever they are, are not real.  But the Dwarf came up to her, his warped face tilting as he looked at her.  He prodded her with one foot.  “Get up,” he said, in a rough voice.

Jonah was wrong, they were real…  Adria's heart gave a painful gallop.  That dwarf-thing touched her.  They were real.

She struggled to her knees, and then to her feet.

“You’re one of us, now,” the Cat Man said, in a rumbling bass that was a little like a growl.

“I’m not a monster,” Adria breathed.

There was a stir among the assembled figures.  “Monster?” the Dwarf said, his voice mocking. “Monsters, she said.  Well, maybe you’re a monster, too, girl.”  And the voices of the others, hundreds of others receding back into the darkness of the tunnel, echoed, Monsters monsters monsters monsters

“If she’s not now,” the Dog said, “she will be soon.”

“Please, let me go,” she said.  “Why are you doing this to me?”

The Dwarf glanced up at the Madwoman, and his asymmetrical mouth gaped open in a grin, revealing a few broken and jagged teeth.  “Why not?”

The Madwoman cackled laughter.

The Cat Man looked at Adria, and his long whiskers twitched.  “Perhaps we’d let you go if you could win against us in a game.  We like games.  There hasn’t been anyone down here to play in such a very long time.”

“Yes!” the Madwoman shrieked.  “A game!”

And the echoes started up, A game a game a game a game

The Dwarf reached out and touched her leg.  Adria whimpered and backed away, and brushed against the folds of the Eyeless Man’s clothing.  She recoiled, but then forced herself to stand still.  It wouldn't do her any good if she fell onto the tracks.  Maybe if she could just stall them, another train would come along, and someone would see her and rescue her.

And she said, “All right, I’ll play.”

The Cat Man smiled, revealing long, pointed canine teeth, and his ears swiveled toward her with interest.  “Very well.  We will ask you three questions.  If you answer them all correctly, we will let you go.”

“Okay,” Adria said.  “Go ahead.”

The Eyeless Man turned toward her, the dark, empty sockets seeming to look into her mind, and his long fingers caressed the air.  “It is the commonest thing the universe.  As long as it reigns, the bravest man cannot utter a sound.  And yet it can be destroyed by a gentle breeze.  What is it?”

Adria looked at the Eyeless Man.  It was a riddle game.  Just like in all of the myths and folk tales she used to read when she was young.  She forced her mind to become still, to stop the whirling chatter of fear that was swamping her, and as her thoughts fell silent, that very act gave her the answer.

“It’s silence.”

There was a murmur of surprise from the crowd of nightmares around her.

“Well, she has a brain!”  The Madwoman giggled.  “Let me have a chance.”  She pushed her way forward, and got very close to her.  One clawlike hand reached out and clutched Adria’s shoulder.  “Try your little mind at this one.  It is the substance that fills the space between one day and the next.  The poor have it, and the rich need it.  You can fill a glass with it, but cannot pour it out.  And if you eat it, you will die.”  She released her grip on Adria, and looked around, eyes shining in triumph.

Adria looked down, frantically thinking of all of the evil substances she had ever heard of, but none of them seemed to fit the other pieces of the riddle.  “What do the poor have?” Adria whispered out loud, and someone nearby—she thought it was the Dwarf—laughed at her, a cackling, harsh sound in that chill and cheerless place.  “And what is between one day and the next?” Adria suddenly looked up.  “Nothing!” she said, and her voice rang from the dripping walls.  “If you eat nothing, you will die!  The rich need nothing, the poor have nothing, and a glass can be filled with nothing, but you couldn’t pour it out!”

The Madwoman took a step back, and her grin turned to a snarl.  Her eyes glittered dangerously.  Then she stepped forward, her long-nailed fingers came up, as if she intended to slash at Adria’s face.

But the Cat Man pushed her aside with one powerful arm, and said, “No.”  He stood in front of Adria, towering over her, his furred ears almost brushing the ceiling of the tunnel.  He crossed his arms over his massive bare chest, and said, “Well enough.  But answer this one.  Where are your fears before you were afraid of them, and where do they go after you are no longer afraid?”

Adria looked up at his feline face, the golden eyes narrowing at they stared down at her.  She knew suddenly that here was the most dangerous one.  The others wanted to play with her, or keep her here.

The Cat Man wanted to destroy her.

But then she remembered Lissa, cracking gum in her mouth and smiling as she told Adria her uncle’s tales, and the answer rose up in front of her, like a blindingly bright beacon.  And down there, in the dark tunnel under the city, surrounded by monsters, she said, “Where are my fears before I was afraid, and where are they after I’m no longer afraid?"  She pointed at the figures who surrounded her.  “They’re here.  They’re right here.”

And the Cat Man’s lips pulled back, and his mouth opened, and he gave a deep, guttural hiss, but said nothing.

“And now, you have to let me go,” Adria said.  “I answered your three questions.  Now you have to let me go.”  But nothing happened, and none of the creatures moved.

“I told you,” the Eyeless Man said.  “We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do.”

“But that isn’t fair.”  Adria's voice trembled.  “You said you would.  You gave your word.”

“Maybe we lied,” the Madwoman said, her fierce grin returning.

“You can’t lie!” Adria shouted.  “That’s not how the game is played!”

The Cat Man said, his voice nearly a purr, “We made the game, we make the rules.  We lie if we choose to.”

And Adria had a realization as sudden as her knowledge of the answer to the Cat Man's riddle.

Lies.  It was all lies.  That’s what Jonah had said—not real.  He told her to just remember that they’re all lies, and that she knew what reality is.

So it was another riddle, then, wasn't it?

She looked up at the snarling figure of the Cat Man, caught his golden gaze and held it.  “Now, I have a riddle for you all.  See if you know the answer.  When everyone around you is lying, and nothing around you is real, where do you find the truth?”

None of them answered.  She looked from grotesque face to grotesque face, and they all regarded her with fear and hatred and impotent anger, but no one spoke.

“And I know the answer to that, too,” she said.  “The truth is right behind you, where it’s been all along.”  She turned her back on the Tunnel Monsters, and there, still moving slowly, was the subway train.  She saw, just for a moment, her own body sitting facing the window, her eyes wide open in a horrified stare.  Then, like a rock from a slingshot, she was flung toward the train.  She felt a momentary jolt, and heard the creatures behind her screeching their frustration in defeat.

Then she was once again facing forward, looking out of the dark, unbroken window of the F train, which gave a shudder as it picked up speed.  She took a deep, uneven breath, and looked around her.  No one in the train was looking at her.  Everyone was in exactly the same place as they had been the moment before the Cloud Man grabbed her.

She reached up, and touched her face.

This.  This was real.  Jonah was right.

Lies and dreams can only hurt you if you let them.

And her eyes closed, and she drifted off to sleep, and only woke up when the train stopped at Queensbridge Station, and the doors opened to let her out.


Some of the most enduring mysteries of linguistics (and archaeology) are written languages for which we have no dictionary -- no knowledge of the symbol-to-phoneme (or symbol-to-syllable, or symbol-to-concept) correspondences.

One of the most famous cases where that seemingly intractable problem was solved was the near-miraculous decipherment of the Linear B script of Crete by Alice Kober and Michael Ventris, but it bears keeping in mind that this wasn't the first time this kind of thing was accomplished.  In the early years of the nineteenth century, this was the situation with the Egyptian hieroglyphics -- until the code was cracked using the famous Rosetta Stone, by the dual efforts of Thomas Young of England and Jean-François Champollion of France.

This herculean, but ultimately successful, task is the subject of the fascinating book The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone, by Edward Dolnick.  Dolnick doesn't just focus on the linguistic details, but tells the engrossing story of the rivalry between Young and Champollion, ending with Champollion beating Young to the solution -- and then dying of a stroke at the age of 41.  It's a story not only of a puzzle, but of two powerful and passionate personalities.  If you're an aficionado of languages, history, or Egypt, you definitely need to put this one on your to-read list.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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