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Commuting

S.A. McKenzie is a New Zealand writer of offbeat and blackly humorous science fiction and fantasy stories featuring time-traveling rabbits, carnivorous unicorns and man-eating subway trains, because someone has to speak up for these misunderstood creatures. Find them online at hedgehog circus.com and on Twitter: @samckenzie2

The 8.05 am train still had the sticky residue of its last victim plastered across the floor of the front carriage as it pulled into the station, exactly on time. Lucy stepped forward as the doors slid open, but hesitated as she detected a whiff of fresh brimstone. Pressure from commuters crowding in behind her forced her inside the carriage.
She sidestepped a dubious-looking puddle near the door and found herself a window seat. The other passengers all gave the puddle a wide berth while at the same time pretending they hadn't noticed it.
Lucy watched a bloody smear on the window beside her shrink rapidly, briefly puffing out for a moment into the shape of a tiny screaming face before vanishing with an almost audible pop. There was a distant belch from somewhere up the front of the train. She shuddered, one hand stroking her pink angora scarf. Around her everyone else seemed to relax, letting out a collective breath and smiling sheepishly at each other.
A tall man sat down next to her and gave her a concerned look.
"That your first one, luv? You look a bit pale."
Lucy ducked her head, and looked away briefly.
"I'm okay," she said in a small voice. She took off her scarf and put it her and the wall.
The middle-aged woman in front of Lucy turned around and said, "Don't worry, dear. After they've taken one they'll not be hungry again for a week. That's what I heard."
"I hear they won't take you if your socks don't match," the Goth girl in the tartan skirt across the aisle said with a grin, swinging her feet to display one red and one green sock. "It's an aesthetic thing."
"Garlic," the pimply-faced student across from her mumbled. "You gotta chew garlic." The girl grinned at him.
"I heard they won't eat virgins, either," she said. He reddened and looked away.
A businessman down the aisle opened his newspaper and Lucy read the headlines over his shoulder:
Prime Minister Devoured by Demons.
Campaign Promises Breached.
"My mother always says it's polite to introduce yourself in a life-or-death situation," Lucy's seatmate said. He looked to be in his forties, well-dressed in a flashy sort of way. He stuck out his hand.
"Hugo Morgan."
Lucy shook his hand. "Lucy Channing."
"Funny old world, innit? Thought we were all going to drown or cook from global warming, no oil left to speak of, and then they discover demonic energy to run everything. Problem solved."
"Except for the energy tax," Lucy said. "One life for every 20,000 passengers."
"Scares you, yeah?"
Lucy bit her lip, and looked away. He leaned over and lowered his voice.
"There's some would say there's ways around that."
Lucy gazed up at him, wide-eyed.
"It'd be a terrible shame if they taxed a pretty girl like you. Maybe I can help you out. We could discuss it over a drink. Tonight, perhaps?"
"I'm not busy tonight," Lucy said.
"Brilliant," Hugo said, showing crooked teeth as he smiled down at her. He fished a card out of his pocket. "Just give me a call when you get off."
Lucy turned the card over in her hands.
"I don't see how it could work," she said. "How would you stop them from taking you?"
Hugh tapped the side of his nose meaningfully.
"Might be better to discuss that somewhere more private, luv," he said. "Let's just say that demons won't touch someone who has a deal with another demon."
"That does sound intriguing," Lucy said. She looked out the window as the train slowed.
"Oh! This is my stop!"
Hugo moved aside so she could get out of her seat. She stopped at the door and looked back.
"My scarf! Could you--?"
Smiling, Hugo stood up and leaned towards her, holding out the pink scarf. Lucy moved back, just out of reach.
"Bene detentus," she said. The scarf writhed out of Hugo's hands and snaked downward to wrap itself tightly around his legs.
"What the--?" he said, more startled than afraid.
Lucy silently held up a silver-plated badge emblazoned with a six-pointed star inside a circle so that everyone in the carriage could see it. They all began to move to the next carriage, pushing and shoving in their haste to be gone.
"Hugo Edward Morgan," Lucy said loudly. "You have been found guilty of multiple counts of demonic tax evasion, and of inciting acts of tax evasion by others. By the powers vested in me by the Municipal Demonic Transport Authority, I hereby sentence you to immediate penalty. Manduca!"
She stepped backwards off the carriage onto the platform. Hugo was trying to move his feet which appeared to have become stuck to the floor. No, not stuck. His feet were rapidly being absorbed by the floor of the carriage. He beat frantically at the closing doors.
The train jerked forward and then pulled out of the station smoothly. Lucy watched it depart, Hugo's screams quickly diminishing as the train sped into the tunnel. She checked her watch. Right on time, she thought.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 18th, 2022
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