An old man dozed at the back of the train. His eyes were hooded, his coat well made but twenty years out of style, his spindly fingers resting on his knees. A weathered knit cap hung there, swaying limply against his leg as the train rattled on. Maybe he’d worried it between those fingers once, on another ride as a younger man. Maybe he’d been nervous, excited, and terrified as all the rest of them. But the hat hung forgotten now, his gaze drifting unseeing past the other passengers as he nodded off again.
Most of the other people on the 9 a.m. southbound were managing to keep their eyes open, buzzed on coffee and pills and the glare of the half dozen news screens mounted around the car. The nearest blinked from a story about the London riots to the familiar chorus of Legend’s "Pinned on Me."
"The concert of the century, a reunion no one thought possible.…" Some of the passengers looked up at that, though the feeds had been about little else for weeks.
"Thirty years to the day since their final performance, Legend will stand before fans once again. Attendance is expected to break sixty-five thousand, with simulcasts broadcasting around the globe. News20 will, of course, be standing by at newly-constructed Catherine Verena Memorial Concert Hall to bring you up-to-the-minute updates on the rumored 3.2 billion dollar production."
Old concert footage gave way to the image of a reporter standing before a familiar building, the pale spire rising up and out of sight behind him. “As we know, three of the band’s four members tragically lost their lives and were mourned the world over, but this event will see the return of the original line-up in its entirety. In just three night’s time, the living and the dead will raise their voices together.” He smiled placidly at the camera. “I don’t know about you, my friends… but I’d say we’re truly living in an age of legends."
Across the aisle, Riley mouthed the words along with him and stifled a groan. They’d been running the same promo all week and she didn’t remember it being funny the first time either.
As she shifted her briefcase and adjusted her grip on the handrail, the screens went back to recounting stock prices. The old man was awake for the moment, but if he’d noticed her watching him, he gave no sign. Most of the people on the train were like her – dressed for work, headsets in their ears and comms in their palms, too busy to notice someone like him. But once you did notice them, you could never really stop.
They were always there, the ones they called the "living dead." The old man still drew breath, sure, still managed to make his way downtown, but the city had taken everything else. Maybe it had been a wife, a child. He’d been rich once; he’d have to have been. But maybe he couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Maybe he’d had to find an apartment in the outlying areas, ration whatever money he had left for a weekly visit and a pass for the morning train. He wasn’t the first to give up everything. She wondered how long it had been.
As the train sped beneath the Memorial 108, his chin sank to his chest once more. Everything was a memorial these days – named highways and commemorative ramps, a plaque on every corner. It was too much to remember them all and, in the case of overpasses and interchanges, people had simply gone back to calling them by their mile markers. It defeated the purpose, really, but the dead must have their due.
Overhead, the screens changed again, blaring snatches of another familiar song. Riley didn’t know the name of this one, but she was sure her mother would. The feed was new, live, a shaky shot of one of Keane International’s private runways. Crowds crowded and flashbulbs flashed as a man in a purple sport coat and oversized dark glasses was hurried to a waiting limousine. He reminded her of everything else in the city, fine but faded, a face that was familiar but somehow wrong. That stiff grin showed too many well-worn lines and the slick coif of dyed black hair made no attempt to match the silver of his goatee.
"…A warm reception for Legend bassist Kirk Sullivan, the band’s sole surviving member," the reporter was saying.
As if on cue, Sullivan leaned through the crowd toward the camera and gave a cheeky salute. The angle quickly pulled back, catching his thin-lipped grimace as his escorts closed in again and hurried him into the waiting car.
The man behind Riley gave a derisive snort. Sullivan had been in rehab or something when the accident had happened.
Shadows flickered across the car as the train sped beneath the final loops of the Memorial 104. The city was springing up around them now, but Riley wasn’t looking out the windows. She always put that off as long as possible. Some of the people in the car would be going other places, sure, but none of those office buildings or apartment blocks would be there if it wasn’t for the tower looming above the skyline, the hole in the world that had built an entire city around itself.
Instead, she watched the old man wipe the sleep from his eyes, coming awake by old instinct. She wondered about who he had lost and what he’d been like when they were still alive, what they had been like when they were happy. She even wondered about Kirk Sullivan and what he’d felt when he heard about the plane crash that had killed his bandmates and should have killed him, wondered what he was feeling now.
Because this was Bridge City, Terminus One, the place where it had all started. It was the wonder of the world – if you didn’t count the copies that had sprung up in New York and Tokyo, with London opening in the fall. Most people would say that Riley was lucky to be a part of it, even if she was just here to settle the affairs of those who had passed on. Hell, maybe the reporter had been right. This was a place where a man could spend the afternoon with his dead wife, where an aging rock star could relive his glory days with bandmates who were thirty years dead. This was Bridge City, home of the bridge to the afterlife.
As the train slid into the station and the doors hissed open, Riley shook her head. Trying to play the philosopher while living in the city was a quick way to lose your mind. It had happened to a co-worker. Besides, she had an appointment to keep. Mrs. Pembrooke had lectured her on punctuality while she was still alive. Riley suspected pointing out that the old woman now had all the time in the world would only piss her off.