Eric jumped half out of his seat and fumbled his audition listings onto the floor. A bemused looking Indian girl, or perhaps a young woman, watched him scramble to pick them up and compose himself. “Hi. I didn’t see you there.”
“I figured.” She closed a very thick textbook and set it by the backpack in the seat beside her. “I didn’t mean to pry, you just looked like a person who wished he’d stayed in bed today.”
Eric’s mind jumped back to his dream – if it was really a dream – of the night before. “No, not really to be honest. It just feels like Monday, you know.”
“Except it’s Thursday.”
“Monday is a state of mind.” Eric tucked the listings into one of his coat pockets and gave the woman a closer look.
And it was clear pretty quickly that he was talking to a woman. He’d only mistaken her for a girl because of her stature, or lack thereof. She couldn’t have been more than five foot two and had her hair pulled back in a conservative ponytail, which added to the impression of youth, but between the textbook, which was thicker than some volumes of an encyclopedia, and her smartly cut blouse Eric figured she was probably a college student of some kind. Her skin was the shade of polished cherry wood and she had the slight accent of someone who had immigrated from the Indian subcontinent, rather than been born in the States.
And thankfully she wasn’t accompanied by a looming, faceless shadow that no one else seemed to see.
She also had a warm, mischievous smile. “You must be quite hard on yourself, to think like it’s Monday even when it isn’t.”
Eric settled for a noncommittal shrug while he rallied his thoughts. Time for a quick subject change. Flexing his brilliant thespian improv skills he came up with, “What are you studying?”
“Neuropsychology,” she answered immediately.
“Does that mean you want to be a therapist or a surgeon?” Eric asked, wondering exactly how old she was but not foolish enough to ask.
Her smile stayed just as friendly but picked up a hint of longsuffering patience. People not understanding her field of study was probably a common thing. “A little of both, but closer to the latter with a fair bit of research thrown in, at least where I’m studying.”
“I didn’t know the U of C had a program like that.”
A moment of uncertainty, then she held out a hand and said, “Rachada Kalluri. And you’re Eric Han.”
“Wow. Does neuropsychology make you psychic?” Eric gave her hand a quick shake and a practiced winsome smile. To his surprise Rachada sat up quickly looking a little surprised. It felt like they’d gotten their cues mixed up somehow. Surprise should have been his thing. “Maybe we’ve met before, and I’ve just forgotten your name?”
“No magic trick to it,” she said, quickly relaxing again. “I saw your name on the mailing you dropped. What was it?”
Eric pulled the booklet out of his pocket again and looked at it. Then immediately felt stupid because it had been mailed to him, of course it had his name on it. He held it up for Rachada to see. “Audition listings.”
Now it was her turn to be surprised. “You’re an actor?”
Eric smiled ruefully. “Trying to be. Mostly, I tend bar. My parents would probably be happier if I was studying for a doctoral degree of some kind.”
She gave a quirk of the eyebrow and asked, “First generation immigrants?”
“On my dad’s side. He spent his whole life making things work here. Now he just…” He shrugged and trailed off.
“He wants to know that you’ll make it too.”
Eric nodded, suddenly uncomfortable. Rachada’s schooling must make her very good at relaxing people, the conversation had turned very personal very fast. He was saved from saying anything more when Rachada suddenly perked up like she heard something and dug around in her backpack. She eventually pulled out a pocket pager and looked at it for a moment before putting it away.
“Something important?” Eric asked.
“Probably not,” Rachada said, tucking her textbook back into the backpack. “Just the doctor advising my thesis. But I should probably get off and call at the next stop, just to be sure.”
“So what about you?”
She looked up from her backpack. “I’m sorry?”
“Did you always want to be a neuropsychologist?”
Rachada leaned back in her seat, pulling the backpack along into her lap. “I think I always wanted to be a therapist, even before I knew what that really was. But as I grew up I figured out sometimes therapy wasn’t enough to help people and one thing led to another. Before I knew it I was reading research journals and looking at grad schools.”
Eric idly wondered if there was anything you could do, therapy or otherwise, for people who saw specters on the subway. He suspected there was. He also suspected he might not like whatever that treatment was. Before he could try to think of an uncontrived way to ask Rachada if she had any thoughts on the subject the subway announced the next station coming up.
Rachada got up and gave Eric a parting smile. “Good luck with your auditions.”
“Thanks. Good luck with your thesis. I think you’ll need it more.” Eric watched her go, then took a deep breath and looked both ways in the car. No one seemed interested in coming over his way and there were only two stops left until he could get off. Apparently he was far enough from other people not to pick up weird voices from them although he could see the surreal faceless people clustered around the regular commuters towards the center of the car.
While they were still creepy none of them seemed to be paying any actual attention to him like the top hat man from his dream (vision?) that morning. Eric wondered if they would respond if he talked to them but quickly decided he didn’t want to find out. For that matter, he’d noticed that they tended to be paired, one ghostly faceless presence per actual physical person. There was one guy down at the far end of the car who looked like he had three of them clustered in quiet conversation just over his head, but that was the exception.
For a moment Eric wondered if there was one following him around. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a good way to check until he got off the train. He hadn’t thought he could get more uncomfortable but the thought of one of those things following him around somewhere he couldn’t see it did the trick. He did his best to shrink down into his seat and avoid attention until his stop came up.
As he made his way off the train Eric did his best to look all around him and even went out of his way to pass a bank of vending machines so he could use the reflection in the glass to see behind him without turning around. Nothing. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
Then again, he wasn’t sure what he would have done if there was a faceless hallucination following him around.
The train had made its way underground and Eric was dreading the trek back up to the surface. To his surprise he didn’t really hear any weird whispering from any of the people on the escalator and none of them seemed to be accompanied by the ghostlike visions he’d been seeing earlier. He got up to ground level and stepped out onto the sidewalk with a little trepidation but, to his surprise, the situation there was much the same.
He started towards the theater with a bit of a spring in his step. Maybe if he could make it to the theater and through his audition without any further problems he’d be in a better state of mind to worry about faceless ghost people. Eric decided to put that on the back burner for the moment and try and focus on his currently uninspiring acting career. It was halfway to being the right decision.
The faceless ghost people didn’t cause him any more trouble that morning. The two men with chloroform turned out to be a much bigger problem.