2192 is the year that New York City puts out a public warning regarding strange happenings. With the rise of industry bringing advancements in both science and understanding of the universe, labs inevitably make breakthroughs (and mistakes).

A facility in Queens rips an interdimensional portal into the earth so big that it claims an entire strip mall. There have been northbound trains inexplicably turned southbound on straight lines of track between stations. A pizza chain store in the heart of the Lower East Side with a back room opening to the shadowy underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. An entire neighborhood in Midtown experiencing a color that they have no name for.

Along Fifth Avenue, a man falls into an open sewer grate and tumbles out of a locker in the changing room of an NYC Fitness Club.

These anomalies have been increasing in frequency at an alarming rate. New Yorkers mumble nervously during their morning commute about what strange event will touch their lives next. What will they do if they discover their universe has so many holes torn through it that its entire being unravels altogether? What will happen to them if the city can’t get the state of things under control?

Do not be alarmed, the city placates in the statement it issues, plastered all over the news and the internet and deep green construction partitions lining the sidewalks. Times are changing. We understand the universe better every day.

Deep underground aboard a Brooklyn-bound F train, Freya tilts her head back against the dark window and allows her eyes to drift shut. It’s crowded even from where she sits, with an old woman pressed heavily against her side and a creature she can’t identify against her other. Her takeout bags are clamped between her ankles where they rest under her seat, but still crinkle against shoes shuffling to find a comfortable stance. The wheels squeal against the ancient tracks, and somewhere on the car a baby squeals in distress.

All she wants is a couple of minutes outside her own body, crammed how it is into this subway car. She’s been getting more and more attuned to this seemingly magnetic force that’s been pulling her mind away, to places scattered throughout the city she’s never even been to before. The Bronx Zoo, a beautiful pristine street high up in Harlem, a quaint little perfume shop somewhere that looks like Brooklyn. Places where she doesn’t have to face the constant unending grind of her everyday life.

She strains her body to the left to keep from leaning into the man next to her as the train halts at the next station. Freya’s eyelids squeeze shut a little tighter, willing her mind to spirit her somewhere else for now. Far beyond herself, beyond this car, beyond this train. She casts her imagination out like a net, desperately grasping and sinking for whatever it can catch.

And in her mind’s eye, she sees a vision clearer than she’s ever had.

A sky; an entire endless black night sky. Lit up with tiny glowing pinpricks of light not unlike stars, but swaying gently in the light wind like stationary constellations never could. She’s wrapped within it, not bound as a far-off specter from Earth’s surface. Like she could reach out her hand and brush her fingers against them. Like she could feel what it is to touch the stars. She feels herself more attuned to this magnetic force than ever before.

Freya feels it then. A tug.

Don’t, something tells her.

Every time she will come back to this memory, she will always wish that she had listened. That she had let the disembodied voice hold her back against her pale blue plastic bench seat. Instead, she allows herself be pulled away.

Upon eventually exiting the subway, Freya stumbles back home, wide eyed and feeling outside of her own body. She clutches her sweater to herself with trembling fingers as she takes the steps to her apartment building, slamming the knuckle of her middle finger into the buzzer to find out if Arthur has beaten her home.

Her teeth are clenched so tightly together her jaw aches.

All around her in the streets, the Lower East Side comes alive on another eventful Thursday night. Couples and groups and stragglers all make their way along the sidewalks, congregating in front of cheap pizza restaurants and trendy bars and apartment building entrances. Laughter and conversation surrounds her, but she hears none of it. The dull ringing in her ears drowning out everything else. Static gathers at the edges of her vision the longer she stares at the buttons lining the console in front of her.

The door pops loudly from its frame and she pries it the rest of the way open to take on the three-story walkup. When she makes it to 325, she practically falls in through the door.

“. . . And how was your day?” Arthur asks uneasily as he catches sight of her haunted look. He’s half-turned towards her from where he’s boiling pasta, a line creased between his brows as he studies her standing in the open doorway. Freya numbly makes her way into their shared apartment, letting the weighted door swing shut behind her. She makes no move to set down her things, or take off her sweater, or even move once her shoes hit carpet. Hesitantly, she lifts her shaking hands up in front of her face to regard them. She half-remembers something her mother had told her once— about being able to tell reality from a dream with just your hands.

“Am I really here right now?” she asks him in a quivering voice, and Arthur is clicking the stove off immediately, putting the pasta to the cold back burner and making his way over to her. He gently lifts her bag from across her body and pulls off her heavy sweater, hanging both neatly on the rack beside the door. And only then does she realize that she’s left her dinner beneath the bench seat on the train.

“I’ll put on some tea,” he tells her after a moment of debate, leading her by the hand to their tiny open kitchen. She feels herself sit down in one of their ancient wrought iron chairs and he is swiftly at the sink dumping the half-finished pasta down the garbage disposal with little thought. Their breakfast table wobbles and creaks as she lays her arms down on its surface. It is one of the things that had come with this apartment. Though Arthur thought the table better put to use inside instead of on the tiny balcony they’d found it on. Even if years of cold and rain have made it an irritable, rusty piece of furniture.

She stares blankly at the back of Arthur’s head as he fills the same pot with more water and cranks up the dial on the stove.

Her vision starts gathering static again until some number of minutes later a small cup of Earl Grey tea is being set delicately down in front of her. She looks at him with wide eyes as he gives her a reassuring look and sits across from her with his own steaming cup, already putting it to his lips.

“What is it that’s happened?” he finally asks her.

She takes a deep breath and stares into her own cup, watching as the tea leaves drift along the bottom.

When she travels for the first time, the very first thought that Freya has concerns the sensation, that she has simply fallen asleep where she sits. It feels like nodding off and catching herself dropping her head. The moments between dozing and sleep when she jumps awake at the sensation of falling.

Except when she catches herself this time, she is not in her seat on the subway car. She’s not on the F train barreling towards home at all.

Freya blinks with a gasp and finds herself standing in a subway station she’s never seen before. The air feels like it’s sucking her in deeper, her hair dancing around her face and standing up on her arms: a train suddenly screeches into the station in front of her. She would scream, she would jump back further onto the platform, but she is rooted into place, fear tightening its icy fingers around her limbs. Her ears are ringing so loud she can barely hear, and all around her people and other beings stream off the train bundled in coats and scarves and hats,  brushing past her frozen form as if she isn’t even there.

Is she?

The air is frigid, she realizes. Temperate October breezes replaced by creeping January frost. As the space around her clears and the train reawakens to roll onto its next stop, she frantically searches for something—anything —that will allow her to get her bearings. She had been in a car, not outside of one. This place is no stop that she has ever glimpsed out the windows on her train ride home. She has no idea how she could have gotten here.

Her eyes land on a mosaic. Hundreds of tiny blue tiles formed to frame ‘28th ST’ constructed out of white. A small yellow border fencing it all in before the standard subway tiles take over the walls. She racks her brain trying to remember which trains even stop at 28th street. The freezing air sinks its teeth into her arms and she crosses her arms tight over her chest, fingers curling around her biceps, sweater hardly even making a difference against the cold. This place isn’t anywhere along her route. She feels dizzy and disoriented. Like she’s stood up too fast or held her breath too long.

The heavy grounding weight of someone’s hand drops itself onto one of her shoulders, and Freya is so deep within her panic that it causes her to jump about three feet out of her skin.

“Sorry,” someone says behind her, and she whips around to find a man standing behind her with his hand now hovering over the place he had laid it. “You don’t look so well . . . are you alright?”

She stares at him with wide blank eyes, trying to school the panic off of her face. He’s still looking at her, expecting a response to the question she’s already half forgotten. What had he asked her?

“It’s just . . . you’re not wearing a coat or a purse or anything . .  and you’re standing pretty close to the tracks?” he says in a quieter voice.

She stumbles back, working her lips to form words that never escape her mouth. His eyebrows pinch together as her movement brings her closer to the edge of the platform.

“I-I’m not—” she tries, “No, I wouldn’t . . .”

She steps back again, and he stays where he is, eyeing her cautiously.

She feels the air sucking her in again, feels the slight rumble of the ground as another train comes down the tunnel. She’s getting onto it if it stops. It has to take her somewhere she’ll recognize, anywhere, and she desperately needs to go home and take a nap or something—

She shifts her weight back without even thinking, but it prompts him to stiffen, to reach out to try and grab her wrist with alarmed eyes.

“Hey, watch—”

It only makes her flinch away further, rushing to step backwards again only for her foot to be met with empty air. She pitches off the platform and into the path of the oncoming train, slamming her eyes shut and screaming as she feels the scorching warmth of its lights, the deafening rush of air threatening to suck her under.

She opens her eyes to an entire subway car full of humans and extraterrestrials alike staring at her curiously, screaming in her seat with her takeout bag still clamped between her ankles.

Milaci Ray’s short story “Vanishing Acts” won second prize in the Seventh Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. She is a graduating senior in the Design Department at the School of Visual Arts. Milaci’s short story “Service to Theta 7” was published in the Fall 2018 issue of The Match Factory. Although she is moving away from the city after college, she’ll sincerely miss the food and the killer public transit system, because she’s constantly hungry and can’t drive.