By Łukasz Orbitowski
They’re coming for me. Metal logs with empty bellies. Rows of lights just like the eyes of wild beasts.
I shouldn’t have tampered with that. And yet I have not done anything wrong, have I? I was a peeping Tom, a pornographer of the city. And now they do know about me.
This is how it all started: no job, no girlfriend, neither parents nor buddies, only a row of monitors, three computers, radios, listening watch. I had everything, down in my basement. I tapped the city security and police surveillance cameras. I became the eye and the conscience of the city.
Sometimes I had spent thirty or forty hours and eventually dozed off at my desk. The first thing I saw after waking up was two jars. One with coffee and the other one full of cigarette butts.
I knew everything about you, bastards.
Who slept with whom. Who was unfaithful, who loyal, who jerked off and where, where the youth drank and sold drugs, where people did their laundry, where foreigners had fun. I knew about murders and car collisions. And I kept it to myself.
I could’ve put people behind bars, blackmailed them, turned beggars into millionaires and vice versa, but I did not. And then I started to see them. Trams.
I had a satellite view of the whole city. I could see the network of roads, housetops and human plankton. Trams ran on rails which, from my point of view, looked as thin as a hair. There were about a hundred of them. They would roll on, then stop and tens of dots would get on or off.
And one day the trams just stopped. Each and every single one of them. For about 10 seconds. I thought there was a power cut, but they soon moved on.
Since then they began to stop regularly, all of them at the same time, and in the most bizarre places. In the middle of empty streets, bridges or fields. It was frighteningly amazing. They would freeze synchronically and I could swear I saw them shiver.
It was beyond me to grasp why they all stopped at exactly the same time. A rupture, a short circuit maybe? Tram drivers making fun, perhaps? I checked it and the power was fine. And then people started to vanish.
A tram seen from a satellite is the size of a long Matchbox toy car, while a man is just a dot. I was on duty in the evening, tracking down the last number 8 tram that night. It was empty and highballing, speeding between blocks of flats and barely coming to a halt at tram stops. Finally, a guy got on. The tram arrived at the depot, but the guy never got off. I was staring for a while completely stupefied, thinking that I might have missed something. Maybe I dropped off for a second and that was enough for him to leave?
My inventory included calculators and a huge notepad then. I began to count how many would get on and off. I recorded everything to double-check it later. Fours, eights, threes and twenty twos. I got almost no sleep. I tried to convince myself it was my weariness that made me so confused, and that, what I saw, was not true.
But when I did fall asleep, I dreamt about trams.
Every day people died silently.
Twenty four would get on and one fewer would get off.
There were weeks when ten of them would disappear and sometimes no one vanished.
I had been looking closely for three months. I made a map of disappearances, and the diagrams which showed the number was increasing. I ran wherever I could to warn everybody. Television, the police, newspapers.
I am lucky they did not put me into a straight jacket. I could have succeeded in convincing someone if I could have told them how I came to know all that.
I went back to my place, sat in front of those frightening monitors and stared at the dots that were just about to step on trams and never get off again. Mothers and children. Drunkards. Hurrying commuters. Or just anyone from the crowd. There would be a few dozens of them packed inside like sardines and one or two would be missing at their destination point. Silence was the worst. The only sound was the computer humming and yet my head wanted to explode with the screams of the dying.
And then they got me.
I was coming back from an all-night shop. It was four o’clock and I had to go cross the roundabout. They suddenly popped out of nowhere, from all directions. How they got there I had no idea. They should have been in their bunker depots.
I tried to run away, but they cornered me. They were so unreal, metal, dead and yet alive beyond imagination. Their headlights followed me everywhere and their massive bodies blocked my every move. And then all the doors opened at the same time.
I took a deep breath and got on.
Now I am going through the dark city and listening to the overwhelming whirr of the machinery. There is no driver and I am dashing alone down the line. I can see electric veins running in the roof and feel a metal heart throbbing somewhere underneath.
Very slowly my arm merges with the seat which my back has already grown into. My mouth tastes of steel and my thoughts are gradually fading away, becoming a clickety-clack. My eyes are twinkling and I can still turn my head only to see my reflection in the window. I am shrinking from the inside. The last thought I have is about what will be left of me once the machine’s finally devoured me.
No sorrow. Nothing.
Just a quick thought that someday someone may take a look at the night tram’s window pane and see a fuzzy, blurred shape that once used to be my face.