The Misser

The Misser

Chad sat at the bench in the 72nd Street station with a box he’d gotten delivered to work. Supposedly it had the new MopBot wipes he was waiting for all week. It was a light package, but he’d been holding it since 42nd, so he was relieved to keep it on his lap.

A 2 train came along. Chad saw how all the people were stuffed inside, so he waited for the 3, which would soon dump its contents and crowd the platform further. When the 2’s patrons partially pushed out, the cars filled with even more. As the doors closed again, a fellow with an orange shirt and corduroy pants ran to try and slip in. Chad watched with a little grin. He called these poor, time-unlucky folks the Missers, and though he always hoped they’d make their train, the light schadenfreude of the moment was a treat.

When the Misser realized he couldn’t make the train, he looked up, shook his head, and started laughing. Chad thought the man had a Bluetooth headset, but when the Misser turned around and made eye contact with Chad, it was clear there was no headset at all. The Misser had a pencil-thin mustache and a beakish nose. He gave Chad a gentle smile as if he knew him.

The Misser walked over, pausing to listen again, his attention diverted. Chad thought about moving, but this was New York: you hold your ground to the strange fellows that invade your private space.

“Know the time?” the Misser asked.

“Not sure,” Chad said. His hands were full. He wasn’t going to reach for his phone with the box in his hand. And when he looked at the Misser’s wrist, there was a watch.

Chad knew the question about time was a transition into another conversation.

“I—hah,” the Misser said. While Chad waited for the other words, the overhead speakers blared out subway construction plans for the early AM. What he heard was a low mumble, kind of a fuzzy hum that posed as a composition of words.

Some words came through. One phrase was “the voice.” Another was “this conversation.” All the while the Misser beamed like a little boy explaining a revelation to an elder.

“I’m glad this happened,” the Misser said uninterrupted by the speakers or the trains. “I wanted to catch that 2 train, but I was told I had to miss it.

“The voice told me about this conversation before it happened.”

Chad nodded, gripping his box.

“Uh-huh,” Chad said.

“You understand,” the Misser said. But Chad didn’t. The Misser gave him a warm gaze as he continued on in slow, ghostly versions of words. Pity struck Chad. This man could be sick. He might not know where he is. Then why did he need to take the 2? Where was he going?

“I need to open that box,” the Misser said.

“What?”

“Oh,” the Misser said. The gaze fell into a stare. The Misser’s eyes hardened. “Oh, that’s not what the voice—” and the Misser continued the speakers gave another loud update. Chad realized he was crushed the corners of the box with his grip. The Misser didn’t know what was inside. He couldn’t. It was a box of mop wipes.

After the speakers stopped playing, Chad heard the Misser start:

“I see what happened.

“I came on the wrong day, right?”

Without meaning to, Chad blurted out: “Right.”

“Hah—so glad,” the Misser said. “I’m so grateful about this—conversation.

“So I will—see you tomorrow. For the box.”

“Right,” Chad said again.

“Or else the voice will kill me,” the Misser said, laughing as if reminiscing on an old joke. “So grateful to talk to you.”

The 3 finally came. It’d only been five minutes. Chad stood up. The Misser stopped him.

“6pm with the box, my friend,” the Misser said. “Or else the voice will kill me.”

*

“It was so weird,” Chad told Marlene over the phone. The MopBot sat in the corner, waiting for a command.

“So, you’re gonna open the box and kill the guy, right?”

“What?”

“That’s the plan, right?”

Chad laughed, but didn’t say anything back.

“Dude,” Marlene started. Her voice became grim. “You’re going tomorrow?”

“I don’t know,” Chad said. He looked at the box in the corner of the room. He knew what was inside—or supposed to be inside. The Misser couldn’t know. He was depressed, or sick, or lost. The voice didn’t control him—he controlled himself. Nothing more to it.

“I don’t think you should,” Marlene said. “He might hurt you.”

“I don’t think it’s my call to make,” Chad blurted out. He didn’t know why he said it. He looked at the MopBot.

“Okay, dude, lost me there,” Marlene said, sighing. “Just maybe keep an open mind before you start joining box cults?”

Chad smiled. “Sure, Mar. I’m just being stupid.”

“You are!” Marlene laughed. “Dumbass. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Love you.”

Chad hung up. He never stopped looking at the MopBot. Then he turned to the box.

*

It was 5:55pm, and Chad, again, carried his box down the stairs into the 72nd Street station. He’d taken it to work and kept it in his large drawer so he wouldn’t have to look at it.

He looked around the station. There were plenty of busy commuters going up and down the platform, either leaving work or heaving large bags of groceries. The subway station was always dreary, but Chad now looked about the dungeonesque tunnel, searching for the Misser himself.

As he neared the bench, Chad saw not the Misser, but someone else, waiting with a box in her lap.

She turned to Chad, and her face contorted at the sight of Chad’s box.

“You too?” she asked.

Before Chad could answer, he turned around to a man with a small box, very much like his own. This man, too, seemed at pause with the turn of events at the station. And in a panorama across the platform were some two dozen others—some sitting, some standing, all with boxes.

Chad smiled with a long breath in and a long breath out. This was New York, after all. “This must be a prank,” Chad said.

“There he is,” the woman with the tall box said.

Coming down the stairs amidst the foot traffic, focused only on those who carried boxes, was the beaked-nosed man with the pencil mustache, leaning into the railing with a visible ache and twisted eyes.

“He said he’d die, right?” the man with the small box said to Chad.

Chad’s smile soured. “It has to be a prank.”

The Misser persisted to the center of the group he’d amassed. All heads turned as he anchored his feet at the apex of what now was a great circle. Those who weren’t standing did.

“So—grateful for you,” the Misser said. Then, on either side of the station, a train pulled in with loud, mechanical screeches.

Yet when the Misser talked, Chad could hear him. He heard him well.

“You understand,” he told the flock of box-holders. “You understand that I cannot, after all, open the boxes.”

Chad’s cheeks were warm. As commuters passed through the circle to get to the other side, the box-holders nodded.

“The voice has told me something. But,” the Misser said, “it would like to tell you itself.”

And the Misser’s eyes widened. He grabbed his hair and screamed, and collapsed on the station ground. His neck cracked, and it seemed he was gone.

Perhaps he was, because Chad heard a new voice, as if it were whispering straight into his ear:

“It’s time to open your box.”

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