They were the first words to come out of my mouth that day. I knew it would draw attention to me. My heart beat faster. All I wanted was time. Time for us all to be safe. I began to fold my body into the filthy space beneath the bench.
That's when I noticed that nobody else was seeking cover. They were remaining perfectly still. What the heck is wrong with these people?
The train was silent, save for my own breathing.
The woman across from me was staring blankly at a newspaper. She looked as if she was about to sniffle again.
I looked impatiently up and down the aisle.
The kid with the gun was still. So was the shower of sparks above him. None of it was moving.
I gaped. I frowned. I turned around, "Hel-loo-oo?"
There were two women in black wind-breakers and matching headbands. First, I saw one of them breathe.
Then, she whispered under her breath, "Darn, he can see us."
"I can hear you, too." I was calmer now, but I could hear my heart pounding in my inner ear. "Why are they - err.. stopped?"
The other one spoke, "He's gonna be another Vinny at this rate."
"If he knows what's good for him, he'll ignore us."
I blinked, "Who are you talking about, and why is everything stopped?"
They didn't answer me. They just stood there, watching. I could read the glittered writing on their windbreakers: SENTINELS. They each had a number beside it. They were 03 and 04.
I looked back at the stoner. And I stood there, watching.
They began to whisper, but I could hear them. Perhaps I wouldn't have if space wasn't paused.
She observed, "He doesn't seem to know what to do."
Her partner spoke up, and I swear her sunglasses made eye contact with me, "Do what you do best."
Oh, they're talking about me. Great. I was confused enough by the whole ordeal. I walked over, and stood in front of the shooter. Sizing him up, I figured I could take him.
"Once you touch him," one of the mysterious women warned, "there's no going back."
I thought carefully. Setting my bag down on the bench, where I had been sitting, I moved towards my prey. My left hand rose, ready to grab his right wrist, which held the gun. I stopped, and looked over at the strange women. For a moment, they seemed to flicker with ghostly translucence.
The one without glasses was visibly rolling her eyes.
Her partner seethed at me, "Frickin' moron."
But I didn't care. I brought my right knee up and shoved it between the legs of the stoner's baggy jeans. In an instant, the women in black faded away, against the closed doors of the subway cart.
My left hand wasn't quick enough. As the subway car continued its movement, someone must have pulled the emergency break. I fell against my seat, sitting on my bag.
The kid clutched his jeans with a free hand, groaning in pain. However, his right hand held me at steady gunpoint.
His upper lip twitched upward in a grimace, and I saw a lively fire in his eyes. It burned through the shaggy veil of darkened brown. Hysteric rage was etched upon his young face, "Like he said, everybody get down or I'll shoot him."
I could hear people gasping, screaming and muttering all down the train.
He moved the gun to the side just a bit, no longer aiming it at me. He grinned, "I mean serious business."
I was baffled, in that instant.
Bang! He shot the glass window behind me. A woman screamed. The bullet must have passed less than an inch from my neck. And then he drew it back to aim at my head.
Once again, I wanted time. But now, I was concerned only with my own safety. I needed time for someone to negotiate with him before I got shot.
And, once again, all I heard was my own breathing.
The women in black reappeared. From the corner of my eye, I saw them fade into view. And after a moment, when I was sure that things were still, I turned my head to look at them. I was trembling with nervousness, and my head was a meter from the gun.
There was something jabbing my right butt cheek. But I tried to remain still.
They watched. This time, one of them had a cellphone out, and she had it aimed at us. The other one looked up from the cellphone her partner was holding, "Wow, this one can do it again, so soon."
"It was always a struggle with Vinny's powers. But this one's mistake almost cost him his life."
They had been whispering again. I stared them down, "Tell me what's going on."
"You tell us. We're not in control of the situation."
"A little more candour would help," I told them.
They didn't answer. And the one wearing shades kept recording with her phone. Frustrated, I reached down and pulled away whatever was poking me. It was the paint brush. I would have expected it to have broken. And I would have expected it to have been in my bag!
The blond-haired woman, the one without the sunglasses, let out a stiffled laugh. There was something eerie about it.
My mind repeated her advice, Do what you do best.
I held the paintbrush upon both hands, which lay open and flat.
What do I do best?
It was a rhetorical question. And, kicking teenage boys in the 'nads is certainly not what I do best.
I pulled my sketchbook out of my bag. Pulling a pencil out of the wire binding, I set to work on an outline. If they were right, things wouldn't resume until I touched him. The thing is, I didn't have any paint.
And as I drew, my mind rebelled against itself.
What am I doing?
The pencil darted about.
Plotting out a painting isn't going to save my life! I should move behind him and grab him by the wrists!
An outline of the scene before me, viewer held at gunpoint, was set before me. I put down the pencil.
Heck, I should shove him out that window before anybody gets shot!
One of the strange women, the African American one, sat down beside me. The shades over her eye sockets watched like an insect's. The cellphone in her arm was capturing all the progress of my work on video. And she remained silent. I'm not sure if she even drew breath.
Across from her, the other stood impatiently and looked at my subject. And then she looked down at my outline, while I checked my bag for paint. I was sure I didn't have any.
"He's smart not to include us in the scene," Sentinel 04 told her partner.
The dark one holding the phone answered, "You getting all this, boss?"
An electronic voice rasped from the phone, "You have done well. But in the future, remain silent. Oh-three, have you learned nothing from Vinny's fate?"
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just hard letting them rely on intuition time after time. It gets so many of them killed."
"He'll find the Paint. Just give him patience. It's not like any of us are going to run out of time."
By then, I had emptied all of my bag's contents onto the seat beside me. Nothing. Well, no, that's not true. It's just that it was all junk, and none of it was paint. Just a dried out can of white-out.
I looked over at Sentinel 04. With one hand, she tucked a mass of curly blond hair behind her right ear. Then she began to speak, "Try drawing it out of the Br-"
-- "Shush!" Interrupting, Agent 03 drew a dark finger over her partner's lips. "We are observers, not mentors. If he lacks the intuition, then he is not worthy of the Brush."
The synthetic voice from the phone spoke without intonation, "Must I ask you to cut off the feed and leave him alone. I'd rather not command the two of you to walk the subway tunnels. Seal your lips and give the man some space."