—and as he stepped off the train, a sudden wave of unreality engulfed him. He looked around to see if there was some external cause for this sensation. Perhaps it was due to the snow, those misshapen globs of matter that were not so much falling to the ground as floating in every which direction, heedless to the immutable law of gravity. As a matter of fact, snow always disturbed him. He had never encountered it as a child, at an age when one’s mind is capable of normalizing almost anything, and now as an adult, it remained something foreign, unknowable.
The snow couldn’t fully account for his present state of mind, however. He felt as if he were…an actor. Yes, an actor tasked with playing some defined role at this exact moment. But what was the role? After all, Shakespeare’s famous aphorism was nothing to get bothered over, but this stage didn’t feel at all metaphorical: somewhere around him there was a carefully constructed plot arc taking place, complete with protagonists, antagonists, script and marketable genre. And although he didn’t think he was one of the principal characters, perhaps his role was meant to provide some allegorical significance. The slightest gesture on his part—a momentary grimace, the doffing off his hat—could be loaded with symbolic meaning. He felt the weight of this responsibility, and without knowing what sort of effect he was meant to convey to the audience, anxiety froze his body in place, preventing him even from wiping away the fat flakes of snow flying at his face. This inaction was also, undoubtedly, significant.
He knew, of course, that all of this was merely an absurd flight of fancy, but he couldn’t put it out of his mind. Scanning the desolate train station, he tried to analyze the other people nearby in an attempt to determine who was the focus of this scene: a group of teens were crowded by the escalator leading down to the street level, evidently in the midst of an animated debate about whether or not ginger beer was alcoholic. Maybe this was a coming-of-age story, and he was supposed to be some indistinct, stodgy adult in the background. That was easy, if a little demeaning. On the opposite edge of the platform stood a woman in four-inch stilettos, mink fur coat, and a cigarette in her mouth, gazing wistfully out into the distance. At least he assumed that she was wistful, because he didn’t have a good look at her face. She seemed to belong in a tragic romance, or possibly a noir mystery. A romantic neo-noir. Should he go up to ask her something? What on earth would he ask?
He shook his head, dismissing the ridiculous notion, along with his whole train of thought about actors and stages and roles. Really, he chided himself, you shouldn’t get so carried away with this sort of nonsense. He made his way towards the exit, passing by the pack of teens who were now considering the hypothesis that ginger beer did have some alcohol, but not enough for it to legally be considered an alcoholic beverage.
Halfway down the escalator, he frowned, realizing suddenly that he couldn’t recall where he was headed. Nor, for that matter, where he had come from. Unreality descended upon him from the sky once again, pressing down on him, pulling him upwards, pushing him from side to side. He stumbled forward, missing the next step of the escalator, and he would have tumbled to the bottom if he hadn’t seized the railing just in time. Was it possible…? No, it couldn’t be. His mind raced, trying to outrun the terrible epiphany that was closing in on him. How old was he? Where exactly had he lived as a child? Oh god, what was his name? They didn’t even give him a—
With his role now concluded, he promptly ceased to exist.
Dylan Ogden is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, focusing on late 20th-century French and Russian literature. As an undergraduate at Kenyon College, he worked as an associate for the Kenyon Review.