Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

DC Below Just another quiet ride on the Red Line:

"Are you from DC Below?" he asked me.

"What?" I said. I had been fairly engrossed in a book; the sudden appearance of this unshaven, rather decrepit, gentleman was unnerving.

"You can see me, right?" he wanted to know.

"Uh, yeah, sure," I said. I could see his tattered overcoat, torn jeans, and taxed tennis shoes. I had a little trouble making out the features on his face, but I could certainly smell the man.

"So, do the others not see me because you're crazy," he asked, "or do you see me because you're from DC Below?"

"Dude," I said. "I don't know what you're talking about --"

"Sure you do," he replied. "You've read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. You know there's another world beneath the streets, with magical fear burbling through the tunnels. A place of adventure..." By now, he had sat down beside me. The other passengers' eyes carefully slid above, below and around him. I had a slight itch of fear for my sanity, but, after all, the man was wearing a coat in September. He must be mad; not me.

"Neverwhere is a fantasy novel, dude," I said. I always overdo the 'dude' when I'm nervous. "It is not a Report on the Findings of some Senate Subcommittee."

"If I were from DC Above, could I do this?" He stood quickly and turned to face the passengers behind us. He put his thumbs in his ears, stuck out his tongue and blew a Bronx Cheer: "PPPPPBBBBBT!"

None of the passengers reacted. Nobody's gaze strayed from the distant horizon-neutral. He sat down again and crossed his arms with a little bounce. He smiled as if to say, "See?"

"Look," I said. "You'll have to do much better than that. This is Washington, DC. This place is well-trained to ignore the downtrodden and unrespectable. We all have special powers of disobservation when it comes to your kind, don't you see?"

I swear, he faded a little bit. Not just his attitude, I mean, he actually faded. If I squinted, I could see through him the suitcases of the young student across the aisle. I should have had more compassion, but I couldn't stop myself.

"DC is no London, anyway," I continued. "We've even sanitized the train-going experience. Have you ever seen anything more anti-septic than these stations? There's no room for you or your destabilizing romance. We don't have the heart to see magic in our poor and downtrodden, only failure."

I took a breath to start on a tangent about DC's lack of enough sense of place to have a secondary fantasy underworld to shadow it, but he had already disappeared with a soft "pop!" leaving behind a feather with a purple thread wrapped through it. I thought I heard a faint echo, "Failure. But whose?"

Then I returned to my protective bubble and worked on ignoring the fifty people in the train who were so carefully ignoring me. No adventures for me today, thank you very much.