by John Bruni
“That’s my seat.”
Chuck looked up from his newspaper. A skinny, balding guy with glasses and a sweaty forehead stood over him, looking intently down. He trembled, and judging from the steel in his eyes, it was from rage, not fear.
“First come, first served.” Chuck went back to the sports page.
“I sit here every day,” the stranger said. “There are plenty of empty seats.”
“So take one of ’em.” Chuck didn’t bother to look away from his reading.
“I need you to take one of them so I can have my seat.”
Chuck glanced over the man. A shabby suit covered most of him, but it revealed enough. Just a pencil-neck geek. Chuck, on the other hand, worked construction. At six-two and two hundred and ten pounds of pure muscle, there was no doubt that he could beat the living daylights out of this guy.
“Let’s get something straight,” Chuck said. “I only have to give up this seat if a handicapped person asks for it.” He pointed to the sign near the front of the train car that stated what he’d just said. “The real question here is, how bad do you want this seat?”
The stranger snarled. “Are you threatening to render me handicapable?”
“That’s up to you, pard. I’m not looking to fight, but if you’re that riled up, I ain’t gonna back down.”
“That’s it! Stand up!” The man raised both fists like a boxer ready for action.
Chuck looked him over again. Was this guy serious? Anyone with half a brain—or even less—could tell that Chuck could wipe the walls with him. Maybe a little intimidation would end this without violence. He folded his paper and stood to his full height, pushing out his chest.
The stranger was not fazed. “Shall we take this outside?”
Hell, this guy was crazy. Chuck didn’t like being pushed around, but was it worth cracking this guy’s skull and maybe doing time again?
Nah. He didn’t need to do serious damage. Maybe one punch would be enough to convince this guy that he was out of his depth.
Chuck slapped the paper down on his seat. “After you.”
He followed the stranger down the steps and onto the platform. Pedestrian traffic was light, so they easily found an open space. The man took up his fighting stance again, ready for battle.
“You might want to take your glasses off,” Chuck said.
“Right. Thank you.” The man took them off and placed them safely to the side.
Chuck shrugged out of his denim jacket and dropped it behind him. He watched as the stranger took out a hearing aid from each ear. Odd. He hadn’t noticed those. Good call, though. Then it occurred to him: he’d never seen someone do that before a fight. It struck him as funny. Maybe absurdity could end this before it began.
Chuck started by taking off his shirt. The stranger surprised him by taking off his suit coat, yanking his tie away and removing his own shirt.
Chuck grinned, kicking his boots off. The stranger glared at him and stooped to untie his loafers and set them aside.
Their socks came next. Chuck unbuckled his belt and shoved his pants down. The stranger did the same. Chuck wondered if he would balk at the next step. Chuck had nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe the stranger wouldn’t go so far.
Chuck pulled his boxers down and kicked them away. Now he wore nothing except the exceptional amount of body hair that his genetics had cursed him with.
The stranger didn’t hesitate. He whipped his briefs down and stepped out of them. “Now can we fight?” Holding his fists up.
Jesus Christ! This guy just did not know when to quit. He was barely aware of the other commuters, some stopping to watch, others slowing to get a picture. Most ignored them, rushing to get to their homes.
Chuck was no longer amused by this situation. He felt anger flush his face and neck. The sudden urge to beat this man within an inch of his life nearly overwhelmed him. But no. He couldn’t do a thing like that. No one would see things from his perspective.
“You know what? No, I’m not ready to fight yet.” Chuck forced pressure to build up in his head until his eyes popped out. He caught them and gently placed them among his clothes. “Don’t want those to get damaged.”
He couldn’t see it, but he heard the popping sounds of the stranger removing his own eyes.
“Certainly don’t want this bruised.” Chuck plucked off his genitals, carefully placing them by his eyes.
Another pop from the stranger. Wow, that guy wasn’t afraid of a single thing in the universe.
When Chuck took his ears off, so did the stranger. When he took his legs off one by one, so did the stranger. When he popped his head off, so did the stranger. Finally, he put each hand into his armpits, and at the same time, he disconnected his arms.
So did the stranger.
They floated on the platform, two invisible spirits glaring at each other. Though no one could see it, each felt like their fists were clenched.
“You still wanna fight, pard?”
“It’s my seat.”
Chuck sighed. “Don’t you feel kinda silly? We took off our bodies, and you still wanna dance? Are you nuts?”
“No. I am a man of regular habits. I can’t allow you to disrupt my world.”
“Hell, man. It’s yours. You’re willing to take your body off like that, I guess you earned the seat.”
“Thank you.” No smugness or bad-winner tone.
Just as they started willing their bodies together again, the stranger glanced up and saw someone at the window of the train. Someone in his seat.
“That’s my seat!” he yelled.
Chuck saw the stranger only had his chest and arms on. He ran for the train like a giant, mutated spider. Just before he made it, the door closed. The stranger watched helplessly as the locomotive crawled out of the station.
Chuck got dressed and picked up the stranger’s head. He put it back together and brought it to the chest and arms. He plopped it down on the neck and then patted the man’s shoulders.
“Sorry about that, pard. I’m sure you’ll get that spot on the next train.”
“Yeah, but it won’t be on that train.” Pointing.
“Some things you just can’t control.”
The stranger sighed. “I know. It’s just that I control very few things, and I hold onto those with all my might.”
Chuck helped the stranger get together. “Say, you have a name?”
“I’m Chuck. Whaddya say we get a drink while waiting for the next train?”
Len nodded. “Sure. Why not?”
“That’s the spirit, pard.”
John Bruni has been known to gnaw the throats out of people who steal his seat on the train, and when he’s not pimping his new book, AND JESUS CAME BACK, he is busy collecting hair samples for science. Yeah, science.
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