The Redmond men were hiking. The two men — Charles Redmond, the contractor, and his college boy, Carl Redmond, were hiking for the day, some forty miles outside the city. It was an hour’s drive in the Redmond Construction Company pickup. They weren’t walking a known trail–or any kind of trail for that matter, but rather an unexplored area. The father had struck out first and his son followed. And as they made their way deeper into the woods, they told sordid tales and urban legends.
“Three people are found dead in a cabin in the woods,” Mr. Redmond began, revealing to his son all but the “how” of a grim story. Carl Redmond understood that his father was inviting him to deduce the rest of the story by asking questions his father would answer in a basic yes or no fashion.
“Three dead,” Carl echoed.
“In a cabin,” Mr. Redmond repeated.
“In the woods,” finished Carl. The Redmond men went on. “Are the three related?” Carl would play along. He always did.
“They have something in common,” Mr. Redmond said, giving away nothing so early in the game: “They are all dead.”
“In a cabin,” said Carl.
“In the woods.”
Carl could tell that his father was proud of this puzzle. He knew that his dad learned these stories on the job, from the guys who dug up the earth and drove the piles, and poured the cement and built most of the buildings. They often heard them from their own kids in college. “Let me think.”
“Don’t just think,” Mr. Redmond urged. “Ask questions.” It isn’t fun for the one in the know if the other solves the puzzle in his head.
“Okay,” Carl acquiesced. “Was it murder?”
“No. They didn’t kill each other? Did they kill themselves?”
“Not homicide, not suicide. Bear attack?” Carl asked. They were found dead in the woods.
“No bear,” Mr. Redmond answered.
“Yes? An accident.”
“Did they die in the cabin? Or were they brought to the cabin later?”
“Died in the cabin.”
“Is there anyone else in the cabin with them?”
“Not… not important.”
“Fine…. Is there any… I don’t know, are there any burnt matches in the cabin?”
“Burnt matches? No.”
“Don’t make fun. Any weapons?”
“Stop,“ Mr. Redmond whispered. Carl fell in behind his father and stood still.
“What?” Carl asked.
“Snake.” Mr. Redmond pointed at the ground. Sure enough, in the leaves sat a snake. It wasn’t a big snake, and it didn’t have a rattle or a mouth full of fangs and venom, but the Redmond men were hikers, not herpetologists.
They weren’t taking chances with any snake.
“Should we throw something at it?” Charles Redmond asked.
“Let’s just walk around it,” Carl said. “Or we could wait, take a break, keep an eye on it, pick up again when it goes.”
“And if it takes too long, throw something at it.”
As if bored by what was passing for conversation between the humans, the snake slithered away, into the underbrush that was the woods’ floor. The Redmond men resumed their hike.
“Broken glass?” Carl asked again.
“Everywhere,” Mr. Redmond answered.
“So the cabin itself is not intact,” Carl inferred. “Did something hit the cabin?”
“Not exactly,” Mr. Redmond said. Sometimes the one in the know has to be sporting.
“Not exactly? Did the cabin hit something?” Carl asked, but didn’t expect much.
Mr. Redmond said, “Yes.”
“Yes? The cabin hit something? It’s a cabin on wheels…?”
“Snake!” Mr. Redmond reported a second snake, and both men tensed again… but this snake was already slinking backward into a hole in the ground. Carl looked back as the two men moved forward; he saw the snake poke its head out, clearly more interested in them than the previous snake was. Carl had read about the rumored hypnotic gaze of some snakes, but the younger man forced himself to look away, even as it watched him and his father go on.
They walked for another half hour before they came upon anything out of the ordinary. They climbed small rises, trudged through patches of mud, slipped on wet grass, suffered through thorns and brambles, and felt the sharper rocks through the soles of their boots. They paused periodically to retie their mud-soaked laces.
Then they halted altogether on an overlook. Carl got there first, surveyed the land before him, and tried to blink away what he was seeing. He tried to cry out, felt dizzy, became unsteady, and fell to his knees. His father rushed up next to him. Mr. Redmond looked down, too.
“Is that — — ?”
“It can’t… can’t be.”
After a long minute, the two scrambled down the hillside to the fuselage in the midst of the woods, evidently lost until Charles and Carl Redmond found it. A long, large, silver cylinder on the forest floor, partially covered in dirt. Were the Redmond men really the ones to discover it? Neither remembered hearing about any crash in the area.
They stood by it and couldn’t help but marvel at it, at first. Its sheer size was daunting. The fact that they were standing next to the largest part of an airplane, which had fallen into the woods was inconceivable. And yet it was just the fuselage at which the Redmond men were looking. There were no wings. No tail, either. They surmised that anything attached to the body would have been sheared off as the craft had come down. So the Redmond men were standing by a hulking chrome tube in the forest, its belly in the dirt, its nose buried in the ground, as if in shame. Carl didn’t know why, but he was reminded of the snakes, rather than creatures of the sky.
Meanwhile, Mr. Redmond was looking for a way into the fuselage. The windows were caked over with mud. They couldn’t see in, or see a name or number on the port side of the hull. Neither man could identify the make of the plane. They could see it was boxy, though. It had harder lines than most planes have. Carl left his father, walked around the upended back to the craft’s starboard side. Carl Redmond made out some unevenly spaced letters on the fuselage:
R O U G H A I R
Carl shook off a chill. He went back around to rejoin his father.
“How do we get inside?” his father asked. “Throw a rock at it?”
“You mean break a window, crawl in? Should we even be doing that? Shouldn’t we just call for help? We should.”
“You’re right. It looks like this thing’s intact, and if it is, and if no one’s been inside since it came down, we probably shouldn’t disturb that. It’s a crime scene, I imagine.”
“Dad,” Carl wondered aloud, “how could this thing be intact? How come none of the windows are broken?”
“I don’t know. But look at her. She’s in one piece. Of course, except for the pieces that she lost coming down. Solid American construction.”
Carl thought about that. “Dad, I’m not sure she is missing anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, look at where the wings would go. No scar, no … tear mark. No seam. And no broken glass? Impossible, Dad.” And that’s when Carl figured out the first puzzle of the day. “The ‘cabin’ in the woods … it’s an airplane cabin. The three people: pilot, co-pilot, and navigator.”
Mr. Redmond had expected his son to get it, though shocked there had been a visual aid of this magnitude. “That’s it,” he said. “An airplane, crashed in the woods. Just like this one.”
“I’m just not sure.”
“What else could this be?” Mr. Redmond asked. “ICBM? Something Communist? Don’t tell me you think it’s a spaceship.”
“No, Dad. I don’t think it’s a spaceship. It’s from Earth. It’s from someplace where the people speak English, too. But …” At this moment, Carl couldn’t stop thinking about that second snake. Carl stared at the fuselage and saw it. He said, “Dad, this isn’t a plane.”
“Dad,” Carl said. “Come with me.” Carl led his father around the raised end of the cylinder, the part Mr. Redmond was convinced was the tail end of an aircraft. The tail end with no tail, and no stabilizers. In fact, the tail end didn’t even taper: it was as wide as any part of the fuselage. “This isn’t the back, Dad. This is the front. The rear end is in the ground.”
“It crashed ass first?”
Carl Redmond pointed out to his father the lettering on the side of the thing. “Do you recognize those letters, Dad? You should. I do now.”
“‘Rough Air?’ That’s spooky.”
“It’s a coincidence. It’s not ‘Rough Air.’ It’s ‘INTERBOROUGH RAPID TRANSIT.’ This vehicle didn’t come down, Dad. It came up.”
Charles Redmond took a good look. No wings, no tail, no real aerodynamics at all. His son was absolutely right.
“This is a cabin on wheels. It’s not a plane, Dad.” Carl swallowed. “It’s a train, though how the hell it got out here,” he trailed off. “Do you remember hearing anything about a missing train?”
Charles Redmond said, “No. But the Transit Authority must know that one’s gone, wouldn’t you think?” And just then a sheet of dried mud sloughed off the side of the train, as if it was shedding its skin, revealing one of the double doors. The right half was open. It was, of course, dark inside.
Charles turned to Carl. “We’ll definitely call someone,” the responsible father promised. “But let’s be the first ones to go in. Come on.” And with that, Charles Redmond stepped into what was inarguably a subway train poking out of the ground in the woods some forty miles outside the city, forty miles from where trains of its kind run. And his deferential son followed him in. Then the door shut behind them, and the train slid — rolled, really — back into the ground.
No rattle. No mouth full of fangs and venom. No hypnotic gaze. And not a bird or a bear.
But two men disappeared while hiking in the woods and would not be found.