The Count of Grand Central Station
by Mel Waldman
The homeless man strutted across 42nd Street, his face hidden beneath a large, black pointed umbrella that protected him from the sprawling sun. He smiled ecstatically, for he had done well in the experiment. And they had given him plenty of food and money to boot. So tomorrow, he would return.
The experiment was his entrance into Heaven, closest thing to a million-dollar deal. And he had convinced them to let him participate. How had he done it? How?
Until sunset, he sat in Bryant Park. Beneath the orange sun, he noticed the exotic girl who looked like a gypsy with dark brown eyes and long black hair. She was different from the others. He wanted to talk to her, but she rushed out of the park. He just sat there and dreamed of her. He could have followed but...
Later, when the cold darkness came, he drifted into Grand Central Station carrying his mammoth umbrella, now folded up in his left hand. He entered the waiting room and found his spot. Suddenly, his body shook and he cried out, “Move, stranger!”
The man who occupied his spot was sprawled across the bench. “Move, stranger!” he blared again, brandishing his sharp umbrella. “Or I’ll give you a taste of The Law!”
The others looked quizzically at the homeless man a.k.a. the Count of Grand Central Station a.k.a. the Count a.k.a. Umbrella Man. His fiery eyes darted and flitted across the capacious space and then landed on the immobile form of the intruder. “So you want a taste of The Law?” he growled.
The stranger did not move or speak. He lay on his stomach, his head ensconced in his chest and his hands hidden beneath his flabby flesh. A fat, headless horseman, only his heavy breathing gave him away.
“I know you ain’t dead, mister ‘cause I hear you wheezing. But you could be dead! Any minute now, it could happen, and by my hand!”
The Count approached the intruder. He stood over him and screamed, “Go!” Suddenly, the stranger leaped up and thrust a machete at him.
The Count jumped to the side and swiftly stuck the assailant with his makeshift weapon. And with one potent blow with his umbrella, he broke the man’s right arm. The attacker shrieked and his machete fell to the floor.
“Go!” the Count commanded. And the alien fled from the waiting room.
Smiling sardonically, the homeless man announced, “I am the Count... the Count of Grand Central Station!”
“Yes,” the others said in unison.
“A nobleman at all times and in all places, I am also the Count of the streets!”
“Yes,” said the others.
A long silence stretched across the sprawling room. And the Count cried out, “Now let us sleep!”
* * *
On the way to the Center, he passed Bryant Park. He stopped for a moment and looked for her. The phantom girl wasn’t there. The homeless man craved her, but he had an appointment at the Center in fifteen minutes. And the Center was on 42nd Street between 11th and 12th Avenue. He could make it if he kept moving. Since he needed the food and hard cash, he hurried off.
“I got detained.”
“No excuse, Umbrella Man. We are conducting a V.I.P. experiment. Do you wish to participate?”
“Do you fully understand the conditions of the experiment?”
“With all the ramifications?”
“Are you aware of the dangers?”
“Are you in good health?”
“Are you aware that hypnosis creates an altered state of consciousness?”
“Are you aware that hypnotic induction can alter the perceptions of time and reality?”
“Are you aware that there may be negative side effects?”
“There are potential dangers!”
“Some of the risks are significant and could result in physical or mental illness.”
“There is the risk of permanent brain damage!”
“There may be irreversible psychological damage!”
“I am aware.”
“There is the possibility of death... in some cases.”
“I am aware.”
“And yet you wish to continue?”
“Of course, I do. I need the food and money.”
“You are a practical man.”
“Yes. And I like the thrill of it too. You never know what’s gonna happen next.”
“Indeed. So you wish to continue?”
“You may stop at any point!”
“No! I’m going all the way. I’m going the distance.”
“Well, you have been warned!”
“Yes. Now, let us begin!”
* * *
Walking east, the homeless man passed Bryant Park. Suddenly, he heard a scream. And in a trancelike state, he rushed into the park. The exotic girl of yesterday was surrounded by three muggers. They were brandishing long, thick knives. Furious, the Umbrella Man charged into the circle, thrusting his black pointed umbrella at the menacing men. But his timing was off and he was stabbed five times in the chest. He slipped into unconsciousness.
* * *
“I warned you!”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you it could be dangerous. You almost died yesterday.”
“You mean what happened in the park?”
“But that was real. I mean, it happened after I left the Center.”
“How do you know?”
“Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe it was part of...”
“I know because the girl was real!”
“How do you know she was real?”
“I saw her before I came to the Center the other day. Before...”
“Wasn’t that after the first session?”
“Then maybe it was part of...”
“No! The girl’s real and I’ll find her!”
“Even if she was real, she might be dead now.”
“She’s still alive! Yeah. She’s in trouble. But I’m gonna save her. We’ll be together for eternity!”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you immortal?”
“Well, maybe... Yes!”
“You’re mad! I warned you it was dangerous! We’ll have to stop the experiment.”
“No! I want to continue.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I need the food and hard cash.”
* * *
On the way to the Center, he passed Bryant Park. Momentarily, he stopped. He searched for her. And the phantom girl was there. She was there! She smiled seductively at him and waved to him. Then she cried out, “Hi, Seedy!”
And he shouted, “I’m the Count... the Count of Grand Central Station, not Seedy!”
“But I thought you were this fellow. His name is... Don’t really know his name. But we all call him by his initials — C.D.”
“No! I’m not C.D.!”
“Oh, but you look familiar. You...? Didn’t you come to my rescue the other day?”
“Yeah, and almost got killed.”
“Glad you’re still alive.”
“So am I. And how did you escape?”
“I just... Oh, my God, look!”
Suddenly, he turned around but it was too late. Some maniac was digging his knife into his back. And maybe this time, it was the end. Maybe...
* * *
“You’ll have to sign another release form if you wish to continue.”
“You must because you’re going into very dangerous territory. And we can’t be responsible.”
“Yeah, I’ll sign another one. Ain’t the first one good enough?”
“Perhaps, but the Ethics Board is always checking up on us. The Board would love to find a flaw in our experimental procedures.”
“Well, I’ll sign the form and then we can continue.”
“You know you almost died the other day?”
“Yeah, and I almost got the girl.”
“Do you realize it all happened inside the Trance?”
“No, it didn’t. The girl’s real!”
“Perhaps, she is. But are you?”
“Me? I’m the Count of Grand Central Station! And yeah, I’m real.”
“She called you C.D.”
“How did you know?”
“I know everything!”
“So what are you trying to say?”
“Don’t you understand?”
“No! I’m a nobleman! And folks call me the Count! That’s all I understand, nothing more.”
“Don’t you understand?”
“The girl made a mistake. But maybe you’re trying to drive me crazy... maybe!”
“We can stop the experiment now.”
“No! Let’s continue. This is real exciting.”
* * *
Walking east, he passed Bryant Park. Suddenly, he saw the girl running out of the park. Yesterday’s three muggers were chasing her. “Come with me!” he shouted.
“Is that you, C.D.?”
“No! I’m the Count of Grand Central Station a.k.a. the Count a.k.a. Umbrella Man. Just call me... the Count. And come along. Hurry before they catch up with you.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re off to Grand Central Station. Now take my hand. They’re getting closer. Look! There they are!”
She grabbed the Count’s hand and they rushed to Grand Central Station. The three muggers were just a few yards behind them. “I can’t run anymore,” cried the girl.
“You must! Just hold on. Once we’re in the station, we’re home ‘cause I’m the Count... the Count of Grand Central Station!”
“I can’t go on!”
“You must! I love you and we’ll be together for eternity. But we gotta make it to the station.”
Momentarily, the girl looked back and saw them. Her shriek sliced the air. And then she fainted. The Count lifted her into his arms and rushed to Grand Central Station. He didn’t look back.
* * *
“We made it,” the Count announced, still carrying the phantom girl. “There’s Grand Central Station.”
Instantly, the girl opened her eyes and whispered, “Thank, God!” Then as they entered the station, the Count looked back. The three muggers were just a few feet away. “Come try to get me,” he cried mockingly. “Come try!”
Inside, the Count headed toward the waiting room. And soon, he was home. He laid the girl on his bench. He turned around and waited for the three assailants. He stood triumphantly at the center of the waiting room. And when the three muggers arrived, he shouted, “Kill me! But you can’t! I’m immortal! Immortal!”
The three men took out their three .45 Magnums and shot the homeless man again and again. At least a dozen bullets flew into his chest. And finally, he fell to the ground. The three killers vanished from the waiting room, leaving behind the fallen man and the exotic girl.
She approached the Count who lay silently on the floor. She stood over him and said, “You promised we’d be together for eternity! And now...”
He didn’t move. Since he lay on his stomach, his face was hidden. “I must see your face. And kiss you... just once.” And the girl bent down. She turned over the Count’s body. “Oh, my God!” the girl cried out. “Why?”
In that glorious moment, the Count’s eyes opened and lit up. The triumphant fire of ancient times blazed uncontrollably. He whispered, “Just one kiss and we’ll be together for eternity! Trust me!”
The girl wanted to run away yet she was hypnotized by his fiery eyes. So she did not move. Then the Count opened his jaws wide to receive her and possess her for eternity. His huge white teeth were ageless fangs of power. Still, the girl did not move. She smiled blissfully as the white weapons bit into her succulent neck. The Count tasted her sweet blood and her soul was his.
“Is she dead, Count?”
“Yes. Still, she will live in the darkness as I do. She is my new bride. Is the coffin ready?”
There was a long silence. Then the assistant asked, “How did you kill her? You didn’t even touch her. Yet there are marks on her neck.”
“I do not understand.”
“I entered her hypnotic dream. Once she went under my spell, I gave her several suggestions. First, I told her she was the Count of Grand Central Station. Then I made her fall in love with the elusive girl.”
“You are a nobleman and a genius! And your bride is absolutely divine!”
“Yes, but tomorrow I must go to the Center and participate in the last stage of the experiment. I will travel back in time, perhaps hundreds of years into the past, in order to discover who I really was — am and who she was — is! Only then can we live blissfully in eternity. Only then can we fly away at night, side by side, dark creatures soaring to the Heavens, illuminated by a full moon, hunting for new prey... always hunting...”
Copyright © 2007 by Mel Waldman