2 Chapter 2 – The Map

Turtle ran with the Kincaids back to the school building where the track team, six boys in all, was just straggling into the locker rooms. Turtle and the Kincaids were freshman at Manhattan Friends Prep, a private school on 57th Street where either rich kids – like the Kincaids – or lucky scholarship kids – like Turtle – went. The school was big and old, all brick and stone, with a few dozen small classrooms for the very small classes.

Going to Manhattan Friends was considered a privilege and honor. Turtle had done exceedingly well on a scholarship test in third grade and so was able to gain that honor and privilege for free. His grades were excellent – all As except for a B in gym one year. Turtle had almost no friends– he just didn’t have much in common with very many there, and one kid he did like, Romain, transferred back to Switzerland when his parents were fired from their Wall Street jobs. Turtle relished the thought of speaking more with Nick and Nate even if it was about whatever he had just seen.

The Kincaids lived on Central Park West in a townhouse five times the size Turtle’s grandmother’s apartment. Turtle had visited them once for their 13th birthday party, but he had never been back. Their three-story cake had been made of rich, dark chocolate with pictures of the twins on each layer in some kind of printed sugar. There was a picture of the twins as babies, then as 10-year-olds on the beach, then a snapshot of them as teenagers standing near a castle. When Turtle turned 13, his grandmother had made him a cake from a box with butter frosting, and they blew out his candles and opened the few presents she could afford for him.

Turtles parents died in a car accident north of the city when he was three. From that moment, all Turtle remembered was his grandmother and their little house in Bay Ridge. His parents were faces reduced to snapshots in an album that his grandmother sometimes took down from the shelf on rainy mornings. They would flip through the album and remember when they both had families.

Turtle’s bedroom window looked out on a tar roof and the Brooklyn skyline. The Kincaids looked out on Central Park. Brooklyn wasn’t far from Manhattan physically, but mentally, it was a different country. For a long time, he knew that people who lived on Manhattan, people like Nick and Nate, were different. How different he had never imagined.

They showered with the rest of the team and made their way into the raucous locker room. Toweling off, he tried to look uninterested as the Kincaids talked about a video game they had been playing. He didn’t interrupt them, instead waiting for the locker room to clear. There were four kids on the benches and a few by the water fountain. It was getting late – black cars piloted by chauffeurs were already pulling up to pick up the rich kids – and the track team began to clear out.

Nate looked over at Turtle and motioned for him to move closer. The overhead fan echoing in the locker room was loud enough to drown a whisper.

“Stay after,” he hissed. “Wait a little.”

Once the locker room was empty, Nick and Nate moved their bags over to Turtle’s bench and sat down. The coach, Mr. Huff, was in his office with the door slightly ajar. He flexed one thick arm and went back to writing something.

“You’re going to keep this a secret?” asked Nick. His face was set and serious. Turtle nodded.

“Seriously,” said Nick.

“Yes, I will,” said Turtle.

“I don’t like this,” said Nick. Nate shrugged and opened his backpack. He pulled out a sheet of paper. He pulled on a thin black sweater and then a black blazer while Turtle looked it over. Nick was in a button-down shirt and black pants – the school uniform – but Turtle was already in jeans and a t-shirt for the ride home.

The map was covered with small squiggles and lines. The page was about 14 inches by 14 inches, and it looked like a photocopy of a photocopy, faded and crumpled. They spread it out on the floor, smoothing it down on the bench, avoiding the wet spots.

“I can’t give you this one, but this is The Map. Without this you can’t get onto the train. You’d get lost.”

Turtle gulped. The thought of roaring through those tunnels alone, lost, was frightening. He knelt down on one knee for a closer look. The map was a reprint of something much older and hand-drawn. It showed all of Manhattan – a long cigar laced with avenues – Brooklyn and Queens sticking out below and a bit of New Jersey and Staten Island looking like a mini-South America. Lines crossed the map wildly, some grey, some lighter, some in dark black. Some lines had faded away: you could barely tell where they began and ended, but the stops that would be most helpful to Nick and Nate, the stops along Central Park and near the school, had been drawn over in blue ink to make them a bit clearer. The names of stations were written in a tiny, careful hand, and it looked like some lines even connected with Brooklyn and New Jersey over (or under) the water. The lines disappeared off the page, and in some of the corners, there was evidence of more stations farther into New Jersey and even a line that shot straight out into the North Atlantic Ocean.

In the upper right corner was one word, plainly written in pen:

 

MYTRO

 

“Mytro. Is that what it’s called?” asked Turtle.

Nate nodded.

To first-time visitors, the New York City Subway map already looks like a mess of spaghetti with lines running up and down the city from Brooklyn into Harlem to the North. But that was nothing compared to this wild map. Nate pointed to a spot on the map – labeled “Friends Meeting Hall” – and then pointed to a door a few feet away marked “STAFF ONLY.” Written on the sign in black paint, now faded, was the number 13.

“That’s the local station, right here. You go in past the boiler room. This building used to be a Quaker meeting hall and they built the school up around it when they decided to start teaching kids. So it’s called a meeting hall and not a school. These maps are crazy old,” said Nate.

“The door is actually built into the far wall of the boiler room. The problem is they started the boiler when they thought someone was sneaking in to smoke,” he said.

“That was you?” asked Turtle, recalling a witch hunt led by Mr. Huff and the bald and portly Principal, Mr. Quigley. Mr. Huff had told the team that if they wanted to hang out in the boiler room so much, they could run laps in it – which they did, in the heat and the dirt, for almost an hour. Then the janitor, Mr. Goudas, locked it permanently with a huge silver padlock.

“We were coming out, not going in. That was the best four weeks because we could get from our house to here on the Mytro in like a minute. We could sleep in all we wanted.”

“The doors to the Mytro… are they all doors?” asked Turtle, thinking about the rock.

“No, they’re not. The station near us is behind a brick wall. Sometimes they are just door doors, you know? But that’s when they’re completely hidden, no one can see them. The trick is to find the doors.”

“How did they make them?” asked Turtle.

“Who knows? My Uncle said that if they tore down this building, then the station would disappear. If you build up another wall and put a door into it, then the station comes back. At least it’s supposed to.”

Turtle nodded, but he had no idea what Nate was talking about—which was clearly shown on his face.

“You’ll get it pretty soon,” said Nate. “It’s hard to understand until, you know, you ride it. Think of it like magic, but my uncle says it isn’t. He says it has something to do with wormholes, two spots that open up in space or whatever. He’s been trying to figure these things out.”

“So you have a station in your house?” asked Turtle.

“No, but it’s in a deli down the street. The deli guy knows about it. It’s in his basement. We wake up, go get a soda, and then go downstairs to get to school. Now we have to pop up behind the school, in Bums, instead of right here.”

Bums was an alley behind the school where the upperclassmen smoked. Turtle had been there once and was chased off by the football team’s quarterback, a moose of a kid named Harvey Klawe.

Nick tapped Nate on the shoulder. Mr. Huff was shuffling behind his office door. “Here he comes.” Nate folded the map quickly away.

Mr. Huff walked out, drinking a diet soda. “What are you guys doing out here? Go home,” he said.

“Video games, Mr. Huff,” said Nate.

Mr. Huff grunted.

“You guys could probably get a few more miles in instead of playing whatever you’re playing these days.”

“Yes, sir,” said Nick, and he grabbed Nate by the arm and led him out of the locker room. Nick reached back to grab his duffel bag, and they nodded their goodbyes. They barreled through the back doors, around the school, and out into the street.

After the quiet of the locker room, 5th Avenue sounded like a circus. Horns honked and people passed in a blur. A bicycle messenger roared past them blowing a whistle, and the air smelled like rain. Turtle marveled at the streets, wondering where the snaking lines of the train – the Mytro – were hidden.

“There are tunnels under there?”

Nate shook his head. “If there were, they’d have found them by now. Just doors and stations. No tunnels.”

Turtle looked at the Kincaid twins. He half expected them to start laughing, to tell him that it was all a gag, that the short run in the park was some forgotten part of the subway that they opened up for a special occasion.

“This isn’t anything you can talk about. I don’t know how you got in after us, but it’s not good,” said Nick. “You just be careful.”

“Why?” asked Turtle.

“It’s instant travel,” said Nate. “You can get on at the Mytro here and get off in Staten Island a minute later. You can move almost anything through the Mytro. I think you used to be able to go anywhere in the world, but something happened, and it’s much harder to get to different places.”

They started walking to the park. “Can I ride it home?” asked Turtle.

“Not until you get a map. You can’t go anywhere without a map. We’ll talk to my uncle,” said Nate. Nick was already walking ahead of them as they strode into the park again. Turtle’s eyes strayed to the spot where he knew the Central Park Mid station was hidden, a few yards from where they entered the park.

“Do you steer it? Tell it where to go?”

“You think about where you want to go. But you have to be careful. You have to know where you want to go before you get on because it keeps going if you’re not sure where you want to get off.”

He imagined an experiment he had once heard about: a cat in a box next to a vial of poison gas. At any moment, the vial can be cracked open, and the cat can be living or dead. So, at all times, the cat exists in both states. You could never know.

Questions raced through his head. Who built the Mytro? Why did their uncle know so much? Who else knew? 

“Listen, I have an idea,” said Nate. “Tomorrow’s Friday. Ask your grandma if you can stay over at our house. Then we can go see my uncle. Here’s my number. Call me.”

Nate wrote it on a piece of ripped homework and handed it over. Turtle took it and stuffed it into his jeans.

“Very cool,” said Turtle and he made his way through the park to the real subway.