There’s a debate about the proper collective noun for high school girls.
At one point, it was suggested that polite, studious groups might be thought of as a congress, after Athene Noctua, the little owl who served as an emblem of Athena. However, since no one could reconcile “polite” and “congress,” the idea was dismissed. Flock was never catchy enough, and soon the generous agreement was gaggle, perhaps because of an idle homophonic proximity in English.
That day, Evzek was leaning towards the noun murder, not because of the collective naming of crows, but because the jostling noise on the Six inspired half-hearted homicidal fantasies. It wasn’t an instantaneous reaction: first, there were simply too many of them. At 2:15pm there was no excuse for him to endure a second rush hour so soon. Then, pressed like so many crumbs, one skip of the tracks landed his elbow in one of their ice cream cones; another lurch saw his brief case drenched by designer caffeine. It had been going on for weeks. The number of teen and tween girls on the Six at that time of day had grown exponentially, but it had never been this bad.
Trapped against the rear subway door in a rainbow sea of braids, barrettes and ironic bouffants, Evzek sighed in disgust. He counted the stops, waiting for them to empty onto the platform like a popped water balloon.
It didn’t happen. Even as they passed Canal Street, with its popular game stores, beauty product outlets, and butler cafes lining Centre Street, they just stood there.
As they hit the last stop, Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall, Evzek tried to push forward, expecting the crowd to pour out.
“Um, excuse me.” he muttered, trying to keep the urgency in check. He had papers to file, and the lines at the courthouse were unbearable after three.
No one moved. A ripple of hushing hisses spread through the car. It was the last stop. All that was left was to loop through the abandoned subway station at the end of the line.
“Please stand clear of the closing doors.” The PA system droned as clunk-click, the doors closed.
Suddenly aware of his rising pulse, Evzek forced his artificial heart to slow, to control his breath, and reduce the synthetic adrenalin that had automatically responded to an ancient fear. Being the lone adult, the lone man, surrounded by pre-women, had inadvertently triggered primal maenadian terrors.
Before the sum of the train had left the platform, the girls ritualistically shifted into formation; arranged by height, they stared out the windows. Irises in fashionable colors from labels such as LabEyes™, Ocular Tech™, and Kawaii Eye® dilated in artificial focus as the subway car rhythmically clicked into darkness.
Screams, loud enough to drown the screeching breaks, crashed in waves from the front of the car. Pinned in place, his arms at his sides, Evzek frantically glanced out the windows. The instinct to raise his arms and cover his ears was thwarted by the conductor booth to his left and the synthetic bodies around him.
In a flash of reason, he activated the internal muting system.
At the Uptown Brooklyn Bridge platform, most of the girls scattered.
Evzek could only look on in dazed confusion.
Shrieks of “Did you see it?” and “Oh my god!” twisted in dozens of tongues around him. Some of the girls were crying, some were shaking, crouched on the ground.
Only one, blue eyes wide and mouth slack, stood on her own slowly turning to take in the strange scene. She stared at Evzek for a moment, blue peering into brown, peering into blue.
The people on the platform hesitated in self-preservation, then rushed to help the girls obscuring the confused child from Evzek as she vanished up the stairs.