You’ll remember that at this point in the story, I’ve already called the subway advertisement phone number twice. And instead of the “free psychic reading” that I was expecting, all I’ve gotten out of it is an unprompted Nightmare Pop Music Hour and cryptic non-conversations with multiple strangers. But then, like I promised you, shit started getting really weird.
Immediately after hanging up the phone from the second call, I get a text message from an unknown phone number.
Now, that’s actually something that happens a lot- I think I get a different random spam text every couple of days. So at first, even with the suspicious timing, I wasn’t sure that it was related to all this jazz. It was from a 718-number, but not the same one that I had just called. And all the message said was: “We thank you for your interest!” and then a linked image that it wanted me to download.
Usually I don’t even open obvious spam texts, and I definitely don’t download whatever bullshit is attached to them. But I had a gut feeling about this one. It seemed like too much of a coincidence, you know?
So instead of doing the smart thing and never trusting an unknown link, I decided to roll the dice and download the picture. And yes, I fully realize how that action makes everything that happened afterwards my own fault.
What it turned out to be was a photo that someone took on the train, of one of those same moon-stars-Illuminati advertisements. Not much of the train car itself is visible, just the flyer tucked into the plastic up above the seats, in front of an old poster for Seamless Delivery. Nothing terribly remarkable, right?
Wrong! After I spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out which line this train was running on (impossible to tell), I finally noticed that there was more to the ad than I thought.
Somebody had circled a bunch of the letters of the text written on the flyer. You know, the lazy man’s hidden code that I think we all learned from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Seemingly random, but if you write them down in the order that they’ve been circled you’ll reveal a secret message.
Now, as annoyed as I was by the whole waste of time phone call aspect of this, I am a sucker for coded messages. I was always that one kid who couldn’t just pass a regular note in class; the note had to be some complicated gibberish that only the intended recipient would understand, just in case it fell into the wrong hands. I honestly thought that a lot more of my adult correspondences were going to need to be protected from prying eyes than has actually been necessary, and I’ve never stopped being disappointed by the realization. So really, no matter what the lead-up to the situation is, you throw a secret code into the mix and I am here for it.
So I write down all the letters, and the whole time I was expecting it to be a hashtag or a website or something along those lines. After all, half of the seemingly interesting things you see in New York turn out to be someone trying to sell you something, and the other half are someone trying to scam you out of something else. I’m thinking this is going to turn out to be the calling card of a company, or maybe an individual artist.
But what it actually ended up spelling out was the name of a subway stop: Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.
And do you know why that’s really fucking weird?
It’s really fucking weird because I live in Kew Gardens, and that’s my stop. Union Turnpike is the station that I use going back and forth to work every day. Obviously that’s not a coincidence, right?
I’m not a huge fan of this development, to be honest. It feels creepy, even though I doubt it’s actually anything to be freaked out about. Like, I already decided that this is probably a guerilla marketing campaign of some kind, and obviously they know that they’ve been putting ads on the E and F trains, which do both go to Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike. And I did have a whole phone call with them- two, actually- so they could’ve triangulated my location (crime procedurals have convinced me that this is a thing) and just sent me the ad that references the nearest subway station.
All of that is perfectly plausible, and it’s not really that sinister. Just, you know, kind of creepy.
And the other thing that’s kind of creepy is that once again, literally as soon as I finished decoding the station name and was deciding how much I wanted to freak out about it, I got a voicemail.
The phone did not ring. I just got a notification that I had a new voicemail. It happens once in a while, when I don’t have reception. But obviously I have reception, because I was just talking on the phone in this same room, so….the hell?
And I don’t know if you know this, but if you don’t get a call or missed call notification then you don’t get any indication of who left you a voicemail. I have to listen to it to even know if it’s related to this whole subway flyer thing, like that text message did turn out to be, or if I’m just turning into a paranoid lunatic.
The voicemail, left by a female voice that I don’t recognize whatsoever, says, “Three days from today. Eight o’clock.”
That’s it. No other context given. Three days from today, that would be Sunday. But “eight o’clock” is almost the opposite of information. Eight o’clock, what? AM? PM? You’re killing me, Smalls. And also, who even is this?
I decided to go ahead and assume it was related to the subway flyer thing, because it’s exactly the same brand of cryptic bullshit. And, at this point, how would it not be related? What would the odds be?
So I reply to the initial text under the assumption that they’re the same people who called me.
I text back, “Sunday at 8?”
And seconds later, they text, “That’s the time, you know the place.”
I text, “AM/PM? Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike?”
And, infuriatingly, they text, “That’s the time, that’s the place.”
So at this point I have to decide how interested I am in solving this mystery versus not getting kidnapped or murdered or whatever the hell, and also I have to decide if I think it’s worth getting up before 8:00am on a Sunday. You know, so I don’t miss it in case that’s the eight o’clock they mean.
But obviously I decided it was worth it to go- otherwise there wouldn’t be another part of the story, right? And the next bit is where things go from really weird to even weirder.