The Case of the Vanishing Commuters

When students start mysteriously disappearing, an amateur detective steps up to investigate how they went missing.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Cover Image
By Skye McArthur

Day Zero (how all good coders start things)

I haven’t seen my friend in three days. It’s not like him to skip school, but even if he did, I doubt he’d willingly ignore all the funny TikToks I’ve been sending him all day. Now that’s suspicious. I tried calling him to see if he was just too busy projectile-vomiting his guts out to look at his phone, but it’s been a full hour of voicemail and now I’m actually concerned.

I really hope he’s just deathly ill.

Day One

Apparently, he’s not the only one missing. I was feeling kind of lonely at lunch without his constant whining about whatever assignment he’s being tortured with, his train being delayed, and his crush calling him “Stinky Steve,” so I decided to talk to some classmates about a group project. Turns out, one of their group members hasn’t talked to or texted them in four days.

It can’t possibly be a coincidence that both my friend and their group member seemingly vanished off the face of the planet.

It only got worse when I was sitting on the half floor during one of my free periods. I could hear the group next to me complaining about how one of their friends inexplicably hasn’t shown up to their usual lunch outings for the last week or so. That makes three missing people. I’ve watched enough Scooby Doo to know something’s going on here: twice is a coincidence, thrice is a pattern.

Honestly, I’m pretty excited. This could be my first ever actual detective case! This will look so good on my college application. I wonder if they’re dead, because cracking a homicide case would really round out my resume. Watch out Batman—I mean, Sherlock Holmes, I’m coming for the title of World’s Greatest Detective!

Day Two

The last message I received from my friend was five days ago, at 6:54 a.m. It was a skull emoji in response to a TikTok I sent him about Family Guy. Then, it was five straight days of no response. All my texts were unread. His Discord status was invisible. Even my e-mails went unanswered! Not that he checked them that often (the daily Jupiter updates can get a tad  depressing), but still. I called him 67 times in the last hour, and each time I just got his whiny voicemail message, which got really annoying after the third time I heard it.

According to my classmates, the last time they heard from their groupmate was at 6:52 a.m., when she reacted to a message in their group chat with a thumbs up.

I was starting to notice a pattern, but I had to be sure. I tried to ask that gaggle of girls on the half floor, but they just ignored me. I don’t think I look that strange, but maybe deerstalker hats are a little out of style. So what? A detective has to look the part. I’m going to be late for my 10th-period class now, so I’ll just ask them again tomorrow.

Day Three

It turns out that it really was the hat. I talked to them again today, and this time they pulled up their group chat to show me her last message. I didn’t want to read the really long paragraph complaining about her boyfriend, but I did note the time she sent it: 6:53 a.m. I put on the hat once I left their line of sight. Too bad, girls, I’m attached to it, so good luck keeping it off my head now.

That’s three messages sent at around 6:50 in the morning. What could they all be doing that early that could take them out of commission like this?

I know that my friend would be commuting around that time. I think I have a hunch.

My friend has to take the LIRR to get to school. Every morning, he complains about waking up that early just to catch a train that’s always delayed.

I talked to both groups of people again. Apparently, their missing friends all live in the far end of Queens. When I asked about their friends’ commutes, they all said the same thing: their friends  ride the LIRR.

From my research (a single Google search), they likely take the Port Washington Line. Looks like I’ve got a train to catch now! Deerstalker hat on.

Day Four

After a long weekend of preparing myself, I still managed to sleep through my alarm. Curse you, AP courses (the scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in the spring semester)! This morning, I thought that I should ride the LIRR myself to see what was really going on. Normally, I’d take the 7 train, so it wouldn’t be that hard to get to the Flushing Main Street LIRR station. It turns out that even after oversleeping, I could have barely made the 6:44 train. But my sleep-deprived brain decided to leave the most important components of being a detective at home: my trusty hat and magnifying glass. What’s the point of saving lives if you can’t accessorize? So, halfway through the run to the station, I had to backtrack to my house to pick them up. That meant I missed the 6:44 train.

Thankfully, there was another train, but I had to wait for 15 long minutes on the platform in the early morning chill.

The ride was relatively uneventful. It was crowded, sure, and bumpy too, but there was nothing really out of the ordinary. I even snooped around a little, walking through the train cars and looking for clues with my magnifying glass. For some reason, though, all I could find were dried tear tracks (probably from the early commuters) and suspiciously colored puddles. I think accidentally walking in on someone in the bathroom was my fault, though. I should have just paid for a ticket; avoiding the ticket collector was not worth the stench. The poor bathroom-goer’s lecture was long and loud, but well-deserved.

We made it to Penn Station with no trouble. Suspicious.

In the end, I was late for class anyway, since the station was so crowded that I couldn’t make it to the 1/2/3 train without pushing and bumping into people. What a waste of time.

Oh well, I’ll try again tomorrow.

Day Five

This time, I actually woke up on time. And I didn’t forget my detective kit. So that means I made it on time to catch the 6:44 train. Hooray! I even got a ticket with a random $10 bill I found on the floor. How lucky! I don’t think I could have afforded it otherwise. Being a detective is expensive.

This train goes to Grand Central instead of Penn Station, and the missing people were on this train before suddenly vanishing. It’s been nine days, so I’m actually really concerned about them. Hopefully, this mission will be more successful than the last one. Wish me luck.

Day ???

Someone please help me. I don’t know how long I’ve been in Grand Central.

As soon as I got off the train, I knew something was off. Maybe it was the clean floor or the not-flickering lights, but my inner detective was going off the rails (pun intended).

I just didn’t expect this.

As I got on the escalator up to the rest of the station, I could feel my apprehension growing. Even with my deerstalker hat and magnifying glass at hand, I felt uneasy. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.

I knew the escalator ride would be long, but it was only after I had counted to 300 in my head when I noticed it. The escalator just seemed to keep going. In both directions.

Around me, people were just minding their own business. I don’t think they noticed it. They just walked up the escalator like nothing was wrong, as if they hadn’t been climbing up the escalator for five whole minutes. Even the people standing were just silent. They didn’t take their eyes off the distance at where the escalator was going.

I tried to rub my eyes, drink some water—anything to make this hallucination go away.

Nothing happened.

I tried to walk up the escalator myself, even shoving a random businessman out of the way. He just shook me off like nothing happened. That would never happen in New York City.

I even tried to jump across the escalators to the ones going down. I took a few tumbles, but when I did get on the down escalator, it was the same thing. I counted to 300 again, but I couldn’t see the place I had just come from.

Unfortunately, I think I’m stuck. Fortunately, I think I’m going to miss that AP Chem test today. Hopefully, “stuck on an escalator” is a decent reason to write on an absence form.