Science Fiction Friday: The Third Level by Jack Finney

Before you say, I don’t know who Jack Finney is, does Invasion of the Body Snatchers ring any bells?

It’s arguably his best work but Finney is just as well known for his short fiction of the thriller and science fiction kind. If you’re into Back to the Future at all, even in the slightest, you’ll love “The Third Level”.

“The Third Level” is the story of how one man came to enter the third level at the Grand Central Station, even no such level is said to even exist. Charley says that he is an ordinary man to whom nothing like this should ever happen. Always trust the narrator, eh? And look where that got us. He’s periodically gotten lost in Grand Central (who hasn’t?) so on this particular evening upon entering a corridor he doesn’t recognize he continues on his way just the same. The corridor opens up, lit all around by open-flame gaslights and teeming with travelers dressed in 1890’s garb. We’re talking, dresses with high collars and fabric that covered everything up to the fingernails for the ladies and tight jackets with lapels and bowler hats for the men .Charley tries to purchase a ticket at this unusual yet familiar train station, but he can’t because he doesn’t have the proper currency. Fearfully, he leaves the same way that he came.

The next day he tries to return to the third level but he can’t find the corridor again and he gives up, for the time being. Much later at home looking through his stamp collection Charley finds a letter he’s never seen before, dated July 1894, addressed to him from one of his friends; one of his friends from the present, that is. His friend was not only able to locate the third level of Grand Central Station himself but, unlike Charley, he was able to purchase a train ticket. He beckons to Charley to follow him, to bring his wife and to continue searching for the third level until they can return to it, purchase a train ticket, and travel back into the past to join him. This story always reminds me of Back to the Future Part III when Doc decides to kick it in 1885 for the rest of his life.

If you found the third level of Grand Central and could buy a train ticket to the past would you do it?

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