The Third Level is written by Jack Finney. There are two levels at the Grand Central Station, New York. But Charley, the protagonist of the story, asserts that there is third level too. He uses the third level to escape from the unpleasant life of New York to the pleasant life of Galesburg, Illinois.
Charley was 31 years old man married to Louisa. Several times he had lost himself in the Grand Central Station. He always found himself bumping into new doorways and new corridors. Every time he had a new experience. He even had begun to believe that the Grand Central was like a huge tree ever pushing new tunnels and new corridors like the roots under the ground. Once he got into a mile long tunnel and came out in the lobby of a hotel. At another time, he came up into the building of an office.
There were certainly only two levels at the Grand Central. But Charley asserted that there were three levels. He talked about it to his friends. One of them was a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist said that it was nothing but day-dreaming. He explained that it was only an escape from his present life. The modern world was full of fear, tension and worries. The third level provided him an exit from it.
His other friends agreed with the psychiatrist. They said that his stamp collecting was also a temporary escape.
Charley did not agree with them. He said that his grandfather started the stamp collection. And in his grandfather’s days, life was peaceful. He did not need an escape. Besides, President Roosevelt also collected stamps.
One day, Charley got late from his office. He wanted to reach home soon. So he went to the Grand Central to catch a train. He walked down to the first level, and then walked down another flight of stairs. He thought he had reached the second level again. But he got lost. He walked down a corridor. He thought it was wrong. But he walked on downward. He walked down a short flight of stairs. He thought that he had reached the second level again. But actually he had reached the third level.
The third level was entirely different and old-fashioned. There were fewer ticket windows. The information booth was made of wood. The lights were open flame gas lights. There were brass spittoons on the floor. Men had beards and sideburns. Women wore old-fashioned dresses and high buttoned shoes. The railway engine was small with a funnel shaped stack. Everything looked a century old. He walked to the newsboy. There he glanced at “The World”. The lead story was about President Cleveland. Later Charley found out from the library files that it was printed on June 11, 1894.
Charley wanted to go to Galesburg. He had been there in his childhood days. It was a wonderful town with tremendous tress and frame houses. In 1894, it was a heaven of peace and tranquility. People lived a carefree life. So he asked for two tickets to Galesburg. He paid the fare in modern notes which were different from those in 1894. The clerk thought the notes were fake and Charley was trying to cheat him. He threatened to get him arrested. Charley immediately turned around and fled as fast as he could.
Next day, Charley bought old-style notes from a coin dealer. He got only two hundred old dollars for three hundred new dollars. But he could never again find the corridor that led to the third level.
Charley’s wife was worried when she heard that he had bought old-style notes. So, Charley turned to his stamp collection. One day, among his grandfather’s collection of first day covers, he discovered an envelope. The postmark showed that it had been there since July 18, 1894. He opened the envelope but the paper inside was not blank. It was a letter from Sam, the psychiatrist friend whom Charley had often told about Galesburg. He had already gone there. He urged Charley to continue to look for the third level and join him in the Galesburg of 1894. It was a wonderful place.
Later Charley learnt that Sam had bought eight hundred dollars’ worth of old currency. Charley hoped Sam would have set up hay and feed business in Galesburg. And that was what he had always wished to do.