Welcome to Dreamrail. My name is Mike Ripley and DreamRail is a story. It’s also a club, and specifically the series of stories members write for their club meetings. Like most clubs, it has rules. Like most rules, they get broken.
Like a spider web covering six hundred square miles, the rail system in Chicago crosses the city, east to west, and north to south, leaving its undeniable footprint upon the urban landscape and poking into the suburban neighborhoods that run along Lake Michigan’s shore. Extended spokes and electrical spikes provide the foundation for the web, carrying one hundred and thirty-seven passenger trains to all parts of the city. On any given day, over fifty thousand people line up at the doors to ride to or from, or within the city of a million dreams.
Samuel Thomes has always enjoyed the train. This train especially, has been his favorite, always passing the same sights twice a day, but providing a sense of adventure each time. The train doesn’t always run exactly on time, and that’s ok with Sam. Too many people take great pride in getting where they’re going at exactly the right time, but Sam never seems to notice, and it’s never really hurt him. It is the train after all. It provides a break from all other routines, and little can be expected of him when he’s on the train.
The ride always gives him a chance to think of more important things than his own dreary day. His work is a part of the day that doesn’t measure up to the rest of his time. It’s not a bad job as far as jobs go. In fact he has a good career going. The rest of his time, though, especially during the past few weeks, has been filled with rich adventure. That’s where his story starts. This train ride takes about twenty-five minutes, one way. Just enough time to get through this tale. It’ll amuse, and at times be a bit unbelievable. I think more than anything, it’ll fill a brief time with a little glimpse of Sam’s life as he knows it to be.
Samuel Allen Thomes lives alone in a house in the suburbs. The suburb is called Olympia Fields, and it’s about thirty miles south of downtown Chicago. Sam drives his car from his home to the train station every day, to ride to his job, which is downtown. That’s where we find him now; on that train.
Olympia Fields is normally a fairly quiet place with nice subdivisions, good restaurants, and a little nearby mall. It’s hard to imagine a more suburban suburb. Lately though, it’s had an excitement about it that most others try to avoid. They’ve experienced three cases of missing families.
Entire families were missing from their homes. All three incidents were reported and resolved within a ten day period. Friends, neighbors, and relatives had no idea of their whereabouts, and there was no trace of evidence that indicated they had planned to leave. They were simply gone. All of their clothes were still in the closets. Their cars were in their garages. Their doors were locked. Their pets were starving, the papers building up on the porches, their mail stacked high, and in all three cases, the leaves had been removed from every tree in their yards. This was strange for Olympia Fields in the middle of June.
The train has made its way up to full speed. This stretch is the longest between stops and Sam loves the feeling of moving fast through the landscape that still shows scattered trees and fields and only the smaller buildings found away from the big city. He loves the idea of the train moving fast while all of those cars outside the windows barely trudge along, and juxtaposes the way those drivers are frantic, while time slows to a crawl for the riders of the train, who have no control on their fate for the next twenty-four minutes. These riders fly by the landscape at high speed, but seem relaxed. They are relaxed, because they made it to the train on time. Now it’s somebody else’s job to progress the day.
A home that one of the families in Sam’s neighborhood lives in, a family who had disappeared, sits right down the street from his house. Actually, all the families were close by, but this one in particular sits very close. Sam drove past it on the way to the station this morning. Actually, he drove by all three, but that was only due to how early he left his own house, and he wanted to make sure these people were still alright. He didn’t actually see anybody from the outside this morning, but he could tell that everything was fine. The people had returned home and except for the missing leaves, things were getting back to normal.
Three days ago, Sam Thomes had saved these people. That’s what made the past couple weeks pretty exciting. He now feels connected to them, but doesn’t really know for sure what they think of him. He got the feeling the other day from one of the men that he makes them uncomfortable. Maybe he reminds this guy of what he, and the others went through. Maybe he just doesn’t like Sam. Maybe it’s because he didn’t think of doing what Sam did. Then again, maybe it’s all in Sam’s head.
This house down the street from him belongs to the Andres family. James and Andrea are the parents. They have two children. All three of the families have two children. These two, the Andres children, are named Mark and Allison. Allison goes by Ali. Mark goes by Mark.
The Andres were the second family to disappear. Everybody in Olympia Fields had already heard about the first family. In fact, it was probably the biggest story in the whole Chicago area. When it happened to the Andres, it was even more unbelievable than the first time. It also filled everybody with fear. That first event was obviously some mysterious fluke. When it happened again, we were all possible victims. It was not a fluke. It was a serial family disappearance with unusual missing leaves. I was glad at the time that I had no family members, and didn’t qualify as having top notch victim potential.
I did, however, manage to get involved. It started when I overheard a conversation right after I got off of this very train on my way home. Yeah, if you’re still wondering, I’m Samual Allen Thomes.
Now that that’s out, I’ll go on. There was a man in a black suit. He looked exactly like one of those guys that you would peg as a Secret Service agent: black suit, black tie, black horn-rimmed glasses
Anyway, this guy is talking to a duck. No, it’s not really a duck, but she kind of looked like a duck. She must have had that surgery where you get lip implants. Her lips looked like that actress’ lips that plays spider woman or something in those movies. They were big. The important thing is that they were talking at the train station. They didn’t know that I could hear them.
“What do you do with them?” I heard the duck-lady ask.
“They are all quite safe,” was the response from the Secret Service Agent.
Of course I thought that it might have something to do with the serial family disappearances, so when they left, I followed them. During that week, I had thought that every conversation I heard had something to do with the case. I called it “the case” in short, because most conversations I was involved with were about it. People that I know think I should have been a detective or something. I always have theories about things in the news. More often than not, I’m right.
On the south side of Chicago there happens to be a large preserve area. It is by no coincidence that it is owned by the government. Anyway, it’s just east of Olympia Fields, not far from my stop, and these two, Ducklip and Fed, went there when they disembarked from the train. I was close behind them when they suddenly darted off the sidewalk, and ran into this preserve area. There was a tall fence along this stretch, so I wasn’t sure where they thought they were going. I stayed by the sidewalk, thinking that they might be just inside the wooded area getting involved in activities that I really didn’t want to disturb. However, I didn’t hear anything. After a while, I followed them in.
What I found in the woods was a big hole in the fence. This was heavy chain link fencing, and a section had been cut out. It couldn’t have just been done. They knew where the opening was, and used it like it was normal routine. The detective in me kept telling me that this wasn’t right, and that they might be up to something.
This forest preserve is huge. I didn’t see anything except forest, and I could not hear anybody. I still heard some traffic from the road, and I was starting to get a sense of a lot of nature, but Duck-lip and Fed appeared to be long gone. I kept walking away from the road. It was about 5:45pm, and there was still plenty of daylight. Going deeper into the woods seemed like a good idea at the time.
After another five minutes, I heard a voice. I stopped, and listened for a conversation, but all I heard was this one lonely voice. It was saying, “Over here…..over here.”
Did somebody see me? I wasn’t sure. It sounded like she was calling for somebody. Maybe she, yes it was a girl’s voice, was trying to get my attention. It worked. I found myself trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. I was tempted to answer, and say, “Keep talking.” It was hard when she stopped for a while, but what if it wasn’t me that the invitation was meant for? What if this was the duck-lipped woman? I stayed quiet.
She was still talking. Even though she would take short breaks, she kept coming back on the air. Her voice was beautiful. I could have fallen in love without ever actually finding her. She sounded raspy. That kind of voice had to come from those heavy lips. It was duck-lips. I was sure of it.
I didn’t know if she was trying to tell Fed where she was, or if he had done something terrible, and she was calling for help. She might have noticed me following them, and was trying to get my attention. The voice was coming from the east, so I drifted that way. After about fifteen minutes of searching and staying silent, I couldn’t take it any longer. I gave in to the need to speak. I’m sure that I lasted longer than most people would have.
“Where are you?” I started. “Keep talking so I can find you.”
I never heard that voice again. I thought that he must have killed her right then. I even figured that I might be responsible for her death. I should have stayed quiet. How many times have I heard that before?
There is a glass dome in these woods. I had heard about it. Years ago it was open to the public, and you could take tours through it. Now it was just an overgrown area. I was right by it after following the girl’s voice. The dome otherwise would have looked like it was ignored for years. I say otherwise, because right now, through the foliage, I could see people milling around inside of it. Today we would call this a biodome. But back then, it was simply a greenhouse. It was old, but still looked like it was intact. The glass wasn’t broken. The place was huge.
I didn’t see a door. Again my instinct took over and told me that I was probably behind the dome. It was then that I heard, “over here.”
Maybe she wasn’t dead. I could hear the voice coming from a small vent down near the ground. I went to it, and this time didn’t hesitate to talk. “Who are you?” I inquired.
She said, “I’m over here.”
I could tell that this was a different voice than before. It was light and weak. The first voice had been so full of life. At least it had been until I spoke up. This girl was not duck-lipped at all. I could tell.
“I said who are you,” I tried again.
“Over here,” was the reply I got.
I was starting to get a little pissed. I walked around toward the front of the dome, and saw somebody at an entrance. He was guarding the doorway, and he was big. He was probably the biggest guy I have ever seen, and I decided right then not to go any further. I was pretty sure that I was already in grave danger, and I wouldn’t be any good to anybody if I were dead. Dead like duck-lips.
I started to backtrack the way I came into the woods. I wanted to work my way back out to civilization. I could go to the police, and get help there. They would be very interested in what was going on around here. Getting safely out of the woods appeared to be easy, so I simply walked back around the biodome, and headed east.
It was beginning to get dark. I had not found the road, but at least I had not been spotted either. I was starting to believe that I was going the wrong way. I was about ready to panic when I heard a voice again. I could clearly make out, “don’t let him get too far ahead.” They had been following me after all.
Now panic really did set in. I started to run, and soon saw headlights. I nearly ran in front of a car when the road appeared faster than I anticipated. I had expected a fence to alert me to the edge of the woods, but there wasn’t one at that section of the reserve. My sudden appearance caused a driver in a little Ford Escort to lose control and go into the ditch. The car didn’t hit anything, but the driver was scared to the point that she sat there without moving until I got to her door. She took one look at me and tried to leave. It’s happened to me before.
Two men joined us. I assumed that they had seen what went on, and stopped to help. Then I noticed that there wasn’t another car within sight. One of the men said, “You need to come with us, sir.”
As they each took an arm, the girl in the Escort turned and rolled down her window, “He caused me to run off the road.”
“Yes ma’am. We saw it, and we will take care of him.” The voice sounded like it was still coming from far away. “You need to get out of your car now.”
The girl turned away again, and tried to start the car. It was already running, but she was stuck in the ditch. It made that grinding sound. She was panicking now. The danger of the situation wasn’t clear, but she knew that something was wrong. Cries started to seep from her as one of the men, without letting go of my arm, opened her door and pulled at her elbow. She came right out of the car with little resistance.
Two cars were passing by and I yelled, “help!” Nobody even slowed down. That’s how this works now. In the movies you wave down a car. Today out there in real life, try it some time. Just go to the road, and try to get somebody to stop. Zoom. They go by. They will probably even speed up. Within a couple of minutes, both of us were in the woods, being led, I presumed, back to the biodome.
It was strange that nothing more was said. We didn’t really fight back. Something made it clear that it would be useless. I couldn’t identify their method of restraint. They weren’t mean to us. After the first few minutes, they probably could have let us go, and we would have simply followed them. The fear of them was stronger than the fear of our situation. We would not fight back. This was how they got people to go where they wanted, but I wasn’t sure why it happened or how it worked.
We were taken to the biodome, and led inside by our two escorts. The foliage inside was heavy, and the air was like a mist. There were about twenty people in all milling about. Nobody seemed concerned about our presence, nor did they appear to be trying to escape. It had to be some kind of spell that prevented any type of normal reaction to being taken hostage. It was then that I realized I could fight back if I wanted to. I simply had to decide if I really wanted to, or if I wanted this spell to take care of things for me. After all, this wasn’t so bad. They weren’t hurting us in any way. I thought, ‘Maybe I will wait and do something later.’
The young girl from the Escort, that I had caused to become involved in this, was looking at me, and I couldn’t keep from looking back. I kept glancing away, but she was my focus. She finally said, “I’m scared. Can’t you do anything?”
She had stopped crying, but you could tell the tears were still there, right behind whatever this spell was that we were bound by. The best way to describe her was that she was sad. I knew that I had to do something. The longer this went on, the less concern I had about my own situation, but she wouldn’t stop looking at me. Maybe the trance wasn’t as strong in her, or maybe she found it easier to want somebody else to take care of things, and of her.
One of the men was still near by, so I went to him, grabbed him by his shirt collar, and said sternly, “You need to tell me what the hell is…..” At least I started to say this brave line. By the time I had gotten those first nine words out, he was gone.
I noticed that several of the people that had been in the dome were gone. The ones in charge were the missing now. I looked around for duck-lips. I had seen her a few minutes ago, but she too was gone. Other people, my fellow captives, were still milling about all over the place, but I thought right away that we were on our own. My new girl friend ran to me and hung tight to my arm. We started shaking people, and saying, “let’s get out of here.”
The spell wore off slowly. It was hard to get people moving towards the door, but once a few started, they all followed. I led them around to the back of the dome, remembering how I first came in. We then worked our way toward what I hoped would be the path home.
People were starting to come to their senses by the time we reached the road. We were finally talking openly. “Didn’t you ever fight back?” I asked.
“No, we weren’t sure what would happen,” was the most common response. “It didn’t seem like we should,” one said. “I felt safe as long as we all just stayed quiet,” one lonely voice added.
“Do you know who they were?” I asked.
Nobody did, but an older guy spoke up with his idea. “I heard them talk a few times about wanting to go home. I don’t think they were from here.”
“What do you mean ‘from here’?” I asked. “You mean Illinois? The U.S.? Earth?”
“Earth,” he replied. “I don’t think they were from Earth.”
I have my own opinion. I don’t think it had anything to do with aliens. I think it was the government, and some kind of test that they’re running. The kidnapped people were guinea pigs of some sort. I think it was compliance testing.
We managed to flag down a cop. At least they still stop when twenty-some people run into the street waving at them. He arranged for a bus to show up, and all of us were taken to the hospital. Several had to stay. We were all questioned by the police, and the reporters showed up. I’m sure that you saw some of this in the news. Nobody knows to this day who the people were that led families to that place in the woods.
The biodome was torn apart trying to find clues. There was never an explanation why the leaves, shrubs, and even the grass were taken to the dome. It was all still alive, and in fact had sprouted its own buds. I mean every single leaf and blade of grass had started its own new tree or patch of lawn. We were no longer involved, nor could we get even a tidbit of information, but I bet somebody kept studying that.
As far as I know, everybody is alright, and back at home now. I talked to a few, but didn’t really get to know anybody. That doesn’t keep me from driving by their houses and checking on them. I had met the Andres family at the hospital, and initially thought that we would become friends. They seem a little distant now though. I feel like they’re a part of me. I really do feel like I saved them, and I’m proud of that. All I had to do was fight back a little. I think they may just want to get back to their lives, and I remind them of something that stands in their way.
End Of DreamRail Story – Sam Thomes – Destroy by 6/4/2009
I’m pleased with my story, and I’ve arrived at work early this morning, but the elevator ride is taking forever. I can’t wait to get this morning over with, and get to lunch. It’s my day to present my story for the group. I think they’ll like it.
Finally, we arrive at the thirteenth floor. “Hi Laura,” I say, sticking my head into Laura Mornay’s office. “Lunch today, right?”
I didn’t wait for a response. I’m quick on my feet today, heading down the hall, and on toward Jim’s office. “Hey Jim, how’s the weekend? Going to Poppy’s today, right?”
Jim Cross is probably my best friend here. “Yeah, we’re going. You going to bore us to death?” He’s a funny guy.
I hit my office. It’s one at the end of the hall. I’m a big guy around here. Well, not all that big, but bigger than Jim. As usual, I get my jacket off as fast as I can, fire up my PC, and check the audix system for messages. I have five. They can wait for my first cup of coffee. The break room is right down the hall. I grab my cup, which hasn’t really been washed in about a month, and head right for it. It’s empty, but it’s only eight twenty-five. Between three coffee pots there is almost one cup left. Making coffee doesn’t even piss me off today. It’ll take up some time.
Fortunately, today is a day full of software team meetings. Laura is on the team. So is Bob Strane. He’s another member of DreamRail. In fact, Bob was the founder of DreamRail, and he probably put the mission best, “I couldn’t find anything on TV last night except all of this reality shit. Somebody was trying to get women to date their dad. Another group of women were trying to get a guy to pick them, just to dump him for a million bucks instead. I’ve got to get satellite or something. Why don’t we start our own network?”
Alright, maybe he didn’t put it best, but he put it first. We decided right then to start our own network. We started DreamRail. You see, we all come to work on the train. Five of us are involved in this very exclusive club. I’ve told you about Laura, Jim, and Bob. Besides me, of course, there is also Tom. Tom Borch is the newest member. He’s a little strange, but he is also our boss. He accidentally overheard Laura and Bob talking about one of our lunches, and decided that he needed to join us. He came to the next meeting, went home, and came up with a whopper of a story. It took a little time to get used to his being there, but his stories are great. We secretly talk about how he must pay somebody to come up with them. As far as any of us know, we are the first people that he has really connected to since joining RMA. He came on as a VP directly from another company, and didn’t get to know people on his way up.
At any rate, the five of us make up DreamRail. It’s a living art, and one of our rules is that the stories can’t be permanently recorded. This is for us only. Art doesn’t have to last forever to be art. These stories will all die out, and be forgotten. For the time being, they are pretty well running my life. I live for these lunches. I think that all five of us have been absorbed by them. Tom, my boss, cancelled a vacation last month, because his turn was coming up. He had already put down five hundred dollars on a trip, and cancelled. He lost the money. See, in Dreamrail, if you don’t show up for your turn, you lose it.
That’s great, but I sure wouldn’t cancel a cruise or something to keep my week. I did stop scheduling appointments over lunch hours. Now I sometimes have to leave a little early from work, or show up late to take care of things, but like I said, Tom is the boss. He understands.
Laura claims that Bob lost his wife over this thing. I was divorced before I even started working here, let alone joined DreamRail. I don’t know what Bob’s thinking now. He’s probably better off. I went a year without a date, and I’m fine. We’re talking about meeting twice a week. That would be great.
I survive the morning, and get to Poppy’s before anybody else is there. I take the table that we use every week. It’s near a corner, right by a half-wall that divides the restaurant from the bar area. You can see into the bar, but it is typically empty at this time of day. After about five minutes Laura and Bob show up. Then we get Tom, followed about five minutes later by Jim. Our group has assembled. The tension is mounting. I begin to tell my story.
The waitress knows to bring us large waters, and leave us alone. When the story is told, we can order food. I finish, and find myself looking at four blank faces. This is customary for DreamRail. We enter the question and answer session right after the end of the story. We have learned not to ask stupid questions, so we take our time. It’s about at that point that the waitress comes in, takes our orders, and quietly departs.
I am looking around the room. The bar now has a couple of people that have wandered in during my story. There are recognizable faces in the crowd, and being the outgoing sort that I am, I nod. Nods come flying back, but never an actual wave. I don’t know these people. They’re just always here.
Finally, Jim asks a question. “What’s the deal about the leaves?”
“Funny you should ask,” I say. “I don’t have a clue.”
“It’s a neat idea, but I can’t place how they did it, or even why,” Bob adds.
“Me neither, but it probably led to the biodome. That kind of helps it make sense. Don’t you think?” I ask.
The questioning goes on. Most of it concerns the stupid leaves. I don’t know why I put that in there. It just popped in. You need three or four things to make a list of events. You know: people disappeared, left their things, no trace, leaves gone. It was just one more thing to add to the list. Evidently it takes away from the story too much, because it’s all they can remember. The dumb asses missed the little particle of a moral that I wove in there. I certainly wasted that on them, and I make a point of telling them so.
Tom sums it up, “Oh, I got your little morsel there. It was cute, and probably hits us too close to home, but you’ve got to drop that leaf shit if you ever tell this again.”
Obviously, I can never tell it again. Now I have five weeks to do a better job. Next week it’s Laura.
Now the week is going to drag on. I’ve sent ten emails to the group box we set-up that is titled DreamRail. In my messages, I implore them to meet at least three times a week. We take a vote, and it passes five to zero.
By Thursday, we are back at Poppy’s. The waitress smiles, but doesn’t even miss a step over our quicker than normal return. I look around the room; the other faces are all appearing, as if it were a Monday. They must be here every day.
Laura tells her story.
“Wow, you must have been pissed,” Jim starts as usual after a reasonable pause and orders are taken.
Laura’s story involved the death of a stranger. Her only connection in the story, to this person was a near miss on the road leading to the train station. By the end of the story, Laura had this poor soul on his back, on the tracks, in three pieces. Laura always has blood as a main character of her story. She’s a little bit of a mystery there, but we all love her. Every guy loves a crazy girl.
On Monday, it’s Tom again. He tells about a cruise that went bad. He’s probably still lamenting about his missed vacation. This boat sunk. Everybody except one old man survived. When he’s done, we all ask Tom how his father’s doing.
Bob on Wednesday tells of an explosion at the train station. That made two that toyed very close to breaking the “no train” rule. Laura, in her story, was on her way to the station, and her character was killed on the tracks. Bob was at the station. Neither was actually on a train. Since we come up with the stories while on a train, it wouldn’t take much imagination to use a train as the setting. That was rule number eight. We now have twenty-two rules, but rule number one is that nothing can be recorded, so we often forget a few of the rules.
Jim’s turn is up on Friday. However, he doesn’t show at noon. He didn’t show up for work that morning. Tom, his boss too by the way, hasn’t heard from him. He wasn’t scheduled to be off, and he hasn’t called in. I call his apartment from the restaurant, but only get his answering machine. Even his recorded message had been influenced by us. “I’m probably on the rail. Leave only you name. Your story is not for record.”
We still eat at Poppy’s. No stories ate told. It wouldn’t be right to go out of order. Everything seems off. We shouldn’t have gone there at all, except that we thought maybe Jim would show up. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to miss work, but show for DreamRail. Even Tom wouldn’t have minded until after lunch.
The faces look different today. Maybe Friday is not a good day to meet. We take a vote, and decide to cut back to two days. Even if Jim voted against, we would win four to one. This doesn’t seem like a good day to be at Poppy’s. Everything is just slightly off balance.
At about three o’clock in the afternoon, I notice a cop in Tom’s office. They close the door, and he spend about thirty minutes with him. Tom comes out, and asks to speak with several of us. He takes us into his office, and we sit around the small conference table that he uses for informal meetings. Officer Cables explains to the four of us that Jim Cross died this morning between Westmont and Brookfield on the tracks between the stations. We believe that he normally boarded at the Westmont station, and would have done so, as usual, at about 6:50 this morning. As of yet, nobody knows how he wound up on the tracks.
My mind is blank. I hear what Officer Cables is saying, but it won’t register. It can’t register. I look around the room, and see the looks on several faces that match what’s going through my head. I finally ask, “Do you mean Jim is dead?”
It was a stupid question, but the officer must be used to it. “Yes,” he responds. “I’m sorry, but he was hit by a train. It doesn’t make sense that he would have been walking on the tracks. We found him about a mile from the Westmont station. If any of you know whether he did things like this before, say he sometimes walked to Brookfield and took a later train, please let me know. We’re dumbfounded. It would have taken about an hour to make that walk. It doesn’t seem to make sense. He could have caught the later train at Westmont, but people do strange things. That’s one thing one learns in my line of work. People do strange things.”
So, none of us are any help. I know that Jim has always walked about the minimum number of steps per day required for him to get where he was going. He wasn’t about to walk four or five miles to catch a train.
This makse for a long weekend. I know Jim’s brother, and go to visit him. His family has no more idea why this happened than anybody else does. They were planning a funeral this coming Tuesday afternoon. Everybody is still in shock.
Monday comes around, and I manage to get to work. Nobody says anything about DreamRail. Any office chatter is directly concentrated on Jim. However, at noon I find myself on Wabash, heading right towards Poppy’s. When I arrive, I find Laura, Bob, and Tom. The four of us can’t give this up, even in the eyes of death. No stories are told, however. We talk only about Laura’s train story, and how it coincided with what had happened to Jim. I never asked anybody about the state of Jim’s remains, so I only know that the casket will be closed for tomorrow’s funeral.
We are sure that this whole thing is no coincidence. Perhaps Jim had simply decided to end it all, and planned it as one last joke on us, but we had all been around him lately, and we know that he wasn’t depressed, or that anything unusual was bothering him. Over the weekend, I asked his brother about his health or money problems. Nothing was wrong, but now he is dead.
The place, Poppy’s, is normal for a Monday, except for us. We are anything but normal. Our waitress notices that we’re short, and comments on it. She sits down to catch her breath when we tell her what happened. Others around us seem to take notice of the strange actions, even though they don’t know what’s going on. This is a familiar crowd that notices when things change.
When the waitress leaves us alone we talk more about what we think is going on. “I don’t believe this was Jim’s joke,” Laura says. “He wouldn’t have done this. He would sooner kill one of us than himself. Besides, this is about me, too. He wouldn’t have done this to me. That was my story.”
“I noticed whose story it was,” Tom responds, seeming a little too agitated. “Who could get Jim to go down to those tracks?” He looks straight at Laura, points a finger, and adds, “I think you’re a little too smug about all of this.”
“Wait a minute,” I say, trying to jump in and defend Laura.
“No, don’t wait. What the hell are you saying,” Laura says, defending herself. “You don’t have the right to start accusing me of something like this. I’ve known Jim a lot longer than you have. You’re the one nobody knows much about. You were late on Friday, weren’t you?”
“Whether I’m late or not has nothing to do with you. What, are you watching what time I come in?”
“How did you know that Jim would have had to go down to the tracks?” asks Bob.
The question takes us all by surprise.
“You asked Laura who could get Jim down to the tracks. Are the tracks in a valley or underground there?” Bob has what sounds like a very legitimate question.
“Yeah,” I add. “You did say down, Tom. I don’t remember what the area looked like. I went out that way on Saturday, and I could see the tracks, but I don’t know right where it happened.”
“It was just a figure of speech,” Tom pipes in, a little sheepishly. “Most tracks that I’ve seen, you would have to go over a fence, and down to them, or at least go through a ditch or something. They aren’t usually just running along with the road. You see the top of a lot of stations from the highway.”
Laura isn’t convinced. “Well, you were the first to start accusing people: Me to be exact. I didn’t do anything to hurt Jim. The others know that I never would. Why were you late?”
“I’ve got nothing to hide from you, or to explain to you. You guys can go screw yourselves.”
Tom gets up from the table at that point, and leaves Poppy’s. Unfortunately, we never see him again.
Back at the office, we we’re greeted by the police. Officer Cable is there, and he has brought a detective. Laura, Bob, and I are each talked to separately. We have to explain DreamRail. Jim’s brother had told him about it, and explained that it seemed overly important to Jim. There is nothing much to explain, except for Laura’s story.
I give them examples of some other stories that have been told over the past few months, and explain that I don’t believe that Laura could have had anything to do with this. At one point, I start thinking they’re coming close to taking us downtown, but when they leave, all three of us are left to shake in our shoes. We have just lost a friend, and now we’re being accused, or at least we feel like we’re being accused, of having something to do with his death. That sounds strange to articulate. We all go home early. We would have asked Tom, but he never came back from lunch.
The next morning, I still get up and go to work as usual. I was going to be leaving at noon for the funeral, and probably wouldn’t go back. Somehow, I thought I’d try to get some work done this morning. Laura, Tom, and Bob aren’t at the office when I arrive. I’m sure that I will see them that afternoon, and don’t blame them for not showing up this morning. I’m not sure why I’m at the office. I find out that Laura and Bob had called in.
Tom never called anybody. By ten o’clock, I find out why he hasn’t called. There isn’t a phone at the bottom of Kingswood Lake, in the park at Oakbrook Terrace.
A boat was found capsized in the park. It belongs to some kids who live nearby, and at first, neighbors thought that they had lost them. There first thoughts were about the boys. They are fine. Tom is not. He lived near the park, and was often seen around there. He had never been known to borrow the boat.
Tom’s boss, William Sharell, is in conference with a new officer, and the same detective that we had talked to. Of course, they call me in. That’s how I get all of my best information these days: in the office of my managers, and in the company of police. Of course, I had not mentioned Tom’s cruise boat story when the detective asked yesterday. It didn’t come to mind. It wasn’t that good of a story.
“You will need to come with us to make a statement,” says Detective Stone, a little too calmly for the intention.
I had talked to him twice in two days, and this time he isn’t very friendly; just all stoic and serious. It isn’t looking good for me at all.
“I am going to his funeral, Detective. I’ll come downtown later, but we all want to be with Jim’s family.” I have to explain at this point that I mean Jim’s funeral, not Tom’s.
“I will be going with you, then,” Stone says, still being over-the-top serious. “I need to be there anyway, as part of that investigation. Will your other dream friends be there?”
“I had nothing to do with this. Don’t act like I’m in on something. I have no idea what they were doing last night, but don’t include me in this just because I go to lunch with a few people.”
“I never said anything happened last night, “ Stone quietly slips in. “How did you know Tom wasn’t killed this morning?”
“Obviously, I don’t know. It’s just that he didn’t come back to work yesterday, and I assume that whatever happened to him happened after he left here. When was it?”
Stone doesn’t answer my question at that point, and then he insists on taking me to Jim’s funeral, and further insists that we stay together.
So, I take Wednesday off, and I get this call from Laura. She had gone into work, and she’s all concerned that I haven’t shown up. Bob hasn’t made it in either. Laura and I had both checked this morning’s paper, halfway expecting to see something about a train station getting blown up. I even watched the local TV news this morning, and I tell Laura that I’ve been watching, and nothing more has happened.
Detective Stone had spent some time with her yesterday as well. “He is convinced that one of us had something to do with all of this,” Laura tells me. “I kept looking around on the way in this morning. I’m sure that he knows exactly where we are, and where we have been for the past couple of days.”
“There’s been a car sitting two houses down, out in the street all night,” I inform her. “You’re right, I’m sure of it. I swear I’m in the dark on this, Laura. Tell me that you don’t know what’s going on either. You were the one that seemed really pissed off last week, and came up with that crazy story.”
“Wait a minute. They’re all crazy stories. That’s the point, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I admit, “but all I’m saying is that you’re always telling blood and guts shit, and now we’re dealing with blood and guts. I’m sorry. We can’t start accusing each other.”
“I didn’t accuse you. You’re the one starting…”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You’re right, and I’m way out of line. Let’s start over. Do you have any ideas?”
There’s one of those short awkward silences on the other end, and then she starts up. “Have you noticed some of the people at the restaurant?”
“Yeah, there are always the same few people around us when we’re there. Have you noticed them?”
“Some of the faces have become familiar,” I’m remembering a few of them as I’m talking. “I nod to a couple guys now, when I see them. Do you think that somebody overheard our stories?”
“It could have happened. A couple of times, I’ve noticed somebody smile when something funny in a story came up. It was like they were listening. In fact, I’m sure of it. I didn’t mind. It was kind of neat that somebody that wasn’t supposed to be involved was like a silent part of our club.”
“Can you meet there for lunch today? I think we need to identify a few friendly faces. In fact I think I’ll let Stone know what we’re doing. He may want to talk to them. We might as well get some company on the bad guy list.”
“I’ll be there. Can you make it by noon?”
“Yeah, noon it is.”
Laura is sitting at our usual table when I get there. Detective Stone is sitting at the bar. He could see over the half-wall, and he’s watching from there. We had agreed that it would look suspicious if he joined us, and arranged a system for us to point out the usual suspects.
“Hey, did you get Bob?” I ask as I sit across from Laura.
“No answer. I left him a message in case he gets it in time to get here. Actually, with everything else that has happened, I’m a little concerned about him.”
“I know,” I agree with Laura. “I’ve already told Stone about him, and I think he’s sending somebody to check on him.” I had told Stone, but I’m not so sure that he’s as concerned. Surely he would have had somebody following Bob too. He probably knows right where he’s at.
Both of us are already looking around the room. I give a nod, and keep looking past one guy before I realize what I’m doing. He is one of the people that we’re looking for. I put a finger to my nose, and point towards him. Stone picks up on it, and motions towards the guy. I give another nod to concur that he has the right man. Stone makes a note in his pad.
“Look at the couple behind me,” Laura say, without turning around. “Do you recognize them?”
“I thought I did, when they walked by, but maybe I’m wrong,” she says. “I do know that the guy on the other side of this wall is always there.”
“I don’t see anybody there,” I tell her. I’m a little surprised. From my side of the table, I never have seen anybody there. I stand up, and walk to the restroom. After a few minutes, I return and glance from Laura’s viewpoint through the half-wall. I se a man for what I believe is the first time ever.
“I don’t know him,” I tell Laura. Then I touch my nose, and motion to Stone. He looks toward the man, nods, and pulls out his pad.
The man obviously has seen this. He jumps up, bolts from the table, out of the bar, through the restaurant, knocks over a table on his way, and gets out the door before Stone gets to his feet.
Laura and I both reflexively jump up, and followed this commotion toward the door. Just outside, two guys have tackled the man no more than two steps past the doorway. By the time we get there, Stone is with them, and they’re cuffing the guy.
“Why did you run, buddy,” Stone asks him.
He doesn’t answer. The guy has his eyes closed, and he’s starting to shake like he is having a convulsion of some sort. It’s not real violent, but he’s shaking and rocking. They aren’t about to get anything out of him, so they get him to his feet, into a car, and away they speed off, down the road, into the sunset.
Stone stays behind, and tells Laura and me that he will be in touch. “Thanks for letting me know that you two were coming here. I don’t know what this is about, but that guy must know something. I’ll let you know when we find something. In the meantime, call if anything else happens.” Stone keeps speaking as he’s turning to go toward his car.
“What about Bob?” I yell, when he stops yapping.
“I don’t know. I did send two uniforms over to check out his place. I’ll let you know when I hear back. I’m sure he’ll be back at work tomorrow.” With that said, Stone gets into his car and drives away.
By now, Laura is just standing there smiling at me. Then she says the strangest thing. “Bob’s dead.”
I laugh. I think she’s kidding, and then I realize she might just be speculating, and then she goes on with a lot more specifics, “They’ll find him under one of those six foot plastic domes in his back yard. Sorry, it’s the best I could do. We’ll get away with it. Don’t worry. That silly ass that they’re taking downtown will probably wind up confessing. He’s a little off. I noticed him coming here about a month ago. He just sat in the bar, hunched down at that table. He can’t defend himself.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Why can’t he defend himself?”
“No, why are you telling me this. No wait. Back up. Why did that guy run?”
“Oh, that. I told him before you or Stone got here that this man was coming in, and he was very bad. If he noticed him, he better leave. That worked pretty well, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, real well,” At this point, I’m not sure what to do. I can still see the back of Stone’s car at a stoplight a couple blocks away. I think about chasing after him.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why? It’s where this club needed to go. Too much dream, not enough real,” she responds, her eyes wide and bright, like she’s more alive than before.
And, she is still smiling at me when she says, “Oh yeah, you should know that you ordered a six foot geodome from a small company in Washington state. Got it through the Internet, and it arrived with your name all over the order. Now, I don’t think anybody will ever have reason to come across this. Your little secret is safe with me, unless you start to feel like you need to tell somebody about how our club has evolved. Comprende?”
Laura might have me. I still don’t know whether to run, yell, strangle her, or just walk away.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “We are really fine. We can dissolve the club. DreamRail is over, but it was quite a ride. Remember, art doesn’t have to go on forever. If we keep this up, we will get caught, so let’s just drop it. Come on, let’s go to work. You’ve got a good job. So do I.”
Then, Laura just walks away. She turns back, “How did you get here?” she asks. “I took the train.” She tells me, and laughs as she walks on.
I on the train too. In fact that’s why I’m here now, working on this story, and we’re about at the station. I Told you I could tell this in twenty-five minutes. It’ll work well for the lunch group today; for Dreamrail. Thanks for listening. A little practice telling my stories never hurts.
End Of Blank Slate Story — Mike Ripley — Destroy by 6/4/2015