One of my more popular short science fictions.
A man on a lone journey from Toronto to Montreal by rail experiences something rather odd about his trip.
The bedside digital clock glowed, "7:29".
A young man is sound asleep in his small Toronto apartment.
It is a bright, sunny, warm day. Very warm for this time of day. Already 22 degrees. It is supposed to go above 30 today.
It is July 2, and the young man is about to embark on his first vacation away from his home town in over five years.
The display on the clock switched from "7:29" to "107.1". It was 7:30, and the radio came on nice and loud to awaken the man, "...looks like it is going to be another hot one out there. Happy second of July! Hope you are all staying cool....This 'Derringer In the Morning' on Classic Rock Q107. Before we get back to the music, let's take a look at traffic..."
The young man abruptly awoke, ignoring the traffic report on the radio, as he did not care. He was on vacation, and did not need to report to work, nor deal with traffic.
He walks away from the bed, leaving the radio to play.
In the kitchen, he pulls out an Aunt Jemima Frozen Breakfast from the freezer, and pops it into the microwave oven, and continues to the bathroom.
He walks past a small table. On that table is a folder with a ticket. It is a rail ticket, "Toronto to Montreal, Business Class, Depart: Toronto Union Station, July 2, 11:35 Arrive: Montreal Central Station, July 2, 16:10.
After a shower and a shave, the man sits down to have breakfast.
He wants to get out in a decent time, to make sure there is no stress. After all, this is a vacation. The idea is to get away from stress. He was already packed and ready to go. All he has to do is hop onto the subway to Union Station.
He managed to get the 8:35 subway train, which should get him to Union by 9:00. That will give him plenty of time.
The trip on the subway did not appear to take very long. Actually, it seemed faster than usual. Only about ten minutes. This trip usually takes at least twenty minutes.
Upon arriving at the station, the young man went to the desk to check-in, "Hi, I might be a bit early, but I'm leaving on the 11:35 to Montreal.", and handed the lady his ticket.
She looked at the ticket and said, "Ah, sir, actually you are a bit late...by almost 24 hours. This ticket was for yesterday's departure."
"This ticket is for July Second"
The lady looked at him oddly, "Today is July Third, sir".
The man became agitated, "What kind of stunt are you trying to pull, lady? It was July Second when I woke up this morning. I just took the subway here. I know our subway system is slow, but not that slow."
The man looked at his watch, "8:57 AM...July 3..."
The young man thought, "How could it be? I'm I that stressed from work, that I managed to somehow lose a whole day? I guess its possible, but..."
He said to the ticket agent, "OK, so what can I do?"
"Unfortunately, this ticket is non-refundable, but you can purchase another ticket for the next departure. However, we will not be able to give you the discounted fare, but you are lucky. You are getting the last available seat on that train."
The man bought another business class ticket at full fare, which he was not at all happy about. Still confused, he proceeded to the business class lounge to wait for his train.
After about an hour of waiting, there was an announcement, "Business class travelers on train 54 to Montreal, and Kingston, please start boarding on track three.
The man thought to himself again, "It has only been an hour, and we are already boarding. We are not leaving until 11:35."
He looked at his watch, "11:10 AM"
"OK, I have somehow lost another hour. Wow, I really need this vacation."
He boarded the vehicle, and sat at his assigned seat. There was an odd smell in this car. A familiar smell, but he could not recall where he smelled it before. At the same time, he noticed that he was the only one seated in this car. The ticket lady said this train was full. Where is everyone?
The man kept looking around, waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, but no one did.
At precisely 11:35, the train left Toronto, heading east to Kingston and then Montreal.
"I need to start relaxing. Odd things are happening, but its just me. I am stressed. Relax, just relax.", The man thought to himself, and then fell asleep.
He woke up somewhere between Oshawa and Belleville to the sound of the attendant, "Excuse me, sir. I'm sorry to wake you, but lunch is going to be served soon. Would you like beef, chicken, or fish?"
He was happy to see her, as he was suddenly feeling very hungry, "Hi, thank you. I'd like chicken, please."
As the attendant walked away, the man noticed three other passengers behind him. He was sure they were not there before... or were they?
The young man pulled out his Smartphone to check email. He powered on the device, and noticed the time and date, "3:32 PM, July 2". He thought, "Okay, that's fine. Stupid Smartphones are really not that smart, are they?"
It was probably because it had been off for so long. It might take a few minutes for the time and date to be corrected.
Email started to pour in, 1 message, 5 messages, 9 messages, 14, 21, 33... Wow. Then they stopped. A "No Service" message came on the screen. He looked at another passenger, who was talking on her cell phone, and it looks like she lost service also. "Okay, those things happen. Service will come back soon."
The attendant returned with his lunch. A plate with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli, and Salisbury steak.
"Excuse me, miss. I'm sorry, but there seems to be a mistake. I asked for chicken."
"No sir, I wrote it down. See, your seat number, and it says "beef".
The young man, not in any mood to argue said, "Okay, that's fine."
For a moment, he glanced out the window, and noticed a cell tower not far from the tracks. He then looked over at the women behind him, and she was still messing with her phone, which was apparently still not working. "Damn crappy cell phones. They don't damn-well work.", he thought.
He finished his meal, and there was an announcement, "Kingston...Kingston, next stop."
The man looked up, and noticed they were arriving at Kingston. He also noticed the other three passengers getting ready to leave.
After a short wait at Kingston, he was once again alone in the car. He looked down at his watch, and the time was now 4:42. "We were supposed to be in Montreal by now. What is taking so long?"
His Smartphone still had no service. He felt that he would have to contact his cell company once he finally reached Montreal.
He was feeling tired again. Six hours on a train will do that to a person.
When he awoke, he was still alone in the car. He checked the time, "5:17". Oh, good. We must be getting there soon.
Right at that moment, there was another stop announcement, "Kingston...Kingston, next stop".
The man thought something my have happened while he was asleep, and they had to go back.
Upon arriving at Kingston, he noticed three passengers board his car. Funny, they look familiar. Of course, they do. They were the same three passengers that left the car the last time we arrived at Kingston. Well, that explains everything! These passengers got out at Kingston, and they realized it was not their stop, so the train went back for them. Sure, it happens all the time! This is perfectly normal. Nothing odd happening.
The attendant came over, "Hello, sir. We are going to be serving dinner, soon. Would you like beef, chicken, or fish?"
The man thought for a moment, "Ahhhhh... Beef." Thinking that if he asked for beef, he would get chicken.
Like clockwork, the attendant quickly returned with his meal. It was a fillet of salmon on rice. Of course it was. Maybe on the next meal I get on this hell train, I will ask for fish, and maybe finally get chicken, damn it! Who do I have to screw on this train to get chicken?!
After finishing his meal, the man again pulled out his Smartphone to check for service. He powered on, and it still indicated "No Service". At this point, he was not the least bit surprised. He also noticed that the date was still July 2. Which was the day it was supposed to be, but for some reason, it wasn't. The date on his watch also says that it was July 2. Although it was July 3 when he left Toronto.
In what seemed to be only a few minutes, there was another announcement, "Ottawa...Ottawa, next stop."
Okay, first of all it takes at least an hour to get from Kingston to Ottawa, not just a few minutes. Also, this train is not supposed to stop at Ottawa.
He flagged down the attendant, "Excuse me, miss? Why are we stopping at Ottawa? Does this not go straight through to Montreal?"
"No.", she said, "This train only goes to Ottawa. You transfer to another train in Ottawa if you want to go on to Montreal."
"Wait a minute.", the young man said in an agitated voice,"You mean to tell me I have to change trains now?"
"Yes. This train is going back to Kingston once we arrive at Ottawa."
"No way. I am not freaking-well going to Kingston, again!"
Frustrated, he looked at his watch, and it was almost 6:30 in the evening. He was already over two hours late arriving to his destination. Now, he has to change trains.
As the passengers were leaving, the attendant said, "Thank you. For those going on to Montreal, your train is waiting on track one.
The young man walked to track one, and handed the ticket to the collector.
"Wrong ticket.", the collector said.
"This ticket is for Toronto to Ottawa. Where is your Ottawa to Montreal ticket?"
The man grabbed back the ticket to check. He was sure he had a ticket for Montreal. To his dismay, the ticket was for Ottawa.
The young man thought, "How the hell did that happen?"
The young man then said to the collector, "When does this train leave?"
"Ten minutes", the collector said.
"Okay, there is a mistake. I will be right back."
"Ten minutes.", the collector said again.+*-
He ran to the ticket window, to tell them about the mistake, "Hi, I have to hurry, the train is there...I bought a ticket to Montreal, and this says Ottawa. Can you fix it?"
The woman at the ticket counter types in his name from the information on the ticket, "Our system shows a ticket purchased for July Second, from Toronto to Ottawa."
"Crap!", the young man was now starting to lose it. He was beginning to feel that the rail company was trying to rip him off, "Look, I don't know what you people are trying to do. I have been on your stupid train 'way longer than needed. We stopped at Kingston twice, and now you are dumping me here!"
"I don't know what to tell you, sir. All of the ticketing information is in the system. That is all we have for you. If you would like, I'd be happy to sell you a ticket to Montreal."
"Of course you would. That is what all this is about, isn't it? Some sort of confuse the customer, rip-off scheme?"
" I assure you sir, we are not trying to do that. you can see for yourself that your ticket is only good to Ottawa."
"Okay, okay, okay, give me a damn ticket to Montreal."
"Sure. Economy or Business Class?"
"Economy. I am not giving you people any more money. I just want to start my damn vacation!"
"Okay, sir, that will be sixty-three dollars."
"Sixty-three dollars! Unbelievable. Here. Shove it.", he throws four twenties on the counter.
The ticket lady gave him a dirty look, but continued to process the sale.
"Thank you, sir. Here is your change, and your ticket. Your train leaves in two minutes from track one."
He ran, and ran, and ran. It was amazing that the distance from the ticket counter to the train was longer than before.
The walkway to the platform went on forever.
When he finally arrived at the platform, the train was just leaving.
"Shhhhhhhhit!", he yelled.
The oddest thing was, he could have sworn the other passengers were waving and laughing at him as they were departing the station
He walked back to the ticket agent, "Excuse me. I missed the train to Montreal. May I take the next one?"
The ticket agent said, "The next train to Montreal leaves in three minutes from track one. You didn't miss it. There is lots of time."
The man thought, "Ooooooo-kayyyy..."
He walked back to track one, and sure enough, there was the train to Montreal. He handed the collector the ticket, and the collector said, "Welcome aboard."
The young man went to his seat, and decided to listen to the radio. The radio was already tuned to 107.1, and he was actually picking up a station. There must be another station in this area on the same frequency.
After listening for a couple of minutes, he realized that it was in fact, Q107 Toronto. "Well, with all the other odd things happening today, why not?", He thought to himself, "Radio signals sometimes do weird things. You know, weather conditions, sun spots, whatever."
Soon, the train left Ottawa, on to its destination, Montreal.
By this time it was starting to get dark. The man was getting a bit tired of being on the train. His watch indicated that it was almost 9 PM, but by this time, the man didn't really trust his watch, or anything else for that matter.
"Ten hours.". The man was thinking, "I have been on this train for alomst ten hours. This trip was supposed to be five hours long. I am taking time away from home, to relax, but this is getting very stressful. I wish my wife was with me to help pass the time."
He could not stop thinking how badly he wanted to get to Montreal and get off that train.
It seemed like only a half-hour had gone by, when they finally arrived at Montreal Central Station. The man did not care about time any more, but checked his watch anyway. It was almost midnight.
The hotel was only a few blocks from the station, so he walked. Once there, he approached the desk to check-in.
The man behind the counter said, "I'm sorry. We can not find a reservation for you."
"Of course you can't...", The man said sarcastically, "Just like I did not buy a train ticket to Montreal."
The desk clerk just looked at the man, but offered a suggestion, "We have a room available if you want it."
"Of course I want it. That's why I booked it."
"Very well. Please sign in, and here is your door key."
"Thank you", The young man said.
"Do you need help with your bags?", The desk clerk asked.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Good night", The man said, as he huried away from the desk and to the elevator.
Finally in the room, the young man wanted to take a shower, then go right to bed. It was very late.
He put on the TV for some background, and there was a French sports station on. They were talking about baseball. The Montreal Expos.
The man did not think much of it, although the Montreal Expos have not played since 2004, this was just part of all the other oddities happening today. Tomorrow will be a normal day.
The man went into the washroom to shower, and while the water was running, he could hear the TV slightly in the background. They were now speaking English, and talking about a hockey game the Canadiens played last night.
"Hockey...in July?", he thought. "Yep."
The young man decided to not shower tonight, and that it would be best to go to sleep. He hit the bed, and was asleep within just a couple of minutes.
The man was awakened early in the morning by the clock-radio, "...looks like it is going to be another hot one out there. Happy second of July! Hope you are all staying cool....This 'Derringer In the Morning' on Classic Rock Q107. Before we get back to the music, let's take a look at traffic..."