A Train Ticket to the Fourth Dimension
A New Witness
Her forehead was cold, pressed against something hard. She could hear voices around her, unfamiliar voices. Opening her eyes, she quickly shut them again. There was so much light coming in from all directions. She opened her eyes again, this time a little slower. Her face was pushed up to a glass window, which was fogging up with her breath. Her head began to pound as she sat up. Dizzy, she reached out and put one hand on the pane.
As her vision cleared, she realized that she was not the only person here. There were others, taking their seats, laughing and chattering amongst themselves. She glanced around and was stunned to see that she was in a train car. Out the window, she could see multiple cars lined up at a station, all pulled by a bright red locomotive. “Mountain Traveler Train” was emblazoned on the engine’s side in large white cursive lettering.
She thought, “I am on a train? How did I get here? Where is here?”
These thoughts swirled around her head as her mind became less foggy. They were parked at a train stop. She could see a tall ornate building in the distance, with many rows of windows. If she had had her wits about her, she would have leapt up and run onto the platform.
“What was that? Some sort of hotel? Maybe someone there could help me,” she thought.
The train lurched forward. The time to get up and escape this place was now. She tried to rise from the chair, but her legs were like jelly and could barely support her weight. The action really made her woozy. She slumped back down into her seat, and it swiveled around to face the center of the car. Too late! The train was now slowing rolling along. She was stuck here.
She looked around more thoroughly; this train car was luxurious. The rich browns of the hardwood floors, inlaid in a herringbone pattern, glistened in the sun. The seat in which she sat was tan leather and could swivel around in a complete circle. A large wood and metal table rose from the floor and ran down the center of the car. It had a two inch-high lip around the edge with a gold-plated maple leaf motif. A similar, but much smaller tabletop was attached to the side of the reclining chairs. But the most incredible of all were the enormous floor to ceiling windows that ran the length of the car. Even the ceiling had glass panels.
“Um, excuse me,” she called out. “Where am I?” No one responded to her question.
“Excuse me. Can someone help me?” Again, no one responded. No one even looked her way.
Gathering her wits, she tried her legs again and found that they were less wobbly. She swayed over to the door and pulled it open, entering the next compartment. This one was different. Still luxurious with hardwood floors, a sign indicated that bathrooms ran down the center of the car. Along the edges of the car, folding doors opened to the outside. Metal railings that bore the same gold-plated maple leaf pattern allowed passengers to step “out” and experience the fresh air. She stumbled along to the next car after that, opening the door to stick her head in. This car had the same configuration as the one she had woken up in. It too was mostly filled with passengers taking their seats and putting small carry-on bags by their feet.
She closed the door and headed back into the second car, deciding to stop at the bathroom. She latched the door behind her and clutched the sink. Apparently no expense had been spared for the building of this train. The sink was marble with gold plated furnishings. The towels were bright red, embroidered with “Mountain Traveller Train” in same white cursive font, and the mirror was framed in the same golden metal maple leaves. She stared into the mirror, but her reflection was slightly fuzzy. She wiped the glass with her hand, but her image did not improve. She splashed some water on her face and began to cry.
The train was now rolling at a steady clip as she stood and wondered what had happened. The last thing she remembered was studying for her biology exam in her bedroom. She had put her head down for a quick nap before dinner. Now, she was on a train. But where was it headed?
After standing in the bathroom for some time, she figured the only place to go was back to her seat. So, she stumbled back to her compartment, to her chair, and sat down. A steward entered with giant trays. He set them down on a table that ran down the center of the train car. A stewardess entered, pushing a cart with cups, piping pots of coffee, and carafes of orange juice and milk. Stacks of plates and bowls were also placed on the table. She watched as an extravagant breakfast buffet was laid out. She sprang up from her seat and clutched the arm of the stewardess. Maybe she would respond to her.
“MISS! MISS! Excuse me! Where am I?” The stewardess did not reply, did not even look in her direction. It was almost as if the woman did not realized that someone was touching her, realize that someone was yelling at her. She let go of the stewardess’s arm and began waving her hands and jumping up and down, trying go get someone’s attention. Nothing. She stopped and stared around the train car in disbelief. No response. She sat down in her seat.
She weakly shouted, “HELLO! Does nobody hear me?!” But still, there was nothing. The other passengers got up, grabbed plates, and piled them with food. Fresh cut fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, yogurt, and pastries. Cups were filled with assorted beverages. As they took their seats, they chatted away, while the train kept rolling along.
She swiveled her chair and stared out the window. Wherever she was, she was somewhere wild. It was beautiful. Lofty mountains rose toward a soft blue sky. Their peaks were capped in snow that sparkled in the morning light. Pine trees gracefully swayed with wind, and she spotted a large moose on the banks of a lake. Tears rolled down her cheeks as they traveled along.
Why was no one responding to her? Could they not hear her? How was she going to get home?
It felt like a long time as she watched out the window. As they twisted and turned through the wilderness, the surroundings started to become blurs. The train was speeding up, kept speeding up. Soon, things were whipping by so fast she could not make out what flew past the window.
There was a bump, and the train bobbled a bit. Murmurs of concern rippled among the other passengers. A group of stewards rushed through the car towards the front of the train. She leapt up out of her seat and followed. Through many cars they ran, until they came to the locomotive car. Stewards were crowded around the door to the engineer’s compartment, pounding on the small glass pane. The door was locked, and they were frantically trying to open it. But something had fallen between the door and the control panel, blocking the door from being opened.
“JOHN! JOHN!” But the engineer did not respond.
“Get something to break the glass!”
Many of stewards scattered to look for something with which to break in. She went closer, and through the windowpane, she could see the body of the engineer lying on the floor. He was not moving; he was stiff, his blank face blue. He was dead.
Seized with terror, she ran back to her compartment as fast as she could. There was now a great commotion on the train as the other passengers realized that something was terribly wrong. The stewards were yelling to the passengers, “Stay in your seats! Grab on to something!”
She ran to her chair and clutched the sides. She tried to swivel around and face inwards, not wanting to see what was coming. But the seat seemed to have a mind of its own. It swung back around, facing her towards the window. Frozen in fear, she could not close her eyes. Many of the other passengers were screaming now. Some had begun to pray. They, too, realized their coming fate. She watched as the train hurdled down the track towards a bridge over a ravine, under which a river raged frothy with rapids. They were going too fast to take the turn onto the bridge. As they made their approach, the train began to wobble violently. Great shudders coursed through the floor as the wheel came off the tracks.
Airborne, she left her seat and for a few moments was floating mid-air, as the train jumped from the rails. The train missed the turn for the bridge and sailed off into the ravine, towards the river below. Then, they impacted the mountainside and began to tumble down towards the water. The windows shattered as the cars slammed into the rocks, and the metal creaked as it folded on itself. The locomotive, hitting the mountain first, exploded, causing a fireball to race upward towards the rest of the tumbling cars.
Passengers were violently thrown from their seats, colliding with each other as the train cars rolled over and over. She lost her grip and was flung into the back of another chair, feeling a few ribs crack. She screamed in pain, but it was lost in the multitude of other screams that were reverberating around the car. Cups and plates were flying by, having been sent airborne too. Broken glass was crunched against her face as she was thrown against the floor. She felt the sharp sting as her cheek was sliced.
She grabbed a nearby steward by his double-breasted coat as she was tossed about the train car. The coat was bright red and had round gold buttons running down the front. She was so close to the man that she could see the buttons had an embossed maple leaf on each of them. The white pants, that completed the uniform, were quickly soaking with blood. A large piece of glass protruded from the steward’s leg. She tried to hold on. Down, tumbling down toward the river, she fell. As the car impacted the icy cold water, the jacket ripped, and the steward was thrown across the car. The buttons popped off, showering down onto her. The frigid water stabbed with searing pain all over her body, as the breath was driven out of her lungs. The screams of her fellow passengers echoed in her ears. She closed her eyes tight to die.
Then all was warm and dry and light. She snapped her eyes open and drew a deep, gasping breath. She was in a bedroom, her bedroom, sitting at a desk, her desk. Strewn about its worn wooden top were her biology textbook, scribbled notes, and gel-pens of assorted colors. Her computer sat dark, like a silent sentry, ready for her use. Her heart was pounding and she drew another deep, winded breath.
“Annie!” It was her mother’s voice along with an impatient rap on the door. “I have called you now three times now. It’s dinner, unless you don’t want to eat.”
Annie just sat at the desk, stunned.
“Annie!” The door flew open and there was her mother, hands on her hips, with gravy splatters and flour dust across her apron. “Did you hear me?!”
Annie just nodded.
“Don’t you want to eat?”
Annie just nodded again
“Come on then. Food is getting cold. And change out of that sweater. You don’t want to drag those sleeves through your food.”
Her mother turned heel and walked away. Annie could hear the commotion that was her four younger siblings in the kitchen; everyone wanted to eat. A rich beefy smell floated through the air, accompanied by the sweet scent of bread. She could tell that her mother had made a pot roast and her grandfather must have baked yeast rolls. Oh, it all smelled so delicious, and she was hungry. Her empty stomach gave a little rumble.
She clutched her side; it hurt. He cheek was sore too.
“I have been crunched up in my chair for hours,” she thought. “And I must have slept with my face pressed against the spiral binding of my notebook.”
As Annie rose, she accidentally nudged the computer mouse, waking up the monitor. The screen lit up, opened to the latest thing she had searched for: a diagram of the Krebs cycle. She had been studying before her mother had called to her that dinner would be ready in a fifteen minutes. Tomorrow was a biology exam, and she had been reviewing the material all day. Weary from the sheer volume of information she needed to remember, she had laid her head down for a quick shut-eye before she ate.
Annie pulled off her sweater and tossed it onto the bed. It was Annie’s favorite: bright green, oversized with big ruffled sleeves, and super soft. The sweater landed right next to Winston, a large Maine Coon cat, and woke him. He picked up his head and meowed at Annie. Eyeing up the newly available bedding, he stretched and moved to go sit on it. Winston liked that sweater too, and he began to knead the knitting with his paws, purring loudly. Annie grabbed a more suitable cardigan from the closet and threw it on, one with less bulky sleeves. She shivered; she felt cold, frozen to the bone.
On the way to the kitchen, she spied her grandfather in the living room, lounging on the couch. He had the television on and tuned to the 5pm news. Annie could hear the anchor talking as she made her way to the table.
“And now we have breaking news out of Canada, just in. Early this morning, a Mountain Traveler Train, similar to the one shown here, derailed in the Canadian Rockies. It was carrying passengers on a sightseeing vacation. It is believed that excessive speed caused the train to jump the tracks and plunge over the side of a ravine into the river below.”
The news reporter paused and looked down at her notes. Her voice cracked with the next statement.
“There are no reports yet on the number of injuries or fatalities. We will update you with details as soon as they come in. However, authorities expect that there will be few, if any, survivors. This is Martha Downs, reporting for your local news station.”
Annie froze in the doorway; she stared at the television as her grandmother came out to the sofa and clicked it off. Rooted to the spot, Annie’s head began to whirl. The example train that was just shown on the screen was the same one in her dream. And the crash that was reported was eerily similar too.
Her grandmother’s voice snapped her back to reality. “There you go Raymond, that’s what you wanted to do for our anniversary, travel the mountain train. It’s a good thing I suggested a tropical cruise. Look what could have happened.”
“Annie, Earth to Annie!” Her brothers were calling from the table.
All the blood must have drained from her face. “Are you okay?” Her mother gave her an inquisitive look.
“Yeah” was all Annie could manage.
Sunday dinners were the best, and this one looked scrumptious: tender pot roast with mashed potatoes, balsamic glazed carrots, and hearty gravy. In a basket, sat yeast rolls with golden brown tops. But Annie was no longer hungry. She ate very little: a small piece of meat, half a scoop of potatoes, and a couple of carrot sticks. She pocketed a roll for later. While she picked at her plate, she listened to the snippets of conversation around the table.
“And to believe, Raymond, that’s what you wanted to do for our anniversary trip.”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, Janice!” Her grandfather glared at her grandmother, but she ignored him.
On the opposite end of the table, Annie could hear her two teenage brothers pleading with their parents about what video games they wanted for Christmas. And Annie’s younger twin sisters were giggling and trying to practice the latest dance video while seated at the table.
They were all carrying on amongst themselves, but Annie sat there quietly. All she could think about was that horrible dream and those poor people on the train. She could not get it or the news cast about the derailed train out of her head. It has been so real; she could have sworn she was actually there. She periodically had had vivid dreams as a child, but nothing as tangible as this one. She mushed the mashed potatoes around on the plate, wondering about it all.
How could she have dreamed such a thing? Where did she read that? She didn’t recall seeing that story on the Internet. She had been looking up the Krebs Cycle and not the latest news. It had to be just a coincidence.
After dinner, Annie trudged back to her bedroom. At her desk, she began closing up the textbook and packing away her notes. She closed out of the webpage and tossed all the colorful gel-pens into a pencil case.
“Well, Winston,” she said to the cat sitting on her bed. “Apparently I can’t remember the things that I read. Whatever I have learned, it’s going to have to do. And what I don’t know, I am not going to learn tonight.”
She gently pulled the sweater out from under the cat and tossed it onto the chair. But her aim was not too good, and it slipped off. Winston jumped off the bed and ran over to it, for something had caught his attention. From the folds of the ruffles of the sleeves, out rolled a gold ball. The cat’s eyes widened and he crouched into an attack position. He pounced and sent the small object skittering across the floor. That drew Annie’s attention.
“What do you have there?”
Winston batted the object over to the dresser leg, where it hit it and stopped spinning. Annie reached down, picked it up, and held it in the palm of her hand.
Her heart skipped a beat or two and then started to pound against her ribcage. The breath caught in her throat, and her mind was racing. It was a round gold button with an embossed maple leaf on it, just like the one from her dream. As her trembling fingers moved it around her palm, she noticed that there was something off about the button. She could see it, touch it, and move it. It was a physical thing, but she could barely feel it. Then, the edges of the button began to turn fuzzy and started to fade.
“What is happening?” She wondered out loud.
She barely spoke the words when the air around the button began to vibrate and ripple, like a stone thrown in a pool of water. Then, light began bending around the sides of the button and it vanished out of the palm of Annie’s hand. All that remained was a ghostly smoke, a spectral shell, which disappeared as Annie gasped.
Back at the crash site the next morning, a man stood on the riverbank, at a distance from the wreckage. He surveyed the scene of the disaster, as rescuers and crew worked to pull immobile people from the rubble. He was dressed for the November weather in a heavy wool jacket, and his legs were clad in knee-high waders. Long black hair streaked with gray was pulled back into a low ponytail under a cowboy hat. A feather, tucked into the hatband, whipped in the wind. He watched a helicopter traverse the sky and land about one hundred feet away. As the pilot killed the engine, a well-dressed man in a suit and tie stepped out. He strolled over to the Canadian, turning up the collar of his bombardier jacket against the chilly air.
“Agent Whitewater,” the well-dressed man called out as he approached the Canadian.
“Agent Brzezinski. Thanks for coming. Good to see you again.”
“And you the same, Bill.”
The men shook hands and then pulled into a quick hug and pat on the back.
The Canadian looked down at the American’s feet, which were clad in a dress shoes. “Steven, do you not have waders down in Washington?”
“I don’t plan to get my feet wet,” the American replied with a side-ways smile.
The Canadian chuckled, then his face turned grim. “It’s a terrible ordeal.”
“Yes it is,” the American said. “Any survivors?”
“None yet.” The Canadian took a deep breath. “You got my message?”
“Yes I did. You indicated that a monitor of yours detected a disturbance across our border. Where in America?”
“Yes, somewhere in your Midwest, and then a corresponding one here. It definitely has signs of travel.”
“I asked my superiors, it’s not one of ours,” said the American. “They think that perhaps, this could be a new one, previously unidentified. An incredible asset if that turns out to be true.”
“We thought the same. It’s not one of ours either,” the Canadian agreed. “And I know, specials are so rare.”
“I wish we had ten times the amount our agency has,” replied the American. “There are so many things to be seen, and so few assets to send out. Are all yours out on assignment?”
“Yes. We just sent the last one to the Library at Alexandria Project.” The earliest one won’t be available for reassignment to watch this crash until Friday.”
“That’s no matter,” responded the American, “time waits. Your message also indicated that there was a second disturbance.”
“Yes, an echo heading back through time. Our monitor calculated that it would reappear here this morning, somewhere nearby. I am just waiting for confirmation when it starts to come through.”
“An echo? That’s definitely someone untrained. We no longer take things through time. Causes too much trouble. That’s going to more paperwork.” The American shook his head.
“Perhaps not. This echo is only twenty-four hours old or so,” the Canadian replied.
“There is still going to be an aftershock.” The American looked puzzled.
“Yes, but not as bad as some of those created when we still tried to take things through.”
“Well, that was before me. When I joined the agency, we had learned our lesson. Now we have laws in place.”
“Not before me.” The Canadian turned to the American and smiled weakly. “I was a young man, fresh in our training program when the dinosaur incident occurred. My training had to be expedited to assist the Americans.”
“The one we caused? We still study that case in our program.”
“Yeah, that one. And for good reason that you still study it. It was a horrendous mess. A living thing from the past, pulled through time, does not survive in the present.”
“Yeah,” sighed the American. “That, and we caused an echo across 240 million years. There were ripples within ripples, weakening time. Objects slipped though, back and forth, for years.”
“If I am not mistaken, you had aftershocks all the way down into Mexico. You had to get help from their agency too.”
“Yep, took us a decade to clean it up.” The American shook his head again. “Now, we know better.”
“Go for Agent Whitewater.” The Canadian tapped an earpiece in his left ear. Turing to the American, he said, “here it comes.”
“About twenty feet ahead. Looks like you might have to get your feet wet.” He smirked and the American rolled his eyes.
Speaking into the earpiece, the Canadian said, “Send me the location.” With that he touched a silver bracelet on his left wrist. It was smooth and unassuming, except for a single half-twist on the top, a Möbius band, inlaid with black stone. The stone was flanked with two enamel Canadian flags embedded in the metal, and, at his touch, the stone began to illuminate.
The Canadian held out this arm and allowed the glowing bracelet to guide their way forward. Across the ground the two men walked until the bracelet began to blink, indicating they had arrived at the location. They were still on the riverbank, but just barely out of the water. A little ripple lapped at the American’s shoes. They were downstream from the crash, and there they waited a few minutes as they looked around.
Then, all of a sudden, the air began to vibrate and ripples of light began twisting out of a small spot about three feet off the ground. Out of this anomaly, a tiny translucent object gently glided down to the ground and came to rest ahead of them in a few inches of water. There, the ghostly echo met with its physical counterpart. When the two connected, the ripples and light faded away, disappearing back into time. The Canadian reached down, swirled his fingers in the water, and picked up the object. He rolled it in his palm and then held it out to the American to scan.
It was a round gold button with a maple leaf embossed upon it. The American stretched out his hand, bending it down. On his wrist was a similar bracelet to the one the Canadian wore, except the American’s was gold with American flags. The twist on his bracelet began to glow and a beam of light emanated from it. The American moved the beam up and down, scanning the button.
“Yep,” he said, once the bracelet was done, “this object has travelled through time. It bears the signatures.
“The water must have carried it downstream from the crash. You need to make a call,” the Canadian said as he dropped the button into the American’ hand. The American nodded and tapped at an earpiece in his right ear. The Canadian looked back upstream towards the crash site as first responders continued to work.
“Washington, yes, this is Agent Brzezinski. I need you to get in touch with the Canadian agency and discern a more specific location of the disturbance from their monitor.” He paused, “Yes, and then dispatch a tracker to that location. We have a brand new time witnesser on our hands. We need to find that individual as soon as possible.” He paused again. “Yes, keep me updated.”
Monday afternoon, Annie sat in a classroom, eyes fixed on the paper on her desk. It was her senior year in college and she was sitting for the mid-term exam of her Advanced Cellular Biology course. She had a high-“B” average in this class and was hoping that, with a good grade on this exam, she would be able to pull out an “A”. Being a homebody and unsure of herself, she had chosen to attend a small college in her hometown where she could commute. She was planning, perhaps next year, on moving away to work on her master’s degree. Earning an “A” in this class would definitely give her a competitive edge. It was a long exam and time was ticking away. She circled multiple-choice answers and wrote in short responses. She yawned. She had not slept well that evening, and now she now racking her brain trying to remember all the scientific material.
Unbeknownst to her, a tracker from Washington was heading for her hometown, having been given a more precise position of the time disturbance. The government was determined to locate her, desperate to obtain a new asset for their agency. Someone like her had to be found immediately and properly trained. There would be no university for her next fall, no advanced degree to obtain, and no future as she envisioned it. Instead, she would be placed in their program, under high security, with other gifted individuals. There, she would learn how to control her special ability to travel back and witness time.