As was his normal Tuesday morning inner monologue, Gareth started wondering if he really could stretch his wage to allow himself a tiny crash pad in the city. Splashing his way down the narrow path between the railway tracks and the blocky warehouses he fantasied about how much he wouldn't miss this depressing fifteen minute walk to the station, or the condensation dripping down the windows on the packed commuter train he was heading towards. A man in a much more expensive suit than Gareth's barged past and stabbed him in the head with the point of his executive looking black umbrella, causing a stream of rain to trickle down the side of his face. Gareth's own umbrella had been shoved violently into a bin a few metres from his office the previous day after he had left his building and been buffeted by a vaguely powerful gust that immediately flipped the cheap, flimsy frame inside out.
Descending into the temporary relief of the sheltered overpass right next to the station entrance, Gareth saw that the walkway was empty apart from the man in the expensive suit who had reached the opposite end and was emerging back into the deluge, and one very small, very cold looking dog right at the halfway point. The dog looked as if it had been in the rain not so long ago, it's off-white fur was bedraggled and the concrete around it was dark with wetness. The tiny face with pointy brown ears turned to stare at him as he approached. Gareth recognized it as some sort of Terrier. He admired the dog's resourcefulness of finding the tunnel to shelter in, but where it could have come from was a puzzle. As he drew closer he could see no collar. It wasn't unusual to find these kinds of scruffy dogs in the city, sitting next to equally scruffy homeless guys on corners and in underpasses, but Gareth had never seen anyone homeless here in the commuter belt.
The dog cocked his head and continued to stare at Gareth as he passed. It seemed to him to be a contemptuous look, full of challenge. He heard the question in his own mind. Wasn't he going to stop? He glanced back, the tiny dog was still watching him disappear down the tunnel. Gareth stopped and looked up and down the underpass, it was still just the dog and himself. He searched his conscience. Was it his moral obligation to pick this animal up and take it somewhere? Gareth remembered his mum stopping the car on the highway once to chase down a lost dog that was running all over the road. She put it in the boot of the car and told Gareth not to touch it while they drove to the nearest vets. Was this the same? This dog wasn't on the road, it wasn't in danger, although it did look pretty cold. Gareth weighed up everything in his mind. If he took the dog somewhere he would be late for work, this dog could belong to someone who had left it there, what if they came back found their pet gone? What if it bit him, and where would he even take it? Gareth mentally slapped himself. There was one thing he knew for sure. If he left the dog in place, the rest of his day would be spent wondering what had happened to it, he would be less than useless at work, no point going. His mind was made.
Gareth doubled back and walked cautiously towards the dog. Immediately the pup sensed his intent and stood, wagging it's tail excitedly. Unsure whether he should carry the soggy animal or just encourage it to follow him, Gareth hesitated, he took out his phone and looked up the nearest suitable place to go, there did seem to be a vets surgery only a short way past the station.
"Uhhh, come on then... this way".
Gareth moved to walk down the tunnel and the dog happily trotted after him. Just ten minutes later Gareth was pushing the door to the vets open and the tiny dog keenly bounded inside. There were two busy looking receptionists behind the desk and one woman in the waiting area with a carry case on her lap, from which spilled a massive amount of black fur from an indistinguishable animal.
'Can I help' The receptionist closest glanced at him and then looked back down at her computer, clicking and typing hurriedly, seeming irritated to be interrupted.
"Hi, yeah I found a dog in the underpass, no collar, no one else around. He looked cold and wet. I didn't really know what to do with him". Gareth stammered. The woman still wasn't making eye contact with him. He suddenly felt very in the way.
"Okay, how long ago did you see this dog?"
"Oh just ten minutes ago, I came straight here"
"Probably escaped from a garden I expect. Would you be able to go and pick him up and bring him here?"
Gareth looked at the woman in silence and then down at the pup who was sniffing at the foot of the desk.
"Umm, I brought him with me, he's down here" Gareth gestured at his feet and stepped back as the woman finally looked at him and then stood up to lean over the desk. After a couple of seconds she looked back at him with a slightly annoyed expression and sat back down.
"Do you, uhhh, need me to sign anything?" The woman just kept staring and now her colleague had turned to look at him too. Gareth didn't know what was happening but he had done his bit and was ready to be out of this strangely hostile situation.
"Right, I'll just go then?" He started to turn slowly towards the door just in case either of the staring women wanted to stop him. When they gave no indication of life he glanced once more at the dog who was now sitting watching him retreat, seemingly completely nonplussed. As he turned towards the door he caught sight of the woman with the carry case. She too was looking strangely at him. When he caught her eye she shifted uncomfortably in her seat and tightened her grip on her pet.
Gareth burst out the doors and walked quickly back towards the station becoming increasingly annoyed. So much for being a good Samaritan. At least the dog was safe and his conscience was clear but now he felt resoundingly awkward from that horribly uncomfortable situation. He desperately tried to work out what exactly he had done wrong. The woman had said he should bring him to the vet, which he had already done. Surely that was the right thing to do. Was she annoyed because the dog was wet, dripping mud all over the floor?
With the speed of his stress fueled march, he reached the station quicker than he expected. As he reached out to scan his ticket at the barriers an arm was flung in front of him.
"Sorry sir, the station is closed". Gareth looked up from his troubled haze, closed? He looked around. Quite a few people were gathered at the barriers, all looking annoyed and firing questions at the station employees.
"Well how long will it be closed for?" he asked the man who had blocked his way.
"All day I would think, there has been an incident".
Something about the man's tone caught Gareth's attention and told him it might be insensitive to be annoyed at this inconvenience. He gave the man a nod and backed off from the throng of people to the station entrance trying to process this highly unusual day. The rain had stopped and Gareth considered his options. There was a bus he could catch, but this took twice as long as the train as there was already a large queue at the stop. 'Screw today' He thought and turned on his heel and headed home. He would call in sick and have a day off.
At home, Gareth had changed into his comfy house tracksuit and was drying his hair with a towel as he flicked the TV on. It was tuned to the news. Gareth turned the volume up and sat back, starting to feel the tension of the last few hours leave him.
"...it's still very unclear how many devices were successfully detonated but at this stage it has become apparent that there have been a significant amount of deaths confirmed in at least 5 different locations, from the city center, to the transportation links on the outskirts".
Gareth sat back up immediately. He watched the screen as it alternated between footage of police cordons, injured people being helped into ambulances, plumes of smoke billowing from a station in the inner city, a bus still aflame, a coffee shop with it's windows blown out.
And a train. A familiar looking train, with condensation on the windows of some carriages, and no windows at all in others. a whole train car had been torn apart.
"...Police are advising citizens to stay put in their homes or offices and remain vigilant to any unusual activity in their area".
Was it definitely his train? How could it be? That couldn't happen on the boring old route he did everyday. These things happened in other places. Gareth remained glued to the screen for a long while, taking in the information, feeling nauseous every time he saw a place he recognised. A bar where his office had gone out for works drinks in the background of a blackened, burnt out bus. The square where he sometimes ate lunch filled with flashing lights and emergency vehicles.
He thought of the dog. The tiny dog who had coerced him into stopping. The dog who had looked him in the eyes and made him not get on the train. Gareth was out the door before he had thought it through. He ran all the way past the station with it's closed shutters, eerily empty and quiet, and burst through the doors of the vet surgery, panting and sweating.
There was only one woman sat behind the desk now and she looked startled at his dramatic entrance. As he attempted to get his breath back he saw the woman, to whom he had talked before, suddenly recognize him and she scrambled off her chair and backed away slightly.
"Where, where is that dog that I, brought in earlier?" he gasped before he had properly recovered.
"Sir, please. You didn't bring a dog in". Gareth suddenly realised how terrified the woman looked as she continued to back away, her hands raised in front of her as if to push him away.
"What, wait. calm down. Sorry, I'm just a bit out of breath". Acknowledging how mad he must look in that moment, he stepped back and waited for his breathing to slow. "When I came in before the dog was at my feet sniffing around. You looked over the desk right at him, he didn't run out the door or something did he?"
The receptionist still looked petrified, which Gareth thought was a bit unfair. He was trying his hardest not to get frustrated at the level of incompetence this woman was showing. Finally the receptionist stepped forward and picked up the phone. For a wild moment Gareth thought she was about to call the police but instead she said "Alan can you come out here please". A few seconds of tense silence later a door opened in the back of the surgery and a man who looked like one of the vets came out looking puzzled.
"Alan, would you be able to put the CCTV from an hour ago up on the screen?" She pointed up towards the boxy, old fashioned looking TV screwed to the ceiling. The man called Alan looked confused but sat at the computer and hit keys and clicked things until the screen was no longer showing the live feed but a scene that was time stamped at an hour before, He whizzed forward through the footage forward until the receptionist exclaimed,
Gareth, Alan and the receptionist watched as a grainy figure pushed the door open and waited there a second. The CCTV Gareth approached the desk and talked to the woman just as he had done almost an hour ago, except to his absolute horror, he could see, categorically, with absolutely no room for doubt, there was no dog at his feet. The CCTV receptionist leaned over the desk and looked down at nothing. Gareth could see the absurdity of the situation for himself now. The reaction of the people around him suddenly made sense. Alan still looked confused. The receptionist was staring imploringly at Gareth, clearly hoping he wasn't going to keep up his delusion. He could barely speak, he muttered "Sorry" and walked, numb and shocked from the building, all the way home, barely registering where he was going.
The rest of the day Gareth sat still. He watched the news without breaks, without reaction. Repeated footage of plumes of smoke, flashing lights, police tape and shaky camera phone videos of running and screaming played over and over with an ever increasing death count snaking along the bottom of the screen. Late into the night, new, more professional footage replaced it. Journalists circling the perimeters of the bomb sites, talking to the camera, pointing at debris. A particularly blonde reporter, wrapped up in a scarf hat and gloves signed off her report from the train wreckage that Gareth still wasn't convinced was his train. The camera panned down to the floor where scattered among the charred belongings, flung from the carriage was a partly burned paperback book, a blue and red backpack, and right in the middle, a ripped and mangled, but undoubtedly executive looking, black umbrella.