The sun had just set when traveler Raymond Morris and three other senior executives from Wrigley’s Hydraulic Supplies boarded the train. They were ushered to their cabin by an older steward dressed in a formal black uniform with the “Green Gateway” logo emblazoned on the breast pocket.
“I hope you will find the accommodations satisfactory for your trip, gentlemen. These are the very best the line has to offer. My name is Gabriel. I will be providing service to you once the train leaves the station. By the way, those white terry robes hanging in the corner are there for your additional comfort, and please help yourself to the refreshments already set out. I will check on you again shortly to see if there is anything else you might need.”
As they looked around, Charlie spoke up first. “Who wouldn’t be happy in this place? Man, this is plush.”
In fact, the private quarters for these co-workers promised to be very comfortable, indeed. Four overstuffed recliners surrounding a spacious work table, and a smaller side table already filled with cold beverages and warm gingerbread cookies…this was much nicer than the travel arrangements the team was accustomed to using.
Arnie settled in to one of the large chairs nearest the window. “Oh, yeah…I need one of these in my rec room at home… perfect for Saturday afternoon football games on TV. What about it, Bill? Think we could get the company to spring for some of these to set in the break room at work?”
The company vice president just smiled about the idea, but changed the subject. “Shame it’s getting dark so soon. Probably some nice scenery on the other side of this big window. Who made these travel arrangements, anyway?”
“I think it was Daisy, down on the second floor.”
“Remind me to give her a raise when we get back.”
Raymond reminded the group about the purpose of the trip. “Don’t get too cozy too quick, guys. Before we get to Collinsville, we have to go over the presentation one more time. If the numbers in this bid are too far off, some other company is going to be the supplier for Wilson Brothers next year.”
The other three, however, ignored the comment, and were already napping or reading the newspaper even before the train started rolling.
It was about an hour into the trip that the group noticed that Gabriel had quietly re-entered the cabin with a food cart. A supper tray was placed in front of each of the travelers.
“Wow. That looks and smells wonderful,” Arnie stated. “Nothing like a perfectly cooked T-bone steak to start off a trip.”
“You think that steak looks good. Check out this meatloaf. My own mother couldn’t have put out a plate as good as this.”
The other travelers were also pleasantly surprised by the nice meals that had been set out for them. They were all eating away, when Charlie asked the question. “Say…you know, I was napping pretty hard when we first got on board. Did one of you guys tell that Gabriel guy I wanted the lasagna?”
They all looked around. “No,” Raymond answered. “In fact, I don’t remember any of us ordering anything specific. He just brought it in and set it down.”
“He must be a pretty good guesser,” Bill said. “He brought me grilled salmon, one of my all-time favorites.”
They continued to eat, but quietly wondered how the menu items had matched their preferences so perfectly.
It was when the cabin steward returned to serve the apple crumb pie dessert that the subject of train tickets was brought up. “Pardon me, gentlemen. I didn’t want to interrupt your meal before, but I do need to collect your paper tickets for the trip, if you don’t mind producing them at this point.” Each of the four travelers reached into a pocket or a brief case and surrendered their documents. Then, they returned to the crumb pie tarts.
About ten minutes later, Gabriel returned and directed a question to Raymond. “Mr. Morris, could you visit with me in the passageway for just a moment, please?”
Raymond joined the older man just outside hearing range of the other members of the group. “What is it, Mr. Gabriel?”
“Well…I’m not sure how this happened, but it seems that your ticket will not work for this particular trip on the train. It is, of course, a Green Gateway document, and does apply to passage in this train car, but the date is all wrong.” He pointed to the details on the ticket. “See, this refers to a trip to be taken at some point in the future…not tonight…and the actual date is left unspecified.”
“Oh…well…I’m sure this is some sort of misprint. I mean, our travel assistant made all of the arrangements at the same time, and I am definitely supposed to be a part of this group.”
“Possibly, Sir. But still, you have joined us this evening holding the wrong ticket, which I am not allowed to honor as an acceptable boarding pass for the trip. I have spoken to the Conductor, and he absolutely insists that you will need to be escorted off the train as soon as we arrive at the next available stop.”
“That’s absurd. I’m supposed to be in Collinsville with the team by 10 AM tomorrow morning.”
“Terribly sorry, Sir. But, actually…this train has always stopped at only two different destinations, and Collinsville has never been one of those stops.”
Just a few seconds later the train pulled into a rural depot that had already closed for the night. Gabriel guided Raymond to the platform, and pointed to a bench setting just next to the front door of the station. “You’ll have to rest here for now, Sir. Arrangements have been made for you to be picked up by another transport.”
“But, it’s outside…it’s going to get chilly.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Well, feel free to keep the cabin robe for added warmth. Best of luck, Sir!” And with that the strange servant hopped back on the train and signaled the Conductor that the drop-off was complete. Raymond, totally bewildered by the events, nestled the best that he could on the wooden bench. Despite the dropping temperatures, he did manage to drift off to sleep.
When he woke up, he found himself in a strange room…dimly lit, and quiet, except for the beep-beep of the medical monitors that were surrounding his bed. He recognized the face of his youngest son, Robert. The boy turned to another in the room and whispered, “David…he’s awake. Dad’s awake.”
The older teen approached the bed. “Dad. It’s us. We’re here with you. It’s Robert and me.”
“Boys? Where am I? What’s happened?”
“You’re in the hospital, Pops. You're at the trauma center here at Grant General. They brought you in last night after the accident.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Sure… I remember everything…but there was no accident.”
The older son took over the interview. “Dad, do you not remember that the plane went down?”
“Plane? No, Son. It was a train. The guys from the office and I were headed out for…”
“No, Dad. It was an airplane. You all left in a small commuter plane that crash landed four minutes after take-off.”
“Listen to me, Dad. The plane crashed. Both pilots and fourteen passengers died in the fire. You were the only one who survived.”
“You mean Arnie, and Charlie, and…”
“They’re gone. We’re not sure how you made it out, but here you are.”
“But no…there was the train, and Gabriel, and grilled salmon and…and…and oh…the robes…there were these white robes they let us wear.” He looked down. “Well, look…I’m still wearing mine. See the “GG” logo right here?”
“That’s a hospital blanket, Dad. We’re at Grant General.”
The doctor arrived about that time, and advised the boys that their father needed to get some rest.
But the patient had trouble falling back to sleep, because he was trying to make sense of it all. It seemed too real to have been just a dream. “Train…two stops…” Then he paused, as if some strange possibility had crossed his mind. “Aah…no, it couldn’t be.”
Raymond went home after a three-day hospitalization. But it was weeks later before he was at home, fishing through his travel bag for an ink pen, when he happened across a small green-colored ticket stub. “One Passenger – Preferred Seating, Cabin #12, Travel Date Not Yet Scheduled.”