Once upon a time, a train travelled through the snow-covered tracks of North Dakota. Inside the train was a little too warm. Thankfully, there was a steady draft coming from some flaw in the train’s structure, and the draft was keeping Mr. McLeery’s legs cool.
Mr. McLeery had taken this train before, but never this far north. In the past, he had detrained at Lawsmith County, where he worked as a pinprick clerk for Industrial Recursions, LLD. But this morning, Mr. McLeery felt no compulsion to get off at Lawsmith. Instead, he remained on board to see just where this train goes. “It can’t go into Canada, can it?” he thought. But where is the last stop? And will any other passengers still be aboard at that point?
The train chugged along. It didn’t seem to be in a hurry. The scenery was pretty drab – white, grey and then white again. Until the brown dot. The brown dot ahead took a long time to grow into the shape of a building. Mr. McLeery attributed this to the otherwise vacant landscape, allowing him to see for miles across the snowy plains.
But there it was, a building. And soon enough, the train’s breaks slowly screeched, and a slightly mechanized voice announced the “last stop, Downey’s Creek.” Mr. McLeery looked about the train car. There were no other passengers, and no train personnel. And so, he gathered up his briefcase and his down jacket, and Mr. McLeery detrained.
The first, obvious sign of incongruity was the lack of a creek at Downey’s Creek. The second sign was the complete absence of life, other than his own, as the train pulled out of the station. The doors of the old, wooden, brown train station were unlocked, but no one was inside. There were no roads that Mr. McLeery could see that approached the station.
The train took a few minutes to maneuver around the tracks and to retreat southward. Then, Mr. McLeery was alone.
“Perhaps this was a mistake,” thought Mr. McLeery. But he was keenly aware of the fact that he didn’t much feel concerned about his precarious situation. How long until another train arrived? Where would he get food? Would he have to spend the night? And where? Plus, he was fairly certain that his cell phone would not work out here. After all, it barely worked back in Lawsmith. But none of this worried Mr. McLeery, as he stepped off the platform and began trudging in a random direction, through the snow.
The snow was about a foot deep, and made loud, crunchy noises as he stepped. They were the only noises, other than his own breathing, that Mr. McLeery could hear. After 20 minutes of walking, Mr. McLeery looked back. The brown station was small. After another 20 minutes, he looked back again. Now the station was just a brown dot. In another 20 minutes, his right ankle becoming a little sore, Mr. McLeery looked back again, and this time saw nothing but snow. He stopped to enjoy the sensation of being in the center of a sea of snow – no trees, no houses, no people, no animals. Not even any birds. Just Mr. McLeery, holding his briefcase, surrounded by an empty, white plain.
Uncertain which direction to continue, Mr. McLeery remained still, waiting for something to happen. As the afternoon turned to evening, the temperature dropped, and Mr. McLeery closed his eyes to the burning cold. He began to freeze. Sitting down was no longer an option, as his legs would refuse to bend. As Mr. McLeery died, his focus turned deeply inward. He was completely unaware of the snow and the cold and even of his dying body. Mr. McLeery’s attention was consumed by an image. An image of great meaning. And he was becoming part of that meaning, and had always been a part.
Mr. McLeery’s body was a frozen shell – a man, standing in a snowy, white plain, holding a briefcase. To an observer, he would have appeared like a wildly out of place statue commemorating normalcy; the normal as abnormal. But there was no observer, and there was no Mr. McLeery.
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