Last Train to St. Louis

By Chris Bunton

Mike awoke to the sound of his cell phone alarm. He threw open the sleeping bag, rolled over and grabbed his phone, silencing it.

“Get up kids! We gotta go!” He yelled.

Three kids moved and groaned in their sleeping bags, scattered around the small empty bedroom. They started to rise and look around, sleepy eyed, but coming to life.

Mike walked the short distance across the bare wood floor of the room, and shut off the battery powered heater. He turned the knob to charge, and the heater started sucking power from the solar cell blanket outside, charging itself.

“Go into the bathroom and wash your faces, then grab your back packs, we gotta catch the train.” He said.

“It’s cold in the bathroom.” Jill, age 6 said looking up at him.

“I know. You gotta do it fast. That’s the secret. Just clear your mind and do it.” Mike said.

“Here we go with the Marine Corp. stuff.” Allison, age 10 teased, as she walked toward the bedroom door.

She grabbed the blanket that was nailed around the door frame, in order to help hold heat in the room, and exited through it.

Renee, age 14, followed her sister to the door.

Mike stopped her, and whispered into her ear.

“No make-up. Just get in and out. We don’t have time. You can do make-up on the train, if you think you need it.” He said.

She nodded her head and left the room after her sister.

***

It was winter in Southern Illinois, just cold enough to freeze, but not too cold.

Mike and the girls stood in the street dressed in coats, looking at their house. It was half demolished. Only the section with a small bedroom and the bathroom, where they had been staying remained intact.

“Say good-bye to the house kids. I’ll have it totally dismantled and sold off to the farms soon.” Mike said.

“Why do the farms need our house?” Jill asked.

Mike rolled his eyes. Another day of 6 year old questions.

“I told you. They are using the parts to keep the farms going in order to help feed us, honey. It’s called re-using and recycling. They use the pipes for water irrigation, the wire for lighting, the wood for building, that way they do not need to cut trees or anything. Do you understand?”

Jill nodded her head as though she understood perfectly.

“Come on, let’s go.” Mike said

He started walking down the street toward town. The girls followed, hunching up against the cold air.

“I’m sick of the cold, and sick of walking.” Renee said, speaking to her father’s back.

“Well, I’m sorry Renee. I couldn’t afford a new car in order to meet the requirements the government handed down. My janitor’s salary didn’t pay enough.” Mike snapped.

“Well, you should have gone to school and got a better job, like mom said. You’re a loser.” Renee snapped back.

Mike looked down as he walked. He was broken. There was nothing he could do to fix everything.

“I know that! You think I need you telling me? It wouldn’t matter anyway. No one can afford anything, and everyone is moving to the city. I could have worked 10 jobs, and it would not have mattered or pleased your mom.” Mike said.

“Whatever.” Renee said, using her Mom’s favorite phrase of late.

“When you get to the city, you won’t have to walk anymore. They have public transportation everywhere, and it’s practically free.” Mike said.

“I like to walk.” Allison chimed in.

“Your mom got you guys a membership at the gym near the housing complex where we are going to live. You’ll be able to walk, swim, and use the virtual reality machines. You can go walk anywhere in the world.” He said.

They traveled down the street past houses that were being demolished like theirs, or were totally gone. Other houses were just abandoned with weeds and trees growing up around them.

A herd of deer crossed the street in front of them. Mike and the girls stopped, and watched. The deer stopped also and looked at them, then trotted off behind a broken down garage.

“Did you see the deer, Jill?” He asked, continuing to walk.

“Yes,” She said. “Are there deer in the city?”

“Not very many. That’s the point. The cities are for humans and the rest is for nature.” He said.

“Except for the farms.” Allison chimed in.

“Yes, except for the farms, but they are very careful to obey the Environmental Laws.”

Mike’s phone started ringing. He fished the G-phone Eternity out of his pocket and looked at the screen.

“It’s your mom.” He said.

He scanned the electronic tattoo on the back of his right hand with the phone in order to unlock it, and then answered.

“Hey Babe!” He said, holding the phone to his ear as they walked along. He looked back to check on Jill, to see if she was keeping up.

“Yes, we are all here. We got up on time and are walking to the train station. Yes, I got it done. Yes, that’s done too. As soon as the final sale is finished the money will go automatically into the account. It should be there now actually. Bio-Farm bought everything. I just have to dismantle it, so they can send a crew to pick it up.”

He let his arm drop from his ear and looked at the sky for a moment. Then, he brought the phone back to his ear.

“Yes, the money is there, I’m sure. Check and see.” He said into the phone, as the kids watched.

He shook his head.

“I’m not a total idiot; I can do e-banking. I had to learn it when they got rid of cash.”

He nodded his head and kept walking. The girls followed, listening to their mother dismantling their father.

“Yes, I took them to the government clinic tent, and got them their shots. No. They won’t chip them here. It’s a legal issue. The kids are not old enough to legally consent to the invasive procedure. They are under us until they are old enough to choose. It’s not my fault. It is what it is.”

He looked at the kids, then back at the road ahead of them.

We can get them chipped later. Yes, their records are in the cloud. You can go ahead and set up their Lifebook pages, and then link the chips to it when the time comes. It’s fine.”

He pulled the phone away and rolled his eyes.

“The clinic tent was being taken down while we were there. There will be no supplies out here at all except for the farms, that’s it. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s my fault we are behind.  Can we just move on? I gotta go. I love you. Good bye.” He said, hanging up the phone and looking at the kids.

“Your mom sends her love. I can’t wait till all this is over.” He said.

Allison pointed up

Mike turned to look at what she pointed at.

A drone, silently hovered above them as they walked down the road.

“They are watching us, Dad.” She said.

“God, you’re just like he is” Renee snapped. “Of course they are watching us. What’s wrong with that? They watch everything, and they have never hurt us.”

“Yeah but why do they need to watch us? Like dad said, we aren’t criminals.” Allison replied.

Mike smirked as he walked and listened to the exchange. At least someone agrees

Renee shook her head and stormed forward, quickening her pace.

“I cannot wait to get away from all this.” She said into the wind.

***

As they got into town, they walked past the park where several tents were set up for people to stay if needed. A few folks were cooking food, and talking. They stopped to watch the family walking by.

Around the park, there was “A church on every corner”; except these churches had been totally dismantled and different parts were in piles for pick up.

One church was different however. It was surrounded by a tall chain link fence with concertina wire on top of it. The whole place looked like a prison. People walked around inside, tending to a large garden.

“See? That’s where you and dad belong. Right there with the extremist nutbags.” Renee said, loud enough for the people inside the fence to hear her and look at her.

“Renee stop.” Mike scolded.

“Well, it’s true. Mom says that’s why you drag your feet on everything, and have no ambition. You’re scared and have a mental problem, like those extremists.” She said

“I’m not an extremist. Don’t say that. I don’t want the cops coming after me.” Allison said.

“Whatever” Renee said.

“I’m not an extremist either. I’m chipped. I have my shots. I have everything I’m supposed to have, and doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and so is Allison. We just don’t totally agree with everything.” Mike explained.

“Whatever” Renee repeated her favorite comeback as she turned the corner to head down Main Street toward the train station.

“Whatever,” Allison mocked in a snobby voice.

“Shut up,” Renee said.

“Those people can leave anytime they want. They just have to submit to the rules.” Mike said.

“Go live with them then.” Renee said.

Mike pleaded with his daughter.

“Can we please not fight? You guys are leaving.”

Renee continued to storm forward, while Mike looked at the back of her head with wonder. He could not figure out how things had gone so wrong between them. It was like something was controlling her, and her mother for that matter. He had done something somewhere that was just so unforgivable or repulsive, that he was totally outside their ability to love him again. But, he did not know what it was.

The Main Street in front of them looked like a war zone. Buildings dismantled, with piles stacked up. There were groups of people standing around talking or working on a building. People rushed by on a mission. Some rode bikes or e-scooters.

There was not a vehicle in sight. No personal electric cars or delivery trucks. As a matter of fact companies had stopped shipping to rural areas months ago. This was the death nail, in the communities, and the push to drive people to the cities to live.

Mike waved at some people they passed, as they traveled the few blocks to the train station.

They crossed the tracks and walked up the steps to the concrete platform next to a sign that read:

“GlobalTrak.   Moving the Future. Du Quoin, Illinois Station.”

Mike looked around. The little train station was being dismantled as well. Everything must go. Like the signs said, “Everything to Save Mother Earth.” And most humans had given pretty much everything to the cause.

Mike looked at Jill.

“Are you excited to ride the train, Pumpkin?”

“Yes! I can’t wait to see Mommy.” She said, with a smile.

“Well, once you get on the train, it will be about 2 hours.” He said.

“I’ll miss you Daddy.” Allison said, running up and hugging him.

“I’ll miss you all too. I’ll be there as soon as I can get things done. I love you.” He said to them, squeezing Allison.

The train whistle blew to announce its approach. Jill ran up and hugged her dad.

Mike looked at Renee. He held out his arm to her, but she turned away.

“You’ll be in St. Louis in a few days. It’s not like its forever.” She said, her voice being drowned out by the train pulling in to the station.

“You never know though.” He said to her.

She picked up her back pack and got closer to the edge of the platform, ready to get the heck out of there.

“Ok kids, get ready.” Mike said.

The train was an old diesel type, which surprised him. Most had converted to electric or hybrid by now. This must be its last run, then the scrap yard.

The train pulled up, and the conductor stepped off onto the platform.

Mike stepped up to her.

“I have three minors for St. Louis.” He said.

The conductor scanned Mike’s hand with a scannergun, and retrieved all the information needed for the tickets.

“We have a minor’s car, in the middle of the train with security. They will be safe for the trip.” The Conductor said.

“Ok Kids, load up on the train,” Mike said. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

He watched as they loaded and waved. Then, stared after as train pulled out, headed north to then head west.

***

“You’ve got mail!”

Mike awoke to the sound of his phone telling him he had email. He liked the retro stuff, like the old “You’ve got mail” ring tones.

His wife hated it. Especially when the U.S. Postal service stopped all rural service and everything he got was email, even the junk mail.

He rolled out of the sleeping bag, and turned off the heater.

The ceiling of the tent was damp with condensation from his breath.

He had finished dismantling the house and was staying in one of the old tents in the park in order to catch the train the next day.

He scanned his right hand with his phone in order to open it, and then he looked at his emails.

He had two of them. One was from Hannah, his wife and the other was from the Federal Department of Family Relations.

He opened the message from the government first. He figured the one from Hannah was just nagging anyway.

The government email started with a statement.

“The following links are PDF documents for Michael J. Swearingen. They are as follows: Divorce papers, Child Custody Papers, Frozen Account Verification, Asset Seizure Documents, and finally a Restraining Order, with a message attached.

“Michael J. Swearingen is not allowed to contact the following people Hannah S., Renee S., Allison S., Jill S. and Weston Hall. He is also not allowed to live in or visit St. Louis, without a court order.”

“Who the hell is Weston Hall?” Mike said to himself.

He tapped the phones screen and scrolled to his contacts, and tried to call Hannah. But, a message came on:

“This number as well as the following numbers are not accessible by this phone or this user.”

Then, the message started rattling off numbers that were blocked as well.

He quickly hung up and checked the message from Hannah.

“Mike,

When I got to St. Louis it was really hard. The government monthly stipend I received was not enough. I was struggling, and you did not have the money to help. Then, I met Weston and he helped me with so much. He works for the security services here, and it’s a very good job. I’m living with him, and we are happy. The children will be happy here too.

Just move on Mike. We will not allow you to see the kids or me. According to the Equal Wives Act I have the freedom to declare power over everything. That is what I have done.

Just start over Mike.

Hannah”

“Start over? I’m homeless with nothing.” Mike said to the message on his phone.

He threw his boots on and crawled out of the tent. He stomped the block to the train station where he was set to catch the St. Louis bound train.

He hopped the tracks and got on the platform, just as the whistle blew and the train approached.

The Conductor stepped off the shiny new electric transport train.

“One for St. Louis.” Mike said, holding out his hand.

The Conductor scanned it.

“I’m sorry sir but there is a block on your funds, and you are barred from entering St. Louis.”

“What? How am I supposed to fix that?” Mike asked.

“No clue sir. I would suggest a government facility or a computer terminal.” The Conductor said.

“How do I find that here?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know, Sir. But, this train is pulling out.”

The Conductor hopped on the train and it started moving forward, headed north to catch a track headed west, to St. Louis.

Mike was floored. He had no idea what to do.

The wind blew and he heard the faint sound of singing. He followed the sound to the old fenced in church.

Maybe they could help.


Bio: Chris Bunton is a writer, poet and blogger from Southern Illinois.

His dystopian stories on The Yard include: “For Your Protection” “Clear” “The Prisoner” “Power Hour” “Last Train to St. Louis” “The Rant

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