I hear the tinny, almost comical rendition of “The Ride of the Valkyries”. After so many times hearing that same string of notes, I know what it is: someone’s idea of a ‘cute’ ring tone. By this point, if I could find the person who put that ring tone online, they’d be dead, as dead as I’m about to be.
The first time I heard it, I was kicking back, reading a book as the Metra West commuter train took me to the Ogilvie and the hope of a sunny day to stroll downtown Chicago. The sound came from overhead, just the first dozen notes, then in a wave of compressed air and a flash of flames, my life ended.
The next thing I knew, there I was, reading my book again. The crappy PA blared Berkley will be the next stop, but nobody moves. Sitting in the middle of a massive rail yard, nobody gets off at Berkley on the weekends. The stop is brief, and as we start rolling again, I hear the same music. I die realizing I’m stuck in a macabre version of “Groundhog Day” where I relive my death over and over.
The third time, and I get out of my seat, and everyone stares at me. Like me, most of them know nobody will get off or on at Berkley, and they wonder why I am out of my seat. But I will only have a moment to find out where the tone comes from, and with it, the bomb connected to the phone. My ears told me the last time that it was in front of me, so I charge away from the doors towards the front of the car. Again, the announcement comes forth and the train slows to a stop. I should get off. Even as the cowardly part of my mind thinks the thought, my heart rebels against the idea. The train starts to move, and the ring tone begins. It’s behind me now, and I turn towards it. I see five bags vanish in a flash, and I die again.
The fourth time and I am out of my seat even as I realize I am back again. Without thinking, I grab the red shopping bag with the C-Span logo on it which is nearest to me down from the overhead rack. A woman just behind me shouts protests. It holds a list of events at a literary event dated to occur today, but nothing more. I drop it and grab another shopping bag, this one black with the logo of a local grocery chain. I have time to look in it and see a single book before the ring tone starts and everything disappears in a flaming blast.
Everything is as it was. I am holding my book again, but I drop it as I jump to my feet. Only three bags left. One of them is mine, the black backpack I carry when I go into the city, so that can’t be the bag. I ignore it and the two I remember looking into to grab another backpack. It’s a dark-blue pack with a battered leather bottom, and I notice it’s heavy. Both zippers are together on one end of their track, and as I pull the upper one around, it snags on the nylon overlying it. The PA blares out “Berkley. The next stop will be Berkley.” and I force the zipper back away from the fabric stopping it before pulling it open enough to reveal…an old laptop that is consumed with me by the blast from above.
I drop my book the moment I return. I stand and reach for the last backpack, a pink kid’s pack with a rainbow in the lower corner. It too is heavy, like the last one I looked into. I try to be calm so I can open it without jamming the zipper, and it works. But inside it are coloring books and crayons, not explosives. I stare at them as the PA repeats it’s announcement and the same stupid notes come down from over my head before my world disappears in flames again.
I am back again, and I remember my wife handing me my backpack as I left. How it felt heavier than it normally did. The strange way she smiled at me after I kissed her cheek and told her my usual “See you when I get back.” As the PA comes to life again, it dawns on me. She knows what I really do in Chicago. I walk around, but in Chinatown, and what I’m looking for is massage parlors that offer not massages, but sex. Could my wife build something like a pipe bomb hooked to a phone? As I disappear again, I know that she could, and that the ringtone is her message to me. The Valkyries didn’t just collect the valiant dead, they also brought vengeance. And this is her revenge on me.