Five years ago
“I’m awake!” Stephen muttered as he opened his eyes. Glancing around the train’s cold cab for a moment, he felt dazed. “I’m awake, I swear,” he said again, as much to persuade himself as anyone else. “I…”
Sitting in the train’s main control seat, Bob couldn’t help but smile.
“I was resting my eyes,” Stephen told him, a little defensively. He began to straighten his uniform.
“Sure you were,” Bob said. “You were snoring too. I’ve never met anyone who snores while they’re awake. You wanna get that looked at.”
“What’s wrong?” Stephen asked, peering out the window at the train tracks ahead. Lit up by the train’s front lights, the tracks stretched ahead like two silver lines reaching into the darkness, but the train itself was moving barely above walking pace. He turned to look at the control console, and saw that they were going at just three miles per hour. “Why aren’t we at full speed?”
“Got a call through a couple of minutes ago,” Bob told him. “Someone reported seeing a trespassing individual on the tracks in this area, so all train traffic’s on a go-slow. That’s why I gave you a kick, I need you to keep your eyes peeled. If you see some wanker running around, let me know and we’ll go rugby-tackle the bastard.”
Rubbing his eyes, Stephen looked out the side window and watched for a moment as the train rolled past a signal tower. The whole scene seemed strangely surreal, and he still wasn’t quite feeling fully awake. A little further back from the tracks, bare trees were lit silver by the train’s electric side lights, and the city lights were barely visible. The night sky above looked heavy and starless.
“How long do we have to do this for?” he asked finally.
“Another hundred clicks.”
“A hundred?” He tried to mentally calculate how late they’d be to the depot, and consequently how late he’d be getting home to his wife and their warm bed.
“Those are the rules,” Bob said with a sigh. “Typical, isn’t it? Some batty old dear thinks she spotted something running around on the tracks, she phones it in and causes a panic, and now everyone else’s night gets screwed up.” He checked his watch. “It’s almost three, we’ll be lucky if we get to the depot by sunrise. You picked a fine night to ride shotgun.” He stared ahead for a moment, watching the tracks as the train inched forward so painfully slowly. “If you ask me, we should just go at normal speed. If some nutter wants to throw themselves under the wheels, let ’em.”
“You can’t really mean that,” Stephen muttered, turning to him.
“We live in a dark and cold world,” Bob continued, “and if someone wants out, who are we to stand in their way? We’d be doing ’em a service. Besides, it wouldn’t be that bad, and at least it’d be quick. Plus, you know, any driver who hits someone on the tracks gets time off, so there’s that too.” He paused for a moment. “I hit one once. It was a few years back, right before Christmas. Train was packed full of last-minute shoppers, all I could think about was getting home to Christmas Eve telly, and then suddenly… Blam!”
Stephen stared at him. “Blam?”
“Jam on the windshield,” Bob said with a grin, his right cheek twitching a little at the memory. “That’s what happens when you hit someone at speed, they don’t go under the train so much as explode all over the front. It’s the most goddamn disgusting thing you could ever see, bits of red gunk all over the place, but I got three months off with full pay. If it happens two more times, I get to retire on a full pension so…” He ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, as if he was positively salivating at the prospect, although the twitch on his right cheek returned for a moment. “Bring ’em on, I say. Let us provide an extra service while we’re shuffling empty carriages around on the night-shift.”
“It must be so horrible out there,” Stephen replied, turning back to look out at the trees that lined the track. “Shivering in the cold, waiting for a train to come so you can jump out and…” He paused for a moment, watching the darkness for any hint of an intruder. “They might be hiding out there right now, waiting for us.”
“And cursing us for going at stopping speed,” Bob added.
“Do you really think there’s someone out here tonight?” Stephen asked, turning to look out the window on the other side. The train was still inching forward, but he was becoming increasingly aware that someone could easily sneak out of the darkness and settle on the tracks, and even at low speed the train’s wheels would be deadly.
“Buggered if I know,” Bob told him. “Nine times out of ten these things are a false alarm. The person who thought they saw someone got it wrong, or the wannabe jumper decides they’ve caused enough trouble for the night and they slink off home, or the whole thing’s just a big wind-up. But that one time out of ten…” His right cheek twitched again. “I had to go to a shrink when I hit that person before, that was the worst thing. Some doc in a tweed jacket kept trying to get me to talk about my feelings.” He paused, his cheek twitching yet again. “He wanted me to dig deep and express my emotions, and all that bullshit. I told him I was fine, but he wouldn’t believe me. I told him it’s just a hazard of the job, you know? I mean, what do you expect, driving the night-shift on this stretch? It’s not known as Suicide Alley for nothing.”
“Favored spot of the jumpers. ‘Cause of the high-speed airport express traffic, if you ask me. I mean, most suicidal types don’t really wanna kill themselves, they just wanna get some attention, but for the ones who really and truly wanna end it all… Well, there’s not much fucking about out here, is there? Just make sure no-one spots you and then stand in the middle of the trucks and… Bob’s your uncle, you’re splatted to kingdom come.” He glanced over at Stephen and smiled as he saw the pale, almost nauseous expression on the younger man’s face. “Course, then there’s the ghosts.”
Stephen turned to him.
“Must’ve been twenty people died on this stretch of track over the past decade,” Bob continued. “I dunno if you believe in all that supernatural malarkey, but if you do…”
Stephen stared at him for a moment, before turning to look back out at the darkness ahead. The train was still trundling forward at a pitiful three miles an hour, and they were well short of the point where they’d be allowed to resume normal speed again. The night seemed to be stretching out to eternity.
“Well,” Bob continued with a glint in his eye, “do you believe in that stuff?”
He waited for a reply.
“It’s a simple question, mate. Yay or nay?”
“I don’t really know if…” Stephen began to say, before swallowing hard. “I mean, um, I don’t think…”
Before he could finish, the train jolted a little, as if it had crunched over something on the tracks.
His expression suddenly becoming more urgent, Bob hit the emergency stop button, bringing them to a grinding halt, and the two men sat in silence for a moment, each waiting for the other to speak. They both knew that the crunch had been something solid, something more than just a gathering of leaves and mulch, but neither of them wanted to be the one who made the first move.
“What… What do you think that was?” Stephen asked eventually.
“Probably nothing,” Bob replied, his cheek twitching a couple of times.
Again, silence fell between them for a few seconds, before Bob reached down into his bag and pulled out a torch, which he thrust into Stephen’s hands. On the older man’s face, there was an expression of resigned expectation.
“Out you get, then,” Bob said finally.
“When there’s a possible strike, it’s the conductor’s job to go and look under the train.”
“I’m not the conductor, I’m just -”
“Well I’m the fucking driver,” Bob replied, interrupting him, “so it sure as hell isn’t my bloody job, is it?” He paused, suddenly seeming more agitated than before. As his cheek twitched, he reached up and touched the side of his face, as if to keep it still. “Jesus Christ, how long have you been working at the depot?”
“So you’re greener than green. You don’t know all the rules, mate. In this situation, it’s your job, you’re the, what do they call it again… You’re the de facto conductor. I’ll call the station and get ’em to hold all other traffic through the area until you’re done.”
“What’s wrong? Scared?”
“No, it’s just…” Stephen paused, looking down at the torch in his hands. “Don’t… Don’t you want to do it?”
“Do I want to do it?”
“I mean -”
“It’ll be good for you,” Bob continued, interrupting him. “Toughen you up a bit. Anyway, it’s probably nothing, probably just a rabbit or something. Mate of mine hit a pheasant once. I mean, fuck, a pheasant, in the middle of London!”
“Yeah,” Stephen replied, getting to his feet and heading to the door at the rear of the cab. “You’re right, it’s probably a rabbit.”
“Felt a bit big for a rabbit, though,” Bob added. “You can normally hit something small like that and not even notice.”
“So what do I do?” Stephen asked as he opened the door. Sitting on the floor, he dangled his legs out as a cold wind blew into the cabin.
“What do you think? Get out there, turn the torch on and take a look under the train. See what we hit.”
“And then come and tell me,” he added with a sigh, grabbing his mobile phone and bringing up a number before hitting the call button. “Jesus Christ, do you need everything explained to you, kid? I’m not asking you to go poking anything with a stick. If there’s someone under the wheels, make a quick visual confirmation and then get back here. Yes or no, that’s all that’s needed.”
“Are you gonna do it or not?” Bob asked, clearly annoyed.
“Of course,” Stephen muttered, looking down at the gravel. The last thing he wanted was for word to get out that he was scared.
“Don’t forget your jacket,” Bob said, tossing a high-visibility vest at him. “Oh, and if it is a rabbit or something like that, try to scoop up the bits, yeah? A bit of rabbit might cook up nice.”
Stephen smiled nervously, unsure whether that last comment was a joke or not.
“Yeah, hi,” Bob continued, as someone answered his call, “this is engine 512 on route 91, we’ve stopped to investigate a possible strike at click 18.” He listened for a moment, before turning to Stephen and gesturing for him to get out. “Yeah, my colleague’s just getting out now to take a look. If he ever gets his arse moving, anyway.”
After slipping his arms into the orange vest, Stephen whispered a silent prayer before jumping down. He almost slipped on the loose gravel that ran along the side of the track, and as he steadied himself he managed to drop the torch. Fumbling around for a moment, he quickly found it again and switched it on, although he had the lamp pointed straight at his face as he did so; the light almost blinded him, and as he swung it away he had to blink a few times to clear the spots from his vision.
“You see anything?” Bob called out from up in the cab.
Swinging the torch back along the side of the train’s eight carriages, Stephen looked for anything out of the ordinary.
“No,” he called back. “Should I… Should I go and look some more?”
“Of course you should bloody go and look some more,” came the reply. “Go on, see what’s down there. Check all the way to the last carriage. We’ll get it in the neck if we arrive at the depot and the engineers find bits of some suicidal asshole wedged in the wheels.”
Swallowing hard, Stephen made his way along the side of the front carriage, while shining the torch down at the train’s thick metal wheels and looking for any hint of an object on the track. The night air was bitterly cold and his high-vis vest offered little warmth, flapping in the wind and leaving him shivering, while the only other sound to be heard was from his feet as he made his way across the gravel. With every step, he was convinced he was going to spot a horrifically mangled human corpse caught in the metal beneath the train, and this constant fear was tempered only by the equally-constant sense of relief as each step revealed nothing of the sort. Still, even the thought of finding a dead rabbit was enough to fill him with dread.
He wasn’t good with blood.
“Anything?” Bob shouted from the front of the train.
“Not so far!”
“Keep looking,” Stephen muttered, starting to feel a little annoyed by Bob’s approach. “Sure, I’ll keep looking, and you keep spouting bullshit while you sit on your fat ass and -”
Suddenly he stopped as the beam from the torch picked up something ahead. There was a shape, formless and indistinct, lodged under the wheels at the head of the second commuter carriage just a few meters further along. The beam of light had only caught the very edge of the shape, and although he knew he should go closer and take a look, Stephen found that he was frozen in place, unable to move a muscle even as he felt his heart pounding in his chest. Something was definitely under the train.
There was something on the actual rail, too, like a dark patch of liquid.
“Oh fuck,” he whispered. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh…”
He stared for a moment, before realizing that while he was under no obligation to take a close look, he had to at least be certain that it was a person, and not a dog or some wild animal. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and shone the torch directly under the train.
“It’s not a person,” he whispered to himself, “it’s can’t be. Dear God, I swear I’ll never smoke another cigarette in my life if you just make it so this isn’t -”
And that’s when he saw her.
Or at least the shape of a girl, mangled and smeared.
With shaking hands, Stephen couldn’t even hold the torch steady, but finally he was able to make out the basics:
She looked young, maybe in her early twenties, with a head of messy, tangled hair, but the most striking part of her appearance was her eyes; lined with thick black eyeliner, they were staring straight at Stephen from under the train. The rest of her body seemed to be caught up in the wheels and the braking system, partially smeared against the metal, but her head and eyes were trained resolutely on him, as if she’d been waiting for him to arrive.
Turning away, Stephen tried to stay calm.
“Oh God,” he whispered, “oh God, oh…”
He took a deep breath, trying to quell the sense of nausea in his belly.
Looking toward the front of the train, he imagined Bob waiting for him.
Forcing himself to turn back and look at the girl again, he shone the torch toward her face.
She was still staring at him, but this time – after a moment – she blinked.
“Fuck!” he said, taking a step back.
She blinked again.
“Are…” Stephen paused, his trembling hand barely able to keep the torch shining on the girl’s face, while avoiding her crumpled and bloodied body. “Are you…”
He waited. The only sound he could hear was his own heart, pounding in his ears.
He waited again.
The girl blinked.
“Can you…” she began to say suddenly, her voice sounding thin and fragile. “Help… me…”
“Help me,” the girl replied. “I think he… I think he’s coming… He’s after me…”
“But,” Stephen said, trying to fight the urge to turn and run, “I guess… Who are…”
He paused, unable to stop staring at her.
“Are you… okay?” he asked finally.
She stared at him.
“He’s coming back,” she replied. “I can feel it.”
“Who?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder to make sure there was no-one else nearby. “Did someone chase you down here?”
“I thought I’d got rid of him forever,” she continued, “but now I can tell he’s coming back. He’s just on the other side, waiting to come through.”
“The other side of what? The fence?”
He shone the torch at the fence, but he couldn’t see anyone on the other side.
“He’s coming,” the girl whispered.
He turned to her.
“He’s coming,” she said again, with fear in her eyes. “He’s…”
Aiming the torch at her body, he saw to his horror that the train’s wheels seemed to have sliced straight through her chest, while her left arm and both her legs had been broken and mangled until they poked out through the darkness at unnatural angles. Part of her left side and hip seemed to have been drawn up into the braking system and crushed between its thick metal sections. It was as if, while the train had been dawdling along, the girl had simply slipped under the wheels and allowed them to chew through her body.
“I tried,” she continued, with a hint of fear in her voice. “I swear, I tried to get rid of him…”
“Rid of who?”
“I’m cold,” she continued. “It’s so cold out here. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t cold.”
“Is this…” He took a deep breath, trying to quell the growing sense of nausea that was rising through his belly. “Is this a…”
“What time is it?” she asked suddenly.
“Time?” He checked his watch. “It’s… Uh, it’s three.”
“I should go,” she replied, tilting her head a little so she could look down at her ruined body. As she did so, a crunching sound came from her neck; moments later there was another crunch, as she tried in vain to pull her twisted limbs out from under the wheels. “Can you help me?” she asked. “I’m stuck. It’s like… I can’t get free. You have to help me. He might come through tonight.” She pulled again, this time managing to dislodge part of her shoulder, only for blood to erupt from the wound and splatter down onto the tracks.
“I…” Stephen began. “Just… wait here… Wait here, alright? I’ll get help.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I’m going to get someone,” he replied. “Everything’s going to be okay, you’re…”
His voice trailed off. He knew she wasn’t going to be okay.
“Please don’t leave me,” she continued, sounding weaker as more blood flowed from her shoulder. “Don’t go, I don’t want to be alone. I’m scared. He might come through and try to hurt me! He might come back!”
“I’ll be right back,” he mumbled.
Turning, he began to hurry back toward the front of the train.
“Come back!” the girl called after him. “Please, I need you! Don’t leave me alone! Come back!”
Ignoring her, he began to run across the gravel until he reached the cab’s open door. Looking up at Bob, he saw the older man’s smiling face.
Stephen shook his head.
“What did you find?”
“A…” Bob stared at him for a moment, before sighing. “Jesus fucking Christ, are you serious?”
“A girl?” Bob asked. His right cheek twitched again. “Has she… gone under the wheels?”
He nodded again.
“I’ll call it in. Fuck, we’re gonna have to wait out here for a clean-up crew, and then there’ll be an investigation and people are gonna starting asking why we -”
“I talked to her,” Stephen said.
Bob stared at his phone for a moment, before slowly turning to him.
“I talked to her.”
“You did what?”
“She’s… She’s awake,” he stammered. “She’s hurt real bad, she’s under the wheels back there, under the B car, she looks… She’s a right mess, but she’s… She’s talking.”
Bob stared at him.
“She’s awake!” Stephen said again, almost shouting this time as the panic began to take over. “I swear to God, she’s awake down there and she’s talking like… like…”
“Are you tripping?” Bob asked finally. “Seriously, my friend, if you’re -”
“Do I look like I’m tripping?” Stephen shouted, with wild, staring eyes. “Go and look for yourself! If you don’t believe me, take the torch and go fucking look for yourself!”
“Alright, alright,” Bob replied, “calm down.” He paused for a moment, before rising from the driver’s seat with a sigh. “Something’s not right here,” he muttered.
“I’m sorry,” Stephen said, taking a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to… I… I…”
“I am not going to be a laughing stock,” Bob continued, jumping down to join Stephen on the gravel and then snatching the torch from his hands, “and I am not calling this in unless…” He turned and looked back along the length of the train, his right cheek twitching almost constantly now as his fearful eyes scanned the darkness. “Carriage B, yeah?”
“Carriage B,” Stephen replied.
“Fuck,” Bob said as he began to make his way down to take a look.
“Should I come with you?” Stephen asked.
“Get in the goddamn cab,” Bob replied. “Jesus, this is what I get for coming out with newbies.”
“I’ll wait here then,” Stephen said, watching for a moment as Bob walked away. “Okay?”
No reply, although he thought he could hear Bob muttering something under his breath.
Climbing up into the cab, Stephen walked over to the driver’s seat and took his phone from his pocket, waiting for Bob to get in touch. His hands were trembling and he felt as if he might faint at any moment, but at the same time he was too nervous to sit down so he simply paced back over to the door and waited. Bringing up his wife’s number, he considered calling her before realizing that there was no point waking her, even though he wanted desperately to hear the sound of her voice. As each second passed, however, he found himself replaying the conversation with the girl over and over again, reliving every excruciating moment of her strangely passive, blank-faced expression.
And then he realized:
He hadn’t even asked her name.
What kind of person, he wondered, doesn’t even ask someone their name in a situation like that?
“Fuck,” he whispered to himself. “Fuck, fuck…”
Suddenly his phone lit up and began to ring, and he saw his wife’s name on the screen.
“Jacqui?” he said as he answered.
“Hey,” she said, her voice sounding a little distorted over the line. “Am I disturbing you?”
“God, no,” he replied, taking a deep breath and silently thanking God. “You have no idea…”
“Sorry to call you at work,” she continued, “but… I woke up a few minutes ago and I’d had this really horrible dream, and you were in it, and… I know this is going to sound silly, honey, but I wanted to check you’re okay.” She waited a moment. “Are you?”
He looked over at the open door.
“Babe?” his wife continued. “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replied, swallowing hard. “I’ll… I’ll tell you in the morning, when I get home.” He paused. “What was the dream about?”
“You’ll think I’m silly,” she told him.
“It was you on one of your trains. Just you and this woman, and she wouldn’t stop screaming and screaming, and you kept trying to calm her down but she was screaming her head off and it was getting louder and louder, and then I woke up and I just…”
Stephen waited for her to finish.
“See?” she said finally. “I told you it was silly. I just felt weird, so I wanted to call and check on you.”
“I’m glad you did,” he told her.
“But everything’s okay, isn’t it?” she asked. “I can hear something in your voice, babe. You sound weird.”
“No, I’m fine,” he replied, feeling as if he might burst into tears at any moment, “I just… The thing is, a few minutes ago, I…” Pausing, he realized how horrified his wife would be if he told her everything at that moment.
“It wasn’t like my dream, was it?”
“No,” he told her. “It was…”
Hearing a beeping sound on his phone, he looked at the screen and saw that Bob was trying to get through.
“Hang on,” he continued, “it’s a work call.”
He hit the button to switch connections.
“Is she -”
“There’s no-one here!” Bob said, sounding angry. “I’ve checked the whole goddamn train and there’s no-one anywhere. You bloody idiot, what the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Carriage B,” Stephen stammered, “she’s under carriage B.”
“I’m at carriage B right now, and there’s no-one here. Seriously, kid, do you think this is funny? Did someone at the depot put you up to this, eh? Did they tell you to pull one over on me, ’cause if they did…”
“No, I swear -”
“There is no-one here,” Bob said firmly. “I’m telling you, a mangled body isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can miss, is it?”
“But…” Hurrying to the door, Stephen jumped down onto the gravel and hurried through the darkness, racing to the spot where he could see Bob’s torchlight up ahead.
“You’ve got one sick sense of humor,” the older man said, before cutting the call and putting his phone in his pocket.
“I’ve got to go,” Stephen told his wife. “I’ll be home late.”
“Okay, but -”
Cutting the call, he slipped his phone into his pocket.
“She’s right here,” he stammered as he reached Bob. Grabbing the torch, he shone the light under the wheels, only to find that there was no sign of the girl. “She’s here,” he continued, hurrying along the side of the carriage to check for some sign of her, only to stop as he realized that she’d somehow vanished into thin air. He kept checking, over and over, but the torchlight picked out nothing except the metal of the track and the train’s wheels. No girl. No blood.
“Right here, huh?” Bob said, putting his hands on his hips.“Okay, kid, you got me, but the joke’s over. I’ve gotta give you credit, it’s not easy to pull one over on me, so you did good. But give it a rest from now on, okay? You’re gonna give me a goddamn heart attack.” Sighing, he began to make his way back toward the front of the train. “Bloody rookies.”
“She was here!” Stephen shouted, starting to panic as he ran along to carriage C and double-checked that the girl hadn’t simply begun to crawl away. She’d seemed so badly hurt, he knew it was impossible for her to have even moved an inch but he was grasping for explanations that didn’t involve him losing his mind. It was almost as if two completely different realities had slammed together, and he was slipping through the crack.
“Good job I checked before I called it in,” Bob replied. “We’d have been laughing stocks. We’d never have heard the end of it.”
“She was here!” Stephen said firmly. “I swear on my life, she was right here!”
Bob turned to him with an exasperated look in his eyes.
“She was here,” Stephen continued. “I talked to her.”
“A girl who’d just been hit by a train? You had a nice little chat, did you?”
“I… Yeah… I mean no, but…”
“Well then you need to see a shrink,” Bob said, “or a doctor, ’cause I’m telling you, there’s no-one. And this game or whatever it is, it’s gone far enough. Alright, mate?”
As Bob walked away, Stephen stood next to carriage B and stared down at the spot where, just a few moments earlier, he’d seen the girl. He was certain he hadn’t imagined the whole thing, that she’d really been there, but as he continued to check under the carriage, he couldn’t deny that the girl was now gone. He looked over at the line of trees, but there was no sign of anyone.
“Are you coming,” Bob shouted from the front of the train, “or should I just leave you out here? Either’s fine by me.”
“I’m coming,” he whispered, taking one final look down at the tracks before turning and hurrying back toward the front carriage.
“Three in the morning,” Bob muttered as he resumed his spot on the driver’s seat, which creaked a little under his weight. “Fuck me, this night is just dragging along, isn’t it?”
“I’m not an idiot,” Stephen replied, climbing up into the cab and pulling the door shut. “I know what I saw.”
“And I know what I saw,” Bob replied with a sigh as he started the engine again and the train began to ease forward. “I saw a bit fat nothing back there. Come on, it was a good wheeze but there’s no point playing the joke out for too long. You have to learn when to let it go.”
Stephen watched him for a moment, before taking a seat and turning to look out the window. The train’s electric lights picked out the snaking line ahead, just as the hulking vehicle reached a junction and bumped across the switcher. As the cab shuddered, Stephen stared into space, still trying to reconcile everything that had just happened. He was seriously considering the possibility that his new asthma meds might have begun to cause hallucinations.
“Huh,” Bob said, looking down at the notes on his clipboard. “They switched tracks on us, moved us from South A onto North B. It’s a reversible track round here, but…”
“What?” Stephen asked, turning to him. “Why would they do that?”
“Probably ’cause of the go-slow. Traffic’s probably all over the place, but still…” He watched as they passed a green light. “Looks okay, but maybe you should check in, make sure nothing’s wrong. I don’t like being changed without being told first.” He reached out for his phone. “Call the -”
Before he could finish, a red light began to blink on the dashboard, accompanied by a beeping sound.
“What the fuck?” Bob whispered.
“What is it?” Stephen asked.
“It’s the -”
Turning, Bob looked back at the door that led through into the first commuter carriage.
“What is it?” Stephen asked again, trying to stay calm.
“It’s the alarm in carriage B,” Bob said after a moment.
“You mean the passenger alarm?”
“The one they’re supposed to hit if there’s a problem back there, but…” He paused, before turning to Stephen as the train continued to trundle along at walking pace. “There’s no-one else on the train.”
His face white with fear, Stephen turned to look at the door.
“Someone must’ve jumped on when we stopped,” Bob continued, trying to sound unconcerned even though the panic was evident in his voice. “We’ve got ourselves a stowaway.”
“Why would a stowaway ring the alarm?” Stephen asked. “Wouldn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of stowing away?”
“Well, yeah, but… Maybe it’s a faulty button, then.”
Both men sat in silence for a moment, staring back at the door as the train continued to roll slowly forward.
“You’re gonna have to go and take a look,” Bob said eventually.
“I’m the driver, I can’t do it!”
“Don’t you think I’ve spent enough time going to take a look at creepy shit?”
“It’s probably just a malfunction,” Bob told him. “It’s cold tonight, the mechanism more than likely froze. Just go and give it a tap, it’ll be fine.”
“How can the mechanism freeze?”
“I don’t know, just go and take a look!”
“What are you, some kind of chicken?”
“Fuck my luck,” Stephen muttered, getting to his feet and heading to the door. “Are night-shifts always this crazy?”
“Nope,” Bob replied, turning back to look at the track ahead, “you’re just lucky.”
“I swear,” Stephen continued, opening the door and heading out into the corridor, “this is the last time I get a ride back on a night-train.” He made his way through the first carriage before pushing open the door and stepping into the second. “Next time I’ll just stick it out in the tea-room ’til morning. There’s no way I’m -”
He stopped as soon as he saw her.
At the far end of the brightly-lit carriage, sitting on one of the seats and staring straight at him, was the girl from before, except this time she looked totally unhurt, as if all the damage and blood had disappeared. As she made eye contact with Stephen, she opened her mouth a little, as if she was about to say something.
“Oh no no no,” Stephen said, taking a step back as ice gripped his heart. “No fucking way -”
“What’s up, man?” Bob called out from the front of the train.
“No no no,” Stephen continued, unable to stop looking at the girl’s dark eyes. He wanted to turn away, to run and warn Bob, but he felt as if somehow the girl was forcing him to stare at her. He watched in horror as slowly she gripped the headrest of the seat in front of her, and then she began to stand up. As she did so, her body creaked and rattled, as if broken bones were jostling against one another beneath her pale white skin.
Suddenly the train juddered for a moment and all the lights blinked off, leaving Stephen staring into a pitch-dark carriage. His eyes desperately scanned the darkness, looking for some sign of the girl, and a moment later he realized he could hear the faint shuffling, creaking sound coming closer. Taking a step back, he watched as the girl’s face began to emerge from the shadows, just a few feet from him.
Her gaze was fixed on him.
“What do you want?” he asked.
She took another creaking step toward him.
“You’re not allowed on here,” he told her. “Not at night.”
“Don’t come any closer!”
With her eyes still fixed on him, she raised her left arm and reached out to touch his shoulder.
And then she screamed.
“Fuck no!” he shouted, turning and running back into the cab before slamming the door shut and sliding the bolt across. He paused for a moment, struggling to catch his breath as he listened to the sound of the girl approaching the other side of the door.
“The whole bloody power system’s failed,” Bob muttered, as he leaned under the console. With the train slowly grinding to a halt, he used his torch to examine the wiring. “What was that noise back there?”
“We have to get out of here,” Stephen said, taking a step away from the door.
“Hang on,” Bob muttered, “I’ve almost got it sorted. No need to abandon ship just yet.”
“We have to get out,” Stephen said again, turning to him. “The -”
Spotting a blindingly bright light in the distance, he realized that another train was heading their way, rounding the curve of the track up ahead. He told himself that it was going to pass harmlessly on the adjacent line, but suddenly he saw that it was speeding straight toward them.
“The airport express train,” he whispered.
“You what, mate?” Bob asked. “What’s wrong, are you -”
He stopped as the whole train began to shudder. Beneath them, the tracks were starting to hum as the speeding express train got closer and closer.
“What the fuck is that?” Bob said, starting to get to his feet.
“Run!” Stephen shouted, lunging for the door.
Before he could move another inch, the two trains collided head-on. The faster train ripped through the cab of the stationary vehicle, scattering carriages across the tracks and finally careering to one side and smashing into a power-line, which crashed down amid a shower of sparks. Upturned carriages skated into one another as they rolled through the gravel, and the sound of screeching metal filled the air. Huge, heavy chunks of steel were sent crashing through the darkness until they slammed into a nearby embankment, knocking down trees and sending up showers of dirt. The express train’s engine had already caught fire, burning bright in the darkness until it came to a halt and exploded, lighting up the scene with a rush of fire that began to spread to one of the other carriages.
Nearby, just past the fence that ran along the side of the train-line, the Marshall Heights tower-block stood silhouetted against the night sky.
Episode 2 Here
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