Not normally a man given to swearing, Paul Metcalfe, known to Spectrum as Captain Scarlet, felt he could be excused as the train pulled out of the station. He was supposed to be joining his sister Carrie and his nephew at her new husband’s house for Christmas, only the briefing and run late and he had arrived at the station literally as the train doors closed.
“Damn.” In the grand scheme of things, he accepted rationally it wasn’t really a problem. Spectrum had an office in the Liver building, just down by the waterfront. Even at this late hour, (he checked his watch 23:48), there would still be someone there. He could get a room for a couple of days in the city and travel up to Carrie’s on the 27th. It wasn’t ideal way to spread the first two days of a week’s leave, but… He suddenly frowned, remembering a conversation he’d had with one of the de-briefiers, Lieutenant Henna, Geoff something, part of Captain Blood’s Spectrum legal team who came from Yorkshire, the same part of the country he was now trying to reach.
“If you miss the last direct train, there’s a later one to Manchester, Piccadilly,” he’d said, shuffling the papers back into their folder, “then you can catch a stopping train to York and change for the local line. It leaves from platform 8, but for God’s sake be careful and don’t end up on platform 9, unless you fancy a long, cold wait.”
Following the sign, Paul quickly realised what Geoff had meant. The sign leading off the main platform (deserted at this hour) said: “Platforms 8 and 9” and there was only a single board, proclaiming the next train arriving to be the 2350 to Manchester Piccadilly. The British rail authorities weren’t known for the logical ordering of their platforms (or anything else really), which appeared to be proved as there was a train standing at the platform furthest away from him, the one he would have thought was platform 9.
However, since the departure time for the train was so close, Paul decided not to worry and to just get on board. He had his Spectrum Travel card on him, so he didn’t need to worry about buying a ticket.
He hurried up, just holding on to his duffle bag, and pressed the button to open the train doors. They slid open with a slow whoosh, letting out a strange smell. A smell of damp and decay, which made Paul hesitate for a moment.
In fact, looking at the whole train, even in the dim overhead lights of the station, it looked old.
He pushed that thought out of his head. It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve and there were engineering works across most of the country’s tracks. He would be more surprised if it was a new train. This old banger was probably in use as the last train on her last run.
Almost immediately he wished he hadn’t used that phrase, as it made him shiver.
Shaking himself for being ridiculous, He climbed aboard, pushing the
button to let him into the seating area of the carriage. The doors jumped open
with a hiss, making him jump, then laugh at his own foolishness. He was lucky
it was just him here out here.
Inside the train was flushed yellow with overheard fluorescent lights bathing everything in a slightly eerie glow.
He stepped into the compartment, slightly surprised to find out he wasn’t the only passenger on this extremely late train. Four other seats were occupied.
A young man, dressed in camouflage gear and with an old style British army rucksack dozed on the far row, his hands wrapped around a black beret.
On the right side, an unnaturally pale boy with black hair leaned against a window. Wires trailing from his ears fell down to a small tablet on his lap.
An Asian girl, dressed almost entirely in black with a fur line hood, lounged on the left. She watched Scarlet slightly nervously.
Scarlet smiled gently at her, slipping into the seat opposite her.
A couple of rows ahead of him, he could see a woman with dark hair which fell across her red wool coat.
The trains doors closed with a soft thump, a whistle sounded and the train began to move out of the station.
Scarlet leaned back in his seat, watching the station, then the tunnels that led out of it fly by.
He did enjoy travelling on trains.
In the south of England, more and more of the rail network was being replaced by monorails, stronger, more vibration proof and more environmentally friendly than traditional land based trains and trams, but this far north the train was still king. There were fierce arguments on both sides, but sometimes Scarlet thought the truth was that the British (and he counted himself in that for this) were not yet ready to say goodbye to their trains yet.
Maybe it was the link with the empire they represented, maybe it was just nostalgia for his childhood, Scarlet didn’t know, but he was happy to travel this way.
He pulled out his phone, planning to call his sister. Even if it would be too late for her and his nephew to meet him at the station, he wanted her to know that he was on his way.
He frowned as he realised that there was no signal. This used to be a fault with the old mobile phones, something to do with the electromagnetic charge on the wires, he had had to remember it for his degree, but these days nothing short of a thermonuclear device was supposed to stop it from transmitting.
The young man in camouflage gear grunted and rolled slightly to one
In spite of himself, Scarlet smiled. He remembered being that tired, that exhausted on multiple occasions during the Terrorism Wars, where as soon as you found somewhere to sit down, you just fell asleep, deaf to anything going on around you, even the clicking of the train.
But this train was fairly silent, remarkably so in fact. Maybe it wasn’t some old heap, but an experimental new design, or maybe they were standing still. But a glance at the window showed the scenery still flashing by and he could feel the train vibrating under him.
A feeling of unease settled itself in the pit of his stomach.
The soldier grunted and shifted again. Scarlet glanced at him, debating whether he should get up and push him further back into his seat. It would be more comfortable for the traveller, but at the same time he might wake him.
Though there didn’t seem much chance of that, the guy was sleeping like the dead.
Almost immediately wishing he hadn’t used that turn of phrase, Scarlet got to his feet, as much to vanish the unease in his stomach. He would push the man back into his seat, and apologise if he woke him up. It was a risk, but so was life.
Gently getting to his feet, he walked over.
Close up, the young man looked younger than ever, a baby faced boy of maybe 19 or 20, the arm rest digging into his stomach. Scarlet put a hand on his shoulder and pushed gently. The young man rolled back easily, and Scarlet froze.
Blood, bright red arterial blood was running down the guy’s face. And now that Scarlet could look at his face properly, he realised that it was pale, too pale for the man to be conscious. The grip on the beret was unnaturally tight, not quite rigor mortis but certainly not far off. This man needed help urgently.
He turned rapidly, spotting the pale boy.
“Can you…”he began, but he froze as the boy lifted his head to stare at him. The right side of his face was sliced to pieces, the skull visible beneath a mass of torn muscle and blood. What remained of his lips was twisted upwards into a terrifying smile.
Scarlet backed away from the two figures, almost falling into the Asian girl’s lap.
“Sorry…,” He began, but the girl’s body slumped forward, sliding off the seat. It looked to Scarlet like every bone in her body had been smashed, as though she had hit something at great speed.
Ahead of him, the woman in the red coat turned around, her neck twisting at an unnatural angle like something out of one of Blue’s horror movies.
Scarlet stumbled to his feet, backing away from these ghouls.
Ahead of him, he heard a smash, felt the carriage he was in raise and fly through the air, felt himself free falling and then blackness.
“Captain Scarlet!” He lifted his head, blinking into the darkness. He could hear voices in the distance; see lights roaming across the field where he was lying.
“Over here.” He found himself staring up into Blue’s face. “You gave us quite a scare there, Paul.”
Over Blue’s shoulder he could see Captain Violet and Lieutenant Henna running up. Violet knelt down beside him, pulling an emergency blanket out of his backpack, and slipping it around Scarlet.
“He’s got borderline hypothermia. We need to get him back to Skybase.” Voilet smiled at Scarlet. “What in God’s name were you thinking, Scarlet? You trying to hitchhike to Yorkshire or something?”
“There was a train,” Scarlet muttered.
Violet’s eyebrows contracted. “No trains out here, Scarlet. Station cameras showed you missed the last one, and the stopping service to Manchester was cancelled.”
Henna gave a nervous cough. “There used to be train line here, but the line was removed after the accident.”
“Accident?” Scarlet tried to sit up, but Blue’s hand was on his shoulder holding him still while Violet shone a small light into his eyes.
Henna flushed. “It was the last train to Manchester, nonstop. Christmas Eve, 2056, in a middle of a snowstorm” He sighed, glancing around the field. “They said that the bank just wasn’t there, that the winter snow must have just…” He shrugged. “Just washed it away. Ranks along with the Forth Bridge as one of the worst rail disasters.”
“Worst rail disasters?” Scarlet repeated, while Violet gripped his wrist, frowning as he counted the pulse.
“Yeah,” Henna continued. “The carriages came off the track. Piled into one onto the others… Nearly a hundred people were killed – Would have been more too, if not of the storm, which seemed to have discouraged people from taking the train in the first place. I don’t think they even found all the bodies.”
“That’s horrific!” Blue commented.
“Yeah,” Henna agreed. “Left quite a scar on this area. Mentally as well as physically” He said, looking over the silent fields. “Every Christmas since then, cops get a call or two – some locals thinking they say a train heading down the track. They say it’s a ghost train… or something like that.”
“Go and contact Skybase and ask for a chopper,” Violet interrupted, frowning. “Captain Scarlet needs medical care, not ghost stories.”
“Wait,” Scarlet interrupted, almost throwing the blanket off him, deaf to Blue and Violet’s protest. “The last carriage. Do you know something about it? Was anyone…?”
Henna winced. “The last carriage was nasty. When it came off the tracks, the others piled on top, crushing it. But Somehow, there were survivors, the rescuers reported they could hear people screaming for help from under there. But it took them five days just to reach them” He shook his head. “I know one of those guys; he still has nightmares about what he saw there. Asian kid smashed to pieces, some Gothic kid he said looked so peaceful until they turned him over and saw what the glass had done to his face, a woman with her head twisted the wrong way round, and a soldier who’d just bled out…”
He trailed off suddenly noticing Scarlet’s face, who had lost whatever little colours it had, upon hearing Henna’s words.
“Maybe Violet was right and we’d better get you back to Skybase, Captain,” he said at the end. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
This story illustrates the dangers of reading classic ghost stories (The Night Mail by Amelia B Edwards) while travelling by train. I found myself looking at my fellow passengers and wondering how I knew they were alive. The story sort of grew from there.
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