Lydia placed a meagre collection of coins into the taxi driver’s outstretched hand. “I’m a bit short,” she said. “I’m terribly sorry.” He sighed but closed his hand around the money without counting it. “Thank you,” she said quietly and fumbled with the door handle, eager to escape before he changed his mind.
Outside was freezing. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, a bitter wind whistling while icy rain lashed down. Blustery gusts shook the trees, ripping shrivelled leaves and twigs from branches, and launching them like missiles. A conveyor belt of angry rainclouds raced across the sky, the pale moon daring to peep between the scudding banks before quickly retreating.
Pulling up her coat collar, Lydia ran for the shelter of the awning on the railway station’s platform. Her heels slapped the wet ground sending muddy water splashing up, soaking her stockings. Wet, but safe from the deluge, she peered along the track for any sign of her train. The station clock said ten-fifty so it was due. Thrusting chilled hands into her pockets, she stamped her feet while impatiently waiting. Ten fifty-one, ten fifty-two… come on, come on.
Ten fifty-five. Still no train and she was alone on the platform, which was disconcerting. The last train was generally busy. Had she missed it? Spotting a timetable board screwed to the wall outside the waiting room, she quickly trotted across to check her train. She pushed wet hair from her eyes and ran a finger across the tiny black print. Oh, no… Her heart sank. Of course, it was Sunday. The last train departed at ten-thirty.
“Bloody taxi driver,” she cursed. He was local; surely he knew he was dropping her at an empty station, the last train gone? Why hadn’t he warned her?
Because I short-changed him, she thought, her stomach tightening. Bastard. Sighing, she debated what to do. Without money, she couldn’t call another cab or pay for a hotel room. The pub would be closed so there’d be no point walking back there, even if she knew the way. Calling Alfie wasn’t an option either. What would he think if she asked to stay after their first date? It wasn’t the done thing. Wasn’t decent. And his landlady was sure to take exception.
So, what to do? Squinting in the gloom, she again studied the timetable. Monday morning commuter trains started running at six so she could take the first one and still have time to wash and change before catching the bus to work. Seven hours standing in the cold was unthinkable, but if she could find shelter, she’d have to cope. She tried the waiting room door but it was locked. The ticket office was shut too.
Shivering, Lydia paced then rattled the waiting room door handle more firmly. She could see a wood burner inside, embers glowing invitingly. She threw her weight against the door, not caring about damage, but the lock held fast. The wooden window frames looked old and fragile but proved to be sturdy, and there wasn’t another doorway around the sides or back.
Defeated, she looked farther afield. There were several sheds beyond the booking office with baggage trollies lined up outside. Securing her hat, she braved the elements once more to try her luck. The first shed was protected by a robust padlock. The second wasn’t. Perfect. The door moved stiffly on rusty runners, but Lydia managed to slide it enough to squeeze inside. It smelled musty and the wind whistled through cracks in the boarded wooden walls, but at least it was dry.
Eyes adjusting to the dark, she looked around. Empty post sacks lay in neat piles on the ground and large wooden crates were stacked three high. There wasn’t much room but there was space enough for her to sit and she’d be warmer if she wrapped up in the sacks.
She leaned against the door. The shed was cold and uninviting but it was for only one night and what other option was there? Resigned to her fate, she turned to close the door. Rain spattered Lydia’s face and, blinking, she froze. On the opposite westbound platform, a man was staring in her direction. Pulse racing, she held her breath and slowly backed into the shadows. The man continued to glare then stepped forward to the edge of the platform, leaving the shelter of the awning. Rain lashed his trilby and the wind clawed his dark trench coat but he stood fast, gaze fixed. Then, suddenly, he moved, disappearing from view.
Lydia gasped. Had he seen her? Was he heading to the bridge to cross the tracks? Was he coming to tell her to leave or…or… Heart pounding, adrenaline flooded her veins but to run would be foolish – she was wearing heels and a skirt so he was bound to be faster. And run where? Shaking, she retreated into the depths of the shed and, crouching, cowered among the mouldy crates. Please, I don’t want him to have seen me. Scarcely breathing, she listened intently. The wind howled and rain pounded the roof but, thankfully, there was nothing else. No footsteps, no voices. Nothing unusual.
Gradually, she calmed, breathed normally. Perhaps the man had also missed his train and was, at that moment, hurrying away, cursing. Or maybe he was a Station Official checking the platform. It was Halloween, after all, a night renowned for trouble makers and damage to property. Official or not, it appeared he hadn’t seen her.
“It’s okay, he’s gone.” She spoke aloud and her voice trembled but hearing it was comforting. “No need to be silent,” she said with the flicker of a smile. “No one can—”
Lydia caught her breath at a scratching noise inside the shed. Spotting beady glowing eyes staring from atop a pile of sacks, she smothered a shocked shriek behind both hands and shuffled back, the crates behind her wobbling precariously. Startled, the creature scurried away and Lydia collapsed backwards, heart drumming, breathing hard again. A rat. I hate rats. At least, that’s all it was. She shook her head. Why had she insisted on a Sunday date? Archie had wanted to meet on Saturday but, having plans to go dancing with her girlfriends, she’d refused. She’d turned him down for the following Saturday as well. And the one after that. She liked Archie – he was sweet – but not enough to spend the best night of the week with him.
Unwilling to encounter another rat – or any other creature – Lydia rose shakily to her feet and picked her way toward the door. There had to be somewhere better to shelter. Still wary, she peeped through the crack at the dark platform. No! The man was out there, on her platform, standing only feet away. His back was to her but he was so close she heard his shoes squeak when he shifted his weight. What now? Trapped in the shed with the stranger too close for comfort, Lydia kicked herself for telling Archie he could meet her this Sunday or never. Stupid, so stupid. She hadn’t thought about the Sunday train schedule and she’d forgotten all about Halloween.
At that very moment, her friends would be dressed up and enjoying themselves at Katie’s party, playing bobbing apples and spin the bottle. Lucky them. She felt cheated. Her evening with Archie hadn’t even gone well. Despite months of asking her out, he was withdrawn, morose even. He bought her drinks and chatted when prompted then told her it was his birthday and became, well, weird. At least he’d chosen a nice pub with jolly locals full of Halloween spirit. That was some consolation. So far from home, though. Why hadn’t she insisted he come to her local?
The man walked to the edge of the platform and looked both ways. Then Lydia heard a faint whistle and distant, but unmistakable sounds of a steam locomotive. She pressed a cheek against the gap, trying to see – was a train coming after all? There was another whistle and, excited, she eyed the man on the platform. He didn’t look so sinister now, just another late traveller eager to catch the train and get out of the rain. Should she leave her hiding place and join him?
Something about him made her hesitate: the stiffness of his shoulders, perhaps, or the way he’d stared from the other platform? Had he seen her? Whatever it was, she devised a safer plan. She’d stay put. Stay hidden. She’d wait till the train stopped and the man had boarded before diving from the shed and running to a different carriage. She’d need to be quick, but it was better to be safe than sorry. The engine noises got louder, the railway lines rumbled. Soon, get ready…
The man stepped out of Lydia’s line of sight. Where’s he going? Straining, she heard footsteps on metal steps and, daring to open the door another inch, she saw him crossing the bridge. Darn it, is the train going the other way? She hadn’t checked the timetable for westbound trains, hadn’t even considered it. How foolish. One of her girlfriends lived two stops west; she could catch the train and go to her house.
Needing to know what was happening, Lydia crept out of the shed. There was no sign of the man – good. She peered along the track. Yes! He’d got it wrong. Bright lights shone from the west, the train approaching fast on her eastbound side. Her heart skipped and, walking quickly to the edge of the platform, she watched steam billowing from the locomotive. Light from its firebox illuminated the smoky clouds while sparking embers shot from its funnel like fireworks, the storm blowing them far and wide. Lydia looked on mesmerised – much more dramatic than the new diesel engines, almost alive.
But something was wrong. The train didn’t slow. Its whistle sounded as it neared the platform then it shot past Lydia with a roaring blast that lifted her off her feet. Landing on the wet concrete, she sprawled on her back before curling into a ball. She covered her ears as the monster swept past and watched as its fiery breath disappeared into the night.
Shaken, she slowly sat up. Her stockings were ripped and her hands and knees were grazed and bloodied. Lydia rescued her hat before the wind could snatch it and she rubbed dirt from her coat with a handkerchief. Cold, wet and hurt, tears stung her eyes. But she didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself. Hearing a muffled cough, she spun around. No! The man was right in front of her, his eyes boring into her. And those eyes - bright red, glowing like the embers from the train’s funnel.
Scrambling to her feet, Lydia screamed and ran full tilt for the exit and the road where the taxi had dropped her. She ran for her life, heels clattering. But to no avail – he was there again, right in front of her, baring her way with red eyes gleaming.
Screeching, she changed direction. She ran for the waiting room, hurling herself at the door and yelping when it still wouldn’t budge. She tried the windows again, tried the ticket office while the monster stood watching, waiting. Panting and scared, Lydia drew breath and faced him. His facial features were in shadow below his trilby but those eyes glared. Then he snarled, bearing glinting teeth, dripping with saliva.
Lydia bolted again. She ran for the bridge and the exit on the opposite side. Making headway, her foot slipped on the soaked metal and she stumbled, cracking her knees against the sharp steps. Pain shot through her but she hurried on. She was halfway across the bridge when he caught her.
“Get off me,” she screamed. “Let me go! No…”
It happened so fast. Lydia was swept off her feet and hurled over the railings like she was nothing more substantial than the skeletal leaves tossed in the wind. She didn’t even scream as she plunged to the ground. Landing hard, pain exploded through every nerve, every sinew, until time stopped and numbing darkness obliterated all.
Rousing, Lydia groaned. She opened her eyes but couldn’t focus. Her head throbbed and she tasted metal. Wincing, she lay still. The rain soaked her, running in rivulets over her face. The wind bit viciously. She tried to move but the slightest twitch sent white-hot pain stabbing through her. She cried out, her voice a strangled whisper, choked by pain.
The man… she tried to focus. Where is he? And what’s that? A noise in the distance – there one moment, then lost to the roaring wind and pounding rain. There it is again. A faint rumble. Her fingertips were touching the cold metal track and, to her horror, she felt vibrations. The rumblings grew louder. A whistle blew. Oh, God, no. Lydia desperately struggled to her knees. She stared blearily along the track at a bright light and billowing smoke. She fought to move her legs but the light approached – rapidly. Raised arms covered her face as, with a mighty roar, it swallowed her.
The old man shielded his face from the glare.
“Oh, it’s you. I might have known.” The Station Master lowered his torch. “What are you doing? You’ll catch your death of cold.”
The old man didn’t respond. He stared at a polished stone against the wall of the waiting room, his watery blue eyes focussed on the topmost brass plaque.
“Oh, it’s the anniversary, isn’t it?” The Station Master nodded. “Sweet of you to come, but really, in this?” he said, gesturing to the storm. “And you know tonight’s not safe. Why d’you think I’m here?” He looked around. “Wish I wasn’t here. CCTV’s packed-up again, tonight of all nights.” He rolled his eyes. “Bloody typical. What’re you staring at that for anyway? You know it off by heart.” He followed the old man’s gaze to the monolith. “Sunday, October thirty-first nineteen-sixty-five,” he read. “Long time ago. Didn’t they still run steam trains back then?”
The old man ignored him. He reached out and stroked the plaque. “I didn’t mean it.”
“What was that?” said the Station Master.
“I knew she’d miss the train,” the old man muttered. “So I followed her.”
“Followed who? Her?” The Station Master squinted at the name on the plaque. “Lydia?” The old man nodded. “Ah, that’s rough. Too late were you? It’s a tragic thing, suicide, and so many of them here.” He puffed out his cheeks, gaze wandering over the plaques on the stone. “Some kind of Halloween cult, apparently. Three since I started working here. No wonder no-one stays.” A two-tone horn sounded in the distance. “That’ll be the express.” He patted the old man on the shoulder. “Now, you get off home, there’s a good chap.”
The old man didn’t move.
“Come on, Archie, don’t give me grief. I’ve got enough on my plate tonight.”
“But it’s my birthday.” Archie’s voice was gravelly and when he turned, his eyes were red. Glowing red.
“What the…” The Station Master backed away.
“I don’t mean to do it,” said Archie. “I can’t help it, see. I’m cursed.”
Eyes blazing, he let out a blood-curdling snarl. The Station Master’s torch flew through the air as the monster grabbed him and flung him, head first, onto the track.