I like our house, especially at night. It’s always much warmer than my friends house. My parents aren’t any richer, they’re just as poor as anyone, but somehow they manage to heat our house better during the long winters. At night, I love watching the flames of the fire and listening to them cackle. I love the feeling of comfort and togetherness when me, my older sister and our parents eat dinner and watch television together until it’s time for bed. When the cold bites, as it always does in December, the more people that are in the room, the warmer you feel.
Our idyllic family life has changed a little since my dad got a new night job down at the small local train station. My dad doesn’t like trains, said he’s a bit scared of them. My dad, a man who’s had fights with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the town, is actually scared of something. He said it’s because he puts his life in the hands of a machine each time he rides one, and he doesn’t like to lose control like that. I myself don’t like the speed they move at, their enormous size, their frightful power, or their animalistic ferocity when in motion. I don’t like the way they slither out of a pitch black tunnel at night and slowly get bigger and scarier and faster as they approach you, or the way they can blow old ladies over when they charge past a platform. They make both me and my dad nervous. Despite this fear, he is now a night watchman at the local train station. Said it’s a job he has to do, since it was the only one available.
“It’s because you’ve done everything else and they’ve all sacked you,” said mum acidly.
Fresh out of further options, dad took on the job he knew he’d hate the most.
It wasn’t just the trains that were so unappealing about the job. It was the cold that tore away at him at night. It was the fog that had been setting in each day recently. It was the fact that he was taken away each night from his comforts; the fire, the pub, his pipe, the television and his warm bed. It was a lousy job but he knew he had to stick it out because we needed the money and he enjoyed the respect it gave him.
Just lately, however, I’d noticed something different about the way dad acted. I’d heard him burst into the house at six-ten in the morning with noticeable panic in his steps, rather than his usual calm, as though he was trying to escape from something. Usually, he would open and close the doors quietly, pour himself some tea, and make his way upstairs to bed with slow, gentle steps on the staircase. He was careful and sensitive enough not to wake the house while morning was only just beginning to break.
Lately, he veritably barged into the house with the alarming fumbling’s of a madman, slamming the door shut, and hurriedly trampling up the stairs without first removing his boots, so that the terrible noise he made stirred everyone. Then, he would stay in bed for much longer than he previously did. And when it came time to go to the station again at ten pm, his countenance would pale at least half an hour before the clock chimed. He would turn ashen, struggle for words on the rare occasions he spoke, and stare into the fire, as though entranced by the flames. We would talk to him, mother would nudge him to go to work, but it was as though he hadn’t heard us.
“Work, yes,” he thoughtlessly muttered on one occasion as he put on his coat and cap.
He didn’t want to go, and it wasn’t just the trains that were frightening him. There was something else, I could tell. Something terrible and maddening had been happening down at the station.
I knew all about ghosts since mum had warned me about the one that supposedly haunted the landing in our house. I knew they made people tremble before them, even mums and dads. And I knew dad had come face to face with one down at the station. It was the haunted look in his eyes, the commotion he made when he came home, and the way he changed for the worst before it was time to go to work. It wasn’t just the trains that did this to him.
One night, ten evenings before Christmas, Manchester United were live on the BBC. Dad was in good spirits because George Best, his favourite player, had scored and we were winning. Even better, the television worked without a problem for once. I was switching my enjoyment between my toy car and the football, while occasionally my dad peered out of the window to check the snow outside. It was a relaxed, nondescript evening of contentment and I was happy.
But as the hour of duty approached, dads mirth was vanquished by time. The game was moving into extra-time and dad wouldn’t be able to see it to the end. It wasn’t that which darkened his mood, nor was it the cold or the appearance of the thick fog once again. His face was troubled for he knew that it was time to go down there, into the depths of the icy station and to once more be met with whatever sinister secrets it kept.
As he put on his cap and bade farewell to the fire, the football, his family and his pipe and slippers, I could see in his eyes that he had witnessed something out there that he couldn’t explain. If it could be explained in logical terms, he would have done so by now. Either that, or he had been sworn to silence by the ghouls veiled by the fog of the night.
A minute or so after he’d left the house, I showed mum the flask of tea that dad had left behind.
“He’ll be back when he realises he’s left it, the daft sod,” said mum.
I told her that he wouldn’t be back, as he’s not allowed to leave his post unmanned. I begged with her to let me take it to him. I wanted to follow him down to the station to see what he’d seen out there with the fog that hid the stars of eternity.
Mum was reluctant, but I begged and beseeched her not to let dad go a whole night without his flask. “He’ll get sick,” I said. To avail her fears of me coming undone on the way to the station, I reminded her that it was but a ten minute walk and that I knew the route by heart.
Unhappily, she unlocked the door and I scurried out into the frosty, blackened, appallingly foggy night. It was treacherous on foot and much colder than I had anticipated. Moreover, the fog was an evil one that would hide all the bad things man would be doing that night. But I knew that if I ran, I could catch dad up and stay a few paces behind him so that I would feel safe while remaining unseen.
I never did catch him up, however. For a man who was so grimly terrified of the station, he walked quickly enough to get there. And yet, when I eventually arrived there myself, ever so careful not to be seen or heard, I saw no man nor any trailing shadows. I heard the shrill whistle of the wind and the whine of an approaching train, before feeling its wrath as it flew past me. I felt the cold nibbling at my toes, fingers and nose, and I felt the hands of the fog groping me before thickening as I tried to move through it. I saw the blurred glimmer of the station floodlights above me and I nearly lost my balance on the ice beneath my feet. But I didn’t see dad, nor did I hear any footsteps, of the comforting kind or the other.
Troubled, cold and frightened, I was prepared to give my presence up and called out to him, but there was no answer.
“Dad?” I screamed again and again, bewildered and unsure of my own bearings.
I looked down at the shiny wet train tracks below. I looked up and down the platform and across to the other side, but there was no sign of my dad. It was then that I noticed how quiet the station was at night. I’d never witnessed silence like it before. It was a repulsive silence, the kind that surely drives sinners mad in the beyond. My eyes followed the tracks to their misty vanishing point, and for a moment the thought that this was all that existed now in the world drove me mad. And yet I knew that the warmth and protection of home was mere minutes away and that I could hurry back whenever I wanted to. Mum was surely preparing me some hot cocoa by now.
I stayed for another five minutes until I could bear it no more. My whole body was shaking from the cold and I was dreadfully worried that whatever had got dad would get me too. I wondered with dread what phantoms lurked behind the bushes, what rapacious winged beasts from hell were circling above me, or what worm-like spirits would rise from the earth and take me down into the filthy depths with them. I knew then that the station and its abysmal secrets had got my dad. Worse, they knew I had been coming and had made sure I was too late to be his saviour.
So I ran home and arrived at the door breathless with the flask. It took me so long to explain to mum what had happened because my teeth were chattering so much from the cold and the fear. Eventually, now crying wildly, I told her that they had got dad. The station itself, indeed, had got him. She was puzzled. It was as though she wasn’t sure what I meant, but still she called the police and told them they must go to the station right away as something bad had happened. I knew that was utterly pointless. He was gone.
As it turned out, they recovered my dads body that night. It was found hanging from a tree. The spirits had left him like that, cold and exposed. In death, so frail, so vulnerable, so naked, so human. I never saw the body, but I can only wonder what they did with his soul. I’m just glad my mum never got to see and feel what I saw and felt down there. And now I miss my dad like crazy and wish for spring and summer to vanquish these vampires of the night and mind.