The Midnight Train – A Ghost Story For Christmas

ONE

I don’t want to dwell on it, honestly I don’t, but the ‘midnight’ train is starting to grate. There are certain odd occurrences in life, singular moments that cause us to pause and think, moments that distract us because of their awesomeness. I am currently experiencing one.

Let me create a bit of framework for the uninitiated. Never, not once in the last nine months, has a train trundled along the tracks a mile or two from the back of my house that run deep into the unwelcoming moors. These tracks became obsolete earlier this year, abandoned by the government in favour of a new, supposedly more efficient line. Surrounded by immense woodland, hidden from my lofty view, one forgets they are even still there. Indeed, I had completely forgotten about them. And what reason was there for me to remember them? They always irked me. Whenever I was in the grip of writing a particularly inspired passage, a beast of a train would thunder along the tracks, its engine whirring relentlessly like some mechanical brawler. My thoughts would become disordered and I would not be able to write for days afterwards.

And now, the government – I suspect – have decided to reinstate the obsolete line for one solitary train. And a midnight train of all things. What in the devil.

I don’t know. Christmas Day night was the worse. Why on earth, I had to ask myself, would a train be running at midnight on Christmas Day night? Along abandoned tracks? I had to laugh, of course. The government has entered the black market. There are probably scores of secretive train routes now in operation right across our country. Because the masses – including the media – are stupidly ignorant of their existence, the government can get away with employing cheap labourers, forcing them to work daunting, often cruel hours to transport certain privileged people from one part of the country to another on a direct rail route. All paid for by me, of course.

No doubt the trains are operated by foreign workers who don’t mind ferrying officials and the preening middle-classes throughout the darkest nights. Even if they did mind working Christmas Day night – they probably don’t – they would be forced to work it. Work it or be sacked. Back to the gutter, the squalor, the streets. Back to the homeland and poverty. And who would choose that?

These past few nights I have considered calling in the media. I have considered raising awareness of this cattle train, the existence of which is surely illegal. Naturally, I weighed such ideas against my solitude, which I have fought fiercely to protect. No, I don’t want the media snooping around these parts.

I can see the story now. The train will be completely disregarded, and instead some wide-eyed hack will centre his article around me, the failed novelist who has become a lonely cow, eking out an eccentric living in a remote, desolate cottage in the moors. That’s all they’d care about. They’d make me sound batty, push the idea that, since being removed from the spotlight by my publishers, I’ve started seeing trains and fostering mad tales of propaganda. To hell with them.

This train. Midnight every night. On the dot. It’s certainly efficient, but then there really is no reason for it not to be, for it’s the only one of its kind. No other train runs along this track, just this, heading further north into the bowels of the moors, jutting to and fro clumsily along the track, not too quickly it must be said. Where is it going? For what purpose? Who is it carrying in its carriages?

It’s been three weeks since the train first appeared. That first night it shook me up, simply because I was surprised to hear it. The second night I was pissed off because it broke my concentration. It is noisy, emitting a sound unlike any other modern day train. It is a hearkening back to the guttural cries of the steam engine. After the second week I saw a neighbour passing along the nearby lane. I considered mentioning the train but that would mean showing that I was in want of conversation. Instead, I just walked on. Rather than talk to someone about it, I have stated goggling queer keywords like ‘secret trains UK.’

Nothing. Of course. I’m beginning to become one of those weird conspiracy theorists. I refuse to become a fully-fledged conspiracy theorist but I’m on the verge. They say the Yorkshire moors send one potty if you let them get into your skin, and I refuse to become potty. Not outright, at least. But the moors are nothing if not compelling. They do something to you if you give them more attention than they deserve.

I am so closed off from civilisation, though, that I’m not exactly up-to-date with what is happening, especially in my own sparse local community. Perhaps everyone here already knows about the train. Perhaps it is serving a perfectly legal and moral governmental purpose. The most curious thing is that I never hear it return. It heads north, into the impenetrable darkness of the infinite moors, but it doesn’t return.

TWO

Tonight it was cold. Bitingly cold. I attempted to do some writing, but didn’t get beyond a few vague sentences. None of what I did write is usable, it’s all so horrible. I was drinking at close to midnight, polishing off a fine bottle of wine that I bought myself for Christmas, all in anticipation of the midnight train, as though it had now become a fresh ritual to look forward to. Wine and the midnight train, it’s what my entire day builds towards. I peel potatoes, slice carrots, dice meat, for little purpose but to fill the time between then and midnight.

Tonight was foggy, so I had no chance of seeing the train’s lights at midnight, but that doesn’t mean I could doubt my other senses. I seated myself at my elevated bedroom window, which affords me a most fantastic panorama of the surrounding hills, lit a candle and wrapped a blanket around me. What I was doing this for, I do not know. What I was expecting to see, I’m not sure. It is simply a train that goes by, in and out of my life in just seconds, the passengers indiscernible shapes. If I was expecting to be privy to a clue to the riddle, I couldn’t be more wrong. There is nothing to be made out, it is too dark. But I was drawn to it. I was drawn to neglecting my novel in favour of sitting at the window.

The train didn’t plough past at midnight. I never heard a peep of a sound. I assumed it was late. But then the minutes ticked by until it was soon half-past midnight, and still the train hadn’t thundered through the hills. Naturally, when order is suddenly upset, one does indeed doubt ones own senses. I began to think that I had simply switched off, that perhaps the wine had caused me to become listless and a bit absent-minded, and that I had merely not heard the choking of the train’s engine as it powered along the tracks.

But, no, it is too noisy a specimen for me to merely not hear it simply because I was pouring another glass of vino. It’s a beastly machine that emits a terrific din that would wake even the drunkest of sailors from their coma’s. It just didn’t sail along at midnight, nor at half an hour after midnight, nor even an hour after midnight.

This annoyed me. If I had wanted to write tonight, I now definitely couldn’t. Indeed, my plan was for the midnight train to settle my nerves, to remind me that everything is well with life, and that harmony has been restored for another 24 hours. It’s a cycle, and when it’s broken, well, your nerves are shot. And so more hours of my life were stolen by this infernal locomotive. I was unsettled. I wasn’t able to tell flesh out my story, or give birth to new characters because the midnight train had not shown its colours at midnight, nor even more than an hour after midnight.

So I sat by the window in my dimly-lit room, glass of wine resting on the sill, fingers frozen, and looked out exhaustively at the thick fog that created a screen between myself and the frosty moors. Yes, I was pissed off. And then, at 01:12, the train came.

I say the train. But this wasn’t the efficient midnight train; this wasn’t the always-on-time train that I had previously spoken of. This was certainly another. The midnight train cannot be so late. It goes against everything decent, every theory that I had conjured. No, this was another train which had no bastard right to disturb me further.

This train was much slower, it didn’t screech like it normally does. I could hear its carriages sloping along like some senile tramp in the city, begging for alms. It was barely moving, in stark contrast to the urgency of the midnight train. Its wheels were creaking as the machine was floundering amidst the fog.

Eventually it ground to a halt altogether. Something extraordinary happened at this point. The blanket of fog didn’t lift entirely, but a hole of-sorts appeared to create a sort of looking glass, through which I could gaze at the halted train in the distance as it lay dormant, enveloped by mist. I had to strain my eyes to peer at this curiosity, and very nearly spilled my wine as I stood up and pressed my nose up against the window. I could make out silhouettes of figures in the carriages, of which there were four. Some of these figures, which were few in number, lit up by the sickly bright lights of the cabs, remained seated, whilst one or two others were standing, gesticulating wildly. Somewhat moronically, I felt. They were being fairly dramatic, moving speedily from one carriage to another, as though something extremely awful had happened. By all accounts, the train had simply broken down. Nothing that bad.

Naturally, it is fairly unlucky that it should break down in these accursed moors, and on a particularly cold night as tonight, but I couldn’t help allow myself one or two gentle fits of laughter as I looked down on the animated figures for whom the situation was clearly very troubling in its futility. Perhaps it was the midnight train. Perhaps these people were already very late for an appointment or a connecting train or whatever else. God knows where they were going. All I could think was that it was their own damned fault for using this abandoned rail track. It was their own damned fault for refusing to hop on a legal train. It was their own damned fault for rewarding the governments’ illegal – or at least unethical – activities.

Annoyed, I went down to the kitchen for another bottle of wine. It is safe to say that it was absolutely freezing at this point, and I was more annoyed at having to fetch more wine than anything else. Pity me that I hadn’t managed to scrape a few words together tonight, my novel becoming as neglected as everything else in my life. To hell with that infernal train. It was clearly not quite as efficient as I had once thought. It was clearly an old piece of junk used to ferry immigrants from one part of the country to another, without any of us good folk knowing. That was my new theory. I shook with mirth when I thought how government cuts and such had led to this train breaking down at such a hideous time of the year. Their own fault.

I returned to my room in high spirits, poured myself a glass of wine, and made plans to knuckle down with my novel in the morning. But I couldn’t help myself. I had to have another look at the stranded train. To my surprise, the cabs were now completely empty. The inhabitants had actually left the train and scattered across the moors. For what purpose? To freeze to death?

Well, that made up my mind. They were illegal immigrants, and now they had to resort to desperate measures to escape being caught. Whoever was ferrying these poor foreigners from one part of our country to another was so keen on escaping attention that they had forced their subjects off the train and into the annals of the frozen, pitch-black Yorkshire moors. A frosty chill came over me when I considered how many dead bodies, frozen solid, would be discovered in the morning. Somebody will have blood on their hands tomorrow.

THREE

The next few evenings were very odd indeed. The midnight train – if it can even be termed that any longer – no longer stuck to a rigid schedule but flew by at the whims of its obviously lazy and lecherous masters. It was as though the events of the night of December 28th destroyed all need for punctuality and conscientiousness, for from then on the train trundled past below my house at various times and intervals. I have recorded the numbers for the sake of posterity and perhaps to enhance my already over-involved obsession. The times for December 29th through until January 6th are as follows:

00:17

00:22

00:04

01:30

00:45

01:01

02:04

00:17

00:55

Madness, utter madness. How is one supposed to sleep knowing that a monstrous engine is about to wake you at any moment? Indeed, the train was also getting noisier, and I now had to refrain from leaving my wine glass on the window sill incase it shook so much that it crashed to the floor and shattered. That’s how loathsomely noisy that train was.

There had also been no news of the passengers who had, shall I say, escaped from the train on the acutely cold night of December 28th. Who they were and where they had got to is a mystery. I was certain they would perish, not least because they surely were not locals, what with the nearest in-use station being at least 10 miles from here. And, indeed, who knows these moors enough so as to not get lost and die a horrible death on a foggy, blackened night? Certainly not I. Alas, there had been no news. I was hungering for a crumb of information, and even considered heading out on the lane to chance upon a neighbour, whereupon I would without a doubt this time bring up the issue of the train.

Dinner tonight was to be a broth, as it often is for me throughout the winter. It seems to be the only dish that warms my blood. I had got no further with my novel since the night of December 28th. You would think my writing hand was parched, but no. I could think of nothing save for the midnight train. I continue to term it so just for reference. Otherwise, what could I christen it? The immigrant train? The illicit train? The ghost train? Heaven’s above, I really would be increasingly morphing into my eccentrically morbid uncle. He was a fine one for tales of the supernatural. Always said these moors were haunted and that this house was in a ‘bad spot.’ And then he goes and leaves it to me, as though I would welcome it before anyone else in this rotten family. Sure, they all told me I had little option but to take it, what with being a penniless writer. Heaven’s above. Perhaps glory really does fade.

Damn this accursed train. After dinner, I had the bastard idea of throwing my laptop onto the fire. I wanted to be finished of this new piece of ‘literature’ that I had been forging errantly as though I can call myself a writer of some virtue. What have I become? I am not a writer any longer. I am a hack. A charlatan. A conspiracy theorist. An oddity. A profound curiosity among many profound curiosities in this ridiculous community set amongst the heinous, cruel, depraved, tortuous moors that send one senile. The moors are evil.

I tossed more coal onto the fire out of habit more than anything else, and settled down with a glass of wine before extolling further on the cruelty that these moors exhibit. They get to you. At day, they look most benign, save for a few unusual shapes and contours in the hills. But at night, they draw you in, the wind curling around them unnaturally, as though the wind were a part of the moors, a weapon they had forged. The hills look utterly repellent. This lonely old house of mine is insanely vulnerable. How can it defend itself, this object of brick and mortar, against the all-encompassing piece of treacherous nature that surrounds it? Against the infinite wall of infinite blackness that conceals a lurking evil? I’m not spiritual, nor mystical, never have been, but there is something innately sinister about the land around here, something geologically composed – accidentally, perhaps – when the earth was formed that is capable of unleashing terror on its puny victims. I’m one of them. The moors are man’s foe.

Of course, such thoughts are folly. Perhaps it is the wine talking. Or nagging. I am writing as I think, and my thoughts are no doubt jumbled up, a vicious mess inspired by my situation. It is dire. I am running short of food. My spirits lift and then they fall into the pit. I write and then I stop minutes later. I hear noises, I see trains. I am going insane.

I have come to my bedroom. Not to sleep, but to sit by the window. It is close to midnight now, and once again I lie in wait for the midnight train. That good old enemy, that jolly old bastard that won’t leave me alone, not even at Christmas time. Hell, yes, now it’s January, but time seems to have ceased for me. I haven’t even showered or bathed for over a week now, and I am consuming ever more quantities of wine. I am neglecting everything but the train. Even this diary is dedicated entirely to it. It was bitterly unused at the start of the year, before I began subjecting it to my frustration at being isolated during the summer. And now I use it to talk about an abominable train. A train! Prose used to pour out of me at one time in my life like blood from a wound, a time not even that long ago in the grand scheme of things, and I was always good for social commentary. Now I write about a train.

The minutes have ticked remorselessly by, and I am on my third glass of wine for the night. Sitting at this window, with only a dim light giving the room a modicum of atmosphere, is my new hobby. I sit here, watching, listening, waiting. It is rather like going to some destitute cinema for the criminally insane. The movie is one of those brooding, lengthy eastern-European films where nothing seems to happen despite people telling me lots of things have actually happened. We’re invited to peak into someone’s soul. I’m sitting here peaking into the depths of nature.

These painfully long winter nights really do make me shiver, in more ways than one. A great chill comes over me even when it isn’t so cold. It was during one of these chilling moments when the train decided to show this evening. It trundled along pathetically at 01:47 before, once more, coming to a halt. Without the fog, I could see more this evening. I could see the carriages, again sparsely filled with silhouettes of figures, some seated, others standing, gesticulating as though annoyed at the situation. Once more, their illicit mode of transportation had failed them. Tonight, though, I couldn’t laugh, even if I wanted to. I felt morose more than anything. These people were stranded. They were just shadows to me, mere shapes, but there was a humanity in there somewhere, and they would soon be turfed out again unless the driver could get the train moving before suspicion was aroused. It was another achingly cold night, below freezing. I agonised over thoughts of what would become of these people, cast out into the moors, ordered to find their way amidst the unholy hills, the boundless fields, and the endless woods where man is not welcomed at night. They would be told by their masters to keep their mouths shut, ordered to leave no trace of where they have come from, or who had brought them this far. From Romania to the Yorkshire moors.

I sunk into thought as I gulped my wine, which was again fast running out. It was too cold tonight to scamper downstairs for more. I had my blanket wrapped around me as I sat beside the window, and was doing well to fend off the cold. It occurred to me that I should probably notify the authorities of this train, despite the lengths I will go to protect my solitude. It was a thought worth considering. Right now, as I write this, the only thing I can think of doing is warming my fingers. They are numbing incredibly.

Events have taken a sudden turn. After a few moments of reflection, I looked up to see the last few passengers leaving their carriages, but this time they had torches. And so I can see dots of yellow light, crashing into one another, not too far in the distant. The dots of light are scattering, some are going left, some are going right. All of them are on this side of the track. The lights are dancing to and fro, without aim, coherency or purpose. Some lights are going back and forth, some continue to crash into one another, whilst others appear to be going round in circles. It’s a sight to witness, an odd one, a cruel one, like something out of a circus. One deduces that these people have lived sheltered, cooped-up lives, not used to being outside, and are struggling to find one’s bearings. Of course, finding one’s bearings in the unforgiving moors is not easy. But still, it’s a somewhat frightening spectacle to see grown men going round in dizzying circles at this time of the night in the freezing cold. What do they expect to achieve by that? Is this some sort of bizarre ritual being enacted?

After ten minutes or so of witnessing the lights progressing not very far, I removed myself from the window sill and finished off my last remaining drops of wine. If there is a social conscience still left in me, it is slowly ebbing away. I don’t really care for the fate of those men, women and children. If the last lot hadn’t perished, these won’t either. They would roam the moors without purpose all night, until daybreak would afford them enough light for them to find their way to a suitable shelter. Then they would make their way to a town and immerse themselves in a local society somewhere, whereby they would get on with their miserable lives.

I am trying hard to recover thoughts about my novel. I am trying in vain to compose a new chapter. It is no use. The train is on my mind. Is it going to remain there all night this time? Is it going to restart? Are the evil masters once more going to escape justice? Is it going to magically disappear?

I am cold. I am ready for bed. But the train is still there, rooted. The torches are fumbling in the darkness, and a chill has gone down my spine as I notice that three of the yellow dots are close by. They are heading my way. I can hear gruff voices, murmurings. I can hear movements in the thickets below. Disturbingly, I notice that the train has gone. When? Where?

There are several knocks on my door. Not quiet, sensitive taps, but big booming bangs. They know I am home. I must go and answer the door. There is nothing else to do. I repeat, nothing else for it. They are waiting for me.

About willtitteringtonwriter

Freelance Writer
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