Authors: Simon R. Green
“Didn’t bang it in properly, the first time,” he said. “So, Mr. Laurie, doors that don’t like to stay open or closed, lights that don’t like to stay on. What else can we expect?”
“It gets cold,” said Laurie. “Cold, for no reason. Cold as the grave.”
“No central heating here?” said Happy.
“Remember where you are, lad,” said Laurie. “They
didn’t have such things, back in the day. Didn’t believe in them. My old dad always said central heating made you soft. And who’s to say he was wrong? There’s a decent-sized fire-place if you need one in the Waiting Room. And an authentic paraffin stove, in the Ticket Office. Not much fuel in it. So don’t waste it. Never know when you might need it.”
“Hold everything.” Melody looked quickly from one set of readings to another. “Something here, or very near here, is interfering with my equipment. My short-range sensors keep locking onto something, then losing it for no good reason. There’s something here with us, JC. Can’t tell you what it is yet, but it’s weird and powerful and very slippery…”
And then Happy cried out—a sudden, shocked sound. They all turned to look at him. He was pointing with a trembling hand at a small mirror hanging on the far wall. It was an ordinary, everyday mirror; in a straightforward ornamental frame. Afterwards, no-one could be sure exactly what they saw there, only that there was a face in the mirror, watching them. And it wasn’t the face of anyone in the room. The image disappeared the moment they all rushed forward to look at it, and by the time they all got there, the reflection showed only their own faces, looking back at them with wide eyes and shocked, startled expressions. At what they’d seen, or thought they’d seen. It took the Ghost Finders a moment to realise Laurie wasn’t there with them. They looked back; and he was standing right where he had been. He nodded slightly and shrugged one shoulder, as if to say,
What did you expect?
JC very firmly turned the mirror over, to face the wall, then looked thoughtfully at Laurie.
“This isn’t the first time that’s happened, is it? You’ve seen this before?”
“Aye. Everyone has, who’s spent any time here. Someone is always watching us. But don’t ask me who.”
“What did you see in the mirror?” said Melody. “Who did you see?”
“Once,” Laurie said slowly, “I thought I saw myself; as I might look after I’d been dead and in the ground for a good few years.”
“It’s mind-games,” JC said briskly. “Everything we’ve encountered so far has been nothing but supernatural parlour tricks, designed to scare us off. Whatever’s here can’t be that powerful, or it wouldn’t need tricks. It’d simply kill us, or throw us out of here. But it hasn’t because it can’t. That’s why it’s hiding from us.”
“It?” said Laurie, pointedly.
“Oh, there’s always an It,” said Happy.
“Details,” said JC, advancing purposefully on Laurie. “I need details, on everything that’s happened here. Tell me about the experiences of the other volunteers, Mr. Laurie. The time has come to tell the tale, supernatural warts and all.”
“Sounds,” said Laurie. “Voices. Saying…disturbing things. The sound of footsteps, walking up and down the platform; but when you go out and look, there’s never anyone there. Station announcements, over speakers that aren’t there any more, for trains and services that haven’t run in decades. Voices in the room next door, blurred and indistinct, like the words we hear in dreams…They
sound like old friends, or dead relatives, desperately trying to reach us, to warn us about something terrible that’s coming. And there’s always this feeling of someone here that shouldn’t be, watching from the shadows, or from just behind you. And you never turn round to look because you know, you just know, there’s nobody there…or at least nobody you’d want to see. I’ve spent years in this place, and never once felt threatened or in any danger, until now…The last volunteer to leave said he was convinced there was always someone sneaking up behind him, looking over his shoulder…”
By now Happy was trying to look in so many different directions at once that he was turning round and round in circles. He was breathing heavily, his eyes painfully wide. He realised that the others were looking at him and stopped abruptly. He took out a handkerchief, wiped the sweat from his face, and smiled weakly. Then he put the handkerchief away, marched over to the nearest wall, and put his back to it, arms folded defiantly across his chest.
“I’m fine!” he said loudly. “Fine and dandy, oh yes! And no, I’m not picking up anything. Which is odd, because I should be getting something by now. So I can only assume that whatever particular It is haunting this place, it’s pretty damned powerful. And I’d really like to get the hell out of here before It turns up and shouts Boo! in my face. Please pretty please.”
Laurie looked at Happy, then at JC. “I thought you people were supposed to be experts.”
“Oh, we are,” said Melody, not looking up from her instruments. “But then, there’s experts, then there’s experts.”
“You have to make allowances for Happy,” said JC. “Because if you don’t, he sulks. Or gives you ulcers from the sheer frustration of trying to keep up with his many and various mood swings. Happy is a sensitive soul, and not nearly as heavily medicated as he used to be. Feel free to hit him. We do.”
“At least I’ve got enough sense not to hang about in places where I’m clearly not welcome,” said Happy.
“Then you are very definitely in the wrong business,” JC said cheerfully. “Now quiet down and be a brave little ghost finder, and there shall be Jaffa Cakes for tea. Go on, Mr. Laurie, I’m still listening. What else has happened?”
“Isn’t what I’ve told you enough?” said Laurie.
“Information is ammunition,” JC said solemnly. “Which we can use to kick the arse of our paranormal enemy. Ghosts deal in uncertainty. Things we see out of the corners of our eyes, come and gone in a moment, are always going to be more frightening than some blurry shape in a doorway, not even solid enough to rattle its chains.”
“Most of what I’m telling you is only stories,” said Laurie. “Things the volunteers talked about, among themselves. Some did say they’d seen, or at least glimpsed, a figure. Never up close, and none of them saw it clearly, but they were all very sure they’d seen something. And some of them said it wasn’t human. As such.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said JC. “You ever see this figure yourself?”
“I might have glimpsed it, from time to time,” Laurie said reluctantly. “An old-fashioned type, tall and thin, dressed like a gentleman from my grandfather’s time.”
“And you never thought to mention this before?” said Melody, sharply.
“You stick around this place long enough, and your senses will start playing tricks on you, too,” said Laurie. “But if I did see what I thought I saw…there was something wrong with its head. Like maybe…part of the head was missing.”
JC considered this. “Does this…disfigured figure fit in with any of the local legends?”
“No,” Laurie said firmly. “This is something new. Something else. Even if it does have its roots in the past.”
They all suddenly stopped where they were and shivered violently. The temperature in the room had plummeted in a moment. Their breaths steamed heavily on the still air, and they all hugged themselves against the sudden, bitter cold. Great whorls of hoarfrost spread slowly across the walls, like massive fingerprints. Frost and even solid ice formed on Melody’s instrument panels and monitor screens. She frantically wiped it away with her sleeves, but it came back again. The room was so cold now, it burned exposed faces and hands and seared the lungs that breathed it in. Of them all, Laurie seemed the least affected. Probably because he was northern, one of those hardened souls who claim not to feel the cold and only put a vest on when there’s an actual blizzard outside. Melody fired up the heating elements in her support system, scraping the frost off her sensor screens with her fingers, so she could make out the new readings.
“I am seeing serious cold, JC!” she said, forcing the words out between chattering teeth. “And I’m talking
deep cold here, unnatural cold! But according to my sensors, only in this room!”
“Now this is what I call a cold spot!” said JC, beating his hands together, then rubbing them briskly. “This is more like it! Traditional ghost sign; something is draining energy out of the immediate surroundings to fuel an imminent manifestation. Take up your positions, people; we have a ghost heading this way.”
“Yes,” said Laurie. “It’s here…”
JC beckoned Happy forward, and the two of them stood back-to-back, looking quickly about them. Melody ignored the room completely, giving all her attention to what her sensor readouts were telling her. Laurie stood alone, looking out the open main door at the platform beyond. All around, shadows were moving slowly, subtly, creeping forward, pushing back the light. The room was full of a sense of movement, of things that came and went, gone the moment you looked at them directly. And there was a growing sense of
, an overwhelming feeling that they were no longer the only ones in the room. That something new was approaching from an unknown direction, to join them.
“Told you,” said Laurie. He was the only one not looking around him, apparently entirely unconcerned. “It’s not safe to be here, not now it’s got dark.”
“Please stand your ground, Mr. Laurie,” JC said firmly. “Don’t go, not when things are starting to get interesting. You really mustn’t let these things bother you. It’s all smoke and mirrors, when you get right down to it—meant to soften us up for the main event. To put us in the proper mood for when our ghost finally deigns to make
his entrance. Never met a ghost that wasn’t a drama queen. Melody, tell me something!”
“Power readings are off the scale, JC,” said Melody, her eyes darting from one monitor screen to another. “Room temperature’s stabilised, even starting to rise again. A little. Which would suggest our mysterious prime mover now has all the power it needs to materialise. Something is coming. Heading our way from a direction I can’t even describe. From Outside, from far beyond the fields we know. Hold it…hold it…I’m getting something. Something drawing near. I can’t say what it is or how it’s related to what’s been happening here…but I’m quite definitely detecting a weak spot in reality, in our Space/Time continuum…Outside, at the far end of the platform, down by the tunnel-mouth. I think…it’s a doorway, or at the very least a potential door, an opening between here and Somewhere Else.”
“Great!” said Happy, miserably. “Fantastic! Just what we needed—more complications. I may cry. Why isn’t anything ever simple and straightforward?”
“Because the world isn’t like that,” said JC. “Ours, or anyone else’s. Okay! Everyone come together, in the middle of the room. And, yes, that very definitely includes you, Melody. Your precious toys can look after themselves for a moment. Come along, come along, hoppity hop! In a circle, please, shoulder to shoulder, looking out at the room.”
“We’re not going to have to hug each other, or hold hands, are we?” said Happy suspiciously. “You know I’ve never been keen on that hippy touchy-feely crap.”
They all stood close together, shoulder pressed against
shoulder. JC could feel the tension in Happy’s shoulder on the one side and the cold, hard presence of Laurie on the other. Happy glared about him, a bit more focused now he had something definite to disapprove of. Melody’s hands had closed into bony fists, more than ready for a close encounter with the mortally challenged. JC couldn’t keep from smiling. He lived for moments like this, a chance to grab the supernatural by the shoulders and give it a good hard shake till it agreed to start making sense and give up its secrets.
“Ignore the advancing shadows, and the strange shapes jumping at the corners of your eyes,” he said loudly. “It’s all misdirection. We’re meant to look at them, so we won’t see what’s really important. Keep your eyes open and listen to my voice. Consider. What made Bradleigh Halt such a bad place, so recently? A
and a centre for bad happenings? What’s powering the unnatural events in this out-of-the-way place? It has to be connected to the train that disappeared into a tunnel. Snatched out of this world and taken away to Somewhere Else. Because that’s the only story, the only event, that contains a general-weird-shit event and general loss of life. The usual prime causes of a haunting.
“I think the train is still Out There, somewhere, locked in place, preserved, like an insect trapped in amber. Held there, in equilibrium, unable to go forward or back. And then the Preservation Trust volunteers started work here, ripping out the old to install the new. Changing things…changing the situation. Enough to upset the delicate balance and blast the trapped train right out of its holding pattern. You should never move things, Mr. Laurie; it
leaves gaps. And, sometimes, it attracts the attention of things from Outside.”
“What are you saying?” said Laurie. “What’s happening here? What’s going to happen?”
“I think your little lost train is finally coming home,” said JC. “All the time it was trapped and held Somewhere Else, it’s been trying to get home. Straining against the bonds that hold it. Think of it as pressure building, like steam in a kettle. Building up a head of steam powerful enough to break free at last. And, as Melody said, there’s now a weak spot in reality, right by the tunnel-mouth. Where the train will come through…When the accumulated pressure finally blows it wide open. So that the train and its carriages and passengers can finally come home. Which might be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on what state the train and its passengers are in. Whether they were trapped in a timeless moment, or whether they had to endure every bit of the long years they’ve been missing, in that Other Place.
“And, of course, there’s always the problem of what the train might bring back with it, from that Other Place. There are always terrible things lurking on the threshold of reality, waiting for a chance to break in. To feed or destroy. Or, much worse, make us over into things like them.”
“If the train was trapped in a moment out of Time, then the passengers could return without knowing anything at all has happened to them,” said Happy. “They could come home safe and well. They’ll need debriefing, of course, but…”