Authors: Ramsey Campbell
Dark Regions Digital Edition
Text © 2013 by Ramsey Campbell
“The Decorations” © 2005 by Ramsey Campbell.
“Peep” © 2007 by Ramsey Campbell.
“The Long Way” © 2008 by Ramsey Campbell.
“Chucky Comes to Liverpool”, “The Rounds”, “With the Angels” © 2010 by Ramsey Campbell.
“The Address”, “Behind the Doors”, “Getting It Wrong”, “Holding the Light”, “Passing through Peacehaven”, “Recently Used”, “The Room
Beyond” © 2011 by Ramsey Campbell.
All other stories © 2013 by Ramsey Campbell
Cover art © 2013 by Santiago Caruso
Cover design by David G. Barnett
Fat Graphic Design
Editor, Joe Morey
Publisher, Chris Morey
Interior design by F.J. Bergmann
Fibitz Reality Adjustment
Dark Regions Press, LLC
6635 N. Baltimore Ave STE 241
Portland, OR 97203
United States of America
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“Wait,” Marsden shouted as he floundered off his seat. His vision was so overcast with sleep that it was little better than opaque, but so far as he could see through the carriages the entire train was deserted. “Terminate” was the only word he retained from the announcement that had wakened him. He blundered to the nearest door and leaned on the window to slide it further open while he groped beyond it for the handle. The door swung wide so readily that he almost sprawled on the platform. In staggering dangerously backwards to compensate he slammed the door, which seemed to be the driver’s cue. The train was heading into the night before Marsden realised he had never seen the station in his life.
“Wait,” he cried, but it was mostly a cough as the smell of some October fire caught in his throat. His eyes felt blackened by smoke and stung when he blinked, so that he could barely see where he was going as he lurched after the train. He succeeded in clearing his vision just in time to glimpse distance or a bend in the track extinguish the last light of the train like an ember. He panted coughing to a halt and stared red-eyed around him.
Two signs named the station Peacehaven. The grudging glow of half a dozen lamps that put him in mind of streetlights in an old photograph illuminated stretches of both platforms but seemed shy of the interior of the enclosed bridge that led across the pair of tracks. A brick wall twice his height extended into the dark beyond the ends of the platform he was on. The exit from the station was on the far side of the tracks, through a passage where he could just distinguish a pay phone in the gloom. Above the wall of that platform, and at some distance, towered an object that he wasted seconds in identifying as a factory chimney. He should be looking for the times of any trains to Manchester, but the timetable among the vintage posters alongside the platform was blackened by more than the dark. As he squinted at it, someone spoke behind him.
It was the voice that had wakened him. Apart from an apology for a delay, the message was a blur. “I can’t hear much at the best of times,” Marsden grumbled. At least the station hadn’t closed for the night, and a timetable on the other platform was beside a lamp. He made for the bridge and climbed the wooden stairs to the elevated corridor, where narrow grimy windows above head height and criss-crossed by wire mesh admitted virtually no illumination. He needn’t shuffle through the dark; his mobile phone could light the way. He reached in his overcoat pocket, and dug deeper to find extra emptiness.
Marjorie wouldn’t have approved of the words that escaped his lips. He wasn’t fond of them himself, especially when he heard them from children in the street. He and Marjorie would have done their best to keep their grandchildren innocent of such language and of a good deal else that was in vogue, but they would need to have had a son or daughter first. He ran out of curses as he trudged back across the bridge, which felt narrowed by darkness piled against the walls. The platform was utterly bare. Did he remember hearing or perhaps only feeling the faintest thump as he’d left his seat? There was no doubt that he’d left the mobile on the train.
He was repeating himself when he wondered if he could be heard. His outburst helped the passage to muffle the announcer’s unctuous voice, which apparently had information about a signal failure. Marsden wasn’t going to feel like one. He marched out of darkness into dimness, which lightened somewhat as he reached the platform.
Had vandals tried to set fire to the timetable? A blackened corner was peeling away from the bricks. Marsden pushed his watch higher on his wizened wrist until the strap took hold. Theoretically the last train—for Bury and Oldham and Manchester—was due in less than twenty minutes. “What’s the hold-up again? Say it clearly this time,” Marsden invited not quite at the top of his voice. When there was no response he made for the phone on the wall.
Was it opposite some kind of memorial? No, the plaque was a ticket window boarded up behind cracked glass. Surely the gap beneath the window couldn’t be occupied by a cobweb, since the place was staffed. He stood with his back to the exit from the station and fumbled coins into the slot beside the receiver before groping for the dial that he could barely see in the glimmer from the platform.
“Ray and Marjorie Marsden must be engaged elsewhere. Please don’t let us wonder who you were or when you tried to contact us or where we can return the compliment…” His answering message had amused them when he recorded it—at least, Marjorie had made the face that meant she appreciated his wit—but now it left him feeling more alone than he liked. “Are you there?” he asked the tape. “You’ll have gone up, will you? You’ll have gone up, of course. Just to let you know I’m stranded by an unexpected change of trains. If you play me back don’t worry, I’ll be home as soon as practicable. Oh, and the specialist couldn’t find anything wrong. I know, you’ll say it shows I can hear when I want to. Not true, and shall I tell you why? I’d give a lot to hear you at this very moment. Never mind. I will soon.”
Even saying so much in so many words earned him no response, and yet he didn’t feel unheard. His audience could be the station announcer, who was presumably beyond one of the doors that faced each other across the corridor, although neither betrayed the faintest trace of light. “I nearly didn’t say I love you,” he added in a murmur that sounded trapped inside his skull. “Mind you, you’ll know that, won’t you? If you don’t after all these years you never will. I suppose that had better be it for now as long as you’re fast asleep.”
He still felt overheard. Once he’d hung up he yielded to a ridiculous urge to poke his head out of the corridor. The platforms were deserted, and the tracks led to unrelieved darkness. He might as well learn where he’d ended up while there was no sign of a train. “Just stepping outside,” he informed anyone who should know.
The corridor didn’t seem long enough to contain so much blackness. He only just managed to refrain from rubbing his eyes as he emerged onto an unpromising road. The front of the station gave it no light, but the pavements on either side of the cracked weedy tarmac were visibly uneven. Beyond high railings across the road the grounds of the factory bristled with tall grass, which appeared to shift, although he couldn’t feel a wind. Here and there a flagstone showed pale through the vegetation. A sign beside the open gates had to do with motors or motor components, and Marsden was considering a closer look to pass the time when the announcer spoke again. “Going to attract effect” might have been part of the proclamation, and all that Marsden was able to catch.
Some delay must be owing to a track defect, of course. Much of the voice had ended up as echoes beyond the railings or simply dissipated in the night, but he also blamed its tone for confusing him. It had grown so oily that it sounded more like a parody of a priest than any kind of railway official. Marsden tramped into the passage and knocked on the door beside the ticket window. “Will you repeat that, please?”
If this sounded like an invitation to an argument, it wasn’t taken up. He found the doorknob, which felt flaky with age, but the door refused to budge. He rubbed his finger and thumb together as he crossed to the other door, which tottered open at his knock, revealing only a storeroom. It was scattered with brushes and mops, or rather their remains, just distinguishable in the meagre light through a window so nearly opaque that on the platform he’d mistaken it for an empty poster frame. Vandals must have been in the room; the dimness smelled as ashen as it looked, while the tangles of sticks that would once have been handles seemed blackened by more than the dark. That was all he managed to discern before the voice spoke to him.
Was the fellow too close to the microphone? If he was trying to be clearer, it achieved the opposite. Of course nobody was next to alive; a train was the next to arrive. “Speak clearly, not up,” Marsden shouted as he slammed the door and hurried to the bridge, where he did his best to maintain his pace by keeping to the middle of the passage. If an object or objects were being dragged somewhere behind him, he wanted to see what was happening. He clumped breathlessly down the stairs and limped onto the platform. How could he have thought the windows were poster frames? There was one on either side of the exit, and although both rooms were unlit, a figure was peering through the window of the office.
Or was it a shadow? It was thin and black enough. There was no light inside the room to cast it, and yet it must be a shadow, since it had nothing for a face. Marsden was still trying to identify its source when he noticed that the door he’d slammed was wide open. It had felt unsteady on its hinges, and at least he had an explanation for the dragging sound he’d heard. He set about laughing at his own unease, and then the laugh snagged in his throat like another cough. The silhouette was no longer pressed against the window.
Had it left traces of its shape on the discoloured glass? As he paced back and forth, trying either to confirm or shake off the impression, he felt like an animal trapped in a cage and watched by spectators. He’d met with no success by the time the voice that might belong to the owner of the shadow had more to say. “Where’s the party?”
Marsden was provoked to mutter. “What’s departing?” he demanded several times as loud. “It’s supposed to arrive first,” he pointed out, glaring along the tracks at the unrelieved night. The few words he’d managed to recognise or at least to guess had sounded oilier than ever, close to a joke. Why couldn’t the fellow simply come and tell him what to expect? Was he amusing himself by spying on the solitary passenger? “Yes, you’ve got a customer,” Marsden declared. “He’s the chap who has to stand out here in the cold because you can’t be bothered to provide a waiting-room.”
The complaint left him more aware of the storeroom, so that he could have imagined he was being observed from there too. He would much rather fancy his return home to the bed that he hoped Marjorie was keeping warm for him. As he hugged himself to fend off the late October chill he wasn’t too far from experiencing how her arms would feel when she turned in her sleep to embrace him. He couldn’t help wishing that the tape had brought him her voice.
The only one he was likely to hear was the announcer’s, and he needed to ensure he did. He lowered himself onto a bench opposite the exit and planted his hands on his knees. Though the seat felt unwelcomingly moist if not actually rotten, he concentrated on staying alert for the next message. His ears were throbbing with the strain, and his skin felt as if his sense of being watched were gathering on it, by the time his attention was rewarded.
Was someone clinking glasses? Had the staff found an excuse to celebrate? Marsden had begun to wonder if they were deriding his predicament when he identified the noise of bricks knocking together. The factory was more dilapidated than he’d been able to make out, then, and there was movement in the rubble. Perhaps an animal was at large—more than one, by the sound of it—or else people were up to no good. Suppose they were the vandals who’d tried to set fire to the station? Would the announcer deign to emerge from hiding if they or others like them trespassed on railway property, or was he capable of leaving his solitary customer to deal with them? Marsden could hear nothing now except his own heart, amplified by his concentration if not pumped up by stress. He wasn’t sure if he glimpsed surreptitious movement at the exit, where he could easily imagine that the dark was growing crowded; indeed, the passage was so nearly lightless that any number of intruders might sneak into it unseen. He was gripping his knees and crouching forward like a competitor at the start of some pensioners’ event while he strained to see whether anyone was sidling through the gloom when his heart jumped, and he did.
The voice was louder than ever, and its meaning more blurred. Even the odd relatively clear phrase amid the magnified mumbling left much to be desired. Marsden could have thought he was being warned about some further decay and informed that he had a hearing problem. The latter comment must refer to engineering, but wasn’t this unreasonable too? How many hindrances was the train going to encounter? The reports of its progress were beginning to seem little better than jokes. But here was a final one, however inefficiently pronounced. It meant that the train was imminent, not that anything would shortly be alive.
Perhaps the man was slurring his words from drunkenness, and the clinking had indeed been glass, unless the contrivance of equality had reached such a pitch that the station was obliged to employ an announcer with a speech impediment. On that basis Marsden might seek a job as a telephone operator, but he and Marjorie were resigned to leaving the world to the young and aggressive. He peered along the railway, where the view stayed as black as the depths of the corridor opposite. All that his strained senses brought him besides a charred smell and a crawling of the skin was, eventually, another message.
“You won’t be burying this old man,” he retorted under his clogged breath. While the announcement must have referred to the train to Bury and Oldham, the voice had resembled a priest’s more than ever. “And where’s this train that’s supposed to be arriving?” he demanded loud enough to rouse an echo in the exit corridor.
The next message was no answer. Presumably he was being told that unattended luggage would be removed without warning, but since he had no luggage, what was the point? Couldn’t the fellow see him? Perhaps some legislation allowed him to be blind as well as largely incomprehensible. Still, here were another few words Marsden understood, even if he couldn’t grasp where passengers were being told to change. “What was that?” he shouted, but the announcer hadn’t finished. His tone was so ecclesiastical that for the space of an exaggerated heartbeat Marsden fancied he was being offered some kind of service, and then he recognised the phrase. It was “out of service”.