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Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Box…

The Box 350

From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

As we made our way along the tracks, I could make out the outlines of Arthur and Dickie in the darkness.

“I say,” muttered Arthur as we approached. “Funny place to leave a crate.” He pointed to what looked like a wooden packing case sitting close to the rails. It was damaged at one corner as if it had been thrown to the ground. “What d’you suppose it’s doing there?”

I knelt down and examined the box. It was about three feet square with a pair of round holes cut into one side, each about two inches in diameter. There was also a wrought iron hinge on my side, indicating how the thing might be opened. I reached up, intending to lift the lid, but before I could do so, I discerned a faint whirring and clicking noise from within the box. Placing my ear against the rough wood, I listened for a few seconds.

“It’s a fucking bomb – run!” My voice hit a considerably more girlish tone than I’d have hoped, but it did the trick. My companions turned tail and fled to the safety of the trees at the side of the line. I hurried after Mary and crouching down behind a bush, held her close to me in order to assuage any fears she might have at this sudden threat. She in turn slipped her slender fingers into my jacket and gripped my weapon.

I felt the tension rising as we waited for the inevitable explosion, but none came.

After a moment, I stood up and peered at the box from behind the bush. A bright light had flashed on, shining a beam of yellow light through the holes in the side of the crate. The light flickered for ten or twelve seconds then went off.

“Stay put, folks,” I said, “This might be some sort of smuggler’s trickery.”

We watched for a while, but the box only emitted a further series of clicking sounds followed by occasional flashes of light.

Mary touched my arm. “D’you think this is the same light we saw from the platform?”

I nodded. “Perhaps.”

Dickie came out from behind a tree. “Actually it looks a bit like one of those steam-operated Brighty-Lighty contraptions.”

I must have looked a bit blank for he continued, “They use them in the theatre for special effects. Look here…” He advanced towards the box and pulled up the lid. “There – see?” He reached inside and fiddled with a couple of knobs. “Looks like it’s been damaged. The lens has broken.”

We gathered around and sure enough the inside of the crate was filled with a small mechanical engine and a copper water-flask from which occasional bursts of vapour erupted.

“What does it do, exactly? I said.

“It’s a sort of lantern show,” said Arthur, doing a little dance. “Projects pictures or coloured lights against a white screen to enhance the performance of the artistes. Dickie and I used one at Blackpool last year.” He turned to Mary. “I look quite fetching against a pink background, you know.”

Mary giggled, but I was puzzled. “That wouldn’t work here – there’s no screen.”

Mary tugged my sleeve. “Perhaps the station itself is the screen?”

“You mean…the image is projected onto the windows of the station to give the effect of a train passing through?”

“Yes,” she said. “After all, we didn’t actually see the train, did we? Only a lot of lights and noise.”

I shook my head. “That’s a nice theory darling, but I’m afraid it’s bollocks. As you say, we did hear the noise of the locomotive, but what about the rattling of the windows and the vibration in the floor? How d’you explain that, eh? You can’t do all that with a mere lantern show.”

She pulled a face. “I’m just trying to be helpful.”

I began to wish Holmes was with us – he at least would have several theories, no doubt including the actual solution to the mystery. “I think we’d better take this back to the station.”

We spent the next few minutes manhandling the crate back up the line and onto the platform. As we clambered up, the waiting room door opened and the young man looked out.

“Thank Christ you’re back. It’s the stationmaster – I think he’d dead!”

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Posted by on August 25, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Train Now Departing…

Train Now Departing 350
From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

As the train thundered off into the darkness, I glanced at my companions. “Well, if that was a ghost train, I’m a Dutchman.”

“Arrrgh!” The stationmaster sat bolt upright, pointing at the windows. “We’re all goin’ ter die!”

I stepped forward and gave him a swift smack across the face. “Any more noise from you and you’ll get a shot of morphine.” The man stuck his tongue out at me, but lay back down and didn’t utter another word. “Now,” I continued, looking round at the others. “There’s no such thing as ghosts, so I suggest – ”

“But, but, but…” said the young man.

“But me no buts,” I said, allowing myself a coy smile at my Holmes-like riposte. “There’s a simple explanation for this or I’m a Dutchman.”

“Mary nudged me in the ribs. “You’ve said that already.”

“Oh. Right…”

“I expect you were going to suggest we go and have a look at the tracks, weren’t you? After all, if it really was a ghost train, it wouldn’t require actual rails, would it?”

I nodded. “That’s it exactly, darling. Come along.” I beckoned to the Twins, the young couple and the man with the Mac. “I think we should all go.” I glared at the stationmaster, challenging him to move, but he stayed put.

Out on the platform, I was glad to see the rain had finally stopped. I led my companions to where the winding wheel stood. Naturally, it had not moved and was still firmly chained up in the ‘closed’ position.

“There you are, you see – the bridge is shut, so whatever it was that came through here just now would’ve been able to continue on to wherever the line goes to.”

“And where does it go – to the foot of our stairs?” It was the young woman who spoke this time. There was something familiar about her words, but before I had time to think about it, Arthur grabbed my arm.

“Don’t know about you, mate, but I reckon we should find out where that train went.” He leaned towards me and added, “Before the bloody thing comes back.”

I sniffed and nodded. “That’s exactly what I was going to suggest, actually.” I looked at my companions – the old man in the Mac was standing by the door, his body language making it quite clear he did not want to be involved. The young couple too, were clearly too scared to be of much use. “Very well.” I pointed to Mary, Arthur and Dickie. “We four will take a gander along the line. You three stay here and keep an eye on the stationmaster.” I paused. “And if the train should come back, I suggest you all have a good look at it.”

Arthur and Dickie jumped down and set off along the tracks in the direction of the train. I helped Mary climb down, then knelt by the rails and ran a finger along the cold steel. The surface of the rail was shiny, and even glittered in the moonlight – this track was obviously in regular use, but by what?

Standing, I looked down the line towards the bridge. “Is it my imagination, Mary, or are there lights along there?”

My wife peered down the track. “You know, I believe you’re right.” She looked up at me. “Smugglers?”

I nodded. “That would be the obvious explanation.” Reaching into my jacket, I reassured myself my trusty revolver was primed and ready.

Mary patted my chest and frowned. “Johnny – why on earth did you bring your gun? We’re supposed to be on holiday.”

I sighed. “Holiday or no, if this does turn out to be smugglers, I’d look a proper twit pointing an empty finger at them.”

“I’ve never known you to have an empty finger.” She winked at me and started off down the track after the others.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Train Now Arriving…

The Train Now Arriving 350
From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

When the stationmaster had gone, a strange silence descended upon us. I glanced around the table at my companions – Mary, the young couple, Arthur and Dickie, and the man in the Mac. We all stared at one another, our faces reflecting something of the horror we had just heard – shock, disbelief, apathy. Arthur was the first to speak:

“What a load of bollocks.”

His partner nodded. “Absolutely, but it’d make a rather good show, don’t you think?” And the two chums fell into a discussion about the staging difficulties involved in getting a steam train onstage at the Manchester Hippodrome.

Then the young man (who, together with his wife, still hadn’t uttered a word), cleared his throat noisily. We all turned to look at him, wondering if his first words might impart some deep and meaningful wisdom.

“Turned out nice again, hasn’t it? Hee-hee!”

His voice reminded me of someone, but before I could bring it to mind, Raincoat Man jumped to his feet and raised a quivering finger towards the station clock, high on the wall behind me.

“Look! Look at the time!”

We all looked, and as I expected, the little hand was at 11 and the big hand almost at the 12. As we stared at the dusty timepiece, the big hand moved into place, marking the hour with a loud clunk.

“Eleven o’clock…” It was Mary who spoke, her words barely a whisper.

Again that ominous silence engulfed us and I knew every one of us was listening out for the shriek of a train whistle. But no sound came to our ears, only the continued plink-plinking of raindrops against the windows.

After a moment, I stood up. “Right, I’ve had enough of this nonsense,” and I moved to the door that led to the unused line.

“Johnny?”

I glanced at my wife and saw that all-too-familiar gleam of excitement in her eye.

“I’m only going to have a look and see if there really is a leaver and wheel thingy out here.”

Mary was up in an instant. “Not without me, you’re not.”

And so we ventured onto the platform, keeping close to the wall to avoid the worst of the downpour.

Pulling me close, Mary gave me a quizzical look. “You do know the station clock’s five minute’s slow, don’t you?”

“What?” I took out my Half Hunter and peered at it. “Ah. How clever of you.” I shrugged. “Even so, it doesn’t prove anything.” And I set off along the platform.

Mary hurried after me. “Look, there’s something here.” She pointed to a dark shape ahead of us.

Sure enough, a large winding wheel jutted out of the platform, next to what I took to be the release leaver. Mary reached into her coat and pulled out a small battery-operated torch. Its meagre light was enough to illuminate the weather-beaten sign above the wheel:

Open/Closed

Crouching down, I slid one hand around the rim of the wheel til my fingers encountered a tangled bulk of metal. “Someone’s chained it up.”

“Of course,” said Mary. “Someone’s locked it to keep the bridge in the closed position. But if no trains come this way, what does it matter?”

Any pondering I might have done was curtailed when a shout of anguish came from the waiting room.

“Quickly,” I urged, and we ran back inside.

Slamming the door shut behind us, I gaped at the man standing in the doorway opposite.

“Arrrgh!” Wailed the stationmaster, before collapsing in a heap.

“Bring him over here,” I said, clearing a space. While the others lifted the sodden figure onto the table, I fetched my stethoscope from my bag and began undoing his coat.

“No!” He wailed, struggling to sit up. “It’s a-comin’ I tell yer, a-comin’, and yous have ter leave, or…” He turned a bloodshot eye towards me. “You’re all goin’ ter die.”

I shook my head. “Now, you just lay back and be a good stationmaster. We’ll have you right as rain in tick.”

But before I could examine the man, a strange high-pitched sound echoed around the room. I looked up. “What the fu – ”

Mary grabbed my arm. “Listen.”

And as we stood there, the distant squeal of the train whistle came again, growing louder, nearer. As one, our heads turned incredulously towards the windows overlooking the old line, and as we stared wide-eyed, the whole room began to shake, the screeching of metal on metal leaving us in no doubt what was happening. A moment later, a flash of lights lit up the windows, and the ghost train thundered through the station…

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Ghostly Tale…

A Ghostly Tale 350
From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The stationmaster paused and stared at his expectant audience.

“What a load of nonsense,” muttered Mary. “I’m going to see if there’s a kitchen.” And she scuttled off through the door at the other side of the waiting room.

The stationmaster made a grumbling noise. “Ain’t be nothin’ through there but the old line.”

Mary reappeared and closed the door. “There’s another track at that side – does it go anywhere?”

The old man shook his head. “Don’t go nowhere, that don’t,” he said.

But Mary was not to be outdone. “Don’t be ridiculous. It must go somewhere.” She looked to me for support.

“Well, yes of course it must,” I said. Then a dawning realisation swept over me and I stared hard at the stationmaster. “Look here old man, has that line got something to do with this ghost train story of yours?”

But he just shook his head. “Noooooo…I cannot be responsible fer the tellin’ of a terrible tale when there’s ladies present.”

“That’s no lady – that’s his wife!” chirruped Arthur, adding “Boom, boom,” in case anyone hadn’t realised it was a joke. The young couple laughed nervously – the only sound they’d made so far.

“Very well,” said the stationmaster. “On yer own ‘eads it be.”

He pulled up a chair at the table and we all gathered round. I have to admit I felt a shiver travel up and down my spine. Recalling the Great Detective’s approach to hearing accounts of ghostly goings-on and the like, I endeavoured to replicate his solid, unyielding countenance in my own face. Clearly, I didn’t quite pull this off, for Mary kicked me under the table and told me to stop pulling faces.

“It were thirty year ago to this very night. Stationmaster in those days were a feller called Ted Holmes.”

“Really?” said I. “I wonder if Sherl knows him?”

The old man glared at me, then turned his attention to Mary.

“That other line you arsked about – it used ter run down to the old port, over the bridge.” His face grew haggard and he let out a long moan. “It were a swing bridge, see, worked by a lever wheel on the platform there. That wheel, it were always left open apart from when a train were comin’ through. But that night at eleven o’clock when Ted Holmes went to open the bridge, he took ill and collapsed.”

“Oh dear,” said Mary patting the stationmaster’s hand. “So he’s dead, then?”

“Oh, he be dead alright, but that didn’t stop the train, did it? No,” he muttered, answering his own question. “On it came, thunderin’ through the station, whistle blowin, steamin’ and screamin’ into the tunnel and straight through the open bridge into the river…” Throwing his hands up in the air, he let out a blood-curdling cry: “Arrghhhhhh!”

“Blimey,” said Arthur. “Who screamed – the train driver?”

“Nay,” said the stationmaster, dabbing his nether regions. “That were me just now. Pissed my pants.”

“I think that’s enough excitement for one night,” said I taking the old man’s arm. “Now if you’ll just toddle along, we’ll make ourselves comfortable.” I ushered him towards the door but he turned sharply and leaned down towards me, his nose almost touching my own.

“I’m tellin’ yous, the train be a-comin’. You can’t say ‘ere.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, pushing him through the door and closing it firmly. “Right then, I suggest we all try to get some shut-eye.” I smiled as hopefully as I was able, but I had a nasty feeling we wouldn’t be getting a lot of sleep…

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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