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Gimme Shelter

Gimme Shelter

WOO WOO GHOSTS!!! A Hallowe’en treat for you now. 

This was named one of the six winners of the Daily Telegraph‘s 2010 Ghost Stories competition. You can buy the anthology featuring all of the winners, here (UK) or here (US). 

Don’t have nightmares, will you?

Gimme Shelter

 by 

Pat Black

As the freezing fog came down, Emma headed to the shelter. It was an instinctive move; there was something about the prospect of becoming blurred in the midst of that dirty white glow that disturbed her.

She shivered as she strode along the train platform, the mist smudging the lights of the closed-up station house. Somewhere further down the track, a red light was visible only as a faint blush through the fog.

The shelter was one of the older ones – built to last, but not lasting well. Paint peeled off the brickwork in the rare spots that hadn’t been covered in jagged graffiti, and an ancient stench fouled the air despite the two open doorways. Rickety benches ran along the inside, but Emma didn’t want to sit down on them with just her tights covering her legs. Standing in the doorway, she paced and stamped her feet to generate warmth.

She heard footsteps coming down the platform long before she saw whom they belonged to; soon, a workman in an orange boiler suit materialised from the fog. He seemed to get a fright when he noticed her.

“Oh,” he said. “Hello.”

“Hi. Do you know when the trains are coming back on?”

“Might be a while yet, love. Were you on the diverted train?”

Emma nodded. “They told me this was the best station to wait for a
connection.”

The engineer shook his head. “Silly. The points are out on this line, now. You’d have been as well getting it back to Central. You’d have been warm in there. They’d probably put some taxis on.”

“They said it would be another 20 minutes, tops. That was…” she glanced at
her watch… “forty-five minutes ago.”

The engineer looked pained. “Look, I’ve got ten minutes spare. I can give you a lift as far as a taxi rank, if you like. I know that sounds a bit odd, but this
station’s a funny old place. You get some rough kids hanging around here at night.”

“No, thank you.”

He smiled sadly. “All the best, then.”

Then he was lost to the fog.

Emma sent some text messages to friends and family, but no-one was about to give her a lift. Jed, who she’d arranged to meet that night, offered to come out and meet her in a taxi, but she said the train would be on its way soon. She was beginning to wonder if she’d been too hasty in dismissing the engineer’s offer when someone coughed behind her in the shelter.

She’d heard no-one approach, and was sure that no-one had been sat there when she first took shelter. A young man sat on the benches, resting a military-style
khaki backpack in his lap. He wore glasses and had greasy black hair, unfashionably cut, with a dark anorak zipped to the neck. He might have been anywhere between those awkward signposts of 17 and 21, like Emma.

He coughed nervously. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Emma smiled at him and turned back to the tracks. She could barely see into the petrified winter foliage beyond line. Eyes glittered amid the stones laid
beside the tracks now and again, the eerie yellow fox-glow she recognised from
where she lived.

In both directions – a faint tinge visible through the fog – the lights were
still red.

The boy came out and stood beside her, leaning against the brickwork.
“Engineering work, hmm? Always a pain.”

“Hmm,” Emma said, taking a sidestep away.

“I guess it’s probably something to do with the points being frozen or
something. It happens, when you get a freezing fog like this.”

“It is freezing,” she agreed.

“I don’t like waiting around at this station. You get a right bad lot around
here, sometimes.”

“That’s what the engineer said.”

“Yeah. I bet he has to put up with all sorts. Do you know that they throw stuff at emergency workers? Firefighters and paramedics, people just doing their job. When
there’s been an accident.”

“That’s terrible.” She wrapped her arms around herself and stamped her feet.
The boy looked at her long legs, then to her face, then grew embarrassed. “Um,
it’s a really, really cold night, I suppose.”

She smiled. “Not really dressed for the season, am I?” The boy looked away and giggled. He reminded her of her young brother, and that comforted her.

He said: “Did the engineer guy say how long it’d be?”

“Just, ‘A while yet’.”

“Nightmare.”

Emma sighed, and fiddled with her phone. Although she was glad of some company, she didn’t particularly want to get in conversation, either. Her breath
spiralled up into the air in twin streams, mingling with the fog.

The boy hitched the khaki backpack over his shoulder. “Hey, did you see that?”

“What?”

He nodded towards the point where the tracks vanished into the fog. “There’s some kids mucking about on the tracks.”

“What? I don’t see them… Are you sure it’s not foxes? I saw a fox running
around a couple of minutes ago.”

“No, definitely kids. Look, there they are. See?”

She squinted, picking out pinpricks of light, and fancied she heard the
chittering howl of foxes – the kind of squalling that sounded like a little
girl in distress. Then she made out a vaguely human shape moving around, a suggestion of a shadow.

“Idiots,” she said. “There might be a goods train coming through here, for all they know.”

“I know.” The boy shook his head. “Lots of kids muck about on the line here. A fair few of them have been killed, you know. There was one little girl the other week. She was about 12 years old. She’d been drinking cider with her mates, and wandered onto the line. The train was pulling in to stop, they say. It was slowing down. But it was still quick enough to kill her.”

“We have to warn them…”

“I wouldn’t bother. I would leave them to it. There’s a bad lot hangs around
here at night. If you have a go at them, you end up with a bottle in your face.”
He shrugged. “That’s how it goes.”

“Maybe I should phone the police.” She weighed up the phone in her hand.

“I wouldn’t bother – they won’t come down here just because people are acting up. They only bother if somebody dies, these days. There was one lad, you know… He was waiting for the train. He was right here, at the station, on his own. A bunch of kids came down – well, a gang of lads, to be precise. Drunk, as usual. They caught a hold of him and threw him onto the tracks. Did you hear about it?”

Emma shook her head. There were several children on the line; some of them no older than primary school age, it seemed. It was very difficult to make them out, but there seemed to be at least one little girl. A shrill laugh reached her through
the gauzy mist, and she recoiled.

“Yeah, they threw him on the tracks. Right there, just in front of us. He was
on his way to a camp-out with an outward bound youth group.” The boy laughed,
a desolate a sound through the fog. “And they wouldn’t let him climb back up. And so the train came in, and…” The boy smacked a fist into his palm.

A girl staggered into view on the line, not more than 13 years old. She had
short spiky hair, almost a boy’s haircut except for a fringe tracing a wave across her forehead – too severe a style for her cute, rounded features. The girl was in some distress, and from her swaying, stumbling gait on the horizontal tracks it was clear she’d been drinking.

“I want to go home,” the little girl moaned. Behind her, hidden in the fog,
shadowy figures hooted and grunted.

Emma started forward. “Hey. Hey there! You have to get off the tracks. A train might come in.”

The boy stroked his chin. “I would just leave her.”

“You can’t just leave her!” Emma hissed. “She’ll be killed.”

“I want to go home,” the girl moaned again. She rubbed her eyes and stopped short, seeing Emma on the platform.

“Here,” Emma said, leaning forward. “Climb up onto the platform. Take my
hand.”

The girl looked up. Behind her, in the distance, yellow pinpricks that might have been foxes’ eyes reflected the waning light.

“Come on,” Emma said. “I’ll help you.”

“I want to go home,” the girl said. “I’m cold.”

“I’m not surprised, honey. You don’t even have a coat on. Now come on, you have to-”

The faint reddish glow in the mist blinked and turned green. The girl on the
tracks nodded, as if fighting sleep, and then sat down heavily.

“Oh, my God.” Emma looked down the track; no sign of any approaching lights. She half-remembered some pedant telling her that the green light came on when the train was two stops away. That left plenty of time.

The cold bit into her hands as she crouched and lowered herself down onto the trackside, the stones clicking beneath her heels. The girl stared up at her.

The boy, standing above, looked up the track and sucked in through his teeth.
“I wouldn’t have done that. It’s a trick.”

Emma ignored him. The girl’s head had sunk, her elbows propped up on her knees. Emma gripped her by the armpits. “Come on,” she grunted. “I’ll help you climb up. There’s a train coming. Do you understand? There’s a train coming. Get up!”

“Leave her. Seriously,” the boy said.

“Shut up and help me! I can’t lift her!”

Although Emma was sure she had the girl by the armpits of a painfully thin
hooded top, she didn’t have any impression of weight; and the figure didn’t budge. The girl looked up at her… and the expression changed from befuddlement to malign amusement. Her eyes flickered yellow, just for an instant.

Then there were other children on the tracks, surrounding her. One round-faced lad with a cherub’s cheeks but a blank expression; a taller boy with a 1980s
pudding bowl haircut and a fluffy moustache; two teenage girls with far too
much make-up on, cobalt-blue eyeshadow smeared across their features. They
reached out for her, and Emma felt clammy hands on her cheek, her neck, her hands.

Beneath her, the rail began to shudder.

“I tried to warn you,” the boy said, hissing out breath between his teeth –
which failed to steam up in the frigid air. “They only want people to bring
down to their level. They’re not nice kids. Anyone will do.”

“Come with us,” the two girls with the eyeshadow said.

“You’re so warm,” the drunken girl whispered.

“You’re pretty,” said the boy with the pudding bowl haircut.

Twin beams of light tore through the gloom, like crackles of lightning through
cloud. The rumbling beneath her feet increased. And Emma couldn’t move; the
frozen hands had a firm grip of her. The pale faces surrounded her, yellow
flecks in their eyes. One of them giggled.

“You’re coming with us,” someone whispered.

Emma screamed. And then something caught her eye on the platform; a blur of orange, booted feet crunching the salt, lungs labouring with exercise for the first time in years. The engineer leapt off the platform, almost collapsing flat on his face with the impact. The lights bore down on him as the train lumbered towards them – not fast, but quick enough to kill them. Electric blue sparks blazed along overhead lines contracted in the cold. The engineer got to his feet and sprinted towards her, even as the train’s siren hollered and the emergency brakes spat sparks along the rails. And as the engineer lunged for her, hands gripping her coat, the children seemed to dissolve into the mist and the man took hold, yelling, propelling them both into the frozen vegetation by the side of the track as the front carriage lumbered past.

The pair of them lay in a rude heap as the train slowed to a stop, their haggard breathing entwined in the frigid air. The children, and the boy on the platform, were gone.

(c) Copyright Pat Black 2014

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