It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot was poured …
"One for the road, Doc?"
"Sure, why not," Doc replied smiling at barkeep Leo. Doc and Leo had been friends for years and Doc knew that Leo didn't have to ask "one for the road." It was their joke and the punchline was always the same.
"Nasty out there," Leo observed watching the rain lash against the dark windows of the pub. The wind howled as each lash was delivered against the window as if in punishment.
"Yeah, I'd hate to be driving out in that, but … later, my friend, travel calls."
Leo continued, "At least it's not as bad as the Storm of 1899 when the train went into the abyss."
Doc downed-in-one the shot of Scotch, slid off the barstool somewhat unsteadily, and made his way to the door attempting, unsuccessfully, to pull his overcoat on and wave to Leo.
"G'nite," and Doc disappeared into the storm.
The short walk to the train station was uneventful though wet and cold. Rain bucketed down in sheets and the wind was relentless. Doc clenched his overcoat around his throat and trudged on.
Once aboard the train Doc found his carriage, stowed his gear on the overhead rack, shook out his coat and settled in to the seat next to the window.
On time, the train lurched forward and soon speeded down the track with a rhythmic clackity-clack.
Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack. Rock-chalk-jayhawk.
Doc looked out the window but saw little. Just a few lights in the distance, dribbles of rain streaming across the window and not much else.
Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack.
Doc's eyes closed.
There was a bump and a train whistle.
Doc awoke with a start and looked around alarmed. All was well, but he was not alone. A passenger sat across from him, dripping wet.
"Oh, hello," Doc stammered wiping condensation from his glasses on his handkerchief, "I must have dozed off! Ha. Ha."
Unmoved the passenger stared straight ahead. Though he didn't blink, water dripped from his eyelids, coursed down his cheeks and puddled on his shirt.
Attempting small talk Doc said, "Nasty night, eh? Good thing we're on a train, what?"
The passenger looked at Doc and with a wry grin, a touch of irony, said, "Oh, yes, good thing we're on a train. Good thing we're on this train. Yes, this train." And, the passenger's eyes drifted towards the black windows, streaked with rain.
Doc mulled the words, "this train," and after a long pause during which the passenger's eyes neither blinked nor turned from the rain streaked window, asked, "This train? Is there anything special about this train?"
As Doc's words hung in the damp air the passenger slowly turned his head and fixed his gaze on Doc. "Oh, yes," he said, "this train is very special. Very special indeed. In fact, it's called the London Special, didn't you know that?"
Doc thought for a moment but couldn't make the reference. London Special? No, he hadn't heard of that.
Turning to the passenger Doc said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with the London Special, although I do take this train every week. It's my regular commute train. Nothing special about it as far as I know."
The door at the end of the carriage opened and the Conductor walked down the aisle. "Evening, Doc," the Conductor said, "nasty night out. We might be a few minutes late into King's Cross."
Doc nodded and the Conductor continued to the next car.
"See?" Doc said to the passenger, "just a few minutes late. Not a big deal. Not a lifetime."
"Not a lifetime," the passenger mused, his eyes distant, "not a lifetime."
"Let me tell you a story," the passenger said, "a story about a train like this on a night like this with passengers like you and …" His voice trailed off.
"It was a dark and stormy night. The Conductor asked if it was safe and the word came back that it was safe enough, but, more importantly, we had to make schedule. That's what it was all about. Not the Hokey Pokey, but making schedule. So, off we went, on time and full of passengers."
"The night drew worse. Rain lashed the windows with such ferocity that passengers squealed with each thunderclap. The carriages rocked two and fro. It was a dreadful ride."
"The tricky part was Lands Bridge over the Down River. It was an old railway bridge, creaky on the best of days and terrifying on every other. It was so dangerous that the Company stationed men to signal the train if the bridge was deemed unsafe."
"So, one night, just like this night, the train to London approached the bridge during a bad storm. The waters had risen. The rain lashed down unmercifully and the bridge was unsafe."
"The lads in charge of signaling the train had been making merry and were quite merry, indeed. They played their cards and drank their rum and warded off the cold and rain."
"In short, the bridge washed out, the signal was not sent and the train plummeted into the abyss with no survivors."
Doc was fascinated by this story, "No survivors?" he said inquired.
The passenger paused. "No. Not everyone who should have died was on that train. There was one survivor. Tragic. One of the watchmen at the bridge was, shall we say, fond of the spirit and was well overly fond of the spirit that night. Yes, he was drunk as a skunk. He failed to light the lantern signaling the train that the bridge was inundated with water and, thus, the train crashed into the abyss losing all hands, feet, heads and bodies of all passengers on board. Legend has it that he was so filled with remorse that he hanged himself on the first anniversary of the calamity."
"Hanged from the very bridge the train failed to cross."
By this time Doc was beginning to feel sort of creeped out. He closed his eyes, leaned his head against the window and, clackity-clack, clakity-clack, fell asleep.
The train rumbled on in the dark.
In his dreams Doc heard screams of panic and despair, but they were dreams and he dreamed and dreamed, and dreamed ,,, "
"Tickets! Tickets, please!"
Doc awoke and tried to shake off the sleep.
"Tickets!" the Conductor shouted, "Tickets!"
Doc rummaged in his coat pocket and pulled out his ticket.
"Here it is," he said, "my ticket" and he held it aloft like a prize at the County Fair.
The Conductor punched the ticket and turned to move to the next carriage.
Doc interrupted him.
"Excuse me, sir, but you didn't punch my friend's ticket. He must have wandered off." Doc held aloft the ticket the passenger left on the seat.
The Conductor examined the ticket, turn to Doc, smiled and said,
"Nice one, Doc, nice one! An old ticket for me to punch. Cute. Some sort of All Hallows Eve trick?"
"I don't understand," Doc protested, "my friend was here and I dozed off and, …"
The Conductor dropped the ticket on the seat, looked down and smiled. "Doc," he said, "you've been here the whole time all by yourself. You're such a kidder! Whatever. We're about to arrive. See you next week."
Doc shook it off. Must have been a dream.
Doc picked up his stuff and made his way to the aisle, when he looked down at the seat opposite where the passenger had been sitting and noticed a ticket lying there. He bent down and picked it up. The seat was damp, almost wet and so was the ticket.
Before Doc could call the conductor back to check the ticket, he looked at it himself. It was a regular ticket from Manchester to London. One way. October 31, 1899.
Doc double checked.
Doc stepped off the train. The clouds had broken and the rain was lessening. Doc shoved the ticket deep in his pocket and walked to the car park. Another day, he thought, not a lifetime.