Trevor Gadling exhaled sharply into the cold January morning. He turned up the collar of his trench coat in a vain attempt to keep out the chill and sat down on the ageing, green platform bench. He stowed his large rucksack underneath and prepared for a long wait. He started to study his surroundings in an effort to find something of interest. He could feel his nose redden as the frosty air nipped at his face. He craned his neck to get a better look down the line.
Tall frost-covered banks of grass flowed down to the edge of the tracks. A concrete bridge broke the banks of grass. Trevor remarked to himself that this was probably one of the few times the clinical looking structure fitted in with its surroundings despite the autographs of colour that the locals had decorated it with. The dim light of the sun was making an attempt to break the dull, grey blanket that smothered the sky. It seemed that the Jack Frost express had recently passed by. Scaring the land around it into shocks of white.
Trevor was surprised how quiet it was. For a central station in town it was only inhabited at this time by himself and three other passengers. Each one trying not to make eye contact with each other, for fear of a conversation starting. Like practised artists of avoidance the small group of potential passengers busied themselves with small travel books, pretending to sleep and staring wistfully at a chosen spot beyond the bridge as if they could nearly will the train into existence by staring hard enough at the scenery.
Every now and then the travel book reader would pop their head up and look around like a prairie dog, in case the world suddenly sped up while they were reading in order to make them miss their train. The sleeping one fancied themselves as a master of stealth and cunning. So sure were they that no one would notice when they occasionally opened one eye. Just a tiny slit, mind, so that no one would suspect that they weren't really sleeping. They waited to pounce into action like a tiger in long grass.
The honking of a train's horn was heard not too far into the distance. Trevor always thought that if there was ever such a thing as a twenty foot goose then that is what it would have sounded like. Suddenly there was a blur of movement as the sleeper on the bench bolted upright and started to get ready for the train. This caused the desired effect the sleeper had been waiting for. The reader looked at the man with a puzzled expression and began to fold the corner of the page they were reading before carefully putting the book in the rucksack. Trevor and the other onlooker simply looked at the ex-sleeper, shrugged and stood up to gather their belongings. In the mind of the ex-sleeper all he lacked was a spotlight. A "Clack-clack, clack-clack" was heard and soon the train emerged from the concrete bridge. The steel worm squealed as it came to a stop at the platform. In next to no time the four passengers were on board and the train was on the move again.
Trevor performed the usual hawk-like ritual of hovering for a moment to spot a good seat. Upon doing so he proceeded to pounce and enjoy the spoils of the hunt. Today's hunt was particularly successful as he had bagged a window seat. He was especially pleased with obtaining the window seat as today he was heading up to the coast. Right now it was just countryside passing by but soon enough he would be able to enjoy the coastal views. Trevor saw his reflection in the window. He seemed to have kept his youthful looks; mostly. Some of the lines under his eyes told a tale or two. His short blonde hair had begun to recede, but not enough to be too concerned with at this point. He began to brush his fringe forward in order to cover a little more of his forehead.
"Nice day, innit?"
"I suppose." Trevor answered, hoping that was as far as the conversation was going to go. Trevor took a moment to look at this new, shabby disturber of the peace. He was a dishevelled looking old man, nearly bald. The short, white tufts of hair at either side of his head looked like symmetrical cliff faces. He was dressed in a grey suit that looked like it could have been the only ensemble of clothes that the man had to wear. However small details suggested that he was not a bum by any stretch of the imagination as his chin was free from stubble and great wafts of aftershave drifted up from him. All this and a slight whistle when he spoke meant that when you were near him you couldn't help but notice him. He was a person whose presence demanded the attention of more than one sense when you met him.
"Where are you headed if you don't mind me asking?" Trevor decided that there was no use in fighting it. You couldn't stop a conversation when it was past the second line without so much as a "Go away," or an "Excuse me I have the sudden urge to emigrate about ten meters down that way." So he indulged the old man.
"I'm headed away from the city to see what else life has to offer."
"That all depends on what else you want to get out of life doesn't it!" 'Hold on,' Trevor thought, 'How on earth did this turn into a philosophical discussion? Since when did this guy become my shrink? Better change the subject fast.'
"Very deep old man. I will say one thing. Whatever else it is that I want the city doesn't have it. Where are you headed yourself?"
"Oh! I heard it's very nice this time of year. Are you going there for any particular reason?"
"Well I've been everywhere else and I suppose nowhere is logically the only place left to go so that's where I'm headed."
"That's as good a reason as any. So is it out near the coast?" The old man nodded with a smile.
"So I've heard. I think its along the line that passes old Dunevarragh Castle." This little comment piqued Trevor's curiosity.
"You'll be waiting a while before you catch that train. I take it you didn't hear what happened." The old man leaned forward as if he were about to hear a great secret of the universe and he didn't want to miss a syllable of it. From here Trevor got a good view of the small tufts of hair growing out of the old mans ear.
"Well you were probably travelling at the time but about thirty, maybe thirty five years ago a train was travelling the coast road and crashed. I was only ten at the time but I can still remember the story pretty well. The old coast line used to take you past Dunevarragh castle just as you said. Before that the line runs through a tunnel and past the large white cliff faces. After the castle it's a short distance to the beach stop near Portnevarragh. That's the most bitter irony of all. The accident was so close to help that could never get there in time. Witnesses on the beach were preparing to pack up after seeing the sudden development of a rainstorm close to the castle. A great flash of lightning struck the castle sending smoke up from somewhere inside. A loud thunderclap followed seconds later. After the thunder had stopped a different kind of rumbling was heard as a large part of the cliff face gave way and the resulting landslide threw the train off the line and right into the sea. There were no survivors.
Sounds a bit strange right? Well that's not even the strangest part. After lightning struck the castle some people claimed to have seen a figure holding a flaming torch. Some said it was a train robbery that went wrong as there was a train with an important bank official travelling behind the one that was knocked into the sea. Rumour has it that they were to be carrying a fortune in antique coins for display in the Portnevarragh Museum. The thieves were meant to be hiding out in the castle waiting to ambush the train. The only problem with that theory is that the castle has been nearly impossible to reach after a stray bombshell from the early forties destroyed the narrow cliff path that provided access to it. Since then the place has been declared unsafe as its only foundational support is a single column of rock, which is constantly being battered by waves, wind and rain."
The old man looked at Trevor showing a healthy dose of scepticism.
"You seem to know an awful lot about the incident. How do I know you're not pulling my leg?" Forgetting that he had wanted to avoid talking to the man a short while ago, Trevor felt excited that he found someone to discuss these matters with. He beckoned the old traveller closer.
"I'll let you in on a secret. I used to work for this train company and I know for a fact what happened to the old train. Even after the accident." The old man looked puzzled.
"Surely it was left for scrap?" Trevor smiled and shook his head.
" No. They brought it back up from the sea floor. When they did and all the bodies were recovered they found most of it to be salvageable except for the front compartment. Oh sure it needed some work but the company has never been the best for money. So they used some of the carriages for the new line of trains. All they did was redecorate the interior a little bit. Look."
Trevor drew the old mans attention to the edge of the steel frame of his seat, it read "Made in England 1971." The old man whistled,
"Well, well, well. That is a story worth the telling." Trevor sat back with a smile on his face. The old man thought for a moment.
"Here. I've just thought of something."
"We haven't even properly introduced ourselves. My name is John Hodgekins."
"Well Trevor Gadling after hearing that tale I am going to show you something that might interest you."
Trevor raised his eyebrow as the old man produced a crumpled piece of orange paper from his pocket.
"What is it?" The old man gave it to Trevor with a bit of reverence. Trevor carefully unfolded it.
"A train ticket?" John nodded.
"Look at the year." Trevor's eyes widened when he did.
"1976. The year of the accident." The old man smiled.
"I was going to head out to Portnevarragh to get married but I got cold feet and never worked up the nerve to see her until now. It's a bit complicated and I don't know what's going to happen but I know I have to see her one last time before I get my wings." Trevor wasn't really sure what to say to this as he handed the old ticket back.
"Well best of luck in whatever happens."
He looked out the window to see rolling hills of green give way to a vast expanse of blue and white. Short mossy hills with gorse bushes dotted with yellow flowers popped up every now and again to remind people that they were still in the countryside. A few white clouds littered the sky. The cold January sun played hide and seek behind them every now and then.
"Won't be long now. Look you can see Dunevarragh through those hills when we pass them. That's about as close as you can get nowadays." There was a slight jolt as the train passed the fork in the line. Trevor's eyes widened and a tinny voice on the train's intercom confirmed his fears.
"Ahh folks this is no reason to panic. A few of you may have noticed that we are travelling on the wrong line but I can assure you this is nothing to worry about. We are currently slowing the train down so we can get back on track so to speak."
"Well," John said cheerily, "Looks like I'll get a better look at the castle than I thought."
Trevor gave a nervous smile and kept his eye on the castle. He wasn't sure what he was looking for but he knew it would start with the castle.
"Yes?" The old man said in a carefree manor.
"There was something I forgot to mention." The old man raised an eyebrow at the worried tone in Trevor's voice.
"Oh yes and what was that?"
"Well after the incident, when I was a child, I acted upon a whim to investigate the history of the castle in the Portnevarragh Museum. I found out that the castle has an interesting history of its own and unfortunately for us our timing may be at its worst. " Trevor paused to see if John was still sceptical.
"Well," the old man said, "what happened?" Trevor took this as a conformation of John's belief and continued.
"Some time in the 1800's the Lord of these lands, Lord Carson II, was given charge of Dunevarragh Castle for the sole purpose of guarding the coast against invaders. The attack never came directly by sea to Dunevarragh. The invasion fleet had approached from a different direction and had already taken the beach at Nebrann. Not five miles from Portnevarragh. Finding the castle at Nebrann easy prey the invasion force decided to take the castle of Dunevarragh for a bit of sport. The cliff face behind the castle made their approach quite easy as the guards posted were quickly dealt with. The invaders were about to strike when a careless soldier let a stone fall from the cliff top onto the ground below.
Within minutes pistols and rifles were blazing down onto the castle. After about an hour of fighting a storm quickly formed and began to rage. One of the watchmen in the castle gave the order to aim one of the cannons at the cliff face as the other shots had flown harmlessly over the invaders' heads. The spray and constant rain meant that the castle was soaked through and through. In the end it only took ten seconds for three things to happen resulting in the eternal stalemate of that battle. One: a bolt of lightning struck the castle, electrocuting everyone and killing them instantly. Two: One of the cannon guards fell with a burning torch onto the fuse. Three: the fuse reached its end firing the cannon ball. The ball hit home and caused a landslide that completely wiped out the invasion party.
Now I have a theory that the castle is imbued with the spirits of its previous occupants. Every now and again there are mysterious landslides on that same cliff face. I was moving to Portnevarragh in order to study this in detail, as the history has been a hobby of mine. I think the landslides are caused by the spirits trapped in that castle and still trying to repel invaders to this day. There is one problem with this. I think we may be next."
John grew pale in a shade that was close to the colour of his eyebrows.
"So what are we going to do?" Trevor looked unhappy at that moment, as his time to shine faded into the distance.
"I…I just don't know." They both looked out of the window in uncomfortable anticipation. The castles shadow loomed ominously above them as they came close to the tunnel entrance. The sky darkened suddenly, just before they entered the tunnel. The two put on brave faces as the other passengers seemed blissfully unaware of the trouble they were in. They only seemed to be slightly concerned with the fact that the driver was taking his time about putting the brakes on. The safety of the tunnel was abandoned all too soon. Trevor's heartbeat began to match that of the trains rhythmic "Ka-klunk, ka-klunk." He could only watch in helpless horror as the scene unfolded.
The waves crashed high and hard against the rocks below the castle sending up a rain of sea spray. Before long a lightning bolt struck the castle. Stone exploded sending up a puff of smoke. The castle was bathed in bright blue light. John pointed to an orange flame on top of the castle. The flame fell and a thunderous roar was heard. The rumble carried and reverberated off the cliff face to the train's left. White rocks fell like angels from heaven sent to sweep away those fated to die at the hands of Dunevarragh's revenge. Trevor and John braced themselves for what was to come. A rush of white rocks and dust pummelled the train sending the front carriage off the track.
Something was different this time though. The landslide seemed to take longer then the first one Trevor had seen on that fateful day from Portnevarragh beach. The great steel worm stayed together as it swung round into the castle. The castle wall crumbled with the force of the collision. Trevor took a minute to gather himself. He looked around for his newfound travelling partner. John moaned as he pushed a variety of luggage bags off of himself.
"Give me a hand would you?" Trevor assisted without hesitation. He looked down at the floor to see what sort of footing he could get so he could clamber over to John, when he found that it wasn't really the floor anymore but the side of the train. This gave him a spectacular view of the raging sea crashing on sharp rocks below.
"We have got to get out of here now." John looked down.
"I'm inclined to agree with you there."
Trevor looked at the ceiling to get his bearings and made his way down the train. John saw the direction he was going in.
"Wait! Where do you think you're going?"
"To stop this, or at least to try and stop this from happening again."
"You loony. You'll end up getting yourself killed."
"We'll you don't have to come if you don't want to." John thought for a moment.
"I have been searching for adventure like this my whole life. If you think that I'm going to miss out now then you've got another thing coming." With that resolved the two slowly made their way up the train until they reached the front compartment. Trevor clambered up to the exit and with the help of some strategically placed bags and luggage John managed to get out himself. They slid down the outside of the train to the cobbles of the castle courtyard.
They were only a few steps further when the sound of squealing metal was heard. The two whirled around to see hollow suits of rusted and battered armour attempting to push the train out of the castle.
"STOP!" Trevor shouted at the top of his voice. The suits of armour did so and turned to advance on John and himself. John held up his hands and smiled,
"Now, now good fellows, there is no need for any hasty actions. We would speak briefly with your Lord. I assure you we bear no ill will towards you." Trevor looked strangely at John and whispered harshly into his ear.
"Where'd you learn to speak like that? Robin Hood films?"
The suits stopped their advance. One of the taller ones with a bit more decoration and a bit less rust stepped forward. "Turn strangers and head towards yonder tower. My master will know of your presence first and then we shall see if you will speak with him or no." He turned to address his fellow soldiers.
"Guard these ones well and keep your wits about you. There is a strange air about them that I like not one jot." They entered the tower and Trevor was surprised to see that the tattered tapestries that littered the walls had not been completely obliterated over the years. Moments later and after a lot of clanking armour the two were brought to meet the master of the castle. The captain of the guard stepped forward.
"My Lord these are the two strangers that would speak to you."
A large suit of armour sat on a throne under a large wooden crest of arms. His ghostly tones were haughty enough to confirm his status.
"Would they indeed. Step forward then and speak your piece. I would hear it." Trevor stood there dumbfounded. For all his theories and bravado he hadn't a clue what to say. In the end John was the one to speak up.
"My Lord we seek to put a stop to a great injustice."
"Pray tell, what injustice would bring you to storm Dunevarragh so?" John paused for a moment, thinking of a way to explain the situation without angering the spirits.
"Lord, many innocent lives hang in the balance of this situation and your hand would seem to tip the balance so as to bring them to a death most unnatural. Please here me before you rebuke my words. Know that you and your forces died long ago, taking the invaders' lives with you. The lives you put in peril now are none other than your countrymen seeking passage to Portnevarragh."
There was a long silence interrupted now and again by metallic squeaking as the soldiers shifted position. Finally Lord Carson spoke.
"I have made a decision. In my heart I know you speak the truth and it grieves me so to hear it. There is much blood on my hands and though I cannot amend my actions I can prevent this from happening again. I shall leave this place forthwith." Trevor finally spoke in a quiet, reverend tone.
"Where will you go?" The stately ghost sighed.
"I honestly do not know. Somewhere I can atone for my sins, that much is certain. Godspeed gentlemen."
With that the suits of armour fell to the ground, leaving only the sound of rain hitting stone behind them. John spoke quietly.
"Fare thee well Lord Carson." Trevor put a hand on John's shoulder.
"Shall we go? There's a pint in Portnevarragh with your name on it." John grinned at the prospect.
"I do believe I'll take you up on that." As they made their way back to the tracks they made their apologies to the remaining railway staff for having them worry. They were clambering over the white rocks to join the line of people when Trevor spoke again.
"Well I'll say one thing after all that."
"What's that then?"
"That's the last train I take to Portnevarragh." The two laughed as they started the trek down to Portnevarragh under the clear blue January sky.
Well its good to be back for a bit. Hope that you enjoyed the story and if you want to leave a review feel free. (hint hint). I might get some more stuff up in future however it will probably be later rather then sooner as I am busy writing novels and pieces for competitions. This one was too long for the competition I was going to enter and editing would only have destroyed it so here it is. If you want me to have a look at your stuff give me a buzz. TTFN.