2nd version of my short story Lupic Storm, which was originally written for an English homework piece. I'm still looking to improve it if I can. I am unsure which archive to put this in, so have put it in the
The Lupic Storm
"You can hear them. Every time you're at a rail line. Chuk-chuk, chuk-chuk. That little echo, of all the trains gone by, remembered by the wind. Even the old overgrown lines have it, that echo. And the one that have nothing but the raised banks and bridges. You can hear it there too; when you're gazing along the missing track until the next bend, following where so many rolled before, something spiritual like. Several times I've gone there and stood, set above the countryside, just listening to those echoes, smiling at the past.
I'm not saying that all those echoes are good, not at all. In fact, there's one line no soul has followed since, well…"
The fellow gazed into the flickering fire, seeing something other than the flames, before taking a deep slurp of ale, watched closely by the young lad.
"The line itself was the bright new express between the big towns, and they'd got themselves a new better engine- they still had steam in those days. Anyway, this express route ran through the forest, and this forest was spooky, full of ghosts and ghouls, so the tales tell. And a pack of savage wolves. So they decided to call the engine the Lupic Storm, a titanic of the tracks it was. But it did last 5 years, with only one casualty. A young kid on the track, it was icy. Poor soul. Then one day, the whole train disappeared, along with the bridge over the river. Washed away in the storm they said."
"Nah! Of course not. They never saw any train washed up, or any bodies. But I'll tell you what did happen, because every track tells its' tale, and I've been up there, just the once, right up to the edge of the forest, to the old track line. I listened very carefully, and I heard it all. The Lupic Storm, I heard it all, the chuk-chuk, chuk-chuk, the grind of the wheels, the puff of the engine and of course that old shrill whistle…
The whistle pierced the night as the train leapt out of the tunnel and ploughed on across the countryside, straining against the weather. Rain battered the carriages, a constant drumbeat keeping the few occupants awake. Apart from one. The figure in the corner was sound asleep, his head bouncing against the window, the flickering light putting his pale features into stark contrast with his unruly short black hair.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder, and he jerked awake, his sharp green eyes eventually focusing on the ticket collector. After a brief pause, he scrabbled for his ticket, thrusting it at the collector to be clipped. He then slumped back into his seat, watching as the collector moved on down to the carriage, to a noisy family of four, two kids, and mum and dad, yet another group off to join up with the relatives for Christmas. He scowled deeply, sending sharp jabs of angry shadows across his face before turning away, and trying to sleep once more, a seemingly all too cheerful chorus of Good King Wenceslas filtering through the carriages, battling to be heard against the torrent of rain. Red tinsel rustled above him, and he contemplated tearing it down. Before he moved, he was asleep once more, unaware of the looming branches now reaching across the train, as if to smother it in a blanket of black leaves.
Up front the driver peered through the murk as they passed through the forest, trying to glimpse the track ahead, the wave of branches in the wind and rain a constant reminder of the dangers. Everyone knew the stories of this forest, and thought he passed through it every day; it still sent shivers down his spine. Catching a flash of white out the corner of his eye, he jumped and scanned the forest for its' cause. Seeing nothing there in the darkness he turned back to the track, freezing as a biting gust of wind lifted the murk for a moment, revealing the track ahead.
He had been the driver of the Lupic Storm for nearly five years and had never hoped to see it. There, on the track was a ragged child, his windswept features vacant as the locomotive ploughed towards him. The driver leapt into action, pulling leavers left, right and centre, desperately trying to stop the train. The brakes screamed and the carriages rebounded off each other, throwing their passengers into a confused and terrified mess. But the train slowly, but surely stopped, the driver stumbling out the engine carriage to gaze at the child on the track, who looked at him, bent down to pick up a bright red ball before turning to run and fading away.
Two startled green eyes looked out of a bundle on the floor of the carriage and slowly staggered upright. Straightening himself out, he made his way to the door and leapt down onto the track, anxious to find out what had caused the impromptu stop. Striding down towards the engine, ignoring the murmurs of 'trees on the track', 'debris from all these storms', he saw the driver almost falling onto the track from the engine, and that he was staring transfixed to something a way in front on the track. Increasing his pace he followed the gaze of the driver and saw the ghostly figure as it faded away. The driver grabbed him, his eyes wide with fear.
"Did you see that?!" He just looked at the driver for a moment, before pushing past him and walking to the spot where the child had been, leaving the train behind. He crouched down to examine the ground. There was nothing, no footprint, not even half a bent leaf to indicate that anyone had been there. He straightened up and gazed out into the dark fog, just about able to see the tracks. Tentatively he began to follow them away from the train, occasional gust of wind baring the skeletal mass of brooding trees lined up like statues either side of him.
"Hello?" He called out, his voice muffled and distorted in the dark. But there was no reply. He trudged along the track in silence for a few moments, following the bend around, each pace taking him further and further from the train. He paused, listening in the dark. He could hear something up ahead, a little further round the bend, and, now he'd looked, he could see that it was getting a little lighter on the track. He sped up, eager to find what was around the bend, almost breaking into a run, before stopping suddenly as he was met by a blast of wind and the roar of tons of water rushing by. He stared at in shock at the sight before him.
The track rose up in a twisted iron claw, rotten timbers littered in the mud as the swollen blood red river rushed by. The bridge was gone.
Trying not to imagine what might have happened had the train got this far, he turned and started to head back towards the train. They would need to know.
As the darkness pressed in once more, and as he left the roar of the river behind him the silence unnerved him. He was near the train, so where were the lights? He quickly bumped into the engine, and trailing his hand, he made his way down the side, tracing the words Lupic Storm as he went, pausing at the entrance to the driver's area.
"Hello?" He called, failing to get the hoped for reply, so cautiously he climbed into the compartment, trying to get a better view into the forest. He was met by the same murky darkness, the branches chattering in the breeze, almost mocking him.
"Hello is there anyone around?" he called again, louder this time, his voice wavering with uncertainty. A moment's silence met him as the breeze dropped.
Thump… Thump… Thump… Thump… Thump… Thump… Thump… Thump…
He started wildly, his eyes flickering around the eerie backdrop that the train nestled in, searching for the root of the noise.
Thump-thump… Thump-thump… Thump-thump… Thump-thump… Thu-thump!
He let go his breath as the noise stopped, still looking out into the lonely darkness.
Howls filled the night air and a vague grey shape hurtled towards him, knocking him down in the driver's area. Twisting to avoid scything claws, he grabbed tufts of fur and hurled the creature down onto the track. Picking himself up, he desperately searched for some sort of weapon to defend himself with. He reached for a loose lever, only to be knocked over as the thing leapt at him again. Falling, his hand snatched a chain. Instinctively he grabbed it, and as the claws came crashing down, he pulled.
"What happened after that?"
"I ran." The older guy sighed "From the forest. There is no good reason for any place to get that cold, that quick on a warm clear summer's day. So… I didn't hear the rest of the story. Didn't need to. You can find the rest in newspapers- No survivors, no bodies, no train. Just the occasional lumps of bridge were found washed up on the riverbanks."
"But a train like that, and all the metal from the tracks, surely they didn't just abandon it?!" The old man nodded approvingly.
"Ah, they didn't, not to start off with. The very next day they sent up a recovery team. They disappeared. Same happened to any other attempts to take out the tracks from the forest. After a while they gave up, and let the whole place be, to be forgotten. It worked. The forest is avoided, called haunted and only the few locals know about the track- Even though you'd have thought it would have driven us all away. But it's quiet here, hardly anyone visits, and we just lead peaceful honest lives.
But once every blue moon the storms hurry in; howls shake the branches; ghostly cries of fear scatter wildlife and the river swells blood red. But above all this, the faded whistle of the doomed train cries out over the countryside, an eerie reminder to those who know of the Lupic Storm."
Silence fell, and people turned back to their drinks. The young man was looking outside through the thick glass windows, across to the branches swaying in the breeze, all reaching out of the darkness of the forest, just the other side of the road. And the older guy gazed after him, with his sharp green eyes.