• Melanie McCree

The Train Car

Freddie wasn't thinking about anything in particular when he stepped into the Underground train car. The train hissed and the doors opened and it was late at night, and he was pretty sure it was the right train. It looked like the right train.

There was no one else inside the car. Just Freddy. Well, that was all right, everybody needed a bit of space to think sometimes, didn't they?

He wasn't sure when, exactly, he realized he could hear humming, or what he was humming along. It was a cheerful, tricky little melody; where had he learned it? Had someone sung it to him? Or it could have been a commercial, there was all sorts of rubbish on the telly these days. He thought about it as the train whoosh-cachunked down the tunnel and his hand warmed the metal pole and his body swayed with the movement of the train. the song sounded old-fashioned, like highwayman stories and sea chanties and mossy graveyards at twilight. Funny how even old songs could sometimes get stuck in your head.

She wasn't there, and then she was. The train rushed past a stop without slowing, and in the cast glow of the platform lights the girl appeared, sitting on one of the seats near the front of the car, her head turned toward him. She wasn't smiling or frowning or any of the normal things one does if one happens to meet a stranger's glance; she was simply there, grave and still, her hands in her lap, palm up. He thought she was perhaps sixteen or seventeen. She was almost pretty, but not quite: her hair was pale and limp and fell to her shoulders in flat, stringy waves, and her lips were dark. Her skin looked white and waxy. She had black holes where her eyes should be.

He was afraid. Wasn't he? Somewhere under the sloppy flog in his brain, he knew he was afraid.

She was humming the same song. He rather thought it was one of those dreadful folk songs where somebody dies horribly. Strange song for a girl her age. Not the sort of thing they play on the radio these days, puerile things with the same words just rearranged and laid over synthesized beats. Some of those singers, though... well, they were the sort of women you didn't listen to anyway.

The girl leaned toward him and lifted her chin, sticking her nose out like a hound tracking a scent.

He ought to be afraid, surely.

He'd stayed out rather late. He'd been at the pub, laughing with his mates, telling them... Telling them about the old family place, a broken-backed remnant of a mansion on a lot chest-high in weeds even sheep wouldn't touch. Well, there were a few little cottages, too, but they weren't real cottages, nobody lived in them. Falling down, full of mice, big rotted holes in the walls and roofs. Who knew how old they were? Hundreds of years, probably. From a time when it meant something to be "Lord This" or "Lady So-And-So." His family had been important in those days; they didn't follow the rules, they made them. Well, those days were long past, no doubting that. No money in his family now. Nothing on that property but the skeletons of shacks and a patch of bog, a horrible, stinking place even in winter, twice as wide and sludgy in summer. He'd put the lot up for sale as soon as he laid eyes on it.

Chachunk, chachunk when the train, and it turned a bit colder inside the car. The lights were dimming, too. Well, that's bureaucrats for you. The real money goes to new government offices. Those people don't have to bother with the Underground, they have imported cars with leather seats and excellent shock absorbers. They have drivers to come pick them up. That's the life. Somebody ought to write a letter.

The train came up on another platform, then shot right past without slowing. Another flash of light, an opportunity come and gone, and suddenly the girl was sitting across from him, her empty socket eyes fixed on his face. She tilted her head, a jerky, stop-motion flicker, and he realized he was shivering and the metal pole felt icy, and his breath was turning to mist.

It ought to have sobered him up. His thoughts dragged; he couldn't seem to fit them together properly. There was something he ought to remember. It was about that bit of land - it had a bad reputation. The locals told stories about it. A local girl who drowned on her wedding day, wasn't it? They thought the husband did it. The magistrate up at the big house didn't look into it.

He was so cold.

The lights were getting dimmer by the moment, so that he couldn't see to the end of either car, and the seats were little more than darker lumps in the hazy grey. He could see his hand, gripping the metal pole too tightly. He could feel himself beginning to shake, and he realized he wasn't humming anymore, that the sound coming out of him was thin and high, the whine of a cornered animal.

The dark closed in. The seats were swallowed up. There were no walls around him. He couldn't see his hand on the pole anymore. But he could see the girl, pale and close, too close, near enough to lift one of those small white hands, stretch out those waxen fingers with their purplish nails to touch his shoulder.

She smelled like rotten grass and sludgy mud. She smelled like the dead of winter.

"You're her, aren't you?" His voice broke; he swallowed and started again. "The bog girl, the one who drowned. You're Polly."

The train rushed from dark to dark and there were no more platforms.

The girl smiled.


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