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  • Writer's pictureNic Benson

The Station

It was a rural branch line station, the kind that had featured in the Sunday afternoon films of her childhood; built of stone and clad in timber with fancy ironwork roof arches. In this example of the genre, though, there was no avuncular station master or friendly porter to reassure her that yes, she was in the right place and her train would be along in a minute. No people around at all, in fact - just small eddies of dust and leaf skeletons gusting along the platform and around her feet, and the bitter, biting cold.

Such a remote station won’t be manned these days, she thought. I’ll just have to wait it out.

The slab-cold stone platform pushed icy needles through the thin leather soles of her shoes, and a persistent wind clawed at her legs and neck, whipping her hair into ropes. She was woefully underdressed for a winter night in the middle of nowhere, she realised, in her good work suit and no coat.

Why were station platforms always so cold?

She peered at the sole telescreen once more, hoping that the static had been replaced by some information about how likely she was to get home before morning. But the static screeched on, giving nothing away but white noise.

She released a sigh that froze in the air. Just how far away from home was she? A single cast iron lamp post poured a watery light over the station nameboard on the opposite platform, but no matter how hard she peered, it was no good. She could make no sense of it. Cursing herself for not having her glasses, she wondered if her headache was getting worse. There were some pills in her bag that she could take, but she had no water, and there was no kiosk or vending machine that she could see. She weighed up the possibility of venturing beyond the station to find a late-opening shop, but given the unsuitability of her footwear and lack of coat, she decided that she would rather suffer a headache than find herself lost in the middle of nowhere with sprained ankles and hypothermia.

So, what to do now? There was still no sign of a train, no sign of any other passengers, and she had no idea how long she had been waiting; the station clock had been standing at eleven o’clock since her arrival. The cold was seeping into her bones, though; getting warm had become a priority.

As the station was so quiet, she decided the risk of her missing the train was not going to be increased by waiting inside; even if there was no announcement, she would be able to hear a train approaching. She scanned the station building properly for the first time and gratefully noted a sign indicating the presence of a waiting room.

Following the direction of the arrow on the sign with her eyes, she saw a door painted in green gloss paint, with 'Waiting Room' stencilled on it in white. Expecting the door to be locked, she turned the dull brass handle easily, and the door creaked open. She was amazed to see a fireplace, with a fire burning in the grate, and her relief at being in a warm room overrode any sense that this was a little strange, given the deserted nature of her surroundings.

There was a wooden bench that ran all the way around the perimeter of the room, and six wooden chairs arranged back to back in the centre of it. There was a large carriage clock on the mantelpiece, which ticked loudly. If it was telling the correct time, it was still eleven o’clock. God only knew how long she would have to wait for her train to arrive. An umbrella stand in the corner contained a large black umbrella, furled like a sleeping bat.

And next to the fireplace was slumped a sleeping man.

She sat tentatively down on the bench, as close to the door as possible, and observed her oblivious companion. He was smartly and appropriately dressed for the weather, in a dark overcoat and a charcoal-coloured trilby. He had a large leather holdall at his feet, and he slept with his arms crossed and his hands tucked firmly under his armpits. He was tall, and heavily built, with broad shoulders and large feet encased in shiny black brogues. She guessed he was a commuter, like her, and she was relieved that he was asleep.

The thought suddenly crossed her mind that if he was not a good person, she was stranded here with him. She was just wondering whether she would be safer to brave the cold and conceal her presence from him by waiting outside, when he opened his eyes.

“Worry not, you’re quite safe.”

She jumped at the sound of his voice, which was deep in timbre. Inexplicably, she felt guilty for her unvoiced suspicions, and her tone when she replied to him sounded overly friendly to her ears.

“I know, of course I am. Have you been waiting long?”

“Ages.” He closed his eyes again.

“Right.”

Silence resettled on the room, save for the ticking of the clock, and the slow, rhythmical breathing of the man in the hat.

Now the cold in her bones had started to abate a little, she noticed that her headache was getting worse, and she scanned the room for a vending machine, even a tap, so that she could obtain some water and take her pills. In the corner there was a tea trolley, complete with a large silver urn and some dusty cups and saucers. Trying not to disturb her companion by making too much noise with her heels on the wooden floor, she approached the trolley, and held a cup under the tap of the urn. It turned stiffly, and a trickle of yellowish water appeared from it.

She decided to put up with the headache and returned to her seat empty handed.

“Do you have pain?”

The man spoke without opening his eyes.

“A little. It’s fine.”

“There’s something in my bag that can help you with that.”

She didn’t know how to reply, so didn’t.

“Just let me know if it becomes unbearable.”

“I - I don’t think it will.”

“Well, let me know if it does.”

“Thank you.”

It didn’t seem appropriate to ask how he knew she was hurting, and anyway, she didn’t want to extend the conversation any further. She leant her head on the cool plaster of the wall behind her and took deep breaths. In order to prevent herself falling asleep, she attempted to read a poster that clung to the wall opposite, but other than the letters GWR, she found it difficult to make out anything other than shapes. Her vision was worsening. This really was quite a headache.

She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them with a start to see that the man was sitting in the chair next to her, watching her face intently. Her heart began to race as she cringed away from him. He seemed unmoved and unsurprised by her fear.

“Why don’t you rest? It’s very late.”

“I’m fine. Please. Go and sit by the fire. I’ll be ok. I just want to get home.”

The man smiled.

“I know you do. But in the meantime, rest. Let me give you something to help with your pain.”

“I don’t want to rest. I might miss my train. Please, just leave me alone to wait. I don’t need anything, I don’t want anything.”

“As you wish.” He settled back in his seat beside her.

She began to panic. She was trapped here, with him. He could do anything, literally anything, and there would be nobody to stop him. She surreptitiously reached into her pocket for her phone, before remembering that she had lost it in the accident.

Accident?

Grinding metal, the smell of petrol, the sound of glass breaking and her own screams. The pain in her head became blindingly acute.

“You’ve remembered?”

She looked at him in astonishment, her eyes suddenly wild.

“I…”

“Try not to panic. Just rest.”

She gasped, grabbed the sleeve of the man’s coat and started to shake his arm.

“It hurts!”

The man nodded. “I know. It won’t hurt for long though. Do you want my help?”

“I…I don’t know. How long until the train comes?”

“It’ll arrive when you’re ready for it.”

“How will I know?”

“You’ll know.”

“Will you sit with me until it comes?”

“I’ve been with you all your life.”

That was comforting. She relaxed a little against his solid form, then something made her sit up again.

“Everyone will worry. They’ll worry. They’ll wonder where I am.”

He nodded once, slowly.

“They will, for a while. Then they’ll stop worrying. But that’s normal. It’s all normal.”

“Right.” She sat back briefly, then sat up again.

“It really hurts,” she whispered. “Will you help me?”

The man smiled.

“Of course.”

He reached into his bag and pulled out a small green glass bottle with a brass cap, which he unscrewed. He passed the bottle under her nose and she inhaled deeply and began to cough. After a few seconds had passed, the coughing subsided and the pain in her head began to lessen. The clock showed two minutes past eleven.

“Thank you.” Her breathing had slowed down now, and her eyes had softened.

She needed to rest.

There was a noise outside on the platform; the hiss and screech of brakes and the low rumble of an engine. A yellow light swept the gloom of the waiting room. The man stood up. He was a large man. Larger than life itself.

“Your train’s here. Take my arm.”

She did as she was told, and the two figures made their way out onto the platform; the large and solid presence of the man, supporting the slight, broken figure of the young woman.

He pressed the button next to the door, and it opened.

“Shall we?”

She nodded, and the two figures climbed aboard the train, the man behind the woman, waiting to catch her if she should stumble.

The doors closed softly behind them, and the train slid away into the darkness.


 

Image by jguemez via Pixabay

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