Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
I wrote a short ghost story and was asked to extend it for this challenge
A question of position
I’m very rational. Of course I can be startled, surprised and I’ll be the first to admit there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.
But ghosts? Spirits from beyond? Give me a break. Sure weird stuff happens but it’s only weird because we haven’t worked out how. There’ll be some modification of Newtonian physics, some subtle exception that explains it; then there’s the man at Victoria station, who I was about to meet.
It started on Monday. The station was chaos. They’ve been doing these rebuilding works. It was while I watched the indicator board, hoping my train would show as being on time. That was when I saw him.
I was in my favoured spot, near the farthest left hand barrier. The works have meant I’ve not been able to claim my spot but, happily, that day I could. The works had moved.
I was staring up at the board when I saw him. For a moment I was sure he was hanging, and I must have gasped because the chap next to me asked if I was ok. He’s stood next to me forever and that was a first. Name’s Gerald apparently.
I started to explain, but when we looked the man has gone, replaced by a workman in a hiviz jacket. I thought I must have been mistaken.
The next day, and the next I saw the man. Just glimpses. It was like he wanted to talk to me.
Thursday, he was on the platform – no one else was there. He must be an employee, though his uniform looks ancient.
I asked Gerald if he’d seen this fella but he ignored me. All he wanted to do was moan about the delay. I made a joke about it, about how I must be seeing a ghost but he didn’t get it. He’s not got a great sense of humour.
When I reached the station on Friday, all sorts were going off. They’d cordoned the spot where I stand. Apparently they’d found a body. Seems like he had been buried there for decades and the ticket bloke said he’d heard he’d been buried deliberately.
We were all moved around, because three platforms were out of use. I saw him, as I knew I would, by my spot. I knew Gerald hadn’t seen the man even though he was there plain as anything. That’s when the man turned. He looked in a bad way, one side of his face damaged.
Even though the station was its usual noisy self I heard him say, ‘We need to talk.’ It was like he knew me.
I was pretty creeped out by this. I mean who was this chap, dressed like he’d just come out of the museum?
The weekend, I was anxious. All the workman had gone and everything was shut up but as I passed through the station there was an odd atmosphere, like something was going to happen. I felt everyone was looking at me like I’d been chosen for something.
I don’t usually read the papers but I saw one on Sunday. It had this piece on the body they’d found. Apparently they thought someone was buried alive, a porter or something. From the money in his pockets and his uniform they thought it happened during a rebuilding of the platforms in the late 1930s. There was speculation that it might have been an accident but how can someone be buried alive by accident?
What is also really weird is there’s no record of anyone going missing at that time.
I knew I’d see him on Monday. I knew we’d speak. I expected to be frightened but I felt calm. I mean it couldn’t actually be the dead man, could it? There aren’t ghosts so he had to be one of the investigating team. Maybe he’d heard that I had stood on that very spot for years and I might know something. Sure I don’t know what but that was the rational explanation. I mean, why else would he want a word?
Monday was a bright day with little wind. It was one of those days when everyone else seems to be in a rush but you move at a different pace. I suppose I was anxious about what he would say, or who he was but when I reached the station everything seemed normal. The chaos of Friday and the emptiness of the weekend had gone and it was hard to believe anything untoward had happened.
Gerald was back in his spot, reading the Standard. I hadn’t managed to get a copy. The vendor doesn’t like me, usually looking the other way, but when she smiled at me I was so surprised I didn’t take the paper. Gerald was in a good mood, chatting away, talking about our stupid Mayor and his latest rubbish. I’d not been able to get a word in when the man appeared, right next to me, making me jump. ‘You came then.’
You know what it’s like when someone does that? It throws you, doesn’t it? I thought of all sorts of things to say, but by then he’d held up the tape that roped off the area where they’d found the body and beckoned me across. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘we don’t want to be seen and I need to show you something.’
I was half way under the tape when I remembered Gerald. He’d moved off and was talking to the ticket man by the barrier, the stupid one. He’d get no joy there, I thought. I left him to his ineffectual rant. In truth I rarely listened to him either.
The man was by a tarpaulin holding it back. On the other side, in the dim light was a trench. ‘Here.’ He beckoned me forward.
I knew I had to look but I really didn’t want to. I hung back but he stood, looking down like it was the most natural thing to do. Finally, when the stalemate looked like going on forever I moved to his side.
Lying twisted into a flat ‘S’ was a man, wearing exactly the uniform the man next to me was wearing. The dead man, a skeleton, grinned fiendishly back out of his grave one hand raised like he was pushing up at something. His skull had a depression on one side. I looked at my companion. He too had a similar dent.
‘Is… Is that you?’ Why did I ask that? He couldn’t be, could he? It was a trick, an awfully poor practical joke, or some game.
The man nodded. ‘Yes. I was twenty-seven. In my prime. I was travelling from Scotland to look for a new job. I’d kept it secret so no one realised I’d come to London.’
‘Why did you wear a uniform?’ What was I doing asking him questions like this was real? I knew it was stupid but I couldn’t stop.
He sighed. ‘I pretended to work for the railways so I didn’t have to pay.’ He turned to face me. ‘Do you know why you’re here yet?’
I couldn’t look. I moved back towards the tarpaulin.
‘Why are you running? Why won’t you stay?’
I pushed back. I was by the tape. ‘I need to go, I need to get my train.’
‘Which train? Which train do you catch?’
‘I…’ I looked at the indicator board, desperately hoping to see my next train.’
The man pushed right up to me. ‘Which one? The Orpington one? Go on. It goes in two minutes you’d better hurry. You don’t want to miss it.’
I stood by the ticket barrier, still unsure if I should go.
‘Where’s your ticket? You’d better get it out. Come on, you’ll miss it.’
I felt trapped, my feet in clay.
The man pointed to the far barrier. ‘Gerald is there. Surely he’ll help you. Talk to your friend.’
I was desperate. I hurried over to Gerald. ‘Gerald I’ve lost my ticket. Can I borrow the fare? Gerald? Gerald?’
By now I was feeling sick with fear. What did this man want? Had he stolen my ticket when I wasn’t looking?
‘Oh dear, Gerald doesn’t want to help.’ He moved within inches of Gerald and screamed in his ear. ‘Gerald, your friend needs you. Gerald HELP.’
Gerald just went on talking to the ticket man, who went on ignoring him as he complained about the service, the punctuality, the cleanliness of the trains. Why didn’t Gerald react? Why was he ignoring us?
I was desperate. I turned to my tormentor. ‘What’s happening? Why are you doing this to me?’
‘You know what’s odd? When I told you I was buried there you didn’t ask how or why or who did it? Aren’t you interested?’ He leant in close. ‘Or is that because you know?’
And I did. I knew. He was running away. He’d killed a child – he said he was innocent but no one believed him. And his brother in law followed him as he ran – he wasn’t after a job – and killed him. He managed to bury him when he was still breathing in the building works being carried out on the station. Everyone thought he’d got away so no one came looking. It proved his guilt.
The man nodded. ‘Nearly true only that man wasn’t the killer was he? It was the brother in law. You.’
It was my turn to nod.
‘You understand don’t you?’
I did. I was a ghost too. I’d killed myself in 1945. They said I was still upset by the loss of my nephew but it was guilt.
‘Come on. It’s time you had some rest too. You’ve paid long enough standing on my grave.’
He led me back to the pit and helped me down to lie next to his skelton.’
‘Is that it?’ I asked.
I didn’t hear if he said anything but I understood. It was time for us to go.