Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Ghost Story

Those of you who've been with The Chimping Dandy since last year will remember that around this time, I told you a ghost story, and said that it was going to become a bit of a tradition.

Well here's this year's, unlike the last one, this is made up, a fake, completely from one's imagination.

Most of it at least.



The tea was awful, but then the tea here was always awful.  He looked down into the grey-white mug and despite the milk he'd put in, he could still see the bottom. How was it possible for something that came out of a steaming kettle to be so weak and tepid? He pushed it away, disgusted.

He was alone, apart from Ranjit, the small Indian gentleman behind the counter who was busying himself by wiping the cutlery from the tray with a tea-towel.

'I was expecting it to be busier tonight,' He looked up at the man, who smiled and stopped his polishing, 'with it being Christmas Eve.'

'Yes, there are usually more people trying to hurry home.  Maybe there is not the same pressure this year? Many people do not feel so Christmassy.' He looked out into the late afternoon darkness, 'Although the rush hour has not really started yet.'

It was true, it wasn't even four O'Clock yet, but the gathering clouds were already conspiring with the winter's lack of daylight to darken the view from the station cafeteria's long windows.  He rose from his seat and looked out onto the platform.  In one direction, he could see the empty ticket office, in the other, the platform lights reflected off the steel rails as they curved away into the distance. 'Here it comes.' He announced flatly to the air, as the first blobs of the forecasted torrential rain plastered itself against the glass.  He released a deep sigh, which fogged the window and momentarily obscured his reflection.

He drew a smiley face, grinned to himself halfheartedly, and then wiped it away just as the heavy beads of condensation started to make it look as if it were crying.

Sitting down again, he asked Ranjit for another tea.  Ranjit raised an eyebrow and pointed at the mug that was already on his table. 'Ah, yes, of course.' He lifted the tea, swallowed its milk-warm load with considered indifference and gestured with the empty mug.  He smiled and shook his head. 'My wife says that one day you will turn into a mug of tea Mr Dullahan.'

He was just about to reply when the metal framed door swung open and a woman walked in, she was in her mid-forties with a once pretty face and long blonde hair, with a confused look, she stared at the ticket in her hand.

'Are you alright?'

She looked at him with reddened eyes and noticed his freshly pressed, blue serge, railway uniform, 'I'm trying to get home., I usually drive you see.'

He reached out towards her ticket, 'May I?' He made a show of reading the destination and nodded, sagely. 'You're in luck, yours is the next train at this platform. And, we are currently serving complimentary tea and coffee, as it's Christmas.' He leaned in close and whispered, 'But if I were you, I'd stick to the coffee.'

She smiled, thanked him and took back her ticket.

The door opened for a second time just as he was raising his cup to his lips.  This time it was a young man carrying a small bunch of flowers, Dullahan looked at the label on the cellophane wrapper and, as he saw the logo of a popular chain of petrol stations, he tutted quietly to himself.  'Come in sir please, you're letting the rain in. May I see your ticket?'

He shook his head, as if waking from a daydream, peered at the door and absently let go of the handle.  It swung slowly shut, the wiry plastic brush screwed to its base making curved muddy lines on the tiled floor.

'Here,' he said, thrusting the small piece of card at the railwayman. 'Never been on a train before, going to my girlfriend's house, her parents are away for Christmas.' He gave Dullahan a theatrically knowing wink, which he returned, in kind, along with his ticket.

'Help yourself to a hot drink sir, a Christmas present from... the Management.'

'Got any lager?  Been out with the lads at lunchtime, had a proper skinful, could probably fit another one in though.' His smile slowly changed to a frown of puzzlement, 'It's funny though, I don't feel as drunk as I did a minute ago.'

'I'm sorry sir, just tea and coffee although, there might be some soup, I can ask...'

But the young man had sat down and was looking closely at his ticket, his lips slowly moving as his finger traced out the few lines of words.

'Mr Dullahan sir, it's nearly time.' Ranjit was pointing at the round white plastic clock on the wall. He checked his watch, the second hand moving in exact time with the clock.

'Ladies and gentlemen, you train will be arriving at the platform directly outside in precisely five minutes, though you should all have more than enough time to finish your drinks.  Please make sure you have all of your belongings with you.' He looked at the bunch of flowers that had fallen from the table and were now lying forgotten on the floor next to the young man who was scratching his head with his ticket. Exhaling through his nose he shook his head and went back to his own table.

There was barely two minutes to go when the door opened for the last time.  There was a bustle as a young family tried to force their way through the doorway all together.  They stood for a second, shaking the rain from their bedraggled Santa hats. 'It's blowing a gale out there!' He grinned at Dullahan and offered him the four tickets, 'Could you tell me how long we have to wait?'

He took the tickets, and without even looking at them said, 'Your train will be here any second, right outside.' Gesturing at the rain-lashed platform, he offered them the traditional free hot drink and looked down at the two children who were probably both no more than five years old. 'Would you like a glass of orange?'

The little boy looked up at him seriously as if it were the most difficult question he had ever been asked, then looked at his Mother, who shrugged, then nodded with a smile. 'Yes please, can my sister have one too?'

Dullahan gave the order to Ranjit, who poured out two small beakers of juice and handed them back with a the beginnings tear in his eye.

The boy took his and immediately started to drink it thirstily. The little girl was not so keen, she held onto her soaking wet teddy bear so hard that she started to wring the rain from it, and shifted uneasily behind her Mother.

'Are you... Are you looking forward to Christmas?' Dullahan faltered, but the little girl nodded.

'We're going to see Grandma, she's not very well.' She grabbed a handful of her Mother's skirt and covered her face.

'Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.' He looked at her Father, whose face told the story of exactly how ill her Grandmother was.' He looked in his notebook, ran his finger down a list of names and smiled weakly. 'You'll be seeing her very soon, I'm sure.'

'It was raining... There was a lorry...' Whispered the man, looking down at his children through eyes filled with such love. 'I... Tried...'

'I know you did,' Sighed Dullahan quietly, as he put a gentle hand of the man's shoulder, 'but you don't need to worry about that any more, the train's here now.'

They all looked through the window, outside was a huge steam train, it's shiny black bulk almost glowing in the rain.

'All aboard.' intoned Dullahan, and he slowly lifted his arms, palms upwards.  One by one, the six passengers faded from view until he was left alone apart from Ranjit and a scant bunch of petrol station flowers.

'Cup of tea?' Offered Ranjit.  He nodded emptily and sat down to wait for his next passengers.

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