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Winning Stories - Henrietta Branford Writing Competition 2017

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The Branford Boase Award for


Even Ghosts Get Nostalgic

by Brianna Cain aged 17 years, Liverpool

 

The night we left was wild, clouds dashing across the moon and trees rocking and shushing in a wind so strong it seemed to make the stars blink and spin. We packed in a hurry and only just made it to the station on time. I wondered who else would be taking the midnight train. I·went to the buffet car to find out. There was a man in there, very tall and smart. Staring at me with his pale eyes, he began to tell me a story.

“Is this your first time on a train, lad?” He didn’t seem to concerned with me sitting near him in the empty car, so I nodded. His pale eyes took on a wistful and distant glare.

“I ran away once too when I was your age,” I was shocked, how did he- “Got a job right here on this very train; course back then it was a different world.” I looked around, the train didn’t look particularly old, a little grubby in places and mostly everything was made of plastic, he must be confused, poor guy.

“I remember it well,” the man went on in nostalgia, “I worked my way up from a porter and it was my first journey as the conductor. Boy, was I nervous, nearly forgot my cap! I checked and double checked; the schedule, the time -about every ten seconds- even the brass fixtures to see my reflection.” I noticed he was becoming more alive with each reminisced detail. This could go on for a while, where are my friends? They’re taking forever.

“She was magnificent, seven carriages furnished with only luxury in mind and with top notch service if I do say so myself. People used to come from all over just to experience its glamour; men in their fine suits and cigars in hand, looking important, women clad in the latest fashion; furs, silk and diamonds. How quickly it fades.” His pale eyes dimmed.

“Look sir, I best be going, it was nice talking to you.” I had to say something, surely my friends were worried. He only smiled in return, I stood up and moved out from the small table.

“Of course, then there was that horrible business, what with the murder and all.” I stopped in my escape.

“Murder?” I was intrigued okay? It’s not every day a stranger mentions a murder, I suppose that it gives more reason not to talk to them.

“Aye, it was the same day I started. The newspapers told of a spate of robberies in the cities along our route, the staff and I were on strict others to watch out for anything out of the ordinary.” He paused collecting his thoughts, I reclaimed my seat across from him, my friends could wait, Lucy especially. “We had just finished with the dinner service, many of the ladies were retiring to their rooms on the sleeping carriage, leaving their rich husbands to their brandy and tobacco. It was then I noticed something off; a man in a grey suit knocked into me whilst I was assuring Madame Andrenid of the stopping times, he wasn’t in his dinner jacket but had on an old frayed one, it was obvious he didn’t belong amongst the present company. And the way he was rubbing up against the other passengers- it was my duty to get rid of him.” I watched the old man’s weathered face grow bitter, it was a tad worrying.

“The scoundrel smelt of whiskey and was unkempt as they come, I had the concierge escort him out and down to the lower-class compartments. It was later when the dominoes started to fall; at first it was Mrs Hubbard complaining of her missing purse, then Colonel Arbuthnot when he could not place his gold plated lighter. Sure enough, the whole carriage was bedlam, angered, panicked people swarmed any staff member they saw. You try calming down twenty or so people, used to getting their way, long enough to get a coherent thought from any of them.” He shook his head but there was humour in his features; his mouth quirked at the edges.

“We were lucky to be travelling with an ex-chief inspector; a gentleman named Ratchett, he took charge, came right up to me asking about the man from earlier. I suppose people like him never lose, always watching the room. So, I told Mr Ratchett what I saw and I had a porter retrieve the details of the possible thief.” The old man visibly winced. “It was a witch hunt so to speak, the thief knew we were on to him, what I don’t understand is why he never jumped from the train with the loot, that’s what I would have done.”

The man’s tone was growing resigned as his story grew more exciting. “A group of us, five in total, Mr Ratchett was leading the charge through the carriages. Concerned passengers were drawn from their bunks to see the fuss, the way they clustered the corridors it was a wonder that Mr Ratchett saw the thief at the opposite end, but he had, a shout went out and the man swung round violently, in his flailing arm he held a pistol. His first shot caught one of the open doors, screaming accompanied the gun’s bang. I remember watching the people around me, my passengers, duck or crouch down on instinct, I didn’t though, I stood tall, then a second bang echoed throughout the carriage.”

“In the end, they apprehended him and locked him up for some time, I believe.” He was smiling again.

“John! We’ve been looking for you.” Lucy wiggled her way through the awkward door, I went over to meet her.

“Who’s that boy you’re talking to?” She asked.

“You mean that old man? Just some nutter.” We looked at each other confused, I turned to the old man, but he wasn’t there, a boy my age sat in his place. His smart conductor’s uniform ruined by the dark stain spreading across his chest. He waved to me, his intense eyes were the last things to fade as he disappeared.

“Was that a-“

“Don’t even say it.”

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Orla Borsey  |  Brianna Cain  |  Hadeel Elwilid  |  Jemima Gleeson  |  Zoe Latchford |  Isaac Tiomkin