It was the terminus of one line. But was it also the start of another?
|In the back pages of the Times there appeared one October notice of a fatality in the London Underground: William Dawson, a motorman, was discovered dead upon the tracks near Aldersham early yesterday morning. It appears that he fell under the wheels of a train and was dragged for some distance.
The item was seen by a number of readers, including (for the purposes of this story) a man named Reeves. He sat frowning over it for some time before rising from his breakfast table, and he wore a thoughtful expression through most of the day. He was wearing it still when he went to his club, where he sought out a friend named Ashworth. After some little talk, Reeves told him of the story in the Times.
"I knew the man, vaguely," Reeves said. "I was a frequent rider on his train, and he knew me to see me, though we never spoke, save some two or three times when we chanced to meet in a pub. He let me buy him a beer on those occasions. He had some queer stories," he added in a quiet afterthought.
His friend, of course, recognized a prompt when he heard one.
"Mind you, he told them to me in confidence," Reeves said after a fractional hesitation, "but I suppose that doesn't matter now. It's an odd conclusion to his career, in a way, for he told me he was looking to change his position."
"He didn't like being a motorman?"
"No, it wasn't that. He didn't like his line, and most particularly he didn't like Aldersham, on account of some things he had seen."
Reeves settled back in his chair, and his expression became distracted.
"I liked the man," he said when he resumed. "He was quiet and he struck me as being conscientious, but he was also very personable. He was almost always with friends when I saw him at the pub, but he came over to speak to me some few times when he was alone. He was quite at ease with anyone, I think.
"I had made some remark, I believe, about the job of motorman being monotonous. 'If only it were, sir,' he replied. 'I like a job where there's little to distract you, if you see what I mean. Mind you, it's not a job where the mind is free to wander, but it's never one new thing after another.' I asked him if accidents were uncommon, and he was scornful. 'Nothing can happen down there that's apt to alarm you,' he said. 'There ain't nothing yer likely to see, neither, not back there in the carriages.' I asked if there were alarming things one might see from the cab, and that's when he turned evasive.
"'Of course there's more to see from the cab,' he said. 'It would be a foolish thing if one couldn't. Not that there's normally much to see, or much you'd would mind seeing. The signal lights and such, the glow from the stations as you approach.' I remember he markedly hesitated after saying that, and was very slow to add, 'The figures on the platforms.' It was after he said that, that he asked me to keep close anything he might tell me.
"'I mentioned the signal lights just then,' he said when he resumed. 'That's to keep one train from treading too close on the heels of the one going in front, you see. Certainly you're never supposed to see the lights of the train that's up ahead of you.
"'But,' he went on, 'I hadn't been working on the Metropolitan Line four weeks when I take my train around the curve at Northwood Park, and I see lights in front me, lights as from the cab of a locomotive. Well, my heart goes sideways, and I slow down as sharp as I can manage without throwing everyone forward into the next car up, and I see those lights disappear around the next bit of curve. "Come," I say to myself, "it's a comfort they weren't coming at me." But I take it slower than I should, and I'm late getting into Northwood Park, but at least I get us all there alive.
"'I set off for the next station, which is Northwood Lane, and I'm blamed if the same thing don't happen again. I see the lights of a train, retreating into the darkness ahead. This time I don't slow down so much, and I pay careful attention to the signals, but they're all green. Well, this angers me, and I've built up a nice head of steam when I get to Aldersham. That's the terminus on that bit of line, you know. I nearly burst from the cab in search of a dispatcher, on account of the busted signals. But fortunately I've got the presence of mind to notice, as I'm pulling in, that there ain't no train on the other track, heading back the way we come. There's a loop there, you see, for the turn-around, and the train I'd seen ahead of me ought to have been looping around to come back the other way. But as I says, I don't see no other train. So I keeps my mouth shut.
"'I see nothing for the next two months, but then it happens again. Lights of a train ahead of me. This time I pay very close heed, and I specially note that I don't never see no other train coming back past on the other track, not until I reach Aldersham and not afterward either. Like it shot through the station, and out the other side to— Well. But it was that second time I notice what's on the platform waiting for me. Or rather, I should say, Who.'
"Aldersham, he reminded me, is a terminus, and no one should be waiting on the platform where he pulls in. 'They're all on other platform,' he said, 'waiting for me to go through the loop and come around to pick them up. But there are people waiting on the last platform, I notice. Three of them, off by themselves. And it occurs to me this isn't the first time I've seen people waiting where they've no business to wait. I'd never paid them no heed before—just loiterers, I'd assumed—but this time I give them a fixed look. And I don't mind telling you sir, I don't like what I see.'
"Naturally, I asked what so disturbed him. 'Their faces', he said. 'All haggard they were, and most of them very old. I'm speaking now of all the faces I've seen, for I've seen many more of 'em since, standing there, waiting for— Well, I've a theory, what they're waiting for. Most as I say are old, but some are young, and these are all damaged somehow. And all of them— Well, sir,' he said, 'I don't know what it is, but I get the impression they are all of them on the point of falling apart, like their joints are fit to separate, and the meat loose and ready to slide right off their bones. Unwell, they all look. And the expression in their eyes—' He got very pale here. 'I don't look 'em in the face no more, when I sees 'em,' he said. 'They don't like being looked at. They take it amiss, being looked at, by such as us.' But it was only at Aldersham, he told me, that he ever saw these figures, on the last platform, waiting apart. And only then from the cab of his train. 'Never from the platform,' he said, 'nor the carriages.'"
"As for his theory, he never told me what it was. But he said he was once inside the station, doing paperwork, when he heard a rush of wind, like the approach of a train. The platform was empty, he thought—he emphasized that word, thought—and he glanced over at the dispatcher. The man wore a fixed, pale expression, he said, and when he saw my friend looking at him, he only said, 'It's another special,' and said no more. The rumble passed into the loop, but failed to come out the other side."
Reeves fell into an uneasy silence. Ashworth finally asked, "Do you suppose your motorman friend is standing on the Aldersham platform now?"
"I really don't know," Reeves said. "Would they have him? They didn't like him, he thought. And according to the Times his body was found inside the loop."
"I went by to look at the platform, before coming here. There's no place to fall in front of a train, not when it's stopped. He could only have fallen in front of a train that didn't stop at Aldersham, one that sped into the loop without coming out again.
"I can't shake the impression," Reeves concluded, "that he must have been pushed by a hand that knew that such a train was coming."