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Open Features: On A Train To London

Miriam McAtee tells another deliciously spooky tale. What did happen in that railway tunnel?

My friend Lynn lives about twenty miles away, but once every two or three months we would meet and take a train to London to spend a few hours window shopping and browsing in the departmental stores. Sitting in a café over wine and a snack we’d natter and watch, fascinated as Londoners went rushing by. We enjoyed speculating about the poeple we saw. What did they do and where were they rushing off to? This was the speculation of two women from quiet coudntry towns, escaping from their predictible lives for a day in the city.

All this changed a few days ago on our train ride to London. The day started out in the usual way. Lynn left her car at my place, then we caught the train. It was a quiet morning, past the rush hour, and we had the carriage to ourselves apart from an old couple who dozed with their heads almost touching and a mother who was trying to settle two young children. We relaxed and chatted, probably with more animation than usual, and we were anticipating an enjoyable time in the city.

About two-thirds of the way there we went through a short tunnel. It took no more than a minute to pass through it. I closed my eyes briefly in the tunnel, relaxing them after the glare of the sun as the train roared and clattered along.

When we came out of the tunnel I blinked. The coudntryside suddenly seemed hazy. I glanced across at Lynn and she was also blinking and looking puzzzled.

“What time is it, Joan?” she asked, staring disbelievingly at her watch.

I looked at my watch and was also astonished.

“According to my watch we should almost be in London. I't must be fast.”

Our wqatches showed the same time. This couldn’t be right. We were only in the tunnel for a brief time and I certainly hadn’t fallen asleep, yet almost half an hour appeared to have slipped by.

“ I must have dozed off,'' Lynn murmured. “Funny. I don’t remember falling asleep.”

I was thinking the same thing. What had happened? This was strange, and not the least bit funny.

“We must have blacked-out,'' Lynn said. She suddenly swopped on her handbag, startling me.

"Our money! No...everything is still there. I thought for a moment that we had been doped and robbed.”

The contents of my handbag were also intact.

The old couple was still dozing. The children children were busy with their colouring books and their mother was absorbed in a magazine. They seemed relaxed and untroubled, evidently unaware of the strange time shift.

The ticket collector walked into the carriage. I asked him the time, discovering that my watch was correct.

“Are you sure?'' I asked stupidly.

you’ve got the right time?” I asked stupidly.

“Madam, my watch is correct to the second” he replied then huffily went on his way.

Lynn said she felt OK, but a little tired. I told her that I felt a little bleary-eyed.

The old couple woke up and the mother started to gather up books and magazines.

“Did anything happen in the tunnel?” I asked the young woman.

She looked at me oddly, shaking her head.

"I think we must have fallen asleep,'' I said lamely.

When we arrived in London there were the usual crowds, people alighting from trains, people rushing for the underground trains. Everything appeared normal.

Before leaving the station we had coffee. We were distracted. Somehow we had lost our enthusiasm for the day.
We tried to act normaly, do what we usually did in London. We went window shopping, browsed in department stores, bought the odd item But this day was different. Lynn was unenthusiastically examining a pretty scarf when she said “Do you mind if we go back home earlier than usual?''

I agreed without hesitation. We stopped at the neearest coffee shop for a snack, instead of choosing a nice restaurant. For once, we didn’t have very much to say to each other.

"I'll ring Tom when we're on the train and ask him to pick us up,'' I said. My husband had a business not too far from our village station.

“Thanks.” Lynn said. .

To our relief the train was busy. Lynn and I sat close together, holding hands. We got some coy glances from a few people but we didn’t care. We shivered a little on entering the tunnel. Nothing happened. We looked at one another and sighed with relief.

“You’re back early aren’t you?” Tom said when he picked us up.

“It was a bit hot in London. A bit crowded.”

Tom glanced at me as if to say that that hadn’t bothered us before, but he made no comment. When we got home Lynn refused a cup of tea and immediately got into her car.

“Are you OK to drive home?” I asked softly.

She nodded and drove off.

That evening, unable to settle, I prepared an early supper, telling Tom I was a little tired and wanted to have a shower and get to bed early. I had no appetite. Tom noticed my sombre mood and asked if everything was all right. I said that it was. What elese was there to say?

I was hoping that the shower would relax me, but as I was sponging myself down I felt a slight tenderness on my stomach. I washed off the suds and stood in front of the mirrorto see if I had unknowingly scratched or bumped myself. Peering closely, I noticed a little red patch on my skin. Puzzled, I examined myself more closely with the aid of a hand mirror. Then I noticed a tiny dot, a little pin prick.

I gasped. Suddenly I felt faint and had to grab the towel rail for support. That pin prick hadn’t been there this morning. I was sure of that.

Just then Tom knocked on the door. I jumped.

“Can you take a phone call from Pete, Lynn’s husband?”

“Yes, yes…. coming.”

I slipped on a bath robe and went fearfully into the bedroom.

Pete's voice came on the line. “Joan, I am worried about Lynn. She has been acting strangely since she got back. Very distracted. Jumpy. She keeps checking all the clocks in the house one by one and asking me the time. Did anything unusual happen in London?”

“ U-ugh….n-no.” I stammered, which wasn’t a lie. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened in London.

Pete continued, “Hang on a minute, Lynne wants to talk to you. You might be able to calm her down.”

Pete put the phone down, then it was picked up again.

There was a lot of static on the line, then I heard Lynn's tremulous voice.

"Joan I'm frightened...''


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