The Cutting

“Another pint please, Landlord, and whatever my friend here is drinking.” Then, turning to his companion Ed asked, “So tell me some more about the old railway, I love old railways.”

“I’ll tell you some more stories, but how are you getting back to your campsite?”

“I’ll walk down the trail. I can find my way there in the dark and I’ve got a good torch.” To prove the point Ed took his torch out of his pocket, looked at it a little puzzled when it didn’t shine as bright as he expected, shrugged and put it back.

“You don’t want to be walking down that trail at night. Especially not through ‘the cutting’.”

Ed smiled. “Why not?”

“You just don’t.”

The Landlord returned with a fresh pint and a small whisky.

“John, don’t you be scaring off my customers now. Either be nice or leave him alone.”

“Simon, you know the stories…”

“That’s it, they’re just stories. Ghost stories to keep children from playing on the tracks. There are no tracks now, and no children to scare, so leave it alone!”

John grumbled a little into his whisky, then launched in to a long and confused tail about a farmer whose land was cut in two by the railway when it was built, and how he’d died trying to stop a train from hitting a stricken cow.

Ed finally stumbled out of the pub at half eleven. He tried his torch again and when it was clear that the batteries were dead instead lit the torch on his mobile. John followed him out of the pub, the Landlord’s final goodnights almost lost to the sound of the pub doors being bolted firmly shut. John sidled up to Ed.

“Serious now, don’t walk down the trail. If you must walk use the road. Or walk to mine and phone for a taxi.”

“Thanks, John, but I’m fine. I’ve got a light and it’s only a mile or so.”

“Then listed carefully. Don’t stop. Don’t talk to anyone. Most of all, don’t take anything from anyone.”

Ed laughed. “Do you tell everyone who comes to the pub your ghost stories? I’ll come back tomorrow with a pad and pen, we can write some down and make a book. We’d make a fortune.”

“I’m not joking, Ed. If you want to come back tomorrow, I’ll be here. But you won’t make it back if you don’t listen to me now.”

Ed looked at John. He felt a sudden chill. For a few seconds he thought about taking John up on his offer and calling a cab. But then his bravado and a lot of beer took over.

“I’ll be fine. Thanks for a great night, I’ll probably see you tomorrow.” With that, Ed turned and started walking towards the trail and the footpath back to his campsite.

Twenty minutes later Ed’s mobile battery ran out, and with it his torch. Feeling a growing discomfort in his bladder, he stopped and urinated up a tree. John’s words came back to mind as he zipped his fly. ‘Don’t stop.’ Ed laughed, nervously, saying to himself, ‘don’t let the old fool spook you. It’s just a silly old story’. He turned and walked on, surprised by how light the path looked even without a torch. As he entered the cutting, though, Ed realised how much darker it was getting step by step. He shivered, almost stopped and then realised that there was not really any point. He might as well get back to the campsite now. Plodding on in the dark, his mind began to wonder. The mixture of fact and ghost stories he’d heard through the night in the pub started to replay and mix in his mind. He was so absorbed in his thoughts what when the man spoke to him he almost screamed.

“Hullo, what are you doing out on a night like this?”

Gathering his wits Ed replied,

“I’m walking back to my campsite. How about you?”

The man replied, as if he hadn’t heard or hadn’t understood.

“I’ve not seen you on the cutting before. You new?”

Ed though for a moment before answering, “Yes, I suppose so. It’s my first time here.”

“Good to meet you. I’m Albert, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the crew when we get to the face.”

Ed started, suddenly he heard voices behind him in conversation that he was sure he’d not heard before. And on the walls alongside him he saw the reflection of lights swinging from many hands. He closed his eyes, shook his head. ‘Don’t talk to anyone’ John had said. But why not, he hadn’t got a light, these people had. They were all walking in the same direction and they seemed friendly enough. He opened his eyes. Albert spoke again.

“Are you well, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” And laughed.

Ed laughed too, “I’m ok, I’ve just spent the evening with an old man in the pub who was trying to scare me with ghost stories, I think you catching up to me like that spooked me for a moment.”

“There’s always someone trying to scare us into stopping work.” Albert said.

Ed stopped suddenly. “What did you say?”

“I said there’s always someone trying to stop us building this railway. Farmers who don’t want their land used, villagers who are scared of the noise or the smoke. There’s always something.”

“You said you’re building the railway?”

“Yes, of course we are.”

“But that would make this what year?”

“18XX”

Ed stopped again. How long had he been walking through this cutting, he wondered.

“Here, you’d better be carrying some gear when we get to the face, the foreman will dock you pay if you aren’t carrying tools.” Albert handed Ed a lamp and a pick axe. Ed took them then shivered remembering John’s final words; ‘most of all, don’t take anything from anyone’. Looking over his shoulder he saw thirty or so men in Victorian garb, and in front of them another ten or so in more modern clothes ranging from 70’s flairs through to modern gore tex. All of them had pale skin and dead eyes. All of them were carrying a lantern and pick axe.

“Albert,” Ed said, quietly and deliberately, “are you the hiring man?”

“I am. I get paid for every man I lay on, and when I have my own full gang I’ll be a foreman myself.”

“How long have you been recruiting?” Ed asked.

“Since the day after the accident, when a lot of my old team were killed. Welcome to the team.”

##

The next night in the pub the landlord was annoyed. “John, see I told you, you’ve scared off that young lad with your ghost stories. He was a good spender as well! I’ve a good mind to bar you.”

“I didn’t scare him off, he’s still around.” Said John, as he tucked his change in to his wallet alongside his ‘foreman’ railway ID.

(C) Chris Johnson 2014

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