The Horror Zine
Train Station
Richard Farren Barber

The June Selected Writer is Richard Farren Barber

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Richard Farren Barber


By Richard Farren Barber

We started work at 5.00 in the morning – pulling into the station car park while it was still dark and the yellow lamps dropped phosphor over the black asphalt. Mark parked in his usual space – over in the corner, by the trees – bird shit played havoc with the paint job but it was close to the station exit. The precaution had not proved necessary. So far.

“Going to be a cold bugger today,” Mark said.

I grunted; it was too early to make conversation. After working together for six months I would have hoped that he had worked that out, but he still persisted with his irritating habit of trying to start a conversation when anyone sane would be at home, tucked up in bed and no thought of moving for another hour at least.

I opened the car door and a cold breeze rushed in to prove Mark right. I ignored it, or tried to, but after the warmth of Mark’s car the air had teeth. At least I was in the ticket office – Mark hadn’t seen a weather forecast when he agreed that yesterday.

“Are you sure you don’t want to swap?” he asked.

“We agreed,” I began to say, but Mark stopped me.

“Okay, okay, I was just asking.” He slammed the door shut and the whole car rocked on its weak suspension.

The phone was already ringing when I reached the ticket office – Andrew got a kick out of checking the rest of us were in on time.

“Poohlberg,” I said.

“Hi, is that Mark?”

I closed my eyes and took a breath to fend off the need to scream. Andrew called every morning, and after six months he still couldn’t tell our voices apart.

“No, he’s on the platform today, Andrew.”

“Hi Col, just called to let you know the password.”

I wrote it down, because sometimes I forget and then the others get pissed at me.

Mark came into the office, pushing a wave of cold air in front of him.

“You got it?” he asked.

“Yeah, time to open up.”

I pulled the shutter open from the inside. It rolled up and into its housing at the top of the window, with just a little tail hanging down. I perched on the chair and kicked the heater at my feet to try and wake it. The bars gave an electric sizzle. I’m not sure what that was supposed to indicate but a few minutes later the ashen tubes had turned orange and I could feel the faintest trace of warmth soaking into my ankles.

There was no one in the station yet – the first train wasn’t due for another forty minutes. I opened the till, counted the float and checked the button hidden away beneath the counter. The first commuters to arrive came onto the platform a few minutes later. They were on auto-pilot, eyes closed and negotiating their way around the platform as if they were on rails.

It didn't take long for a queue to form at the window. It can be intimidating; all those faces scowling at me. Sometimes I can almost see the loathing as I count out change or try to explain the rules to some poor first-timer.

“You get a kick out of this?” one of asked as he walked away from the booth.

I shrugged, it was a job.

Another passenger paid for his ticket in ten pence pieces. Over his shoulder I watched the expressions on the faces of his fellow passengers as he ate up precious seconds. They hated him. I think some of them might have tried to kill him if they thought they would get away with it.

“Return to Derby,” he demanded.

I pushed the machine and waited for the steady whirr-cunk as it churned through another ticket. The small blue writing on the LCD was almost illegible, sometimes I misread it and I knew people were too scared to point it out to me. And sometimes I could see the price perfectly well, like the £5.30 it said on the screen for the man’s Derby ticket.

“That’s £8.20,” I told him. I looked at his carefully constructed tower of coins and I smiled.

He opened his mouth to argue, hesitated, and then he took out a £10 note and handed it over.

The platform clock showed 6:25 and over the tannoy Andrew announced: “We regret to inform you that the 6:45 to London St. Pancras is running approximately fifteen minutes late.”

Mark was out on the platform. He looked over to me and smiled. I nodded back and reached down to press the button.

The man I was serving saw me move and pushed away from the booth, his hands toppling the coin towers. He staggered into the shoulder of the man behind him and then wheeled away like a stricken hawk. The line of people shrank away from him, as if he were infected. The last I saw of him he had disappeared around the side of the building.

The next guy in line was a pin-eyed man, a drop of sweat hanging from his cheek.

I thought he might cry, or maybe beg. I hate it when they do that – and my regulars knew it too so usually they just stand there, scared enough to shit themselves.

In the background I heard the whine of the machinery and then the heavy thunk as the gates locked into position. While I waited I shuffled the pile of ticket blanks and brushed a crumb of yesterday’s egg and cress sandwich off the keyboard.

“It’s going to be a long day,” I said, just trying to make conversation, just trying to be sociable. The pin-eyed man was silent; too scared to reply.

From the other side of the booth came sounds of a scuffle and then a clang. The man in front of me twisted in the direction of the noise – a mixture of hate and relief crossed his face.

By the time they brought the Derby-bound runner back to my window he was silent. He came into view – caught between two other passengers – one man in a pinstripe suit who was using his briefcase to hit the deserter over the head, and the other in a Metallica T-Shirt. The muscles on Metallica’s arms bulged as he almost carried the guy to the front of the queue.

“Good morning,” I said, “and how can I help you?”

He stood back from the window and I saw a patch of urine stain his crotch. He tried to smile but it was forced. He opened his mouth to speak and I could see he was on the verge of breaking down again. Maybe he saw something in my expression, maybe he just knew.

He took a breath. I watched him swallow and then take another breath to chase down the first. His eyes were wild; pupils wide as death.

When he finally started talking he stammered.

“C-C-Can I ha-have a return to Derby?”

I shot him. The sound of the gunshot was loud within the booth. Echoes rang in my ears.

A splatter of blood spat against the outside of the glass, just flecks, nothing much really. The man fell away. I thought he was dead but I wasn’t sure. He made no more noise though, and there was no melodramatic scratching of his fingertips against the edge of the counter. Good. I hate it when they do that.

The echoes of the shot were still ringing in my ear as the next customer walked up – pin-eyes, his face pulled tight in concentration and fear. His shoulders jolted a little and I realised he was stepping over the last man’s body in order to reach the counter.

“And how may I help you?” I asked.

He said nothing. Someone peered over his shoulder, a pair of eyes that ducked back down again as soon as they saw me. I felt like telling him to hurry up; people were waiting, but I recognised that he deserved this one small courtesy and so I remained quiet. While he was building up his courage to speak I put my fingertip on the barrel of the gun. The metal was still hot.

The station clock ticked over to 6:30.

When he eventually spoke his voice was low, even with the microphone in the counter I had to strain to hear him.

“Simon says, Can I have a return to Leicester?”

I smiled.

Immediately the guy relaxed. His shoulders dropped from around his ears. The lines around his eyes smoothed out and his mouth edged into a smile.

He put his money on the counter, the fare already worked out in a mixture of silver coins.

I smiled again and I wanted to let him through because he deserved it. But it wouldn’t have been fair to the others in the queue. And “Simon Says” was last week. He should have remembered that.

He looked shocked when I pulled the trigger.  Blood splattered over the suit of the next customer and covered his white shirt with red flecks that bloomed over the cotton like a field of roses.

They were getting scared now. If the next guy ran for it I didn’t think they would simply catch him and meekly return him to the front of the queue. No, I thought they might just pounce on him and tear him to pieces themselves.

A torrent of thoughts passed across the face of the man standing in front of me.  I saw him checking the distance to the gates and I wanted to tell him not to risk it, but that’s not my role. I could see him calculating the chance of rushing the booth and overpowering me – but that was never going to work.

In the end the next customer simply blessed himself, brushing his forehead, shoulders and stomach with his fingertips, and then stepped over the fallen men to reach me.

“Please may I have a return to Watford?” he asked. He sounded tired. Defeated.

I moved and immediately he flinched. He clutched his stomach in anticipation of the gunshot and it took him a moment to realise that he was still alive. He rested his hands lightly on the bulge of his stomach and forced a weak smile.

I checked with the ticket machine. “That will be £9.10.”

His hands were shaking as he took the money out of his pocket. He’d never been this close before – I could tell. He was used to standing at the back of the queue, comfortable with the idea that it would be resolved before his turn came.

I passed the tickets and his change through the slot at the bottom of the glass and he snatched them. He walked away and, once out of sight, I could hear him retching and the faintest smell of ammonia drifted back over the platform toward me.

The 6:45 eventually left at 7:10. I waited until the train doors were locked before I left my booth and joined Mark on the platform.

“Only two this time?” he asked. He leant on his brush, watching the faces behind the train’s reinforced windows.

“Yep, just the two.”

A small pile of sawdust has been scatted around the base of the ticket booth. A larger pile sat over to one side, covering the vomit.

I watched the train hurrying away from the platform, picking up speed. The faces were now nothing but a blur. I was conscious of the number of empty seats – not like the trains that pulled out of Poohlberg when Mark and I took up the job here a couple of months ago.

“I got my letter yesterday,” Mark said. The train was gone now but we still stared ahead into the space it had occupied. He took a small brown envelope out of his pocket and handed it to me.

I skim-read the letter and then reached out to shake his hand. “It’s been good to work with you. I hope I get on with the new staffer as well.”

Dartford Crossing.

That was a promotion.

Richard Farren Barber was born in Nottingham in July 1970. After studying in London he returned to the East Midlands. He lives with his wife and son and works as a Development Services Manager for a local university.

He has written over 200 short stories and has had short stories published in Alt-Dead, Blood Oranges, Derby Scribes Anthology, Derby Telegraph, ePocalypse – Tales from the End, Gentle Reader, Murky Depths, Midnight Echo, Midnight Street, Morpheus Tales, MT Urban Horror Special, Night Terrors II, Scribble, The House of Horror, Trembles, and broadcast on BBC Radio Derby and Erewash Sound. 

During 2010/11 Richard was sponsored by Writing East Midlands to undertake a mentoring scheme in which he was supported in the development of his novel “Bloodie Bones.”

His website can be found HERE and Facebook HERE