Halloween At Henlan – a short story by Harry Rogers 2/3/2013
The railway yard was filling up with cars as people arrived for the annual Halloween night ride on The Ghost Train. Station Master Stanley Ford had decided that, this year, it would be fun to make the evening a fancy dress event with a series of prizes for the best costumes for both children and adults. Tickets had sold like wildfire and a number of local businesses had donated some spectacular items for prizes and Stan was very pleased with himself. He stood in the ticket office watching the miniature ghouls arriving with the mummies and monsters, the vampires and the werewolves decamping from the Hyundais and the Land Rovers, the witches, the warlocks, the zombies and the skeletons all gathering in front of the refreshment room and light railway platform.
Stan’s long suffering wife Arlene was standing behind a long trestle table serving two types of Halloween drinks, bright red blood coloured punch for the grownups and an amazing fluorescent green limeade concoction for the children. There were also some special beastly burgers, supplied by the best butcher in Newcastle Emlyn, and Stan and Arlene’s son Frank was wielding the spatula and dishing the onions. The Fords had gone as members of the Adam’s Family and were quite the part and, had they been allowed to enter, they would have been shoe ins for a prize.
Frank was very happy barking out his sales mantra in a blood curdling voice “Get yer beastly burgers ‘ere, they’re really ghastly and ‘orrible.”. He was doing a roaring trade. God knows the railway needed the money having been refused funding yet again in the latest round of the European grant circus. Stan had big plans for the run down tourist railway. He had worked hard developing the business plan which outlined a spanking new station bar and restaurant, new platforms, an extension of the line all the way into Newcastle Emlyn, and a beautiful replica of a Victorian ticket office and station buffet. He had also designed a new children’s play ground with under cover areas. He had really thought it all out and was certain that this time the local authority would back the application for £2,000,000 all the way, after all there were going to be quite a few new local jobs created. Yet again it had come to naught as the economic development officers in the planning department advised the politicians to support an alternative plan for a modern Celtic dance centre in Aberystwyth. They basically argued that the puffer nutter community were happy running their trains up and down the two miles of track and therefore they would have to stand aside this time. The board of directors at the trust said they were as upset as Stan was but he knew this was not true. The planners were right, the board were just a bunch of railway enthusiasts with no ambition to expand the site into a thriving and successful business, they were happy to come in on weekends and put their boiler suits and oily railway issue caps on, smoke roll up cigarettes, drink large tin mugs of builders tea and get covered in grease and coal dust. Stan was initially spitting feathers when the final rejection letter first arrived but he was sort of over it now, after all this was the third attempt they had made to lever major funding into Henllan and he was getting used to failure.
The rain was miraculously holding off and, even though it was quite chilly, everybody was happy. Stan had booked a Zydeco band called Flaky Jake and the Steaming Locos for entertainment and they were busy setting up their kit on the raised platform next to the refreshment hut. Frank and a couple of his mates from school had rigged up some stage lights and when the band started a quick sound check the lights bathed the whole stage area in a deep red glow. Frank looked up from his burger flipping and was very pleased indeed with the effect. They had hung a few white cardboard cut-outs of stars, moons, skulls and Celtic symbols against a black backdrop and the whole thing looked spooky and magical.
Stan strolled across the yard through the thronging, blood splashed, axe wielding, broomstick waving children and loped up onto the stage. He took the microphone in his hand and said, “Good evening everybody, welcome to the annual Teifi Valley Railway Halloween party, it is so great to see you here in such numbers. The ghost train will run in about an hour’s time, after which we will judge the fancy dress competition. That will be followed by more music from our band, who have travelled here all the way from London, but first they will play a few suitably devilish songs to get us in the mood so please give a great big hand for Flaky Jake and the Steaming Locos…”.
All the children started cheering as Jake stepped out onto stage with his accordion followed by the rest of the band, guitarists, sax player and drummer.
“Hello Henllan.” Jake said, “We’d like to open up with our Zydeco version of that old Boris Picket number “The Monster Mash”, hit it boys.”, and with that the band launched into a blistering swampy version of the great horror rock classic. The children went wild and started cavorting in the most ecstatic way, after all it was true to say that Henllan had not had any rock and roll for at least fifteen years, ever since the woodland theatre had deteriorated into the undergrowth. Stan still had it in mind to resurrect the open air amphitheatre in the woods and it was on the pile with all the other dream projects he had sitting on his desk.
Stan stood by the side of stage looking out over the crowd and he had a warm glow inside. This was a success, for a change, and he calculated that the event was going to make a profit of at least a couple of grand. His eyes roamed across the audience and he started looking at the costumes. “People are inventive.” he thought. There was a young man wearing full hospital surgery green overalls with cap and mask covered in spatters of blood and with a selection of blood covered plastic tools hanging from a belt, next to him was what could only be described as a cross between a vampire and the mummy, also covered in fake blood. Between them they were wheeling a blood drip stand with a genuine blood transfusion bottle hanging from it filled with red wine. Every so often they took the plastic tube dangling from the bottle, let out fiendish yells before opening the catheter at the end of the tube and taking a deep swig of wine each. Stan had them down as contenders in the competition straight away. He looked across to the far side of the stage and there stood what he thought was the best get up for the evening. A tall man with very long thick red curly hair stood wearing what looked like a matted goat skin secured on to his body with plaited leather thongs in classic Bronze Age style. He had tattoos all over his arms and legs and also on his cheeks. He was leaning on an intricately carved stick with large bulbous knobbly bit on the end. Stan thought it looked like a large shillelagh that would do serious damage if it ever got used in anger. Hanging from his side was a two foot gold coloured sword which looked as if it had fancy engraving on the blade and a jewel encrusted handle with a solid silver hilt. Circling around his biceps were two reddish golden armlets in the shape of dragons. “This guy has splashed the cash on the props here.” he mused. However, it was not the weaponry, the jewellery or the tattoos that made him stand out from the rest of the crowd, it was the blue dye that covered every inch of his skin. This was a proper make up job and it made the guy look every inch like an early Celtic warrior. Stan was convinced. He was the winner.
The band played on and everybody had a great time, every time someone shouted out the name of their favourite Halloween song the band started playing it. Stan knew he would book them again, they were pros. At nine o’clock the steam engine pulled out of the engine shed and everyone knew the ghost train was ready to roll up the track to the halt at Shaky Bridge. After a further ten minutes the five carriages were attached to the old narrow gauge mining engine and it pulled alongside the platform. The band played their final song at the end of the first set, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs’ scary number “Little Red Riding Hood”. Stan stepped onto the stage again, “OK everybody, all aboard the ghost train.”
More cheering came from the audience and everybody made their way over to the platform. The carriages were all decked out with artificial cobwebs and larger hairy spiders and Stan had rigged up a speaker in each carriage through which the eerie sounds of people wailing and screaming could be heard. A couple of small children started crying but Stan easily consoled them with a couple of chocolate chomp bars he carried with him for just this very happening.
The train driver pulled the chord for the train’s whistle and let out a long blast followed by two short ones and train slowly pulled out of the station. The train track to Shaky Bridge was only just over a mile long and so travelled very slowly in order to make the journey take longer. Alongside the railway in the trees and bushes Stan and Frank had been busy and there were life size monsters and ghosts hidden in them, with lights that flashed as the train slowly went past, and the scariest object was the body swinging from a rope on a tall sycamore tree. Also Stan had enlisted the help of a dozen children from the local school who wore black body suits with luminous skeleton designs appliquéd on them. These kids lay deadly still as the train drew alongside them and as soon as some of the kids started shouting out “Look at the skeletons, Look at the skeletons.” they all jumped up and started dancing about. This was always a winner and everybody was laughing as the bones kept on shaking and jiggling as they ran alongside the train as it pulled into the little station by the waterfall at Shaky Bridge.
Arlene was waiting on the platform with a giant sack and all the children got off the train and queued up for their little trick or treat bags. The adults were glad to see Frank there dispensing cups of tea from a giant urn set up at the far end of the platform. Stan rolled himself a cigarette and walked down to the end of the train and was slowly smoking in a very contented way when he saw the blue warrior open the gate to a footpath and make his way down to the underside of the bridge. This was not allowed and Stan followed him to see what he was up to. By the time Stan caught up with him the warrior was underneath Shaky Bridge, by the side of the Neolithic leet that drew water along to an ancient encampment in the forest.
Stan shouted out “Hoy, you. What are you doing down here? It’s unsafe in the dark. You can easily lose your footing and slip into the stream here. Please, come back to the platform.”
The startled blue man turned and looked at Stan, staring into his eyes with a fierce look on his face, then, turning, he took a leap across the stream. It was a rushing torrent as there had been nonstop rain for the previous six weeks and there was a lot of mud and leaves on the bank. As the warrior leapt he slipped on the mud, only just making it across and, as he landed, the short sword eased from his belt and fell into the raging water. The warrior hauled himself up onto the opposite bank, turned to face Stan and, shaking his club as he let out a threatening roar, he slowly disappeared into thin air. Stan stood agog for a moment then went back to the platform.
The following day he told Frank his story and they went back to the leet. The stream had slowed down quite a lot and Stan looked down into the water. He saw something glinting there and leapt in with all his clothes on. Frank was astonished as he pulled out the sword.
Two months later the chieftain’s sword sold for a record breaking ten million pounds as the finest Neolithic weapon ever found. The railway’s share of the treasure trove meant that there would be some jobs in Henllan after all.