The Train’s Whistle

The boom in railroad construction during the 19th century saw many American cities and towns connected in ways hitherto unimagined, with travel times reduced from days to mere hours.  Major lines stretched across the country, with smaller branches reaching out to more remote villages and settlements.  The locomotive thundered its way over the land, replacing the canal and the horse as the transportation method of choice for both freight and passengers.  The economic downturn of 1893 saw many railway companies bankrupted and others bought and consolidated.  The unprofitable lines – both major and branch – were either improved and incorporated into other lines or were decommissioned and left to rot, monuments to the ever shifting tides of capitalism.

Such was the fate of the branch line that linked Ipswich with Groveland, passing through Chaplinville, Rooty Plain, Marlboro and Georgetown.  The intention was to provide a convenient – and reasonably priced – route of travel for those wishing to gain employment in Ipswich, Bolton or Arkham.  However the expense of building the line, the less than expected passenger load, and even the sheer impracticality of the venture led to the owning rail company dismantling the line after the first few trips.  The rails themselves were left in place and given over to nature, which wasted no time in reclaiming the land.  The few stations on the route were left as husks, a remnant of what might have been.

At least, that was the official explanation for the line’s closure.  Some of the more sensationalist of the local and national newspapers printed rumours of strange phenomena – lights appearing along the line, giving the impression that a train was arriving only for it to disappear, whistling and rumbling of a locomotive with its attendant carriages where there was nothing to be seen.  Several tabloids whose journalistic integrity were particularly in question told of how one train seemed to vanish completely, having left one station but failing to arrive at the following station, with no sign or trace found by those searching along the track.  

The most outlandish story – and purportedly the event that played the biggest factor in the line’s closure – appeared in only one paper, the Arkham Advertiser.  According to a single unsubstantiated source, the last journey on the line ended in a most peculiar and unorthodox fashion.  The train left Ipswich on time as normal and passed through Chaplinville and Rooty Plain without incident.  It then failed to arrive at Marlboro, and no sight nor sound of it was heard for a number of hours, whereupon it rolled into the platform at Groveland.  The passengers seemed to have undergone a strange experience, and no sense could be made of their accounts.  One passenger in particular became the centre of attention as, upon stepping down to the platform, he began screaming and crying out such phrases as “Where am I? What have you done to me?  WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?”  The individual was taken to a hospital where his mental condition was assessed and found to have been irreparably compromised.  No further information had been available as the man died that very night, his body unable to cope with the stresses his mind had placed upon it.  And so the Ipswich-Groveland branch line was closed, another victim of the caprices of fate.

To Roger Simmonite, amateur historian and folklorist, the story was a bright point of light in an otherwise dull day-to-day existence.  The mystery of the Ispwich-Groveland train became first a hobby, and then an obsession.  After his daily job at the Arkham Historical Society, a mundane task cataloguing the Society’s latest acquisitions – work which had become more intensive as of late due to a recent expedition to Egypt – Simmonite would return to his rooms and pore over newspaper clippings and pages copied from historical records, learning everything he could about the Ipswich-Groveland branch line and that last, ill-fated train.  Simmonite had memorised the train’s timetable, the names of the driver, engineer and conductor, and had obtained at great expense the passenger lists for the few journeys made on the line.

It was the final list of names that held the most interest for him.  Simmonite had expended countless hours of time and effort to find the histories of each person.  A varied group of middle and lower class types, some academics, some labourers, the odd debutante, every single one of them experienced a sharp downturn in their fortunes following the journey.  Most of them spent some time in psychiatric care, some more than once, and a number had died prematurely with no seeming medical cause save the stress brought on by their mental states.  Of the one who had made the scene on the platform at Groveland station, there was no record.  Simmonite could find no evidence of any sort of identification, not even a name.  The passenger statements that did exist all corresponded in key areas – namely that the train left Ipswich and that it had reached both Chaplinville and Rooty Plain on schedule.  After that the statements became erratic and contradictory, as though different people were remembering different things.  The statements did not agree again until the trains arrival at Groveland, when all bore witness to the mysterious passenger’s outburst.

Simmonite also gleaned that the actual rails and the station buildings still existed.  He had determined to make a visit to the site when his schedule allowed.  As chance would have it, Simmonite would have a week’s leave in the coming months.  It would be the ideal opportunity to make his pilgrimage and try to find any solid evidence as to what happened to the train.  Having reached the limit of his researches with the currently available information, Simmonite instead devoted his energies to preparing for his expedition, purchasing such supplies he thought he might need.

The first day of his leave saw Simmonite take the train from Arkham to Ipswich, the last he would see of the city for the next few days.  His initial plan was straightforward.  He would walk the length of the line from Ipswich to Groveland, camping in a tent during the night as close to the rails as he could.  Along the way he would keep careful watch for anything unusual and make copious notes in a notebook he had purchased especially for the purpose.  When he reached the abandoned stations he would examine them minutely from top to bottom, eking out every piece of information they could give him.  He estimated the journey would take four days, maybe five if he found anything worthy of further study along the way.

Upon alighting from the train at Ipswich Simmonite immediately began looking for the rails that led to Groveland.  The platform supervisor was of little help, giving Simmonite a strange look when he enquired as to their whereabouts.  After a few minutes of searching however, Simmonite saw a gleam amongst the foliage and found the object of his search.  The rails led away from the station, and to Simmonite they looked like two thin lines of silver, leading to some unknown destination.  Simmonite began walking without once looking back, striding along the rails with a determination he had never before known.

The first day passed uneventfully and, to Simmonite’s perception, somewhat disappointingly.  He knew better than to expect instant results, but he had hoped for something, anything, no matter how small.  As the sun started to descend he saw that he was approaching Chaplinville – he saw the shape of the station building in the distance.  Deciding that now was an appropriate time to set up camp for the night, Simmonite erected his tent and went to sleep, ready to tackle the abandoned building in the morning.  That night his dreams were troubled.  He dreamt he heard the whistle of a train very close by and the rattling of the carriages.  However, he could see nothing but dim fog.

The next day Simmonite reached the Chaplinville station and began exploring it thoroughly.  He was again disappointed to find nothing beyond a few scraps of paper or rags.  Feeling slightly disheartened, Simmonite resumed his walk along the line.  The rest of the day and the following day proceeded much like the first – there was nothing of note to be found on the rails or near them, and the station at Rooty Plain was as unenlightening as the station at Chaplinville.  For the first time, Simmonite began to despair of discovering anything of real value to his investigation.  That night, he camped close to the Rooty Plain station and as he slept, he dreamt of the train.  This time he was able to see it thundering past on the line.  He tried to make out faces at the windows but they were shadowed and indistinct.  Nevertheless, the dream seemed to invigorate him and the next day he set out once more with renewed determination.

Despite the fact that his journey had been unfruitful so far, Simmonite felt that Marlboro would be the place, if any truly existed, that would yield the most promising results.  It was there that the disappearance of the train was first noticed, and it was likely that some evidence of unusual activity still remained.  And so, as his watch indicated early afternoon, Simmonite arrived at the derelict and crumbling Marlboro station.  At first it looked as though he would be disappointed again, but as he stood on the platform of train and looked up and down the line, he thought he heard something.  A whistle, far off in the distance.  Presently the whistle was joined by the rhythmic rumbling of a steam locomotive.  Simmonite felt his breath hitch in his throat.  What was this?  Were his dreams beginning to cloud his mind?

Any further thoughts were ended by the arrival of a steam train.  Simmonite saw the number on the locomotive and realised it was the same identification as the train that had disappeared all those years ago. The engine shone brightly in the sun as though it was brand new and not decades old, without a hint of discolouration or rust.  The carriages attached to the train also looked as opulent as they had in the photographs in Simmonite’s papers back in Arkham.  Was this really the vanished train?   As his mind tried to process these new events the train slowed down and stopped and a door at the front of the lead carriage opened.  A man wearing the uniform of a conductor stepped down to the platform.

“Sir! Your train has arrived!” The man smiled, and to Simmonite’s vision it seemed as though the smile stretched too far, as if it was reaching from ear to ear.  Simmonite suddenly realised that the man was speaking to him.

“Tr… train?  What do you mean?  I don’t need a train!”  His voice betrayed a tremor of fear.

The conductor’s smile seemed to grow wider. “Why sir!  You must board this train! It is your train!”  His eyes bore into Simmonite’s eyes, and Simmonite thought he could see vast galaxies and many stars reflected in the gaze.  Simmonite’s legs began to move seemingly of their own accord, as though he was a mere observer in his own body.  He climbed up the steps and entered the door.  The conductor followed him in and as soon as they were both on board the doors shut and the train started to move.

Simmonite looked around him in wonder, the thought in his mind that he was somehow still dreaming.  He was standing in a carriage filled with rows of seats, each one occupied by a passenger.  The passengers were all dressed in a style not seen since the last century.  The conductor put his hand on Simmonite’s shoulder.

“I believe this is your seat right here sir!”  He guided Simmonite to an empty seat next to a window, the occupant of the neighbouring seat shifting to make way.  Simmonite watched the countryside flash by, only it seemed different somehow.  The differences were subtle but to Simmonite’s eye, having seen the landscape surrounding the rails for the past few days, they were definitely there.  He blinked involuntarily as something seemed to flash, and he saw that they were travelling along the stretch of railway from Ipswich to Chaplinville.  He heard the train whistle as they flew past the station at speed.  Another flash and they were passing Rooty Plain.  Simmonite made a strange half-strangled yell as he saw a figure standing outside a tent on the side of the rails, a tent that looked identical to his own.  He only caught a glimpse of the figure’s face as the train thundered on but he saw his own features staring back at him.

Almost succumbing to the grip of insanity, Simmonite spun his head around and looked at his fellow passengers.  The one sitting next to him was eating what on first glance looked to be breadsticks, but he saw blood dripping from the passenger’s mouth and realised that the bread sticks were in fact fingers.  Simmonite leapt to his feet.  All around him were scenes of indescribable horror.  A couple who at first glance looked like they were sharing a kiss were in fact biting and feeding on each others’ necks.  A child who seemed to be holding a toy turned out to be holding a living, beating heart while his mother looked on in pride, an arm… no a tentacle… draped lovingly around the young boy’s shoulders.  Simmonite struggled past his grotesque neighbour and made his way as fast as he could to the front of the carriage, not caring for the yells and murmurs behind him.

The door leading to the locomotive at the front of the carriage was open and Simmonite plunged through it.  In front of him was what should be the coal tender, but the contents were most definitely not coal.  Simmonite managed to clamber on top of the tender and saw that the contents were blackened and charred pieces of flesh and bone.  In front of him he could see the cabin of the locomotive, and it was the final straw that drove him over the edge.  Instead of the dials he saw many eyes of different shapes and sizes, and instead of the hatch for the coal there was a great mouth with many teeth, chomping and crunching on the vile fuel as it was shovelled in.  Simmonite felt a hand on his shoulder.  The conductor was standing behind him.

“Sir! Please! You must return to your seat!”

Unable to take anymore, Simmonite fainted.  When he awoke the train was pulling into a station.  The sign indicated that they had reached Groveland.  Simmonite sat up straight.  He was back in his seat in the hellish carriage.  He looked around fearfully but everything was now normal, apart from the fact that everyone was still dressed in nineteenth century clothing.  The doors of the carriage opened and the passengers started to disembark.  In a daze, Simmonite lurched off the train and stopped dead when he saw a newspaper lying on a bench on the platform.  The date read 22nd September, 1893.

At that moment all reason left Simmonite and he began to scream.  He ran to one person and another, not caring who they were or what they looked like.  In his delirium he could only form a few words.

“Where am I? What have you done to me?  WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?”

He was still screaming as two uniformed police officers took his arms and led him forcefully to a waiting ambulance.

Behind him the train whistled.

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