Thursday, 16 July 2009

Excerpt from an unfinished story...

Part Three, Chapter Two

‘You can be a murderer. You can be a serial murderer, but the lowest dawg on the street is a snitch.’

The ghost train hurtled through the darkness. Willard found himself gripping hard to the safety rail as the small engine picked up speed and swung him and the helicopter pilot from side to side. The train jolted violently at every kink in the track. It had followed a steep, downwards path away from the fun and frolics of the traditional fairground ride which had characterised the earlier part of the ride. Willard and his companion had smiled at the unconvincing ghouls and the luminous green severed heads made of papier maché. Now there was only darkness and a frightening sense of speed. Willard could smell the dampness in the cold air as it blew his hair away from his forehead, numbing his skin. Neither man spoke. 

Willard’s terror only began to subside when the small train showed signs of slowing down. The helicopter pilot remained silent, his hands still gripping the safety rail as the train followed the track along an incline steep enough to slow the train to virtually walking pace. Darkness surrounded them, but not for long; all of a sudden, the train burst through two wooden doors with a huge and unexpected bang.

Both men stared at the small, brightly-lit marshalling yard that now surrounded them. Here and there they could see empty trains, some without wheels, others missing their red upholstered seating. Some were intact but were lacking the bright colors and ornate paintwork one might associate with a ghost train. Instead, there was a coat of grey primer. The damp air was mixed with the synthetic smell of paint and sealant, and the higher reaches of the cavernous space was peppered with bare light bulbs, artificial stars which unevenly illuminated the area.

The train slowed and they prepared themselves for the imminent moment of impact against an old and rotting set of buffers which had once been painted red. Under his breath, Willard heard himself whispering ‘brace, brace...’ and strangely thanking God for the fact that he was not onboard an airliner but on solid ground.

At the point of impact, the buffers gave just a little bit, absorbing the energy of impact and propelling the small engine back along the tracks until it slowed to a halt. They sat motionless for what seemed like ages but was, in reality, only a few seconds. Willard came to his senses first and jumped out of the train and on to solid ground. The helicopter pilot followed and then they were both standing on opposite sides of the small car which looked remarkably unscathed after its ordeal.

They gazed around at their surroundings with astonishment. The artificial stars twinkled, or seemed to, and there was silence. The distant noises that had attracted them to this cold and dismal place had ceased and there was no telling in which direction they should travel to find the source of the racket. It was, however, certain in both men’s minds that the disturbance had something to do with the Minister for Population and Resources: of that they were certain.

“What now?” Willard said, surveying the tomb-like enclosure. “Can we get out the way we got in?”

“I’m not sure,” the helicopter pilot said, quietly. “I knew about the ghost train but not here, not this place,” he added matter-of-factly.

“I don’t see any of these trains making it up that incline,” said Willard, pointing back along the track. “Something tells me we’ve gotta walk.”

“But we must find the source of the noise. That is important,” the helicopter pilot advised.

“This place looks pretty empty to me and we’re some distance from the house. Those noises were much closer-by than this and I can’t see any secret passageways, it’s solid rock.”

“I say we take a look around, just to make sure,” said the helicopter pilot, wandering off and picking up train parts here and there, as if he might find the Minister under an old wheel. The silence was disturbed when he picked up and then threw down a sheet of colourful metal bearing the word ‘Daisy’; it was the name of one of the ghost trains.

At that moment, there rang out a drunken voice, singing. “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m have crazy over my love for you...”

They both looked around for the source and saw, high up, sitting on some kind of fairground throne, the Minister. He was wearing a disheveled-looking suit, a shirt, un-tucked and at places unbuttoned and his tie was pulled and twisted and hanging limply from his neck.

“Remember that one, Willard? Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy over my love for you. La la-lah, la-lah, la-lah-lah. Istanbul airport. How we all laughed. And the fog! Remember the fog?”

Willard and the helicopter fixed their gaze on what could have been some strange apparition; but there, as large as life, was the Minister, on a throne of sorts that must have risen from below the ground as it had not been there before.

“La, la, la, horse and carriage....and you’d look sweet, out on the street on a bicycle made for two...”, the Minister continued to sing in a drunken fashion while Willard and the Helicopter Pilot stood there, looking bemused and not really knowing what to do or say next.

“He’s out of it,” said Willard. “We’re not going to get much sense out of him.”

“But we must stop this, he will hurt himself if we don’t stop this,” said the Helicopter Pilot.

“If we make a move to stop him doing anything, he’ll press whatever button made him appear and vanish into the rocks, never to be seen again. I suggest we get the hell out of here...”

At that moment, the Minister piped up, “What’s that, Bill? You scheming again, are you? Think you’ve made a new friend out of my pilot, do you? Don’t forget you’re under house arrest...” He laughed. “House arrest! You get that? You’re under arrest. In MY house!” His laughter turned to coughing and spluttering and he gripped both arms of the throne. “You’re under house arrest, do you hear me?”

The Helicopter pilot looked at Willard. Willard returned his gaze. “What shall we do?” asked the pilot.

“There’s no point rushing him,” said Willard.

“Then what?

“I wish I knew. I say let’s get out of here,” said Willard, looking around for vacant train.

“Going so soon, Bill? You don’t want a chat about the tunnels, the Malthus Project or, well, I don’t know, a chat about anything or nothing in particular....?”

Willard stopped surveying his surroundings for a minute or two. “There’s no point in talking to you, Minister. You’re drunk. What good would it do? Talking? You know what needs to be done. You’ve got to stop the madness before it stops you...”

“Me? Stop the madness? And how do you expect me to do that? I can’t just stop the madness. Madness has a life of its own, you know, it’s not something that can be stopped. Not by me at any rate. Perhaps it’s a job for you. Perhaps it’s a job for Superman, but it’s not a job for me!”

“Stop being a bell-end, Minister, it doesn’t become you.” Willard was in no mood for a meaningless conversation, even though that was what he was getting.

“You’re the bell-end, Bill, and don’t you forget it. Did you really think you could get away with setting up your own terrorist organisation? You didn’t think we’d get on to you?”

“I was perfectly placed to run the show. I had access. Access to secret files. I was the perfect choice and if I must say so, I think I do a good job,” Willard said with a sense of pride.

The Helicopter Pilot rummaged around amongst the stationary ghost trains, trying to find one they could use to make an escape. The train they had arrived on was too heavy to turnaround and there was no sign of any kind of turntable on which to change the engine’s direction of travel. He had to find one that was already pointing in the opposite direction.

“Mandy will do you,” shouted the Minister, pointing in the direction of a train, with one hand fumbling on the ground. He picked up a quarter-full bottle of Jim Beam, unscrewed the top and threw it towards Willard. It bounced a few times on the uneven, rocky surface of the cave and fell into one of the many mossy crevices never to be seen again.

The Helicopter pilot acknowledged the Minister and strode towards the waiting engine that, as the Minister had said, had the name Mandy written in ornate fairground lettering on it sides. But how, he wondered, would they gather together enough momentum to take them back up the steep incline to Longwood’s living room? These engines relied entirely upon push power and a minor electric current; there was no way that the power at their disposable was going to help.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said the Minister, taking another swig from his whisky bottle and looking around for the top before realising he had thrown it away. “You’re thinking how the hell do we get out of here, aren’t you?”

The helicopter pilot shrugged.

“You don’t have to go back the way you came,” the Minister said, pointing toward a distance set of double wooden doors up to which a solitary track, the track on which Mandy was resting, disappeared underneath.

“It’s thatta way!”

Willard turned around and looked at the Helicopter Pilot whose expression seemed to say ‘what are we waiting for?’

“Let’s go,” said Willard. “There’s nothing more we can do here.” He made to walk away from the Minister who still sat on his throne, the bottle of Jim Beam in hand, his head gently lolling from side to side.

“Nothing more to do, Bill? Even a drunken fool like me knows that there’s plenty for you to do. Haven’t you got to figure out a way of calling a halt to the Malthus Project? That’s your job, isn’t it, Bill?”

Willard stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to face the Minister.

“If you won’t help me, what hope in hell’s chance do I stand of ridding the world of the Malthus Project? You’re the only one who can help and you know it, but you prefer to wallow in your own self-pity rather than do something meaningful.”

“You mean my legacy, don’t you, Bill? My legacy! Well, this is my legacy, this bottle of bourbon and this,” he said, placing the whisky in his lap and reaching down and retrieving a large bowl of white powder. “Cocaine, Bill. Fancy a line? It’s a bad habit, but one I can’t seem to put aside. The papers were right. I am a disaster. I should never have considered politics as a career; it doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t suit my way of life, the life I have chosen for myself.”

“You’re the only one who can help,” said Willard. “You must know everything there is to know about the Malthus Project, where the hub of the operation is based, which buttons to press to stop and destroy it, but you’re not going to say a word, are you, Minister? You’re going to die, down here in this murky old dungeon, you’re going to be found with a bottle of whisky in one hand and a line of coke up your nose and they’re all gonna think that they were right about you, that you’re nothing more than a skunk, the man responsible for nothing but misery. And you know what? The weird thing is you could change things, you could talk now and let us sort out the mess,” Willard said.

“Sort out the mess? So it’s all about your legacy, is it Bill? How you’re going to be remembered.,” said the Minister, making up a fresh line and snorting it down.

“You think this is all about image and saving face? How misguided can you get?” said Willard, watching the Minister’s facial expressions contort as the drugs and drink continued to work their magic. “I suppose you feel better now, more able to cope with what you’ve created?,” he said, looking round to check on the Helicopter Pilot who had now organised Mandy and was ready for departure.

The Minister had put down his bowl of cocaine but still balanced the bottle of Jim Beam in his lap. Now, he reached down for something else. Willard waited to see what else was concealed behind the throne and was shocked when the Minister produced a revolver.

“Minister, no......”

“Time to go. Bye bye, Bill....”

The world went into slow motion as the Minister placed the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, splattering his brains and fragments of his skull on the back of the throne.

Willard, powerless to do anything, simply closed his eyes. From behind him, a voice.

“We must go too,” said the Helicopter Pilot, seemingly unperturbed by the atrocious spectacle.

Willard opened his eyes and turned around. The Helicopter Pilot was standing by Mandy. “It is time to go,” he said, sombrely.

Willard walked towards Mandy and took his seat, the noise of the gun still ringing in his ears and the smell of cordite reaching his nose.

“We need both to push,” said the Helicopter Pilot, preferring to say nothing about the Minister’s suicide.

Willard, realising his mistake, apologised. “Sorry, I, of course,” he said, jumping from the car and grabbing the chromium safety rail which ran across the cockpit. “Let’s go,” he added, and started to push Mandy along the short track towards the awaiting double doors.

Both men jumped aboard Mandy as she rolled towards the wooden doors; the whole thing reminded Willard of bob sleigh teams running and then jumping aboard the small sleigh and then experiencing the exhilaration of the ride. Remembering the hair-raising nature of the journey to the cave, both men held tight to the safety rail as the train crashed into the darkness and the bizarre spectacle of another spooky fairground attraction. Neither spoke. They sat in silence as ghouls rose up and screamed and moaned before retreating into the darkness.

Mandy shuddered and jolted from left to right. Both men waited for her to slow down and begin the grueling uphill journey, but it never came. The train seemed to be running along a level railway track that neither inclined nor declined. After a about 100 yards, the ghouls and the screams stopped and there was nothing but the dark breeze and the clickety-clack of the train on the tracks.

Their way was poorly illuminated by low Wattage clear light bulbs that had been rigged up on either side of the track. Blown bulbs lent a melancholy gloom to their surroundings. The relative silence and the hypnotic sound of train on the tracks caused both men to lose themselves in their own thoughts. They were thinking about the Minister and his final moments. If there were an after-life, thought Willard, he would know by now.

“This is all pretty flat,” Willard eventually commented. “It must be taking a different route.”

“I wish I knew,” said the Helicopter Pilot. “The Minister didn’t tell me everything.”

“I think we’re going away from Longwood,” said Willard, as Mandy pushed on in the dark. He was feeling nauseous after witnessing the Minister’s suicide, even though he had seen worse during his time in the tunnels.

“Look! Ahead. A door,” the Helicopter Pilot said, taking a hand off the safety rail and pointing.

His excitement made Willard jump, but the outburst proved truthful, not that he had any reason to doubt the integrity of the Helicopter Pilot. So far, despite the fact that he was effectively Willard and the girl’s captor, he had been nothing but civil: just what Willard needed. He planned to broach the subject of his freedom later and try to assess the Helicopter Pilot’s allegiances in respect of the Malthus Project.

There was indeed another set of double doors but there didn’t appear to be any sign of light or life on the other side. Both men braced themselves for the impact and soon they felt the night air on their faces. Darkness still reigned but they were out in the open air. Looking around, Willard saw light from between the trees. “Look, that must be the house,” he said. The Helicopter Pilot turned around. “Yes, that is Longwood,” he confirmed. “We must stop the train.”

“Hold on, it’s making a turn. It’s heading back towards the house,” said Willard as he noticed the train pulling hard to the right. Both men ducked to avoid the branches of un-pruned trees and shrubs in a small wood. As the train emerged into open fields, they could see the Minister’s country retreat in all its illuminated glory. Electricity bills and green issues obviously meant nothing to the wayward politician.

With the shrubs and trees behind them and open ground on either side, both men relaxed their grip on the safety rail. It was like that moment in an airliner when the plane touches down and the passengers release their seat belts as the aircraft weaved it way towards the terminal building.

The train veered left and ran parallel to a gravel driveway before disappearing behind a high mossy brick wall. Willard caught a brief glimpse of the helicopter that had brought him and the girl to Longwood and he began to wonder what the hell to do next. Another set of wooden double doors appeared ahead of them. They had reached the end of the line. Once through the doors, they found themselves back in the living room from whence they had departed. Mandy slowed and stopped and for a second or two they both men just sat there, gathering their thoughts and wondering what to do next.

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