December 17th – The Festival of the End of the Line

What are urban myths, if not the folk tales of yesteryear dressed up in modern garb? Whilst some of these myths are obviously new tales, inextricably linked to the modern world and all its trappings, others have clearer links to the past, where their tropes and broad structures herald from, with the details updated. In Buentoille, the monarchic figures who featured in many folk tales have been replaced with more appropriate characters, and classic stories of candle spirits now tend to inhabit other, electrical light sources. In Litancha, death once rode a horse, but now rides a motorbike. Back in the City, death has always been represented as a boatman, and still is for the most part. Yet in the past hundred or so years other methods of transportation have apparently become available.

Today and tonight Caundle Street Station will be closed for routine repairs, in accordance with the safety code of the Conglomerated Buentoilliçan Rail Service. Every station has at least one day a year, scheduled in far in advance, for assessment and repair of the various ailments that can beset train stations, their rails and signalling systems. Sometimes this work will go on all throughout the night, but usually there will be barely anything that needs fixing, given that important repairs go on throughout the year anyway. Today is more of a yearly checkup, a doctor’s visit to make sure nothing is overlooked. Because everyone knows far in advance that it will be closed, even if all the repairs are completed by 10am, no stops will be scheduled at the station anyway, so the gates will remain shuttered.

Caundle Street Station is an unusual station, in that it is at the end of that particular underground line, yet instead of the tracks ending neatly where the platform ends, the line goes on for about a quarter of a mile; a dark tunnel, fully kitted out with rails, that abruptly ends in a solid stone wall. Presumably there were plans for another station further down the line that did not or is yet to come to fruition, although some people have suggested that it is extra space for any runaway trains to slow down in, given that the rails edge on an upwards gradient. Whatever the truth of its existence, the fact is that if you go left out of the station you would meet only a wall.

In the day there will probably be a few labourers passing in and out of the shuttered gates that lead down to the platform, but they are almost always done by night so there is an empty station, where no trains will even pass through, the normally well-lit staircase a dark portal to this well-kept space. Many pieces have appeared in the papers over the years, most notably in the letters to the editor of Rail Weekly, reporting hearing a train going past the empty station below, in the darkness, at midnight. If you talk to anyone living in the houses directly above, they say they feel it pass by tonight, a familiar faint rumble, but out of time from the normal services to which they have become accustomed; that’s why they noticed.

Some people say it passes at midnight, others that it arrives in the early hours of the morning, at two or three, and stays for some time before it leaves, its engines ticking away ominously, reverberating up the stairs to those who listen in the streets above. According to the myths that circulate around the area, in 1978 a group of six people, all in their early twenties, decided they’d try to see for themselves. The gates above were locked, but the next station down, Lyster Tribute Station, was not. They hopped down onto the trackway in the evening and walked, heading for the empty, repaired station. Only five returned.

Whilst everyone claims to have ‘a friend’ who knew one of these ill-fated adventurers, nobody actually agrees on their names, and there is seemingly no evidence of a death on the tracks, or a disappearance. This doesn’t phase those who leave flowers by the entrance of the station today, or those who wait outside with recording equipment, trying to gather evidence of their own. There may even be people who venture down as the six did, yet this is strictly illegal and very dangerous as the third rail is still powered, so is not recommended, and nobody has publicly admitted to it.

Neither does lack of any evidence stop the typical claim, an integral part of the story, that the unspecified ‘papers’ reported the incident differently from how the young people told it: apparently, the papers said one of the adventurers didn’t manage to get off the tracks in time as the train approached, a train that had suffered catastrophic break failure. What the five remaining young people said privately was, apparently something quite different.

They all got safe and sound onto the empty platform, long before midnight, and set up their camping chairs and took out their flasks of whiskey-laced coffee, their hot water bottles and blankets. And then, at the appointed hour, the sound of a train coming around the corner was heard, and the lights all suddenly turned on, and started getting brighter and brighter, so nobody could see a thing for quite a few seconds. When their vision finally adjusted to the brightness there was a carriage in the station, unmarked and a ticket inspector waiting at the open doors. Unbidden, the sixth adventurer stepped forwards and produced a ticket, a ticket which until that moment they didn’t know that they had, and they stepped on board, and the doors closed, and the train pulled out of the station. The others had been too stunned to speak or even breathe, but now that the lights once more faded, they listened out for a crash that never came from the carriage that was headed towards the end of the line.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Left by the Side Day
  • The Festival of Cold Children
  • The Canticle of Dreams Festival