The train lurches out of the Tottenham Court Road station and rattles east. Elsa flicks from her Kindle app to the clock – another ten minutes and she’ll be at Liverpool Street. Plenty of time to catch the train to Stansted before her flight to Naples.
The train slows and rumbles to a stop. Elsa looks up, expecting to see Holborn station. Instead, she sees simply darkness outside the window. Across the carriage, she sees the familiar tunnel walls, with their cables and metalwork. Just another random stoppage on the London Underground.
A scraping sound, like nails on glass, scratches behind her. Elsa turns to look over her shoulder and sees empty space where there should be a tunnel wall. Pressing her face to the window, she peers into the gloom. She makes out a wall several feet away, and the remains of old tiles form a sad mosaic of abandonment. Fragments of facts, dispensed at a party like ice breaking sweets, flit through her mind. Nothing substantial, just enough to amuse for a second or so. Elsa stares into the darkness, wondering if she’s really looking at the remains of the British Museum station, closed almost eighty years previously.
A face looms large at the window, its eyes lined in thick kohl and beads hanging among braided hair. Elsa scrambles out of her seat and over her suitcase, terrified not just by the face, but by the fact she can see the outline of the tiles through it. Dark eyes catch sight of Elsa, and painted lips turn up at the corners. Elsa fumbles with her phone, scrolling through the apps to find the camera. She doesn’t want a permanent record of that rictus grin, but no one will believe her without one.
The shutter sound breaks the silence in the carriage, and Elsa looks around to see if her fellow passengers have noticed anything is amiss. It is still too early for most commuters, and those few who ride the train with her are asleep, or engrossed in battered paperbacks. No one is aware of the smiling face in the tunnel, or the fingers that now stroke the windows. The curved nails leave grooves in the grime caked on the glass. Elsa stands and reaches for her case, intending to move down the carriage.
She glances at the face, the grin now replaced by a wide open mouth. A scream both surrounds and penetrates Elsa, buffeting her body and echoing inside her head. Elsa throws herself into a seat and clamps her hands over her ears. The scream is wild and unbridled, full of arcane lore and ancient deeds.
The train shudders into life and hauls itself onwards, leaving behind the ghost station and its resident. Elsa leans her head back against the window and closes her eyes, forcing her breathing to slow. The driver makes an announcement, mumbling futile apologies about unexpected delays.
Without looking at the screen, Elsa fumbles to slide her phone into her pocket. She does not see the saved image of the Egyptian princess with the grin of Death itself.
Where did Ghost Train come from?
This ‘Ghost Train’ flash was inspired by a Twitter conversation with the very excellent Nerine Dorman, whose book Inkarna, is heavily steeped in ancient Egyptian mysticism.
It’s also inspired by the legend that tells of the ghost of a mummy who allegedly haunts the old British Museum station, that was closed in 1933. It lies halfway between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, and you can read more about it here and here, if that tickles your fancy. As a side note, I was once on a train that stopped in the station, and I could just about make out where the old platform would have been (before they tore it up). Sadly (?) no faces peered in at me that day.
I also wrote another short story, ‘Midnight Screams at Holborn’, about the ghost. In the early 1930s, newspapers offered a reward to anyone who would spend the night in the British Museum station. That idea became my story – you can find it in my Black Dog & Other Gothic Tales collection.