La Traviata by Verdi was an opera always worth a visit and Doreen had seen it at least twice. Living in the eastern part of London the Sadlers Wells Opera company’s theatre was not far by underground, although she had to change trains at the Bank station from the central line onto the northern line to arrive. It was very late on a Friday evening when the opera was finished and she made her way to the Angel station in the London area of Islington. Usually her friend came with her but on this particular evening she was alone, her colleague being in hospital after an unexpected appendix operation, so she decided to go on her own. Doreen had often visited the opera house and she really did not want to miss this performance, as it was one of the last in the theatre. It was 1968 and the Sadlers Wells opera company were moving.
She arrived at the Angel station and took the lift down to the platform. The Northern Line was the first to be built in the darker ages of Victorian London and also the deepest underground line so there were not many escalators on this section of the London underground. A story is told that there is a haunting between the stations of Angel and Old Street, but Doreen put this out of her mind. She had never actually seen this mysterious ghost, and no-one really knew why it should be there. The platform was empty when she eventually arrived and the train rumbled into the station accompanied by the screeching of brakes when it stopped. The doors opened automatically and she was glad to be in a compartment that was empty. She made herself comfortable on the first available seat she saw, as it would be a short journey, just a few stations, before she arrived at the Bank where she could change onto the central line. The train moved on and Doreen was accompanied by the rocking movement of the train as it swung around the curves in the tunnel. After a few minutes she had arrived at Old Street station where a group of young men entered the train. They were very loud, one of them emptied the contents of his stomach on the wooden floor and the smell of beer was very strong. Doreen was not feeling very comfortable but decided to keep quiet and hoped they would not notice her. Unfortunately this was not the case.
“Look a young lady, all on her own” said one of the men rather loudly He seemed to be the leader of the pack.
“Let’s keep her company” and he sat on the empty seat next to Doreen and lit a cigarette, although there were signs on the windows with the words “No Smoking”. Doreen was frightened of these men in their leather jackets and strange piercings on their noses and lips, especially as her seat neighbour had already put his arm around her and was getting very near with his stinking breath.
“What have we got here” he said “look boys, this young lady was at the opera this evening, she’s clutching her programme, must be an intelligent one this one” and him and his cronies found this very amusing, laughing and leering at Doreen. It was then that the train pulled into Moorgate station. Doreen was preparing herself for an escape, but was still being held firmly by the drunken seat neighbour. She breathed a sign of relief when a railway worker entered the carriage.
“What is going on here? Leave that young lady alone, otherwise you will have dealings with me and the railway.”
The man that had entered walked over to Doreen’s seat neighbour, took him by the neck of his shirt and threw him out onto the platform.
“Now are you going to leave voluntarily or do I have to help” said the man.
The remaining members of the gang of boys decided it would perhaps be better to leave. If they attacked a railway man and injured him, it would not be a good idea and they all left the compartment as fast as they could.
“All right Miss?” asked the man.
“I am now thank you” Doreen answered.
“Do you have far to go?” he asked
“No, it’s just one station more. I have to change trains at the Bank for the Central Line.”
“So do I, Miss. Perhaps I can accompany you until you get on the next train. There is no telling what a rough pack hangs out on these trains late in the evening. If you don’t mind me mentioning it, but you seem familiar. Have we met before?”
Doreen looked at the railway man dressed in his dark blue uniform. He must have been approaching retirement age with his grey hair which was thinning in the middle. He also seemed to have developed a middle age spread around the waist.
“Perhaps” answered Doreen “although I cannot remember exactly. Have you been on this train before at this time in the evening?”
“No, I don’t think so. I am only on the Northern Line train this evening as my colleague did not arrive to work today. He had an accident. I am just representing him this evening; otherwise I have been working on the District Line for the past forty years. Is that a programme you are carrying from the opera” he asked “I thought Sadlers Wells moved away from the Angel about forty years ago.”
“That might be” answered Doreen “I just happened to find this programme on the seat where I am sitting.”
This seemed a strange answer to the railway man and it did make him a little nervous.
The train pulled into the Bank station and Doreen and her protector left the train.
“Excuse me Miss” he said “I think you are taking the wrong direction. We have to climb the spiral staircase, the lifts are no longer working in the evening.”
“I know, but I am on the spiral staircase.”
“But you are walking downwards, and down there in the darkness is nothing, just a pit with a metal cover to stop people falling further. When they built the line in the nineteenth century they had to make all sorts of places to dump the earth they had scooped out; being a railway man I know a lot about these old parts of the stations.”
“I thought you might” said Doreen and gave the railway worker a strong push. He tumbled down the stairs and landed at the bottom, weakened by the fall.
“What do you think you are doing? I could have got killed. Is this the thanks I get for helping and protecting.”
“Yes” answered Doreen “and you are familiar, although now at least forty years older. Think back in time forty years ago when you were a young man and were working on the Northern Line and look at me closely. On that unforgettable evening for me, it was probably the last journey you made on this route before requesting the transfer and what was the reason for the transfer? Are the memories coming back? Just take a good look at me.”
The railway man turned pale and looked at Doreen. He was shocked by a memory that crept into his mind. Something he would rather have forgotten, but Doreen was also looking a bit different. Her eyes were staring ahead, dead eyes and no movement. They resembled the eyes of a corpse.
“Do you remember entering the railway carriage and seeing me alone after my visit to the opera, clutching a programme of La Traviata. You also took the seat next to me, as the drunken pack that you threw out of the train. It was your arm that I felt around me on that evening, but I was on my own and had no chance to defend myself. Do you remember touching me everywhere and telling me to be quiet and then do you remember raping me? I am sure you do, or perhaps I was just the first of many. Do you know what, I don’t care. The moment when you put your hands around my neck and squeezed the last breath out of my body I was looking at you and swore to get revenge one day. When the train stopped at the Bank station you dragged my lifeless body down these spiral steps, took the lid off the pit and threw my dead body into the darkness. I suppose you went home afterwards feeling proud of your conquest. You don’t have to be shocked. Yes, I am dead, open the lid and look in, you will see my bones. Since that evening I have been waiting and watching to see you again on the last Northern Line train in the evening from the Angel; a suitable name for the station, don’t you think? You see I want peace and want to join my mother and father in their eternal resting place, but first of all I had a job to do. I think my work is now done.”
There was the sound of metal scraping and the lid lifted from the pit on its own. The last thing the railway worker saw was the bottom on the pit, although it took a couple of days until he died, but he never left the pit again.
Doreen was happy, she had won her freedom and decided to leave the dreary railway of the Northern Line and walked upwards into the light and to her waiting family.
Writing Prompt #14: The Horror of it all