Ghost Story 2013
THE REDEMPTION OF THOMAS MAWSON
(Dedicated to my nephew David, who gave me the idea for this story)
It was 9.30 pm and Sean Jackson yawned, stretched and wished his shift was over rather than just beginning, but with a bit of luck he should be finished by four then he could get his head down for an hour or two before going home. Only six months to go he said to himself, six months and he will have enough money saved for the smallholding he and Angie his wife, had their hearts set on, he could then get back to the land where he belonged.
He had been working on railway track renewals for two and half years now, most of that time working nights and weekends, by choice for it paid the most money, good money in fact and it was the money Sean was after, he and Angie had been careful and they had managed to save a good portion of what he had earned so far, yes just six months to go, he said to himself again.
Sean set about getting his machine onto the railway line, he was driving a wheeled excavator tonight, known as a rubber duck in the trade. His worksheet told him he had to take the machine down the track to where the rest of the team were and spread stone hard core along the section being worked on. He carefully aligned the machine to the rails and set down the tracking ramp bogies at the front and rear, these would allow him to travel the machine along the line on the tracks.
After making a final safety check he set off. It was a clear night and the moon was nearly at full, even with the machine’s work lights on he could see a good distance ahead. He had about two miles to travel and with the speed restrictions on the track he should get there in about fifteen minutes. He entered the tunnel, which although just a quarter of mile in length Sean was always glad when got to the end of it, his working lights cast strange shadows along the tunnel walls which always unnerved him.
As he reached the end of it he could see the stone footbridge ahead and the beginning of the sharp bend in the tracks beyond, he slowed down as he was supposed to. The moon was high up ahead of him and the bridge took on a black outline, it was then that Sean saw the dark outline of a man standing in the middle of the bridge facing the track.
Sean had now slowed down some more and looking towards the figure he felt a sudden coldness sweep over him. ‘Bloody hell what’s he up to’. Sean shouted out. The figure was not moving; it just stood there facing the track.
With the machine slowly crawling along it finally crept underneath the bridge and just as is past under Sean looked up; the figure was still there. He stopped the machine about fifty yards further on and getting out of his machine he turned back to the bridge, the figure had disappeared.
Sean swore again. It must be some idiot trying to frighten me he thought, admitting to himself he had succeeded it had un-nerved him big style. He got into his machine and set off again and soon he could see the lights of the team in the distance. He told them about the incident during the break, some laughed at him others said they too had seen some strange and weird things while working on night shifts.
When the shift was over Sean set off first back along the track with the personnel carrier following behind. The sun was now up and as he came round the bend he looked towards the stone bridge; somehow hoping the figure might be there if only to prove to the team it existed, but it wasn’t. He heard the sound of the horn from the vehicle behind as they passed under the bridge, they were laughing at him again and Sean found himself joining in. ‘I’m a silly bugger’. He said allowed, ‘probably a poacher having a bit of fun’.
He was moved to another job the following night but was back there again a week later. This time he passed under the bridge with no sign of the figure and he thought no more about it the incident.
It had rained heavily for most of the night and was still raining and even though it was early dawn the rain clouds kept the sky dark, everyone was glad the shift was over. Sean set off first; the wipers were working at full speed. Coming round the bend before the footbridge, he suddenly went cold, the figure was there again standing on the bridge’s rampart only this time it wasn’t standing still, it was waving its arms madly. ‘Shit’. He shouted out, ‘What the hell is going on?’
He didn’t slow down as he approached and passed under the bridge and he didn’t look up this time, but he stopped the machine just before the tunnel. ‘Now I’ll show them’ saying to himself, ‘The lads will see him now’.
Getting out he turned and walked towards the bridge, the figure had crossed over the rampart to Sean’s side and was still waving his arms frantically. Sean stood looking at the figure and was willing the carrier to come round the bend.
Sean suddenly heard what seemed to be an almighty rumble of thunder coming from behind him and he could feel the ground beneath his boots tremble. He turned around quickly and could see a cloud of black smoke billowing from the mouth of the tunnel.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there looking at the cloud of smoke which was rolling towards him, his heart began thumping and his chest was suddenly tight as the ground shook again and more black choking smoke spewed from the tunnel mouth. The tunnel walls had collapsed and it had happened just moments before he was about to enter it.
He was visibly shaking as he ran back to his machine, he needed to warn the lads they would be coming round the bend any minute. Suddenly something made him stop and turn towards the stone bridge, the figure was now just standing there looking at him. He knew then that this person whoever he is, had just saved his life and possible the lives of the team.
He stood looking up at the bridge, ‘Thank you’, Sean shouted, ‘You saved my life’. At that moment the sun broke through the clouds, and Sean watched as the figure on the bridge faded away into oblivion.
The enquiry into the collapse in the tunnel took place some eight months later. Sean was naturally required to attend to give his version of what happened on that morning. He calmly told them exactly what had occurred the week previous and on the following Sunday. He had told his story many times since that day but he knew he was never taken seriously by either his employers or his workmates, he also knew from their faces he would not be believed today but he didn’t care anymore, he had finished with the railways now and in four weeks he and Angie would be in their new home.
With his last pay slip Sean received a letter addressed to him via the Company. It was from a Jane Mawson who said she had read about Sean and the tunnel collapse and that the enclosed newspaper cuttings and photograph might explain what Sean had seen. Sean read the first cutting, which was dated 6th May 1934.
‘At an enquiry today Thomas Mawson, a railway signalman was found guilty of failing to do his duty by missing a points change which resulted in two trains colliding and one person losing their life. It was doubly tragic in as much as the person who died, the driver of one of the trains was James Mawson, Thomas Mawson’s brother….’
The second cutting was dated the 20th May 1934 and was very brief.
‘Body found hanging from bridge identified as Thomas Mawson. The police have confirmed that it was Thomas Mawson who was found hanging from the stone bridge early this week...’
Sean went back to Jane Mawson’s letter, 'Thomas Mawson was my Uncle and although I was very young at the time, I can remember the events very clearly. The guilt Uncle Thomas felt drove him to commit suicide at the stone bridge where you saw the figure that is why I believe it was him that you saw’.
The photograph was of two men standing by a railway engine. Sean immediately recognised one of them as the figure on the bridge. One the back was written ‘Thomas and James’.
It was almost two years to the day that Sean and Angie drove to a little village close to the site of the tunnel collapse. When they arrived they made their way to the little parish church. Sean had his baby son Thomas in his arms as they made their way to a far corner of the graveyard and found a newly restored headstone. Angie bent down and laid a small bunch of primroses on the grass. Sean reached for Angie’s hand as they looked at the headstone…..
And beneath in newly chiselled letters;
This man saved the lives of eleven men –
He is redeemed’