The stench was almost unbearable. To add insult to injury, the carriage was packed to the rafters, which was probably the main reason that Radcliffe found his nose uncomfortably close to an armpit. An unseasonably warm spell above ground had turned tube trains into mobile, underground ovens. It had been a long week, but at least it was Friday night, and this was the last time he would have to make this journey, at least until after the weekend.
He started to let his thoughts drift to how he would spend the upcoming days with his family. Maybe if the weather held, they could go to the zoo. Or maybe a picnic in Hyde Park. A walk by the Thames perhaps. The pleasant daydreams helped him to keep his mind off his current discomfort.
The train gradually slowed and lurched to a halt and the seething mass of people inside the train swayed like a field of metronomes – first in one direction and then another as they adjusted to the lack of motion. Radcliffe craned his head around to look out of the window. There wasn’t much to see other than the inky blackness of the tunnel beyond. He tutted and rolled his eyes at no-one in particular.
Seconds stretched to minutes, and a wave of impatience began to sweep the carriage. Some started to complain in hushed tones to their nearest neighbour. Some would repeatedly check their watches. Some would start to fidget, adjusting to being uncomfortable in a subtly different position. Others stared into space in borderline catatonia.
“Just two more stops” thought Radcliffe, trying to cheer himself up. Not too long now. Still, the train refused to move. Any moment now, the tannoy would crackle into life only for an overloud, disembodied voice to give them a useless excuse for why the train was stuck there.
The lights flickered once before they died out completely to a sea of collective groans from around the carriage. One by one, mobile phones came to life as people sought their own source of illumination. The small screens served to light up people’s faces in an almost lunar, shadowy hue. Still no announcement from the driver.
Impatience matured into new emotions inside the carriage. Some grew angry, remonstrating with whoever might listen. Others became frustrated, swearing blind that this was the last time they would use the tube. For some, it was fear that spread its icy tendrils through their worried minds as the heat and the claustrophobia started to take over.
Radcliffe looked out through the window once more. Now it was dark in the carriage, a more detailed picture emerged of what lay outside the train. It was a double tunnel with two tracks and it occurred to him that no trains had passed since the train came to a halt.
Suddenly the train lurched and a weary cheer went up from inside the carriage, but it was premature, for the movement seemed not from the traction of the motors, because it was not sustained. The train rolled maybe a yard or so and then came to a halt once more.
The carriage became silent as everyone contemplated what this sudden motion might mean. People searched for answers in their fellow passengers’ faces, but no-one seemed to have any idea what was happening. Moments later, the train lurched again, more violently this time, causing some to lose their footing. Radcliffe could hear the sound of distant screams from the rear of the train.
Once again, the train lurched, even stronger and Radcliffe lost his balance this time, reaching out for something to slow his fall. Thankfully, he landed on something soft. Disoriented, he pulled himself to his feet. He could hear several people crying and some groaning in pain. “What on Earth is going on?” he thought.
Again – he could dimly make out the sound of screaming from the rear of the train. Could it be a collision with another train? As this thought passed through his head, the train lurched twice in quick succession. The lights flickered for a millisecond and the train was plunged into darkness. In that brief flash of light, Radcliffe saw the faces of his fellow passengers frozen in expressions of terror.
He started to think seriously about leaving the train. As he tried to work out where the doors were, he was desperately trying to recall the details from the safety poster beside the door. It was a poster he had read a thousand times as a bored traveller, but somehow, the details eluded him now. If he did could get out, which way would he walk anyway?
Just as he reached the door, he started to feel vibrations through the floor of the carriage. He thought it might be an earthquake, although Radcliffe had never experienced any kind of seismic activity in his life. The screams from the rear of the train were getting closer. Somewhere in the carriage, a window shattered.
People were starting to move forward through the train, away from the source of the screams. The vibrations through the floor grew stronger, making it more and more difficult to stay standing. The screams had now reached Radcliffe’s carriage and he could tell from their tone that there was something unwelcome moving amongst them.
Radcliffe froze as something grabbed hold of his arm in a vice like grip. He struggled to free himself and let out a scream when his other arm was grappled. He felt himself pinned back against a seat and he began thrashing his limbs, trying everything he could think of to get free.
He could hear a voice. It was muffled, coming from his assailant. The words were difficult to make out. Slowly, the creature began to take form as he focussed his gaze. The words gradually became clearer…
“Wake up sir, wake up. This is the end of the line. All change here, all change. You can’t sleep here.”
Dammit. He’d fallen asleep again. He should have known not to go for a drink with Parker after work.