“The Trains” a Creepy Story by Robert Aickman

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Never trust the quiet apropos turn of phrase in a Robert Aickman story; or the plebian small talk of the usual. It does not mean everything’s OK.

It will mislead you to imagine that Horror doesn’t belong in a place like this, with you and your friend; warming itself by the fire, sipping tea, without a sound, from your lap…


“In the kitchen Margaret had noticed that despite the late hour the traffic on the railway had seemed to be positively increasing; but in the present small room the noise was much muffled, the line being on the other side of the house. None the less, frequent trains were still to be heard.

‘Why are there so many trains? It must be nearly midnight.’

‘Long past , dear,’ interjected Mimi, the time-keeper. The fact seemed to give her a particular happiness.

‘I see you’re not used to living by a railway,’ said Roper. ‘Many classes of traffic are kept off the tracks during ordinary travelling hours. What you hear going by now are the loads you don’t see when the stations are open. A railway is like an iceberg, you know: very little of its working is visible to the casual onlooker.’

‘Not visible, perhaps. But certainly audible.’

‘The noise does not disturb you?’

‘No, of course not. But does it really go on day and night?’

‘Certainly. Day and night. At least on important main lines, such as this is.’

‘I suppose you’ve long ceased to notice it?’

‘I notice when it’s not there. If a single train is missing from its time, I become quite upset. Even if it happens when I’m asleep.’

‘But surely only the passenger trains have time-tables?’

‘My dear Margaret, every single train is in a time-table . Every local goods, every light engine movement. Only not, of course, in the time-table you buy for sixpence at the Enquiry Office. Only a small fraction of all the train movements are in that. Even the man behind the counter knows virtually nothing of the rest.’”

– Robert Aickman, “The Trains”

(Collected in A Wine-Dark Sea)

(Photo credit: Comptine de la semaine : Le petit train mamanchipote / 9 mars 2011)

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