Old Joe

by Jenny

Ellie knew she’d be in serious trouble if her parents found out where she was. She also knew that if she could pull this off, she and the others would be literal heroes at school on Monday.

What she didn’t know was where the others actually were.

It was cold now and so dark that the blackness seemed to seep in through the smashed windows of the carriage to reach inside. She shivered and knelt forward to poke at the dying embers of the fire.

Something rustled outside. Ellie sat still, listening. The fire was nearly gone, but it was still hard to see anything outside of its diminishing protective glow.

Silence. Ellie sat back and crawled back into her sleeping bag trying not to panic. Becky and Daniel had gone for more wood. She thought they must be up to some kind of hijinx in the woods, because they had been gone for more than an hour now and Ellie was starting to get frightened.

But, she reasoned, if they’d been hacked to death by Old Joe she would have heard something - screams, spattering blood, the infamous shuffling of the legendary gammy leg. But there was nothing. Ellie sat in a silence that deepened and grew louder with every beat of her heart.

Old Joe had stalked the train graveyard in the rough bit of town forever. He dragged the bloody stump of his ruined leg behind him as he circled his broken trains at night, looking for anyone foolish enough to trespass on his territory. His left hand was clawed with hooked and bloody nails six inches long and his right clutched a rusty carving knife.

Legend said that Old Joe was a train driver driven mad when his beloved engines had been decommissioned and dumped here in this wasteland. Where he once drove the trains, the trains now drove him.

He wore a string of wisdom teeth around his neck and had sold his soul to the devil for the sake of these rusting bits of metal. His lungs were ruined by endlessly chain smoking cheap tobacco and he moved with a wheezing, retching, straining rasp.

They laughed at Old Joe in school, made fun of anyone who seemed nervous about him. But no-one had ever dared to spend the night in his graveyard.

Until tonight, Ellie grinned.

There! She heard it again. It was definitely outside but nearby. Was it footsteps? Was it...shuffling?

Becky and Daniel hadn’t bottled it, had they? Stupid, thought Ellie. She’d tell everyone at school and they’d never live it down.

As the city clock tolled the first of its twelve chimes far away in the distance, Ellie felt a surge of elation. She had made it. Fuck you Becky. She leaned down to open the last can of pop and the last packet of crisps in celebration. Becky and Daniel had forfeited their claim when they went off to snog, thought Ellie, vaguely miffed.

When the last chime was swallowed up by the night Ellie heard it again, nearer this time, just outside the broken window beside her. Something heavy dragging across the concrete - stopping suddenly - waiting.

As the hair prickled on the back of her neck Ellie heard the sound of a ragged, rasping retching breath in the darkness.