Chris Gaskin is an A Level student studying English language and as part of his course work he has taken the theme from Down In The Tube Station at Midnight and created a short story out of it.
Looking at his silver watch, Charles noted that it was almost a quarter to midnight. As this was rather late he decided to give his wife a ring and explain his lateness. At the entrance to the dimly lit corridor of the tube station there was an old fashioned, red telephone box, which he casually opened and stepped inside. After placing the bag of takeaway food on the floor of the booth, Charles picked up the receiver, rolled a ten-pence piece into the slot and dialled the number of his home. As he waited for his wife to pick up he looked around outside the phone box and saw a few people coming up from the platform; mostly businessmen returning home, like himself, and a few smartly dressed young lads on their way to the pub. He heard the click as the phone was answered.
"Good evening, darling!"
"Oh, hello Charles. It's late, where are you?"
"I'm in the tube station at King's Cross. I'm ever so sorry about the time, there were three people absent from the office today and we had to make up the work. I've got us some supper from the Chinese." He was hoping that this would appease her and get him off the hook. Like most wives he knew, she often became unhappy when he was detained at work and had once or twice jumped to irrational conclusions.
"It's okay, don't worry my love, I understand. I've got the table all set up and the kids are in bed. Will you be long?" she asked, her uneasiness clearing up.
"No, not so long. Train gets here at a minute to twelve; the journey should take about twenty minutes, then just a ten-minute walk from the station. You know, I might get us a car one of these days, it'd save all this nonsense."
"Yes, it would. We can discuss it when you return, if you like."
"Ah, we'll be too busy having a lovely night to discuss things like that. Anyway, I've gotta go love, my train'll be here in a bit and my credit's running out. You take care now."
"Yes, I understand. Goodbye, Charles&I love you."
"I love you too darling. Give the kids my love as well, if they're still awake. Goodnight."
With this Charles replaced the handset and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He took another look at the corridor and saw that it was now empty. After picking up the carrier bag he carefully opened the door with his foot and started walking towards the platform. Thinking of his wife, a smile came onto his still youthful face as he rounded the corner into an even darker passage.
* * *
The men's toilets in the same tube station were rather grotty and ramshackle. The white tiles on the walls were cracked and blemished with patches of mildew and dirt, the cubicle doors had been covered in foul graffiti and the small puddles of water that had gathered underneath the urinals gave the place a repugnant odour. The unpleasant conditions didn't seem to bother the three thuggish youths that were congregating around the sinks, drinking from a blue plastic cider bottle and making evil plans for the night ahead. They were in high spirits, having had a good time in the local pub after the Party meeting.
"It's getting' late, lads, almost midnight. What kind of person we goin' for tonight then?" He spoke in a broad London accent, his words slurred slightly as a result of the alcohol. "A black? A tramp?"
Al, like his companions, had a shaven head, and he wore a green bomber jacket and blue jeans turned up to reveal a large pair of brown steel-toe-capped boots. He was in his early twenties and had a quite non-descript ruffian look about him, with his face bearing the scars and marks of too many street fights.
"Nah, nah, this one ain't just for sport! We need someone with a bit of money, a businessman or something."
Jim was tall and well built, obviously a couple of years older than the rest, and wore a similar outfit, but with a black jacket and cherry-red boots. "Besides, if we do that tonight, after the meeting, they'll think the Front put us up to it! We need a classier victim."
"Hey, this might be of some use&" The leanest of the three, Dave, had a devious look about him, with dark eyes built into his grinning face. He was not wearing a coat but had an orange and black checked shirt on with red braces coming up over his shoulders from the belt on his jeans. He put his thin hand into the back pocket of his pants and produced a fairly large switchblade, which he held up for his friends to see.
"Be sensible, Dave!" Jim replied with a hint of annoyance. "A businessman ain't gonna fight back. We don't want to kill 'em!"
"Besides, takes all the fun out of it!" exclaimed Al with a smirk.
The three of them laughed at this. After a moment of mirth, the most muscular skinhead, obviously the leader, elaborated on the plans.
"Right lads, just use your Doc's and cause as much damage as possible. Dave, you get the guy's wallet, keys and anything else of interest. Al, we'll just keep bashing 'im in until we've got all the loot. When I say we're done, just follow me. Chances are there'll be a train we can jump on. Now, is that all right with you two?"
"Yeah Jim" They replied in unison.
"Good. Let's go find us a punter!"
He headed for the door and Dave followed. Al threw the cider bottle onto the floor, jumped down off the row of sinks where he had been sitting, then followed his comrades out of the door into the cold night, eagerly anticipating the cruel events that would soon follow.
* * *
Walking down the long set of glazed steps that led down onto his platform, Charles noticed with disgust the amount of litter that had been casually discarded. Plastic cups, toffee wrappers and unwanted leaflets covered the floor. About halfway down, he noticed a clean-looking copy of that morning's Mirror. Thinking of the spare minutes he had to pass, Charles quickly picked it up and put it under his arm, continuing downwards a step at a time.
At the bottom he turned the corner and walked onto the small platform. It was very dark as only a couple of lights had been switched on, but he could clearly see that he was the only person waiting. It looked like any other shabby tube station platform in London; dirty grey walls covered in graffiti and fly-posters, with electrical cable running across the plaster roof. There were a few vending machines and wooden benches at the back and a couple of steel bins, which obviously hadn't been used as this place was even more untidy than the steps. The only exits were the stairs from which he had reached the platform and the menacing tunnels at either side of the chamber through which the trains ran on.
Charles felt cold and unwelcome here; it was a harsh place to be at any time, let alone so close to midnight. There was an unsanitory smell and he could hear rats scurrying about in the shadows. After buttoning up his beige overcoat he took a seat on one of the sturdy benches and checked his watch again, discovering that it was now eleven fifty-three. He quickly glanced over the front page of the newspaper but the morbid stories did little to help his nerves. The main story was of a Mr. Jones who had been run over by a fire engine, and others told details of violent attacks by a rampaging madman and a celebrity divorce. Turning over, he was greeted by a picture of a young, nervous-looking girl posing semi-naked and found himself totally unaroused. Vowing never again to even touch a tabloid newspaper, Charles put it in the overflowing bin near where he sat and approached the vending machines.
After rummaging around in the inside pocket of his coat he pulled out a pound coin. Before putting it in the slot, Charles observed the shiny metal and saw the Queen with an incongruous grin on her ageing face. His thoughts on the futility and hypocrisy of the Royal Family were disrupted by the sound of heavy boots running in unison down the stairs behind him. The sound disappeared after a moment and he could make out whispers in the shadows. He felt a wave of fear run through his veins, as he heard gruff voices pass nasty remarks about commuters and conformity. Plucking up some courage, Charles turned around to greet his doom.
There, in the dark shadow near the entrance to the steps, were three youths, perhaps ten years younger than Charles, all with shaven heads and scruffy clothes. They seemed to be looking for a fight and some cash, and Charles suspected that they'd chosen him as their victim. He'd heard about groups like this in the news; right-wing thugs who would go round in packs and beat up anyone they saw as a weak target or a political enemy.
"Hey boy," He turned to see a skinhead without a jacket. "You got any money?"
They advanced slowly towards him with amused yet threatening expressions on their rough faces. Charles knew he'd have no chance of beating them, he hadn't been in a fight since high school, and could only hope they'd go easy on him.
"Erm, well," He found that his voice trembled with nervousness. "I've a little money and this takeaway curry. I'm just on the way home to my wife, see, she's expecting me. She&"
"Charming story, I'm sure. But I don't think you'll be seeing her tonight, mate!"
Charles tried to take a step backwards but was stopped by the cold wall. The skinheads were now almost within striking distance.
"S'alright though," laughed the thinnest youth, "We'll take good care of her!"
Charles dropped the food and put up his hands to protect his face. This was no use, however, as the leader of the group hit him with a heavy blow to the side of the head, making a loud cracking sound. He could smell stale alcohol on their breath and was as disgusted by them as he was afraid of the beating. The next explosion of pain came from a kick to the groin which sent him tumbling to the floor in a heap. They laughed like a pack of hyenas as they tore into him with their weighty boots. Charles felt sharp pain followed by numbness in each part of his body as they shattered his bones and battered his flesh. Simultaneously he was aware of bony hands rummaging around in his pockets. Soon he could not even feel the blows, he could only smell the leather of their footwear, taste his own blood and see the grit on the floor. He could hear the thudding sounds of leather-coated steel whipping his body and their wheezy breath as the effort began to tire them out . These sounds were soon drowned out by the tumultuous roar of a train pulling into the station. The noise stopped. The beating ceased. He heard the voices of his attackers growing more distant as they left the scene. His surroundings seemed muffled, as though he were underwater. Keeping his eyes open was now extremely difficult and he felt ready to slip into the lonely void of unconsciousness at any moment.
* * *
"C'mon Dave, you got everything?"
"Yeah Jim. Keys, wallet, some fags, a silver watch. That's all that's worth taking." Was the quick reply.
"Let's go then, lads, get into the train!"
After giving the businessman one last hard kick in the face, Jim sprinted towards the subway train, his friends close behind, and jumped through the open doors into the warm, well-lit comfort of public transport. He looked around and was glad to see that there were no witnesses on board. As he felt himself moving forwards into the night and heard the doors close with an electric sigh, he looked out of the dirt-streaked window and grinned with satisfaction as he saw their benefactor lying motionless on the ground.
"Well done, lads." He spoke with genuine pride as the underground station faded from sight and into his memory bank.
* * *
Blood dripped. Seconds passed. The only sense Charles could feel was a dull ache throughout his body. Any attempts to move were futile; the kicks to his back had considerably damaged his central nervous system. He could just about open his eyes but his vision was narrow and hazy. Through the dark red blur he could make out 'Jesus Saves' painted on the dirty platform wall near him. He thought bitterly of his own Atheism and remembered that there would be no saviour where he was headed.
Charles felt an overpowering sense of helplessness. As the violence had been so unexpected severe he had stood no real chance. He heard the train's engine start up followed by the screech of clashing metal as it set off into the lonesome night. Now he couldn't even move and there was very little chance of anyone coming to his aid for hours. He tried to call out for help but found himself choking on blood and straining his lungs. He was about to resign himself to this depressing fate and give in to the increasing exhaustion but an alarming thought revived the anger in his soul. What would happen to Mary now? Other than the fact that her husband lay battered and abandoned in a desolate underground tube station, those ruffians had stolen his keys, along with his other possessions. Once they discovered the address in his wallet, they'd surely be round there for more entertainment. 'Damn it all!' he thought. He had worked hard to set up a decent life for him and his family and a group of thugs were about to destroy it all in a single night, then celebrate with a drink and a good laugh at his expense. The thought of his beloved wife and children was all that helped Charles hold on to his will to survive.
When the noisy crashing of the train speeding off into the distance had faded away he was surprised to hear the sound of himself gently sobbing. Just as he was managing to control the tears, a loud clock struck midnight and he realised it was all in vain. All he could do now was hope that his family would be alright. With hopeful thoughts for Mary in his mind he gave up the fight and lost consciousness.
Chris Gaskin - April 2003