” You know what sucks? Being a waiter on a ghost train. No, not one of those fairground rides or anything like that. Very funny. Destined for comedy you are, dear.
I mean one of those big orient express style jobbies – I was working my school holidays on it, this great holiday experience, see the world and make some cash doing it kind of thing. It was the pits. Seriously, i’d worked table service before but this was something else. What is it about service work that inspires the worst in people? I don’t even mean just the punters either. Some of the folk I worked with were just the *worst* arseholes that I had ever had the pleasure of sharing very cramped sleeping quarters with. Do you know where the staff get shoved on sleeper cars? There’s a reason they chose their staff small and skinny, and it’s not all aesthetic, bunks the size of bookshelves to cram us all in at night.
I’m surrounded by aristocratic arseholes, worker-ant waiters who barely acknowledged me, and worse, actors. So, obviously, i’m having an absolutely wonderful time, wondering why I didn’t just stay home with my family for the summer. (yes, it’s that bad). When the train only decides to go on a little adventure by itself, down the wrong track and straight off a bridge that hadn’t been there for about sixty years. Not sure why they left the rails there, lazy engineering I guess. Or how we managed to go down the wrong way at all. Drunk driver or something? Who knows? At this stage I’m even prepared to think it was all some sort of spooky bloody coincidence, ugh.
Not everybody died? I think? I don’t remember that bit so well, some things are a bit.. Fuzzy? I had just gotten off shift as well, bloody typical, closed my eyes for 5 minutes and got woken up by all this screaming and rattling. I mean, it was a bloody murder mystery train but even I thought that was a bit much, really. I just remember thinking it was bloody typical. Then, all fading to black, un-utterably clichéd if you ask me, but that’s how it was. I’d expected some drama, a reaper man or some revelation that at least someone had the right idea. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m still as bloody clueless as I was when I was one of you lot.
As it was, I woke up, semi-incorporeal, in my bunk, to find the train running, but everything was a bit translucent. This was made even better by being woken up by a towering ghost waiter demanding to know why I was up late for my shift.
That’s how we got here, I suppose. Minus a few – I don’t know who or what decides that some people get to become ghosts and some don’t? I didn’t believe in anything when I was alive, this was something else. I wasn’t really given much choice in the matter, even though it was utterly and ridiculously stupid. It was as if all the worst personalities were destined to spend our afterlives together – them, and me. I can’t be as bad as them… can I? I’m travelling the world in the ghost of a forsaken ghost train, and they’re still re-enacting the camped up trash they were before it all ended. I’d spent the whole time longing for an escape, then when one finally presents itself, gloomy although that sounds, it only goes and traps me here forever. It’s just my stinking luck.
I’m not sure if i’m the only one who’s still just myself, of if the others are just that weird.
If actual full size trains could be ghosts, everyone would believe, right? But it’s true. It’s beyond cliched, throwing itself down the tracks of the ridiculous at full speed, but it’s real. We go everywhere, stop at platforms (of the real and ethereal variety). We seem to sometimes be more… corporeal? Than other times. It’s hard to tell, really. I think i’m losing things from when I was alive, as the nights go on.
I can get out, for times like this, every now and then. When the train stops for a little while, i can come into the city for a bit, go off on my own. I don’t know if it has to refuel or anything, or even how often we stop, but we do, and I slink away to see the sights. I can come out and meet people, like you, make myself feel a bit alive, human, again, I suppose.
When I first found i could do it I used to go to the sort of places I liked when I was alive, the student haunts and places full of people my age. Or, I suppose, my age when I died? That got depressing fast, trust me. It got pretty sad, this sea of youth, changing faces, styles, and i’m just watching, it’s a bit weird. So, instead, I come to places like this. Slightly seedy dives where nobody cares that I look a bit off, or thinks twice about listening to me. You guys make me feel a bit better about my blasted situation, really! Hah! I’m just kidding, you seem alright. Being dead makes everything seem even more ridiculous, trust me. I’ve found a new perspective on things, they don’t seem as important once you’re not really part of them anymore. I can watch, I suppose, sometimes even touch and be almost alive again but I always seem to fade away in the end.
So now, that’s what I do, I guess. As I said, I seem to be the only one who ventures out of the train when I can. The others just stay there. It’s like it all goes quiet when we stop. They go to bed, or phase out for a bit. I don’t really know. I just go for a wander into wherever we happen to be, for a while. I did come to see the world, I guess that’s going to be my modus-dead-er-andi or something (gosh, aren’t I funny? ugh…)
It’s not like i’m even the only ghost waiter, there’s a load of us, and if i’m honest I wasn’t even close to being good at it. I tried, for a bit, but really I was pretty shocking at it, and i’d realised that if I did the minimum of work, enough to get along and avoid getting in trouble, but not be asked or expected to produce wonders. Full team of awful silver service caricatures, including the arsey sommelier and puffed up Maitre D who were the most ridiculous pair of old queens i’d ever encountered. I’m pretty sure they still think that they’re alive. Bless ‘em. They were characters, not people, before the crash, and I think they’ve gotten worse since they died, they loom over the rest of us, their death suits them. Proof that actors have got nothing on the grand peacock pillocks of silver service. They’re literally serving the spirits of spirits to spirits.
Why did I have to get stuck in this parody of a bloody parody. I can’t even get drunk anymore. I can try, go a bit too far, try and get as far away from the train as possible, but i just close my eyes and find myself in my bunk again. That, or i’ll shake my head and find myself carrying a tray of precarious entrees into the dining carriage, an elephantine, puffed-up, penguin-suited, ghast glaring down over gold rimmed opera specs at me. They notice you more if you don’t play along, I realised it’s better to just go along with it all. I just have to imagine i’m still getting paid. Imagine the overtime! Hah!
I wish that as a ghost my uniform had magically begun to fit, but it’s still three sizes too big or too small in different parts of my body. I can still feel the cheap fabric, only made worse with overuse, despite the fact that the physical part of it is all dust now. It’s as if the clothes themselves are enjoying a miserable afterlife as well. I was coming to the end of my shift too, so I still look like i’ve been dragged through a coal shed backwards. I mean, it could be worse? At least I don’t have to endure my afterlife in my underwear. There’s a couple of the folk in the sleeper carriages who just wander round in nightgowns, like they’re Ebeneezer Sodding Scrooge.
Not sure how long it’s been now.. I keep forgetting things?
I can feel myself fading a bit, it’s like that when they want to move on, or have to, i don’t really know which it is. We keep moving, we keep travelling, it’s just how it is. You never know, we might stop again this way one day. You seem nice, anyway – some places we stop, no-body notices us at all. Then I can’t find anyone to talk to, and that’s always a bit sad. Nobody listens to me on the train, I get lonely sometimes. It’s been good to get out for a bit.
Keep your eye out for us, the confused ghosts, the ones who can’t really get into this whole haunting lark. We’re probably around than you think, lurking, or just waiting for someone to talk to.
I hope we’re not the only ones out there, running the tracks across the world at night. I like to imagine phantom steam trains in the big stations, great demonic horns sounding in chorus when they’ve closed up for the night. “
I’ve also done recordings of several of my poems and stories, which are available on soundcloud here