An updated and expanded version of The Conductor will appear in Paul’s book Tales From Badgers Crossing (coming spring 2022 from Greenteeth Press), so for the time being this has been taken down. Details of how to buy and/or pre-order a copy will be posted soon.
You can also read The Conductor in Greenteeth Press’s anthology Horrifying Tales, which can be purchased here.
For now, you can still read the notes on the inspiration behind this tale below.
And don’t forget, there are still plenty of other stories on this site for you to enjoy.
This story was written in the summer of 2013 for the second Den of Eek competition, run by the website Den of Geek. The rubric called for a scary story containing no more than 500 words with a theme of Urban Legends. The prize was for the two winners to read their entries alongside professional writers at a storytelling event in London in the September of that year. I had entered the previous year too (the theme was Ghost Stories) and got the short story writing bug. Sadly I did not win but it was published in 2015’s edition of Hallowscream, a fan-created annual tribute to the fondly remembered Scream! comic from 1984.
A digital edition of that comic can be downloaded for free from Back From The Depths.
The stories from both Den of Eek events are available to buy in eBook format from Amazon with the proceeds going towards “Geeks vs Cancer”. More details are available on Den of Geek.
I felt that this story fitted Den of Eek’s remit as the children in the story have created their very own Urban Legend.
The inspiration for The Conductor story comes from a handful of things.
While the first ideas of this story were beginning to gestate in my mind I researched old black and white photos of rail staff and came across a website detailing the 1928 Charfield rail disaster in which two trains collided in fog, killing a number of passengers and crew. Amongst the dead was John ‘Jack’ Johnson (pictured), a guard. His intense look in the photo, along with his general appearance heavily influenced my physical description of The Conductor. The cause of the Charfield disaster was also responsible for the swirling mists in the story.
The safety film in the story is partly based on a real life example from the 1970s called Lonely Water which was narrated by horror legend Donald Pleasance and scared a generation of children into keeping away from reservoirs and gravel pits. Films of that ilk really did frighten and are quite possibly responsible for saving a lot of young lives, if not scarring the psyche of many more!
The two main protagonists, Jimmy and Charley, both take their names from characters in well known safety films from the period. Jimmy was the poor unfortunate who met his fate at the receiving end of a 66,000 volt shock while breaking into a substation to retrieve his Frisbee in one of the Play Safe films.
Charley is named after the eponymous cat, voiced by Kenny Everett, who doled out safety advice (in cat language of course) to his young owner in the Charley Says series of films.
At one point The Conductor mentions, seemingly off the cuff, the time and destination of a train. However The 8:15 From Manchester was actually a British Saturday morning magazine show for children and was exactly the kind of thing children would have been watching on a Saturday morning although that show actually started in 1990 – at the time time the story is set (around 1983) they were more likely to have been watching either Saturday Superstore on BBC1 or No. 73 on ITV.
The quintessential ghost story The Signalman by Charles Dickens was also influential in the writing of this tale.