The Circle Line lies at the heart of the London Underground, the longest and oldest underground railway in the world. The first London Underground trains, then wooden open-roofed carriages pulled by steam engines, began to operate once the first line had opened in 1863. Although it was not until 1949 that the Circle Line began to appear on the famous ‘Tube map’ as its own separate route, the track existed long before that and the line, in its current form, is notable as sharing almost its entire 17 mile length with other lines. Between 1900 and 1918 the track was electrified and has been updated and improved since but, in the 1990s, those who ran the Underground network were forced to review service on the Circle Line.
Somewhere between Edgware Road and Baker Street trains were frequently breaking down and losing power, sometimes losing lighting and leaving passengers in darkness. Following increasing numbers of complaints it was realised that there was a serious fault on the line but, on investigation, engineers were unable to identify the problem. Trains continued to fail and the cause could not be found. The London Underground management took the unusual step of consulting passengers on the breakdowns in the hope of getting some clues, such as sightings of smoke or sparks, but the response was even more unusual. Many passengers were only too willing to talk about the strange things they had seen, but these had little to do with the train.
It was said, by regular users of the railway, that people were being strangely affected by the area through which the train was passing. Passengers had been observed feinting, having panic attacks and becoming unwell on that section of the line. Such episodes had become increasingly common since the electrical problems had started. One passenger revealed that, during a particularly lengthy breakdown, with the carriage in darkness, he and other commuters had seen groups of people standing silently outside their carriage, next to the tracks. Other letters seemed to describe the same thing.
Shocked by the results of their consultation the London Underground management looked back though its comprehensive records, going all the way back to 1863. As large parts of the network passed through historically significant areas many finds had been carefully catalogued. It became apparent that large numbers of teeth and fragments of bone had been found on the section of track in question. Old official reports referred to the area as the ‘Plague Pit’ and the British Museum was able to confirm that the site was the suspected location of a very large medieval plague pit, containing the remains of as many as 20,000 people.
The discovery of such pits had been a problem throughout the history of the Underground. No-one knew how many pits had been dug or where they were located and, as the line expanded, many pits were discovered without any warning. In the 1960s a tunnel boring machine punched into a pit at Green Park spilling bones and skulls. Between Knightsbridge and South Kensington the track curves dramatically, apparently to move around ‘a pit so dense with human remains that it could not be tunnelled through’. Aldgate Station, on the Circle Line, is built on top of a large pit.
Eventually, after a blessing, the electrical faults on the Circle Line disappeared and the strange incidents and sightings of otherworldly visitors on the Underground network ceased.
On a dark and otherwise deserted country road a solitary figure appeared from a patch of swirling fog and, after taking a quick look around, hurried to a hiding place behind the spiky gorse that grew at the side of the tarmac by the dry stone wall. He sat facing away from the road, his back against a tree, as he stared into the shadowy fields beyond. The low moon fell between several trees leaving stripes of black, darker than the rest of the night. In between the shadows the weak light caught the thin mists that clung to the long damp grass making it seem as though pale spirits rose from the earth, marching away in long insubstantial lines. But no mist touched the man as he sat waiting. It flowed around him, seemingly reluctant to catch him in its ghostly caress. The figure smiled to himself beneath the shadow of his dark hooded cloak and a short laugh caught in his throat as he thought of what lay ahead.
As he caught sight of the car that toiled slowly up a slight hill in the distance his breathing quickened with excitement, the fog of his breath seeming to add to the grey opaque host around him. The twin rectangular headlights drew nearer throwing beams of yellow light onto the low stone walls that separated the winding road from the black fields. The man eased himself into a better position, pushing his cloak away from his pale meaty arms. He should have thought of doing this ages ago. Since the boy was proving to be such a nuisance why not come directly to the source? It had taken a lot of work to find the path that led him here, and the distraction at the tavern had taken some organisation, but it would soon be worth it. He had got here at exactly the right time. His captive had been most useful in providing such information. He readied himself for what was about to happen.
Then, from within the mists, near to where he had arrived, he heard a low voice and realised that others had arrived. He instinctively drew back into the shadowy cover of the bushes, not fearful, but curious as to who else had sought out this solitary country lane so soon after him. Peering out, he could see at least two figures standing in the middle of the road, indistinct in the dark, damp fog. For a moment he considered simply killing them on the spot, whoever they were, but then he realised that the car was very close now and moving more quickly. He saw that he had no choice but to act. It was almost upon his hiding place and might hit those standing in the road anyway. He threw his hands towards the car and there was a brief, almost imperceptible, flash. The car immediately lurched sideways and quickly began to skid, its wheels clipping a large rock at the side of the road. The figure jerked his pale hands upwards as if pulling on a fine wire. The car flipped, spinning a barrel roll in the air to smash into and through the stone wall opposite him, the sudden sounds of grinding metal and breaking glass filling the air as white and yellow sparks flew along the road. The car rolled several times hitting loose rocks with sickening force before slamming into the side of a large tree. One of the sparks, struck from the slide of metal across stone, seemed to freeze in the air and then glow brighter as it dropped towards a puddle of petrol, leaking from the stricken car. The tiny light fell and for a moment nothing happened but then, as the man pulled back his hands into the sleeves of his cloak, a flicker of flame twisted itself towards the petrol tank.
More sounds reached the man then, crouched painfully amongst the sharp twigs of the bush, but for a moment he ignored the distraction, intent on the small fire. The others who had appeared were moving quickly, and although he knew he had nothing to fear from anyone else he did not want to be discovered. It would be easier in the future if this was thought to be an accident. A movement caught his eye and he looked back in the direction from which the car had come. Another set of headlights was approaching in the distance. As he watched he saw a blue light wink on above the headlights and begin to flash. He turned and watched the flames a brief moment longer, the bright light reflecting in his dark eyes. The car was mangled and twisted. It had been a horrifically violent crash. No-one would have survived, and the flames reaching for the leaking fuel would make it certain. The man smiled. It was done then. He turned away from the road and hurried out of the bush into the darkness of the fields, his smile growing as he heard the explosion behind him. The light of the sudden fire threw his shadow out ahead of him as he listened to the screams of despair and fear that pierced the night. The field ahead of him was dark but the future was going to be bright.
Seventeen years later
Police Constable Reg Green coiled a grubby white telephone cord around his index finger and tried his best to stifle a yawn. The effort made his eyes water and he used a thumb and forefinger to wipe away the tears. He realised that he had not been listening but, as he tuned back in, the voice on the other end of the phone did not seem to have noticed and continued to grumble.
Eventually, he was able to end the call with reassurances that the matter would be dealt with and he put the receiver back onto its cradle. He gave in to the yawn as he looked out of the window. It had been dark for some hours and it was near the end of his shift. Had the call come just a little later he could have left it for someone else. The message had come from the night warden at Stonehenge ten miles away. Apparently, a small group of people had broken into the famous site and were up to no good inside the ancient stone circle. They had lit a fire and were seemingly settling in for the night. Security staff were on their way but the warden wanted a police presence in case there was any trouble in dealing with them. Mrs Reg would have to put dinner back in the oven.
‘Hippies’ muttered Reg to the empty room as he gave another yawn.
He pulled on his thick coat and thought again. It was too mild for the extra layer. The news had said that it could be the warmest October on record and the weather had meant record numbers of tourists were still visiting the county to see the mysterious stones. Leaving the quiet, dimly lit police station he crossed the car park, started his car and headed out of Salisbury towards the light of the moon.
He navigated the country road with the certainty of one utterly familiar with the unique twists and turns. As he took the car up a hill his mind wandered, as it always did on this particular road, to the events that had happened the night he had found the baby. That had been a strange night and, now he thought of it, must have been around this same time of year. He shivered at the thought of it. He had been following the road when he had seen flames in the distance, at the top of this hill. He had arrived to find a single car almost completely destroyed by a horrific accident. The ensuing fire had been so intense that it had melted the tarmac. No-one could have survived it and indeed the bodies of a young couple had been found in the front seats. But as he had got out of his car a small cry had caught his attention and there, lying by the side of the road, wrapped in a blanket, had been the boy. How he had survived Reg could not fathom but it was certainly nothing short of a miracle. No-one had been able to solve the mystery of how that baby had come to be alive when the other occupants of the car had been killed. Indeed, no-one had ever been able to ascertain the cause of the crash either. Some of the more superstitious observers had claimed that this road was haunted and said that a ghostly apparition had somehow intervened either causing the crash or plucking the innocent child from the burning wreckage. Nearby residents told stories of the appearance of a ghost on this stretch of road, who would stand at the sight of the crash. One of the dead it was presumed.
Lost in his reverie Reg almost didn't see the figure that suddenly appeared by the road. As he crested the hill he suddenly saw a flash of movement from the corner of his eye. He stepped on the brakes and stared into his rear-view mirror all at once. As the car screeched to a sudden juddering halt he saw someone dart away, out of the narrow rectangular space that the mirror allowed. A tiny blue flash caught his attention. Instantly, Reg was out of the car jogging back to the same spot where the accident had occurred so many years ago. But the road was deserted. He looked everywhere, even peering over the low stone wall and behind the nearby trees but there was no-one there. Reg could not help but think of the stories that said that this hill was haunted. A shiver ran up his spine and he felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck as if static electricity crackled in the air. But, he thought, it could not have been a ghost. The spirits of the dead did not leave flowers and he stood and stared at the fresh bouquet of unfamiliar blooms that lay at the foot of a tree.
Despite the delay, as Reg neared the ancient site of Stonehenge, he could see that the security man who he had spoken to was yet to arrive. The faint glow of firelight was visible from the road; the trespassers evidently still content to enjoy their party amongst the stones. Reg pulled into the car park and cut the engine. He was tempted to wait for security to arrive. He was still feeling somewhat unnerved by the appearance of the ghostly figure on the road and something about the ring of rock behind him always made him feel nervous. He had often wondered at the mystery of the place, that such massive stones had been transported over such a distance to this remote plain, moved by a people who should not have been able to do so. Whenever he visited he could feel the charge in the air. The place had a certain aura, thought Reg shaking his head. It was no wonder that the site attracted so many visitors, and often unusual ones at that.
However, he gave a sigh and turned on the swirling blue lights on top of the car to announce his presence. He pocketed the keys and began to walk towards the firelight. As he crested the short hill the revellers came into focus and their noise became clearer. About ten people were there, seated around a small fire. One played a guitar and male and female voices sang along to a faintly familiar tune. Definitely hippies, thought Reg, as the faint smell of smoke reached him on the night breeze.
Then, all of a sudden, he felt something cold strike his hand. The temperature and force of the thing was shocking against the comparative damp warmth of the night and he jumped. Looking down in surprise he was relieved to see it was only a raindrop and he turned his face upwards to look for the clouds which he had not noticed before. Another raindrop hit his face, then another, then before he could blink a drop hit him just by the eye causing him to flinch and turn his face towards the ground.
Suddenly, there was an incredible blue-white flash and a huge crash of thunder. The heavens opened and cold rain, almost hail, lanced down, stinging Reg’s exposed skin and quickly soaking him. There was another flash and a massive bang that rolled around the sky above him. Reg held his hand against his forehead to shield his eyes and looked towards the trespassers who were now on their feet hurriedly gathering their belongings. At least that was one less problem to deal with, Reg thought to himself, sorely regretting leaving his coat at the station. But, as he watched, a bolt of lightning suddenly struck the top of one of the Sarsen stones with an almighty crack. Screams rang out from those within the circle. Reg instinctively rushed forwards through the blinding rain.
He had not made much progress when he saw something curious was beginning to happen. An eerie blue glow, as if lightning still lingered, was shining from within the stone circle. The stones themselves seemed to shine in the darkness, the campfire having been already doused by the heavy rain. The glow continued to brighten and now Reg could hear a faint humming sound, at the very edge of his hearing. He turned his head as he moved, trying to locate the source, but it seemed to come from everywhere at once. Panic was setting into the party-goers but now that Reg looked again it was almost as though the figures were blurred and insubstantial. He stared in surprise as they misted and paled before his eyes and then, as the force of the hum quickly increased to a crescendo, another bolt struck Stonehenge. It seemed to hit every stone at once bringing the glow to a dazzling intensity. Reg was forced to shut his eyes and he stumbled on the rough ground and fell to his knees. There was a new scream ahead of him which was abruptly cut short.
Instantly, silence descended at Stonehenge. Reg opened his eyes to a world of clear skies. The rain had completely stopped and there were no clouds to even hint at the severity of the storm. He pulled himself to his feet and staggered the last metres to the stones. The circle was empty. The only evidence that there had been anyone there a faintly smouldering campfire and a single tent peg, which glowed a dull red in the dark damp grass. Reg looked wildly about him. He was utterly alone. Why did people keep disappearing?
Eighty miles away and one hundred and fifty feet below the ground Aleksy Nowak whistled to himself as he carried his bag of tools through the tunnels of the London Underground. He was glad to be here, as warm as he was in his overalls, high visibility clothing and hard hat. He enjoyed manual work and the unsociable hours meant he was able to bring in good money. The dark echoing tunnels of the Circle Line did not bother him as they did some of the other men. He laughed at the ghost stories that were told about these tunnels. Grown men afraid of the dark? It was ridiculous. They said that men disappeared down here but no-one ever seemed to know of anyone who had actually vanished.
The light on the front of Aleksy's hat bobbed up and down as the yellow plastic helmet slid over his closely shaven head, the torch flashing against the train lines next to him as he walked. Up ahead, and around a corner, he could just make out the faint glow from the powerful lights that marked the area where he would be working on cleaning the line of the dust and hair that collected in the corners, blown along by the warm winds that pushed around the tunnels and platforms. Despite the lights ahead the darkness of the tunnels pressed around him.
Suddenly, Aleksy caught sight of a small bright blue flash out of the corner of his eye, a tiny burst of silent static lightning. He stopped abruptly and quickly turned his head, realising that he was passing a narrow passageway into an adjoining tunnel. He blinked, the shape of the blue light echoing on his retina. A movement drew his headtorch and his gaze to the floor where a sizeable rat sat washing its face, its beady eyes catching the glare of his light. Smiling to himself, and pursing his lips to resume his whistle, Aleksy made to continue walking when another movement caught his attention. The dark archway before him had seemed to darken momentarily, if it was possible for something as dark as the inky blackness of the space beyond to dim still further. Aleksy had the sense that someone, or something, had just passed by. Looking back towards the rat Aleksy could see it now lay dead. As he moved closer he saw that it had fallen completely still, its glassy eyes staring into nothingness, its body partly crushed as it something had just fallen upon it. He suddenly felt nervous and his skin prickled as he neared the brick wall. He leant through the archway and swept his torch across the darkness beyond.
The first thing that was evident was that this tunnel was dramatically colder and Aleksy's breath fogged in front of his face, caught in the light of his torch. The tunnel was evidently disused, the tracks were buckled and warped and the floor was thick with a deep white dust which lay across rubble and other detritus. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary Aleksy set down his tools and slipped into the adjoining tunnel, his feet crunching strangely on the white powder. A low hum seemed to emanate from somewhere in the darkness. He turned his head trying to seek the source of the noise. He was sure that there would be no trains running at this time of the night. He walked to an arched alcove, pausing in front of it. His torch beam did not seem to reach the back wall as it should have done. Indeed it barely seemed to penetrate the void. Looking down he saw that more of the white dust seemed to be swirling into the tunnel he was in, already covering the dead rat behind him. He bent down and scooped a little of the dust up onto his fingers. It was freezing cold and, as he watched, it melted on the warmth of his fingers. The impossible realisation dawned on him. He was holding snow. But how? He looked around at the thin layer of white and noticed a set of footprints which seemed to begin at the alcove ahead of him. A sudden chill crept over him as he realised that the prints pointed towards him, and past him. Someone else was here. A sudden metallic bang from his tools caused him to jump as something shifted in the bag back in the other tunnel. Startled, he looked again towards the archway and suddenly felt a presence behind him. A shiver of fear ran down his spine. He tried to turn and move away but found he was unable to move. It was as if he had been paralysed and fixed to the spot. Then a pressure seemed to press against his entire body at once. The light from his headtorch flickered and died as the pitch of the hum increased. With a shout forming on his lips Aleksy felt himself begin to lose consciousness and then the darkness consumed him and he fell into oblivion.
Sam snapped awake, already holding his breath, listening for the sound he knew had woken him. He felt his heart hammering in his chest and he quickly pressed his eyes tightly closed but his ears rang in the silence as if the very air hummed around him. Not even the sounds of his grandfather's friend, Valerie, sleeping in the adjacent room reached him. He tried to replay his thoughts to remember the sound. Had the stairs outside his door creaked? Had he heard a whispered voice from behind his bedroom door? Was there someone there? A presence? His slim body shivered involuntarily at the thought.
His imagination began to betray him and he quickly tried to suppress the thoughts coming into his head. He woke like this fairly regularly, sure each time that some sudden sound, a sigh or footfall, had entered his subconscious but never waking quick enough to hear it again. The problem now was getting back to sleep. The silence scared him as much as the dark and he dared not open his eyes for fear of what he might see. So, he lay perfectly still, unsure what was worse, turning his back on the door or facing it to see what came through it, straining his ears for the slightest sign that there was some other human habitation in the world, someone other than him, alone in his bed with the ghosts.
Eventually, he heard a solitary car approach on the road outside and he hurried to fall asleep while the reassuring sound was still audible but the thrum of the engine soon changed pitch as it passed the house and moved away. Silence reigned again, returning the faint hum to his ears. Then, again, there was a noise, a soft thump from the other side of the door. Sam squeezed his eyes still tighter so that shapes danced across the inside of his eyelids, as he waited for the nightmare to end. He tried to tell himself that no-one had ever been hurt by a ghost. They just glided around didn't they? Grey and indistinct shadows. The thought was no comfort and his heart continued to pound in his chest, the noise of his heartbeats a train moving over tracks, duh-duh duh-duh.
But no other sounds reached him until much later, when the soft buzz of Valerie’s faint snores began to filter through from the other end of the hall. The spell of silence was broken and he fell back into the uneasy and troubled world of sleep.