Stanley Smith had stayed in the Kings Arms much longer than he intended.
He’d been enjoying himself so much with his old pal, Harry Williams, reminiscing about their time together in the army and retelling the familiar stories that “One more for the road?” had turned into four more for the road.
Now there was only one more train he could catch home.
The biting night air forced Stanley to pull his overcoat tight when he left the warmth of the pub. The freezing temperature was no surprise to him, the fog was. If his train was cancelled, he would be in trouble.
After the extra rounds in the pub, he only had a handful of small change left in his pocket and there was less than £10 in cash in his empty flat.
A taxi home was out of the question, even if he could find a driver willing to make the fifteen-mile journey on Christmas Eve.
The fog thickened during the short walk from the Kings Arms and he was mightily relieved when there was no cancelled notice next to his train’s details when they flashed up on the station’s giant information board.
Stanley waited until his train’s information came round a second time to make sure it hadn’t been cancelled and that he had read correctly that it was leaving from Platform 13.
The station had undergone a major redevelopment since his last trip to town and he didn’t want to risk missing his train by going to the wrong platform.
Once he was happy he had the right platform, he made his way through the crowds to catch his train, but when he reached Platform 12 there was no sign of any higher-numbered platforms.
He cursed himself for misreading the departures board and was about to go back and check it again when he discovered Platform 13 hidden from view behind a bulky concrete pillar and separated from the other platforms by a high brick wall.
While the rest of the station was brightly lit, Platform 13 was dark and gloomy with the glow from the interior lights of the train standing at the platform the primary source of illumination.
The main concourse was bustling with activity, but this section of the station appeared deserted except for a white-haired guard manning the gate at the platform’s entrance.
When the guard asked to see his ticket, Stanley said, “You’re well hidden away here. Is this part of the original station?”
The guard smiled as he clipped the ticket but ignored the question and said, “Hurry along now please, sir, your train is about to depart.”
Stanley did as he was bid and walked as briskly as his 78-year-old legs would allow to the first carriage.
He was about to step aboard when he heard a shrill whistle blast and noticed a figure shrouded in mist waving a flag at the far end of the platform.
As he took the final step on to the train, the white-haired guard appeared behind him and heaved the carriage door shut.
Stanley had expected the train to be packed but found himself alone in an old-style wood-panelled compartment containing two rows of seats facing each other.
He assumed the ancient carriage had been pressed into service because of the demand for additional rolling stock during the Christmas period.
When he sat down there was another blast of the whistle and the familiar jerk of a train starting to move.
As the train pulled away from the station, Stanley looked out of the window at the fog swirling past in the darkness and his reflection in the glass staring back at him.
With nothing else to see, he settled into his seat, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The train steadily picked up speed until it was hurtling down the track so fast that the wheels threatened to lift off the rails.
A shrill blast on a whistle awoke Stanley from his slumbers.
The train had drawn to a halt.
As he peered out of the window into dense clouds of fog looking for signs of which station the train had stopped at, the carriage door opened and a tall slender woman, wearing a long black winter coat and a light-grey scarf wrapped tightly around the lower half of her face, climbed aboard the train.
Something about the new passenger triggered a distant memory of his mother to flicker through Stanley’s mind.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the woman as she sat down opposite him and the train began to move again.
She appeared unaware of his stare while unwinding the scarf from her face.
Only after neatly folding the garment and placing it in her lap, did she look directly at him and say, “Hello, Stanley”.