Reading Underground

1. Bank Cross

Craig stopped outside Bank Cross Underground Station. He could hear voices on the steps.
'We won the cup ... we won the cup ... ee-aye-addio, we won the cup.'
There were eight or nine of them. They were coming up the steps and they were shouting. Craig saw the red and white shirts.
'Oh, no,' he thought. 'Football fans.' The street was empty. They were near him now. Craig could smell whisky. One of the fans stopped and looked at Craig. He looked younger than the other ones.
'Do you want a fight?' he said.
Craig smiled. He didn't say anything.
'You were looking at me!' shouted the fan.
'I wasn't,' said Craig quietly.
'You were!'
One of the older fans held his arm.
'It's all right, Benny. Leave him alone. Let's go.'
'But he was ...'
'It's not important, Benny. Forget it.'
The fans pushed past him.
'Man-chester! Man-chester! Manchester United!'
'You're too late, kid,' one shouted. The last train's already gone.'
But Craig already knew that. He walked slowly down the steps and into the station. The Station Supervisor was closing the door of the ticket office. Craig went over to him.
'Excuse me,' he said. 'My name's Craig Dixon. I'm looking for Mrs Marlow.'
The Supervisor turned round. 'Are you the new night cleaner?'
'Yeah,' said Craig. 'It's a holiday job. I'm a student at London University.'
'Holiday job? You won't have a very good holiday here.'
Craig laughed. 'I need the money,' he said, 'and I like working at night.'
'You won't get much money here, either,' said the Supervisor.
'Where can I find Mrs Marlow?' said Craig.
'She's having a cup of tea. You'll find her on platform two on the Northern Line. It's that way. Go down the escalator and turn right.'
'Thanks,' said Craig.
It was after midnight and the escalator went down into an empty Underground station. There were no people and there was no noise. Craig walked off the escalator and turned right. He walked along a tunnel. His shoes sounded very loud on the ground. There was an echo. It sounded like two pairs of shoes. Craig stopped. He could still hear shoes on the ground. They weren't his shoes. Craig suddenly felt cold. Someone ... or something ... was behind him in the tunnel. He turned round. Something moved quickly across the other end of the tunnel and disappeared.
'Hey!' shouted Craig. His voice echoed around him, 'HEY ... Hey ... hey!' Then there was no sound.
Craig hurried along the tunnel to the platform. Four people were sitting on a seat. There were two women and two men. They were holding plastic cups of tea. Craig hurried over to them.
'Hello,' he said quickly. 'My name's Craig and I ...'
One of the women stood up.
'Are you all right?' she said. 'You look afraid to me.'
One of the men laughed.
'He doesn't like the dark,' he said.
'There was someone behind me in the tunnel,' said Craig. 'I looked round and I saw someone, just for a moment.'
'There's no one down here,' said the woman. 'Only us. Hey, Martha, get him a nice hot cup of tea.'
Craig took the cup and drank some tea.
'I'm Elsa Marlow,' said the first woman. 'I'm the Supervisor. And this is Martha, and Frank and Danny.'
'Hi,' said Craig.
'Where are you from, Craig?' said Elsa.
'Kilburn,' said Craig. 'I live just near the High Road.'
'Where's your family from?'
'My mum's from Jamaica. My dad's from Scotland,' said Craig.
'Which part of Jamaica?'
'Montego Bay,' said Craig.
'OK, child. We're going to be good friends, I can see
that. I'm from Jamaica, too. I'm from Kingston. And Martha here is from Scotland. Don't worry about Frank and Danny. They're just English!'
Craig smiled. His grandmother in Jamaica always called him 'child'. She called his mother and father 'child' too. People often said 'child' in Jamaica.
'What are you doing down here?' said Elsa. This isn't a good job for a young man, you know. And how old are you?'
'I'm nineteen. I'm a student,' said Craig.
'Good!' said Elsa. 'Now, you work hard at university. Then you won't have to work down here with us.'
'You listen to Elsa, kid,' said Frank. 'She'll look after you. Sit down! We don't start work until half past. It's time for tea.'
Craig sat down. He looked back at the tunnel. Was there anyone there? No. He was sure there wasn't.

2. The London Underground

The first night was hard work. The electricity was turned off and they had to walk along the tunnels between the stations. At every station, they cleaned the platform and walked on to the next one. They stopped for tea at Tyler Street Station. Elsa sat next to Craig.
'You're a good worker,' she said. 'We need an extra pair of hands this month. We've got more work.'
'More work?' asked Craig.
'Yes,' she said. 'You'll see tomorrow night. They're going to do some building work in the tunnel at Bank Cross. They're going to move trains along the tunnels for the workmen. Sometimes the electricity will be on, and sometimes it will be off. Everything will take longer.'
'What are they doing?' said Craig.
'Oh, there's an old tunnel near Bank Cross. They're closing it. They're building a wall across it.'
'An old tunnel?' said Craig. 'What do you mean?'
Frank looked at them.
'Be careful, kid, or Elsa's going to tell you the history of the London Underground. It's a long story!'
'It sounds interesting,' said Craig.
Elsa was smiling. 'I like you, child,' she said. 'And maybe I'm going to tell you the story ...'
'She knows more about the London Underground than anyone,' said Martha. 'She's writing a book.'
'She was on TV,' said Frank, 'in a quiz programme. She answered questions about the Underground. And she was first.'
'And I won a little silver cup,' said Elsa.
Craig looked at Elsa carefully. She was about fifty-five, maybe older. She was about the same age as his grandmother.
'I'd like to know about the Underground,' he said.
'What do you want to know?' she said, then she spoke very quickly. 'It's the oldest and longest underground railway in the world. They started work on the Metropolitan Line in 1860, and it opened on January 10th 1863. It carried nine and a half million people in its first year. The first railway trains had steam engines. They couldn't build the really deep tunnels - the "tubes" - like this one until they had electric trains. This line opened in 1890. The deepest station is 67 metres below ground on the Northern Line near Hampstead ...'
'OK, OK!' said Craig, but Elsa didn't stop.
'There are 254 miles of line with 105 miles underground ... oh, sorry, child, that's 409 kilometres and 169 kilometres. The London Underground carries about 800 million people a year, and ...' She stopped suddenly. Those are just the statistics. Tomorrow I'll tell you the stories.'
Elsa stood up. 'We haven't finished work yet,' she said.
'We still have two more stations. Let's go.' Craig walked along the tunnel with Frank. Elsa was walking alone. She was very quiet now. You couldn't see anything, just the black sides of the tunnel. 'Sometimes, at night, when we're down here ... you hear things,' said Frank. Sometimes you see things.' 'What kind of things?' asked Craig. 'Music,' said Frank. 'Voices. And there's nobody there.' Craig thought about the sound of shoes in the tunnel. 'Stop talking nonsense to the boy, Frank.' Craig looked up. Elsa was standing next to them.
'Don't listen to Frank,' she said. There's nothing to be afraid of in the Underground. Nothing.'

3. Tommy

Craig was early for work the next night. Bank Cross Station was still busy. It was a cold night and snow was beginning to fall. He walked down the steps. He could hear the sound of a flute. There were always buskers at tube stations, playing or singing for money.
An old busker was standing at the bottom of the steps. He had long white hair, and he was wearing a long grey coat. He was playing quietly. Craig looked at the old man's hands. They were blue with cold. There was a hat on the ground with a few coins in it. Craig put a 50p coin in the hat.
'Thanks,' said Craig. 'I like Mozart.'
The old man stopped playing and looked at Craig.
'It's Mozart's Flute Concerto in G major, isn't it?' said Craig. 'I've got it on CD at home.'
The old man didn't say anything.
'He can't speak, child.'
Craig turned round. Elsa was standing behind him. 'He can't say a word.' Elsa pulled something from her bag, and gave it to the old man.
'There you go, Tommy,' she said. They're chicken sandwiches tonight. I got a nice piece of chicken.'
The old man took the food, and nodded. Then he turned and pointed at Craig and made a strange noise.
'I know,' said Elsa. He's a good boy. It's late, Tommy. They're closing the station soon.'
The old man took his hat and flute and walked away.
Craig followed Elsa to the escalator. 'There are a lot of stories down here, child,' she said.
'I told you that yesterday. And Tommy's one of them. He played the flute in the Royal Symphony Orchestra. But that was forty years ago. He had a car crash, and his wife died. He hasn't spoken since then.' 'Elsa, how do you know all this?' said Craig. 'I mean, Tommy can't speak and ...'
'I keep my eyes and ears open, child. That's all.' 'Do you bring him food every day?' Craig asked. 'He hasn't got anybody,' said Elsa. 'Someone has to help. He's at Bank Cross every night. He waits for me.'

4. Voices in the Dark

On the platform there was a small crowd of workmen. A train was in the station. The workmen were getting onto it. The cleaners were watching them.
'What are they doing?' Craig asked Elsa. 'You didn't really tell me yesterday.'
'There's an old side tunnel just outside Bank Cross Station. There isn't any line in it, and it goes nowhere ... now. They're building a wall across the entrance.'
'A side tunnel?'
'Yes,' said Elsa. 'It goes to the old Church End Station. Don't you know about the ghost stations, child? They're closed. Some of them were never open. You see, they built stations and didn't use them, or the stations were too near other stations. They closed them years ago.'
'So, they never used Church End Station, then,' said Craig.
Frank was listening. 'Oh, yes, they did,' he said. 'Haven't you heard of Church End Station?'
They don't teach these kids much history,' said Elsa.
'What happened?' said Craig.
'It was in 1940,' said Frank, 'in the Second World War. People slept in the Underground stations because of the bombs. There were bombs nearly every night. Well, a bomb hit Church End Station. A big bomb. It hit the street right outside the station doors. There were two hundred people on the station platform that night. They never opened the station again. It's very near Bank Cross, so they didn't really need it.'
'Why are they closing the tunnel now?' said Craig.
'I don't know,' said Frank. They took away the line and they closed the other end of the tunnel in the 1950s.'
Craig thought about the empty station. 'Have you ever been there?' he asked.
'Church End? Me?' said Frank. 'No, there are strange things down there.'
'More nonsense,' said Elsa. 'It's just an old tunnel. There's nothing there.' She looked at Frank. 'Frank thinks there are ghosts of people, not ghost stations.'
'I've heard things,' said Frank. 'Strange things.'
'What about you, Elsa?' Craig asked. 'Have you heard anything?'
'No,' said Elsa quickly. 'Nothing at all. OK, we have a lot of work tonight. We can't stay here and listen to Frank's silly ideas all night.'
That night the cleaners travelled by train because the electricity was on in the tunnel. First they cleaned all of the stations south of Bank Cross, then they moved north. There was one more station that they had to clean. It was late and Craig was feeling tired. He was sitting next to Elsa on the train. After a few minutes their train stopped. They were near the workmen. There were bright lights in the tunnel. Craig looked out of the window at them. The workmen were finishing for the night. The workmen's train was in front of the cleaners' train, so they had to wait.
'Why do they have to work from this side?' asked Craig. There are no electric lines in the old tunnel.'
'This is the only way into the old tunnel,' said Elsa. 'Frank told you, they closed the other end years ago.'
'I'd like to see that station,' said Craig.
Craig could hear the workmen. They were climbing onto their train. Suddenly the tunnel lights went off as the workmen's train moved away. It was very quiet. Frank spoke. There it is!' he said.
Craig could hear voices, strange echoing voices a long way from the train. He looked at Frank, then at Elsa.
'I can't hear anything,' she said.
Then their train's engine started and Craig couldn't hear anything either. Frank moved from his seat and sat down next to Craig.
'Did you hear it, too?' he said quietly.
'Yes,' said Craig.
Frank smiled. 'It's not only me, then,' he said. There were voices.'
'Yes,' said Craig. There were voices.'

5 Late for Work

The next afternoon Craig went to the university library and looked at the books about London. He took a book from the shelf. It was a street atlas from 1937. Craig looked through the atlas. There was an Underground map. It looked nearly the same as a modern one. He found Bank Cross on the map, and there was the next station, Church End, maybe four or five hundred metres away. Elsa was right. They didn't need another station there. The streets looked different. They were narrower and shorter. Craig tried to think. What was there now? He went back to the bookshelf and found a modern street atlas. He opened it and found the same map. There were big office buildings there now. Everything was modern. The streets were bombed in the war, and there were no old buildings. He looked carefully for Church End Station. It wasn't there. The tall East London Tower was in its place.
One night, about two weeks later, Craig was late for work. He hurried down the escalator, along the tunnel and onto the platform. No one was there. He looked at his watch. He was too late. The cleaners weren't there. What was he going to do? He sat down on the seat.
'Hey, Craig!' a voice called. Craig looked up. The Station Supervisor was walking towards him.
'Sorry, I'm late,' said Craig. 'It won't happen again.'
'They've gone without you,' said the Supervisor. 'But you can do a little job for me. I need to get a message to the workmen. I think they've turned their phone off.'
'I can walk along the line to them,' said Craig. 'Uh, the electricity's turned off, isn't it?'
'Yes,' said the Supervisor. The electricity's off. They're finishing tonight. They're closing the tunnel. Give them this message. They needn't hurry too much. They've got an extra hour. We aren't turning the electricity on until later.'
'All right,' said Craig.
'Wait a moment, Craig,' said the Supervisor. 'How are you going to find them in the dark? Take this torch. Don't lose it! And be careful!'
Craig took the torch and turned it on. He climbed down onto the line and started walking into the tunnel. After a hundred metres he could see lights in the distance. He walked quickly along the line. Then he could see the workmen's train.
So, they were closing the tunnel tonight. He was never going to see Church End Station. The workmen were putting a big piece of metal over the hole in the wall. Craig gave them the message. One of them looked at Craig.
'What are you doing here without a helmet?' he said. 'Who sent you here? It's dangerous.'
Craig looked round. All the workmen were wearing metal helmets on their heads.
'Well, we're stopping for half an hour,' said the workman. 'Do you want a cup of tea before you go back?'
'No, thanks,' said Craig. 'I've got to hurry.'
Craig walked back towards Bank Cross. The workmen were getting onto their train. The train was dark because there wasn't any electricity.
Craig stopped and turned off his torch. No one was looking at him. He had half an hour. He turned round and walked back towards the lights. He stayed near the side of the tunnel. The workmen were busy with their tea. He could hear them talking and laughing on their train. Now he was next to the hole in the wall. Quickly he climbed through and stopped. No, nothing. Nobody saw him. Craig turned on the torch and started to walk carefully along the old tunnel.
The old station was right in front of him. The platform was there. Craig shone his torch up. He could see the old London Transport sign 'Church End'. Then he heard something, something small, running along the line. It ran over Craig's foot. 'Ugh,' Craig thought, 'a rat.'
Craig got to the platform. He put his torch carefully on the platform and started to climb up. Then he heard them. Voices. He couldn't understand the words. There were echoes, but he thought he could hear a man, then he thought he heard a woman who was screaming. Then a child who was crying quietly. Craig felt cold. Then something ran across his hand, Craig jumped back, he was falling and then everything was dark.

6. Nobody Knows

Craig opened his eyes. He could see a small light above him. His head hurt badly, and his back hurt too. He was lying below the platform. The torch was still on the platform and it was still shining. Craig got up and took the torch. He touched his head, then looked at his hand. It was red with blood. How long was he down there? He looked at his watch in the torchlight. Two hours! What about the hole?
He ran along the line. In front of him, the tunnel was black. He couldn't see the workmen's lights. Then he heard a loud noise. It was echoing along the tunnel. That was a train! The electricity was on again in the tunnel outside! The new metal wall shone in the torchlight. Craig hit it hard, and shouted. Another train went by. It was no good. Nobody out there could hear him. And nobody knew he was in here.
Craig walked slowly back to Church End Station. He turned his torch on and off. It was shining all the time he was on the ground. Two hours. How long was the torch good for? Three hours? Maybe four. Not long. Then he was at the Church End platform again. He climbed up. His head felt strange. He had to sit down. He turned off the torch. His eyes were closing. Craig thought about the rats. He couldn't go to sleep. He couldn't... but then he was asleep.
Craig was dreaming about an Underground station. There were people everywhere. They were sleeping on the platform. There were men and women in uniform. He could hear crashes. Someone screamed. Another voice said, 'Be quiet! We're trying to get some sleep here!' Then there were more crashes. The crashing noises were getting nearer. Bombs. Everyone was screaming. They couldn't get out! There was no way out.' He could smell smoke. Fire? The station was on fire. There was only one way out, and that was along the line ... then he felt water. Cold water on his head. What was it?
Craig opened his eyes. He could see a small fire and he could smell the smoke. He turned round. It was a candle. A candle was burning. He could feel a hand on his arm. There was someone there.
'Who is it?' he said. There was no reply. The hand pulled his arm. Craig got up, the hand was pulling him. Craig followed.
'My torch!' he said. 'What about my torch?'
Someone pushed the torch into his hand. Craig turned it on.
He could see long white hair, then a face.
The old man was smiling at him. He pulled Craig's arm again. Craig followed him along the platform. They came to a door. Tommy pushed him through the door. There was a dark tunnel, but at the end he could see a
light. Some candles were burning. In the light from the candles, Craig could read a sign above a door:

Craig looked through the door. There was a table and a chair and a bed. An old oil fire was burning. On the table was a small radio and Tommy's flute.
'Do you live here?' Craig asked.
Tommy nodded. Craig looked at the radio - the voices! and then at the flute - the music!
Craig thought. Some of the older stations still had passenger lifts, not escalators. This was the old lift from Church End Station, and Tommy lived in it. It was his home.
'Tommy,' he said, 'we can't get out! They've closed the tunnel. And no one knows we're here.'

7. It's a Long Story ...

Tommy was pulling him up some metal stairs. Of course! All the stations had stairs. They needed stairs when the electricity was off. The stairs went round and round. They stopped. Tommy was holding a candle. Craig had the torch. Tommy pulled Craig's arm again and they moved into another smaller dark tunnel. Craig shone the torch around. There were old signs on the wall. He read, To the Northern Line'. After a time, Tommy stopped. He was holding the candle up, so Craig could see his face. Tommy put his hand up. He tried to speak,'Shhhh' ... 'Shhh.'
'Yes,' said Craig, 'shhh ... you want me to be quiet.' Tommy nodded. There was a metal door in front of them. Tommy put his head against the wall. He was listening carefully. Craig couldn't hear anything. Then Tommy took an old long metal key from his coat.
He turned the key quietly and pushed the door. Light came into the dark tunnel. It hurt Craig's eyes.
Tommy pulled Craig's arm again. They went through the door, and Craig found himself in a strange room. There was light, but it wasn't bright. There was a noise over his head. What was it? Yes, it was an escalator. They were under the escalator at Bank Cross. Tommy closed the door behind them and turned the key.
He pulled Craig to the side. There was another metal door. Tommy opened it quickly and pulled Craig through it. They were outside at the bottom of the escalator. There was nobody there.
Tommy touched Craig's head, and tried to speak. 'Daw ... dah ... doctor!' he said.
'You spoke!' said Craig. Tommy, you spoke!'
Tommy was smiling. 'Doctor! Doctor!'
'Go on, Tommy,' said Craig. 'You can do it!'
'Don't... don't tell!' said Tommy.
'Don't tell anybody about your home? No, I won't,' said Craig. 'I won't tell anyone. Doesn't anyone know?'
'Elsa,' said Tommy. 'Elsa.'
'Of course!' said Craig. 'Elsa knows. That's why she "doesn't hear" the noises.'
'What are you doing here, child?'
Elsa was there behind them.
'It's a long story,' said Craig. 'Another Underground story.'
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