Hitesh stomped his feet and blew into his cupped hands. The wind was as fierce as it was the night before. He had checked the weather report and a chirpy middle-aged weather lady told him that tonight was going to be “another blustery one.”
It didn’t feel blustery. It felt like the wind was doing its best to pierce his clothes and reach through to his bones.
He had received the call only a few hours ago that they had been taken off the Gatwick track and were instead working the stretch just north of Balcombe Tunnel. They were also only working a 12-4 shift. Half the hours, same pay. If he got back at a decent time that he could snatch a few hours of sleep next to Denise, for once.
Lights danced over him and he looked up to see Troy bring the van to a stop on the side of the road, hazards pulsing. Marcus was in the back eyes closed and dozing. Hitesh was jealous at the mans ability to fall asleep almost anywhere on a whim.
Hitesh jumped in and Troy took them up through Broadfield and out toward Pease Pottage. Troy was in a good mood. He tapped the steering wheel to the beat of some awful dance compilation.
They reached the Pease Pottage roundabout and left on the exit toward Pease Pottage services.
‘Anyone need food?’ Troy called out.
Marcus opened his eyes long enough to snort before falling back asleep.
They passed the services. At the next roundabout they could go right to Pease Pottage village, straight to Handcross or left down Parish Lane toward the train tracks. They turned left.
Parish Lane ran between far land on both sides until half way down when the trees of Tilgate Forest became thicker and eventually turned into a wall on their left. The last building they passed was a large manor house to their right. There were no lights on.
The road changed from tarmac to rough aggregate. The van hit a pothole and Marcus woke with a growl. ‘Why have they not surfaced the damn road?’
Troy chuckled. They all held on as the van jumped and dropped. A minute or two passed before they reached the bottom of Parish Lane.
Ahead was a metal pedestrian bridge leading over the railway tracks and into the forest of Balcombe Woods on the far side. To the right was a large double gate leading to a track-side operating area. It was chained closed.
Troy passed Hitesh the keys for the padlock. ‘Your turn.’
Hitesh snatched the keys and got out the van. The breeze rippled his hair and bit at his ears. He stuffed his chin as far into his collar as it would go and jogged over to the gate. He fumbled the lock with cold hands and finally managed to work it free. The sound of chain slipping between metal bars rang out and set his teeth on edge.
Hitesh opened the gate and stood to the side as Troy brought the van through. Hitesh closed the gate and wove the chain back through the fence. He could barely see his own hands in the van’s rear lights.
He locked the gate and headed back to the van when a crunch made him turn back. Hitesh looked past the fence. He could only just make out the shapes of trees in the weak red glow.
‘Come on, Hitesh,’ Troy shouted. He was hanging out the driver-side window. ‘The sooner we get sorted the sooner we go home.’
Hitesh headed for the van but felt the sixth sense prickle of being watched spread across his neck.
They made their way down a small road that ran parallel to the train tracks, nothing separating them but dark, to a gaggle of buildings. A small green standby light glowed above one of the doors to a container canteen.
The trio exited the van and headed over to the hut. Marcus clicked on a torch and held out a hand to Hitesh.
‘Keys,’ Marcus said, groggily.
‘It’s a keypad.’
Marcus did a double take, shook his head and flicked open the key pad.
‘I looked up a bunch of trains this morning,’ Troy said. ‘Nothing comes close to the one we saw last night.’
‘It was just aggregate train,’ Marcus said. He caught his finger in the catch and hissed. Hitesh reached over Marcus’ shoulder, jabbed in the code and flicked the latch.
‘They stick sometimes,’ Hitesh said. Marcus shrugged and they all went inside. Troy moved straight across to the kitchenette and rummaged for tea.
‘It wasn’t an aggregate train. The one we saw last night was more like a double decker. They had pictures of double deckers online.’
‘Who gives a shit anyway?’ Marcus asked as he slumped into a seat at the small table. He pulled out his phone. ‘No signal.’
‘Well it’s weird,’ Troy went on. ‘All the lights go out and a train rolls past. That’s weird right?’
Hitesh shrugged. ‘Maybe. Or just a coincidence.’
Troy wondered on that for a moment. ‘Nah.’
The roar of the kettle drowned them out. It clicked off and Troy made them all drinks. They sat at the table cradling teas.
‘Wish we had biscuits,’ Hitesh said.
‘There was a photo of a military train from China that-‘
Marcus cut him off with a fake snore.