The Wrong Train, by Jeremy de Quidt, is an anthology of deliciously dark stories to keep you spooked as the nights draw in.
There’s a framing narrative to the stories. A boy, rushing for the last train, manages to get on the wrong train and end up on a platform in the middle of nowhere. Night’s drawing in, his mobile is out of juice, there’s no-one around, and no sign of another train coming… Out of the gloom comes and old man with his dog. And the old man has some stories to tell to pass the time…
In Nanny’s Little Candle, an old woman comes to look after Cassie and her little brother. But Cassie is convinced that the old woman is up to no good, and will do anything to protect her baby brother.
In The Security Light, de Quidt plays on our most primal fear – the fear of the dark. When the power goes out, and Jess is alone in the dark house, only the outside security light is still working. But it keeps switching on and off, and Jess can’t see what’s activating it.
In Your Lucky Day, Sam’s dad buys an old American car, “all red paint and polished chrome with tail fins”. The car is pure rock and roll, but the car has a dark – and deadly – past.
In Babysitting, Sophie takes a job looking after a couple of children in a house she’s never seen before. But there’s no sign of the parents, no note, no contact number, and the kitchen is full of mouldy food as if no-one had touched it for months.
In Picture Me, Sammie comes across a photo album from a distant relative who’d lived a troubled life. The pictures in the album are disturbing, but not as disturbing as the pictures that appear on her phone when she has no recollection of taking them.
In Soot, Sara and her little brother Chris hear a noise in their bricked-up chimney. When their dad breaks the wall down, and there’s nothing but an old shoe, that should be the end of it. But Chris starts talking to an imaginary friend and leaving sooty marks everywhere, no matter how much they try to get him clean.
In Dead Molly, Richard is playing a children’s game – the “Dead Molly” of the title, where children pretend to be asleep until Dead Molly comes to wake them up – but it when Richard wakes up, he can’t be sure if he’s still asleep and dreaming. And it’s not so much a dream as a nightmare…
In The Black Forest Chair, Jos’ mum brings home a “complete steal” from a junk shop – a black oak chair in the shape of a ferocious bear. When Jos sits on it, he starts to see things – a cottage in a forest, with fairy-tale pictures of the most disturbing kind on the walls, a little man with sharp teeth and a sharper knife, and – worst of all – a doorway into the wardrobe in his own bedroom.
There are no happy endings in these stories. No tales of plucky children overcoming the monsters. These are stories of horror and darkness, with no punches pulled, and all the better for it. They’re rooted in the present day, too, which makes the horror more vivid and real: the ghosts may come from the past, but they haunt the present; and the fairy-tale resonance (most overt in The Black Forest Chair) adds depth to the proceedings.
The framing narrative complements the stories brilliantly. The scenes of the boy and the old man on the platform, as the darkness closes in around them, add to the claustrophobia of the collection. In fact, the collection plays to a lot of fears – fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear that you’re unloved, fear of losing your grip on reality. Fear of being stuck up chimneys, too, which I particularly enjoyed!
If I had to choose a favourite story, though, it would be The Security Light – it’s so well-crafted and perfectly-paced, and the hairs were genuinely standing up on the back of my neck as I came to the end.
This is a collection of deliciously creepy tales, perfect for long dark evenings – as long as you don’t mind a shiver or two down your back, and a feeling like someone is standing in the shadows right behind you. And you may check twice the next time you’re at a railway station, just to make sure you’re not getting on the wrong train…