Ghost Train (Lore, Seasonal)
For instance, around South Titan, from Clarkstown to Jenningston beyond the Titan City limits, locals tell stories of “the Black Train,” a spectral engine and cars that run by night, leaving a trail of cold, fear, and ghost sightings in their wake. While city officials will neither confirm nor deny the ghost train’s existence, hundreds of people claim to have seen it. The translucent locomotive and cars are usually said to travel over the old right-of-way of CCN Railways, most of which has been paved over or just abandoned during the last century of urban growth. The train makes its eerie way from the old CCN rail yard in Clarkstown through the neighboring districts. Then, as it reaches the site of an old rail bridge outside Jenningston, it lurches off its phantom rails and destroys itself, only to return on another dark night.
When one searches for hard facts about the Black Train, they turn out to be just as elusive as any ghost. The hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen it over the past hundred years seem to tell hundreds of different stories. While the Black Train always consists of a ghostly, late 19th century steam locomotive with tender and several passenger cars, beyond that, as in most ghost legends, the stories diverge. Sometimes, the ghost train pulls into phantom stations to drop off ghostly passengers who wander the streets mournfully until morning. Other times, the living are dragged aboard the train and never heard from again. One account claims that the occultist Steed boarded the train in the early 1980’s and fought his way through a horde of ghosts to the engine, but given Steed’s dubious reputation, this seems doubtful. In some versions, the train travels on invisible rails. In others, it flies through the air. With so much confusion—and a complete lack of hard evidence, such as photographs—one might forgive the city for brushing aside the mystery of the ghost train’s existence.
Elga Dingler, a senior agent of the federal bureau of Paranormal Investigations and Tracking, is the city’s greatest living expert on the Black Train. A serious, bespectacled figure, she has spent years collating eyewitness accounts, examining old railroad maps, and going over the ghost train’s supposed route with mysterious, beeping, handheld gadgets. “There is no question that [the Black Train] is real,” she stated in an interview at PIT headquarters. She explained the discrepancies in eyewitness accounts with references to a “powerful trans-state metareality field” that such a large apparition generates. “Witnesses are inherently unreliable,” she said. “The human mind is not equipped to process metaphysical events of this class. It retreats into fear or confusion or denial. But psychokinetic and meta-ectoplasmic residues do not lie. The Black Train exists, and it will continue to endanger South Titan until dispelled. And make no mistake: dispelled it should be. The Black Train is a cosmological rip in the hypergeometrical skein of life. The longer it persists, the greater the danger to South Titan.”
Assuming the train is real, how, then, to dispel it? Dingler explained that, as folklore suggests, most hauntings persist due to some unresolved business in a spirit’s past. A research trip to the Titan City Historical Society reveals plenty of unresolved business swirling around the Black Train. As with many ghost stories, it’s a tale that’s blood-chilling enough even without the ghosts.
The story begins in 1900, with Kathleen Vanderyk, widow of CCN founder Jonathan Vanderyk. Kathleen was a determined woman, far ahead of her time. She rose from poverty in Dante’s Point to wed the wealthy Vanderyk. Rumor has it that she convinced him to divorce his first wife to let her do so. When Vanderyk died in an inebriated fall from his personal passenger train, she assumed control of the railroad and the Vanderyk fortune.
On the evening of October 13, 1905, Kathleen Vanderyk held a party in her private train car to celebrate her engagement to another man, also a wealthy railroad magnate. In addition, over two hundred regular passengers were riding on the same train in ordinary cars.
Unfortunately, the magnate wasn’t the only person on the train interested in Kathleen Vanderyk. According to later police reports, the engineer, a man named Patrick Sheehan, had become obsessed with her, stalking her and accosting her in private. Some accounts imply that Sheehan, not a drunken fall, actually killed Jonathan Vanderyk out of jealous rage. Regardless, Sheehan’s jealousy of Kathleen Vanderyk and her new beau apparently preyed on his mind and led him to seek revenge.
As the train made its way from Clarkstown toward Jenningston, Sheehan piled on the steam, traveling far faster than the line’s curves would allow. When the rest of the train’s crew tried to stop him, he bludgeoned them to death with a coal shovel. Then he jammed the train’s controls in place, made his way to Kathleen Vanderyk’s party car, and tearfully threatened her in front of all her guests. She cursed him as her husband’s murderer. Before Sheehan could do anything more, the train jumped the tracks on an elevated bridge in the hills outside Jenningston. The train was completely destroyed, and the entire crew and all but three passengers were killed in the wreck. One of the survivors, Joseph St. Clair, lasted just long enough to reveal what had happened at Kathleen’s party.
The incident went down in history as one of the region’s greatest scandals and most sordid crime stories, but the chaos surrounding the fire of 1908 a few years later eclipsed it in the public mind. Today, only students of historical crime, like yours truly, recall the CCN Rail Crash of 1905.
According to Dingler’s research, one year after the wreck, the ghostly Black Train made its first run, traveling the same route and derailing at the same site as the Vanderyk party train. Dingler believes the ghost train and the Vanderyk train are one and the same. “If someone could somehow get aboard the train and confront the ghost of Patrick Sheehan with his guilt, that might—might—stop the manifestation,” she said. With the help of her colleagues at PIT, she continues to research ways a hero might accomplish that.
Meanwhile, reports of the Black Train crop up every few months among the people of South Titan, and the city continues to view them skeptically. The stories have a breathless air about them, as if they happened to someone else, even when the storyteller claims to have been an eyewitness. Is the Black Train real? I cannot say. But I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t want it to roll in for me tonight.
Written by - Jack 'Olantern' Snyder
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