The man gets to the village hall just before 8pm on the third Wednesday of May.
‘Here it is then’, he thinks to himself, the Newbury Model Train Enthusiast Society
meeting. If he’d spoken the words aloud, he would have spat them out. He is
welcomed as a new member and takes a seat – right at the back. He grits his teeth as
the assembly are lectured in the fabrication of miniature engine sheds and then suffers
a slideshow recording a member’s recent visit to a model funicular railway in
Heidelberg. How the audience marvel at the ingenious construction of this alpine
scene whilst silently, unnoticeably, he cringes all the way through. The meeting ends
about 10pm and he leaves.
The next meeting is on the third Wednesday in June and includes an in-depth reviewof the past Hornby range from a 1973 catalogue. July’s has a presentation about thecomplex design and workings of the Paris Metro’s signalling system. He attends both and is sickened by the enthusiasm and delight shown by the attendees, but manages to feign a steady smile throughout.
At the end of this meeting one of the organisers introduces himself as Colin, takes
him to one side and after first looking behind to ensure no eavesdroppers stutters, “You,you seem very interested in our meetings.”
The man nods in confirmation.
“Not, not everyone is as interested as you are.”
“Really?” he replies. “Oh, I can assure you that I’m very interested.”
Colin smiles, “Good, good”. He thinks for a moment, “and, and your name is …?”
“James” says the man – it’s the name of his neighbour’s dog and the first name he
can think of. He is immediately relieved the dog is not called Bonzo or Herpes.
“James,” Colin acknowledges, “as in the Red Engine, ha ha.”
James, as I will also call him, returns a polite chuckle. Colin continues, “Now, now
I like you, James and the society is always looking for fresh blood, if it’s the right blood of course, and I sense that you, James, are full of the right blood.”
“Oh, it courses through my veins,” replies James, very keen to worm his way into
the inner sanctum of the society. “The right blood that is” he adds, in case Colin
harbours any suspicions.
“Good, good. Now James,” he leans forward and lowers his voice, “you stay behind after the next meeting and we’ll show you something to really get that right stuff pumping – if you can keep a secret that is?”
“Oh yes. You can rely on me,” replies James, the beam on his face is a genuine one.
He finds the contents of the next meeting excruciating and sits twitching, mind wandering to what may be to come later. Sure enough, the meeting ends and most
of the rank and file drift away, leaving Colin and five or six others that James has
come to recognise as senior figures in the society. Colin comes over and asks if he is
ready, “I certainly am,” he replies. The group move to the back of the stage behind the
model of the Festinogg railway that has appalled him all evening. There is a door to
the left which leads to the dressing rooms for the am-dram productions, and a twin
padlocked door to the right. Colin has the key for one of them, another society
member unlocks the other.
“You, you are going to like this” Colin says to James to which there is a general hubbub of agreement and anticipation from the others. A light illuminates a rough wooden staircase down which James follows the group into darkness. At the bottom Colin turns back and calls past the others, “Now, now James – what do you think of THIS!” and he flicks a row of switches turning on banks of spotlights which momentarily hurts James’ eyes, but reveal an enormous underground cavern that he had no idea existed.
He sees the truth is even more terrible than he feared. Laid out across the floor is a
huge oval train track, upon which sits a model locomotive, maybe 8ft long with a
drivers seat on top and attached to a wagon holding a central wooden bench upon
which James estimates maybe 8 people could ride. He feels nauseous as these grown
men excitedly dash to grab train drivers caps from pegs on one of the cavern sides,
then run over to board the train each having also picked up a guards hand flag from a
wooden box marked ‘Flags’.
“She’s a 1:25 scale locomotive powered by 4 x 12 volt batteries with 125 yards of
track, plus an authentic replica of Newbury station,” boasts Colin. He chuckles, “lost,
lost for words James? I know – pretty impressive, eh?”
James is lost for words. He feels perfectly sick.
The men whoop with delight, all waving their flags like over-excited children, clambering on to the carriage and calling for Colin to take his seat on the loco.
“Alright, alright men,” Colin says, producing his own cap from his jacket pocket
and a silver whistle upon which he shrills a sharp ‘peep peep,’ which echoes around
the cavern to their cheers. Colin swings his leg over to ride the loco and shouts
“Watch this James,” and operates a lever and pulls away to the delight of the cheering passengers. James conceals his disgust as best he can.
They make three joyous circuits of the track before Colin brings the diminutive train to a gentle stop, the passengers voicing their disappointment like a bunch of schoolboys. ‘Wanna ride?’ he shouts to James, which reignites the men’s delight.
“Err – yes please,” James lies.
“Great. Then I’ve just got one question to ask you, a sort of initiation test if you
like. Don’t look so worried, it’s just to make sure you really are ‘one of us’. You can’t
be too careful these days.”
“Nooo” boo the men, shaking their heads wildly and tut-tutting at the thought of
non-train lovers. James swallows involuntarily.
“Now, now it’s an easy one,” Colin assures him, “any train modeller will know it.”
The men nod and whoop in agreement. “To, to what scale are Hornby trains built?”
“Aww easy, easy,” hoot the men, but James is immediately thrown into panic.
‘Scale? Scale?’ He tries to think. His mind is blank. Scale? He can only think of fish
scales, weighing scales, musical scales. Surely they talked about scale at one of the
meetings he has been to. Needing to move fast, he makes an imaginary comparison of
a Hornby loco and the genuine thing and with a false air of confidence announces
There is a mass intake of breath, momentarily James thinks he may somehow just have got it right before the faces surrounding him turn angry and start chanting the right answer “double-O, double-O, double-O!”
“Get, get the imposter!” shouts Colin upon which they bundle him to the ground despite his struggles, then stand over him, poking him with their flags. He looks up at Colin whose face has turned puce but calmly says, “well, well society members. What have we got ourselves here then?”
The men howl their derision.
“Who, who sent you?” demands Colin.
“I’m not telling. I’ll never tell you – you train freaks!”
This angers the men further who poke with increased vigour. James finds their
poking more an unpleasant nuisance, like a modest plague of moths, rather than
causing much pain.
“Wait, wait men”, commands Colin, “I know how to get the imposter to talk. Tie
him to the tracks!”
“You fiend,” calls James as he is manhandled by the throng, one getting a rope from
a wooden crate marked ‘rope’. He resists as much as he can, cursing them with insults about their choice of hobby. Offended by his belittling of their beloved society they gag him – with Colin’s engine drivers scarf to James’ revulsion, before tying him firmly to the rails.
“Right, right men, all aboard!” Colin instructs the men who cheer and run to
clamber on to the carriage. “Infiltrator – prepare to DIE!” Pulling his cap down hard,
he engages the engine. “The 22:15 express to Lincoln is about to depart!” Colin blows
his whistle again and the raucous men flag and shout feverishly as the train slowly
starts to move forward on its inexorable journey towards the prostrate James.
He thinks he is a goner, but he may have just one chance….
At the scheduled departure time, the cavern door bursts open and in pour a dozen men dressed in full bus conductor uniforms, satchels swinging behind them as they charge down the stairs, chest-strapped ticketing machines set to the maximum £9, 9 shillings and 9d, each spinning their revolving handle furiously, spewing cascades of tickets into the air and filling the chamber with a deafening ratcheting noise as they scream, “death to the train twits!” and “buses forever!”
Clutching their hands to their ears, the terrified train men are rendered useless by the dreadful cacophony which causes Colin to slump over the moderately sized control panel, collapsing on the throttle which turns the train to max power and thus thundering towards James.
A quick-minded bus conductor throws his satchel at a trackside signal level, its strap entangling round it with force enough to switch the points, sending the train and its occupants hurtling away from James and into the siding at max speed. Its impetus sent then bursting them through the safety buffers and destroying an authentic papier
mache model of Donnington Castle.
The bus men now have the train men fallen and surrounded, but one bravely shouts,“down with buses!” and with the last of his strength, reaches up and pulls hard on
red handle on the wall behind him marked ‘Alarm. Penalty for improper use £50’ before slumping down with his dazed and beaten counterparts.
In an otherwise quiet night at Newbury police station a red light suddenly starts flashing. The duty sergeant almost chokes on his tea with the shock.
“Right lads, riot gear out, it’s all kicking off at the model train society – again.
Let’s hope it’s not the WI this time!”
I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have 2 mins spare, add a comment to let me know what you think, if you have 5 minutes, add that comment then find another story on my site – there’s plenty to try.