Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"Funny Thing 'appened Tonight"

"The Eighth Lamp."
By Roy Vickers (1889-1965).
First appearance: The Novel Magazine, July 1916.
Reprinted in More Uncanny Stories (1918); Ghost Stories, March 1930; Ghost Stories and Other Queer Tales (1931); The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1958; John Creasey Mystery Magazine, March 1960; Venture Science Fiction (UK), August 1965; and Macabre Railway Stories (1982).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"You ain't 'ung him already?"
If they were to learn about his predicament, everybody would say that George is seeing things, and George himself probably wouldn't disagree if he weren't so sure they were happening; but this job of railroad signalman is very important to him, especially with a new and demanding woman to win over and support, so he keeps at it, even though performing his tasks in the dark, dank Cheyne Road railway tunnel long after midnight sometimes has him nearly paralyzed with fear.

For George, the worst part of his job should be the easiest: All he has to do is turn off eight illumination lamps after the last train has run; simple, yes, but simple doesn't always mean easy. In the murky tunnel, something is stalking him, something even stronger, more profound, and deadlier than fear . . .

Principal characters:
~ George Raoul:
   "He had something of considerable importance to report, but he knew that if he were to make that report he would probably be marked down as unfit for night duty, and he could not afford to risk that at present."
~ Jinny:
   "I can put two an' two together, same as anyone else, an' I started takin' notice of what he was talking about in 'is sleep."
~ The constable:
   "Why, you was running like a house afire! What's going on down there, then?"
~ Mabel Owen:
   "Blessed if it ain't George Raoul! 'Ow goes it, George? Seems ages since we met, don't it!"
~ Mr. Jenkins, the stationmaster; the loafer; and the police Inspector.
Diverting passages:
   "During the last three weeks he had seen something of Jinny's nature; and although his animal love for her had in no way abated, he had a pretty shrewd suspicion that she would not face even temporary destitution with him."
   "In her eye there was nothing of accusation. But there was nothing of doubt."
   "With the first taste of the bitterness of his sin came remorse; and with remorse came, with renewed strength, the terror which he had partly beaten back."
   "The odd fatalism of his class prevented him from shirking the lights on the down-platform. What has to be will be. The same fatalism drove him ultimately to dousing the eighth lamp and turning, like a doomed rat, to face the already rumbling horror of the tunnel."
   "The Inspector waited unmoved. He believed not at all in the genuineness of Jinny's grief; but convention had its claims, and he said nothing until the storm of tears had subsided."

Typo: "the eighth lamps was extinguished."
- Just the other day we hit the rails with another train-related mystery; go HERE for that story.
- We've also previously dealt with spectral locomotives HERE.

The bottom line: "Every guilty person is his own hangman."
Seneca the Younger

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