A glimmer of sunlight shined through the trees of Marlyvale National Park. Light enveloped the bush land as we ventured deeper into the park. Twigs snapped beneath their feet. The Calls of galahs could be heard within the trees.
‘I can’t wait to explore,’ Carlos said.
‘We should be there in just seconds,’ Lana replied as she adjusted her glasses upon reading the map guide in her hands.
A clearing appeared behind two green bush ferns that bent slightly into the way of the trail. Carlos shoved the ferns out of the way and Lana and Mark followed. Beyond the ferns, crawling bugs and shrubs permeated along the abandoned platform.
My eyes stretched to a station sign, perched atop two parallel poles. Brown benches were positioned along the platform. Its brown coat of paint had faded. Benches were mostly engulfed by overgrown bushes. In my mind, I knew the chaos of nature had taken over this artificial creation of men.
‘Couldn’t we have just googled the place instead?,’ I asked. ‘This place gives me the creeps.’
‘It’s always improves the quality of a school report if you observe what you are writing about,’ Lana replied. ‘Besides, I need a great mark otherwise I won’t qualify for uni. My parents have been pressuring me.’
‘Can’t believe Mrs Greyson put us together in a group, I care about exploring and getting photos for my dad’s scrapbook,’ Carlos replied as he approached the sign and tapped it with his hand.
‘Why couldn’t he come here himself then?,’ Lana questioned as she tied her brown hair into a bun.
‘He’s climbing the Andes Mountains in Chile,’ Carlos replied.
A giant ladybug crawled onto my right shoe. In fright, I jumped and squashed it.
‘So Mark is not only afraid of the dark but he’s afraid of bugs? You’re a wimp. No wonder we locked you in that closet at Destiny’s party!,’ Carlos said as he averted his eyes to a dark cavernous hole in the side of a hill cutting. It laid metres from the end of the platform.
‘Well I did some research and found out that Marlyvale Railway Station closed in 1919. The old line was used to transfer passengers between Sydney and Werrima, until a detour opened in 1912. It ran along the coast with the purpose of sightseeing on the train so they closed the line because of it,’ Lana remarked as she walked, dodging high shrubs.
‘That’s very interesting,’ Carlos replied in a sarcastic tone. He jumped onto the thin rail tracks, pushing aside the shrubs that grew between them, and made his way towards the tunnel.
‘Carlos, stay here!. Mrs Greyson said we only had to write about the station!,’ I yelled.
“Who cares!. I’m exploring this tunnel whether you like it or not,’ Carlos replied.
Lana lowered herself onto the tracks cautiously. She maneuvered her hips around the high weeds as she headed in the direction of the passageway and followed Carlos.
‘Lana, where are you going,? I called to her.
‘Mark, he has a point. If something needs to be investigated, why would I pass up this opportunity. Besides, if we talk about the tunnel, I may get more marks,’ Lana yelled with her back still turned.
Carlos emerged into the depths of the tunnel.
Lana approached the entrance a few seconds later. ‘You’re fine out here by yourself, right? We’ll be back in a few minutes.’
The thought sent shivers down my spine. As a only child, I was never alone. My parents always kept a watchful eye on me. I always felt protected. Many people thought I was being babied but my parents saw it differently. They saw it as ‘love’. Close friends were not accessible. I was always walled up in the confines of my home outside school hours. School was my only source of social interaction yet no one would befriend me. I was the outcast, the bulled. When Mrs. Greyson assigned the first group project, I ‘was’ excited to have the chance to interact with other students on a personal level.
On the first day of the group project, I had battled my inner demons and asked the group to visit the site together. Why? I was so desperate just to make friends. The next day, Carlos drove us down in his car on the 50 minute journey. We exited the freeway onto a main road. 5 minutes later, we had turned into a dirt road on the outskirts of the town of Marlyvale and headed directly to the tunnel.
I shot quick glances to the swarm of trees surrounding me, hoping their appearance would instill a sense of comfort from within. Not in this case. Looking upon the platform and seeing Lana head into the tunnel, loneliness crept in. I wanted company despite the consequences.
‘Hang on. I’m coming!’ My voice yelled as I aggressively jumped onto the tracks and tore through the weeds en route to entering the depths of the old channel.
‘Lana. Where are you?,’ I shouted.
My eyes failed to adjust to the dull chasm of the tunnel as I crept slightly further into the darkness. My hands reached through the dark as it landed on the slimy concrete walls. A wet, moldy smell floated in the air. My shoes scraped along the wet concrete floor.
‘I’m here,’ a voice rang. A hand swiped at my back and I jumped in response.
‘There you are. Sorry. It’s difficult to see in here. Do you have a flashlight?’ Lana’s voice questioned.
‘Sorry I don’t have one,’ I replied.
Out of the darkness, a hand grasped our shoulders. A scream of terror echoed through the tunnel as we prepared to run from the unseen force
‘It’s me Carlos. You two wimps scare so easily!’. Carlos laughed.
‘You jerk!’ I screamed, turning back towards the entrance. A smidgeon of daylight could now be seen in the shape of a small circle in the distance. A black figure stood in the way of the light as a yellow torchlight shined on Carlos, who grinned evilly at us.
‘Enough!. Let’s explore just this area of the tunnel and go. It’s too dark in here and I can’t find the light from the exit up ahead at all,’ Lana remarked.
‘Hey you can leave but I’m not going until I leave the other end. I set myself a task and I’m going to finish it,’ Carlos replied as the light from the torch moved further into the gloomy chasm.
‘I’m following him. He might get himself in trouble if we leave him,’ Lana retorted.
Lana’s footsteps were then heard running into the distance.
I pondered whether to turn around and wait at the station but then I remembered being alone in the woods, having to trek back to the car. Besides, I didn’t have my driver’s license. My parents refused to let me learn to drive. In a quick decision, I ran and followed the dim yellow light in the distance.
In what seemed like mere minutes, I had caught up to the flashlight.
‘Nice of you to join us!,’ Carlos said as we continued to walk through the dark.
‘Can we get out of here before the steam train comes.?’
‘Mark, what steam train? This line is abandoned…’ Lana replied.
‘You are wrong, Lana. This railway was not closed down just because of the detour.’
‘That part was just a cover up. The real reason is Steve Greene, a driver of the steam train which ran along this line. Steve returned from the First World War with post-traumatic stress. He was crazy. He thought that because his friends died honorably in the war and yet people lived in vain, he would make things right, so to speak,’ Mark exclaimed.
I paused for a few seconds to hear the silence in the dark.
‘So Steve stole miniature tanks of chlorine gas tubs and smuggled it back on the ship. In the first day back at work, Steve hid the tubs of gas in his backpack. Upon entering Marlyvale tunnel, he released the gas through the engine ducts and it floated into the upper class carriage behind. The smoke and gas billowed through the tunnel, killing everyone in the first carriage.’
‘And you expect me to believe that?’ Lana questioned.
‘You don’t have to. But my Pop told me the legend and says the train driver handed himself in to the police, feeling his duty had been accomplished’ I answered.
‘Mark, that’s why you have no friends, because you believe in the most stupid crap’ Carlos said.
I shot Carlos a brief sneer as a droplet of water fell from the tunnel roof onto my head.
‘A drop of water just fell on me’ I yelped.
‘When there is rain, water seeps through a crack between the soil above and the concrete and drops onto the tunnel floor…. ARGH’ Lana screamed.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘I feel something crawling up my leg’ she shrieked.
Carlos shone the torchlight as a rat was seen scurrying up into Lana’s white dress.
Lana whacked the rat frantically with her forearm until it dropped to the ground and scurried off into a small hole in the side of the wall.
‘Disgusting!’ Lana exclaimed with a vulgar look on her face.
‘It’s gone now. No sense worrying over it’ Carlos replied.
Suddenly a horn could be heard in the distance behind me. A ‘whoosh’ noise of an engine crept closer
‘It’s the ghost train’ I yelled.
Carlos erupted in laughter as he placed his hand on my shoulder from behind.
He held out his phone to my ear which had been playing train noises. ‘I fooled you again, wimp!. I knew this ringtone would come in handy’.
‘You idiot’ I yelled as I lunged at Carlos. I was finally fed up with the constant pranks and bullying. We fell to the ground and began wrestling each other.
Carlos punched me repeatedly in the face in beastly grunts. ‘Stop’ Lana screamed in fits of sobs as she tried to pry us apart. Carlos commenced punching my stomach. That did it. I snapped. I kneed Carlos in his groin, causing him to tumble off me. I then lunged at a weakened Carlos and I pounded my fists into his face. Carlos screamed in terror. In a matter of seconds, I froze my fists as I now stared down at the trickle of blood flowing from his nose.
‘Mark, what have you done? Why?’ Lana questioned.
‘Why? I think it’s pretty obvious’ I replied as I rose to my feet. ‘I have always been alone. No friends. No social life. Just walled up at home. Then when Mrs Greyson put us together for the project, I wanted it to be an opportunity for us to bond and be closer. For me to make new friends. Before I left to meet you guys at school, I made up the legend of the Marlyvale steam train about this place to give us something to share and create conversation. And what happens? Carlos makes fun of me by scaring me consistently. Well I’ve had it. I’m not going to be the victim anymore’.
“You’re crazy!” Carlos yelled frantically as he made his way onto his feet slowly.
‘Really? Like I care what you think. I told you, I won’t be the victim anymore.
You wanted to try to make my life chaotic by bullying me? Well, I believe in the concept of an eye for an eye’.
I then ran towards Carlos and lunged my knee into his throat as he was on his knees. Carlos collapsed onto the floor, choking in rampant wheezes, as he clutched his throat.
‘Well, it’s been nice chatting but I’m going to go and abandon you both like you two and many others have done to me my whole school life’ I said as I grabbed the flashlight that had fallen next to Lana.
‘Don’t leave me!’ Lana squealed as her hand grasped my ankle.
‘Like you left me at the platform today or how you abandoned me to catch up with Carlos? A bit hypocritical don’t you think?’
‘Please!’ Lana pleaded as she moved towards me. I pushed her down to the floor.
‘Goodbye!’ I replied. I caught a brief look at Carlos who gripped his cell phone in hand and was typing numbers in slowly. Probably calling the police. I didn’t care. Going to prison would not make a difference. I would still be alone. I turned my back on the groans of the two. I clicked the flashlight on as I ventured back towards the entrance of the tunnel. I would rather have not walked in the dark channel alone but I needed to face my fear of the dark, just as I had rectified my fear of being alone.
The groans and whimpers faded as I walked further back into the darkness, away from those that had abandoned me.