The Crumbling Empire

The train crash

What has caused the apocalypse

Richard awoke with a throbbing headache. He was cold, very cold. As his eyes focused on his surroundings he noticed a small white flower directly in front of him, it swayed slowly in the cold breeze, and as it did so clouds of seeds drifted from the plant carried along by the wind. He then remembered he was on the 06:12 train from London to Dover to attend a wedding with his darling wife Agnes. He recalled that she had commented the unsuitability of the young couple while the train sped through the countryside, before she returned to looking out of the carriage window and occasionally writing something in that damn notebook that she carried everywhere.

As he stumbled to his feet he noticed that the sun was low in the horizon, he glanced at his watch, noting that the time was now 15:30 on the 2nd November 1936. The last he recalled was that it was 07:59 and that the train was just short of Dover. As he looked around the scene of destruction was everywhere. The locomotive had somehow left the track, followed by carriage after carriage. He could not remember the train speeding and pondered how the train had left the tracks. What had caused the crash? He cried out “Hello is anyone there. Is anyone there?” All around the vicinity of the train and as far down the track in either direction was scores of the small little white plants. Suddenly he heard a cry from one of the carriages further down the train. He could hear a woman’s voice crying out for help in one of the first class carriages. Richard quickly moved to the carriage and began to move the cold bodies from where the woman was trapped. As he freed her, he heard another shout from further down the train. It was a distance away and was very faint. He ran down the accident scene dodging bodies that had been thrown clear of their carriages and arrived at a 3rd class carriage that was now lying on its side. After removing some luggage and bodies he freed a young man from the wreckage who thanked Richard and introduced himself as Mark Golightly. Suddenly Richard remembered his wife who he was travelling with in the Pullman carriage near the front of the train. As his attention switched to her as he raced towards the carriage he thought how empty his world would be without her, and how he could still remember talking with her just a moment ago prior to the accident. The carriage had taken considerable damage being so close to the locomotive. He quickly moved body after body aside checking the faces of each one hoping to find her but also hoping that she was not like all of the lifeless bodies, he hoped that she was still alive. Finally he found her, unconscious but still alive. He cried out for help and was soon joined by Mark who assisted him with a makeshift stretcher made out of coats and a few pieces of table legs.

The trio congregated outside the Pullman carriage. The lady introduced herself as Edith Peel, but seemed shaken somewhat by the scene of the accident as well as the destruction and death around them. Mark took some sensitive pictures of the scene and wrote some shorthand notes in his reporters’ notebook. Edith picked a flower and noted the release of pollen or seeds from it, she remembered some of her biology teachings, and noted this plant was very different from anything she had read about or seen before. She placed the flower in her bag and readied herself for the short walk to Dover. Richard found the guards carriage and took a first aid kit and gathered his and his wife’s possessions prior to leaving the scene. Mark and himself carried the stretcher down the line.

A signal box at a road crossing soon greeted them. No sign of life emanated from the box so after setting down the stretcher they proceeded up the stairs. They were greeted by a ghastly image of the signalman doubled over in a corner of the signal box, white froth spilling from his mouth and a broken teacup on the floor next to the man. Edith examined the body and noted that a mixture of seeds and saliva caused the froth. It seemed probable that some kind of plant had germinated within the signalman causing his death, seemingly in some excruciating pain to the man. Richard took a small electrical lamp from the signal box to provide some illumination as night drew in. He also tried the telephone, which seemed dead; maybe the line had been cut. He quickly checked outside the building, but the cabling seemed fine. The group proceeded down the A2 into Dover noting the milestone saying two miles to Dover. Mark noted strange clouds moving quickly above him; odd as the wind at ground level was non-existent. They soon came across a stationary car at the side of the road. Inside were two bodies slumped over; the male driver had seemingly shot his partner prior to turning the gun on himself. The couple had died hand in hand, but what could drive people to such actions? They carefully and respectfully removed the bodies and placed Richards’s wife, Agnes on the back seat where Edith kept a steady eye on the unconscious women. Mark started the car and proceeded towards Dover. Richard placed the revolver in the glove box and informed the others of its location. They soon passed a family sat on the side of the road, all dead. This time it seems they were aware of the situation and decided to take matters into their own hands. Beside one of them was a flask, which Richard identified as containing bleach. What could have forced these people to take their own life and that of their children? Flowers were everywhere as they proceeded towards Dover. None of them had seen flowers like these or such an abundance of a single species.

They stopped at the Red Lion public house on the outskirts of Dover and were greeted with more grisly scenes. The pub was packed to capacity; bottles of spirits, and beer filled the tables where people sat slumped, and motionless, all as cold as the air outside, they must have been dead for some time Richard surmised. Most had the white froth around their mouths. At one table there was a box of rat poison, which had been mixed with beer. Seemingly some of the occupants had committed suicide rather than face what had caused the others to die in such pain. It seemed obvious that they were aware of some impending doom and were unable to act to prevent it other than seek this solution.

As they approached Dover erringly the town seemed devoid of life, no lights, no sound of habitation at all. They noted birds singing and the odd cat scurrying about, but all they saw was evidence of mass death in the streets of Dover, bodies strewn the pavement all seemingly with the white froth emanating from their mouths.

They found the Crown hotel where they were all to attend a wedding the following day. As they entered the heavy wooden doors closed behind them and the bell rang to alert the receptionist of an arrival. There was no reaction as they entered the hotel this time though. Using the torch and an old hurricane lamp Richard had found in the cellar of the Red Lion they explored the hotel. Mark used the ledger in reception to find his sisters room and raced up to the second floor. He braced himself as he opened the door, but there was no sign of her. Edith explored the ground floor and was greeted with a scene similar to the Red Lion pub, many people had gathered in the hotel bar seemingly to drink themselves to death. Richard proceeded to the third floor only to find the body of his late father-in-law dressed in his №2 military dress with a revolver at his side and a bottle of scotch at the table. After clearing the bar and placing the bodies in a store room the group took some supplies from the larder and using a coal fire in the bar cooked themselves a meal. They drank of what spirits remained as well as ginger beer and tonic water. Richard noted the odd milky white colour of the tap water and decided it may be better not to drink the water. They found a battery powered wireless in one of the rooms but they were greeted by only static. As they explored the hotel they discovered Marks sister in a room. There she lay with her groom to be, naked, surrounded by champagne bottles, but with the ever-present white froth around their mouths. Mark was obviously shaken somewhat by the findings, but took some solace from the reassurance of the other two.

They decided to see if there were any ships in the English Channel so proceeded to drive to the cliffs and the nearby fort. They stopped at the police station and investigated the interior. The cells contained a few unfortunates that had died of the white froth. They noted multiple entries in the police log with complaints of over crowding and scuffling at the hospital. The last entry in the log was 10:41 seemingly at this point the desk sergeant was unable or unwilling to make further entries. The barracks were unguarded and they easily got to a firing point that overlooked the Channel and Dover itself, the guns all unattended. The town seemed dead with only a small glow coming from a lantern they had left in the hotel window to attract others. The moon illuminated the sea, which seemed a milky white in the moonlight. There were a few marker buoys in the channel, but no movement from shipping or signs of life in Calais. Edith found the radio room in the headquarters building. Luckily the battery backup was still functioning and Richard scanned the airwaves for any transmission or replies to their calls for help. Static was the only reply the group received. The radio log noted a transmission from an amateur radio enthusiast in Helsinki who had fled the city from an invasion of white flowers to a nearby fort, which seemingly offered no protection and was soon overrun by the encroaching flowers; no further transmissions had been received. The guardroom contained a couple of rifles, which the group took and they returned to the Crown hotel.

Richard put a note on the door and refilled the lantern in the window hoping to attract some survivors who were still alive. Edith retired to a room on the second floor while the men sat and sipped brandy in the bar with a roaring coal fire. Around midnight they retired, Richard to a double room where he had placed his wife in a bed and lit a reassuring fire. He commented that a good night’s sleep would help the pair of them and it would be a lot better in the morning.

Richard and Mark were both awakened soon after falling asleep, Mark noted that it was just passed 02:00 as he remembered hearing a clock chime. The sound of the door opening and bell ringing had woken both of them, was it other survivors? They dressed and gathered their wits and soon met on the landing prior to descending the stairs. They could both hear a Russian speaking to somebody downstairs. Mark could hear some swearing coming from the foreigner and he cried out a greeting to the man in his native tongue. No reply came and the pair began to descend the stairs. The piercing crack of a shotgun woke Edith. Outside her room the Russian had let loose one of the barrels of the deadly weapon towards Richard. It struck him cleanly in the gut throwing him back into a nearby open doorway. He let out a cry of pain and threw his revolver towards Mark as he collapsed on the floor grasping his midriff. As Edith hurriedly dressed. Mark fired the short-barrelled gun towards the Russian, glancing the man who quickly unleashed the remaining barrel towards the journalist. This time Mark was prepared for the attempt on his life and ducked into a room before the shell destroyed a section of wall. As the Russian reloaded his weapon Mark repositioned himself to get a clearer aim on his target. The Russian seeing his adversary reposition himself had abandoned his reloading attempt and charged up the stairs towards Mark, who unleashed another round from the pistol. This hit him directly in the shoulder and he staggered backwards before gaining his feet again and proceeding ever closer to his target. Mark noted the smell of cheap vodka emanating from the man and wondered if this had affected his aim somewhat. The Russian swung the shotgun uncontrollably towards Mark missing him by some margin. Edith had rounded the corner of the stairs at this stage and leapt towards their adversary, sending him spiralling down the stairs. He struck he head as he fell and ended in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs, unconscious.

As Edith secured the Russian she noticed that he had bought in another person into the hotel, an oldish man who seemed dishevelled and her hands were bound with rope. The Russian had dragged him into the room, but he now seemed relieved to see his antagonist crumpled on the stairs before him. Mark grabbed a first aid kit and tended to Richard. Edith also provided medical assistance to Richard noting that he was lucky to still be alive. They then turned their attention to the bound Russian at the bottom of the stairs and the strange man he had bought into the hotel with him.

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