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Late at night in her bedroom stifling the tears, dreading the next day of school. Head butting the pillow in anger with her teeth clenched, pretending it was Linda Mapping.
It had been the classroom taunting about her dodgy eye, led by Linda Mapping again as usual. The shit and the piss-take she’d endured because of her false eye. How they teased Pauline Locket. At fifteen years old and under height for her age she was ideal bullying bate. Even at the bus stop, if Linda were there with some friends they’d chant, the Locket with the socket or Pauline with the half mince pie. Linda would even resort to wearing a makeshift eye-patch to get an extra laugh.
When Pauline had to ditch the glass eye and wear her own patch because of an infection or soreness, they’d gang up in the playground -- Long John Pauline or where’s yer parrot, they’d shout. She was sure even the teachers smirked.
Linda Mapping was the most popular bitch in her year. She always went on those expensive school trips with the other fee-paying girls - the skiing ones to Switzerland where you also paid for half a dozen teachers and anyone else who could get their name on the freebie list. Parents had money. Unlike Pauline’s. Her school fees were paid by low income grants and some of her dads unemployment benefit.
With no money for expensive holidays, Pauline had to make do with the odd nature ramble, pressing leaves into books or collecting acorns or pine cones; or, if she was lucky, perhaps a religious study visit to Canterbury Cathedral for the day, with all the rest of the geeks that would like to take their pads and sketch.
Truth was, Pauline had never really been anywhere. Not even to Southend-on Sea. Coming from Dagenham that was about as near a place you get for a paddle and a donkey ride.
How she envied those girls, all bubbly and excited with their new puffed out fancy coloured ski jackets and bobble hats. Off abroad for their Christmas winter skiing holiday.
The last day of term would see the coaches by the school gates. Mums and dads waiving goodbye. While she stood with the other less fortunates.
Then just before Christmas 1975, her dad, Arthur, got second divi with his works syndicate on Vernons football pools. After the share out it was enough to ditch the old Mini and buy a decent second hand car, deck out the front-room including a new three piece and pay for a school skiing trip. Pauline was mad with excitement. The Christmas school trip sheet highlighted they were going to Dachstein in Austria, near Salzburg.
So, wearing a new skiing outfit, Pauline got on the coach with the other girls to take them to Dover to catch the ferry. That’s when her heart sank. There, getting on with three other cronies was Linda Mapping. She looked at Pauline, put a hand over an eye and started laughing with her friends.
The overnight sleeper to Salzburg clattered incessantly as girls climbed onto each- others bunks chatting and squealing. No one came near Pauline, but she could hear Linda Mapping’s taunts including all the old eye jokes with bursts of laughter, including the hurtful collective singing that Linda had managed to start up. Especially her own version of the Beatles favourite. I’ve got a ticket to eye, I’ve got a ticket to eye - eye - eye.
Outside a blizzard raged as Pauline, alone in her top bunk, had drawn the curtain and punched the pillow. She could feel the tears welling up once again. Then, it was about 8-30 in the evening when the train suddenly slowed to a stop. The cruel singing began to wind down.
Pauline heard voices along the carriage, then a rail steward called out for everyone to relax while a partial snowfall was cleared from the line. She raised the blind and looked out but couldn’t see anything, just swirling snow beating the window. No lights, just total blackness. She thought to herself, they were in the middle of nowhere-ville.
Pauline poked her head out of the curtain and saw Miss Stevens, the assistant head, with her arm around Linda Mapping’s shoulder. It looked like Linda wasn’t feeling well.
“Come with me, dear, and we’ll get you some fresh air,” she said, and walked with her up the carriage.
Once Linda had gone the other girls settled down and Pauline knew it was safe to approach. They seemed a bit embarrassed when Pauline asked them what the problem was. It was obvious Linda Mapping was the ringleader. Without her around Pauline got on alright with most of the other girls.
The problem was the others were afraid of Linda. She was clever and witty with good looks; also Head Girl. Certainly the teachers favourite. She couldn’t do a thing wrong. And Linda had made it clear from early on, Pauline was always going to be the classroom butt for her jokes and piss-take. So, when the others told her she wasn’t feeling well, an inward warmth of relaxation flooded through her. She hoped-to-fuck the cow could drop dead, but that was wishful thinking.
At that moment Pauline needed to use the toilet. The teachers had provided an endless supply of biscuits with Orange squash and Black current for the overnight journey. And she’d made use of the freebies. The problem was the toilet was at the end of the carriage where Linda and the teacher had gone. She didn’t particularly want to run into Linda. She’d had enough for one night, especially as things had now quietened down. But she couldn’t wait.
Pauline excused herself from the other girls and made her way up the carriage. She opened the first door into the lobby compartment and shivered with the cold blast that met her. The carriage door window was down and miss Stevens, still with her arm around Linda’s shoulder, looked up and said, “Locket, can you keep Linda company for a moment while I go and check on the other girls?”
“Can I pay a visit first, miss?”
“Yes of course you can.”
When Pauline came out the cubicle Miss Stevens had gone. Because she couldn’t get into the toilet, Linda had reached through the window and opened the carriage door to be sick. She was holding on, bent over leaning out, heaving onto the track. The icy wind and snow made her hair stick to the sides of her face. Pauline knew she’d been asked to stay with her. So she put a hand on Linda’s shoulder and said, “You gonna be okay?”
Linda turned and swallowed hard. Then said to her coldly, “What do you care, one eye. Why don’t you fuck off.”
Pauline took her hand away in shock at the offensive remark. She backed off while Linda reached again.
This looked like it was going to be a long painful holiday, Pauline thought. And this was only the first night. But if…? She looked at Linda’s back convulsing with the moans of travel sickness. There was nothing to lose. Even if it meant the holiday would be abandoned.
She looked either way through both carriage windows that looked into her compartment with Linda. Pauline felt like a prisoner preparing to make a break for freedom. It was all quiet. This was it. Now or never. She braced herself and left caution to the wind.
Pauline took a flying leap and knocked Linda out the carriage. Linda’s scream was carried away by the noise of the blizzard as she plunged headlong down a steep embankment. She slammed the carriage door shut immediately and pulled up the window. Pauline took deep breaths. What the fuck have I done she thought. She had to act quickly. The toilet. Get yourself in the toilet. Just in time, as she slid vacant to engaged, the carriage door opened and Miss Stevens called out, “Linda!”
Pauline answered, as near to Linda’s voice as she hoped. With a long drawn out horsy moan she replied, “I’ll be okay, miss. Its travel sickness; let me just rest up in here for a while.”
“Alright, Linda. Where’s Locket?”
“She left, miss, went back to the others.” Pauline replied in a sickly whine.
“Selfish little brat,” Miss Stevens mumbled.
Pauline smiled at the remark.
“You sure you’ll be okay, Linda?”
“Yes, miss. I’ll probably go to bed early. Sleep it off.”
“Best thing, Linda. I’ll come and look in later on.”
Pauline heard the door close and breathed a sigh of relief. She slid the toilet bolt and peeked out. At that moment the train lurched, rolled about ten feet, then stopped. A steward opened the lobby door and called out. “Please be aware the line has been cleared and we will be moving shortly.”
Pauline held the toilet door shut until he’d gone. Quietly she slipped out the entrance and stood by the carriage door window. Taking stock. Now all she had to do was get back to her bunk and pull the curtains.
It was then she heard something. A rustling scratching sound. She looked out the window and, “Arghhh!” Pauline screamed as a hand slapped against the glass. She recoiled back and put a fist to her mouth in terror. Pauline looked to see if she’d been heard. But it was all quiet. She took a step forward and peered out.
A snowy cap appeared at the bottom of the window, then, followed by a terrible white apparition. The lips and the nose were frozen blue and there was ice on the eyebrows and her fringe. Linda had somehow managed to haul herself up the steep embankment. Both hands on the glass now. The fingers frozen and useless. The pleading eyes of Linda looked at Pauline. One hand tried the handle, but the fingers had no grip. Linda was saying something. Shouting something in her cold silent world. Pauline leaned forward and smiled. She put a hand mockingly to her ear and mouthed the words, “Speak up.”
In that instant Linda knew she’d been trapped.
As the whistle blew, Pauline symbolically put a hand over her false eye and waved with the other one. The train lurched a bit, then lurched a bit more. Linda’s lips were pulled back showing her teeth in a muted scream. And then she was gone.
The train finally and slowly lurched itself into continuous motion as a cheer rose up from inside the compartments.
Pauline slowly made her way down the carriage considering her options. She passed some people chatting excitedly, now they were on the move again. Passing through into the sleeping car she saw the bedding cupboard. Pauline couldn’t believe her luck. It was plum next to Linda’s bottom bunk. She’d chosen the one in the best location, of course. Nearest the amenities and with the biggest picture window view. The other girls didn’t argue. No one dared. They didn’t want to be singled out, like Pauline. Be at the mercy of Linda’s biting sarcasm with the others ganging up.
With a rolled up blanket and two pillows she moved quickly on to the bunk and pulled the curtain. The girls were still in the dining car. Probably having a late supper because of the delay. Pauline stuffed them under Linda’s sheets. The mound looked realistic enough. Could she get away with it until morning? If they found her alive she’d be finished. The more distance the train could get between that little brat, the better.
One hour later Pauline was playing cards with the girls. Miss Stevens had taken time over supper with the other teachers and spoilt herself with a Brandy. And why not she thought. First night of the holiday, a chance to relax, and all paid for by the parents.
Having eaten her favourite, braised lamb shank followed by a delicious crème brulee. Miss Stevens slowly ambled down the lounge car feeling warm from the Remy Martin. She approached Pauline, “Locket, have you seen Mapping?”
Pauline looked up nonchalantly from her cards, calm and relaxed. She also held a winning hand. “Yes, miss. She told me she was feeling a bit better and was going to bed.”
Miss Stevens relaxed a bit further hearing the good news. The last thing she wanted was to be up all night with some schoolgirl vomiting all over the place. “I’ll pop in to see how she is. Thank you, Locket.” She smiled and made her way to the sleeping car.
Pauline knew her deception was probably going to be short lived. She braced herself, ready for the alarm call when Miss Stevens would realise the rolled up blanket with two pillows was some kind of joke being played.
But, nothing. All was well. Miss Stevens had popped her head in. Seen Linda all covered up, and relaxed even further. Now, decisions. Should she have an early night or return to the dining car with Mr Gordon, the Head. The thought of another couple of Remy’s with those dark chocolate mints?
Pauline never did get to ski. Within two days they were home again. The terrible tragedy put paid to that. Still, on the plus side she had three more non Linda Mapping school years to look forward too. That had to be worth a ski holiday.
The accident was even reported on television. Unfortunately the next train along had cut her in two. The newspapers didn’t say that exactly; died outside on the line from her injuries after playing some sort of prank with her friends, they‘d stated. Never stood a chance in the severe cold weather, it was minus five degrees.
There had to be over three hundred people at the funeral. All her class were at the front by the edge of the grave. As the coffin was lowered they each dropped a white rose onto the casket.
Pauline didn't. She took hers home as a momento.
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