The Wraith by Bryan W. Alaspa Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
***FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE BESTSELLING THE MAN FROM TAURED COMES A COMPANION NOVEL EXPLORING NEW DIMENSIONS OF HORROR***
The tiny town of Knorr, PA, is one of those places where the walls between this reality and others is very thin. It draws people from all over the world and sometimes things slip through from our world into others while sometimes things slip from other worlds into our own. Nightmare things.
During World War II an experiment was done using a steam engine to see if entering another dimension could create instant transportation of goods and men from one place to another. It unlocked a nightmare from another dimension and only agents from the agency IDEA were able to stop reality from unraveling. The train, known as The Wraith, disappeared along with the scientist who built it.
Now, in present day, a young man hears the distant sound of a train whistle. The rundown train station at the end of the wooded path is somehow regenerating. Plus, people in and around Knorr are acting a little stranger than normal.
The Wraith is coming back, but it's not coming alone. Will Knorr survive? Will the universe?
Hey there, people, it’s Matt again. I don’t know if you guys bothered to listen to Tabitha and Warren this morning, but that damn story scared the crap out of me. I’m telling you, there’s something about this town. There are all kinds of stories. I went over to the Hollis house last night with my folks and had time to just sit and talk with Warren. He told me all about this girl Sapphire and the rumors of ghosts and this kid named Jimmy.
It was crazy.
So, here I am in the backyard. You can see the sun has gone down and the stars are out. Look at how many of them you can see up there. This is something we did not get in St. Louis. In St. Louis, during the summer, it’s like the sky turns into soup or something. You can barely see the moon, let alone the stars.
As I say, there are advantages.
Here, listen to what you can hear out here.
See? Quiet. This time of the year the katydids and the cicadas are even quiet. You can hear a few bugs, but nothing else. I understand that, during the high school football season, you can even hear the announcements and the game being played right here in the yard.
I like to come out here at night. Sometimes you see raccoons and I saw a few coyotes. I understand there are sometimes bears out here. Black bears. I do not want to run into a bear, but I also think it would be pretty cool to see one.
The thing which amazes me is how far away you can hear things. I guess I mean, how far sound carries. When it is really quiet during the afternoon, you can softly hear the engines of the jets that fly way overhead. Folks, we are nowhere near an airport, so you just see the contrails - or are they chemtrails? - way up there. But when the breeze quiets and you sit here and close your eyes and listen, you can hear the engines. By the time the sound gets here, you can’t even find the damn plane anymore, but I swear you can hear it.
I dunno. Maybe it’s my imagination. Whatever.
At night, you can lay back in the lawn and see the stars and you can even see satellites. I have a friend who insists you can’t see satellites, but that‘s total bullshit - oops, sorry. You can. They crawl across the night sky and they don’t blink. If you see blinking it’s an airplane. I can see shooting stars and stuff, too. It would amaze you at just how many stars there actually are when you look.
I mean -
Can you hear? Listen.
That’s a train whistle, I think. I hope the microphone can pick it up. I know there are train tracks somewhere around here, but I didn’t think it was close enough to hear anything. I just said you can hear jet engines at 35,000 feet, but there are a lot of trees and houses between here and the nearest train tracks.
There it is again.
I’ve been out here a bunch of times since we moved here, but I have never heard that before. It sounds weird, too.
Then again, I never listened to freight trains. We only get those out here. So quiet.
Man, that is just eerie. I mean, I know it’s a train, but somehow weird, haunted, sound is just eerie in the middle of the night.
Oooh, man. I have chills.
OK, well, that’s enough for now. I swear, I have friends and I will do a video where you meet some of them. Gonna shut this off and watch the stars for a bit and see if the train whistle dies away. Have a good night.
Matt put the phone down and stuffed it back into his pocket. He listened again. Sure enough, there it was again. The soft whistling sound. It sounded alone and scared, to him, as if some great beast were trapped somewhere in the woods and needed help. Chills went up and down his arms and his hair stood on end. There were few things creepier, he decided, than hearing the haunted sound of a train whistle in the middle of the night.
He heard the sliding glass door open, there was a moment when all sound became drowned out by the sound of the television inside blaring. Then came the sound of the sliding door again and was gone.
“Hey, sport, whatcha doin’ out here?” his father asked, trying to sound informal and sounding anything but.
Matt turned his head a bit to catch sight of his dad. His father was still a handsome man as he headed headlong into his 50s. His dad was a man who still ran in those shorter marathons people always had for charities, but in his younger days had done a few full-length ones and even a triathlon or two. He still had a good head of hair and was getting an older-man paunch which would never quite go away no matter how many 5Ks he ran, courtesy of so much time spent bent over blueprints behind his desk in his office.
Matt and his father had always gotten along. Sure, there had been times, even just two years ago, when things had gotten tense between them. That was natural. These days, though, things were good. He loved the old man.
“Not much,” he replied. “Just looking at these stars. I didn’t even realize how many of them were out there and that we could see just by looking up.”
He bent his head back and looked up again, just for a second forgetting about the haunting train whistle.
His dad looked up at the sky and smiled. his hands in his back pockets. He meandered down the lawn to where Matt was and when he got to his son, he put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m glad you’re finding the positives in our move, Matt,” he said. “I know you were not the biggest fan of coming here. But there are lots of good things, too. Like the stars.”
Matt gave a weak smile back to his dad. Not everything was perfect, of course. It worried him about starting college. He was worried about finding more friends and making the right choices. But, all in all, this had been a pretty good move.
Just then the sound of the haunting train whistle filled the air again.
“Hey, dad, do you hear that?” Matt asked.
“Listen. Do you hear the train whistle?”
They stood there in silence. Then his dad smiled and nodded.
“Yeah. Sound really travels out here. Must be a freight train way over near Clarion or something. Sure sounds far away.”
Matt wasn’t so sure that was the answer. There was just something off about this sound. “It’s been going on for a while now. Sounds weird to me. Spooky.”
“Yeah, it sound lonely, but I’m sure the oddness of the sound is just the distance,” he dad said. “You must get used to the way sound travels out here in the country, Matt.”
They listened in silence for a few more minutes. There were some more blasts from that whistle. Distant and lonely. Still reminding Matt of some trapped creature, and perhaps one which wasn’t friendly, either. That sent more chills down his back and caused the hair on his arms to stand at attention again.
“Hey, did you know our property has part of an old rail line on it?” his dad said, suddenly, startling him out of his reverie.
“Yeah, really. There used to be a main train line here which ran right through the property. There’s even an old train station somewhere. People used to use this property for boarding trains to new York or Boston or whatever. It went through downtown Knorr, too. Anyway, they abandoned the line for whatever reason back around World War Two and just kind of left some tracks and the station. I saw the roof of the old station when I first came out here to look at the place.”
“Where?” Matt asked, now curious.
His dad pointed off past the yard into the darkness beyond. The yard itself was rather large, but it was ringed at the edge by a thick grouping of trees. It was just deep darkness and blackness at the moment. Matt had meant to head into the woods and explore it, but had yet to find the time.
“Over there. Head down sometime and check it out,” his dad said. “But be careful. The place is really run down. Probably filled with all kinds of animals, spiders, snakes and things. Not to mention filled with old rusty nails and rotted boards. But, it might still look cool. You still do photography?”
Matt nodded. “Yeah. Brought the camera. Was thinking of turning one room in the house into a dark room and do some old fashioned stuff. Black and white.”
“That sounds like fun,” his dad said. “There’s a place down in the basement just off of my office which might work.”
They sat in silence for a bit and stared up at the stars and listened to the whistle. Slowly, the whistle faded away, and the silence returned. A moment later the katydids and the crickets started up again. Matt was tired, and he clapped his old man on his own shoulder and headed back.
“I’m going to hit the hay, dad,” he said.
“Sounds good, Matt,” his dad replied.
Matt headed through the kitchen and upstairs. He could hear the television on and his siblings laughing at something on the screen in the living room. His mother was probably there, too, but he decided he was tired and just wanted to stretch out on his bed and maybe listen to some music.
He headed upstairs and round the corner, into his room. As a gesture of peace, his parents had given him the larger of the non-master-bedrooms. It overlooked the backyard, and the view was pretty spectacular of all the trees. During the winter, when the leaves were off most of the trees, he guessed he could see pretty far off into the distance.
He did not have to work tomorrow. It was a Friday, and he had traded days off with another of the bus boys. The other kid had needed to take the day Matt normally had. He hoped doing things like this would get him a reputation as being a nice guy. He hoped people would accept him around here. It was tough enough being in a small town.
He opened the window and let in a bit of the breeze. He was having trouble just giving up on the night air and the beautiful sky. His thoughts were jumbled, and he wondered if he should FaceTime with his friend, Jason, back in St. Louis. He knew Jase would likely still be up and would probably talk to him. They had been inseparable back in Missouri. They had made all the promises to stay in touch and stay friends, but Matt could already feel the distance between them.
He changed out of his clothes and into sweats and a T-shirt. Then he walked over to the bookcase nearby to turn on the stereo and listen to some music. He was still old-fashioned and liked listening to music on vinyl, so he sifted through his record collection until he found an old Pink Floyd record. He dusted it and placed it on the turntable. Just as he was about to put the needle on it, he paused.
There it was again. The whistle. Soft, haunted, distant.
Was it the same one? It couldn’t have been, and yet Matt was instantly sure it was the same whistle from the same train. That made no sense. Freight trains didn’t suddenly back up or circle back around or something.
He stood there for a moment, his hand holding the needle and the black disk spinning around and around.
There was a loud click, and he jumped, the needle lurched in his hand and scratched across the record, but he didn’t hear it. Instead, the radio on the stereo switched on all by itself. The dial glowed on the ancient stereo and the digital numbers went crazy. Tuned to the AM dial and there was a loud squeal of static and then the numbers moved up and down rapidly. Amid the static he caught fragments of sentences and words from stations all over the country, with the AM band being able to pick up things from all over at night. The words came faster and faster, just an instant of one more and it all blurred into one loud and long blast of static.
Matt stepped back from his stereo. “What?” he said.
More static, in a steady pulsing sound, almost hypnotic. Bursts of static and tiny phrases and words.
He felt the sweat grow cold on his forehead and the blood turned to ice in his veins. What had he just heard?
A slight pause and more static at a steady pulsing, like a bad rap song.
The pulsing went on for a while and then there was the distant sound of the train whistle, drifting in through the open window. Long and mournful and so distant it was like it wasn’t really there. A breeze kicked up, and the curtain wavered in it, blowing in toward Matt like reaching hands.
Then it was gone.
The whistle vanished along with the breeze and the curtain settled. The stereo suddenly switched back to the record player and Matt jumped as the song Time, with its myriad of alarm clocks and chimes filled the room.
He quickly stepped over to the volume dial and turned the sound down. His heard hammered in his chest and he was sweating profusely. He whirled the needle from the record and shut off the stereo.
“What the fuck?”
There was no response from the radio or the stereo. There was no whistle in the night. There was no breeze.
He had no idea what to do now. What did you do when there was a ghostly train whistle and your stereo suddenly came to life and created sounds from snatches of static and radio stations?
So, he sat down on his bed and stared out the window for a while. The night grew cooler and got later, the stars brighter. He was sure he could never get to sleep, but he stretched out on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. With the word “wraith” running around inside his skull he drifted off to sleep.
Bryan W. Alaspa is a Chicago born and bred author of both fiction and non-fiction works. He has been writing since he sat down at his mother's electric typewriter back in the third grade and pounded out his first three-page short story. He spent time studying journalism and other forms of writing. He turned to writing as his full-time career in 2006 when he began writing freelance, online and began writing novels and books.
He is the author of over 30 books of both fiction and non-fiction and numerous short stories and articles.
Mr. Alaspa writes true crime, history, horror, thrillers, mysteries, detective stories and tales about the supernatural.
One of the things people always want to ask us writers is “where did the idea come from?” Basically, the act of writing a novel seems like magic to people who are not writers. I am not sure why, but it does. You get these kind of questions a lot when you write horror or creepy stuff like I do. How does your mind think that way?, they ask. Are you warped?
Well, I may be warped. That’s not for me to decide. For me, I think writing horror allows me to deal with the nightmares of the real world and channel them into something entertaining. I am not trying to change the world with my writing. I just want to entertain some folks. Allow them to spend a few hours reading my work and getting lost in the story.
So, how did I end up writing my latest novel - The Wraith?
Like so many things, it comes from something mundane. This is the thing to remember about horror. What is horrific? Horror can lurk in just about anything. Take my books out of the equation. Go to the King of Horror - Mr. Stephen King. Dogs, cars, hotels, cell phones, have all been the catalyst for tales of horror.
In the case of The Wraith it was standing outside my house one night walking my dogs. This isn’t the first time walking my dog has led to a novel, either. My novel After the Snowfall came about while walking a dog. But, this time, it was night and it was very dark. Then, while standing there waiting for the pooch to do his or her business when I heard a train whistle.
Have you ever heard the horn of a freight train in the middle of the night? In particular, when it’s very dark and quiet. Not much happening and the nearest train track is a mile or two away. It sounds like a creature moaning in the night. It’s spooky.
I remember the sound sending chills down my spine. I thought this sounded like something haunted. From there, it reminded me of ghosts in the middle of the night, moaning and crying. Something lost trying to be found in the darkness.
The original title was The Phantom Train. As the story kicked around in my head for more than a year, it took on many forms. At one point, it was about as close to a zombie story as I ever got with bad guys from the ol’ West coming back on a ghost train to seek revenge. Then, something clicked. I saw this taking place in my fictional town of Knorr, PA (same location as Sapphire, The Witness and The Dead Phone). As I wrote, I combined elements from urban legends and creepy online stories. Then, at some point, I knew the Agents of IDEA (first seen in The Man From Taured) had to come back.
The Wraith then sat for a while before I came back to it and polished the story. It’s tough to juggle an entire town full of characters. Plus, my novel Storyland came to me in a bright flash and with the fury of a thousand suns, requiring me to put this story aside to work on that one for a while. Sometimes the stories come easy. The Wraith I had to work for.
Now it’s out and, to my surprise, the companion novel The Man From Taured became a bit of a mild success for me. It seemed like perfect timing.
The Wraith was and is a labor of love. I love the town of Knorr. I love the Agents of IDEA. I’m glad you can finally be haunted the sounds of a train whistle in the night.
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