contents
chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10
chapter 11
chapter 12
chapter 13
chapter 14
chapter 15
chapter 16
chapter 17
chapter 18
chapter 19
chapter 20
chapter 21
chapter 22
chapter 23
chapter 24
chapter 25
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Chapter 2
The Freight Train.

The class of Lordship Lane Comprehensive School headed for their coach to take them to London, leaving the lonely figure of Elké standing in the middle of a huge car park. She turned, and made for a small wooden transport Cafe close to the exit.
    Inside was hot and stuffy. The smell of meat stew and stale cooked vegetables hung in the air like a cloak. Behind the counter stood a man of huge proportions with a large, round, cannonball head, slicked-back hair and a tiny black moustache.
    Elké studied the today's menu hastily scrawled in white chalk on the blackboard. There were many strange items listed, but the strangest of all – 'Double Dog & Mash.'
    "Excuse me, what is a 'Double Dog'?" asked Elké, politely, pointing at the blackboard.
    The big man turned to the menu and immediately threw back his head and guffawed loudly. "Thems are the fattest and juiciest pork sausages in the whole of England, miss. And great value at one pound twenty. Here, take this complimentary cup of tea and find a seat. I will bring over your order when it is ready."
     With that, he poured steaming hot tea into a giant mug.
    Elké found an empty table, took out her purse and counted the money she had changed on the boat.
    "Twelve pounds and some small change," she mused. "How on earth am I to get to Birmingham on that?"
    She opened her backpack and fished out a large-scale map of England.
    Portsmouth was easy to find, right at the bottom, on the coast. "Now where is Birmingham? Ah! Here it is. Oh Dear! It looks so far away and so difficult to get to."
    "Are you having some kind of trouble?"
     The sudden intrusion startled Elké. She was so intent on her map reading that she had not noticed a young girl sit down on the opposite side of the table. A young girl with tumbling golden hair, an open face and enquiring blue eyes behind large, round, owl-like glasses.
    Elké recovered her composure. "I'm sorry. I was trying to work out how to get to Birmingham on twelve pounds."
     The young girls eyes widened. "Yes, that does seem rather a tall order. But maybe my uncle can help. He is a long distance lorry driver and might know of someone going that way. Here he is now."
    A lean, wiry man with sandy coloured hair joined them at the table.
    "Uncle Chris, this girl would like to find someone to give her a lift to Birmingham."
Her uncle screwed up his face and shook his head. "Oh, what a pity. If only I had known earlier. Barry left just fifteen minutes ago. He is heading for Manchester and will be passing close by Birmingham." He glanced around at the other tables and shook his head again. "No, I'm afraid it's rather late in the day to hope for a lift now."
    The man sat in thought for a moment. "I'll tell you what," he said, eventually. "We are dropping a load off at the goods yard in Salisbury. A freight train, heading for Oxford, leaves there at around midnight. Maybe you can grab a ride on that."
    He leaned across the table and jabbed a finger on Elké's map. "Here's Oxford, O.K. It's still a fair way from Birmingham but this road, passing through Stratford, goes straight there. You should have no trouble hitching a lift."
    Elké felt much happier as she tucked into her 'Double Dog & Mash.'
    Soon the three were ready to leave. Elké followed the man and his niece, Amy, out to the Lorry. And what a monster of a vehicle it turned out to be. Amy called it a 'juggernaut'. The abundant chrome covering the bonnet sparkled in the sunshine.
    The cab was high up and spacious. There was even a bunk bed at the back, complete with a portable T.V. set.
    Elké sat between Amy and her uncle, feeling very important, high above the other traffic.
    The docks and the city of Portsmouth were soon left far behind as the mighty juggernaut headed for the motorway.
    First they passed rolling green hills dotted with grazing cattle, golden fields of waving corn and then entered dense woodland.
    "This is called 'The New Forest'," announced Amy. "Kings and nobles of the middle ages hunted deer and wild boar here. The boars are now extinct, but if you sit quietly you can still see many deer. Oh look! There is a herd of wild ponies."
    Twenty or thirty chestnut brown ponies nibbled contentedly on the abundant heather, their long black tails occasionally flicking off the irritating flies. A number of spindly-legged foals gambolled playfully amidst the herd.
    A short stop was made at Ringwood to off-load some cargo and then on and on they drove, passing many towns and villages.
    It was quite dark as they approached Salisbury. The full moon cast eerie shadows and speckled the surrounding moorland with a silvery light.
    "What is that ring of giant stumps over there?" Asked Elké, pointing to her right.
    Amy glanced across. "That is Stonehenge. Doesn't it look magnificent in the moonlight?"
    Elké sat up with renewed interest. Even in Austria, Stonehenge was famous.
    Not long after, the juggernaut pulled into Salisbury goods yard. A vast expanse of railway track, chock-a-block with various types of rolling stock, disappeared off into the distance.
    Amy's uncle helped Elké down from the cab and took her by the shoulder.
    He glanced around furtively. "I believe the oxford bound train leaves from track seven," he whispered. "You can easily tell for sure because each wagon is marked with the letters OXF, followed by a serial number. I am afraid you will have to crawl under the other trains to get to the one you want, but watch out for the security guards, they can be a mean bunch."
    Elké gave Amy a big hug and scrambled under the nearest train. It was very dark and dingy so she was glad when she came out on the other side. After looking carefully to make sure the coast was clear, she made a dash across the gap to the next train.
    All went well until she was busy crawling under the fifth train when the crunch, crunch, crunch sound of feet on gravel came to her ears. Elké hid behind the nearest large steel wheel and froze. The crunching sound grew closer and soon she saw a high powered torch beam sweeping from side to side, followed by a pair of shiny black boots, as the security guard strolled past. Elké heaved a sigh of relief when all was quiet again.
    The young girl cautiously crept alongside the Oxford bound freight train, carefully keeping to the shadows, trying the doors of each wagon as she passed. She eventually found a door that slid open enough for her to climb in. Elké closed the door behind her before turning on her torch.
    Inside, the wagon was completely empty, save for a liberal amount of wood shavings scattered about the floor.
    "They should make a comfy bed," she thought and began pushing the shavings into the far corner, making quite a pile.
    When Elké was happy with her efforts, she unrolled her sleeping bag and laid it on top of the shavings.
    Elké sat down on her crudely made bed but did not feel in the least bit tired. She decided to dig out her map and plan the next stage of her journey.
    By the light of her torch she concentrated on the Oxford area.
    "It seems to me that this train ends up on the other side of the city," she muttered. "If I could somehow get off where we pass close by the Stratford road, it should save me lots of time."
    A sudden noise from outside caused her to switch off her torch and listen intently.
    Who was it? What was it?
    Her heart was gripped with fear as the wagon door slowly slid open, revealing the silhouette of a man against the lighter night sky.
    She heard him grunt with effort as he pulled himself up into the wagon and push the door back into place, plunging the carriage into darkness once again. She heard him slide down the front wall and land with a bump, followed by a weary sigh.
    Elké sat quiet, her heart pounding. What should she do? Her presence would surely be discovered.
    "Attack is the best form of defence," she quoted to herself and aimed the torch at where she guessed the last sound had come from, and quickly pushed the switch.
    The bright beam shone directly on to the man's strange face revealing a thin nose above an equally thin, cruel looking mouth, light blue, watery eyes and long, curly, unkempt hair.
    He held up his bony hands to shield his eyes from the bright light. "Hey! Cut that flash light, will yer," He almost whined. "Do you wanna blind me?"
    But Elké kept the beam steady. "What are you doing here?" She demanded, trying to prevent the fear from showing in her voice.
    The man relaxed at hearing a girl's voice. "Same as you, I should think. Hitching a ride to Oxford."
    Elké detected a strange accent. An American drawl, perhaps. She eased herself to her feet and crouched at the far end of the wagon, still keeping a careful eye on the intruder.
    The man's mouth broke into a sinister grin. "I wouldn't stay down that end of the wagon if I were you, missie. You might come to some harm. Come and sit next to me. It'll be safer."
    Elké gave a cynical laugh. "You don't expect me to fall for that one, do you? I'll take my chances here, thank you."
    "Suit yourself. But don't say I didn't warn yer."
    Then something strange took place. It began innocently enough. A rapid banging could be heard, emanating from way off at the front of the freight train. The banging, however, grew closer and closer and consequently louder and louder.
    "What the devil is that?" shouted Elké, to the grinning face at the other end of the carriage.
    The banging grew so loud that Elké was forced to drop the torch and clamp her hands to her ears.
    Suddenly, the wagon in which she crouched lurched backwards, throwing the confused girl forward, in an uncontrolled tumble, slap-bang onto her fellow travellers lap.
    The man grabbed her tightly in his bony arms and their two bodies, locked together, rolled around and around the floor.
    Meanwhile the goods train settled down and eventually edged forward on its way to Oxford.
    Elké recovered her senses enough to find herself clasped tightly by this strange, frightening person. But stranger still, his body was jerking in convulsive spasms.
    When Elké realized the man was only stifling uncontrolled laughter, her fear switched to anger.
    "You beast," she screamed, lashing out with her fists and feet. "Let me go."
    He immediately released his grip and lay back on the floor laughing loudly.
    Elké stood up and brushed herself down in a huff. "You knew that was going to happen, didn't you?" she exclaimed indignantly.
    But her outrageous behaviour only caused the man to laugh even more.
    Elké stamped her feet in anger. "What happened back there? Why was I thrown forward?"
    In between fits of laughter, the man explained. "That always happens when the engine connects up with the wagon. I did warn you that it was safer down this end. It is called 'the knock-on effect.' The engine reverses into the leading wagon with a crash, which in turn hits the next, and so on and so on. When this wagon flies backward you hit the front wall…simple."
    He picked up the torch that had slid towards him and turned to Elké. "As we are going to be travelling companions, I guess we should get acquainted. My name is 'Loco Ken.' I take this train to Oxford nearly every month."
     Up close 'Loco Ken' did not appear so frightening. In fact, Elké had to giggle at the brightly coloured little plastic dolphin that was tied to a strand of hair and dangled down just below his left ear.
    The two settled themselves down on the wagon floor, sitting shoulder to shoulder, like long lost buddies and whiled away the time as the freight train chugged on its way through the night.
    After some time had elapsed, 'Loco Ken' gave his companion a sidelong glance and said quietly, "Tell me the reason why you are so far from home."
    Elké listened to the drub, drub, drubbing of the wheels on the lines and felt the pleasant swaying of the wagon before answering.
    She told 'Loco Ken' of her life in a travelling circus touring Austria, and about the tragic death of her mother on the trapeze.
    "My parents divorced three years ago. After my mothers death my uncle Heinz became my guardian. He owns the circus, but is very cruel. He used to strap me for the slightest of things. I decided to run away and find my father. He works as a clown. I last heard from him six months ago when he was working for a circus in Birmingham. That is where I am heading now."
    The two sat quietly until Elké began to doze off.
    "Come on, young 'un," said Ken, rousing her. "Time to get into your sleeping bag. I'll get some shut eye in the corner here."
    They both slept soundly as the freight train rumbled on and did not even stir as it clattered over Shacklegate Junction taking the special goods line to Oxford.

'Loco Ken' gently shook Elké. "Wake up sleepy head. It will soon be time for you to leave."
     Elké woke with a jump and for a moment did not realise where she was. Suddenly the events of the night before flooded back.
    She gathered her things and joined 'Loco Ken' at the open door to watch as the train sped past green fields, woods and willow lined rivers.
    "The train will soon slow to a crawl at the junction ahead," said 'Loco Ken.' After you get off, cut across the fields until you hit a road. Turn right and that takes you to Birmingham. But I must warn you, it's a fair old distance."
     As the train slowed Elké climbed down onto a small footplate closer to the ground that still rushed past at a frightening speed. Suddenly the driver applied the brakes causing Elké to almost lose her grip.
    "Now," shouted Ken. "Jump now."

chapter 3
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