Ghost Train

Award Category
Logline or Premise
A devoted father enters the ghost train with his four-year-old son and emerges from the ride without him, but finding the boy leaves questions unanswered and a mystery that can only be solved when shameful secrets are revealed.
First 10 Pages


“How could you not notice your son being taken?” Detective Constable Peter Walton asked, and Adrian Townsend repeated that his little boy had been right beside him on the ghost train and then, when the ride burst back into the daylight, he had disappeared.

Peter could only imagine what the man sat hunched in front of him in the dingy, windowless interview room was feeling but the policeman’s son was four years old too so it wasn’t impossible to do so, easy even. But then would his judgment be clouded? He had a job to do and he knew that emotion was best left out of any investigation. He felt so sorry for Adrian Townsend but he had to do this right. “I am sorry to keep going over everything.”

“I know, you’re only doing your job but you’ve got officers out looking for Jerry haven’t you? He’ll be so frightened.”

“Yes, yes we have.”

“And you’ve told his mother? God, Carole will be distraught.”

“Yes, there’s a WPC with her. Actually, we’re not supposed to say WPC anymore.”

“I don’t know what could have happened to him. I just don’t…” The tears came again now and there seemed to be no limit to how much this man could cry. His nose ran and Adrian wiped it on his sleeve because his tissue was sodden. Peter offered him another from a box marked ‘Mansize’

“Your arm was around his shoulder, you said?”

“I did. It was.”

“And the ride remained in motion throughout? It didn’t stop at all, until it was finished?”

“No, it kept moving. We could only have been in there five minutes.”

“More like three and a half,” said Peter, hoping that he sounded more authoritative than he felt. “We checked.”

Adrian shook his head and asked, desperation in his voice, “But you do believe me, don’t you? I know it sounds incredible.”

“There are lots of witnesses who saw the two of you, Mr Townsend, though at first Mr Smith, the man operating the ghost train, was reluctant to talk to us - probably worried that he was in trouble for having let a boy of only four on his ride.” Adrian was looking down again now, as though studying the well-worn table for answers to all of this. “Did you notice anything at all unusual?”

“It’s all pretty unusual, isn’t it? Complete darkness, then some flashing lights, a recording of a scream or a groan…” He suddenly sounded impatient.

“Yes, I’ve been on the ghost train. Can’t say I care for funfairs myself. Especially not on regatta weekend.” He was waffling now and it was probably inappropriate. “It’s quiet here usually.”

“I know, I’ve lived here all my life.” Adrian sounded even more impatient now. “I must talk to Carole. I need to go. I can go, can’t I? You don’t suspect me of anything, do you?” Peter shook his head. He didn’t suspect Adrian Townsend, did he? He shouldn’t even have been at the police station but he had been catching up on paperwork, trying to make a good impression as a new recruit to CID. Uniformed colleagues had brought Adrian in and asked Peter to interview him straight away rather than wait for more senior colleagues to arrive, given the urgency of the situation. “So, can I go, I really want to talk to my wife.”

“Wife, or ex-wife?”

“Does it matter? We are separated. At the moment.”

Peter said nothing for a few minutes, hoping that Adrian would fill the vacuum with some previously forgotten clue but instead his interviewee asked him again, “So, am I free to leave?”

“I’m sorry, Adrian but please tell me one more time …”

“Just before the end, I felt Jerry move but I thought he was just getting restless. I was going to make sure he was okay; reassure him if he was frightened. I was thinking maybe Carole had been right after all and he had been too young for the funfair. Then we were through the doors and back outside.”


“And he wasn’t there.”



Adrian was the last to leave the building society. He had got used to this, just as his colleagues had got used to him being the one who made sure that the alarm was switched on and the door locked. In truth, it made him feel important and he hadn’t minded being late getting away because until now he had had nothing, or rather no one, to rush home for. But not any more.

Adrian approached the heavy door and noticed, as he reached forward for the handle, that in his reflection he was standing a little taller than usual. This prompted him to step extra confidently through the door and straight in to the shopping precinct, where he collided with a woman carrying two bulging plastic carrier bags.

“I’m so sorry,” said Adrian as she dropped one of the bags, causing it to spew its contents on to the concrete paving slabs. “Mrs Brown, isn’t it?” A bottle of orange squash rolled away.

“That’s right.” She sounded annoyed, but immediately mellowed when she read the name badge still pinned to the jacket of Adrian’s cheap grey suit. “Ah, Adrian, never mind, these things happen. No one’s fault.”

“You weren’t going to carry these two heavy bags all the way up the hill to Grove Street, were you?”

“Do you remember all your customers’ names and addresses?”

“Only the most important ones, Mrs Brown.” A passer-by handed Adrian the bottle of squash and he squeezed it into one of the already full bags.

“Now you’re just flattering me.” She was old enough to be his mother so there was no chance she would think he was flirting. “Yes, I’ll be walking back with this lot. I can’t afford a taxi on top of these prices.” Mrs Brown pulled a receipt from her coat pocket and waved it at him like a tiny white flag.

“Let me help you; it’s the least I can do.”

“Don’t you have to get home?” Now that he thought about it, Carole might have been planning to cook because she had asked him that morning what time he would be back. But she had never cooked for him before and, indeed, when he turned his key in the door of their flat almost an hour later there was no aroma coming from the kitchen. The extra exertion of helping Mrs Brown home with her shopping had given him an appetite, especially after going all the way back to the building society to check that he had locked the door because he had been distracted by what had happened.

“You’re late,” said Carole when he entered the living room from the tiny hallway.

“I was helping someone…” There was a novelty to having someone to explain himself to.

“That’s nice.” She didn’t sound as though she meant it.

“Have you eaten?”

“Yes, ages ago.”

“Oh, okay.” She didn’t point him towards something keeping warm in the oven or offer to get him anything, so Adrian added, speaking as evenly as he could manage, “Well, I’ll just get myself something.”

“Could you sit down for a minute first, please Ade?” This was it then, he thought. He had been surprised when Carole had wanted to go out with him six months earlier and even more so when she had suggested moving in only a few weeks after that. He hadn’t been sure he wanted to share the flat but Carole, he had decided, was a good catch for someone as average in every way as him. Average height. Average intelligence. Average income. He wasn’t about to say no and jeopardise the relationship but now, it seemed, Carole may have come to her senses. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

They would laugh later, or at least he would, when he recalled how he had expected Carole to finish with him and had been wondering why she seemed so excited about it. “Go on then, don’t keep me waiting.” Did he look as miserable as he felt? Adrian had an ache in the pit of his stomach, right beneath where his dinner should be. “Tell me.”

“I’m pregnant, Ade! Can you believe it? I thought I was and I did a test this morning.”

“But I thought you were on the pill?”

“It’s early days, of course. I’ll have to be careful…”

“You told me you were on the pill. Why would you…?”

“Are you really going to spoil this moment?” Her smile faltered, like a light flickering on and off because of a loose connection and Adrian thought how well it suited her to be happy, how she didn’t need make-up or a fancy hair do to look beautiful, just upturned lips and a sparkle in her hazel eyes. “I thought you’d be pleased.”

“But I’m still waiting for my promotion…”

“Well, we’ll have to manage on what you earn at the moment, won’t we.”

“But you won’t have to stop working for months yet, and then your maternity pay will see us through. Hopefully by the time that ends I will be deputy branch manager.”

“You’re not expecting me to be one of those women who work right up to the day they are due are you? I’m not taking any chances, Adrian. You’ll have to look after me.”He didn’t recognise this tone from Carole but then perhaps he was being unreasonable, perhaps because he was hungry. ‘Hangry’ they called it, didn’t they? “I must say, this wasn’t the reaction I expected.”

“Were you ever on the pill, Carole?”

“There are risks. They don’t know…”

“So, when you…”

“When I lost my baby…”

“Did you tell your previous boyfriend that you were on the pill?”

“Look, no woman can assume that they will get pregnant. Fertility declines rapidly…”

“Not until you are in your 30s and not really until you are 35…”

“I wasn’t talking about me.”

Outside, a car horn called time on their argument. Adrian decided to try and lighten the mood. “How are you feeling?

“Oh fine, but I told you what the doctor said last time; that there was no reason why I should miscarry again as long as I looked after myself.”

“I just meant, are you happy?” She smiled and he was glad that this was the news, not that they were finished. “You’ll be fine, of course you will.”

“Oh, suddenly you’re a medical expert, are you? Well, it’s a shame you couldn’t stop me losing my little girl.”

That was a bit unreasonable. “But you said you lost the baby at eight weeks. That’s too early to tell gender, isn’t it?” He instantly regretted pushing the point and wondered how Carole, especially the version of Carole he was meeting for the first time this evening, would react.

“I could tell,” she replied, thoughtfully.

“In that case…” He waited a moment and then repeated the words, at last allowing himself the excitement that Carole’s news merited and she had been looking for all along, “In that case, what are we going to have, a son or daughter?”

“A son. Definitely a son.”


Adrian surveyed Carole as she lay on their fake leather sofa, eyes closed. She had kicked off her slippers and he smiled when he noticed the big toe of her left foot poking through her sock.

“You’re looking at me again.” Her eyes remained closed and her lips moved only just enough to allow the softly spoken words to escape, as though she was conserving every bit of energy for the event that was still six months away.

“How could you tell?”

“I can always tell. I can tell what you’re thinking too.

Adrian got up from the armchair, stopping to plump the cushion he had been sitting on before joining Carole on the sofa.

“Oh, really, Ade? You know this old sofa can’t take both our weights; not now I’m getting so big.” He gently moved her feet, tickling the bare toe as he did so, but, rather than laugh, Carole finally opened her eyes and glared at him. “What do you want?”

“I thought you could tell without me saying.”

“I’m resting Ade, just like the doctor said I should.”

“About our wedding…”

“That again. We said we would wait until the baby’s born. I thought that’s what you wanted. You keep saying we don’t have enough money now that I’ve given up my job.”

Adrian turned as much as he could to face Carole but there was little room. It was as though she was thinking herself bigger because he knew that she had only gained two or three pounds. He had been at the antenatal appointment with her, even though she had tried to dissuade him. “Let’s get married before the baby’s born.”

“I can’t walk down the aisle like this and anyway, all that excitement wouldn’t be good for baby.”

“Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t feel right having a baby without being married.”

“But would it feel right getting married without your parents, your brother, your friends from the building society. You said yourself we can’t afford a wedding at the moment so what would we end up with? A register office do with a couple of people off the street as witnesses?”

Adrian was going to back down, just as he normally did these days, but this was important to him. He hadn’t wanted a baby yet and Carole had gone ahead and got pregnant - he hadn’t forgotten that - so why should he allow her to have her way over the wedding? He wasn’t even sure it mattered that much to him, but it might to his family, and for some reason that mattered to him. Adrian wouldn’t back down, so he stood up. He cleared his throat. He spoke loudly and clearly. “We are getting married Carole. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do so at a register office and invite our families and close friends. That’s what we will do.”

Carole stood up too and Adrian instantly regretted having done so because she was taller than him, even in her socks. “Okay, Adrian,” she said, “we can get married but not in a register office. I will only do so if it is in a church with as many friends and family as I want and only if it is before my third trimester.”

“You know we don’t have the money for a big wedding. Not yet.”

“Well then, we’d better wait, hadn’t we?”

“No, I’ll find the money. We will get married before this little chap makes his debut.” Adrian went to place his hand on Carole’s belly but she took a step back, sat back down and closed her eyes again. He studied her features and detected a thin, victorious smile of satisfaction. “You’ll see.”