This Case Files story is the first in a series written by creative writing students at York St John University. The students’ inspiration came from real-life crime stories, objects in our collection or their own imaginations. To immerse yourself in the world of mystery and detective fiction, take a look at our Mystery on the Rails exhibition. Tune in next week for the second Case Files story.
Carriage Keys and Curls
By Vicki Hall
“It’s just horrendous! How can the police just keep letting this happen?” Clara shrieked.
“Horrible contraptions, each and every one, perfect for cruel people! Why they were ever created is beyond me!” Anna responded.
The two maids seemed to have this conversation on a daily basis and every time Thomas felt fear seeping through every inch of his body. In just a week Thomas would be running away from the comfort of his job to catch a train to some unknown town with the daughter of his master and mistress.
When Evie had started talking about them running away he’d thought she was only joking so he played along with her crazy fantasy – but suddenly it was all very real and Evie was smuggling her brother’s clothes and purchasing knives and carriage keys. Thomas understood why Evie wanted to run away; she’d never felt accepted within her household. Despite doing everything that her parents and even her parents’ friends expected of her, they still couldn’t help look down their noses.
Thomas wanted to do everything he could to help his friend but the stories Clara and Anna had exchanged over dinner preparation had left him reeling. Stories of murder and of robbery and people being left for dead in strange villages. How could Thomas tell Evie all of this and persuade her to change her mind when she was so hell-bent on running away from ‘Evelyn Laurens’ and becoming ‘Evie James’?
The name change had come as a shock to Thomas, it was only then that he realised she might not have been joking about leaving.
A week later, Thomas was stood just outside the stables shivering in the early morning wind. He’d dressed in Evie’s brother’s clothes just like he’d been told to. As Evie approached him, his cheeks dimpled slightly as a nervous smile appeared across his dimly lit face.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Thomas we’ve talked about this! I’ve never been more ready in my whole life! Now quickly we must get to the station before dawn breaks!”
The two of them had to walk across fields and country roads with just the signs of the early morning light to guide them. At first, Thomas had suggested they take a couple of horses but Evie assured him that Clara or Anna would have rushed straight to her parents.
What felt like hours later, the pair arrived in Knaresborough; they couldn’t risk just walking to the station a mile down the road so they walked the extra three miles determined not to get caught straight away. Jumping onto the nearest carriage they were met by a man in his early 30s, his nose buried into his newspaper and his left leg bobbing quickly up and down. Thomas sat next to him and the two of them exchanged a brief nod as Evie sat opposite, adjusting her skirts to conceal the carriage key and knife she’d hidden in her homemade garter.
The three travellers sat in silence for the most of the journey, Thomas and Evie sneaked glances at each other every now and again. Each time she watched as he tugged on his borrowed clothes or picked at his nails. Suddenly, a piercing scream ran through the train, banging on every carriage door in the process. Thomas’ face turned a sickly white and the man next to him finally looked up from his newspaper. The train screeched to a halt in the middle of nowhere. All that could be seen from the windows was miles of fields covered in a blanket of snow.
More and more screams seemed to rip through the train, high-pitched and deafening. Getting closer and closer. Louder and louder. Evie’s hard exterior melted away as her breath quickened and her hazel eyes darted around the carriage. Thomas had never seen her this way before; ever since they had met she had always been confident and fearless. This shivering girl in front of him was unrecognisable.
“The key, Evie!” Thomas shouted over and over again trying to get her to snap back to her normal self. When he had finally caught her attention, she hastily scrambled among her skirts to find her knife and carriage key. Evie had finally got her key in the lock when the interior door of the carriage opened and there stood a masked man looming over the three travellers, a knife grasped in his hand with warm blood still dripping from the end onto the carriage floor. Evie and Thomas managed to unlock the exterior door and with their shaky fingers interlocked they flung themselves off the train into the bitterly cold snow.
They scrambled to their feet, not bothering to check for any wounds before running in the opposite direction of the train.
“Evie, where are we going?” Thomas shouted, his voice lost amongst the screams still running around the train.
“We have to go back home!” she shouted back as tears raced down her red cheeks. Without warning, Thomas collapsed to the cold ground clutching at his arm. His blood dyeing the pure snow pink as his best friend kept running, her ripped skirts and tight dark curls billowing in the wind.
I awoke, cold sweat dripping off my forehead, a scream escaping from my chapped lips. My bedroom door swung open as Danny rushed to my side. I told him all about Thomas and Evie, tears falling down my cheeks. “I think I know him! Thomas that is and Evie! She is just like me, except for being a rich girl from the 1800s or whatever.”
“It was just a dream babe,” Danny kept repeating as he stroked my damp hair.
“…Just a dream?” I muttered to him as I pulled myself out of bed and headed towards the kitchen, desperate to cradle my fingers around a warm cup of tea.
The image of the masked man danced around my mind as I slowly sipped from the cup.