On December 24th, 1943 the train called the Centipede, the gas-electirc engine exploded minutes after the local dignitaries and their familes boarded..
It was a trial run with only 3 cars attached, but, was called the Centipede because it was to pull anywhere from 30 to 40 cars.
43 passengers died, engulfed in flames as the gas fire spread.
The train had just left the Kernesville Depot which had long been abandoned along the the 4 mile stretch of track still there today. A bypass system had since been built, so it remained lost in the gut of foliage and trees only seen from the town below at the highest building of four stories, once housing the town library and register archives.
Now, the first floor is an antique consignment, the remaining floors still belonging to the town as an annex archive…files after files of births, deaths, major and some very minor events of changes that have taken place. This is where I found the local news bits about the train itself and the happening, along with reports from town folk as recent as 2004, which I thought odd to include.
The mention nationally was barely a footnote as the War took much of the country’s pages.
Claims were recorded of the train appearing on that exact date, arriving at the Depot then departing on its fated disaster.
But, some claimed it appeared at other times, not just the date it happened. Even children’s reportage was typed and written down, because the children often hiked the path to the rails to play. Their accounts included seeing the passengers on the train.
But, this is what I do. I collect legends and tales from around the country for my books that I write, many of them hauntings and such, but, moreover those that capture the imagination and are not the common ones usually written about.
Readers love this stuff, and, after my first book sold well, now working on my fifth one, I spend my time travelling and investigating oddities.
What is different about this one, among other things, is the train is seen in utter daylight, quite estranged from most other hauntings and events that typically are only encountered at night.
I arrived in town by car, the rail system no longer coming through this town, but in the next town instead. Knowing how superstition still affects even the hardiest of businessmen, it was decided to re-route the modern day train traffic purely on the assumption of bad luck.
Of the passengers, the most honored was the two-star general retired, who had become the town mayor of Kernesville and prominently regarded
with a bust at the new town hall.
Superstition plays a large role in these sort of small towns and are often rife with so-called legends and lore of everything from toad-men to pre-historic pterodactyls, whereas in other countries abroad it is of vampires and were-creatures.
But, hauntings are a universal, and, once when I was an utter skeptic I have come across things that defy logic implying some remnant often remains locked in a certain void, most typically having to do with untimely deaths, violent deaths, and eventful occurrences such as this one. Although, I have also investigated my share of hoaxes and hogwash, and, sometimes if wind of my coming is discovered, some places wanting to be news, make up or embellish things just to get my attention. Now, I arrive incognito.
Of course, noentheless, news spreads fast when a stranger looks through the archives and it is figured I am some type of journalist or reporter…especially, as it is necessary for me to ask questions of those still around to remember things. I simply cannot go by archival writings and news reports alone.
I had been in the archives for barely 2 hours when one of clerks noticed what I was researching.
“Sally Stride,” she extended her hand to me, " if you want to know more
you must visit Charles Courage, he’s a walking encyclopedia in this town."
I thanked her and she gave me directions to where I would likely find him, at the one of two local taverns. “You can’t miss it, it has a broken neon sign that says The Bunker, established 1943.”
“The same year of the aciddent?”
“Yes, one of the General’s relatives that didn’t make the train started it.”
“That’s interesting in itself, is he still around?”
“No. he died from a heart attack two years later after seeing his dead Uncle at his doorstep. He was never right after that that when the second heart attack took him.”
Thanking her again for the information I put my notebooks together and into my briefcase, and made my adieu.
As in all small towns many of the buildings were old and abandoned, boarded up. The sidewalk long cracked in places and weeds taking over through them. But, also, in such old towns, many places were well taken care of. No two houses were built exactly the same, seemingly, as if on purpose. In every town like this there is the one painted purple with pink shutters or vice versa. But, there was one that was so strikingly orange it was almost blinding, and I envisioned it illuminating itself in the darkest of nights. Upon closer scrutiny, the front lawn was adorned with all sort of sun ornaments, even one with a smiley face. The porch had sun-chimes and carved suns on the banisters…
Not a block away, I almost passed it, was the Bunker, just as Sally Stride described it.
It was a gorgeous sunny spring day and opening the screened door inside it was really dark. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, something to do with the nature of drinking being exclusive to grown-ups without there being a law against minors imposed in more modern times.
There were five small tables with tiny lights above them against the outer wall. I could barely make out the two shadows in the far corner. I strode up to the bar looking perfectly like an outside, ordered a beer, and before I could even say anything, the bartender spouted, “I hear you are looking for me, Sally called to tell me…you’re that writer fellow, recognize you from the back cover, read all your books…maybe I could fetch one and have you sign it for me?”
“Sure, would be glad to.”
“So, you want to know about Centipede Incident, not many even remember it outside of town?”
“Yes, anything you can tell me of the tales surrounding it.”
“Of course, mind you, I never myself witnessed anything, but alot of folks have over time, and, there is something mighty strange about it, I will admit…” Before I could interrupt with questions, he offered, “Dickie Noble has had the most sightings so far since he was 12…in the beginning he could describe the folks on the train, what they wore, even some of their conversations, but, like many a story overtold, not many listen to him much anymore.”
“Okay, where would I find this Mister Noble?”
“He’s no mister, he is still only 16, kind of a loner, his family not very sociable…you can catch him doing errands for his slob father on his bicycle to and fro, like that is his job on a daily basis. But, he’s a good kid and pretty much self-educated, reads alot of books and spends much of his free time at the new library or at the quarry when no one is there to go swimming, or up at the old tracks. He is fascinated with it.”
“So, then, where would he be now?”
“Let’s see 1 p.m. , he’d be doing his last run here for another pint of whiskey for his father. His father would drink that and then pass out like clockwork, so the rest of the day is Dickie’s”
to be continued