It’s always in the last place you look. It isn’t very surprising, really, when you consider that you stop looking as soon as you’ve found whatever it is you’re looking for. Love, the Meaning of Life, your car keys. Whatever it is you’re after, you’ll find it eventually – even if they took it away from you – even if they demanded your innocence, if they stole your childhood or your favourite pair of socks; it’s always waiting to be reclaimed, in the Lost Property Office of St. Pancras station.
There is a little known secret, about the naming of St. Pancras station – other than the initial focus on the fact that someone had appeared to misspell the word ‘pancreas’ – it wasn’t named after the bodily organ that was renowned as a fad in Victorian London. This cathedral of the Railway God was erected to praise him, and the name of a fourth century martyr was the name of the surrounding parish – nothing is mentioned about the bodily organ. The belfry of this monstrous edifice contains the once ubiquitous clock face, so central to the worship of the Iron Horse, its ringing chimes mingling with the others stretched out above both slumlords and the gentry, contained originally along the length and breadth of the British Isles. Its deafening voice echoes out a call to prayer from those red-brick minarets, chiming every fifteen minutes, announcing the arrival of yet another of the servants of the Rail God, another Iron Horse.
The cult of the Iron Horse spread across the world at an aggressive speed, navigating across worlds both New and Old in its steely grasp, until the donning of pocket- and wrist-watches became commonplace – tokens and superstitious symbols identifying the wearer as an adherent of the Rail God and his Father, Chronos, the King of Time. As the tendrils of their worship embraced the world, the crinkling of maps and of paper tickets no longer satisfied the gods – and worshippers began to leave votive offerings along the various and ever multiplying lines of their devotion. Simple things, things that reflected their daily lives: forgotten spectacles; second-hand copies of Chekov anthologies, tattered and frayed; wallets, emptied and pillaged by those in the upper echelons of worshippers – the now infamous ‘Muggers’.
All of these offerings would – in time – find their way to the local temples, discovered by those of the ‘Conductor’ or ‘Cleaner’ classes, sent back to the treasure troves of their local branches of the Lost Property Office. After being examined by the priesthood (the ‘Station Masters’, who would remove those items not considered worthy of the Rail God – item such as designer sunglasses and laptop computers), these items would be sent further along the rails, the diaspora being collected together in vast halls of offering before eventually arriving in the grand hall of St. Pancras.
Everything can be found, in the last place you look. The Station Master is a bitter man, long since twisted by his inherited role as the Guardian of the Tracks. Beg of him and you may see, however briefly, the splendour of Chronos and the Iron Horse. Beg of him and you may find the object of your desire, but it will never be returned. Beg of him, and you will become the next living sacrifice in this temple of the shuddering tracks.
This story is a history of the late 19th and early 20th Century, as it is taught in the late 28th Century. An era of trains, planes and automobiles, the history of our times rewritten and misunderstood by generations of novelists, political commentary writers (propagandists) and the new illiterati. The story was inspired by the current delight in personal ignorance (someone had a ten minute argument with me before admitting she didn’t know much about what she was arguing – her ‘reason’ “I don’t read because I’m not old like you!” She is around ten years younger than me) the prompts come from Steph at BeKindRewrite and from 3WordWednesday with Crinkle, Demand and Navigate. Sorry I know this one was pretty weird…