“Did I ever tell you about the time I caught the night train from Boston?”
“(wryly) No you didn’t. Sounds fascinating…”
Now this is a strange one.
After winding up in jail and quoting Oliver Hardy (yes, that Ollie Hardy), Tony Peterson decides to pass the time relating a lovely story to his increasingly regular partner in crime, Cassandra Collins.
“And then…there was the wino.”
Getting an invite from an old law school buddy to come down to Boston for a Red Sox game and a renewal of old acquaintances, Tony finds himself taking the evening train back to Collinsport. Unfortunately for him, he finds himself accosted by one of its more undesirable passengers…
“Great. Why is it always me? Every plane, train and bus I ever caught, there was always that one crazy guy making a beeline for yours truly.”
Annoyedly, Tony finds himself drawn into a banal chat with the crustily aromatic old gent, only to be brought to a sudden vivid alertness when things turn strangely personal…
“You a religious man?
You know what they say – there ain’t no atheists in a foxhole…”
Dozing off for a time, Tony finds himself besieged by bizarre, terrifying nightmares. But when he awakens, he finds things have changed. And this unwanted fellow traveler appears to know a whole lot more than he by any rights should…
“When I woke up, I was alone except for the wino. He was still there, sitting across the aisle…staring right at me.
…I looked out the window, but couldn’t see a thing – not a damn thing. Out through that window, everything was black. No moon or stars, no streetlights, nothing.”
With an atmosphere endemic to horror tales by the likes of Robert Aickman or the first two Silent Hill games, author David Llewellyn jumps into the midst of Mark Thomas Passmore’s wonderful ongoing Tony Peterson/Cassandra Collins double act with an odd, eerie and quite old school horror tale.
“Tony…may I call you Tony?
I think the time’s come for us to stop beating around the metaphorical bush.
I think we both know who I am.”
Tapping into primal metaphysics and tales dating back to the Dark Ages involving everyday mortals having the misfortune to meet up with a certain master logician noted for being unparalleled at the art of philosophical argument and debate, The Last Stop is is barely tangenitally related to the lighthearted romantic mystery-adventure tales Passmore crafted with The Death Mask, The Voodoo Amulet, The Phantom Bride and The Devil Cat…and yet strong enough to stand on its own, quite different merits.
“I looked out of the windows…saw faces in the darkness, staring in at me. Like white masks, in the shadows. I saw people I’d lost, people I’d loved…but pale, lifeless. And…they were all screaming.”
Falling somewhere between a ghost story and a Hawthorne fable, this sort of tale is almost atavistically familiar, particularly for those aware of the historical “folk horror” tales of a century past, but actually boasting a lineage far older, dating back to and even well before the woodcuts and mystery plays of the Middle and Dark Ages.
Cassandra barely cameos here, leaving precious little for Lara Parker to do this time around. Make no mistake, this is entirely Jerry Lacy’s show…and that of W. Morgan Sheppard (of Matt Smith-era New Who episode The Impossible Astronaut), who delivers a pleasantly laid back, yet quite sinister take on a certain hobo named Lou…
Credit must be given, beyond the intrinsic strengths of Llewellyn’s script itself (which is surprisingly incisive, featuring an appropriately rather logically convincing adversary) and the applause worthy, multi-toned performance of the two leads, to regular music and sound design man Nigel Fairs, who demonstrates an uncanny knack for knowing just when and how to accent a particular sequence…and far more importantly, when to pull back entirely, leaving the actors with only the sound of the moving train for accompaniment. Director Darren Gross pulls it all together and keeps things building from a lackadaisical start to an increasingly shuddersome and nerve wracking tension in the later acts.
“I came to realize…there was no such thing as time. There was only eternity.
No fire, no brimstone, no devils with tridents…just time. Alone, in darkness. The absence of friends, of comfort. Of love. The absence of life.”
This is the sort of tale that will chill the receptive listener to the bone, because its applicability is universal.
“He was still on the train…and he was staring at me. And still smiling. As if he knew we’d meet again, someplace…who knows where.”
Forget about the obvious digs at the criminal justice system and its glaring failings. Forget even the entire concept of “selling out”, or the impossibility of justice in a corrupt world – that’s all just window dressing, tangenital side points that distract from the core issue here.
Because when it comes down to brass tacks, we all have skeletons in our past, things we conveniently choose to sweep aside, gloss over, bury, ignore. Things we pretend never happened, as if that were someone else. As if we were never there.
Things each of us will nonetheless one day have to answer for.