PTAC's Audio Drama Series Podcast

The Signalman

October 09, 2020 The Phoenix Theatre and Arts Company Season 1 Episode 2
PTAC's Audio Drama Series Podcast
The Signalman
PTAC's Audio Drama Series Podcast
The Signalman
Oct 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
The Phoenix Theatre and Arts Company

This week's episode "The Signalman" was originally written by Charles Dickens. Our version was adapted and directed by Gina Stanton and Phil Pineau, edited by Gina Stanton, and features the vocal talents of Sam Steere, Phil Pineau, and Jenna Isabella.

"The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the gloomy face, that this was a spirit, not a man..."

Working alone in a dark and damp place and listening to the scream of the wind and the whine of the telegraph wires in the night, the signalman of a train line sees a ghostly figure whose presence seems to be a harbinger of disaster. This spirit has a message for the signalman... But will he be able to read the signs in time?

PTAC’s Audio Drama Series is a production by the Phoenix Theatre and Arts Company. Original PTAC music by Brian Sanyshyn. For a full listing of credits, visit us at While you’re there, please consider clicking the donate link. That would be delightful! Have comments or questions? Email us at [email protected], or find us on social media! 

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Show Notes Transcript

This week's episode "The Signalman" was originally written by Charles Dickens. Our version was adapted and directed by Gina Stanton and Phil Pineau, edited by Gina Stanton, and features the vocal talents of Sam Steere, Phil Pineau, and Jenna Isabella.

"The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the gloomy face, that this was a spirit, not a man..."

Working alone in a dark and damp place and listening to the scream of the wind and the whine of the telegraph wires in the night, the signalman of a train line sees a ghostly figure whose presence seems to be a harbinger of disaster. This spirit has a message for the signalman... But will he be able to read the signs in time?

PTAC’s Audio Drama Series is a production by the Phoenix Theatre and Arts Company. Original PTAC music by Brian Sanyshyn. For a full listing of credits, visit us at While you’re there, please consider clicking the donate link. That would be delightful! Have comments or questions? Email us at [email protected], or find us on social media! 

Support the show (

Support the show (

NARRATOR: “Hallo! Below there!” I called out.


When he heard my voice calling to him, he was standing at the door of his box. I would have thought that he could not have doubted where my voice came from, but instead of looking up to where I stood  he turned himself about and looked down the RailLine. There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so, though I could not have said what. 


'Hallo! Below!' I called again.


From looking down the Line, he turned himself about again, and finally raising his eyes, he saw me high above him.


'Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?' I asked.


He looked up at me without replying. [PAUSE]


'Is there a path?' I repeated. After a long pause, during which he regarded me with a curiously fixed attention, he motioned towards a zig-zag descending path some two or three hundred yards away.


The path was made from a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down. When I came down low enough to see him again, I saw that he was standing between the rail lines waiting for me to appear. His attitude was one of expectation and watchfulness.


This was as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a small strip of sky; in one direction, the view terminated in a gloomy red light and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a  depressing and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot that it had an earthy, dead smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it that it chilled me, as if I had left the natural world.


Before he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him. He stepped back one step and lifted his hand, not even then removing his eyes from mine.


“This is a lonesome post to occupy,” I said, “and it riveted my attention when I looked down from up yonder,” I concluded. A visitor was a rarity, I thought. But not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped.


He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel's mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me. There was something in the man that daunted me.


“That light is part of your charge, is it not?” I asked.


He answered in a low voice: 


SIGNALMAN: “Don't you know it is?”


NARRATOR: The monstrous though t came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the gloomy face, that this was a spirit, not a man. In my turn, I stepped back. But in making the action, I detected in his eyes some latent fear of me. 


"You look at me," I said, forcing a smile, “as if you had a dread of me.”


SIGNALMAN: “I was doubtful whether I had seen you before.” (2:48.5) 


NARRATOR: “Where?”


He pointed to the red light he had looked at.


“There?” I said.


Intently watchful of me, he nodded.


“My good fellow,” I said, “what should I do there? I never was there, you may swear it.” (3:07)


SIGNALMAN: “I think I may. …...Yes. I am sure I may.”


NARRATOR: “Do you have much to do here?” 


SIGNALMAN: “Yes. That is to say, I have enough responsibility here. Exactness and watchfulness are what are required most of me. As for manual labor, well, I change that signal, I trim those lights, and I turn this iron handle now and then, but that’s all that I do under that head.”


NARRATOR: “Surely, there are many lonely hours?”


SIGNALMAN: “I’ve grown accustomed to it. There’s a language down here - you know it by sight, and learn to read the signals.”


NARRATOR: “Are you always on duty? In this dark channel of damp air, never rising into the sunshine above these high stone walls?”


SIGNALMAN: “Why, that depends upon time and circumstances. Some days and certain nights, there’s less call to read the signals. In bright weather, I choose some occasions to get out of these shadows some, but at all times I must listen for the bell. When I’m away from the railway, I listen for the bell with anxiety, so there is not much relief in the sun for me.”


NARRATOR: He took me into his box, where there was a fire, a desk for an official book in which he had to make certain entries, a telegraphic instrument with its dial face and needles, and the little bell of which he had spoken.


“If you’ll excuse my question, you seem...educated above this station?” I asked him, hoping not to offend.


SIGNALMAN: “There’s a variety of such instances in the world, sir, among large bodies of men - in the workhouses, in the police force, even in the army. I know it is so in every railway staff.” *BELL RINGS*


NARRATOR: With the ringing of the bell, the signal man stood out of the door, waved a flag as a train roared passed, and made communication with the driver. He sat down and continued,


SIGNALMAN: “I was a student of natural philosophy, and attended lectures, but then I misused my opportunities, sir. My life climbed downwards, and never rose again.”


NARRATOR: As we continued to converse, the little bell rang several times, and he had to read off messages and send replies. In the discharge of his duties I observed him to be remarkably exact and vigilant. I would have thought him to be the best man for this employment, but for a certain circumstance. While we spoke, he twice went pale and looked at the little bell when it did NOT ring, then opened the door of the hut and looked toward the red light near the tunnel. He sat, staring, with an inexplicable air upon him.


I rose to leave him and said, “You almost make me think that I have met with a contented man.”


(I am afraid I must acknowledge that I said it to lead him on.)


SIGNALMAN: “Sir, I believe I used to be so. But I am troubled, sir, I am troubled.”


NARRATOR: He would have recalled the words if he could. He had said them, however, and I took them up quickly.


'With what? What is your trouble?'


SIGNALMAN: “It is very difficult to impart, sir. It is very, very difficult to speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I will try to tell you.”


NARRATOR: “But I expressly intend to make you another visit. Say, when shall it be?”


SIGNALMAN: “I go off early in the morning, and I shall be on again at ten tomorrow night, sir.”


NARRATOR: “I will come at eleven.”


He thanked me, and went out the door with me.


SIGNALMAN: I'll show my white light, sir, 'til you have found the way up. When you have found it, don't call out! And when you are at the top, don't call out!


NARRATOR: His manner seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said no more than “Very well.”


SIGNALMAN: “And when you come down to-morrow night, don't call out! Let me ask you a parting question….. What made you cry 'Halloa! Below there!' to-night?”


NARRATOR: “Heaven knows, I cried something to that effect----”


SIGNALMAN: “Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them well.”


NARRATOR: “I admit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, because I saw you below.”


SIGNALMAN: “For no other reason?”


NARRATOR: “What other reason could I possibly have!”


SIGNALMAN: “You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any supernatural way?”




He wished me good night, and held up his light. I walked by the side of the downline of rails (with a very disagreeable sensation of a train coming behind me), until I found the path. It was easier to mount than to descend, and I got back to my inn without any further adventure.


The next night, punctual to my appointment, I placed my foot on the first notch of the zig-zag path as the distant clocks were striking eleven. He was waiting for me at the bottom, with his white light on. 


“I have not called out,” I said when we came close together, “may I speak now?”


SIGNALMAN: “By all means, sir.”


NARRATOR: “Good night then, and here's my hand.”


SIGNALMAN: “Good night, sir, and here's mine.”


NARRATOR: With that, we walked side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down by the fire.


SIGNALMAN: 'I have made up my mind, sir, that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me. I took you for someone else yesterday evening. That troubles me.”


NARRATOR: “That mistake?”


SIGNALMAN: “No. That someone else.”


NARRATOR: “Who is it?”


SIGNALMAN: I don't know.”


NARRATOR:“'Like me?”


SIGNALMAN: “I don't know. I never saw the face. The left arm is across the face, and the right arm is waved. Violently waved. This way.”


NARRATOR: I followed his action with my eyes, and it was the action of an arm gesticulating with the utmost passion and vehemence saying 'For God's sake clear the way!'


SIGNALMAN: “One moonlight night, I was sitting here, when I heard a voice cry "Halloa! Below there!" I started up, looked from that door, and saw this Someone else standing by the red light near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed hoarse with shouting, and it cried, "Look out! Look out!" And then again "Halloa! Below there! Look out!" I caught up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling, "What's wrong? What has happened? Where?" It stood just outside the blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.”


NARRATOR: “Into the tunnel.”


SIGNALMAN: “No. I ran on into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped and held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and trickling through the arch. I ran out again, faster than I had run in and I looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again, and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways, "An alarm has been given. Is anything wrong?" The answer came back, both ways: "All well."'


NARRATOR: Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I prompted him, “Perhaps you were mistaken. A trick of the light, or a dream. A deception of your senses. As to an imaginary cry, do but listen for a moment to the wind in this unnatural valley while we speak so low, and to the wild harp it makes of the telegraph wires!'


SIGNALMAN: "That is all very well, but I know something of the wind and the wires, I, who often pass long winter nights here, alone and watching. But I have not finished.”


NARRATOR: “I beg your pardon.” 


SIGNALMAN: “Within six hours after the Appearance, the memorable accident on this Line happened, and within ten hours the dead and wounded were brought along through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had stood.”


NARRATOR: A disagreeable shudder crept over me, but I did my best against it. I said to him,“It is not to be denied that this was a remarkable coincidence. But it is unquestionable that remarkable coincidences continually occur, and they must be taken into account in dealing with such a subject. Though to be sure I must admit men of common sense do not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary calculations of life.”


SIGNALMAN: “Sir, I’m not finished yet. This was just a year ago. Six or seven months passed, and I had recovered from the surprise and shock, when one morning, as the day was breaking, I, standing at that door, looked towards the red light, and saw the spectre again.' He stopped, with a fixed look at me.”


NARRATOR: “Did it cry out?”


SIGNALMAN: “No. It was silent.”


NARRATOR: “Did it wave its arm?”


SIGNALMAN: “No. It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands before the face. Like this.”


NARRATOR: Once more, I followed his action with my eyes. It was an action of mourning. I have seen such an attitude in stone figures on tombs. I asked, “Did you go up to it?”


SIGNALMAN: “I came in and sat down, partly to collect my thoughts, partly because it had turned me faint. When I went to the door again, daylight was above me, and the ghost was gone.”


NARRATOR: “But nothing followed? Nothing came of this?”


He touched me on the arm with his forefinger twice or thrice, giving a ghastly nod each time.


SIGNALMAN: “That very day, as a train came out of the tunnel, I noticed, at a carriage window on my side, what looked like a confusion of hands and heads, and something waved. I saw it, just in time to signal the driver, Stop! He shut off, and put his brake on, but the train drifted past here a hundred and fifty yards or more. I ran after it, and, as I went along, heard terrible screams and cries. A beautiful young lady had died instantaneously in one of the compartments, and was brought in here, and laid down on this floor between us.’


NARRATOR: Involuntarily, I pushed my chair back, as I looked from the boards at which he pointed, to himself.


SIGNALMAN: “True, sir. True. Precisely as it happened, so I tell it to you.”


NARRATOR: I could think of nothing to say, to any purpose, and my mouth was very dry. The wind and the wires took up the story with a long lamenting wail.


SIGNALMAN: “Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is troubled. The spectre came back, a week ago. Ever since, it has been there, now and again, by fits and starts.”


NARRATOR: “At the light?”


SIGNALMAN: “At the Danger-light.”


NARRATOR: “What does it seem to do?


He repeated, if possible with increased passion and vehemence, that former gesticulation.


SIGNALMAN: “I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me, for many minutes together, in an agonized manner, "Below there! Look out! Look out!" It stands waving to me. It rings my little bell----'


NARRATOR: “Did it ring your bell yesterday evening when I was here, and you went to the door?’




NARRATOR: “Why, see then, how your imagination misleads you. My eyes were on the bell, and my ears were open to the bell, and if I am living, it did NOT ring at those times. No, nor at any other time, except when it was rung in the natural course of physical things by the station communicating with you.”


SIGNALMAN: “I have never made a mistake as to that, yet, sir. I have never confused the spectre's ring with the man's. The ghost's ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives from nothing else, and I have not asserted that the bell stirs to the eye. I don't wonder that you failed to hear it. But I heard it.”


NARRATOR: “And did the spectre seem to be there, when you looked out?”


SIGNALMAN: “It WAS there.”


NARRATOR: “Both times?”


SIGNALMAN: “Both times.”


NARRATOR: “Will you come to the door with me, and look for it now?”


He bit his lip as though he were somewhat unwilling, but arose. I opened the door, and stood on the step, while he stood in the doorway. There, was the Danger-light. There, was the dismal mouth of the tunnel. There, were the high wet stone walls. There, were the stars above them.


“Do you see it?” I asked him, taking particular note of his face. 


SIGNALMAN: “No, it is not there.”


NARRATOR: “Agreed.”


We went in again, shut the door, and resumed our seats.


SIGNALMAN: “By this time you will fully understand, sir, that what troubles me so dreadfully is the question, What does the spectre mean?”


NARRATOR: “I am not sure that I do understand….at all.”


SIGNALMAN: “What is it warning against? What is the danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging, somewhere on the Rail Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But surely this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?”


NARRATOR: He pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped the drops from his heated forehead.


SIGNALMAN “If I telegraph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reason for it.” 


NARRATOR: He wiped the palms of his hands. 


SIGNALMAN: “I should get into trouble, and do no good. They would think I was mad. This is the way it would work:--Message: "Danger! Take care!" Answer: "What danger? Where?" Message: "Don't know. But for God's sake take care!" They would displace me. What else could they do?'


NARRATOR: His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. It was the mental torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an unintelligible responsibility involving life.


SIGNALMAN: “When it first stood under the Danger-light,why not tell me where that accident was to happen--if it must happen? Why not tell me how it could be averted--if it could have been averted? When on its second coming it hid its face, why not tell me instead: "She is going to die. Let them keep her at home"? If it came, on those two occasions, only to show me that its warnings were true, and so to prepare me for the third, why not warn me plainly now? And I, Lord help me! A mere poor signalman on this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act!”


NARRATOR: When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man's sake, as well as for the publics’ safety, I had to compose his mind. Therefore, setting aside all question of reality or unreality between us, I represented to him that whoever thoroughly discharged his duty must do well, and that at least it was his comfort that he understood his duty, though he did not understand these confounding Appearances. At that he became calm; the occupations incidental to his post as the night advanced, began to make larger demands on his attention; and I left him at two in the morning.


That I more than once looked back at the red light as I ascended the pathway, that I did not like the red light, and that I should have slept but poorly if my bed had been under it, I see no reason to conceal. 


But, what ran most in my thoughts was the consideration of how I ought to act, having become the recipient of this disclosure? I had proved the man to be intelligent, vigilant, painstaking, and exact; but how long might he remain so, in his state of mind? Though in a subordinate position, still he held a most important trust. Unable to overcome a feeling that there would be something treacherous in my communicating what he had told me to his superiors, I ultimately resolved to offer to accompany him on the morrow to the wisest medical practitioner we could hear of in those parts, and to take his opinion. 


The next day, before my stroll, I stepped to the brink, and mechanically looked down from the point from which I had first seen him. I cannot describe the thrill that seized upon me, when, close at the mouth of the tunnel, I saw the appearance of a man, with his left sleeve across his eyes, passionately waving his right arm.


The nameless horror that oppressed me passed in a moment, for in a moment I saw that this appearance of a man was a man indeed, and that there was a little group of other men standing at a short distance, to whom he seemed to be rehearsing the gesture he made. The Danger-light was not yet lighted. Against its shaft, a little low hut, entirely new to me, had been made of some wooden supports and tarp. It looked no bigger than a bed.


With an irresistible sense that something was wrong--with a flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my leaving the man there, and causing no one to be sent to overlook or correct what he did--I descended the notched path with all the speed I could make.


“What is the matter?” I asked the men.


TRAIN DUDE: “Signalman killed this morning, sir.”


NARRATOR: “Not the man belonging to that box?”


TRAIN DUDE: “Yes, sir.”


NARRATOR: “Not the man I know?”


TRAIN DUDE: “You will recognise him, sir, if you knew him, for his face is quite composed.”


NARRATOR: Said the man who spoke for the others, solemnly uncovering his own head and raising an end of the tarp.


“O! how did this happen, how did this happen?” I asked, turning from one to another as the hut closed in again.


TRAIN DUDE: “He was cut down by an engine, sir. No man knew his work better. But somehow he was not clear of the outer rail. It was just at broad day. He had struck the light, and had the lamp in his hand. As the engine came out of the tunnel, his back was towards her, and she cut him down. Coming round the curve in the tunnel, sir. I saw him at the end. There was no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very careful. As he didn't seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut it off when we were running down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call.”


NARRATOR: “What did you say?”


TRAIN DUDE: “I said, ‘Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!’”


NARRATOR: I started.


TRAIN DUDE: “Ah! it was a dreadful time, sir. I never left off calling to him. I put this arm before my eyes, not to see, and I waved this arm to the last; but it was no use.”