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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - That Hell-Bound Train

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  • Brent Wodehouse
    T h a t H e l l-B o u n d T r a i n by Robert Bloch WHEN MARTIN WAS A LITTLE BOY, his Daddy was a Railroad Man. He never rode the high iron, but he walked
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2005
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      T h a t H e l l-B o u n d T r a i n

      by Robert Bloch


      WHEN MARTIN WAS A LITTLE BOY, his Daddy was
      a Railroad Man. He never rode the high iron, but he
      walked the tracks for the CB&Q, and he was proud of his
      job. And when he got drunk (which was every night), he
      sang this old song about "That Hell-Bound Train."
      Martin didn't quite remember any of the words,
      but he couldn't forget the way his Daddy sang them out.
      And when Daddy made the mistake of getting drunk in the
      afternoon and got squeezed between a Pennsy tank car and
      an AT&SF gondola, Martin sort of wondered why the
      Brotherhood didn't sing the song at his funeral.
      After that, things didn't go so good for Martin,
      but somehow he always recalled Daddy's song. When
      Mom up and ran off with a traveling salesman from
      Keokuk (Daddy must have turned over in his grave,
      knowing she'd done such a thing, and with a *passenger*, too!),
      Martin hummed the tune to himself every night in the Orphan
      Home. And after Martin himself ran away, he used to whistle
      the song at night in the jungles, after the other tramps were
      asleep.
      Martin was on the road for four to five years
      before he realized he wasn't getting anyplace. Of course he'd
      tried his hand at a lot of things - picking fruit in Oregon,
      washing dishes in a Montana hash house - but he just wasn't cut
      out for seasonal labor or pearl-diving, either. Then he graduated
      to stealing hubcaps in Denver, and for a while he did pretty well
      with tires in Oklahoma City, but by the time he'd put in six
      months on the chain gang down in Alabama, he knew he had no
      future drifting around this way on his own.
      So he tried to get on the railroad like his Daddy had,
      but they told him times were bad; and between the truckers and
      the airlines and those fancy new fintails General Motors was
      making, it looked as if the days of the highballers were just
      about over.
      But Martin couldn't keep away from the railroads.
      Wherever he traveled, he rode the rods; he'd rather hop a
      freight heading north in subzero weather than lift his thumb
      to hitch a ride with a Cadillac headed for Florida. Because
      Martin was loyal to the memory of his Daddy, and he wanted to
      be as much like him as possible, come what may. Of course, he
      couldn't get drunk every night, but whenever he did manage to
      get hold of a can of Sterno, he'd sit there under a nice warm
      culvert and think about the old days.
      Often as not, he'd hum the song about "That
      Hell-Bound Train." That was the train the drunks and
      sinners rode: the gambling men and the grifters, the big-time
      spenders, the skirt chasers, and all the jolly crew. It would be
      fun to take a trip in such good company, but Martin didn't like
      to think of what happened when that train finally pulled into
      the Depot Way Down Yonder. He didn't figure on spending
      eternity stoking boilers in Hell, without even a company union
      to protect him. Still, it would be a lovely ride. If there *was*
      such a thing as a Hell-Bound Train. Which, of course, there
      wasn't.
      At least Martin didn't *think* there was, until
      that evening when he found himself walking the tracks
      heading south, just outside of Appleton Junction. The night
      was cold and dark, the way November nights are in the Fox
      River Valley, and he knew he'd have to work his way down to
      New Orleans for the winter, or maybe even Texas. Somehow he
      didn't much feel like going, even though he'd heard tell that a
      lot of those Texans' automobiles had solid gold hubcaps.
      No sir, he just wasn't cut out for petty larceny.
      It was worse than a sin - it was unprofitable, too. Bad
      enough to do the Devil's work, but then to get such miserable
      pay on top of it! Maybe he'd better let the Salvation Army
      convert him.
      Martin trudged along, humming Daddy's song,
      waiting for a rattler to pull out of the junction behind
      him. He'd have to catch it - there was nothing else for him to
      do.
      Too bad there wasn't a chance to make a better
      deal for himself somewhere. Might as well be a rich
      sinner as a poor sinner. Besides, he had a notion that he could
      strike a pretty shrewd bargain. He'd thought about it a lot,
      these past few years, particularly when the Sterno was
      working. Then his ideas would come on strong, and he could
      figure a way to rig the setup. But that was all nonsense, of
      course. He might as well join the gospel shouters and turn
      into a working stiff like all the rest of the world. No use
      dreaming dreams; a song was only a song and there was no
      Hell-Bound Train.
      There was only *this* train, rumbling out of the
      night, roaring toward him along the track from the south.
      Martin peered ahead, but his eyes couldn't
      match his ears, and so far all he could recognize was
      the sound. It *was* a train, though; he felt the steel
      shudder and sing beneath his feet.
      And yet, how could it be? The next station
      south was Neenah-Menasha, and there was nothing due
      out of there for hours.
      The clouds were thick overhead, and the field
      mists rolled like a cold fog in a November midnight.
      Even so, Martin should have been able to see the
      headlights as the train rushed on. But there were no lights.
      There was only the whistle, screaming out
      of the black throat of the night. Martin could recognize
      the equipment of just about any locomotive ever built, but
      he'd never heard a whistle that sounded like this one. It
      wasn't signaling; it was screaming like a lost soul.
      He stepped to one side, for the train was
      almost on top of him now, and suddenly there it was,
      looming along the tracks and grinding to a stop in less
      time than he'd ever believed possible. The wheels hadn't
      been oiled, because they screamed too, screamed like the
      damned. But the train slid to a halt and the screams died
      away into a series of low, groaning sounds, and Martin
      looked up and saw that this was a passenger train. It was
      big and black, without a single light shining in the engine
      cab or any of the long string of cars, and Martin couldn't
      read any lettering on the sides, but he was pretty sure this
      train didn't belong on the Northwestern Road.
      He was even more sure when he saw the man
      clamber down out of the forward car. There was something
      wrong about the way he walked, as though one of his feet
      dragged. And there was something even more disturbing
      about the lantern he carried, and what he did with it. The
      lantern was dark, and when the man alighted, he held it up
      to his mouth and blew. Instantly the lantern glowed redly.
      You don't have to be a member of the Railway Brotherhood
      to know that this is a mighty peculiar way of lighting a
      lantern.
      As the figure approached, Martin recognized
      the conductor's cap perched on his head, and this made
      him feel a little better for a moment - until he noticed that
      it was worn a bit too high, as though there might be
      something sticking up on the forehead underneath it.
      Still, Martin knew his manners, and when the man
      smiled at him, he said, "Good evening, Mr. Conductor."
      "Good evening, Martin."
      "How did you know my name?"
      The man shrugged. "How did you know I was the conductor?"
      "You *are*, aren't you?"
      "To you, yes. Although other people, in other
      walks of life, may recognize me in different roles. For
      instance, you ought to see what I look like to the folks out in
      Hollywood." The man grinned. "I travel a great deal," he
      explained.
      "What brings you here?" Martin asked.
      "Why, you ought to know the answer to that, Martin.
      I came because you needed me."
      "I did?"
      "Don't play the innocent. Ordinarily, I seldom
      bother with single individuals anymore. The way the
      world is going, I can expect to carry a full load of passengers
      without soliciting business. Your name has been down on the
      list for several years already - I reserved a seat for you as a
      matter of course. But then, tonight, I suddenly realized you
      were backsliding. Thinking of joining the Salvation Army,
      weren't you?"
      "Well - " Martin hesitated.
      "Don't be ashamed. To err is human, as
      somebody-or-other once said. _Reader's Digest_,wasn't
      it? Never mind. The point is, I felt you needed me. So I
      switched over and came your way."
      "What for?"
      "Why, to offer you a ride, of course. Isn't it
      better to travel comfortably by train than to march along
      the cold streets behind a Salvation Army band? Hard on the
      feet, they tell me, and even harder on the eardrums."
      "I'm not sure I'd care to ride your train, sir," Martin
      said. "Considering where I'm likely to end up."
      "Ah, yes. The old argument." The conductor sighed.
      "I suppose you'd prefer some sort of bargain, is that it?"
      "Exactly," Martin answered.
      "Well, I'm afraid I'm all through with that sort
      of thing. As I mentioned before, times have changed.
      There's no shortage of prospective passengers anymore.
      Why should I offer you any special inducements?"
      "You must want me, or else you wouldn't have
      bothered to go out of your way to find me."
      The conductor sighed again. "There you have a point.
      Pride was always my besetting weakness, I admit. And
      somehow I'd hate to lose you to the competition, after
      thinking of you as my own all these years." He hesitated.
      "Yes, I'm prepared to deal with you on your own terms,
      if you insist."
      "The terms?" Martin asked.
      "Standard proposition. Anything you want."
      "Ah," said Martin.
      "But I warn you in advance, there'll be no tricks.
      I'll grant you any wish you can name - but in return,
      you must promise to ride the train when the time comes."
      "Suppose it never comes?"
      "It will."
      "Suppose I've got the kind of a wish that will
      keep me off forever?"
      "There *is* no such wish."
      "Don't be too sure."
      "Let me worry about that," the conductor told
      him. "No matter what you have in mind, I warn you that
      I'll collect in the end. And there'll be none of this last-minute
      hocus-pocus, either. No last-hour repentances, no blonde
      *FrŠuleins* or fancy lawyers showing up to get you off. I
      offer a clean deal. That is to say, you'll get what you want,
      and I'll get what I want."
      "I've heard you trick people. They say you're
      worse than a used-car salesman."
      "Now wait a minute - "
      "I apologize," Martin said, hastily. "But it *is*
      supposed to be a fact that you can't be trusted."
      "I admit it. On the other hand, you seem to think
      you have found a way out."
      "A surefire proposition."
      "Surefire? Very funny!" The man began to
      chuckle, then halted. "But we waste valuable time,
      Martin. Let's get down to cases. What do you want from me?"
      "A single wish."
      "Name it and I shall grant it."
      "Anything, you said?"
      "Anything at all."
      "Very well, then." Martin took a deep breath. "I
      want to be able to stop Time."
      "Right now?"
      "No. Not yet. And not for everybody. I realize that
      would be impossible, of course. But I want to be able to
      stop Time for myself. Just once, in the future. Whenever I
      get to a point where I know I'm happy and contented, that's
      where I'd like to stop. So I can just keep on being happy forever."
      "That's quite a proposition," the conductor mused.
      "I've got to admit I've never heard anything just like it before -
      and believe me, I've listened to some lulus in my day." He
      grinned at Martin. "You've really been thinking about this,
      haven't you?"
      "For years," Martin admitted. Then he coughed.
      "Well, what do you say?"
      "It's not impossible in terms of your own
      *subjective* time sense," the conductor murmured.
      "Yes, I think it could be arranged."
      "But I mean *really* to stop. Not for me just
      to *imagine* it."
      "I understand. And it can be done."
      "Then you'll agree?"
      "Why not? I promised you, didn't I? Give me your
      hand." Martin hesitated. "Will it hurt very much? I mean, I
      don't like the sight of blood, and - "
      "Nonsense! You've been listening to a lot of
      poppycock. We already have made our bargain, my boy. No
      need for a lot of childish rigamarole. I merely intend to put
      something into your hand. The ways and means of fulfilling
      your wish. After all, there's no telling at just what moment
      you may decide to exercise the agreement, and I can't drop
      everything and come running. So it's better to regulate
      matters for yourself."
      "You're going to give me a time stopper?"
      "That's the general idea. As soon as I can decide
      what would be practical." The conductor hesitated. "Ah,
      the very thing! Here, take my watch."
      He pulled it out of his vest pocket: a railroad
      watch in a silver case. He opened the back and made a
      delicate adjustment; Martin tried to see just exactly what
      he was doing, but the fingers moved in a blinding blur.
      "There we are," the conductor smiled. "It's
      all set, now. When you finally decide where you'd like
      to call a halt, merely turn the stem in reverse and unwind
      the watch until it stops. When it stops, Time stops, for
      you. Simple enough?"
      "Sure thing."
      "Then, here, take it." And the conductor dropped
      the watch into Martin's hand.
      The young man closed his fingers tightly around
      the case. "That's all there is to it, eh?"
      "Absolutely. But remember - you can stop the
      watch only once. So you'd better make sure that you're
      satisfied with the moment you choose to prolong. I caution
      you in all fairness; make very certain of your choice."
      "I will." Martin grinned. "And since you've
      been so fair about it, I'll be fair, too. There's one thing
      you seem to have forgotten. It doesn't really matter *what*
      moment I choose. Because once I stop Time for myself,
      that means I stay where I am forever. I'll never have to get
      any older. And if I don't get any older, I'll never die. And if I
      never die, then I'll never have to take a ride on your train."
      The conductor turned away. His shoulders
      shook convulsively, and he may have been crying. "And
      you said *I* was worse than a used-car salesman," he gasped,
      in a strangled voice.
      Then he wandered off into the fog, and the
      train whistle gave an impatient shriek, and all at
      once it was moving swiftly down the track, rumbling
      out of sight in the darkness. Martin stood there, blinking
      down at the silver watch in his hand. If it wasn't that he
      could actually see it and feel it there, and if he couldn't
      smell that peculiar odor, he might have thought he'd
      imagined the whole thing from start to finish - train,
      conductor, bargain, and all.
      But he had the watch, and he could recognize
      the scent left by the train as it departed, even though
      there aren't many locomotives around that use sulphur
      and brimstone as fuel.
      And he had no doubts about his bargain.
      Better still, he had no doubts as to the advantages
      of the pact he'd made. That's what came of thinking
      things through to a logical conclusion. Some fools
      would have settled for wealth, or power, or Kim Novak.
      Daddy might have sold out for a fifth of whiskey.
      Martin knew that he'd made a better deal.
      Better? It was foolproof. All he needed to do now was
      choose his moment. And when the right time came, it
      was his - forever.
      He put the watch in his pocket and started
      back down the railroad track. He hadn't really had a
      destination in mind before, but he did now. He was
      going to find a moment of happiness. . . .


      Now young Martin wasn't altogether a ninny.
      He realized perfectly well that happiness is a relative
      thing; there are conditions and degrees of contentment,
      and they vary with one's lot in life. As a hobo, he was
      often satisfied with a warm handout, a double-length
      bench in the park, or a can of Sterno made in 1957 (a
      vintage year). Many a time he had reached a state of
      momentary bliss through such simple agencies, but he
      was aware that there were better things. Martin
      determined to seek them out.
      Within two days he was in the great
      city of Chicago. Quite naturally, he drifted
      over to West Madison Street, and there he took
      steps to elevate his role in life. He became a city bum,
      a panhandler, a moocher. Within a week he had risen to
      the point where happiness was a meal in a regular
      one-arm luncheon joint, a two-bit flop on a real army
      cot in a real flophouse, and a full fifth of muscatel.
      There was a night, after enjoying all three
      of these luxuries to the full, when Martin was
      tempted to unwind his watch at the pinnacle of
      intoxication. Then he remembered the faces of the
      honest johns he'd braced for a handout today. Sure, they
      were squares, but they were prosperous. They wore good
      clothes, held good jobs, drove nice cars. And for them,
      happiness was even more ecstatic: They ate dinner in fine
      hotels, they slept on innerspring mattresses, they drank
      blended whiskey.
      Squares or no, they *had* something there.
      Martin fingered his watch, put aside the temptation to
      hock it for another bottle of muscatel, and went to sleep
      determining to get himself a job and improve his
      happiness quotient.
      When he awoke he had a hangover, but the
      determination was still with him. It stayed long after
      the hangover disappeared, and before the month was out
      Martin found himself working for a general contractor
      over on the South Side, at one of the big rehabilitation
      projects. He hated the grind, but the pay was good, and
      pretty soon he got himself a one-room apartment out on
      Blue Island Avenue. He was accustomed to eating in decent
      restaurants now, and he bought himself a comfortable bed,
      and every Saturday night he went down to the corner tavern.
      It was all very pleasant, but -
      The foreman liked his work and promised him
      a raise in a month. If he waited around, the raise would
      mean that he could even start picking up a girl for a date
      now and then. Lots of the other fellows on the job did, and
      they seemed pretty happy.
      So Martin kept on working, and the raise came
      through and the car came through and pretty soon a couple
      of girls came along.
      The first time it happened, he wanted to unwind
      his watch immediately. Until he got to thinking about
      what some of the older men always said. There was a
      guy named Charlie, for example, who worked alongside
      him on the hoist. "When you're young and don't know the
      score, maybe you gett a kick out of running around with
      those pigs. But after a while, you want something better. A
      nice girl of your own. That's the ticket."
      Well, he might have something there. At least,
      Martin owed it to himself to find out. If he didn't like it
      better, he could always go back to what he had.
      It was worth a try. Of course, nice girls don't
      grow on trees (if they did, a lot more men would become
      forest rangers), and almost six months went by before
      Martin met Lillian Gillis. By that time he'd had another
      promotion and was working inside, in the office. They
      made him go to night school to learn how to do simple
      bookkeeping, but it meant another fifteen bucks extra a
      week, and it was nicer working indoors.
      And Lillian *was* a lot of fun. When she told
      him she'd marry him, Martin was almost sure that the
      time was now. Except that she was sort of - well, she was
      a *nice* girl, and she said they'd have to wait until they
      were married. Of course, Martin couldn't expect to marry
      her until he had a little money saved up, and another raise
      would help, too.
      That took a year. Martin was patient, because
      he knew it was going to be worth it. Every time he had
      any doubts, he took out his watch and looked at it. But he
      never showed it to Lillian, or anybody else. Most of the
      other men wore expensive wristwatches and the old silver
      railroad watch looked just a little cheap.
      Martin smiled as he gazed at the stem. Just a
      few twists and he'd have something none of these other
      poor working slobs would ever have. Permanent
      satisfaction, with his blushing bride -
      Only getting married turned out to be just
      the beginning. Sure, it was wonderful, but Lillian told
      him how much better things would be if they could move
      into a new place and fix it up. Martin wanted decent
      furniture, a TV set, a nice car.
      So he started taking night courses and got
      a promotion to the front office. With the baby coming,
      he wanted to stick around and see his son arrive. And
      when it came, he realized he'd have to wait until it got
      a little older, started to walk and talk and develop a
      personality of its own.
      About this time the company sent him out
      on the road as a troubleshooter on some of those other
      jobs, and now *he* was eating at those good hotels,
      living high on the hog and the expense account. More than
      once he was tempted to unwind his watch. This was the
      good life. And he realized it could be even better if he just
      didn't have to *work.* Sooner or later, if he could cut in
      on one of the company deals, he could make a pile and
      retire. Then everything would be ideal.
      It happened, but it took time. Martin's son
      was going to high school before he really got up there
      into the chips. Martin got the feeling that it was now or
      never, because he wasn't exactly a kid anymore.
      But right about then he met Sherry Westcott, and
      she didn't seem to think he was middle-aged at all, in
      spite of the way he was losing hair and adding stomach.
      She taught him that a toupee could cover the bald spot and
      a cummerbund could cover the potbelly. In fact, she taught
      him quite a number of things, and he so enjoyed learning
      that he actually took out his watch and prepared to unwind
      it.
      Unfortunately, he chose the very moment that
      the private detectives broke down the door of the hotel
      room, and then there was a long stretch of time when
      Martin was so busy fighting the divorce action that he
      couldn't honestly say he was enjoying any given amount.
      When he made the final settlement with Lil, he
      was broke again, and Sherry didn't seem to think he was
      so young, after all. So he squared his shoulders and went
      back to work.


      He made his pile, eventually, but it took longer
      this time, and there wasn't much chance to have fun along
      the way. The fancy dames in the fancy cocktail lounges
      didn't seem to interest him anymore, and neither did the
      liquor. Besides, the Doc had warned him about that.
      But there were other pleasures for a rich man to
      investigate. Travel, for instance - and not riding the rods
      from one hick burg to another, either. Martin went around
      the world via plane and luxury liner. For a while it seemed
      as though he would find his moment after all. Visiting the
      Taj Mahal by moonlight, the moon's radiance was reflected
      from the back of the battered old watchcase, and Martin
      got ready to unwind it. Nobody else was there to watch him -
      And that's why he hesitated. Sure, this was an
      enjoyable moment, but he was alone. Lil and the kid were
      gone, Sherry was gone, and somehow he'd never had time to
      make any friends. Maybe if he found a few congenial people,
      he'd have the ultimate happiness. That must be the answer -
      it wasn't just money or power or sex or seeing beautiful
      things. The real satisfaction lay in friendship.
      So on the boat trip home, Martin tried to
      strike up a few acquaintances at the ship's bar. But all
      these people were so much younger, and Martin had nothing
      in common with them. Also, they wanted to dance and drink,
      and Martin wasn't in condition to appreciate such pastimes.
      Nevertheless, he tried.
      Perhaps that's why he had the little accident
      the day before they docked in San Francisco. "Little
      accident" was the ship's doctor's way of describing it, but
      Martin noticed he looked very grave when he told him to
      stay in bed, and he'd called an ambulance to meet the liner
      at the dock and take the patient right to the hospital.
      At the hospital, all the expensive treatment and
      expensive smiles and expensive words didn't fool Martin
      any. He was an old man with a bad heart, and they thought
      he was going to die.
      But he could fool them. He still had the
      watch. He found it in his coat when he put on his
      clothes and sneaked out of the hospital before dawn.
      He didn't have to die. He could cheat death with
      a single gesture - and he intended to do it as a free man,
      out there under a free sky.
      That was the real secret of happiness. He
      understood it now. Not even friendship meant as
      much as freedom. This was the best thing of all - to be
      free of friends or family or the furies of the flesh.
      Martin walked slowly beside the embankment
      under the night sky. Come to think of it, he was just
      about back where he'd started, so many years ago. But
      the moment was good, good enough to prolong forever.
      Once a bum, always a bum.
      He smiled as he thought about it, and then
      the smile twisted sharply and suddenly, like the pain
      twisting sharply and suddenly in his chest. The world
      began to spin and he fell down on the side of the
      embankment.
      He couldn't see very well, but he was still
      conscious, and he knew what had happened. Another
      stroke, and a bad one. Maybe this was it. Except that he
      wouldn't be a fool any longer. He wouldn't wait to see
      what was still around the corner.
      Right now was his chance to use his power and
      save his life. And he was going to do it. He could still
      move, nothing could stop him.
      He groped in his pocket and pulled out the old
      silver watch, fumbling with the stem. A few twists and
      he'd cheat death, he wouldn't have to ride That
      Hell-Bound Train. He could go on forever.
      *Forever.*
      Martin had never really considered the word
      before. To go on forever - but *how*? Did he *want* to
      go on forever, like this: a sick old man, lying helplessly
      here in the grass?
      No. He couldn't do it. He wouldn't do it. And
      suddenly he wanted very much to cry, because he knew
      that somewhere along the line he'd outsmarted himself. And
      now it was too late. His eyes dimmed, there was this roaring
      in his ears. . . .
      He recognized the roaring, of course, and he
      wasn't at all surprised to see the train come rushing out
      of the fog up there on the embankment. He wasn't surprised
      when it stopped, either, or when the conductor climbed off
      and walked slowly toward him.
      The conductor hadn't changed a bit. Even his grin
      was still the same.
      "Hello, Martin," he said. "All aboard."
      "I know," Martin whispered. "But you'll have to
      carry me. I can't walk. I'm not even really talking anymore,
      am I?"
      "Yes you are," the conductor said. "I can hear
      you fine. And you can walk, too." He leaned down and
      placed his hand on Martin's chest. There was a moment of
      icy numbness, and then, sure enough, Martin could walk after
      all.
      He got up and followed the conductor along the
      slope, moving to the side of the train.
      "In here?" he asked.
      "No, the next car," the conductor murmured.
      "I guess you're entitled to ride Pullman. After all, you're
      quite a successful man. You've tasted the joys of wealth and
      position and prestige. You've known the pleasures of marriage
      and fatherhood. You've sampled the delights of dining and
      drinking and debauchery, too, and you traveled high, wide, and
      handsome. So let's not have any last-minute recriminations."
      "All right," Martin sighed. "I guessed I can't blame
      you for my mistakes. On the other hand, you can't take credit
      for what happened either. I worked for everything I got. I did
      it all on my own. I didn't even need your watch."
      "So you didn't," the conductor said, smiling. "But
      would you mind giving it back to me now?"
      "Need it for the next sucker, eh?" Martin muttered.
      "Perhaps."
      Something about the way he said it made
      Martin look up. He tried to see the conductor's eyes,
      but the brim of his cap cast a shadow. So Martin looked
      down at the watch instead, as if seeking an answer there.
      "Tell me something," he said, softly. "If I give
      you the watch, what will you do with it?"
      "Why, throw it into the ditch," the conductor
      told him. "That's all I'll do with it." And he held out his hand.
      "What if somebody comes along and finds
      it? And twists the stem backward, and stops Time?"
      "Nobody would do that," the conductor murmured.
      "Even if they knew."
      "You mean, it was all a trick? This is only an
      ordinary cheap watch?"
      "I didn't say that," whispered the conductor.
      "I only said that no one has ever twisted the stem
      backward. They've all been like you, Martin - looking ahead
      to find that perfect happiness. Waiting for the moment that
      never comes."
      The conductor held out his hand again.
      Martin sighed and shook his head. "You cheated
      me after all."
      "You cheated yourself, Martin. And now you're
      going to ride That Hell-Bound Train."
      He pushed Martin up the steps and into the
      car ahead. As he entered, the train began to move and
      the whistle screamed. And Martin stood there in the
      swaying Pullman, gazing down the aisle at the other
      passengers. He could see them sitting there, and somehow
      it didn't seem strange at all.
      Here they were: the drunks and the sinners, the
      gambling men and the grifters, the big-time spenders,
      the skirt chasers, and all the jolly crew. They knew where
      they were going, of course, but they didn't seem to be
      particularly concerned at the moment. The blinds were
      drawn on the windows, yet it was light inside, and they
      were all sitting around and singing and passing the bottle
      and laughing it up, telling their jokes and bragging their
      brags, just the way Daddy used to sing about them in the
      old song.
      "Mighty nice traveling companions," Martin said.
      "Why, I've never seen such a pleasant bunch of people. I
      mean, they seem to be really enjoying themselves!"
      "Sorry," the conductor told him. "I'm afraid things
      may not be quite so enjoyable once we pull into that Depot
      Way Down Yonder. "
      For the third time, he held out his hand. "Now,
      before you sit down, if you'll just give me that watch.
      I mean, a bargain's a bargain - "
      Martin smiled. "A bargain's a bargain," he echoed.
      "I agreed to ride your train if I could stop Time when I
      found the right moment of happiness. So, if you don't mind,
      I think I'll just make certain adjustments."
      Very slowly, Martin twisted the silver watch stem.
      "No!" gasped the conductor. "No!"
      But the watch stem turned.
      "Do you realize what you've done?" the conductor
      panted. "Now we'll never reach the Depot. We'll just go on
      riding, all of us, forever and ever!"
      Martin grinned. "I know," he said. "But the fun is in
      the trip, not the destination. You taught me that. And I'm
      looking forward to a wonderful trip."
      The conductor groaned. "All right," he sighed, at
      last. "You got the best of me, after all. But when I think
      of spending eternity trapped here riding this train - "
      "Cheer up!" Martin told him. "It won't be that bad.
      Looks like we have plenty to eat and drink. And after all,
      these are *your* kind of folks."
      "But I'm the conductor! Think of the endless work
      this means for me!"
      "Don't let it worry you," Martin said. "Look, maybe
      I can even help. If you were to find me another one of those
      caps, now, and let me keep this watch - "
      And that's the way it finally worked out. Wearing
      his cap and silver watch, there's no happier person in or
      out of this world - now and forever - than Martin. Martin, the
      new brakeman on That Hell-Bound Train.



      "That Hell-Bound Train," by Robert Bloch. Copyright © 1958 by Mercury Press
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