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That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch
That Train Bound for Hell is Robert Bloch’s amazing story that won the Hugo Award in 1959. It’s a classic story about a man who makes a deal with the devil.
A young man, Martin, is thrown into an orphanage after his father is killed by a train and his mother abandons him. He soon escapes from the orphanage and grows up as a wanderer, committing petty crimes to survive. He is fascinated by trains and remembers a song his father used to sing called “That Train Bound for Hell”.
After years of wandering, Martin decides that his life has been pretty worthless, and he considers joining the Salvation Army and contributing something with his life. As I think about this, an all-black train pulls up next to him on the tracks. Martin soon learns that the train conductor is not really human, but some kind of agent of hell, if not the devil himself. The conductor offers Martin a Faustian bargain. Martin can have anything he wants, but when he dies he has to ride a train bound for hell. Martin thinks he’s smart and tries to trick the Conductor by asking for the ability to freeze time and live forever in the moment he decides he’s happiest in life. Surprisingly, the conductor agrees and gives Martin a pocket watch that he can use to stop time whenever he wants.
Martin then begins to have a fantastic life, gets a job and several promotions, and even meets the girl of his dreams. He thinks about using the pocket watch a few times at this stage of his life, when he is married, when his son is born, but holds back, thinking that things could be even better. Eventually, Martin gets old and life starts to go wrong. He is caught in an affair, his wife leaves him, and he loses almost all his money in the divorce. He wonders if he missed the chance to stop time while he was happy.
Eventually he earns more money, enough to travel the world looking for a moment of happiness when he can stop time. Although he has good moments, he can’t seem to find the ideal moment to stop time and continues his quest. But before he could find that moment, he suffered a painful stroke that left him hospitalized. After recovering, he escapes from the hospital, trying to find a moment of happiness to stop time, knowing that he almost lost his chance. He decides that just being alive and free is as good as it gets and decides to use a pocket watch. Before he activates it, he takes another hit. He knows he will die soon and is faced with a terrible decision. Now he can use the pocket watch and face eternal physical pain, or just die and ride the Hell Train. However, he cannot bear pain and does not stop time.
The conductor comes to pick up Martin for his ride to hell. He informs Martin that his deal was not so smart, that many tried to cheat him with this deal before, but that like Martin, they were never satisfied with the perfect moment and always waited for something better, until it was too late, they died and took the train to hell .
Martin reflects on how stupid he was, what chances he missed and why he took the deal in the first place. Looking at the other passengers on the train, he realizes that at least the trip will be fun. Sinners gamble, whore, drink and generally have a good time on their way to hell. At this point, Martin shocks the Conductor by using his pocket watch and makes that train ride last forever.
Focus on the journey, not the destination.
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