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Murder on a Runaway Train

by Jocelyn Watts 2 months ago in Short Story · updated 2 months ago
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A chilling race against time

As the midday sun crept across Stephanie’s face, she opens her dark brown eyes and feels a sudden rush of brisk air against her flawless rose-like skin.

The aroma of burned coal filled her with a sense of nostalgia, but when she looks through the open window, she gasps at the torrent of water in the deep chasm far beneath.

Woo-woo! The sound of a train’s whistle startles her even more.

She’s on a train! Her mind is foggy as she tries to remember how she got there. The warmth of her own bed is her last memory. Now she is on a train, crossing an old rickety wooden bridge high above a raging torrent, headed toward who knows where.

Stephanie looks around the carriage. All the other passengers seem just as confused as she feels. She watches in horror as one passenger coughs up blood. Then another. And another.

Within minutes, half the passengers are dead. Stephanie is terrified. She needs to escape the train before she becomes a victim. But with the train now at full speed, her escape seems impossible.

Stephanie searches for something that could help her escape this nightmare. Then she sees it. An iPhone, abandoned on the floor of the wooden train carriage. She grabs it and dials for help!

“Hello? Hello?” There is no sound on the phone. A chilly sense of dread settles in the pit of her stomach.

***

Loud and clear was the clickity-clack of cast-iron wheels rolling along the old railway track.

The heritage green Locomotive No. 3 picks up speed and the deep gorge fades into the distance. Its dark red wooden carriages list to the right and their left wheels almost lift from the track as the train takes a sharp bend around the side of a steep mountain.

Stephanie steps over the body of a man aged about 35 years, dressed in a heavy wool tweed overcoat and deerstalker cap. If not for his blue Levi jeans, she could swear he was Sherlock Holmes.

The bodies of ladies clothed in glamorous dresses reminiscent of the Great Gatsby era drape over the black leather bench seats beneath brass metal luggage racks filled with trunk-shaped leather suitcases.

Is this just a bad dream?

The back door of her carriage slams shut. Stephanie shudders. Behind her is a tall, slim man in a grey hooded sweater, right in front of her closest exit.

“This is only the start, my dear!” The man cackles as he steps toward her.

Stephanie backs away until she feels the cold metal of a seat frame press into her back.

“Please, don’t kill me! I won’t tell a soul, I promise.”

The man continues to advance; a short-handled dagger is in his right hand.

“Nobody will get out of this runaway train alive!”

***

There is a mirror on the back wall.

A beret? What’s with me in a black velvet floppy beret?

She looks down and sees she, too, is wearing clothes from a bygone era—a long grey woolen jacket and oversized trousers, a white cotton button-up shirt, a thin black tie and knee-high black leather boots. Only the French-style beret defies the otherwise Blues Sisters’ look.

Yes, it’s just a dream; a nightmare! Wake up, Steph, wake up!

Stephanie breathes a heavy sigh of relief and slumps onto the seat next to the body of a woman in a pink flapper’s dress with long tassels, and black feathered headband.

“Not so fast!” the hooded man shouts. He draws closer, his push dagger clasped between his fingers.

“Why are you still alive?” he demands to know.

“The glass of wine everyone had was laced with nitric acid.”

“What?” Stephanie gasps.

“Yes, I meant the wine for you, too. But you didn’t drink it, did you?” The man pulls back his hood, revealing his pale gaunt face and ice-blue eyes.

“You were supposed to be dead!” he snarls. “But I can fix that now!”

He lunges at Stephanie with the dagger, but she ducks out of the way and he stabs the flapper’s body next to her instead.

Stephanie jumps up and runs toward the front of the train. She needs to escape this train before the killer catches her.

***

The moist leaves of lush trees and ferns in Tasmania’s cool rainforest lash the train’s sides as it hurtles even faster down a steep descent, pushed by its own colossal weight.

As Stephanie wrenches open the carriage’s front door, the hooded man grabs the tail of her jacket and drags her backward.

She gives an almighty tug and breaks free, rushes onto the carriage balcony, and slams the door shut behind her.

The carriages sway from side to side. She looks at the gap between her carriage and the next, held together only by chain couplers between the buffers.

She can’t distinguish the steel tracks from the wooden sleepers and gavel. All she sees is a continuous line of blurred colours beneath the train.

Stephanie is giddied with fear, but she must get to the next carriage. It’s her only hope.

She climbs over the decorative wrought iron guard rail, takes a deep breath and prepares to make the jump. One slip and she’s gone!

With her right hand on the rail, she launches herself across the abyss, grabs the next carriage’s rail with her other hand, and pulls herself aboard.

The runaway train continues to barrel down the tracks with a grisly load of dead bodies in that carriage too.

As the train thunders onwards. Thick black smoke billows from its chimney as the hooded man moves closer, his eyes glazed with excitement.

She climbs out the window and onto the roof of the carriage. It’s a risky move, but her only chance.

As she crawls her way along the rooftop, she glances behind and sees the hooded man almost within reach. Ahead of them, a dark tunnel looms.

There’s no time to think. She knows she has to jump. She takes a deep breath and leaps into the air just before the train enters the dark hole.

For a moment, she is weightless, suspended in mid-air. Then, thud! She lands hard on the rocky ground and rolls toward the rainforest’s undergrowth. Pain shoots through her body, but she knows she’s alive.

***

A week later, Stephanie leaves the hospital with mixed emotions.

She is glad to be alive, but feels guilty about the 63 people who lost their lives; their only ‘fault’ was to join the tourist attraction’s charity event styled on Agatha Christie’s novel Murder On The Orient Express.

Stephanie had taken only a sip of the poisoned wine; it wasn’t enough to kill her. When the train ran out of steam, it stopped on a steep ascent.

Police say the evidence suggested the strange hooded man was the killer.

It’s believed he stole the nitric acid from the railway’s locked storeroom where it’s kept as an ingredient in the substance volunteers used to clean the train’s metals.

A massive police search found no trace of him.

Just as a taxi pulls up to take Stephanie home, a railway station supervisor calls out from the kiosk, “It’s so good to see you’re okay, Steph! No rush, but can you give me a ballpark date when you can volunteer again?”

“I’ll call you!” Stephanie yells back.

As the taxi pulls away, Stephanie feels something strange happen to her body. Her arms become long and slender, her legs turn into tentacles, and her head morphs into a giant eyeball.

Stephanie looks at the driver.

It’s him! The killer!

She lets out a terrified scream as the taxi transforms into an alien spacecraft and takes off into the sky. Stephanie is now a space creature, headed to an unknown planet!

Short Story

About the author

Jocelyn Watts

Hi! I'm Jocelyn, an Aussie with decades of experience as a journalist, editor and photographer. Now retired, I'm focusing on my online travel guide, Jocelyn Magazine, and also delving into fiction writing – it's a lot of fun!

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (3)

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  • Kathy Shilvock2 months ago

    Wonderful fast paced action adventure. Can't wait for part two!

  • Thank you.

  • Karyn Cunningham2 months ago

    Great story, well done! 🌟

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