FICTION

Runaway Train

Murder on a Runaway Train is a short, action-packed story set on a steam train in the rugged wilderness of Tasmania’s West Coast. When Stephanie wakes up with no memory of how she got there, the situation quickly becomes terrifying as she realises that someone may kill her.

Murder on a Runaway Train

By Jocelyn Watts

STEPHANIE opens her eyes to the sun and a cool breeze on her face. The aroma of burnt coal fills her with nostalgia, but when she looks through the open window, she gasps at the torrent of water in the deep chasm far beneath.

Whoo-whoo! The sound of a train’s whistle startles her even more. I’m on a train! My mind is foggy as I try to remember how I got here. The warmth of my bed is my last memory. Now I’m crossing an old wooden bridge high above a raging torrent, headed toward who knows where.

I look around the carriage. Other passengers share my confusion. I watch in horror as one passenger coughs up blood. Then another. And another. Within minutes, half the passengers are dead. I’m terrified. I need to escape the train before I become a victim. But with the runaway train now at full speed, my escape seems impossible.

I search for something to help me escape this nightmare. Then I see it. An iPhone, abandoned on the floor of the wooden train carriage. I grab it and dial for help!

‘Hello? Hello?’ Silence. A chilling sense of dread settles in the pit of my stomach.

***

There’s a metallic clang as the wheels roll over the joints in the tracks, creating a steady beat that resonates through the air. The engine of a lush forest green hue, reminiscent of the verdant landscapes it once traversed, picks up speed and the deep gorge fades into the distance. Its wooden carriages list to the right and the left wheels almost lift from the track as the train takes a sharp bend around the side of a steep mountain.

I step over the body of a man of about 35 years, dressed in a heavy wool tweed overcoat and deerstalker cap. I’d swear he was Sherlock Holmes if not for his blue Levi jeans. 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 my carriage slams shut. I shudder. Standing behind me is a tall, slim man in a grey-hooded sweater, his back against my closest exit.

‘This is only the start, my dear!’ The man snarls as he steps toward me. I back away until I feel the cold metal of a seat’s handrail on my back.

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

The man steps closer; a short-handled dagger is in his right hand.

‘No one will get out of this runaway train alive!’

I see my reflection in a mirror on the back wall, dressed in vintage clothes. Only the French-style beret defies the otherwise Blues Sisters’ look.

A beret? What’s with me in a black velvet beret? Yes, a dream, a nightmare! Wake up, Steph, wake up!

I sigh with relief and slump onto the seat beside a woman in a pink flapper’s dress with long tassels and a black feathered headband. Our shoulders touch. Nothing. No movement. She’s dead.

‘Not so fast!’ The hooded man draws closer; his push-dagger clasped between his fingers.

‘Why are you still alive?’ he demands. ‘The wine was laced with nitric acid.’

‘What?’

‘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!’ He lunges at me, his dagger drawn. As I duck, the man lurches forward and plunges the knife into the dead flapper’s chest.

I spring to my feet and sprint towards the locomotive’s head, desperate to flee before the pursuing killer seizes me. In Tasmania’s rainforest, trees and ferns thrash against the train as it hurtles down a slope under the relentless force of its massive bulk.

As I wrench open the carriage’s front door, the hooded man grabs the tail of my jacket and drags me backwards. I give an almighty tug and break free, rush onto the carriage balcony, and slam the door shut behind me.

The carriages sway from side to side, and I eye the space between my carriage and the next, connected only by the chain couplers bridging the buffers. I struggle to discern the steel tracks from the wooden sleepers and gravel below. I struggle to discern the steel tracks from the wooden sleepers and gravel below as blurred colours rush beneath the speeding train.

Giddied with fear, I must get to the next carriage. It’s my only hope. I climb over the decorative wrought iron guard rail, take a deep breath, and prepare to jump. One slip and I’m gone! With my right hand on the rail, I launch myself across the abyss, grab the next carriage’s rail with my other hand, and pull myself aboard.

The train continues to barrel down the tracks with a grisly load of dead bodies. Thick black smoke billows from its chimney. The hooded man moves closer, his eyes glazed with excitement. I scramble out the window and onto the roof of the carriage. It’s a risky move, but my only chance. As I crawl my way along the rooftop, I glance behind and see the hooded man almost within reach. Ahead, a dark tunnel looms. There’s no time to think. I know I must jump. I take a deep breath and leap into the air moments before the train enters the dark hole. For a moment, I am weightless, suspended in mid-air. Then, thud! I land on the rocky ground and roll toward the rainforest’s undergrowth. Pain shoots through my body, but I know I’m alive.

***

A week later, I leave the hospital with mixed emotions. I’m glad to be alive, but I feel guilty about the 63 people who lost their lives; their only ‘fault’ was joining the tourist attraction’s charity event styled on Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express.

With just a sip of the poisoned wine, it wasn’t enough to kill me. When the train ran out of steam, it stopped on a steep ascent. Police say evidence suggests 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. The massive police search found no trace of him.

As a taxi pulls up to take me home, a railway station supervisor calls out from the kiosk, ‘It’s great 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!’ I yell back.

A peculiar sensation washes over me as my body undergoes a bizarre transformation. My arms elongate into slender appendages, my legs morph into twisting tentacles, and my head reshapes into a colossal eyeball. I look at the taxi driver.

It’s him! The killer!

With a terror-stricken cry, I watch in disbelief as the taxi undergoes a metamorphosis, transforming into an alien spacecraft that ascends into the sky. Bathed in a bright light, the alien spacecraft lifts me towards its open door. Now transformed into a space creature, I hurtle towards an unfamiliar destination, bound for a planet beyond.

Runaway Train

If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy taking a real-life journey on the historic Mary Valley Rattler at Gympie on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and experiencing its exciting Murder on the Mary Valley Rattler event. And, Epic Rail Journey to North Queensland Paradise

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