That Hell-Bound Train
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|"That Hell-Bound Train"|
|Published in||The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction|
|Media type||Print (Softcover)|
|Publication date||Sep 1958|
"That Hell-Bound Train" is a fantasy short story by Robert Bloch from 1958 that won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1959. It was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in September 1958.
In the beginning of the story, Martin is orphaned when his father, in a drunken stupor, is killed by a train, and his mother runs away with a traveling salesman. Martin escapes from an orphanage and drifts from job to job, once even stealing hubcaps for a living. He is oddly attracted to trains, and he rides them everywhere he goes, continually humming a tune his father used to sing, That Hell-Bound Train.
One night, after Martin decides he is not cut out for a life of petty larceny and contemplates joining the Salvation Army, a large, black, and unmarked train he does not recognize stops near him. The train conductor gets off, bearing a lantern he lights by blowing on it, and offers Martin anything he wants, in return for which he will ride that Hell-Bound Train when he dies. Martin believes he has outsmarted the Conductor by asking for the ability to stop time forever at the moment of his choosing, when he is happiest. The Conductor agrees, and gives him a pocket-watch with which he may stop time by unwinding the watch.
He fixes up his life, getting a job and subsequent promotions. He meets a woman he would like to marry, and wonders if he should stop time at the moment she accepts him but decides against it because she won't have sex until marriage. Martin has a son, but decides to wait until he is grown to stop time. By the time this happens, Martin is balding and has a gut, although he is now wealthy. But he again finds happiness, this time in an affair with a younger woman, and again considers stopping time, until his wife discovers the affair; their divorce leaves Martin broke.
He is old by the time he regains his fortune, but decides to travel around the world to look for happiness, but there is no moment in his travels perfect enough to warrant stopping the watch. He tries to make some friends, in order to stop time at a moment of ideal friendship, but it is too late. He has a stroke, and goes to the hospital, but sneaks out to look for his moment, only to have a second stroke just as he decides happiness is freedom. As he lies dying by an embankment, he wonders if he should stop time then so as to save his soul, even if he has to live his dying agony forever. He decides against it and the train returns with the Conductor to take Martin to the "Depot Way Down Yonder."
The Conductor tells Martin that others have tried this wish, but they also never found the perfect moment, always waiting for something better, until they died just like him. Martin laments for a moment but realizes there are others on the Hell-Bound Train, and they are all having their last and greatest time. To the Conductor's surprise and horror, Martin chooses that moment to stop time, thus rendering the train and all its riders permanently traveling.
The story ends with Martin as the new brakeman on That Hell-Bound Train.
In other media
A comic book version of the story began publication on May 15, 2011. The adaptation was written by Joe R. Lansdale and John Lansdale, with art by Dave Wachter. Running for 3 issues, it was published by IDW Comics.
The song "Hellbound Train (Downbound Train)" by Chuck Berry is about a similar train.