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One Way Ticket (or The Train From Purgatory) - a Short Story

Updated on December 2, 2020
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John is a poet and short fiction writer who enjoys collaborating on stories with other writers, and partaking in challenges.

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THE CHALLENGE

Write a short story from the picture prompt and the line, "You can never return."

The Rules:

Use the picture above as the cover image, so that we can all identify which short stories are part of the challenge.

Submit your story by Nov. 15th.

Have fun!

Use the poll to vote on your favorite story.

My Response

The above challenge was issued by Jennifer Arnett (Availiasvision) in her wonderful hub: "Take Me Somewhere: A Writer's Challenge."

This is my response. I hope you enjoy the read.

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One Way Ticket (or The Train From Purgatory)


Jake transferred the last bound pack of banknotes from the sacks into a suitcase. He rolled up the sacks and stuffed them in on top then shut the case, spun the combination lock mechanism and left the hotel room.

It was midday but the reception desk was unattended so he left his room key on top of a $100 bill on the counter. The room had only been $50 for the one night he'd stayed, but what was a $50 tip out of $250,000.

Shuffling the stolen car keys in his hand Jake walked out to the carpark and unlocked the silver Pontiac. He had an hour to get to the airport.

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He'd only driven a few hundred yards when he heard the distinctive siren and the tell-tale flashing blue and red lights in the rear vision mirror. "Just my Luck!" Jake said to himself, before flooring the accelerator. He had no other option.. that, or get caught with a quarter of a million bucks in stolen money that he'd gone to an awful lot of trouble to acquire. The offered accommodation wasn't very attractive either.

Despite the siren, two gunshots could be heard, and the next thing Jake knew was that the car he was driving was spinning out of control. The cops had obviously shot out one or two of the tires. He reefed the steering wheel trying to gain control of the Pontiac, but it was big and heavy. Suddenly the huge concrete pylon of an overhead bridge loomed menacingly in front of him, and in an instant everything went black.

Jake regained consciousness (if those are the right words) on the platform of a railway station. The overhead sign read, "PURGATORY." He blinked his eyes and scratched his head simultaneously, having no idea why or how he got here. The last thing he could recall was the police chase, losing control .. then.. nothing.

He looked around frantically for the suitcase .. it was nowhere to be found. There were a few people standing around on the platform but it was obviously not peak hour. He looked at his watch.. it had stopped at 1.22. He tapped the face and shook his wrist but the hands didn't move. Looking up at the big clock on the wall outside the Station Master's Office he was amazed that it said 1.22 as well.

Something weird was going on. Where the hell was his money, and how did he get here? He had to get out of town but hadn't planned on going by train. It was also strange that there were no police anywhere to be seen. After a quarter million dollar bank robbery you would expect all train stations and airports in the area to be swarming with them.

Seeing a sign marked "Lost Property" Jake entered the small room and saw an aged railway attendant behind the counter. He nodded to the man, "Has anyone handed in a black suitcase?"

The old man looked at him blankly and pointed to a row of steel shelves laden with umbrellas, various items of clothing (mostly overcoats), a box containing eye glasses and cases, and another with cell phones and accessories. On the bottom shelf he saw a collection of bags, briefcases and suitcases. Jake raced impatiently behind the counter and began searching through them, but to no avail, his wasn't among them. Swearing, and without thanking the Lost Property attendant, he stormed out.

Maybe the police had found it after he crashed the car. That was the most likely explanation, and why their presence wasn't noticeable. Well he still had to get away from this place, money or not. There had been witnesses to the robbery, and Jake actually thought himself lucky to have gotten this far.. or blessed..but somehow that term didn't really seem to fit the situation.

There were other banks in other towns. He'd just have to lay low somewhere for a few weeks, make some plans, and try again.

Jake looked for the arrival and departure board, but what he found left him puzzled. It just showed 'departures', no expected 'arrivals' and read as follows:

Next Trains Departing

Absolution .. departing Platform One ..

Perdition .. departing Platform Two ..

He'd never heard of these places, or the station he was standing on 'Purgatory', but he never travelled by train and sometimes the railway stations had different names to the towns they were in. Perhaps they were also street names.

Anyway, if he was going anywhere he would need a ticket.

When he was rich and successful he'd return to this God-forsaken town where he'd lived for a few years as a kid. Jake had left here about fifteen years ago when he left school to start in a construction job. Maybe he'd attend a class reunion and flaunt his wealth and importance to those stuck-up ex-classmates from rich families who used to look down on him in his second hand uniforms. A teacher once told him, "Jacob Nelson, you'll never go anywhere!"

Approaching the ticket window, Jake patted his back pocket. At least he had the sense to pull out a few hundred dollar bills from the stash and place in his wallet, and that was still there. Thank God for something.

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A slightly younger railway officer sat at the ticket window. He also had the same weird stare as the man in 'Lost Property.'

"Where to Mister?" he asked pleasantly enough.

"Do you have a timetable?" Jake queried, "The board only says two destinations 'Absolution' and 'Perdition' and no departure times."

"Yep, that's yer choice," the man answered, "Make it a wise one. The trains don't run to a timetable here. When all waiting passengers are on board they leave. On time, every time," he laughed at his own joke.

Jake looked puzzled, "No timetable? that's weird," he replied, "Well how much is a ticket to 'Perdition'?"

"How much have you got?"

The bank robber remove a $100 note from his wallet and placed it on the counter.

"Just the right amount," cackled the ticket officer.

"What about 'Absolution'?"

"Same price, different journeys, but it's up to you to choose which track you travel," the attendant said with a more serious tone.

"$100.00 sounds rather expensive. I only want a one-way ticket, not return," Jake said.

"Oh, we only sell one-way tickets. You can never return!" replied the railwayman. "It's the last journey you'll ever take so the price is irrelevant."

This man was a looney, Jake thought to himself. "Just give me a ticket to 'Absolution' then," he snapped impatiently.

"Wise choice," said the man with a grin. Taking Jake's money, he handed him a ticket stamped 'ABSOLUTION: One Way'. Then taking a book from one pile of two on the counter, he added, "Here's something to read on the way. It's a long trip."

Jake looked at the cover of the small pocket-sized book. 'Gideon's New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.'

"What books are in the other pile?" Jake asked not really impressed with the one he was given.

"Oh, those are for those who choose to travel to 'Perdition'," the man replied. "It doesn't matter what they read."

Just then the train whistle blew and the announcement came over the loudspeaker, "All aboard for Absolution."


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Definition of Terms

The World Book Dictionary definitions are as follows:

Purgatory: 1.(in Roman Catholic belief) a temporary condition or place in which the souls of those who have died penitent are purified from sin by punishment. 2.(figurative) any condition or place of temporary suffering or punishment.

Perdition: 1. the loss of one's soul or the joys of Heaven; final spiritual ruin; damnation. 2. Hell 3. Utter loss or destruction.

Absolution: 1. a freeing from guilt or punishment for sins; forgiveness of sins declared by ecclesiastical authority. 2. pardon, exoneration, acquittal.


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© 2014 John Hansen

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