I sat between my two younger sisters, returning home from a
busy day out. I was squashed and constantly being elbowed by them bickering
“Girls, stop it, leave your brother in peace,”
Mum turned from the passenger seat, tiring of the constant whining.
“Stop it now,” Dad snapped in frustration. He
looked around to help police his daughters, he only took his eyes off the road
for a moment but that was enough. When Dad looked back, the car had veered
across the road. Dad tugged the wheel but lost control of the car. I felt sick
as the car spun down the embankment, we all screamed so loud. Then finally the
car came to a stop, I sighed with relief, the car was the right way up and no
one was hurt. Then I found myself drawn to a bright light on our left. It was a
train; we were on the track right in its path.
I tried to get out, but I couldn’t get my
seatbelt off. It didn’t matter, the train was going to hit us.
In a heartbeat,
there was nothing. I blinked rapidly, puzzled to find I was no longer in the
car. Had I been dreaming about the train? No, somehow, I was on a train; I
could feel it vibrating beneath me as I lay on the cold floor.
“Are you going to lie there all day?” Dad offered
out his hand.
“Where are we?” I looked around; we appeared to
be in the cargo carriage of an old steam train.
“We're on the train, silly,” Mum laughed
She sounded so matter-of-fact, like it was
obvious we should be on a train, but I clearly remembered being in our car.
Our day out had nothing to do with trains, old
or new. Was I dreaming? I had never had a dream like this before.
My parents were acting very odd. My Mum was
sitting on the ground, cuddling my sisters, and my Dad was looking for
something. Even my sisters were being strange, for one, they were quiet,
sharing Mum's embrace with no arguing or bickering.
“Are there any seats on the train?” I frowned,
Mum couldn't be comfortable sat on the cold bare floor. “I'll go and have a
“No” Dad called quickly, “we have to stay
“Come and have a hug, honey, we’re fine where
we are.” Mum offered.
“I won’t be long.” I decided I would go and
look for seats anyway. These old trains always had more seats than passengers.
There had to be some, somewhere.
I crossed the gap onto the passenger carriage. The train
was old-fashioned, click clacking along, but the people were all in modern
clothing. There were one or two empty seats but not enough for my family.
“Tickets please.” A voice called from further
down the carriage.
I walked towards the ageing ticket inspector,
dressed in old-fashioned clothing that seemed to match the age of the train.
“Ticket please,” the man asked me.
“Oh, I don't have one.” I quickly checked my
pockets just in case.
“If you don't have a ticket you'll have to
leave the train” the inspector warned.
“I'll ask my parents for it,” I promised. “Are
there any seats further down the train?”
“Of course,” The man replied, “There are enough
seats for everyone with tickets”
Two passengers on the left handed over their
tickets for inspection and one passenger on the right hunted everywhere but
couldn’t find a ticket.
“You have to get off at the next stop Sir” The
inspector told him before turning to me “You too, Sonny”
“My parents have the ticket,” I insisted.
“You have to get off sometime, Sonny.”
“Where is the train going?” I frowned.
“The train goes to its destination” The ticket
inspector replied bluntly.
I followed the inspector down the train, on my way back to
“Tickets!” the man called to a mother and her
young child sitting together counting cows out of the window.
The mother hunted everywhere for her ticket,
while the daughter found one with relative ease, screwed up in her pocket with
other rubbish deemed important to five-year olds
“You need to leave at the next station.” The
man spoke kindly to the woman.
“We'll be ready” The woman replied.
“Your daughter gets to stay. She has a ticket.”
The man explained, something sympathetic and at the same time, serious in his
tone. “Station approaching”
“I can't leave my daughter. Can I buy a
“I'm sorry, you have to move on.” The man
placed his hand briefly on her shoulder.
As they walked on back down the carriage towards my
parents, I was surprised so many people didn't have tickets
“Station approaching.” The ticket inspector
stopped at the end of the carriage.
“What about my parents?” I protested “They're
in the cargo hold”
“No one travels in the cargo carriage,” the man
replied in a very matter-of-fact tone.
The train screech to a halt, throwing me forwards to my
knees. Surprisingly, very few other people noticed the rapid deceleration of
Outside, everything was a bright yellow light,
I had to shield my eyes as I looked out, trying to find any signs of a platform
but I couldn't find anything. Three passengers stood up, all of them had been
unable to produce tickets earlier, and they each calmly left the train,
disappearing into the light.
“Where are they going?” I asked. “What's going
to happen to them?”
“They are moving on,” the ticket inspector
I stood and watched the station filled with light and then
it dawned on me.
“The accident!” I groaned and lifted my hand to
my head as I remembered “We caused the accident. All these people are dying and
it’s all our fault”
“Ticket please, Sonny.”
“My parents have it,” I snapped, feeling
frustrated and confused. Had my father's lapse in concentration caused an
accident and all these people had been involved?
“Where exactly are we going?” I persisted.
“To our destination,” the man explained,
“Unless you go towards the light,” I groaned
“Those people, we killed them”
“Ticket please,” the man said.
“My parents have it. I'll go get it”
“Your parents are holding you back.” The
inspector grabbed my arm, holding me still for a moment. “Don't let them ruin
this for you”
“OK.” I frowned.
“Only three more stops left until our
destination.” The inspector raised his eyebrows at me and then released my arm.
I glanced outside, fields were whizzing by once again as
the train continued on its destination. I crossed back over into my parent's
“Thank goodness,” Dad hurried over to me “We've
been so worried about you”
“I was only looking for seats in the next
“I'm glad you're back, we were getting worried”
“Why didn't you look for me?” I asked. Was I
the only one who thought this whole thing was odd?
“Did you find any seats honey?” Mum called,
still hugging my sisters as though she would never let them go.
“No. The Inspector said there were plenty if we
showed him our tickets.”
“Do you have a ticket, Will?” Dad asked.
“No” I replied, frowning “Do you have a
“Ask your mother” Dad replied.
“Mum?” I turned to the woman.
“I have them somewhere.” Mum began emptying her
handbag. She carried so much stuff in it. She struggled to find anything.
“Mum, Dad, I think we had an accident. I think
we hit the train and now we're in some kind of limbo. I think we're in this
coach because we weren't on the train, the real train. People are dying and
then they don't have tickets so they have to leave the train.”
I paused and waited for my parents to react to
my ludicrous idea, but my Dad just made a "hmm sound".
“Found one,” Mum called, finally finding a single
ticket in her now empty bag.
“Where are the others?”
Mum continued looking, unmoved by my comments.
“What do you think Dad?”
“Whatever you say, Will”
I looked at the one ticket and frowned so much
it hurt. Only one ticket? The inspector had said about my parents holding me
back. Was this what he meant? As silly as it all seemed, I was beginning to
work it out. The ticket was mine, but if I didn't have it on me when the train
reached its destination, I would count as having no ticket. Would that mean I didn't
get to live? Did that mean my family didn't get to live? Was that what he meant
by my family holding me back?
“I think you need to get off at the next
station. I think that ticket is mine and you have to pass over.”
I may have believed it, but I didn't want it to
be true. I didn't want my family to die, but I didn't want to be stuck in limbo
with them, forever sitting in the cargo carriage of an old train.
“Why do you think the ticket is yours, Will?”
Dad called. “It could be your mother's, she's the one who has it”
“True.” I shrugged “Then the rest of us need to
leave so she can live.”
“No, we all have to stay together,” Mum ordered
“No one is getting off the train until I find all the tickets”
“Don't worry, Will, we all have tickets.” Dad
smiled comfortingly “You know your mum's bag swallows things. So many pockets.”
I sighed. Maybe I was over thinking things.
“I'll go back and ask about seats.” I decided I
needed to talk to the Inspector some more.
“Please stay with us,” Mum called “We can all
“I won’t be long.” I turned, why my parents
weren't doing anything about our strange train journey.
I looked around for the inspector and found him at the far
end of the carriage.
“Excuse me.” I headed down towards him.
“Not another word until you show me your
ticket,” the inspector called back.
“I found it. It was in my mum's bag.” I smiled
confidently. “Can you tell me what you meant about my family holding me back?”
“You see that lady there?” The inspector
pointed to the lady I had seen earlier with her young daughter. I nodded,
remembering all the bits the girl had found in her pocket.
“She doesn't have a ticket, but her daughter
does. She needs to get off the train, and her daughter gets to stay”
“So if she doesn't leave the train, the girl doesn't
get to leave the train at the destination. So, what happens when the train
reaches the destination?”
“The girl will be unable to move on. They will
stay on the train.” The inspector shrugged
“Forever?” I gasped
“Station approaching,” the inspector announced,
and pulled on the long silver chain. I stumbled backwards as the train came to
“Are they dying?” I muttered as two people left
the train, stepping without hesitating into the blinding light.
“They are moving on,” the man replied. “Only
two more stops to go.”
“So my parents need to leave the train before
the destination, is that what you've been trying to tell me?”
“All I've been saying, Sonny, is tickets please.”
I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. Was
an eternity in limbo better than losing my family? I walked down towards the
mother and child.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can I ask a question
“Of course,” The mother replied.
“Did you know that you have to leave the train
for her to live?”
“All I know is I can't leave her,” the woman
replied. “I would rather spend an eternity on the train than be parted from my
“But you'd be keeping her on the train. Is that
better than allowing her to live?”
“I don't want to leave my little girl. How
“Isn't it better to let her have a future?” I
was trying to understand my parent's feelings “You're denying her a life of her
The woman looked down and sighed, I realised
she was starting to cry.
“I'm sorry, please don’t cry!” I gasped.
“You're right.” She sobbed, putting her arm
around the girl to give her a quick hug. “I have to leave the train for her
I paused for a moment. I knew I had to face my
family before the train reached its destination.
My parents were delighted to see me return, greeting me
with big hugs like I had been gone forever.
“We found them.” My youngest sister waved a
ticket in my face.
I grinned, I didn't have to lose my family after all. “That's fantastic.
Where's my ticket?”
I longed to actually hold it and show it to the
inspector. “We can get some proper seats”
“I don’t have your ticket honey,” Mum explained.
“It seems I was wrong. I only had mine”
“Seems we all had our own.” Dad laughed as
though the lost tickets were highly amusing.
“Wait!” I gasped, pushing away from my mum “That
means I don't have one.”
If I was the only one without a ticket, it
meant I had been wrong the whole time. It wasn't my family stopping me from
living, it was me stopping them. I had to leave the train so they could live.
The ticket inspector had been telling me the whole time.
“I'm the only one without a ticket,” I
explained “I have to leave the train”
“No!” Mum grabbed my arm in the same place as
the inspector “You aren't going anywhere. We're all going to stay here
“I can't.” I pulled away. As wonderful as
staying with my family sounded, I couldn't deny them a future. My sisters had
their whole lives ahead of them. “I know what I have to do.”
“No Will,” Mum begged. “Stay with me.”
“I can't.” I hugged my mum tightly and for the
last time, sobbing into her shoulder. “I love you but I have to do this.”
“Oh Will, I love you too.” Mum gripped me so
“I love you guys.” I hugged my sisters next. I
grinned through my tears as I thought I would actually miss them “Even if you
are the most annoying sisters going.”
“It’s her fault,” the older one whispered in my
“Only because she started it,” the other one
“Promise me you'll try to be nicer to each
other when I'm gone."
“For you!” the girls replied, hugging each
other as I left them.
“I don't think we brought anything with us,” I
told my dad, unsure whether I should hug him. We hadn't cuddled since my
“You know you don't have to go.” Dad held out
his hand to shake mine.
“I have to.” I shrugged dismally, shaking my
father's hand “But I don't want to.”
“Oh come here.” Dad pulled me into him and
hugged me like never before.
“I love you, Dad,” I muttered.
I couldn't stop crying as I made my final goodbyes, they
wanted me to stay but I couldn't do it to them; I couldn't condemn them to an
eternity on the train for my sake. I wondered if they would remember these
final moments after the train reached its destination, then I turned and walked
away without looking over my shoulder. It was unbearably hard to walk away from
them, if I looked back I would change my mind and then I would ruin their lives
The Inspector was waiting for me as I stepped back onto the
“Ticket please," the man called instantly.
“I don't have one” I confessed.
“I knew it!” The inspector chuckled. “Station
coming right up”
I inhaled and nodded as the inspector reached
for the chain. I clung onto the rail as the train came to a stop and I looked
out at the light.
“Will it hurt?” I hesitated.
“Yes” The inspector nodded. “But only for a
I nodded and drew in a deep breath, finding no
comfort in the man's words.
“Together,” a voice stammered behind me and a
hand slipped into mine. It was the mother who I had convinced to leave her
daughter. I gripped tightly and we both stepped into light.
The light was warm and peaceful as it enveloped me, the
woman melted away from my side into the brightness. I leant back and relaxed,
thinking it hadn't been too bad. Then came a whooshing pop and the calm was
gone. The inspector was right, everywhere hurt, a tight pressure seemed to stop
my body from moving. It was noisy, beeping, voices and scraping all around me.
I curiously opened my eyes and looked at a blurry world of flashing lights and
an overcast night sky.
“Hello.” A woman in a green uniform appeared in
my line of sight “Don't worry, you're going to be fine.”
I frowned, I tried to talk but only managed a
groan. I closed my tired eyes and thought about the train and the passengers on
it; unaware they were in fact journeying to the afterlife. That was the destination; death. The light
was life. I had chosen to live, I hadn't let my family hold me back and keep me
on the train. But I knew there was still hope for my family. There was one stop
left on the limbo train's journey. They could decide to leave, if they wanted
to, couldn't they? The inspector hadn't seen their tickets and they had been so
keen for everyone to stay together, they might follow me. They might... they