Tuesday, June 28, 2016

DMM: Express to Hell!

The second offering in the April 1938 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine is a short revenge story by Julius Long called Express to Hell!.  On a foggy night, four railroad executives are summoned to a meeting on the railroad owner’s yacht.  The meeting is certain to be a discussion of the events leading up to a train collision that cost the lives of nineteen passengers.  Inside the yacht, the eccentric millionaire (it’s the late 1930’s remember, the dollar hadn’t been devalued to the point that a billionaire was necessary for this important plot point) meets with the four inside a specially constructed railcar.  The rail car has been mounted on rollers, and the use of phonograph sound effects and special lighting – the windows are frosted, not transparent – provides the illusion that the car is in motion in a sort of  low-tech virtual reality.

During the meeting, it becomes clear that the virtual reality built by the rail mogul is set to replay the events of the night of the recent train collision, which was the fault of the four executives.  They indirectly caused the wreck by skimping on safety to protect profits.  Plus ca change.  After reassuring the boss that the company and the executive board had covered all the angles, that no legal repercussions were possible, and that the four executives felt no guilt over the deaths of the nineteen, the billionaire reveals that one of the nineteen was his own wife.

A debate rages as to whether the train car is really in the yacht or had been coupled to an engine and was actually hurtling towards the still mangled tracks at the site of the wreck.  They have no way of knowing which it could be, as the railcar is built of steel, and locked up tight as a drum.  The four men know that they are in the hands of a madman. He has locked them up either on a yacht steaming through fog shrouded harbor or on a train hurtling towards badly damaged tracks.

At the precise moment they would have reached the site of the accident, the yacht is inadvertently rammed by a large cargo vessel and sinks.  They were steaming through the fog the whole time.

The setup is great, but the deus ex machina ending is more punchline than anything else.  This one is a definite miss.  At least it was short.

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