I'm a member of the Codex Writers group, and for the past several years we've had a contest called "Codexian Idol." (The contest was invented by James Maxey, who won the first contest with a story that was later published in IGMS: "To Know All Things That Are in the Earth.") The contest involves submitting the first 500 words of a story based on prompts, and people vote on which stories they want to read more of. About half the contestants are eliminated, and the rest submit 1000 more words. The next round of voting cuts the field down to the finalists, who submit their finished stories for the final voting.
One year, the contest prompts were sound clips, including one of a train. An additional prompt was "Someone or something lies or misleads, in a big or small way, on purpose or accidentally." I had recently read The Elegant Universe, a non-fiction book about string theory, which talked about the concept of curled dimensions, and I wondered what would happen if our time dimension somehow got mixed up with a space dimension. From all that I got the idea of west being the future, and a train that had to keep going west. The "misleading" in the story is Varney's assertion that the darkness behind them is a black hole.
For the main character, I wanted someone who would have to face one of his fears in the course of the story. For someone riding a train, a fear of flying might be a little too obvious a choice, but it allowed for the irony of an astronaut who's afraid to fly and gave root to his backstory of the plane crash.
--Eric James Stone