Science Fiction Thriller Speculative

The man dragged Billy by the sleeve of his denim jacket, muttering what seemed to be nonsense. He‘d said his name was Phillip, and he was strong, belying the wiry frame and the malnourished cheekbones. His eyes were set deep inside his skull, beady and haunted, full of secrets that had never been uttered in the light of day, and yet they were familiar at the same time.

Billy had tried to struggle at first and received a clout to the head, not hard enough to make him bleed, but enough to make him fearful. The man had snatched him on his walk home from school while he’d been daydreaming of orcs and a ring that made the bearer invisible, a longing that was very close to his heart. 

Drug off the side of the road and into the woods like a hapless victim in a fairytale, except he already knew how this fairytale ended.

Had the man been waiting for him? 

“Don’t be afraid,” Phillip had said in that manic whisper, as if he were used to whispering, those familiar eyes darting up and down the road. “Everything is gonna be fine, just fine.”

He had the same name as Billy’s father, the one he didn’t really know except through letters that came like clockwork once a month. It was at that point he’d struggled, and Phillip gave him the back of his hand. Billy acquiesced quickly after that. He knew what prolonged resistance got you, a scarred up face and an addiction to those little blue pills with the letter ‘v’ stamped on them. 

On the heels of that came the inevitable thought of his mother and the surety that he’d never see her again. He wondered if she would miss him, and then realized that it didn’t really matter.

Once they were in the woods a good hundred yards, the trees suffocating and looming, stoic witnesses to the ever so brief life of one Billy Rawling, the man stopped and started to pat around the boy’s chest and hips.

Billy whimpered. He couldn’t help it. This was what the commercials had all warned about, those after school specials that, in hindsight, didn’t seem so ridiculous. 

“Where is it?” Phillip asked, digging his hands into Billy’s pockets.


“The phone?” he hissed in return. “Where’s your cellphone?”

“M-my w-w-what?” Billy replied, his voice quivering.

Phillip stepped back and slapped a hand to his forehead, letting it drag slowly over his bald head.

“Of course of course,” he ranted, then let out a short high-pitched laugh. “No such thing there’s no such thing.”

Phillip planted his hands on his hips and began to take several deep breaths in a bid to calm himself. He twitched here and there, seemingly without volition, but he was smiling.

“I did it,” he said. “I did it I did it I did it.”

When he finally looked back to Billy, his smile faltered.

“Don’t worry,” he said with a shake of his head. “I’m not gonna hurt you. No, that’d be stupid. I’m, I’m not stupid. That’s why they picked me. I-I can keep it together. I c-can still think up here.”

He held up his finger and intensely jammed it against his temple repeatedly, his face contorting tortuously. 

Billy stepped back, tripped over a tree root and fell painfully on his ass. 

“Ha!” Phillip shouted. “I c-can remember that!”

He reached down and grasped Billy by the shoulders and hauled him up to his feet, pulling him close so that their faces were only a foot apart.

“I know you’re scared,” he said. “I know you’re scared because I know,” he emphasized. “But it’s gonna be okay. It’s okay cause you’re not gonna do that thing, that thing that I know you were gonna do.”

Phillip nodded eagerly, and because he didn’t know what else to do, Billy followed suit. 

“Wait a second,” the man said, standing straight up and holding out his hand like a crossing guard, his head cocked to the side as if listening to something far away. “What’s today?”

He looked down at Billy.

“What’s today?” he repeated, his expression confused.

“I-it’s F-F-Friday,” Billy stuttered, and even filled with near incapacitating fear he hated the sound of his stutter, instantly thinking of the moniker he’d been branded-

“Babbling Billy,” Phillip finished the thought, muttering the words under his breath.

“W-w-what?” Billy replied reflexively.

Phillip shook his head and stared up at the treetops. 

“Friday. Y-yes, that’s right. It’s Friday. That’s the day we see him, see him on the bridge, the Willow Creek Bridge.”

He seemed to convulse, body tightening, the veins on his neck throbbing to the surface. Just as quickly as it had arrived it left. The man seemed to sob with some hidden pain then physically shook it off like a wet dog come in from the rain. 

When he looked back down at Billy again, he was almost…normal. His eyes were no longer feverish. 

“Renny Waltz,” Phillip whispered, and despite all that had happened so far, Billy still flinched at the sound of the name of his tormentor, the bane of his existence, the fourteen year old menace that haunted his waking hours and caused him to send furtive glances about every time he rounded a corner in the school halls.

The man looked down at his wrist. He was wearing a watch, but not a Timex or a Casio. It was…well, bizarre, Billy thought, a black band with numbers and symbols that made no sense to him.

“I see him,” Phillip muttered, his voice low and earnest. “In the middle of the bridge. He’s spitting off it, hocking loogies down at the rocks below. He doesn’t see me.”

He looked at Billy.

“He doesn’t notice you.”

That’s when Billy saw the rock, a stone slightly bigger than the size of his fist, jutting out amongst the fallen leaves, its point almost gleaming in the filtered light coming down from the canopy above. It was directly behind the man and just a few feet to the side.

Phillip tilted his head again and stared over Billy’s shoulder.

“What is that?” he muttered. “I see…I see…”


Billy didn’t even know he was going to blurt out the name. It came unbidden to his lips.

Phillip snapped back.

“Yes, I see him. He’s got his Walkman on. He doesn’t hear me coming. It’s a small bridge and the willows…”

He stood up and stared off into the woods.

“The willows are hanging low over the road. I sneak up close. I don’t know why I’m sneaking, but maybe I do, maybe I already know.”

He held a hand out to touch some invisible thing. His attention was somewhere else. Billy took the opportunity to slowly edge around, shuffling inch by inch towards the stone, surprised by his own bravery.

“I run the last few steps. He turns around when he hears me but,” and here Phillip laughed that brittle laugh, like feet trodding over broken glass. “He doesn’t even have a chance. When I run into him he just goes right over, goes right over and he screams, he screams like a little girl.”

Phillip stepped forward and leaned over, looking down into an invisible ravine. Billy was off to the man’s left. He froze for a moment, but seeing that Phillip was lost in reverie, he kept inching his way, his heart thudding so hard against his chest it was difficult to hear the words.

“He’s lying there on the rocks, just a few feet from the water. He’s looking at me. There’s blood coming out of his mouth. I…I feel…I feel nothing. I don’t even…”

Billy leaned down and picked up the stone. It felt right in his hands, like a little bit of destiny. 

Phillip snapped upright and started to turn.

“The rock,” he says, but by then it was too late.

Billy swung his arm like Rod Beck and felt the stone connect with the side of the man’s head. There was a loud thunk, and before he even saw Phillip fall, he was running towards the road, leaping roots and scrambling over fallen trees, making as the crow flies. 

When he hit the road, his heart already felt fit to burst. He shambled along as far as he could and when he came to the bridge he knew that he could run no more. The willows were hanging low but not low enough for him to hide behind. He could hear Phillip’s shouts in the distance and he panicked, turning this way and that, feeling completely exposed. 

An idea came to him, a bad one for certain, but one nonetheless. He stumbled to the edge of the concrete bridge and looked over the side. It dropped a good thirty feet to the creek below. A shout from somewhere too close to the edge of the woods propelled him. Billy hooked his fingers on the ledge and slid his body over the lip, easing himself down until he was hanging over the side, his Reeboks finding purchase against the wall, taking some of the strain off his shoulders and arms. 

His hope was that Phillip would run past without so much as a glance, thinking his quarry had bolted like a spring deer, but that was not the case. As if catching his scent, the man appeared mere seconds later looking over the lip of the bridge, staring down at a terrified Billy.

“That was stupid,” he said, shaking his head. 

Phillip reached down and grasped Billy’s forearms in both of his hands and hauled him back up.

“I saw me,” Phillip said, twitched, and then said, “I saw you.”

He leaned over the edge of the bridge, looking down at the creek below, and then laughed that broken glass laugh.

“It doesn’t matter. Renny’s long gone. I’m gonna be-”

And that’s when Billy barreled into him. It really didn’t take much effort. The man was already leaning far over the lip of the bridge and the concrete railing was merely waist high. Phillip cartwheeled over the edge. There was no scream nor cry of astonishment. 

When Billy put his hands on the lip of the bridge and leaned over, he saw the broken heap of the man who’d tried to abduct him. Phillip’s eyes were open. He was staring up, trying to mouth words that couldn’t possibly be heard.

Billy watched for a few more seconds and then turned to walk towards home, strangely not feeling much of anything. He never called the cops or told anyone of what happened.

A year later, Billy’s mom ingested a fatal dose of Valium in her orange juice and vodka, or at least that’s what the coroner deduced. Billy spent some time in foster homes until he was of age, and then it was odd jobs here and there, always on the move, restless and never restful. When his father was finally released, Billy was there to meet him. A few days later the cops found Phillip Rawling in the dumpster of a cheap motel off of I-80 with a smile drawn from ear to ear below the chin. Someone saw something and a week later, Billy was arrested outside a Casey’s gas station just south of Omaha. 

Life…without parole.

He spent a lot of time in books, and there he found a minuscule amount of comfort and solace. There was even some semblance of guilt, but mostly it was that nagging feeling that if he had just kept running down that road he might have avoided it all. 

The world turned. 

Billy was aware of things changing on the outside but it didn’t mean much to him. The internet came and provided a few years of excitement, and then he grew bored of it. Wars raged and somewhere he heard rumblings that the earth was dying. 

Let it die, he thought at the time.

When his hair had gone and he’d tired of books and television and food, someone came and offered him a unique deal. They moved him to a place that had glass walls instead of concrete, though just as formidable. He took a bunch of tests with nodes and wires attached to his head, and a few weeks after that they showed him The Machine.

You can go back, they said, back to that one moment where it all went wrong. 

He didn’t hesitate. 

They strapped the device to his wrist and put him in The Machine. By then, he knew he’d already been back there once, back to good ole 1992, but this time would be different.

Only it wasn’t. Somehow that damn kid got the drop on him again. He could lay blame on the after effects of the trip, the result of molecules not quite lining up correctly when he was disassembled and reassembled, but it didn’t matter. Billy still found himself bleeding out, this time with an exposed root poking through his abdomen in the middle of the woods, staring up into the face of his fourteen year old self. And when he finally, inevitably, walked away, the device brought him back to The Machine again. 

The hiss of the door opening roused Billy slightly. He had lost a lot of blood. Two people in pressurized suits came in and took the device off his wrist. They connected it to the pad they held in their hands then huddled close and watched the feed while Billy bled.

Finally, when it was done, they checked his vitals, only this time they didn’t call the doctor. They spoke in heated tones. He was fading fast but he strained to hear. It seemed imperative that he did. 

He couldn’t make anything out but a single word…


And then Billy Rawling closed his eyes, hopefully, for the last time.



February 03, 2024 08:00

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John Rutherford
09:25 Feb 15, 2024

Interesting story


HC Edwards
18:49 Feb 15, 2024

Thank you. If you get the chance check out my other stories. They’re all along the same vein in that I try to be thought provoking while also giving a bit of a twist.


John Rutherford
19:43 Feb 15, 2024

I will. Try to read some of mine. We all need feedback.


HC Edwards
19:46 Feb 15, 2024

Will do!


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Tom Skye
15:45 Feb 10, 2024

Interesting take on the time loop. It was very mysterious for the first half and kept me well intrigued. Really nice work. Thanks for sharing


HC Edwards
16:50 Feb 10, 2024

Thank you! I didn’t want it to be obvious right away so I’m glad that panned out


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Philip Ebuluofor
20:06 Feb 09, 2024

To see what looks like my name here and stutterer too made it not to look original. Why didn't you replace that Philip with Edwards? Well, give you six over ten.


HC Edwards
20:51 Feb 09, 2024

Sorry, it was just a random name I pulled out of the air. The stutter was a pneumonic device for the reader to make the connection between Phillip and the boy.


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