Science Fiction Suspense Drama

Ben was cooking a bland dinner when Lena came home from work, bringing in a blast of cold air, slamming the door, swearing at the wind, her dynamic outfit rustling and swishing. “How’s the baby?” she whooshed, breathlessly.

“Fine.” Ben replied. “And she’s not a baby. You see the news?”


“Another city, another bomb.”

“I know.”

“We need to leave.”

“And go where?” she said.

A rival nation-state had spent a decade rigging and hiding dozens of dirty bombs throughout the country, detonating one every week or so. Thousands had already died. Millions of people in half-a-dozen cities had already suffered from radiation sickness. Tens of millions more had vacated the cities and crammed themselves into make-shift refugee camps. Tent cities had sprung up in cornfields, National Parks, undeveloped land. The government mishandled the emergency, of course. Fear and suspicion turned neighbors into belligerents, and the country was sliding into anarchy as its leadership failed to act.

He spread a brochure out on the table. “Have you seen this?”

“Time travel Ben? Really?”

“Why not?”

“It’s a gimmick, a carnival ride.”

“No it’s not, Lena. It’s bona fide time-travel and you know it. They simply…”

“Ben. Stop.”

“It’s real, Lena.”

“I know it’s real, it’s just not realistic.”

“I know what you’re thinking. It’s a visual experience. No one actually goes there. But they do. They just don’t exit the vehicle.”

“Exactly,” Lena intoned.

“But they could,” he insisted.

“Oh Ben.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to say. It’s so—naïve.”

“No, no. Hear me out.”

There was a noise in the hallway: Their five-year old daughter, Rayla. “Mommy?”

“Oh honey. Did we wake you up? I’m sorry sweety.” She swept her daughter up into her arms and said, “Why don’t you let mommy put you back to bed?” She twirled her around once or twice while covertly glaring at her husband. “Say g’night to daddy, sweety.”

“Were you and daddy fighting, mommy?”

Lena halted, set her daughter on the kitchen counter top and looked at her husband, Ben. “She wants to know if we were fighting.”

Ben bent over to her eye level. “We weren’t fighting, sweety, we were just discussing our vacation.”

“What’s a vacation?” Rayla asked.

“That’s where people go when they want to—relax.”

“What’s relactus?”

“That’s… hmm. You know, when people are happy, smiling.”

The somber child said, “I know what that is.”

“You do? Good. Now let’s…”

“No bombs.”

“That’s right, sweety. No bombs.” Her mother swept the girl up into her arms again, stopped just before the bedroom door and whirled around to look at her husband. Her eyes were brimming over with tears. She didn’t come out until Rayla was asleep.

Tick. TOCK. Tick.

Weeks later, in a harsh whisper she said, “I don’t like talking about this stuff in front of Rayla.”

Oblivious, he said, “But I can do this. I know I can do it. As long as…”

“Ben. You’re incompetent. My boss is incompetent. The government is incompetent.”

“It’s an actual time-machine.”

“Ben,” she said, ominously.

“Only goes one way, though. Backwards. But who cares?”


“All we need, believe it or not, is a bit of encrypted code. It’s so bloody simple I can’t believe no one else has done it.”

“It has been done, you idiot. Leave it be. I have to go to work.” She got up from the table and bopped him on the head with her attaché. “I’m not sure who’s the bigger idiot, you, or me, for marrying you.”

When she slammed the door, he noticed his daughter Rayla standing there, looking sympathetic. “Yes, your mommy thinks your daddy is an idiot.” He tapped her gently on the nose with his finger. “But I have a plan.”

“What’s a plan?” She asked.

“A plan? That’s when you think about things, and take steps.”

“Steps? Like walking?”

“Yes.” He said. “Planned steps. Forward.” He motioned with his hands.

She said, “But why?”

She was such a bright little girl. “We, you, you figure out what you want to happen, and then figure out what to do to make that thing happen. Does that make sense?”

“With steps?”

“That’s right…with steps, well, each step is a part of your plan, to make things work – better, for you,” he tousled her hair, “and the people you love.”


“Really,” he replied. “And you are part of my plan, sweety.”

“I think,” Rayla said, with a sideways glance, “that mommy really thinks you’re crazy.”

“She does? Oh, that’s even better.”

He wanted to take her away from all this horror. There was no other way to protect her from the suffering: Millions would fall ill, hundreds of thousands would die prematurely, and moving to the country was a risky proposition. If the wind changed direction, they could all die anyway.

But Time-Warner-Disney-Fox-Paramount bought all the patents on time-machines, refined the process, dumbed it down and turned it into an amusement park ride. Complete with a portal, or window into the past, through which you could look, but ostensibly, not pass. That meant there was nothing more between the ‘traveler’ and the past, than a couple of electronic locks, and Ben was a skilled locksmith. It was a matter of planning, timing, and a little bit of luck.


Lena got the call from work and rushed to the scene. She was a sharp, large, insistent woman, in a silver patent leather jacket and black pants. She had something of the barracuda about her. Her nose, the set of her jaw. Large teeth. “Where is she?”

“Where is who, Madam?”

“My child! My child, my child, my child, my child. Where is she?”

“Oh my God,” he said, and rushed from the room so quickly there was no time to grab him by his scrawny neck and wring the living shit out of him. Worse than that, her question had been a catalyst, activating the entire facility, teams of personnel swinging into action. Apparently, there was a mix-up, and no one was assigned to Lena, the child’s mother. No one could tell her anything except—her husband and child were gone. She insisted that they send her back too.

They refused.

A somber grief counselor arrived with a constable. All they could do was console her, keep her from assaulting the employees of the company, and return her to her home with as much dignity and compassion as they could provide.

There had been previous ‘time-jumpers’, clever idiots, but no one had ever taken a child before. For the ‘jumpers’ there was no return trip. No turning back, nor any way to retrieve them. It simply wasn’t possible, no matter who they were or when they went. In any event, their passage into the historical time-line changed little on a macro or quantum level, like ice cubes tossed into the ocean, most died shortly after their 'escape.'

This event proved to be the exception though, and whatever changes had been made in the timeline were unknown to the people in it. Time-Warner-Desi was unaware that its name had been cut in half.

The company motto, ‘The Past is History’, remained unchanged and was uncannily accurate because the past was like an infinite, multi-dimensional haystack, and objects were like needles that could never be found: Time was not constant. Anything sent into the past could never again be located, much less retrieved. That’s why it could only be used for observation and entertainment, little more than a scientific curiosity. Lena already knew this. So did her husband, she thought.

Eventually, a kind, but firm policewoman escorted Lena home—and left.


She collapsed on the kitchen floor. Her grief was like a blinding, flashing light in her eyes. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t stand, and at one point thought she heard the voice of her daughter in her head. The voice got closer. She opened her eyes to see a vision so realistic, she gasped and recoiled in shock. When she realized her daughter was real, she shrieked with joy, then grabbed the child and hugged her with such force, the child squeaked in protest. She held her at arm’s length and said, “My God, Rayla, where have you been?”

“I had a plan.”

“What plan?”

“Daddy was crazy,” she said. “So I hid under the bed.”

Lena held her daughter close, to hide the tears she didn’t think she had left to shed. “I think he was, honey. I think he was.”


Theoretically, and for all practical purposes, time is indifferent to individuals. People don’t change all that much of the past. But in this one, inexplicable, outlying universe—the bombs ceased to exist, and no one noticed.

Occasionally, considerate people inquire about the fate of Rayla’s dad, Ben.

Since we are not inhabitants of that time-line, it is not inconvenient to tell you. The father was fortunate to be dumped into a past that had rid itself of dinosaurs but had not developed large hominids yet. Ben stepped from the time-portal close to the banks of what is now the Amazon river, deep in the heart of Brazil. Time-travel is inherently disorienting, and when he opened his eyes, he was surrounded by a horde of albino, dwarfish-women, wearing mostly leaves.

There were thousands of them living under a canopy of towering trees, and would have died out in a few years, having eaten all of their lazy men, (i.e., all of their men) and they knew it. In fact, his arrival was seen as deific: A sign from the Gods that they should multiply, proliferate, (and eat fewer men.) And they did. (Since there was only one at that point.)

As soon as he was brought before the Queen, she said, “That’s mine.”

Since the Queen was as lazy as a man, she did not work, her subjects were given the burden of having the children. All told, they had nineteen children with freckles, the other six-hundred and sixty-three children had assorted skin tones, but what they all shared equally from the dominant traits of their mothers, was dwarfism.

All of their offspring matured to an average height of three feet tall. Their smaller size facilitated faster breeding and they consequently snuffed out early hominids while they were still in their evolutionary infancy. From that point on, earth’s population remained uniformly dwarfish, matriarchal, peaceful, and saturated with albinism. For that, and other reasons, they preserved and revered the trees. Their culture thrived, achieving great things, but never trafficked in bombs or war, resorting to mud-wrestling to settle their cultural and economic differences, which were all minor to begin with.

This extensive and (some would say) orthogonal explanation lays the groundwork for my conclusion.

Ben’s arrival, and miraculous failure to be eaten by a horde of dwarfs, changed the earth’s biome. Time was FORCED to accommodate Ben, and quantum uncertainty enabled him—willingly, to change the past. And that’s why, (spoiler alert) if he had returned, (which he cannot) he would have found that at the instant of his departure from his previous time-line, not only did the bombs disappear, but every extant corporeal being on the planet, as well as their artificial biological and inorganic compounds would have either disappeared, or halved its heft and height by one-half. A simple bi-section of a quantum wave form. Even the word quantum got shortened to ‘quan.’ As some like to say now: ‘It was all, a bit, uncertain.’

So, to answer the question, ‘What happened to the crazy dad?’

It appears as if he escaped from his over-bearing wife, salvaged a doomed species from evolutionary oblivion, improved his daughter’s circumstances, (she was already short), changed history, altered the physics of the local universe, forced time to compromise with him, and, most happily, well, let’s just say he was never short on nookie.

January 26, 2024 03:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Wendy M
09:52 Jan 31, 2024

I thought, this is a bit conventional for Ken, then we got the epilogue. Bloody brilliant. Do they have barracuda in the Amazon, was that Lena's heritage? And well done Ben on the nookie front, was it Freudian that Ben rhymes with Ken? I wrote scifi this week too. I'd like to say, just for you, but won't in case you hate it.


Ken Cartisano
16:34 Jan 31, 2024

Thank you Wendy. Glad you enjoyed. Good question on Lena's heritage. Is it grounds for a post-epilogue back-story on Lena? No. A 'prequil'? (God help us, no.) Is the name Freudian? Isn't everything? (Unless you smoke a cigar.) Actually, no. I had an oddly clear image of the father, Ben, and he didn't look like me at all. You ask a lot of questions in a short span of words. I'm thrilled to hear that you finally wrote me a story, whether I hate it or not. I look forward to reading it, if not today, then tonight, if not tonight, then -- no I ca...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
03:15 Jan 31, 2024

A fun mix of grim-serious and Hitchhikerish-amusing :) The scenario presented in the opening is nightmarish, and it's not hard to see why someone would take such risks to get themselves and their loved ones out of it. I wondered why they wouldn't formally try to go back in time, but it seems they're under the impression it's a one way death sentence, and it doesn't change things anyway. Well, if you're unable to perceive those changes because your life's been retconned so that they were always there, then of course you'll conclude you can'...


Ken Cartisano
16:41 Jan 31, 2024

Cannibalism!? Oh yeah, the cannibalism. There's so much 'stuff' in this story, I completely forgot about the cannibalism. I think it's wise to be cautious about cannibalism. Don't you, Michal? So glad you read it and commented. 'Grim and amusing.' That sums it up nicely.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
16:43 Jan 26, 2024

What these prompts need are a good time travel story. Here it is. The comments are just as rich!


Ken Cartisano
16:44 Jan 31, 2024

Thanks Mary. Where's the imogee? My goal, I'm sure you know, is to get more than three sentences out of you in one comment. And I will not quit until I have it.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Laurel Hanson
14:05 Jan 26, 2024

The countdown of the tick tock was a good device for this type of story, but I really wanted that last single Tock - the diminishing pattern having been established. Time travel stories are a pain in the butt to write; I didn't even consider it, for reasons like this one: if he arrived to encounter dwarvish women, hadn't the past already been changed? Still an enjoyable read with strong characterization.


Ken Cartisano
15:31 Jan 26, 2024

Glad you enjoyed it Laurel. The thing with time-travel stories is that amateur and professional Physicists alike will find the holes in your theoretical construct, (and waste no time (not a pun) in pointing them out. However, who is to say, (again, except me and a few thousand paleontologists,) that a dwarfish culture didn't thrive and extinguish themselves 'in the middle of the Amazon' without having been discovered yet? You know, they've suspected, and even found some evidence of long-lost civilizations deep in the Amazon rainforest. I d...


Laurel Hanson
21:30 Jan 26, 2024

Oh my god, that is a fantastic idea for a story. Have at!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Laurel Hanson
21:32 Jan 26, 2024

Dang it. I always forget to hit the like button when I comment. I know it helps to have those likes.


Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Kevin Logue
10:24 Jan 26, 2024

Ben may be crazy but he's a bit of an overachiever when it comes down it! Of course Time Warner Disney Paramount will own time travel, they'll make it a subscription too then pump out the same old rehashed paradox's over an over. Now, these albino dwarven mud wrestling, what channels that on?


Ken Cartisano
01:32 Jan 27, 2024

What channel? Fox, of course.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.