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Drama Science Fiction Sad

“I’ll see you soon, Arnie, okay?”

Arnie looked up at her, her face shadowed by the halo of the sun around her hair. She leaned forward and he felt her hair wisp over his cheeks as she kissed his forehead. He heard a series of clicks and the air flashed around them. Mom had said there’d be men with cameras. He was happy he didn’t have to look at them through her hair.

Her hands came to his cheeks and he reached up with his own hand to hold hers. Arnie didn’t like it when Mom left. But this time she’d promised him it’d be just a minute. A real-life minute, with the people around them counting down and everything.

“Love you, baby boy.”

Arnie frowned. He didn’t like it when she called him a baby. He was five. He blushed and hoped none of the strangers had heard through her hair.

Mom leaned back, her face still dark, and turned towards the sun.

“Love you too, Mom,” Arnie said, saying it quick so the strangers couldn’t hear.

He stood there as Mom kissed Dad and Annalise too. Annalise was a baby. Why didn’t Mom call her a baby? Arnie kicked at the dirt as more cameras flashed.

Mom left and walked toward the middle of the park where her friends were. They all shook her hand as she made her way to the machine. Then she stepped inside and her friends jogged off to the other side of the park.

“Arnie.” Dad tapped his shoulder. “Put your sunglasses on now, okay?”

Arnie pulled the sunglasses out of his pocket. Dad struggled to get the goggles over Annalise’s head. Arnie giggled.

“Sunglasses, Arnie.”

He put the sunglasses on and resumed kicking the dirt. The cameras were clicking and flashing again.

A tickle worked its way up his arm. Arnie scratched at it, and saw he had goosepimples. All the little hairs on his arm stuck up and there was a hum, like when the lightbulb in his bedroom had been close to going out. He looked up to see the machine glowing. It glowed brighter and brighter and the tickle he felt on his arm started to crawl all over his body. Arnie crossed his arms, sticking his hands in his armpits. A low whine escaped his throat.

Then there was a snap, like a thousand cameras going off all at once. The tickling was gone. So was the machine. All that was left in the middle of the park was the concrete slab it’d stood on. Arnie rubbed his arms. Around him, Mom’s friends and Dad were all staring at their watches.

One minute. That’s what Mom said. Arnie tried to remember how many seconds were in a minute, but it was hard. So he started whispering to himself, counting to ten. He even got to twenty. Then Dad shushed him and Arnie gave up counting.

This minute was taking forever. Annalise wiggled in Dad’s arms. Everyone was still looking at their wrists, or their phones, or their stopwatches. No one moved. No cameras clicked. No one spoke. Arnie decided to sit down. His legs were tired.

He pulled handfuls of grass up and out of the ground, throwing it like confetti. A few times he caught an ant. One landed on his leg and he watched it crawl on his knee for a while. Whispers started. Mumbles. Annalise started to fuss. Dad still looked at his watch.

Mom’s friends walked toward the concrete platform and scratched their heads. Their hands were waving. Pointing to their watches and phones. One came over to Dad and whispered something. Dad didn’t stop looking at his watch.

A few cameras began to click again. Arnie hated them. They couldn’t even wait a minute for his Mom to get back before taking more pictures. He looked around at all the adults milling about now, sunglasses off, hands wringing. Arnie shoved his sunglasses on top of his head. An idea popped into his brain. This park was full of flowers. Mom loved flowers. He’d pick some for when she got back.

Arnie stood and began collecting all the yellow flowers. Mom called them Dandy-Lions. She said they were her favorite so he picked them whenever he saw them in the yard. He’d bring them to her and she’d sing a silly song before flicking the head of the flower off. Arnie thought it was hilarious. Once they’d had a competition to see who could flick their Dandy-Lion head higher. He’d won, but he thought she’d let him.

He saw a few Puffballs too and picked those, too. She said they were for making wishes and that every puff would go to a different part of the world looking for his wish. That was why there were so many of them. To make sure the job got done. Arnie weaved between some suited legs and stomping feet to grab a few.

As he got closer to the concrete where the machine had been, he saw Purples. The tiny ones. Mom thought those were the prettiest. Arnie grabbed them by the handful, only to hear a click behind him. He turned, fists full of flowers, to hear another click. One of the photo people was taking pictures of him.

Arnie didn’t like that, and looked for Dad. Dad was far now. He wasn’t looking at his watch anymore, but talking to one of Mom’s friends. Arnie rushed over, escaping the photo people, and hid behind his Dad’s legs. He looked up and recognized Mom’s friend, even behind the sunglasses and coat. Uncle Arnold.

“Steven, I know it’s not what was in the original time-frame, but this was always a possibility. She may still show up today. Most likely within the hour. The calibrations wouldn’t be off by more than forty-eight hours, at most.”

“Two days?” Dad hissed, “Arnold, you said this was a sure thing! You tested it!”

“We did-”

“You said this was safe!”

“It is! Steven, listen,” Uncle Arnold said, “I trust Raquel, and she trusted me. We both tested it before and never had any issues.”

“She’s done this before?”

“She didn’t want to worry you-”

“Oh for-” Dad said, throwing his arm up. Annalise started crying. Arnie clutched Dad’s pantleg harder, the stems from the flowers leaving a small damp spot on the denim. “Arnold, if she’s not back by tonight, you can explain it to them.”

Dad’s finger was pointing at Arnie, so he scooched further behind his Dad. Uncle Arnie was looking at him. Arnie couldn’t see his face behind the sunglasses and the frown, but he looked sweaty. Without a word, Uncle Arnie turned away, running his hand through his thinning hair.

Arnie stayed behind his Dad, eventually letting go of his pantleg and sitting down. He tried to remember how to tie the flowers to make a chain but couldn’t. Mom knew how. When would she be back? It had to have been two minutes by now.

His stomach growled. Dad was talking to another one of Mom’s friends, bouncing Annalise to keep her from crying. Dad looked mad. Arnie knew better than to ask for McDonalds when Dad looked mad. So instead he pouted and ripped up grass, throwing it into the air and his lap.

After what felt like three forevers, Dad came back to him.

“Come on, Arnie. We’re going home.”

“But what about Mom?”

“She’ll be back soon.”

“It’s been a minute, though.”

“I know, Arnie,” his Dad sighed, grabbing Arnie’s hand to help him up, “It might take more than a minute, though. Mom’s friends are figuring it out.”

Arnie accepted this explanation and for his good behavior, he did get McDonalds. He went to bed that night full and happy, excited to see Mom in the morning.

But Mom wasn’t there in the morning.

Or the next.

Arnie had trouble with the days of the week. But he knew it’d been at least three sleeps since the park, so when Mom was once again not in the kitchen for breakfast, he pouted. When Dad tried to get him to play his favorite game, he pouted. When Annalise gurgled and crawled towards him, Arnie pouted. Even when Dad got them McDonalds again, Arnie pouted.

That night, as Dad tucked him in, Arnie finally said something.

“I want Mom to read my story tonight.”

Dad’s mouth went thin. “I’m sorry, Arnie. She can’t right now. I’ll read you whatever story you want, okay?”

“No.”

“Come on, Arnie. Pick a story. We’ve got your favorite picture book, right here-”

“No!”

“Shh!” Dad hissed. “You know your sister’s sleeping. Pick a book, kiddo.”

“I want Mom!”

“She’s not here right now-”

“I! Want! Mom!” Arnie yelled, ignoring the Danger Look in Dad’s eye.

From the other room, Annalise started crying. Dad was angry. He tossed the books on the floor and walked to the door.

“I! Want! Mom!” Arnie reiterated.

Dad turned off the light. “Goodnight, Arnie.” The door closed.

Hot tears welled in Arnie’s eyes and he opened his mouth to wail. He slammed his fists on the bed, he kicked his sheets. He screamed as loud as Annalise screamed, punched his pillows, threw his stuffies. He wanted Mom. It had been so many minutes!

His throat eventually got tired. The tears and snot on his face dried, his sobs reduced to hiccups. His salted eyes grew heavy as he let his head fall on his pillow, exhausted. From out in the hall, he heard Dad whispering on the phone.

“Arnold, you may have been her best friend, but I was her husband. And these are her kids. And now all of us are without her. You’ll answer for this.”

Arnie drifted off, watching his father’s shadow pace outside his door.






It was a beautiful day in the park. Arnie walked into the copse of trees that surrounded the concrete slab the machine had once sat on. He carefully brushed away the fallen branches, the trash that’d been blown by the wind, the leaves gathering in one rain-weathered dip. Then he sat on the bench beside it and waited.

A nice breeze picked up and rustled the leaves overhead. The sun peaked through the branches, dappling his arms with warmth. An ant made its way along his knee. Arnie closed his eyes and smiled. A perfect day. Just like before. The breeze kicked up a notch and a tickle made its way up his arms. For a moment he doubted himself, doubted the feeling. But then the little hairs on his wrists stood up and he knew he’d been right. He’d been right all along.

An electric hum filled the copse and Arnie hurried to put his sunglasses on. The trees had been a good idea. No one would see the flash through the rest of the park. Arnie turned towards the walking path, checking for stragglers, and saw none. Behind him there was a pop, something tearing into existence where a moment before it hadn’t been.

In all his time planning this, Arnie never thought he’d hesitate to turn around. Instead he found himself frozen, turned away from the platform. He heard the door open with a mechanical click. The soft step of a shoe. And Arnie couldn’t look.

“Excuse me, sir?”

The voice melted his heart but shook his core. It took every ounce of strength he had to turn and look at its owner.

Her face was shadowed by the sun overhead, creating a bright halo around her hair. It fell just the same as it had, soft auburn wisps dancing in the breeze. He wanted to reach out and touch it, just to be sure, but remained frozen.

“I’m sorry, sir, I hope I didn’t startle you,” she said, face still obscured, “But I’m looking for a small party. My son’s eighteenth birthday is supposed to be today.”

Arnie opened his mouth and then shut it. With one shaky hand, he removed his sunglasses and looked at her.

Mom.

He smiled, a full smile, one filled with joy and grief. The intensity of it seemed to perturb her and she took a step back towards the machine. Arnie shook his head.

“Raquel,” he said, voice cracking.

Mom looked at him. Really looked. He remembered the look, the one she gave when he said Dad had let him have another cookie. The one she gave Uncle Arnold when he gave her his newest idea. Skeptical, but not disbelieving.

“Steven?” she whispered.

Arnie shook his head. He patted the bench next to him. Mom took a few moments to asses the situation, the trees, the concrete, their isolation from the rest of the park. Then she sat beside him on the bench. Her face came into focus, finally, bright with the sunlight through the trees. Years of struggling to remember her face, and now it was there in front of him.

“There were some miscalculations,” he said, his voice shaking. He swallowed. He’d practiced this for years. “You thought you were going forward thirteen years. But Arnold’s hypothesis about non-linear time didn’t account for the non-linear space.”

“Non-linear- Wait. You mean, as in-?”

As smart as everyone had ever told him. “Yes. The actual coordinates where space and time meet. You were both very close. But you forgot the wobble.”

“The wobble…” she said, trailing off. She looked back at the machine, the trees, eyes glazed. Then she snapped hers to his. “Oh no. The wobble on Earth’s axis. It’s not always the same. It varies by minuscule degrees, but-”

“But enough tiny errors can lead up to one big one, yes,” Arnie said, nodding, “It didn’t matter when you were going forward ten minutes, an hour, a day, a week, even a year wasn’t so off that you noticed. But forget that measurement thirteen times-”

“And it gets multiplied. The time and space we were trying for didn’t exist in thirteen years because our measurements were too off. Shit,” she said, standing up, “I’ve got to get back, then.”

Arnie grabbed her arm. “Raquel, you can’t.”

“What?” she said, pulling her arm away. Arnie’s heart sqeezed.

“You can’t. Your calculation for going back is wrong by the same token. And we weren’t keeping such detailed notes back then on the wobble. You could try to extrapolate, but, well,” Arnie shrugged and gestured around him, “You might end up doing the same thing.”

Mom’s shoulders fell. She looked at the machine, fists clenched. Then she sat beside him, putting her head in her hands. Arnie rubbed her back.

“I’m an idiot,” she mumbled, “How did we not account for the wobble?”

“Because no one thought of it at the time. Too enamored with the idea of time travel.”

“I’ll kill Arnold.”

Arnie laughed. She looked at him again, that same searching glance.

“What year is it? Who are you?” she asked, “How do you know so much?”

Arnie sighed and patted her on the back again. He looked up at the trees that Annalise had planted, keeping the hope alive that Arnie had done the math right. She hadn’t made it, though. Annalise had died of cancer three years ago. He wondered if she was there now, in the trees.

A few tears slipped from his eyes. He rubbed one liver-spotted hand across his wrinkled face before looking back at his Mom.

“I’ve been waiting for you for eighty-six years. That’s one hell of a long minute.”

Her searching look was replaced with the horror of realization. Arnie watched stages of grief pass over her face. He reached out and patted her hand.

“It’s okay, Mom. You’re here now. Here,” he said, pulling a paper cup out from under the bench. “I picked some dandelions for you. And violets. I know they’re your favorite.”

February 13, 2021 00:48

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8 comments

Andreea Mereuta
15:53 Jan 19, 2022

A really beautiful story! I loved the unexpected ending, it was quite touching.

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Graham Kinross
00:52 Nov 23, 2021

That was a long minute. The flowers were a cute touch. Sweet ending.

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Keya Jadav
12:10 Sep 21, 2021

Oh my god, this is so sweet! You filled my heart with endless emotions. Best Line: “I’ve been waiting for you for eighty-six years. That’s one hell of a long minute.” Here is a tiny slip up: Uncle Arnie was looking at him. (It should be Uncle Arnold i think) Moreover, it was so so good. You melted my heart. Every description was just perfect along with the pace. Keep Writing! (Mind if I mention you in my bio?)

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Divya Narasimhan
16:33 Mar 11, 2021

What a heart-rending, beautifully written story! Thank you for sharing this.

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Steven Taylor
02:23 Mar 08, 2021

Another fantastic story! Thank you for your imagination!

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Mike Henry
04:14 Mar 06, 2021

Great storytelling!

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Gabrielle Marian
21:03 Mar 05, 2021

This story was so good!

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Carolyn Mc Bride
16:34 Mar 05, 2021

Wow, now THAT was a sucker punch of an ending! Terrific story!

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