Science Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

Donald McCaffrey walked out of the video game store disappointed. The newest release of ‘Die, Bitch, Die 4’ had sold out in a matter of minutes. The seventeen-year-old with the mop of curly brown hair and pale complexion, dressed in skinny jeans, Chuck Taylor’s and a black t-shirt reading, “Buzz off, I’m gaming,” kicked at a soda bottle laying on the sidewalk and cussed for all to hear.

“Sold out, did they?”

Donald turned his head to see a man who looked to be in his early thirties, dressed sharply in an expensive suit, in the backseat of a Jaguar, pacing slowly beside him.

“Yeah, you would think they’d stock up on such a popular game on the day it’s released, but the place is ran by idiots.”

“Well, I have a proposition for you. I’m a game producer and I’m looking for people to test a new game for marketing purposes. You play the game, fill out a questionnaire online, we send you three-hundred dollars for your time.”

Donald stops walking. The car stops moving. “Three-hundred dollars? And all I have to do is try out a video game?”

“That’s all you have to do. People do this all the time,” the man said, holding out the disk. “Do you have virtual reality?”

“Of course, I do,” Donald said, swiping the game from the man.

“Website is on back. Don’t forget the survey. Enjoy the game,” the man said, and he drives off.

When Donald got home, he grabbed a Red Bull from the fridge, a bag of Dorito’s from the cabinet, and headed to his room in the basement. His mom was down there switching laundry. He walked by her without even saying hello and searched his room for his VR headset.

“Hi, Donnie, did you get your game?”

“No, mom, they sold out. They were too stupid to order enough inventory, but there was a game producer outside looking for people to test his new game. All I have to do is try it out, fill out some dumb survey online, and they’ll send me three-hundred dollars,” Donald told her as he inserted the game and slipped on his headset. He hit start, and there was nothing but a flash of green light.

“Wow! That much for just playing a game? Maybe you can get more gigs doing that. Donnie?” Mrs. McCaffery stood up and looked in the direction of her son, but he was gone.

“Well, that figures, the damn game doesn’t work,” Donald said, taking off his headset and slamming them down where the couch should have been.

Donald hears his headset shatter but pays it no mind. He found himself standing outside in the middle of a construction site where there are only the frames of two homes erected and several pieces of heavy machinery parked for the day. The land was dry brown dirt with a makeshift dirt road leading to a main road. Donald made his way to the main road to read the signs posted at the entry: High Ridge Estates. That was the subdivision he had lived in his whole life. He looked over the sign at the construction site and back down at the sign, momentarily confused. It has to be a different High Ridge Estates, he thought to himself. Where the hell am I?

A truck came roaring up in his direction and screeched to a halt. “What’s up man. You want to party,” asked a longhaired kid in the back of what looked like a pristine 1980s Chevy.

“Um, where am I?

“What do you mean, ‘where are you?’ Are you not from around here? You’re on route H, outside of Mooresville. Look, we’re heading into town. You want a ride or not,” asked the driver, leaning forward to get a view of Donald past his passengers.

Donald was reluctant. This was odd. People just didn’t offer people along the side of the road rides. He looked in both directions, sighed, and says, “yes.”

“Alright then, get in back.”

“What about seatbelts? Aren’t you worried you’ll get in trouble?”

“Seatbelts? What kind of wussy wears a seatbelt. I’m not going to get in trouble for not wearing a seatbelt. It’s not like it’s a law or anything.” Everyone in the cab laughed.

Donald tried to figure out the best way to get into a truck bed. He had never done it before. The long-haired boy finally offered him a hand, telling him to put one foot on the tire, and he’d pull him in. Donald did so and when he was pulled in his legs dangled out of the truck as it took off. He pulled himself in the rest of the way and took a seat amongst the other three teenagers.

“You want a beer,” a guy with shorter hair parted to the side asked.

“How did you guys get beer,” Donald asked, surprised.

“What do you mean. We walk into the store and buy it.”

“Don’t they card you?”

“Card us?”

“Ask for ID”

“No, they usually think we’re of age, or don’t care. If you run into problems, you just say it’s for your dad.”

“So, what’s gaming,” the young blonde asked him. “Are you like big into chess or monopoly or something?”

“No,” Donald replied, feeling insulted, “video games, you know, the ones you plug into the TV and play.”

“He means like Atari, babe,” the long-haired guy explained, “or the arcade games. You like hanging out at the arcades?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“What’s with your jeans? You’re not gay are you,” asked the short-haired guy.

“No,” Donald once again answered, offended. “This is how they where them where I come from.”

“And where is that, the girl asked.”

“California. Can I have that beer now.”

They roll into town. There are plenty of landmarks that Donald recognizes. The Baptist church, the post-office, Doctor Murphy’s office, Miller’s Drug Store, even the liquor store on the corner of First and Main, which is where they stop. The driver and the long-haired guy got out and went in.

“I’m Ben Fuller. This is Jessica Millar. What’s your name?”

“Donald, Donald McCaffery.”

“Nice to meet you, Donald. You showed up on the right night. We are going to have some fun,” Jessica said with a laugh. “Ronnie Avery, the guy who’s driving, he throws the best keggers. That’s Cindy Barns in the middle. She's Ronnie's girl. Candace Wheeler in the passenger seat. The long-haired hippie is my boyfriend, Scott Thompson. After we are done here, we are heading over to the Shake Shack to round up everybody. Everybody hangs out at the Shake Shack waiting for news of where the party is at.”

“And where is this party going to be at?”

“Gillman’s Bluff.”

“Gillman’s Bluff! That place is off limits. Someone died there jumping into the lake.”

“Whoa, I don’t know where you got your information, but no one has ever died up there. I have jumped into that lake hundreds of times and have come out without a scratch – everyone has,” Ben says.

Before anyone can say anything else, Ronnie and Scott return with the two kegs, dropping the tailgate. Donald, Ben, and Jessica hop onto the bedrails as the kegs are slid in and the tailgate shut. “What are we supposed to ride like this,” Donald asked, questioning everyone’s sanity.

“Yeah, just hold on. You’ll be fine,” Ben said with an annoyed tone.

Donald knew he must be coming off as weird or as a wuss to these people, but things weren’t like this for him growing up. The way he grew up, everything could kill you. These people act like nothing can kill you.

They arrived at the Shake Shack and Jessica was right, it looked like the whole high school was there, he could make out the cliques, jocks, stoners, geeks, farm boys, princesses, plain Janes, and sluts. All of them mingling together, putting aside their social hierarchies for a weekend of self-indulgence. Another thing Donald wasn’t used to. He was used to everyone sticking with their clique and avoiding everyone else. He was way outside his comfort zone. They didn’t even bother to stop the truck and get out. Scott stood up and screamed, “Party at the bluff!” That got everyone at the Shake Shack moving in every which direction spreading the news.

They got back on Route H and headed towards the bluff. Donald had never been back there. His mom grew up in the area and told him stories of the place and to never go back there, even if his friends said it was alright. He was expecting a gate and having to break in to hang out there, but there was nothing, just the sun setting over the lake with the last hints of yellow, orange, and fuchsia. The bluff had a wide-open clearing surrounded by trees. There was plenty of room for parking and partying. There were even the remains of a bonfire where they built a new one. Scott and Ronnie set up the kegs. The girls blasted the radio and began dancing. Ben pulled a big bag of weed out of his pants and started rolling joints for sale.

The first one he put in his mouth and lit. “You smoke?”

“I never have, no.”

“Try it. You’ll cough a little at first, but you’ll like it.”

“It’s all a dream anyway. Why not,” Donald said, being serious, but he made Ben laugh.

“I like that. Fuck it. It’s all a dream anyway. Do you mind fetching us some beers while I roll these.”

Donald grabbed the beer. On his way back couldn’t help noticing Candace looking at him. She smiled at him. He smiled back and raised a beer.

“Hey, Ben, What’s Candace’s deal? Is she taken,” Donald asked, handing Ben his beer.

“Not as of today,” Ben said, exhaling hard and handing the joint to Donald. “She was dumped. Her ex said she was too boring. Between me and you, she kind of is. Cindy is getting her out and trying to loosen her up. Their cousins.”

Donald peeks back over at Candace and she is dancing away, gulping her beer down, looking like she’s having the time of her life.

Cars began pulling up as the sun sank behind the horizon. The bonfire burned high and bright. Everyone was drinking, smoking, and some were doing lines of coke off the hoods of cars. Donald himself was drunk and high and was having a good time meeting new people, but nature called, and he snuck up a trail to relieve himself.

“How are you enjoying the game?”

Donald covered his exposed parts and looked over his shoulder to see the finely dressed man who had given him the game outside the store.

“You! Where the hell am I? Did that game hypnotize me? Is this some sort of dream?”

“No, this is real. It’s time travel. The year is 1982. This is what teenagers did before video games.”

“Yeah, everything we are warned against, and our parents protect us from in the future.”

“Two different extremes, I guess. We have a hard time with moderation, finding that middle ground, but are you having fun being unplugged.”

“Yeah, I guess I am. There’s something to be said for being social. Now how do I get back to 2023?”

“I can take you right now.”

“Alright, let’s go.”

“Before we go, I want you to know that tonight is the night that someone dies jumping into that lake. Do you want to quit the game or finish the game?”

“Wait a minute. Who dies?”

“Candace Wheeler. At any moment now, her ex-boyfriend is going to show up and she’s going to try and prove she’s exciting by jumping off the bluff. She is too drunk and high to swim to shore. She will drown. Do you want to quit or play.”

“You’re a sick bastard to call this a game. Of course, I’ll play. How do I save her?”

“That’s the game. You have to figure it out. If you do, you go home. If you don’t. You’re stuck here.”

Donald hears hollering and cheering from back at the party. “You better hurry, sport. Time is running out and it’s your last life.”

Donald sprints down the path back to the party just in time to see Candace take off running from where the cars are parked. She flies by the bonfire with intensity and determination in her eyes, her light brown hair streaming behind her. Donald rushes out in front of her. “Stop!”

The crowd moans and boos as Candace turns around to get another running start. “Get out of my way, Donald.”

“Yeah, loser, back off,” someone shouted from the crowd and the crowd joined in.

Donald runs after her, catching her by the arm. She turns to him with a disgusted look. “Don’t change yourself for someone who doesn’t appreciate who you are. You’re beautiful and exciting in your own way. Everyone is. Don’t do this. You have to much booze and drugs in your system to swim to shore. You could drown. Don’t do this for some guy…”

“Let go of me. What do you know? Mind your own business,” Candace said, and she walked her way back to the cars.

Donald ran scenarios in his head. If he tackles her, he’s sure to get his ass kicked and she will do it anyway. If he tries to block her again, someone is going to hold him and make him watch. He could go down below and swim out to save her. Yes, that was what he needed to do. That was his only hope of saving her and getting back home.

“Ben, how do I get down to the lake,” Donald asked with a sense of urgency.

Ben lazily lifts a finger, “Take that path. It winds down to the lake.”

Donald ran as hard as he could, hoping he would make it in time. He was not the athletic type and felt his legs burning and his lungs screaming early on, but he pushed through it. He pushed hard. He got to the edge of the lake and walked in, searching for splashes, any sign of struggle. Then he heard hisses and boos from up above. He looked up and he could see Candace standing there at the edge looking down. She didn’t go through with it. He must have gotten in her head. As he was splashing, laughing joyfully, a bright blue light engulfed him, and he was delivered back to his basement couch.

“Mom! Mom, you’re not going to believe this,” he yelled as he took the basement stairs two at a time to the kitchen.

When he got to the kitchen, all he found was a note:

Your father is taking me for a picnic at Gillman’s Park and then we are going to see a movie. We will be back in time for dinner.

Gillman’s Park. It was no longer deserted and off limits. The beautiful stretch of land had been converted into a park since no one has ever died there. Donald went to his computer and got on Facebook, looking up Candace Wheeler. She was now Candace Wheeler Hartman, living two towns over with three kids.


Outside the video store Rebekah Marshall is besides herself to learn that they sold out of ‘Die Bitch Die 4.” She storms down the sidewalk, cursing herself for oversleeping when a car pulls up beside her. “I have a proposition for you.”

February 03, 2024 06:13

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Trudy Jas
20:55 Feb 05, 2024

Great story. "All the things that could hurt you..." Yeah, let's thumb our noses at big brother.


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Alexis Araneta
10:22 Feb 05, 2024

Very fun story, Ty ! Brilliant job.


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Christy Morgan
00:42 Feb 04, 2024

What I wouldn't give to go back to the 80s! It's honestly my fave decade. Entertaining story, Ty! Thanks for sharing!


Ty Warmbrodt
00:46 Feb 04, 2024

You and I both. Thanks, Christy.


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Mary Bendickson
07:12 Feb 03, 2024

Excellent time travel outcome. What's your secret for putting out two stories on the first day the new prompts came out? Takes me all week for one.


Ty Warmbrodt
07:19 Feb 03, 2024

I get excited to write. I'd probably do better if I took my time.


Mary Bendickson
07:28 Feb 03, 2024

Can't force inspiration and time doesn't always help. Go with what works for you. What you have works.


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