Crime Mystery Suspense

Marcel’s tall white chef hat leaned slightly askew as he turned from the red glow of the oven to face me.

 “Voila, here we are,” his french accent was smooth as the steam wafting off the pastries he pulled fresh from the inferno, “now you are only a few bites from the truth you seek.”

“You are certain they are safe?” I eyed the confections.

Chronocroissants he had called them and he’d promised me they were the key to seeing the past, to finding the answers I needed.

“Safe?” Marcel gleamed his teeth and tilted his head, “come now Mr. Proust, I wouldn’t serve a dish that contains poison.” He gently lifted a warm croissant with a pair of tongs, set it on a fleur de lis serving plate and slid it in front of me with a flourish. “It must be said, of course, the kinds of things we do in this kitchen are somewhat…experimental. But this truth you seek, is it not worth a little risk?”

The truth. In the seven years since my father’s death, I’d searched incessantly for it. Despite what the detectives said, I refused to believe there was no hope. Somewhere there existed a piece of the puzzle that would make it all clear. Somewhere there existed the shred of evidence that would reveal the killer. I would not accept my fathers death as “the perfect crime”—I would solve it, and bring myself some absolution for leaving my father alone that night. 

I let my eyes hold Marcel’s for an unblinking moment, waiting to speak until he shifted uncomfortably. 

“I am not afraid,” I said, letting my voice rasp a little, “just tell what I should expect.”

“Of course, of course,” Marcel placed a hand against his hat to straighten it, “the main— shall we say uncertainties—lie mostly in your control. First, of course, is the concern of when and where you will arrive. This depends on the strength of your memory and on your powers of concentration. If you focus on the location and moment you wish to revisit and if your memory of that place and moment is clear, there will be no issue. However if your attention wavers or your memory is insufficient your arrival may be, euh, compromised.”

The place was my childhood home. Every wall and floorboard was etched into my memory. I only need close my eyes and I could smell the old wood paneling and feel the draft that came down the chimney in the fall and hear the creak of my father in his favorite rocking chair by the fire.

The moment in time also was sharp, sharp as if nothing else in my life had ever happened. I had played it over and over, regretting it a thousand times and a thousand times again. The night of his murder, my father had looked up at me from his chair and asked me to stay another evening with him. But I laughed the way the young do in their folly and promised to return to him another week. Then I left him creaking alone in his chair. Left him to his doom—if only I had stayed—but no, I boarded a train in pursuit of youth’s false delights and left my father to take three thrusts from a slim bladed knife before tumbling limply down the stairs with it still embedded in his chest.

“I have no doubt as to my memory nor my focus,” I said.

Marcel nodded slowly. “The second concern is your level of personal restraint. When you enter the past, you must of course do so only as an observer. You may gather information for use in the present, but you must not yield to any temptation to alter events or else—”

“I get it,” I cut in, “anything I do is a butterfly flap that turns into a typhoon. I could reshape the future by accidentally leaving behind a gum wrapper.”

“You misunderstand. In truth, it matters very little if you should happen to change the future. No one will know the difference. There is no memory or record of any kind to remind future people that the world was ever anything other than its current iteration. No, the danger is primarily to you, the time traveler. You alone are at risk of annihilation. You see, these croissants are made from a recipe featuring raw time as the main ingredient. When you take it into your body and the time becomes active, your memory will direct when and where you will appear. Likewise, when you have obtained the information you desire, you will take another bite and you will think of this very place and moment from which you left. However, if you have acted to change the world, this moment will no longer exist as you remember it and—poof! —neither will you.” 

Annihilation. It was a risk I was willing to take and a reward no less than I deserved if I should fail. The aroma wafting from the croissant filled me with thoughts of vengeance. It was hot enough to burn my fingertips as I lifted it to my mouth. 

“Before you go, a word to the wise.” Marcel tapped the side of his nose, “Secrets are often not what we expect and, if you should decide to risk changing the past, be warned it is surprisingly difficult, much more difficult in fact than flapping a butterfly wing or dropping a gum wrapper. Things have a tendency to stay the way they were.”

As I bit the delicately layered pastry, I remembered closing the door of my father’s house behind me, leaving my father upstairs in his chair and nearly skipping with glee towards the station. I shuddered as I thought of myself, such a witless fool. I swallowed the buttery crust and the old gray station rose before me, the town, the square, the street along which I used to run sprang into being, or rather I sprang into being in the midst of them.

I cursed myself and crouched behind a bench as the younger me boarded the train. This was not where I should have arrived. I cursed myself again. A loss of focus at such a vital time. I pulled the collar of my coat up around my face and hurried down the street towards my father’s house, taking care to keep my movements in the shadows and pleading with the fates I would not be too late. 

As I approached my father’s house I glanced up at the lighted window, and hoped that on its other side my father still sat peacefully in his chair. I crept along the side yard, careful not to brush against the downspout; I knew it rattled loosely in its fastenings. I slipped my hand beneath the mat and grasped the backdoor’s spare key. I slid it noiselessly in the lock and turned with gentle pressure to ease the scraping sound it made at three quarters open.

 Inside, at the bottom of the stairs I took a breath. Here is where the body would lie if I had been too late, but the familiar coiled rug was empty. I had not failed! I skipped the squeaky treads on the fourth step and seventh. Light streamed beneath the door of my father’s upstairs study. I pressed my ear against it and on the other side I heard the pleasant creaking of his rocking chair. He lived! 

Now I had only to wait. I crouched in the darkest corner at the top of the landing and tried to hush pounding of my heart. Outside, the autumn wind gusted, and bare forked branches waved wicked pronged shadows in the moonlight. What devil would come that delighted in murder I did not know. But I was not afraid. I clasped my hand around the slim bladed knife. Yes, the very same that had been pulled from my father’s chest.

I heard a movement down below, a footstep in the kitchen, then the glimmer of a handheld light. 

The cold steel against the palm of my hand made me think of Marcel’s word ‘restraint’. I smiled. Annihilation was a small price to pay for seven years more with my father, for vengeance against the vilest of crimes.

The light fell on the bottom tread, the face behind it deep in shadow. It came slowly up the stairs, slowly, the fourth tread creaking.

I readied my body to spring. I thought of all the ways I would be different. Seven years of happiness where before there had been only seven years of thirsting for revenge.

The loose nail in the seventh step moaned as the weight of a man bore down upon the tread. The faint beam of light fell on the landing and I rose, silent as a wraith. One. Two. Three. The blade sank so easily in. I loosed the hilt and let it tumble into the darkness, fast inside the demon’s breast, just as he had left fast inside my father’s. 

I stood trembling. One bloodstained hand, as if of its own accord, pulled the pastry from my pocket and pushed it past my lips. Annihilation, yes! But liberation also.


In his kitchen Marcel waited. These things only ever took a moment. Presently, the customer, Mr. Proust, shimmered back into the room. Marcel took in his wild eyes and trembling hands.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Mr. Proust whispered, “you said if I changed the past….”

Marcel shook his head, “I said to change the past is not an easy thing. If you are here, then you did only what was done before.”

Mr. Proust’s eyes dilated and he rubbed a bloody hand across his face. “The autumn winds blow down the chimney and move the rocking chair. I knew that. How could I have forgotten?”


“The autumn winds. They blow down the chimney and move the rocking chair even if no one is in it. How could I have forgotten?”

December 15, 2023 00:19

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A.J. Williams
22:16 Dec 26, 2023

I liked the idea in this story. Good ending!


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Kailani B.
17:18 Dec 20, 2023

I saw the end coming but I still hoped I was wrong. I really like it when time travel doesn't change anything because it's just the people doing what has already been done. Thanks for the story!


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Martin Ross
00:37 Dec 17, 2023

This is a great prompt, and you did it so nicely -- reminds me of Ray Bradbury. Food jogs most of my family/growing up memories, or so says my wife! Terrific, imaginative story!


RJ Holmquist
04:01 Dec 17, 2023

Thanks for the kind words! In research for another story, I had recently stumbled across "the proust effect," which might be what your wife is noticing. Perfect for this prompt, but somehow mine turned into a murder story? Thanks for reading!


Martin Ross
04:53 Dec 17, 2023

Mine went to cannibalism, so what’s THAT say?🤣


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Mary Bendickson
06:25 Dec 15, 2023

I am dense but I assume it was his father he stabbed. thanks for liking my 'Words'


RJ Holmquist
14:42 Dec 15, 2023

That's the correct assumption. Hopefully it's not too vague...my first stab at a murder-mystery type thing


Mary Bendickson
15:03 Dec 15, 2023

Nice stab.


Olive Silirus
03:32 Dec 17, 2023

Ha - stab. Like, he STABBED his father. Murder? Sorry, puns just amuse me. Great story. Sad, though. He himself was the murderer, but he had no way of knowing. Forgetting things played a key part in the story, as well, which I liked a lot. And the correction of stereotypical ideas about time-travel was also interesting.


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