This week’s flash fiction challenge on TerribleMinds is to write a 1000 word story where time travel is a prominent feature. I had a great time with this challenge, and really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I’d like to dedicate this story to my friend Pete, who assisted me with some of the technical details. Thanks, Pete, for answering my odd questions in the middle of the night, without even asking for reasons or context!
To Infinity and Beyond
The place is just the way William remembers it – a crappy wooden shack with holes in the roof, snakes under the floorboards and enough weed in the garden to keep him and Theo toasted every day of high school and beyond. It’s quiet, but he knows what he’ll find inside. He’s been here before.
He slides his hand into the deep pocket of his trench and feels the comforting weight of his Colt Anaconda. He closes his hand around it then walks up the garden path to the gaping doorway. He pauses outside and listens. He wants to wait for the right moment.
“No, man, first we go to one of them hippy festivals in the sixties. All the chicks were easy back then.”
“Yeah! Yeah, man. That’s, like, sick.”
“Yeah… And then, right, then we, like, go back to when Kurt Cobain was about to shoot himself and we, like, save him. And then we totally rock out with Nirvana.”
“That would be, like, so cool!”
“I know, right? We could be, like, gods. You know? Like, saving some people and killing other people and shit.”
Another pause. “You know what we should do first?”
“Right, the first thing we do when we invent a time machine is… we come back here… and we, like, tell ourselves that we invented a time machine.”
William ducks his head and walks into the ramshackle hut. That’s his cue. “Hello, boys.”
The two teenagers leap to their feet and away from him, immediately protesting their innocence.
“We weren’t really…”
“Didn’t know that it was…”
William holds up his left hand and smiles. “Relax,” he says. “Theo. William. I’m from the future.”
They both stare at him, eyes like saucers. “Woah,” says Theo. “We totally, like, did it. Do it. Done it.” He pauses, looks confused, then tries again. “We totally made a time machine. Didn’t we?”
“Yes,” William says with a smile. “William, I’m future you.”
Past-William’s eyes widen. “Oh man. Are you, like, here to warn me about the future? Does some robot, like, come back and try to kill me?”
“Yes. And no.” William steps further into the cabin, advancing on the boys. “You remember Laura Mackenzie?”
Past-William smirks. “Aw, yeah. I know her.” The two boys snicker and high five each other. “She’s smokin’.”
“Yeah, she is,” says William. Had he really been such a loser as a teenager? What the hell had Laura even seen in him? He cuts that thought off quickly and refocuses on the kids. “She’s smart and funny and sexy as hell,” he says. “And you fall in love with her.”
Theo sniggers. “Dude! You fall in love…”
“Shut. Up.” William pulls his right hand out of his pocket and points the gun at Theo’s head. Then he keeps talking to Past-William. “You go out of town to college, but you and her stay in touch. When you come back, you propose to her. You get married. It’s the happiest day of your life.”
Past-William’s eyes are huge. “Wow. That’s awesome. But… why am I telling myself this?”
William continues, “You work hard. You do everything for her. She’s your life. Then you have a baby. A little boy. You name him Theodore. Everything is perfect.” He spits the word out a second time. “Fucking perfect.”
His right hand is shaking a bit, but he keeps going. “Then one day you find out the truth. You catch them together. You find out that your son isn’t really your son. You find out that your wife has been screwing your best friend for your whole fucking marriage. Ever since college. No, ever since fucking high school.”
“Man, that’s fucked up,” says Past-William. “What do I do then?”
“You take the time machine you and Theo built and you go back and make sure it never happened,” says William. He looks at Theo and tightens his finger on the trigger.
“Thought I’d find you here,” says a voice from behind him.
William spins around, releasing the trigger. There’s Theo, leaning against the rotten doorframe with a gun in his hand.
“I’m going to kill you,” says William. “I’m going to kill you in the past so Laura will never be yours. The minute I pull this trigger, you will have been dead for fifteen years.”
Theo just smiles. “You think I didn’t think of that, Billy-boy?”
A second Theo walks through the open doorway. This one has his gun pointed at Past-William. “You shoot Past-Me, and Other-Me shoots Past-You before he has time to die.” First-Theo smirks. “Or maybe I’ll shoot Past-You first. Save us both some time.”
Second-William walks in, his gun pointed at Second-Theo. “Two can play that game,” First-William says. “When I kill Past-You and the you cease to exist, I’ll go back to the future and come back enough times to stop you stopping me.”
“Wrong,” says First-Theo. “By the time this is over, you’ll be dead. So when I get back to the future, I’ll keep coming back enough times to stop you killing Past-Me. Then I’ll kill Past-You and Laura won’t even remember your name.”
The two ex-friends stare at each other. Another Theo walks in, gun raised.
Then another William. Then Theo. William. Theo.
“Dude,” whispers Past-William. “This is whack. We’re gonna kill each other. But… If one of us is dead, only one of us can go to the future and set stuff up for when we come back to the past.”
“Dude,” whispers Past-Theo. “We’re, like, so baked.”
William. Theo. William. Theo.
The cabin is overflowing. Future selves spill out into the clearing.
William. Theo. William. Theo.
The clearing is full. The woods teem with Williams and Theos.
A voice. Disembodied. Androgynous.
“Memory full. Infinite loop detected. Reality will restart in 5…”
Williams and Theos look at each other.
“Dude!” Past-William says.
“Dude!” Past-Theo says.
“Fuck,” say Theos.
Williams pull the trigger.