Flash FictionOur writing prompt guru Chuck Wendig decided to do an opening line challenge this week.  In theory we write the opening line for today and next week we pick one and write the story.

So I wrote: Nobody in her right mind would leave her spacesuit in the airlock. [interesting shift in dramatic possibilities changing it from ‘him’ to ‘her’!]

Then I realised I could use one line for today’s post on P for Papa in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, and limited myself to 750 words for a change.

The pink phone message slip stuck to the refrigerator read, “Your mother called, and she wants her time machine back”

by Heather Kamins appealed to me, and I could see all sorts of possibilities for screwing up the timeline by visiting Papa when he was young.  Or maybe Papa was doing the time travelling.  However on Tuesday I watched a real life disaster movie I hadn’t had the courage to watch thus far.  Like Schindler’s List it had an impact that lasted – at least until Thursday.  I woke up knowing exactly what I wanted to write – so I wrote it. If you have demons still troubling you from events in the early 21st century, take care – maybe skip to the comments.

The Inevitability of Time

The pink phone message slip stuck to the refrigerator read, “Your mother called, and she wants her time machine back.”

So, she’d given up trying to reach me on my comm. unit.   After the first two – let’s call them ‘discussions’, I’d refused to talk to her.  She’d told me I was obsessive; she’d flung every theory in the book at me.  She’d wept, she’d pleaded.  She’d reminded me of the good times we’d had together and asked me if she’d been a bad momma, bringing me up on her own. Of course she hadn’t.  She’d been wonderful, managing even though the insurance had refused to pay out until the class action was finally settled, fifteen years after, just in time to pay for my college ed.  Then I’d worked hard, joined Boeing in their ‘transport of the future’ division and realised I could change things.

Oh, the time machine wasn’t my invention.  No sir, I had been just one of many talented engineers involved.  Some were even as driven as me.  I’d just taken things one step further.  I’d borrowed one of our first production machines for a test drive, and it had opened my eyes to the possibilities.  A couple of years later I’d bought one for momma for Christmas.  She’d gone into her own past once.  She told me about sitting on the bench, looking at the view of the bridge, watching herself and young Mike walk past in their courting days.  He’d been so young.  Handsome in her eyes, although the sandy hair and ruddy complexion would not make him every girl’s pick.  Thank goodness.

I set the machine for the date engraved in every American’s heart, timing it carefully so I’d move in space to the East Coast, early morning, rather than after midnight here.  I found where he’d stayed that night. I tried letting all his tires down – but he’d gotten a lift from a friend.  I was cross with myself for that – we knew he’d had a ride to the airport.  Stupid.  One time I hired a van, filled it with cartons, and hired someone to toss them out at the lights on the way into the airport.  The cops moved me on and had the boxes cleared away in minutes.  Another time I tried Airport Information, asking them to page him to meet me as I had an urgent message for him.  They’d asked a lot of questions and concluded I was harmless, but crazy.  Four more attempts had been brushed aside like irritating flies.  Last week’s had been desperate.  I felt real guilty about that.  I bought an old wreck of a car, waited on the edge of the road until I saw his friend’s car approaching, then drove towards them like the madman I probably was, swerving towards them at the last moment for a head-on crash.  How was I to know his friend had driven stock cars in his youth?  The car behind had seen nothing until I’d hit them, while my papa and his friend went serenely on.  Well, maybe not serenely.  I guess the language was blue.  At least I’d prevented the people in the car behind from flying that day.  Their insurance probably paid out.

Maybe the theorists were right.  Maybe it really didn’t matter, time travel, since whatever you did couldn’t change events past.  I had to try again, though.

I slipped behind a newsstand and waited, fingering the knife in my pocket.


He was rushing, late for the flight or, rather, just early enough to catch the one before.  Eager to get back to momma and me.  It always broke me up that I’d been playing in the yard, probably with my tricycle or some building blocks, while momma had spoken to papa calling from the plane.  Then she’d watched the tv and awaited further disaster.

I had to time this right.

I stepped out, bumped into him, wielding the knife.  Desperate measures.  I steeled myself and thrust it into his side.  And hit his wallet, goddammit!  He pushed me aside and ran on.  I fell to the ground in frustration and the agony of loss.

“Papa!” I yelled at the cold, fake-marble floor, and I’d swear he turned and looked at this middle-aged man having a tantrum on the floor.  But he probably didn’t.  He ran on, leapt the line at security, and got onto the flight even though the attendant had already called: “United Airlines Flight 93 is now closed for boarding.”

(c) J M Pett 2014

P is for Papa and Flash Fiction Friday
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14 thoughts on “P is for Papa and Flash Fiction Friday

  • 18 April, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Wow. That’s both a heartbreaking story and a great take on time travel.

    • 18 April, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Thanks, Rebecca. Ruined my golf game after I’d written it…

  • 18 April, 2014 at 8:31 am

    What a great and sad story. It reminds me of The Time Machine by H.G. wells, where the guy keeps going back in time to save his sweetheart, but he never can.

    • 18 April, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Thanks, Sara. I reviewed the Time Machiney last year. I’ve always been fascinated by time travel stories.

  • 18 April, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Oh no! How heartbreaking. So close… Great job with the prompt!

  • 18 April, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    What a great story! And yes, sort of a modern take on the Time Machine but more immediate and frustrating. I really enjoyed it.

    • 18 April, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      I like time travel stories. I guess it shows in my books lol

  • 18 April, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    This is so sad and yet it really wants me to read more. I love time travel stories and movies-12 Monkeys is quite good and this reminds me of it

    • 18 April, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Ooh, yes! I’d forgotten 12 Monkeys – I thought that was excellent. 🙂

  • 20 April, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Sad that despite all his efforts, nothing could be changed. And the event in itself was so tragic! But great story!! Loved the narration!

    • 20 April, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Aditi. I wonder what his life would have been like if he had changed things… opportunity for another story!

  • 23 April, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    The last encounter really got me thinking: was he trying to knife his papa before or after he had been born? Before could ultimately save his mother from her current day-to-day self-doubts, but would risk his own life from ever starting. Is he selfless enough to go that route in hopes his mother will end up happier in the end? Or did the last attempt occur after his conception, in which case he was just so frustrated with his papa for never being around during his childhood that he got a little crazed and turned to the dark side to violently show his anger for the lack of father-son relationship? Very thoughtful piece of fiction, I enjoyed it greatly as it got my mind thinking fast. Thanks for sharing!

    • 25 April, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      It was after, Jenny. He was playing in the yard back in SF, about five years old. He goes back to the same day each time, to try to stop his dad getting on that plane.

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