I haven't written fiction in months, but recently I found my old copy of Larry Niven's anthology Convergent Series (1979). The last story is a time travel story, though totally unrelated to what you'll read below.
I started thinking of writing a time travel story. Actually, reading all of the short stories from so long ago rekindled my interest in writing fiction. I know I'm really limited in this area. Like always, I had a great start for the story but no ending. That's my weakness. I need to think of a good ending first, and then start writing.
By the by, the ending came to me. I opened a text editor and started typing start to finish. The story below is the result.
My name is Mark Miller, and when I discovered time travel, I decided to use it just like everyone else does in all those science fiction books and movies. I decided to change the past. No, not just the generic past, mine. I wanted to change history, just like Marty McFly did in "Back to the Future".
Here's what I want to change.
When I was five years old, I killed my brother. It doesn't matter that it was an accident, I did it. Jason's dead and it's because of me. He was only three years old.
I probably should blame my Dad, but I can't. I should probably blame him for going to the store "for just a minute" and leaving me and Jase alone. I should probably blame him for leaving a loaded 45 caliber pistol in an unlocked drawer in his night stand.
But I can't.
I'd seen where Dad put the pistol after cleaning it and loading it. He cleaned it every couple of weeks, I think. Mom wouldn't let me and Jase even have toy guns. Mom and Dad got divorced when I was four, and whenever we got to visit Dad, she was pretty strict about what toys we could play with at his house.
So when Dad put us in front of the TV with "Toy Story 3" in the DVD player so he could go to the store "for just a minute" (he'd run out of beer), me and Jase were alone.
I think it was because Woody was a cowboy and cowboys always have guns that made me think of Dad's gun. I paused the movie and took Jase into Dad's bedroom. I just wanted to show him something cool, a real gun, like what a real cowboy would have.
Jase followed me everywhere, so it wasn't hard to get him to come with me. Even though we were alone, I still told Jase to be quiet, and practically tiptoed into Dad's bedroom. It was a bright, sunny day in outside, but Dad had these heavy shades over his windows, so his bedroom was really dark.
I left the bedroom door open so some light would get in, and took Jase by the hand to the edge of Dad's bed.
I opened the top drawer of his night stand. I didn't see the gun at first and thought maybe Dad had moved it. Then I dug under his socks and shorts and found it.
But it was big and heavy, and when I pulled it out of the drawer, I slipped. I don't know what happened, but I heard the biggest "boom" I'd ever heard in my life. Jase didn't even scream. He just dropped to the floor, his white t-shirt was all red.
I don't remember much of what happened next or maybe I don't want to. Mom got sole custody of me and Dad only got supervised visits.
After a while, I didn't even want to see Dad anymore because just looking at him reminded me of what I'd done. I didn't blame him. I knew I wasn't supposed to play with Dad's gun. But my Mom blamed Dad.
I guess Dad blamed Dad too, because on the first anniversary of Jase's death, he killed himself with that same gun.
Mom had already been taking me to see Dr. Steward because of Jase being shot, so when Dad committed suicide, I just kept going to her for grief counseling.
It's been thirty years since I lost my brother and Dad and I don't think about them much anymore.
Or I didn't until I discovered time travel.
How does time travel work? I don't know. I only discovered the thing, I didn't invent it.
I discovered time travel at the bottom of a well on my Mom's property. A few years after Jase and Dad died, she bought this place a few miles out of town. She wanted to give me a home without all the bad memories of the old one. It had a big field out in the back where Mom said I'd have plenty of "run out room."
It wasn't a bad place to grow up and, when the hurt of Jase and Dad wasn't so bad anymore, I started to make friends at school. We loved running around in all that grass, climbing the trees, making snow forts in the winter, and basically being a bunch of kids.
There were parts of the field that grew wild and were thick with thorn bushes. Mom told us kids to stay away from there, but it was big enough that we still had tons of space to play in.
I grew up, moved out, got married, and got divorced (my ex says I can't commit because I don't want to have children). She got the house, and I got an apartment.
I still visited Mom every weekend and a lot more after she told me she had cancer.
She died last month and now I'm back in that house of hers with that big field in back.
I discovered time travel when I was clearing some overgrown grass and bushes in her field, the places Mom said I couldn't play in when I was a kid. I don't need that big house and that huge field just for myself so decided to sell the place. First, I need to fix it up, so I started by clearing the worst parts of the field. It's going to take a lot of evenings and weekends.
I don't know if Mom even knew about that old, boarded up well. Maybe even the previous owners (whoever they were) didn't know about it. Who knows how long it's been there.
But I was chopping away the bushes and when I pulled one back, tripped, and fell onto the boards covering the well. Good thing I dropped the hatchet I was using on those bushes.
It was just like the scene from that movie "Batman Begins" when little Bruce falls through the boarded up well and breaks his arm.
Luckily, I didn't break anything and the well wasn't as deep. There were no caves for bats to come in. Just a damp, musty smelling, dark hole in the ground.
How the hell was I supposed to get out?
That's when I saw the ladder. It was built into one side of the well. Just rusty metal rungs. I tested one and it seemed solid enough.
I suppose if I'd just climbed out right then, I'd never have discovered time travel, but I was tired from working all morning, and I was sore from the fall, so I sat down a minute.
I started thinking about Mom. The funeral was nice. It's what she wanted. No memorial service. Just a few words said over her at the cemetery before they put her coffin in the grave. I could feel the tears well up in my eyes when everything got so much brighter.
Instead of sitting at the bottom of a well with the only light filtering in from the top, I was sitting on grass with broad sunlight filtering through the trees. I started to panic, recognized where I was, and that didn't help.
I was in the cemetery where I buried Mom. I was siting under a tree. I could hear the leaves and branches over me moving in the breeze. I could hear a faint voice in the distance. It was mine.
I was mostly hidden behind the tree, and her grave was far enough away that I wouldn't see myself unless I looked right at me under the tree.
I saw myself in that grim black suit I bought for the funeral. I saw a few of Mom's friends. I saw the coffin, Mom's coffin.
I stood up and thought I was going to vomit. I closed my eyes and grabbed the tree to support myself. When I opened them again, I was grabbing one of the metal rungs of the ladder at the bottom of the well.
That night, I ate dinner alone in the dining room at Mom's house (I still can't call it "my" house). I'm a bachelor, so frozen pizza and a beer is good enough. I sucked down cheap beer and bad pizza and told myself it was all a dream.
Maybe I'd hit my head and actually passed out and dreamed about Mom's funeral. But why would I dream about seeing myself at a distance? Why dream about two Marks? Why not just dream about the funeral like I've been dreaming about Mom's dying, and Dad, and Jase?
Yeah, the nightmares had come back after Mom died. Actually, they started when I admitted her to hospice. I saw all the blood on Jase's t-shirt. I saw Dad's coffin (closed, he'd shot himself in the head) at his memorial service. I saw Mom the last day of her life, looking more like a cadaver than my living, breathing Mom.
It had to have been a dream.
But the sound of the wind in the trees was so real. I could feel the breeze on my skin and going through my hair. Sitting under the tree, I could feel texture of the grass under my fingers, and the rough bark when I stood up and grabbed the tree.
It's the next day now. Sunday morning.
I had the same nightmares last night, except I also saw myself looking at myself at the cemetery. So maybe that means I didn't travel in time and it was just a dream. But I also as an adult saw myself as a kid pulling the gun from Dad's night stand, slip and fumble with it, and watched it go off, shooting my little brother square in the chest.
Was what happened in the well yesterday a dream? I had to test it out. I had to be sure.
I ran out into the field, to where the well was. After climbing out of the well yesterday, I didn't do anymore work. I didn't do anything but brood. I hadn't bothered to board the thing back up or cover it or anything. I didn't have any neighbors behind that part of the field so who would see it?
It was only nine in the morning, but in August, the days get hot quick here. I stopped at the edge of the well and realized I was sweating because it was hot but I was also shivering.
I thought about boarding the damn well up or better yet, pouring concrete down its gullet, but I had to know.
Instead of falling, this time I carefully climbed down the ladder. The rungs were old because they were rusty, but they were also strong and didn't sag under my weight at all.
I was at the bottom. Yesterday, I was thinking of Mom's funeral and then I was there.
And then I was there. I was standing under the same tree but instead of hearing me talk over Mom's grave, I saw her coffin being lowered into it. I, that is, the other "me" was already gone. Maybe because I was already there earlier, I couldn't come back to the same moment in time. This was as close as I could get without meeting the "me" that had traveled through time yesterday, only now it wasn't yesterday but only half an hour later.
You know what I mean. Time travel is hard to talk about.
I waited a long time. When I was actually at Mom's funeral burying her, I didn't stay to see the coffin go in the ground. I left before the workers at the cemetery could do it. I didn't want to watch. Now, I watched everything.
I waited a long time. I waited until they finished putting the dirt back in. I waited until they went away. I waited until no one was around. Then I walked away from the tree, down the hill, and I stood over my Mom's grave again.
I haven't visited it since her funeral. I keep telling myself I'm too busy. I keep saying I have too much work to do between my job and getting her place ready to sell.
But the truth is, I can't stand death. Death took away my brother, my Dad, and now my Mom.
No, death didn't take Jase. I did it. I didn't mean to, but I did. And because of it, Dad killed himself, too. I miss them all so much.
I was standing at the bottom of the well again. I don't know how long I was away, but when I climbed out, and looked up at the sun, it was nearly noon.
I can't stop cancer so I can't save Mom, but if the time travel well works just because you think of when and where you want to go, I can save Jase. And if Jase doesn't die, that means Dad won't die either.
I know I probably should have waited and planned things out, but now that the idea was in my head, I couldn't think of anything else.
I climbed back into the well. I knew exactly where and when I wanted to go. Not to the moment before I shot Jase. It would be too hard to explain how I suddenly got into Dad's house and why a stranger was keeping two kids from finding their Dad's gun.
I shot Jase on a Saturday afternoon. Dad had picked me and Jase up at Mom's place Friday evening after he got off of work. That's when I'd go back. Where I'd go was Dad's backyard. I knew where he kept the spare key (he'd locked his keys in the house a few months before Jase died, and I saw where he kept the extra house key to get back in).
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, I was in Dad's backyard. It was mid-afternoon. I saw my bike on the ground near the back door. It still had the training wheels on. Dad was trying to convince me I was big enough for him to take them off, but I was scared of falling. I can't remember if he ever got to see me riding a two-wheeler.
No telling if any neighbors were looking. I quickly moved the rock the key was under and used it to unlock the back door. I put the key back and put the rock back on top, then walked inside.
I stopped. I couldn't swallow. I could barely breathe. It was Dad's house, just as I remembered it, just as it was when I was five. I felt happy and terrified at the same time. The kitchen smelled like Dad's "infamous" meat loaf. I was trembling again. A thousand childhood memories, things I hadn't thought about in years, climbed out of dark parts of my brain and into the light like they all happened yesterday.
I guess it's thirty years ago, so they did happen yesterday, or close enough.
I started to walk to Dad's bedroom. I didn't want to go in. I was afraid of what would happen if I saw where I shot Jase again.
But Jase is still alive. Dad's still at work. He won't leave there for at least another hour, and then he has to go pick me and Jase up from Mom's. I can do this, I can stop Jase and Dad from dying.
I made myself open the door to Dad's bedroom. It was the exact same dim light I remember the day Jase died. That will be tomorrow afternoon. I can change that.
My legs felt heavy as I moved them, one step after the other, toward the night stand. My hand was trembling as I reached to open the drawer.
"Stop it you idiot!"
I clung my hands together to steady them.
I reached out again and pulled the drawer open. I pulled Dad's socks and shorts aside.
There it was. The gun. That damned 45 caliber revolver.
All I had to do was unload it and put the bullets somewhere else. Then, tomorrow, when little Marky picks the gun up and fumbles with it, it won't go off. Jase will still be alive. The worse that will happen is that I'll get scared for sneaking into my Dad's stuff, put the gun back, and drag Jase back into the living room so we can go back to watching the movie.
I didn't even realize I'd picked up the gun until I looked at my hands again.
As you can imagine, I hate guns. I've never owned one. But I figured out how to get the revolver open. I pulled six shells out, put them in my pants pocket, closed the chamber and put the gun back just like I found it.
I don't think Dad did anything with it between now and tomorrow afternoon so he shouldn't know the bullets are missing. But where to put them? I suppose I could just take them back with me. Dad will have a mystery about how the gun got unloaded and where the bullets went, but that's nothing next to a dead three-year old son.
Dad must have kept extra ammunition around somewhere, but I had no idea where that would be.
Screw it. Let him have a mystery. The gun's unloaded, that means I can't shoot Jase tomorrow.
For a second, I thought about stuff like fingerprints, and other clues I might be leaving behind, but up until yesterday (from my point of view), I didn't even believe in time travel, and I don't know anyone who does. No one is going to look for a time traveler and probably not even an ordinary break in just because six bullets go missing.
I'm going back to Mom's place, back to the well.
And then it was dark, I mean completely dark.
I was in the well. It had that same musty smell, the same dampness, but there was no light. I felt around and found the metal ladder. I could feel the cold and the uneven texture. What happened? Did I come back to the wrong time, before I found the well, before Mom died?
Only one way to find out, I blindly gripped the ladder and started to climb. I must have gotten maybe halfway up and my foot slipped. I lost my grip and fell back into the darkness.
I didn't feel hardly any pain when I hit the bottom. Then I didn't feel anything at all.
My name is Jason Miller and when I was three years old I shot and killed my brother.
I guess I could blame my Dad since it was his gun. I never would have known about it except a few weeks before, my older brother Marky had shown me where it was. He pulled it out of Dad's night stand next to his bed to show me when Dad wasn't there.
Marky slipped with the gun and dropped it, and we both got so scared that he put it back, closed the drawer, and we ran out of Dad's bedroom.
We didn't live with Dad, we just visited him every other weekend. The next time we visited, I remembered where the gun was. I thought Marky would want to play with it again. Hell, I was just three. What did I know? He was watching TV. Dad was out front talking to a neighbor or something, I guess.
I went to get the gun. It was really heavy, but I wanted to show it to Marky. I took the gun into the living room. I didn't know what guns did except for what I saw on TV. I didn't even have a toy one to play with. Mom wouldn't let us have toy guns.
"Hey, Marky." I said grinning. I was pointing the barrel right at him.
It was thirty years ago, but I still remember the look on his face as he turned toward me, kind of surprised and scared. And then I tripped and I heard the biggest "boom" I'd ever heard in my life.
Marky's face just sort of disappeared in a bunch of red. I screamed, dropped the gun, and ran into Marky's and my bedroom.
I don't remember everything that happened after that. I guess that's a good thing.
Well, some of it I do remember. I remember my Mom blamed Dad because he had a loaded gun in the house. I remember him and Mom shouting at each other about it, how he accused her of sneaking into his house and unloading it, and how he needed a loaded gun for "home protection" or something like that.
I don't think I saw much of my Dad after that. When I was four, he used the same gun to kill himself.
I had nightmares for years after Marky and Dad died. They finally went away. Mom took me to some shrink for grief counseling. I guess it worked. After she moved us to a house with a big field outback, I started to make friends at school, and they'd come over all the time to play with me.
But Mom died of cancer last month and the nightmares have come back. I thought maybe if I saw a psychologist again, like when I did when I was little, you could help them go away again.
I wish I could find a way to change things, to change the past. I wish I could go back and make sure the gun was unloaded or something. If only I could travel back in time.