I wrote this for the 40th cycle of Flash Fiction Friday this week. The picture below is our prompt. It weighs in at just under 1000 words.


“Can you spare any change?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Sorry.”

It wasn’t a lie, really. I don’t carry cash. Everything I buy is with a debit card these days. He nodded as if he understood and continued to stare down the car.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Never hurts to ask.”

He smiled and I counted all of five teeth. He scratched his chest a little under the faded NAVY T-shirt that seemed too big for him.

“I’m going home today,” he said.

“Are you…”

He nodded. “It’s been a long time.”

“That’s nice.”

He looked at my iPhone. “They’re getting smaller every year,” he said.

“They are.” I unconsciously withdrew the cell phone into my pocket. He only smiled.

“In about five years, you’ll be ditching that for optical inserts and a subcutaneous power matrix.”

I blinked. “Pardon?”

“That phone,” he said. “In about three years they’ll admit it’s been giving people cancer. Everyone will switch to graphene matrices that don’t fry your brain.”

Ten stops left on the subway and here I was, trapped with a loon. I thought about getting up and moving, but all the seats were taken except for the ones directly next to him. People swayed standing in the aisles. Nobody was listening to us.

“Name’s Leopold,” he said, holding out a hand. “Friends call me Leo.”

I looked at it for a minute and then shook. He had a firm grip.

“Going home eh?” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Brooklyn,” he said. “Do you have the time?”

“It’s 4 O’clock,” I said.

He thought for a moment, then said. “What day?”


“The date.”

“The fifth of August.”

He frowned. “I’m going to do you a favor…”


“Phil, I normally don’t do this, but I would highly advise that you get off the train along with me.”

“Why’s that?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. You’ll just have to trust. You won’t want to be on this subway in fifteen minutes or so.”

“Try me.”

He leaned across the aisle. “I was part of an elite military team when I was younger.”


“No,” he said. “But you could say we were the successors.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Phil, I have no doubt you will think me crazy for telling you this, but you seem like a nice guy. I am from the year 2073.”

And there we have it, I thought. I leaned back in my seat, staring at him. Eight stops left.

“Told you you wouldn’t believe me,” he said.

I shrugged. “Do you blame me?”

“Not really,” he said, looking out the window a moment.

“So, time travel,” I said.

A wry grin crossed his face. “Don’t believe me but wanna hear the story anyway, I see.”

“We’ve got time.”

“I fought in World War Two,” he said. “They sent us back as monitoring police. we make sure that no one tampers with the primary timeline, you see.”

“I don’t,” I said.

“Ok, look,” said Leo. “If you could go back in time and kill any person, who would you kill?” He raised an eyebrow.

I said nothing.

“Hitler,” said Leo. “And don’t pretend like you were going to say anything else. Everyone and their uncle wants to kill Hitler. He is the great white buffalo of time travelers. Everyone thinks that if you kill Hitler, you’ll fix everything. You kill him at fifteen and the war would never happen. The Jews would be spared, the Japanese never would have invaded. The Italians would have come to their senses. Millions of lives saved, you see? But it causes unforeseen problems, power vacuums, political instability, things you could never predict.”

He coughed and continued.

“I was his secondary school teacher. My job was to save him from any idiot who might go back and try to assassinate him. My relief operative arrived late. When I went to the rendezvous portal, it was gone. I hitchhiked out to France, took a ship to New York and have been waiting ever since. The fact that we are having this discussion is proof that my associates are still doing their job.”

“Why live on the streets then?”

“Can’t leave a footprint. Anything I do might upset the continuum. But seeing as there is a portal opening in a couple hours in Brooklyn, I don’t mind telling you.”

“And why should I believe you?” I said.

He leaned across the aisle and pulled the sleeve back from his upper arm revealing a dark tattoo. As I watched the image it moved, swirling into complex graphs and patterns.

“No signal. It malfunctions in the split time-space reality,” he said. “Otherwise I could give a better demonstration.”

“That’s amazing,” I said, watching the surface of his skin move. “And you say you come from the future?”

He nodded.

“And you were there to protect… who again?”

He blinked. “Hitler.”


“Adolf Hitler.”

‘Never heard of him.”

We stared at each other as the color drained from his face.

“I sure hope you are fucking with me, son.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’ve never heard of Adolf Hitler…”

“Should I?”

His breathing shallow, Leo grabbed his chest. His red IMPERIAL SYMPHONY T-Shirt bunched between his fingers as he rolled from his seat, his face pale. The doors opened and I stepped around the man as he lay still on the floor.

I would have stayed, but I was late for a meeting with NationCorp about another merger. I walked out the train, across the ubiquitous red banners, crosses and golden eagles (all praise be to the Leader), wondering if there was a grain of truth to his warning. Maybe another one of those Free Democratic Party terrorists would strike again. It wouldn’t take a time traveler to figure that out with attacks every week. At least his story was entertaining. Too bad about the heart attack.

I still wish I had had time to get a better look at that tattoo, though.

© 2011 Marlan Smith

Christmas in July

Now that I have finished a draft on the novel, I decided to stretch my brain a little and contribute to another of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges at Terrible Minds.  The picture below was to be used as our prompt.


Christmas in July

It had to have been the mask, Murielle was fairly certain at this point. The way it snapped over her eyes, like a peacock had sat on her face, feathers everywhere, tickling her nose and lip. She hated it.

“Just wear it until we’re inside, then you can take it off. If you wanted the fencing mask you should have said something,” said Jane. “It isn’t like I didn’t give you a choice.”

“I know,” said Murielle. “It’s just… Does it have to be so itchy?”

“Once we’re inside you’ll never even notice.”

Murielle sighed as her sister led her by the hand, through the curtain in the back of the store.

THE TIME TUNNEL was a run-of-the-mill costume warehouse, full of clown suits and rubber masks, some stupid hipster hangout Jane had been going on and on about. Murielle had come here simply to humor her.

It was oppressively dark in back. Murielle froze for a second. She could feel Jane turn.

“You ok?”

“No,” said Murielle. “How much further?”

“Just a while longer,” said Jane. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing like this.”

“And you do this for fun?”

Jane only laughed, a high willowy laugh that normally would have made Murielle feel right at home; this time it set her teeth on edge. It explained why she hadn’t heard from Jane in five years. Amazing she hadn’t been abducted. Idiot.

“Almost there,” said Jane.

“And what then?”

“Then, you just relax. And watch.”

“Are there chairs?”

“We’ll stand,” she felt Jane tugging urgently on her hand. “Once the lights come on we won’t have a choice.”

Old mannequins popped out of the shadows, white as ghosts, startling her as they rushed past. Feather boas brushed her face and fluttered like escaped birds. No, Murielle did not care for this at all.

Of course Jane was always the black sheep, the one coloring outside the lines. When Murielle went to college, Jane ran away from home and lived for a week on a train. When Murielle got her job at the law firm, Jane was finger-painting in a studio “Like a goddamn five-year-old,” Murielle had complained to their parents once.

“You and your sister are two sides of the same coin,” her mother had said. “You just can’t see it yet.”

And she still didn’t. All this running and tripping. It was a good way to twist an ankle or scrape a knee. She bumped into something small and soft and realized it was Jane.

“We’re here,” she said.

“Now what?”

“Pick a pose,” said Jane.

“A pose?”


“I don’t want to pose. I want to sit down and have a goddamn drink.”

“Look,” said Jane. “Remember that time we went on the Gee-Force?”

“At the fair?”


“Yeah, I hated it.”

Her sister only laughed. “Well it’s a lot like that.”

“Great,” said Murielle, panic rising in her voice. “Don’t they provide seat-belts? A safety bar. This place is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

“Shh,” said Jane. “It’s starting.”

“What is–”

A light, much brighter than she expected, came on and lit the room like a sun. Murielle felt her body stiffen, her heart sank. Her feet seemed to stick to the floor. She tried to open her mouth to scream, run, anything, but nothing worked anymore.

I’m dying, she thought. My brat sister has gotten us killed!

But after the sensation faded–or maybe she had just gotten used to it–Murielle noticed other people, a dozen or so, all frozen, mannequins.

Oh God, she thought. Is that me? Am I stuck in that awful 80’s movie? I am going to fucking kill my sister when this is over.

In front of her was a huge window looking out onto the corner of 5th and Market. People walked along the sidewalk, parents holding their children’s gloved hands as the first flakes of snow fell.

Snow, she thought. In July?

A man sat there on the corner, a cup in one hand and a sign: ANY HELP GOD BLESS. People ignored him as they walked past, the snow piling on his shoulders. He stayed there, cup held out, not a dime falling into it.

An hour went by, then another. Murielle felt no discomfort despite the prison her body had become. It forced her to notice little details in the man’s beard, his tattered clothes, the way he nodded and said “Merry Christmas” behind the muting glass.

More hours passed and the man sat, collecting nothing, shivering in the cold. Wasn’t anyone going to help him? Jesus. A fucking quarter. Get that man a cup of coffee. Something.

And still he waited. He waited until the sun came up and the snow had turned to dense slush on his back. They watched as his shivering ended and he turned to a frozen statue on the pavement.

Then the curtain came down, the lights went off and Jane led her through the darkness again. “What did you think?”

“Isn’t someone going to help him?” she said as they stumbled back to the entrance. “Isn’t someone going to call an ambulance?”

“Using what?”

“A cellphone, for fuck’s sake!”

“Did you see anyone on a cell phone, Sis?”

Murielle froze momentarily in her frustration and confusion. They stepped out into the warehouse where other people removed their costumes in silence. She blinked away tears at her sister.

“You sure didn’t pay very close attention, did you?” said Jane.

“What?” said Murielle. “What did I miss?”

“You didn’t see the newspaper?”

“What newspaper?”

“Or look at the cars?”


Then Murielle remembered what she didn’t see. Not a single Prius, or Civic, just huge, old metal things with massive chrome bumpers and ornaments. The coats the children wore, like something from an old 1960’s cop show. The concept of cellphones suddenly seemed ludicrous.

She looked at Jane, who smiled back at her from under the letters of the store sign.

“Do you see it now?”

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith