Friday, June 11, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Roxana Arama

Pete Wood writes:

When I created this contest, I expected nothing but tongue-in-cheek takes on time travel tropes. While several writers didn’t disappoint with humorous entries, the variety of the stories surprised me. It never occurred to me that my writing prompt could inspire a serious story, a literary story.

Roxana knocked it out of the park and she had some tough competition. Her depth of character and pathos in only five hundred words is a feat. I hope you like her story as much as I did. I think we’ll be hearing more from her.


The time machine had been in my garage for months, but I never touched it. I’d read too many sci-fi stories of messed-up timelines. My father left it to me together with a manual and two letters. One, marked the year I turned eight, 27 years ago, said, “Come visit, son!” plus time-traveling instructions. The other, written just before his death, only said, “You were right. Please forgive me!”

I barely knew the guy. Mom and I moved away after their divorce, and he was too busy with his research to video chat once a week with his five-year-old son. When we moved back, he tried to contact me, but by then he was a stranger. When he died, I felt nothing. My anger with him had died long before that.

For months, that human-sized box had been taking up space, so I finally wrote an online ad, “For sale: Used time machine. No refunds!” I’d sell it to a scientist for research and donate the money to an animal shelter. No hits though—people thought it was a joke. No one had managed to build a time machine, but I suspected my dad had. The ad was taken down the next day. The site admins thought it was code for crime.

But now I was determined to get rid of it. I was unscrewing its door hinges when I heard noises outside. A buyer maybe? I hadn’t done too much damage, so I opened the garage door and called out.

A man walked in. Familiar look, though his clothes were out-of-date. Next thing, he bear-hugged me.

I pulled back.

“It’s Dad.” He wiped his eyes. “No, call me Josh. We’re almost the same age.”

It was Dad alright. He looked like the pictures I grew up with, of the great scientist whose work was more important than his kid. Seeing him here was messed up—but proof his invention worked.

He looked around. “That’s my time machine! Older… and with a broken door? Then, why didn’t you come? Got my letter? I’ve been waiting a whole year.”

“A whole year? Tough.”

“I finished it three years after your mom said screens were bad for kids’ brains and ended our video chats.” He smiled. “I traveled with it and watched you grow.”

“Don’t remember you anywhere.”

“I made my will and waited for you. I thought you’d understand, as an adult, how much a father would miss his son.”

I shrugged. “Fathers and sons? No idea.”

“We can now catch up on lost time—”

“Josh, stop. Stay away from me. And my timeline. Better still, take the rest of your life and figure out how your four years of hardship compare to my growing up without a father.”

He looked crushed. After he left, as I screwed the hinges back in, I realized he’d actually taken my advice and reflected until close to his death. Ever the scientist, he’d left the first letter in his will—for timeline continuity.

¤     ¤     ¤


Roxana Arama is a Romanian-American writer and a member of Codex Writers’ Group. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, her work has been acknowledged in several literary contests and magazines, and she maintains the website Rewriting History: How writers turn history into story, and story into history at She lives in Seattle with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @RoxanaArama.


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Eric Dontigney said...

I think this one is my favorite of the published entries.