Thursday, June 10, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Vivek Mittal

This week The Pete Wood Challenge stems from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!” We’re doing something a bit different this time, though, in that we’ve selected fewer but longer stories, and we’ve saved the best for last. Today, second place goes to Vivek Mittal, for a story about…

Well, as Pete Wood puts it, “This is my second favorite story because it thinks small. Vivek Mittal presents the dangers of time travel and a neat little Paradox on a small scale with some authentic characters. No need for a big twist where the Nazis win World War II. Well done.”

Sounds interesting? Then read on…



“And you want how much for it?” The buyer’s wrinkled clothes reeked of cigarettes. He showed up the day after I posted the ad in the outpost dining area. Just in time.  

“I’d be happy with $50K.” I scratched the fresh scab on my face. I didn’t want to bring attention to it yet, but couldn’t help it. 

“That’s a lot. What did this thing do to you?” He pointed up, then down my body.

“It didn’t do anything to me. I just got a bit carried away.”

He hesitated, then said, “What did you do then?”  

“I made some changes.”


“It’s fixed.”

“That’s weird. Anyway, does it work?”

“Yes. A lot.”

“How far back can it go? The other models I’ve looked at go back max 5 years.”

“Oh this one, it goes backwards and forwards, up to a hundred years.”

“What? That tech is out already?”

“Not exactly. I modified the machine based on the time travel wiki…and other sources. You could probably modify it further once you buy…”

“No, no, the way it is seems fine. I don’t have time for all that.  Plus I’ve got kids, so I can’t be tinkering around with radioactive parts. Speaking of which, is it sealed?”

“Yes, I did it myself.  What do you plan to do?”

“We’ll go back to see my mother. She passed last year. I’ve been saving up since.”

“Sounds simple; it’s a good idea. Don’t do what I did.”

“What did you do?”  

“I saw some old friends, and did a few other things.”

“How long were you gone?”

“About a year. But when you travel as much as I did, your body, it takes a toll.”

“What did you, uh, fix?” He was starting to see the connection.

“I should have more in the bank by the time I’m done.”  The buyer’s eyebrows shot up.

“How so?”

“It’s all planned out.  Excuse me.”  I spit out some blood. Then felt a new sore opening on my chest. “For one, by arranging this meeting.”

“What do you mean? I just answered your ad.”

“I needed someone trustworthy to buy it and someone that could pay me what it’s worth.”

“We just met; that’s bullshit.”

“This is just the first of many meetings. So do we have a deal?” I looked up and waved to a man walking towards us with a slight limp.

Ignoring me, the buyer said, “Shit then, tell me whats going to happen in the next ten minutes. Can you do that?”

“Let’s just say it may not be what you expect.” As the man came into view, I could see a face pockmarked with scabs, burning cigarette in hand. The buyer knew who it was even before turning around. 

The future version of the buyer told him matter of factly, “Just get the stupid thing. It’ll be worth it.” 

¤     ¤     ¤


Vivek Mittal is a dad, attorney, and writer. He attended Voices of our Nation (VONA) in 2020 where he was mentored by Tananarive Due. He has taken workshops with Neelanjana Banerjee, D’Lo, and Sehba Sarwar. Much of his work is speculative, though not all. His work has appeared in a STEAM multi-issue zine collaboration with NExSci, in The Aerogram, and in the Asian Pacific American Law Journal

When not writing or working, he explores the wonders of the world with his partner and two kids. 


Okay, Bruce Bethke here, editor of Stupefying Stories and CEO of Rampant Loon Press, and I’m going to make this pitch very simple, direct, and personal. If you like cyberpunk fiction, the guy who wrote the original “Cyberpunk” story 40 years ago (me) thinks you need to read “Eddie’s Upgrade” by Kevin Stadt, just one of a dozen great new stories in Stupefying Stories 23.

And keep your eye on Stadt. He’s a writer to watch. 

Stupefying Stories 23: available now in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Buy it now.