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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Gustavo Bondoni

 


We’re doing something a bit different with The Pete Wood Challenge this week. Fewer stories, but longer stories. This week we’re presenting five stories, a new one each morning, all of which stem from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”

And with that we turn it over to Gustavo Bondoni, an Argentine author who writes primarily in English, a very successful novelist and short story writer, and someone whose work has already been published in fifteen countries and seven languages. This is his first appearance in our pages—although not his first appearance in our submissions inbox, and after taking a quick look at our archives, I do wonder if he ever sold that one about the baby that barks…

—brb


 



“But it was boring!” the pimply woman whined. “Just a bunch of people plowing fields and milking cows.”

“That’s not my fault,” I replied. “The time machine worked exactly as advertised. Besides, I told you: no refunds.”

“Be reasonable,” the bald man said. “We spent most of our savings on this thing. If we can’t get our money back, we’re screwed.”

“I’m not in the financial advice business,” I replied, but their crestfallen expressions got to me. “Why did you need to go back? Are you writing a paper? Studying ancient cultures?”

“We wanted to film old-timey people fighting battles and stuff.”

“And why would you want to do that?”

“A guy on YouTube says you can get a huge number of hits with things like that.”

So, they were morons. It wasn’t a crime, but it wasn’t a reason to give their money back. “What year did you go to?”

“June, 1875.”

“Why?” No major wars that I could think of.

“It was an old-timey time,” the woman replied. Her face indicated that it should have been obvious to me.

“And where did you go?”

“Um…” the guy said. He turned to the woman.

 She turned red. “Middlesex.”

“England?” I asked.

“Massachusetts.”

I tried to think of what might have been happening in rural New England at the time. Precisely nothing.

“But why? Why would you go there, then?”

The bald guy replied. “Well, you know: middle… sex.”

“Oh, God.”

“Don’t judge,” the woman said. “We need to make ends meet. It sounded like there could be some interesting old-timey stuff to film… well, you know.”

“Look, I’ll take the machine off your hands. I won’t give you any money, but at least you can free up this garage.”

“Screw you,” the guy replied. “We’re keeping it. You won’t fleece anyone else.”

I sighed. So that’s the way it was going to be. “How about this? I’ll give you a good date and year. Really interesting times.”

“What’s the catch?” 

“No catch. Here, I’ll set the machine for London in 1665. Make sure you visit the brothels.” I winked at them. “That’s where you’ll get the kind of film you want.”

Skepticism had turned to enthusiasm. They might be idiots, but they knew what a brothel was.

“By the way, do you know what a bubonic is?”

They shrugged.

“Well, no worries. Have fun in 1665.”

They pressed the button and disappeared.

When they didn’t reappear immediately, which was the default for the return trip, I shook my head sadly. “Idiots.”

I’d need to fly to London to retrieve the machine. I’d set the coordinates for a maintenance space under a road, which I knew was still there.

The nice thing about a time machine that only travels into the past and returns is that it always comes back to me, even if the buyers get themselves killed, as they invariably do.  

I’d sold this one sixteen times already. 

¤     ¤     ¤

Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
 
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
 
His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com


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