Wednesday, June 9, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Duke Kimball


We’re doing something a bit different with The Pete Wood Challenge this week: fewer 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 Duke Kimball



“Does it work?”

“Tranny’s busted.” The old man spat, eyeing Mac distrustfully. “No reverse.”

Mac shrugged. “How can you tell?”

The machine didn’t look like much. Certainly didn’t look like a car. Or a plane. It looked like an old rusted propane tank with a hospital bed bolted to the side. Made Mac’s Buick Electra look like a damn spaceship.

A few levers on a panel, which sat below a flat pane of opaque black glass. One of them had been snapped off midway, a jagged piece of metal with a big strip of duct tape over it. Presumably that one was reverse. Mac prodded it. It felt seized.

The old man shook his head. “Look. It moves through time, but it ain’t going backward. Just forward. So if you want it, you better not want to come back.” He took a flat brown bottle from his back pocket and took a pull off it. 

Mac checked his watch. 1:30. “Little early for that, ain’t it?”

The man scowled, turned away. Mac grabbed him by the shoulder. “Alright, old timer, no offense. If they got these in the future, can’t I just get it fixed?”

The old man barked out a wheeze of a laugh. Like the machine with the hand-painted sign in front of it, it seemed seldom used. “Not if I did what I came to do” He pointed at it. “That thing is dangerous. Ain’t nobody should have that kinda power.”

Mac raised an eyebrow. “Why sell it then?”

The old man took another pull off the bottle, draining it. he tossed it behind a bush by his busted-down porch, and Mac heard the crash and tinkling of glass on broken glass. “Need the money, I ‘spose.”

Mac sighed. Fiddled with his wedding ring. Eyed the suitcase in the backseat of the Buick. “No coming back, huh?”

“You heard me.” The old man’s eyes softened, just a little. “Shouldn’t be too bad there though. I hope.” He glanced back at the run-down shack, the ramshackle barn behind it. “I’m happy here, though. It’s… simple.”

They took a long minute, listening to the birds and insects chitter around them. Mac found the old man’s eyes unsettling. Something in them didn’t belong in a broken old man. They had a youthful fire buried in them. 

Mac coughed. “I think I need some time to think about it.” He moseyed back to the car before waving at the old man, who watched the young fella get in the convertible and drive back off down the old dirt road. And then he spat.

“They always do,” he mumbled.

He took the time to kick another dent in the side of the damned thing before shuffling back into the house. 

¤     ¤     ¤


Duke Kimball
is a literary boat captain who doesn’t currently own a boat. His work has appeared in places like Mysterion, Star*Line, and Strange Horizons. He lives in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife Michelle and a dog named after a cheese factory.