Sunday, July 2, 2023

“Castaways” • by Pete Wood

Editor’s Note: Pete offered this one to me as a reprint, as it had been published first in September 2015 in the now-defunct Page and Spine. As soon as I began to read it, though, it began to seem strangely familiar, so I took a quick look in our records…

Yep, sure enough, Pete submitted this one to us first, in November of 2012. I have no idea now of why we held it over for a third reading only ultimately to reject it, but given that we received 230 submissions in that month alone, contending for about 10 publication slots, it seems likely it was simply a matter of numbers.

In any case this fortuitous chain of events offered us a unique opportunity. We now present Pete Wood’s story, “Castaways,” first as published in 2015, and then as written in 2012. Which version do you prefer, and why?


(as published in Page & Spine)

Krebs tossed the New York Times onto the bar. “May 14, 1967. Gilligan’s Island is not on until tomorrow.” They had time-jumped too early.

Hale, his partner, scooped peanuts from a bowl. “Damn.”

The bartender smiled. “I’m Anne. What’ll you have?” 

“Two draft beers.” Krebs might as well enjoy a drink. He could be in for a long night on this time-tripping wild goose chase. Supposedly William Paley, a TV executive frequented this Manhattan watering hole. Hale and Krebs had to convince him not to cancel Gilligan’sIsland.

The place was packed, but not nearly as crowded as the 22nd century underground bunker Krebs called home. Before the pandemic wiped out most of humanity, thousands crammed into the scientific research facility below the Mojave Desert.

Krebs set down a dog-eared paperback.

Hale yawned. “Get that from the bunker?” 

“Yep.” Krebs opened Slaughterhouse Five. He barely knew Hale, but then Krebs didn’t really know anyone. The only reason he was on the mission was that he had the physiological quirks demanded for time travel.

Anne set down two foamy mugs.

Hale took a sip. “I wish the Professor allowed alcohol.”

“Jesus Christ. Do we have to talk about him?” Krebs wasn’t going to be suckered into another bitchfest about the Nobel laureate who ran the underground bunker like a dictator.

“Okay…” Hale swiveled on his stool and surveyed the bar.

Krebs read the first page of his book. He wished he could write science fiction, not that anyone wanted to read the genre in a dying future.

Hale pointed to a woman with short red hair and movie star looks at a nearby table. “I’d love to know her.”

“Checking out Ginger Ale?” Anne inhaled a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke.“Every night for weeks she just orders soda.”

Hale coughed. “Maybe she’s an alcoholic.”

“Maybe she’s a cheapskate. Refills are free.”

Ginger Ale stood up and slinked over in a skimpy cocktail dress. She sat down beside Hale. 

“What’s your name, sailor?”

Hale smiled. “Jonas Hale.”

She clasped his hand. “Tina.”

Krebs turned to Anne. “Do you know William Paley? He’s a television executive.”

“The head of CBS? Comes in sometimes. Tips good.”

“Will he be here tonight?”

Anne stubbed out her cigarette in an overflowing ashtray. “Who knows?”


After laughing at Hale’s anemic jokes for an hour, Tina went to the restroom.

“What’s her deal?” Krebs asked.

Hale shrugged. “I’ll answer that with a question. Why’d Paley cancel Gilligan’s Island?”

Krebs wished Hale paid more attention at briefings. He spat out the bullet points. “Paley’s wife made him cancel it to make room for Gunsmoke, her favorite show.”

“We should talk to her. Women call the shots.”

Tina returned and leaned against Hale. “Let’s get dinner. Just you and me.”

Hale patted his sizable gut. “I’d love a steak.”

Tina kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s go.”


Monday night Krebs entered the tavern alone.

“Where’s your friend?” Anne asked.

“Out with Ginger Ale.” Krebs yawned. “Give me a beer.”

Anne handed him a mug.

Krebs slapped a hundred on the bar. “Let’s watch Gilligan’s Island?”

She pocketed the bill and turned the channel on the wall-mounted black and white TV.

The show wasn’t on for an hour. Krebs promised free drinks to anyone who’d watch.

When the theme song started, Krebs had made a roomful of friends. A crowd stood behind him and sang along.

The crowd cheered as the closing credits scrolled.

A thin man in a suit rose from a table of businessmen and approached Krebs. “Do you all watch the show every week?”

“Yep,” Krebs lied.

“I’m William Paley. I work at CBS.”

“I’m Wiley Krebs. I’d love to talk to you about the show. I’ve got some ideas to improve the scripts.”

Paley crossed his arms. “Oh?”

“It should be more serious.”

Paley snorted. “It’s a comedy.”

“Make it science fiction. You’re already halfway there. Gilligan’s been invisible, read
minds and eaten radioactive seeds.”

“I haven’t seen every episode,” Paley admitted.

“Bring time travel into it. Maybe there are others hidden on the Island. You could stretch the plots out over years. Like a soap opera.”


Around midnight, Hale and Tina took the stools beside Krebs.

“Paley came,” Krebs said.

Hale’s eyebrows rose. “Wow. I guess this trip wasn’t a complete waste of time after all.”

“He’s renewing the show.”

Tina let out a loud sigh. “Thank God. Nothing else seemed to work.”

“What are you talking about?” Krebs asked.

Tina smiled. “You restored the timeline. Now Gilligan’s Island is on for twelve more glorious years.”

Hale leaned over to kiss her. She pulled back. “No thanks, Mr. Hale. You’re not my type.”

“What’d I do?”

“You left your little buddy alone to talk to Paley. In every other timeline you screw things up somehow.”

Hale frowned. “Huh?”

“I’ve been trying for weeks to restore the old timeline.” She pulled a small glowing cube from her purse. “The actor who plays Gilligan gets elected Senator and then moves on to bigger things. And the pandemic never happens.”

Krebs pointed to the cube. “What’s that?”

“Keeps track of the timelines.”

Grainy images flashes across a tiny screen. Krebs caught a glimpse of Hale spilling a drink on Paley.

“What am I looking at?” Krebs asked.

“They’re the most probable timelines. In every variation where Hale stays in the bar, the cube predicts that he sabotages the mission. He pisses off Paley or distracts you or something worse. The best probability was when you stayed here by yourself.”

“How is that possible?” Krebs asked.

“You’ll start a whole process. Gilligan’s Island gets serious. Speculative. Paley assembles a dream writing crew. Vonnegut. Bradbury. Serling. LeGuin. Pynchon. And a promising newcomer who takes the reins and really rescues the show.”

Krebs sipped his beer. “I guess I’ll have to go back.”

Tina shook her head. “No. You’re going to be the new head writer.”



(original manuscript)

Krebs dropped a five dollar bill on the bar and ordered a beer. Time travel was thirsty work.

Hale, his partner from the future, grabbed a New York Post that lay near a bowl of peanuts. He laughed. “May 14, 1967. We’re here on a friggin’ Sunday. Gilligan’s Island isn’t on until tomorrow.”

The bartender, a pretty brunette, smiled. “Welcome to Schwartz’s Tavern. You guys Gilligan’s Island fans?”

“Love it,” Krebs lied. He had never seen the show until having to endure a marathon of episodes after the briefing. He and Hale had been sent back over a hundred years to convince a television executive named William Paley to keep the show on the air. Paley was supposedly a regular at this Manhattan bar.

Clouds of smoke filled the room. Everyone seemed to be smoking. The place was packed, but not nearly as crowded as the underground bunker Krebs called home. After a mutated virus had killed most of humanity, thousands of people crammed into the bunker, an underground scientific research facility hundreds of feet below the Mojave desert.

The bartender smiled. “My name’s Anne. What can I get you?”

Krebs laid a few dog-eared paperbacks on the bar. He had bought them at a secondhand bookstore twenty minutes ago. The bunker had exactly 1,354 books. Krebs had read them all. Most of them twice. “Whatever you got on draft,” Krebs said. He could not remember what brands were around in the 1960s. Sam Adams? Coors? 

Hale brushed back his thick mop of gray hair and winked at Anne. “Give me one too.” For an overweight guy over fifty Hale fancied himself quite the ladies man.

Krebs barely knew Hale, but then again he didn’t really know anyone. In a sense Krebs had always lived his life like a time traveler. Popping in and out of a place, not putting down roots or really getting to know anyone.

Anne did not seem interested in Hale. She pulled out a couple of mugs. She poured two draft beers and placed them in front of Krebs and Hale.

Hale took a long sip. “I wish the Professor allowed beer.”

The Professor was a Nobel laureate who ran the underground bunker that housed the time machine and thousands of refugees after the pandemic. He was a dictator.

Krebs suspected that the Professor had informants. He wondered if Hale was trying to trick him into saying something derogatory about their ruler.

Krebs rubbed his forehead. Headaches were a side effect of time jumps. He made small talk, just in case Hale was a spy. “Last time he sent me back to make sure the shelter was stocked with corned beef before the pandemic.“

Hale patted his sizable gut. “Well, I appreciate it. Nothing beats a good corned beef sandwich.” He pointed to the stack in front of Krebs. “What are you reading?”

Krebs held up a couple of books. He was surprised Hale was interested.

Hale squinted. “The Man in the High Castle. The Martian Chronicles. Never heard of them.”

Krebs sighed. “They’re science fiction.” Sometimes he wondered if most people in the future were illiterate. They might as well be. And, God, help him, Krebs wanted to be a writer.

“No thanks. I got enough science fiction waiting for me back home.” Hale turned his attention to a table of attractive women. They could have been movie stars. Hale pointed to a girl with short red hair who sat at the end of the table. “I’d love to get to know her better.”

“You checking out Ginger Ale?” Anne asked.

Hale looked puzzled. “What?”

“That group’s been coming in every night for two or three weeks. They just sit there and people watch. Sometimes they talk to the businessmen. Most of them order cocktails once in a while, but the redhead just keeps getting ginger ale refills.”

Hale shrugged. “Maybe she’s an alcoholic.”

“Maybe she’s a cheapskate,” Anne said.

Krebs opened The Man in the High Castle to the first chapter. He read a lot in the shelter. It was about the only way to escape the tedium. He didn’t have too many friends. Hell, he didn’t have many friends before the pandemic. He only volunteered as a research subject because he had nothing else going for him.

He heard Hale’s voice. Krebs marked his place with a cocktail napkin and set down the book. “Did you say something?”

“Must be a good book,” said Hale.

Anne stubbed a cigarette out in one of the counter’s half-dozen ashtrays.

“Can I have one of those?” Hale asked. “I’ll pay you for it.”

“I’ll sell you a whole pack, honey.” Anne reached behind the bar and tossed Krebs a pack and some matches.

Hale lit a cigarette and took a long slow drag.

Ginger Ale stood up. She wore a skimpy cocktail dress. She looked good. Krebs’ heart beat faster as she slinked towards the bar.

Then the impossible happened. She made a beeline for possibly the least attractive man in the room.

Ginger Ale plopped down on the stool beside Hale. “What’s your name, sailor?”

Hale smiled. “Jonas Hale. Just call me Hale.”

Anne rolled her eyes. “Another ginger ale, miss?”

Ginger Ale ignored Anne. “I’m Tina,” she said to Hale.

Krebs turned to Anne. “Do you know William Paley? He’s kind of important. He’s a big shot TV guy.”

“The guy who runs CBS? Comes in once in a while. Tips good,” Anne said.

“Is he coming in tonight?”

Anne shrugged. “How should I know? This is a bar. It’s not like we take reservations.”


After laughing at Hale’s anemic jokes for a hour, Tina went to the ladies’ room.

“What’s the deal with her?” Krebs asked Hale.

Hale shrugged. “Let me ask you a question.  Why did Paley cancel Gilligan’s Island?”

Krebs wondered if Hale was testing him, making sure he had paid attention to their orders. He spat out the bullet points from the briefing. “Paley’s wife made him cancel Gilligan’s Island to make room on the schedule for Gunsmoke, her favorite show.”

Hale drummed his fingers on the bar. “We should be talking to his wife. Women call the shots.”

Krebs looked at the clock above the pool table. Ten p.m. “Let’s get something to eat.” In the shelter he had food pellets in the sleeping cube or whatever gruel the cafeteria threw together. New York’s possibilities seemed endless by comparison.  “I’d love a steak.”

Tina clasped Hale’s arm and sat back down. “Steak sounds great.”

Hale grinned. “I’m gonna get the biggest steak in the city.” He held up his thumb and index finger. “One this big.”

“Let me just talk to my girlfriends for a second. Get us a cab,” Tina said to Hale.

Hale and Krebs walked out the front door and waited.

Even late on a Sunday night the city was ablaze with activity. Cars whizzed by. Pedestrians, looked straight ahead, focusing on their destinations, ignoring the two ordinary-looking men who stood outside the bar.

Krebs craned his neck. The towering skyscrapers were futuristic compared to the cramped shelter. The past was supposed to be less advanced. At least in science fiction.

Hale lit a cigarette and tossed the match on the sidewalk. “You ever wonder if maybe the professor isn’t trying to prevent the pandemic? These missions don’t seem to accomplish much, do they?”

Krebs studied Hale’s steely eyes. Hale was either an informer, trying to bait him into saying something stupid about the professor, or a fool. Either way, opening up to him was dangerous. Krebs wanted to say that the professor didn’t care about preventing the pandemic, because without the disaster he had no power, but he said something safe instead. “The thought never crossed my mind.”

Krebs stepped away from Hale and waved down an approaching taxi.


The next night Krebs entered Schwartz’s Tavern by himself. Hale was supposed to meet him here in a couple of hours.

“Where’s your friend?” asked Anne.

“On a date with the ginger ale girl.”

“I hope your friend’s careful. You know what kind of woman picks up men.”

Krebs yawned. “He’s an adult. Give me a beer.”

Anne handed him a mug. “Anything else?”

Krebs placed a hundred on the bar. “Can you turn the television to Gilligan’s Island?”

Anne smiled. “Sure.” She picked up a newspaper from behind the bar. “Let me just check the listings”

The show wasn’t on for an hour. Krebs passed the time by promising free drinks to anyone who would watch television with him. Why not throw money around? It wasn’t like it was worth anything when he came from.

By the time the show started Krebs had spent over a thousand dollars and made a large number of friends. A drunken crowd stood behind him and sang along to the theme song.

As the show ended a drunk slapped him on the back. “Hey, little buddy, can we watch the show again next week?”

“Sure,” said Krebs.

The drunk polished off his beer and Anne gave him another on the spot.

A thin man in a suit sat with a table of businessmen. He stood up and approached Krebs. “Excuse me. Do you all watch the show every week?”

“Sure,” Krebs lied. “We don’t usually meet here.”

“You love the show that much?”

“It’s a great show.”

“My name’s William Paley. I work at CBS. What do you think of the show?”

“It’s pretty funny, but I think you should make it more serious.”

Paley snorted. “It’s a situation comedy.”

“Why not make it science fiction? You’re already halfway there. Gilligan’s been invisible. He’s read minds. There’s that episode with the radioactive seeds.”

“I haven’t seen all the episodes,” Paley admitted.

“Mix it up. Bring time travel into it. Show the past of the Island. Maybe there are other people hidden on the far side who have a secret agenda. Maybe they kidnap some of the castaways. You could stretch the plots out over years. Like a soap opera.”

Paley smiled. “My wife’s addicted to soaps.”

“I’ll bet people will come back every week to see what happens next.”

Paley had a gleam in his eye. “Maybe they will.”


Around midnight Hale and Tina wobbled into Schwartz’s Tavern. Both were very drunk. They took the bar stools beside Krebs and ordered a bottle of wine.

“Paley came,” Krebs said.

Hale’s eyebrows rose. “You’re kidding.”

“He’s going to save the show. And I wasn’t even trying to convince him.”

Hale scratched his five o’clock shadow. “Maybe that’s how you change the future. By accident.”

“That’s exactly how you change the future,” Tina said. “Lord knows we’ve tried everything else.”

“What are you talking about?” Krebs asked.

Tina lifted up her wine glass in a toast. “Cheers.” She gulped the wine. “You restored the timeline. Now Gilligan’s Island is on for twelve more glorious years.”

Hale leaned over to kiss her. She pulled back. “No thanks, Mr. Hale. You’re not exactly my type.”

Hale’s smile vanished. “What did I do?”

“You left your little buddy in the bar by himself, to talk to Paley like we wanted.”

Krebs was confused. “We?”

“My colleagues and I changed the timeline by mistake. Now the correct one is back. We’ve been trying for weeks to get things back on track.” She pulled a small glowing cube from her purse. “The actor who plays Gilligan gets elected to the Senate in a few years and then moves on to  bigger and better things. And the pandemic is never going to happen.”

Krebs pointed to the cube. “What is that thing?”

“Keeps track of the timelines.”

“Why the hell would that show be on for twelve more years?” Hale asked.

Tina smiled. “The writing improved. It got serious. Existential. Speculative. You should see the crew they’ll assemble. Vonnegut. Bradbury. Serling. And a promising newcomer who takes the reins and really shapes the vision.”

“Paley must have liked my ideas,” Krebs said.

Tina cleared her throat. “It’s more than that. He’s going to offer you a job and soon you’ll—” She stopped. “I don’t want to give too much away.”

“Wait a second. If you’re so uptight about the timeline, won’t me getting a job, change things?”

Tina motioned to Anne. “Give me a wine spritzer.”

Anne made no attempt to hide her sarcasm. “No ginger ale tonight?”

Tina smiled. “We’re celebrating.”

Anne handed Tina her drink and walked away.

“I’m with my little buddy,” Hale said. “How can him staying here be good for the timeline?”

Anne took a lingering sip. “He’s part of the timeline now. Maybe he always was.”

“Good Lord, I need another drink,” Hale muttered.

“Why would Paley hire me?” Krebs asked.

Tina furrowed her brow. “Well, it doesn’t make too much sense now—”

Krebs interrupted. “And, why would I stay here?”

Tina looked him square in the eyes. “Because you have nowhere else to go. And because this is your destiny.”

Krebs realized Tina was right about that. He had nothing before the pandemic and now the future was changed. But, he liked it here.

“Maybe I’ll stop by CBS tomorrow,” said Krebs.

“Tomorrow’s not good. Wait a little while, but you’ll be going there soon,” said Tina.

“Then, how am I supposed to know when to ask for a job?”

“Just keep hanging around this bar,” said Tina. “My job here isn’t finished yet. I’ll help you before I jump back. I’ll tell you what to say to Paley. I’ll be in here every night until you get that job.”

Krebs sipped his beer. “If you’re going to be here every night, you better start ordering something besides ginger ale.”



Photo by Lee Baker
Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

“Castaways” was first published in Page and Spine Fiction Showcase, September

Pete Wood photo by Lee Baker.

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Made in DNA said...

Good fun. I enjoyed the Theatrical Release.

Pete Wood said...

Thanks for reading, Made in DNA!

~brb said...

Sorry about the confusion. I've seen so many movies on disc or streaming that came in both a "Theatrical Release" version (the version that actually ran in theaters) and a "Director's Cut" or "Extended Edition" version, I thought everyone would get it. It's clarified now, but the "Theatrical Release" Made in DNA refers to was the version as published in Page & Spine in 2015.

Karin Terebessy said...

I just love a good campy time travel piece! I definitely enjoyed the revised version more than the original - it was far more seamless and subtle, allowed the reader to fill in the gaps. The revised version maximized the readers’ knowledge so it made us work harder and feel far more fulfilled when we “got it.” Time travel pieces are tricky - particularly in a short form - you have to have faith in your readership to already understand all the quirks and loopholes and “rules.” Well done!

Pete Wood said...

Thanks for your kind words, Karin.