BFM 2021: Final Voting Round

The last round of the Fiction Marathon has been completed by the writers, and now they can only sit back and wait for the votes to come in and the winner to be revealed.

The specification for this final challenge gave them plenty to think about and in our opinion they all raised their game and sent back fabulous stories. So now it is over to the jury and public to decide who will be the winner of the 2021 Blogable Fiction Marathon.

Final Round Assignment

final time

The assignment for round 6 was:

Write a story of time travel

Specific requirements:

  • Your story is between 2000-2500 words. No less, no more.
  • Give your story a title of 2-4 words.

All five writers returned a story and will be voted on by the jury and the public. The writers will once again start the round with a blank sheet, and at the end of the voting a winner will chosen.

Readers, what should you do now?

Read all the final round entries, and vote for the stories you like the best. Try to keep the assignment in mind when you make your choices. You have to choose three stories, no less, no more.

The survey is at the bottom of the page after the last story. Don’t’ forget to click the ‘Finish Survey’ button when you’ve made your choices!

Also, even though it is the last round, the writers would appreciate receiving feedback. Just a few things your liked about the stories. This can be done in the comment’s section below, after completing the survey. All feedback is held in moderation until the results of the round are ready to be revealed.

Please note:

  • Writers are not allowed to tell anyone which entry they have written!
  • You can only vote once. Votes will be monitored and double votes will be removed.
  • The voting round closes on 19th October2021.
  • The results of the voting will be published on this site on 23rd October 2021 and then the author of each story will be revealed and we will finally have our winner.

Find the Fiction Marathon Rules here…

If you write about your experience in the Marathon please link up so others can find your post.

Now on to the stories…

  1. Hindsight’s 2021

Sarah walked toward the bus stop, enjoying the cool October day. She’d always loved the fall.

“Hey, have we met?”

She looked up at the dark-haired boy in front of her, then glanced around, uncertain whether he was talking to her. His quizzical smile widened to a grin.

“Nope,” he said. “My mistake. I would’ve remembered such a pretty face.”

If he hadn’t been so handsome, she might’ve laughed and asked if that line ever worked. But looking into his brown eyes, she found herself tongue-tied.

The crosswalk signal changed and he stepped off the curb. He glanced back at her and smiled, as if waiting for her to join him.

Sarah barely saw the truck barreling towards him—just a flash from the corner of her eye—but she grabbed his arm and yanked him back to the curb. The pick-up blew through the redlight and nearly sideswiped a van before disappearing from sight.

“Wow,” he said, shaken. “I think you just saved my life.”

His name was Jesse. She went to dinner with him that night, and the next, and soon they were inseparable. At 19, she’d always been awkward and shy and had never had a serious relationship. Jesse made her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world and when he asked her to move in with him after only a couple of months, Sarah was thrilled.

When friends complained they never saw her anymore, she felt guilty, but Jesse said they were just jealous. When he became angry because he thought she was flirting with a customer at her waitressing job, he demanded to go through her phone and asked for all her social media passwords. Sarah had nothing to hide, so she gave them to him. He read her messages daily.

His jealousy also extended to her family. Once Sarah took her sister, Kate, to a birthday lunch and Jesse kept calling to see what they were doing and where they were. Finally, Kate snatched the phone away from her and demanded to know what the hell his problem was. He hung up. Sarah dreaded going home that night.

When Kate texted her that he was a controlling creep and they had to talk, Jesse intercepted it. He became enraged and accused Sarah of trying to turn her family against him. He threw her phone at her, narrowly missing her head, but when she started packing her things, he cried and told her he was sorry, that he’d never been so in love with anyone and the thought of losing her made him crazy. Sarah felt guilty for the mean things Kate had said and apologized to him. She said it was because her family didn’t really know him, so she convinced him to go to Sunday dinner at her parents’ house.

There, he turned on the charm. Her mother seemed to adore him. Her father was reserved, but friendly. Kate, however, remained quiet. Watching.

When Jesse told her mother he was trying to get Sarah to quit her ‘little’ waitressing job and travel for a couple of weeks before college started back, Kate casually reminded him that the ‘little waitressing job’ was currently paying the rent. Jesse flushed and explained to her father that it was only this month, because he’d had to set some cash back for travel expenses. Sarah didn’t contradict him, though it had actually been the last three months. She felt betrayed by her sister and panicked by how Jesse tensed beside her. That was the night he started pinching her. Little, painful pinches to the inside of her knee, or to her side. Anywhere he could reach when he was sure no one was looking. Jesse also forbade her to see Kate unless he was present. Not wanting to fight, Sarah agreed.

By the time the day of the trip arrived, Sarah really didn’t want to go, but Jesse said it would be good for them to have some time alone. He promised they would have fun, that he loved her and wanted to show her the world. They would spend a few days in Vegas and he’d show her the desert. So, she decided to try. Maybe he was right: they just needed to reboot. Sarah even got excited about the trip. She made playlists of all their favorite songs.

Jesse seemed to relax as they started the drive from Tennessee to Nevada. It felt almost like it had in the start, until her dad called to check on her. Jesse turned down the radio so he could listen.

Her dad asked the standard questions: how they were, if she’d seen anything interesting, where they were stopping for the night. Then he hesitated and said, “Don’t get married while you’re in Vegas, okay, baby?”

Sarah glanced at Jesse and wondered if he’d heard. The tightness around his mouth suggested he had. She laughed like he was making a joke and said, “Oh, Daddy, never without you there.”

When they hung up, Jesse said, “What did he say?”

“He said don’t forget to check the oil and—”

“Don’t act stupid,” Jesse interrupted. “What did he say about getting married?”

“Oh.” She forced a laugh. “He was just joking. He said don’t you two run off to Vegas and get married, or something like that. He didn’t mean anything.”

Jesse gripped the wheel so tight his knuckles turned white.

“He thinks I’m not good enough for you, huh? What have you been saying behind my back this time? Complaining about money again? I told you, our business is our business.”

“Jesse, please,” she said. “I’ve never said anything bad about you. It was just a joke, because that’s what people do, you know? Run off to Vegas and get married by Elvis.”

“Probably that bitch sister of yours, running her mouth.”

Sarah tried to smooth it over, but he remained sullen and quiet. He surprised her when he pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a small street fair. Venders sold Halloween crafts and food while psychics and street performers vied for attention from the people who passed by. Jesse parked and got out without saying a word. Sarah scrambled after him.

“I need some space,” he said. “I’m sick of being cooped up with you.”


He spun on his heel, put his hand on her chest and shoved her backwards. Not too hard, but enough to make her stumble. Sarah looked around quickly. No one seemed to notice except for a young mother, who averted her eyes, and one of the old psychics, who stared at her sympathetically. Jesse flushed, locked the car with the fob and walked away. This time, Sarah let him go.

“Child,” the psychic said. “Come here.”

Near tears, Sarah took a step toward her, then remembered her purse was locked up in the car.

“I don’t have any money,” she said.

The old woman frowned. “I don’t care about money, come here and give me your hand.”

Palm readings by Riva, a sign on the table read.

Sarah looked for Jesse, but he’d disappeared. Hesitantly, she walked over to Riva and held out her hand. The old woman flipped it over and studied it. Then she sighed and turned it back over. She gave it a squeeze before releasing it.

“What would you say if I told you that man is going to hurt you?”

“Oh, no!” Sarah reassured her. “He’d never hurt me. He’s just upset.”

Riva gave her a sad smile. “I did not think you were ready to hear that. Let me tell you something else.”

She grabbed a bag from beneath her table and rummaged through it, finally closing her hand around something.

“This won’t make sense to you now, but remember my words. Time and energy are fluid and infinite. Many people don’t realize how timelines work until they reach the end of one, when it’s too late to change anything, but there are doors and there are keys. You just have to look for them.”

Sarah couldn’t make sense of any of that, but when Riva took her hand again and pressed a small rock into her palm, she accepted it.

“Keep this with you always, and remember what I have said.”

The reddish-colored rock was smooth and light, with a thumb-sided indention. Sarah remembered that her grandmother had carried a rock something like that in her pocket. She called it a worry stone and fidgeted with it constantly.

“Thank you,” Sarah said.

“Put it away,” Riva said quietly. “Here he comes.”

Sarah slipped the rock into her pocket just as Jesse approached. He looked at the sign on the table and rolled his eyes.

“Come on,” he said. “We’re leaving.”

He grabbed her arm and she cast Riva a glance over her shoulder as she let Jesse pull her toward the car. The old woman crossed herself.

“A psychic? Really, Sarah. Did she tell you I wasn’t good enough for you? Did you tell her I’m a bum? Or is that reserved for family conversations?”

“She just asked where we were from, where we were going,” Sarah said. “I didn’t have any money for a reading. My purse was in here.”

So preoccupied with trying to soothe his anger, she didn’t notice when they pulled off the highway onto a secondary road until she heard the crunch of gravel.

He pulled the car to the side of the road and got out. Sarah sat there, confused. She didn’t see anything except trees and an endless stretch of gravel road. What was he doing?

Suddenly, he yanked open her door. With one swift movement, he grabbed her hair and yanked her head back, then he used his free hand to unfasten her seatbelt. She screamed as he hauled her from the car.

“I’m sick … of the … disrespect,” he grunted, as he dragged her into the forest.

Her feet desperately tried to find purchase in the muddy soil, but he was moving too fast.

Abruptly, he let go and she fell onto her back in a pile of wet leaves, staring up at a blue Oklahoma sky. He delivered a brutal kick to her ribs.

Sarah curled into a fetal position, sobbing, while a panting Jesse just stood there. When she tried to push herself onto all fours, he kicked her in the face.

She felt her nose break as she pitched backward into a mudhole. Blood filled her mouth, choking her, gagging her. She rolled onto her side and spat out pieces of her teeth.

Jesse’s face was ashen. Scared. This wasn’t some little pinch that could be hidden by her shirt.

He ran back to the car.

Something in Sarah’s pocket seemed to almost burn her and crazily, she thought of the rock and the old woman. She tried to put her hand in her pocket to touch it, but she couldn’t make her fingers work right. She couldn’t even get her face out of the muddy water. Sarah placed her hand over the rock and squeezed it through the fabric of her jeans.

Jesse returned with a tire iron. Just before he raised it over his head, he whispered, “I wish we’d never met.”

So did Sarah. More than she’d ever wished for anything.

She closed her eyes.


Sarah walked toward the bus stop, enjoying the cool October day. She’d always loved the fall.

It took her a moment, but she realized exactly where she was. She stopped and touched her nose, which was smooth and straight, and her mouth tasted like Juicy Fruit gum instead of blood and dirt. She ran her tongue over her teeth, which were also smooth and unbroken. Stunned, she resumed walking, thinking of the old woman’s words.

Time and energy are fluid and infinite … There are doors and there are keys. You just have to look for them.

Sarah wasn’t surprised at all when she reached down and felt the rock still in her pocket.

“Hey, have we met?”

She stifled a scream as she glanced up at the dark-haired boy in front of her. Jesse smiled obliviously at her, waiting for a response.

She stared at him for a moment, trying to form a reply as her heart pounded in her throat. Then, she shouldered him aside and continued down the sidewalk.

“Bitch,” he muttered, and stepped onto the crosswalk.

This time, there was no one to grab his sleeve and yank him back to safety.

Brakes screamed and the truck hit Jesse with a sickening thump. She glanced back to see his body sailing into oncoming traffic. More shrieking brakes.

Sarah smiled and kept walking.

2. One. Last. Time

Casey gripped the rim of the sink tightly, her knuckles white, her body quivering. She swallowed hard as she tried to steady her breathing, her eyes closed as she focused on each breath. Something tickled her nose, and Casey heard the distinctive ‘splat’ of something hitting the porcelain. She opened her eyes and fixed her gaze on the single, deep red spot now tainting the white surface of the sink.

“One last time,” she whispered to herself, dragging her eyes from the spot of blood to the dishevelled woman staring back at her in the mirror.

Her eyes were sunken in her colourless face. It took all her strength to keep her lead-like eyelids open. All her body wanted to do was collapse and sleep wherever it fell, but she couldn’t.

One. Last. Time.

Those words were as much a statement as they were a fact. Her body wouldn’t survive going back more than once, not when she had two jumps to make anyway. She was risking the present with every re-do . It was a miracle the authorities hadn’t already found her and stopped her, not that she remained home long enough for them to do so.

Casey wiped the blood from her nose with the back of her hand, then pushed herself away from the sink and staggered out of the bathroom. Using whatever was solid and sturdy enough to hold her weight, Casey made her way to the kitchen and collapsed against the side of the fridge.

She whimpered as she gripped the edge of its door, fighting against the magnet that kept it shut. How was she going to stop them when she couldn’t even open the fridge? Casey roared with anger and desperation and heaved the door open, sobbing with relief as she felt the cool air hit her face. She needed to refuel, and then she needed to leave. She didn’t have time to waste, the Agents could be on her doorstep at any moment.

Casey grabbed an energy drink and a protein bar from the fridge, not that there were many options in terms of sustenance other than the aforementioned. Opening the can, Casey downed the contents quickly, shivering as the cold hit her stomach. It would be enough to keep her going, and once she’d completed her mission she wouldn’t have to worry about returning to this hovel of an apartment. Everything would change, for the better.

She tore open the wrapper of her protein bar with her teeth and devoured it , stuffing the sticky, chocolate covered bar into her salivating mouth. Casey struggled to chew it, let alone swallow, but her body craved the nourishment.

Time travel took an awful toll on the body. Ordinarily anyone that travelled would take a few days to recover, but Casey didn’t have the luxury of time. She was travelling illegally, and the second her boss worked out that she had taken the mobile prototype… well, it would be game over. Travel was usually monitored by the Agents in charge, ensuring that any citizen going forwards or backwards in time was kept in check, so that they couldn’t change anything significant.

That was why they had the Time Line; the Agents could check in travellers and ensure they were monitored properly through forms and the emergency bands they were given before boarding the train. And that was why Casey had applied to work for the Agency in the research division. She couldn’t be monitored, she would be stopped, and she had promised herself and the others that she would save them. She just needed time.

One more time. That was all she needed. She knew when to intersect them now, it was one of the last free spaces she had since she couldn’t cross over her other attempts. It was a big risk, but what about this wasn’t?

Bang bang bang!

Casey jumped out of her skin as someone beat upon her door, causing it to shudder under the force of the ‘knock’.

“Casey Preston! We know you’re in there. Open the door and surrender the device, you’re under arrest!” A voice boomed from the corridor as Casey stared in horror. She’d known they would be on her heels, it was why she had barricaded the door before her first attempt. She had stolen from her job, she’d travelled illegally, she was crossing multiple timelines… she would never see the light of day again.

“One last time, that’s all I need, just one.” She hissed, flicking open the control panel of the device on her wrist. Her fingers trembled over the keys as she dialled the date and time into the pad, shutting the panel just as her door splintered into hundreds of tiny pieces.

“Stop!” The officer roared as he poked his head through the remnants of her door, just in time to see Casey slam her hand down on the device to activate it.

“No.” She whispered, gasping as the world fell away beneath her feet.

She coughed and spluttered, her lungs on fire as she desperately tried to catch her breath, leaning heavily on the wall of the alleyway she had landed in. Bent double, Casey wretched, wincing as the energy drink and protein bar reacquainted themselves with the outside world along with a worrying amount of blood. Casey wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, her entire body trembling violently as it threatened to betray her.

“Just hold on, Case, you have to see them get on the train. Just in case something changes, if not then it’s one more jump. One more and then you can stop.” She whimpered, trying to encourage herself despite the pain she was in.

Every nerve felt exposed, her skin prickled and holding herself upright took every ounce of strength Casey had. The shiver became so bad that her legs almost gave way beneath her. Until she heard him.

“Oh no Sir, not at all Sir, we’ll behave, Sir.”

Devon. She had done this twenty times now, interjecting on their journey at different points in time in the hopes of stopping what she knew was to come, and each time her heart broke when she heard his voice. Devon, Adam, Katie, Sarah, Tom. She would save them all this time.

Nails dug into the brickwork as Casey forced herself to the edge of the alley that led to the platform of the Time Line. There. Her younger self, surrounded by her friends and of course her twin brother, Devon.

Behind them, with shocking red hair that Casey barely recognised now, was the first version of her present-past self. The first failure. Casey reached up with a weak hand to touch her own hair; dank and limp and lifeless, the vibrant fire washed out with the stress of her jumps. One more time. That was all she needed, just one.

From her hiding spot in the alley, Casey watched her group board the train, while her first attempt failed to stop them, as did her second. The first had hoped to unnerve Casey enough to discourage the group, the second had directly approached one of the officers on the platform who missed stopping the group and the train by mere seconds. She’d tried forcing the teachers to retract the assignment, had messed with her group’s permission forms, removed their emergency bracelets but nothing had worked.

Her last two attempts had been more direct, she had confronted herself (against all the rules) and her last attempt she had failed entirely. She’d miscalculated the time and arrived after the event, in time only to save herself from being killed, setting everything else in motion. Now she knew when she needed to intervene, now she knew exactly what to do.

She watched, hoping that her former attempts would still help since time was a fickle, ever flowing entity. Alas, much as she’d expected, they failed. Her first attempt looked around and made eye contact with her, and Casey gave her future-former self a weak smile. It was alright, she was still here, and she would fix it.

Casey dragged her eyes away from the former versions of herself, back to the device on her wrist. The Agents would be tracking her, but they would have difficulty pinpointing her movements since her wristband wasn’t an official piece of equipment yet. That and there were enough versions of her in similar timeframes that finding the right version would cause them strife. She quickly input the date, time and location of where she needed to be, looking up and nodding to her selves one last time before she slammed her hand onto the device.

The world turned in on itself, the alley disappeared and Casey was thrown from time and space into the open. Finally her legs gave way, and Casey fell to the floor with a grunt, wincing as the pavement bit into her exposed palms and grazed her knees through her jeans. She dragged her head up, forcing her eyes to look over the hedgerows that loomed overhead.

“She wouldn’t listen.” A familiar voice said softly from over her shoulder.

Casey blinked, her head turning slowly as she followed the voice, her brain still scrambled from her jump and her stomach attempting backflips as she forced herself not to vomit again.

“They won’t be long, if you have a plan you need to stop them. Now. Before the Agents find me here.” The woman continued.

“They won’t. Go back to the apartment, try again.” Casey replied, her voice hoarse as she struggled to her feet, stumbling into the hedge. The branches snapped as she leant against them, biting at her arms and face as she all but fell into it.

“I touched her, they’ll track me here.” The woman hissed.

“They will, but they won’t find you, not if you go back now. That’s what you do, you go back and you try again.” Casey stated.

There was silence for a moment, and Casey blinked against the fog that had descended over her eyes. One last time. That was all she had and she knew it, her terrible condition and indication of that fact. Casey felt the blood trickling from her nose, and wiped it away with the back of her hand. She wasn’t leaving herself time to recover, that was clear, and her deterioration was now at a point of no return. This was it.

“How many times?” Her other self asked, and Casey snorted, squinting at the red-headed blur she knew to be herself from two times previous.

“It doesn’t matter. Just go, I have a job to do.” Casey nodded, pushing herself away from the hedgerow, staggering through the gap in the bushes, facing her endless nightmare

“Good luck.” The other Casey whispered, leaving the present Casey, the true Casey, alone.

She wished she could have forgotten how foreboding the abandoned apartment block was, but there was no forgetting this horror. She could still smell death in the air, so thick that she could taste it. Casey would never be able to rid her mouth of the acrid tang of stale urine and decay that hung heavily in the air in and around the apartments.

Her eyes scanned the dilapidated building that towered over her as Casey stumbled across the fractured pavement that led to its main doors. Thorns and nettles reached out to stop her, but nothing was going to hold her back from her destination. She had one last shot, one last chance to make things right, and it was all that she could think about.

She made her way through the gaping maw of the entrance, clinging to the walls for support as she carefully stepped over the debris of discarded bottles and bits of fallen concrete from the floors above.

No time to waste, they were already ahead of her. Casey took the crumbling concrete steps two at a time, despite the quivering in her legs that threatened to send her tumbling back to the ground floor.

The silence sent shivers down her spine, and she knew what waited in the shadows, but she was still two floors below the others, she wasn’t going to—

A blood-curdling scream shattered the air, and Casey’s heart went with it. She had failed Katie and Tom, but she wouldn’t fail the others. Adrenalin surged through Casey’s veins and her legs found strength that propelled her up the last floor with ease, just in time to collide with her younger self as she led the remainder of the group out of the abandoned floor.

“You again!” Young Casey screamed as they came face-to-face.

“Don’t worry about that now, you have to get out before it’s too late.” Casey hissed.

“It’s already too late, can’t you see?!” Young Casey wept, pointing at the sobbing form of Sarah, barely recognisable beneath the blood and entrails the thing had left her with.

“I don’t know what’s going on but let’s get out of here.” Adam hissed, heading down the first couple of steps before he threw himself back onto the third-floor landing.

Something came hurtling from above them, landing with a sickening crunch and a splat as bone snapped and blood sprayed upon impact.

The group screamed in unison, the boys recoiling. A mixture of shock and fear at the sudden appearance of the thing – the realisation that the mangled, bloody mess, blonde hair covering her face, was once their friend.

“Katie…” Casey whispered, this moment still as clear as it ever had been to her. “Go down, go down!” She snapped, grabbing her younger self by the arm and throwing her forward. “Now!

Ushering the group down the stairs, Casey’s fingers tingled where she had touched her younger version’s arm and she knew that the Agents would be with them shortly. She smiled as Devon looked back and caught her gaze, knowing that he had survived this time. She had done it.

She scowled as his eyes grew wide and she had a brief moment of confusion before pain ripped through her waist and something hot and sticky ran down her legs. Casey blinked as she looked down, scowling at the red liquid pooling at her feet. A laugh escaped her lips, and she turned to face the creature that had haunted her every moment since this day had first occurred.

Pure white eyes, set deep in its wide head, looked back at her. Pallid skin pulled taut across its skull as though pulling its lips back from its jutting fangs, whip-like tongue slowly wrapping around her torn waist as she laughed at the creature.

“I win.” Casey croaked, head lolling backwards as she looked down the stairs, watching as her friends, her brother, and her younger self vanished out of the entrance.

One. Last. Time.

3. Future’s Past

When I went to the past to protect my future, I already knew I would do whatever it took. I just never thought my biggest obstacle would be me.

It started in a dingy hole of a shack. Staying on the down low with the goal of keeping my kneecaps intact, I awoke on a tiled floor with a headache from hell and newspaper spread beneath me like Egyptian cotton. The help wanted ads were pasted to my face, effectively harvesting a line of drool from the corner of my open mouth.

Pulling away the dampened print, I eyed black letters through blurry vision. A large section with too few words to fill the column caught my attention. As it came into focus, I read:

Testers Needed for Time Travel

Payment of $10,000 cash to be paid.

No experience necessary. No training required.

Call: 555-0555

Serious Inquiries Only

I read it again, shook my head to clear the cobwebs, and laughed it off as a joke. In New York City, people posted eccentric things all the time. But I couldn’t deny that the dollar sign and those zeros had piqued my interest. It wouldn’t get me out of my current situation, not even close. But it could have- at the beginning.

Before I knew it, I had convinced myself that going back in time to give my former self a good talking to and paying off that original sum would solve all my problems. I dialed the number and received further direction from an automated voice.

When I arrived at a dilapidated old warehouse with coordinating leaky roof and boarded windows, rusty hinges on an ornate steel door groaned in welcome and I questioned the intelligence of my decision. But I really didn’t have any other viable options. I was desperate. Besides putting myself out of my misery, what else could I do? I was too much of a coward for that, anyway. Call it personal experience.

A handful of people met me inside, where a man with hair to rival Einstein’s greeted me with unsolicited joy.

“Come in, come in. Sorry about the less than savory location. No money for a building. Finding one big enough for this would have been impossible on our budget. This one was free, so here we are.”

I surveyed the hollowed space. Shadows crept from the corners, but I could see vague outlines of unused machinery. A touch of rot permeated the air, but the immediate area seemed hygienic enough.

One wall held a bank of computers facing a strange-looking contraption I assumed to be the time machine. Directly beside was a rectangular object, only definable by the draping of an oversized black tarp.

They marched me to a desk that seemed to be better designed for a one-room schoolhouse than the surrounding brick façade. I wondered how they’d gotten the monstrosity in here, then chuckled when I realized I was contemplating time travel. Moving objects from place to place seemed straightforward compared to moving people time to time. But what did I know.

After a quick scan of my vitals, they explained the process to me. My part was simple. It was the science that was confusing. Terms like instant evaporation, grandfather paradoxes and time loops were slung my way. I can’t say I understood a lot, nor did I care. I just wanted my life back. With a smile and a nod, I placed my John Hancock on the dotted line.

When they pulled the tarp off the rectangular form beneath, I laughed, but stifled it before it turned to a sob. Among the multifarious combination of unprecedented technological advancements stood a rickety old door. Solid wood, the mustard paint was peeling, and the brass accessories had tarnished to an oxidized green. I snorted and made a comment about how I should have gotten a tetanus shot.

“Am I the first? I asked, trying not to let my apprehension show. The room quieted and after a silent conversation between Einstein and a man with the world’s biggest nose, they gave me a reply.

“That we know of.” Then, quickly moving past that line of conversation, he continued. “We don’t know what year you’ll land in. Only that it’ll be the past. We can’t jump to the future because it hasn’t happened yet. We’re not sure you will even go back in time, or if it will even be your time. We really won’t know more until you find us on today’s date. Does that make sense?”

Did it? Not really, but I said yes anyway.

“Good. It is possible to change the past? We think so. There’s no telling what will happen if you mess with it, though. If you die there, we don’t know if you’ll die completely. You’re not planning anything like that, are you?”

My eyes widened before I schooled my face. “Nope,” I said with a forced smile. “Just nothing keeping me here. Don’t see the harm in trying. Plus, ten thousand dollars seems like a good deal.”

Like the mention of the money reminded them I was owed payment, a scrawny man with a hunched back handed me a bundle of one-hundred-dollar bills. Suddenly, ten grand seemed like chump change. My original vision of stacks of cash had been compressed into a pile of macerated cotton standing less than 2 inches tall. It would pay off the original debt, though. I hoped.

“What happens if past me dies while I’m there?”

Einstein eyed me like I was a specimen under a microscope, thumb drumming his leg.

“Hmmm. We’re not sure. It’s predicted that if he dies, you will simply cease to exist, in which case, this, today, won’t happen. But since it is, I’ll say, it’ll likely create a parallel universe. Or perhaps what we know as quantum superposition. You’re both here, or there, at one time, as separate particles, so one leaving won’t cause an issue for the other.”

He didn’t seem worried about it in the least, so I nodded like he wasn’t speaking a foreign language and said a silent prayer.

Like a scene from a bad T.V. movie, Einstein switched a giant red lever, and collectively the group stepped back. Presuming that was my cue, I turned the knob and opened the door. Then wiping green rust on the leg of my jeans, took a step forward. I stood at the threshold for a long time, listening. To what, I didn’t know. A low hum was coming from the machine, but through the doorway, a distinct sound emanated. One that sent shivers up my spine.

Looking back at the team of misfits, I took a deep breath, then that first step. As I crossed from present to past, the main door of the warehouse opened, flooding the darkened area with day light as a figure rushed inside. Then, faster than the blink of an eye, everything was gone.

Well, not everything. It was the same warehouse, but the computers, the machinery and the door had all disappeared. The windows were no longer covered, and the previously gloomy space appeared breezy and light. All that remained but still looked very out of place was the desk. That answered that.

The stench of decay was stronger, too, and it only took a few steps to understand why. I wasn’t the first traveler. Nor the second. Two of however many lay before me, undeniably dead for quite some time. It appeared half of one had been left in the future, the other was thankfully whole. The smell was horrific, though, the swarm of flies worse. But years of handling the crew’s “business” had given me a solid stomach. I checked my pocket for the cash, then skirted the fallen explorers, covering my face with my collar.

Outside, a familiar skyline greeted me. Needing to know the date, my first stop was a newspaper stand, which was easily found a few blocks away; they always are in NYC. The top of The Times said October 8, 2013. Eight years in the past.

Unfolding the print, I browsed the headlines, frowning when I saw a picture of Mitt Romney sitting in the Oval Office. I was sure Obama had won, but I didn’t follow politics. Alongside that was something about a Nobel prize for the God particle,whatever that was.

Checking my watch, the hour remained the same. I thought about where I would’ve been back then and started in that direction. Enroute, I formulated my plan.

At six minutes past six, I stood outside the pawnshop used as a front. With my hands sunk deep in my pockets and the collar of my jacket shielding me from a biting wind, my reflection mocked me as I peered inside. It wasn’t until I spied past me that I finally understood how far I’d fallen.

Thinner and fitter, he looked healthier than I had in years. Our hairline hadn’t receded yet, lines of addiction hadn’t stained his face. The drinking and cheating hadn’t gotten out of control. My wife was still at home, taking care of our children. She still loved him. Loved me. As of this moment, the only thing I had to worry about was the money I owed the Mafia, and that I had right there in my pocket.

As suspected, past me strolled to the pub at the corner. That’s where we’d talk. Pending a successful exchange, he’d go pay off the boss and live his life as meant to be. And me, I didn’t know yet, but I’d figure it out. I’d gotten this far.

Knowing he’d sit at the bar; I took a seat in a corner booth and ordered a whisky neat. Then I waited until he’d downed a pint, then two, and followed him to the john.

With an unexplainable sense of déjà vu and a jolt like an electric shock, I grasped his shoulder, swinging him around to face me. My practiced speech tumbled from my lips.

“Don’t do it, pal. I know it seems like a good deal, but it’ll be the beginning of a horrible end. Just pay them off and move along.”

His first expression was anger, then astonishment, before he stuttered, “y-y-y, you’re me!”

I almost laughed, but this was no laughing matter.

“Yes. I’m you. Or the you, you will be, if you do this.”

“What is this? Who put you up to this?” His eyes darted between the sink, the urinal, and the stall, like someone may come to save him. Little did he know, I was that guy.

“Your wife will leave you and take everything. Is that what you want? To become a worthless drunk, scraping pennies for the mob?”

“This isn’t happening. You’re not real!”

“It is happening. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere until you listen to me.”

With that, he slugged me square in the jaw, wrenching my head sideways before I crumpled to the concrete. I was still recovering my equilibrium when he opened the restroom door and gave me a one-finger salute.

I hadn’t expected my words to fall upon deaf ears and realized I should have planned things better. I’d underestimated how hotheaded I’d been back then, but wouldn’t make that mistake twice.

Charging through the closing door, I tackled him before he could make a getaway, both of us collapsing in a heap, a mirror advertising a local lager crashing down around us. He grabbed a shard of glass and swung it like a dagger, narrowly missing my left ear.

I dodged his second swing, and ducked the third, then aimed for his middle, wrapping myself around him in a bear hug. Fists rained down on my back until I drove him forcefully into the wall behind him, knocking the wind from his lungs.

We took turns punching and pinning and spitting vile words. If there was ever an even match, you’d think that was it, but unfortunately, I was tougher back then, too. After a few too many jabs to the kidneys, I’d finally had enough and threw a cheap shot, landing dead center of his groin.

A gun I didn’t remember having eight years prior was suddenly in his hand, and he waved it at me, but was clearly not practiced with the piece. I put my hands up, but kept my eyes on his, then rushed forward and gave him a shove. Like it had been recorded in slow-motion, his arms cartwheeled, and his mouth opened in shock before he tumbled backwards down the stairs.

He landed in a pile of limbs, lodged between the bottom step and a door marked Staff Only, a trickle of blood leaking from one ear. Taking his pistol, I trained it on him, a slight shake in my hand.

“I tried being nice. I tried talking with you and helping you understand all this, but I’m done being cavalier. She will leave your sorry ass if you don’t get it together. I get it. The sex is great. The drugs and parties and the card tables. Sure, it is. But it’ll cost you in the end. It’ll cost everything. Do the right thing. For her.” Reaching in my pocket, I held out the envelope. “Go pay them. Please.” I’d never begged for anything in my life.

“Fuck you,” he said, although his voice held no malice.

“I didn’t want it come to this, but if you won’t listen, this is the way it has to be. After I shoot you, I’m going to go to our home. The one you’ll lose. And while I’m there, I’m going to make love to our wife.” I only said the last bit because I knew it would irk him.

Past me squirmed like the worm he was and shouted for me to stop, but I simply smiled sadly and squeezed the trigger.

I knew I couldn’t leave him there. Obviously, being him- even if older and pudgier- replacing him wasn’t an issue. But if anyone found his corpse, it certainly would be. I didn’t need questions. I needed supplies and a car.

I was just tipping his plastic-wrapped carcass into the Hudson when I felt the cold barrel of a Smith and Wesson against my temple. The .38 aimed at my head was the least of my worries. The fact that he was there holding it was the greatest. Something must have gone wrong. Not according to my plan. However long it had taken him to get back to me, had not aged him well. Face lined with fury; spittle flew from his lips.

“You just don’t learn, do you, jackass? You had a second shot and still messed it up, you selfish prick! Well, I won’t let you. Not again.”

Then the muzzle flashed, and everything went black. I awoke on a tiled floor with a headache from hell and newspaper spread beneath me like Egyptian cotton.

4. Drifting with the Current

Have you ever watched yourself making love?

Why am I even asking? This is… 2021, is it? You’ve probably filmed yourself with your telephone, and used an internet to let other people watch you. But imagine you’re living in the ’40s. The 1940s, not the 2040s; you don’t want to imagine living in the 2040s. If you make it to the ’40s, remember things will get better. Someone told me 2047 was the turning point. Hang on until then if you can.

Sorry, I wandered. That’s how I live now, wandering from one year to another, one thought to another. I was going to tell you about the war. Things were different. There weren’t any internets, so if you wanted to watch people make love you needed to be a peeping Tom, and to argue with someone in another country you had to actually go there. Some of our young men did that in ’39. They went to the continent; my husband among them. Many of those boys made it back in little boats; Frank wasn’t among them. We had rationing, bombs, poverty, fear, and loneliness. Mostly loneliness for me, with a little poverty and one life-changing bomb.

The bomb fell in 1942, the year the Americans arrived. They had chocolate, and confidence, and Hollywood accents, and I’m making excuses: they had money, is what they had. So much money, and not enough to spend it on. They were lonely too.

I didn’t know I was going to prostitute myself until May that year. The blitz had ended but there were still occasional air raids. One night a close one shook my Anderson shelter. I thought I was a goner but when the dust settled, I settled with it. The all clear came half an hour later, and I went back into the house to discover I was already there, in my bedroom, on my bed, with a young man between my legs, his hairy bum going like the clappers.

I had my eyes closed, luckily. Not me, mine were wide open, but the me lying on the bed had her eyes closed. She didn’t see me staring at her.

It’s not pretty, is it? Sex, I mean. It’s hardly the ballet. Why would you watch anyone doing that, let alone yourself? Pornography doesn’t become properly beautiful until the ’80s, when nothing’s real but you’re there, actually there, a part of it, and anyone can be with you, touching you, reacting to your touch, like they’re still alive.

Sorry, I got distracted again. My mind bounces about more than my body. I was only in 2085 for a week, years ago, but those fleeting moments of fake joy haunt me. The ’80s would have been bad for business though. Who pays for a flesh and blood woman with all her imperfections when they can plug in to free fantasies instead? And there was no job I could do in that time except the one I can do anywhen, so if I hadn’t gone to 2046 I might have starved. I was lucky I left, really. I didn’t feel lucky at the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. I was in 1942, about to learn I’d become a prostitute. I couldn’t stand to see myself doing what I was doing, so I crept out of my bedroom. As I left I heard the man ask to take off his rubber and finish in my mouth. I assumed I’d say, “No!” but what I actually said was, “I won’t do that for half a crown! It’s sixpence extra. Okay, Yank?”

I didn’t wait to learn whether he paid up. I fled to the garden, back to the shelter, and tried to work things out. Why was there another me, and why was she selling herself for two and six? The best I could come up with was the bomb blast rattled my brain, and I was hallucinating.

I stayed in the shelter until morning, and when I came out I saw bare trees, and brown leaves littering the lawn. I picked one up and felt it crumble in my hand. That wasn’t an hallucination; it was real. Somehow the bomb had knocked me into autumn, but also left me in spring, and in the months since May, spring me had become a hussy. Autumn me was homeless and destitute because spring me was using our house as a knocking shop, and she had our ID card and ration book.

I waited for spring me to go out, then I stole into our house and filled a handbag with a few of our bits and bobs. No money, though: she’d taken whatever she’d earned to the shops.

I walked to the east end. There were empty houses by the docks, because their occupants got evacuated during the blitz, so I had somewhere dry to sleep. The docks still got raided sometimes but if my new house was hit all I’d lose was everything I had—which was more or less nothing—and maybe my life, which belonged to the other me now.

I went hungry for three days before I seriously considered walking the streets. I didn’t want to, but I’d known from the start that I would eventually; after all, other me was doing it and she wasn’t even starving. Still, I resisted as long as I could. It wasn’t as if I didn’t enjoy making love—I never had to lie back and think of England with Frank, because he’d show me the whole world—but I knew when I sold myself it would be to strangers; men who’d use my body to slake their own appetites. I’d be lucky if they showed me anything more than contempt.

I learned some things fast, like how painful intercourse could be without Frank to put me in the mood. I persevered, because I was hungry, and afterwards I learned to lubricate myself. That meant stealing Vaseline from the first aid box at an ARP post, which is where I learnt that morality is sometimes a luxury. Things got easier after that.

I also learned that being alluring is easy if you’re doing it professionally. I didn’t have to make myself beautiful, or even pretty; I just had to look available. I learnt to hitch up my skirt, open a few buttons, and tolerate scornful eyes, except my own; I learnt not to look at myself in the mirror.

Other things I learned more slowly, like how to judge men and how important it was to go with my gut and turn down the ones who didn’t feel right, no matter how hungry I was. I learnt not to hide from coppers; I’d refuse their silver instead. I learnt not to get straight down to business but to talk to my customers first; that way I didn’t feel quite so used afterwards. And I learnt all men are different: some were callous, and some were tender; but none were Frank.

I learned more about sex too. Those few days every month when I earned a lot of sixpences taught me I didn’t mind earning them. Sometimes earning sixpence was preferable: one time, an American stevedore asked to use my bottom. I thought I’d dissuade him by saying I wanted a guinea for that, and he got quite rude. I had to explain I wasn’t prejudiced, and a guinea was twenty-one shillings, not an Italian. He said he’d come back later.

Later was the next night. Even with Vaseline, that sex hurt more than the first time I sold myself. He came back a week after with his pal; they’d been teaching our dockers how to play dice, and they were both flush. It wasn’t any less painful the second time—or the third—but it was lucrative, so I learned to use a lot of Vaseline, and relax. It got easier, eventually.

By 1943 I’d learnt shame was more of a luxury than morality. Between the dockers and the sailors I had enough regular business to eat well, off-ration. I could even afford a winter coat on the black market. I was less poor than in May, but just as lonely, despite all the company I was keeping. And there were more bombs, none of which knocked me back to my old life. None of them killed me either, so it was swings and roundabouts. I was surviving.

Then one evening in February ’43 I was outside the dock gates as usual and a little red car flew past me with its headlights on, full beam. I thought maybe the war had ended, and in a way it had: I’d travelled in time again. There wasn’t even a bomb, it just happened.

I couldn’t believe the 1960s when I first saw them. I thought times must be really hard because so many girls were on the game, but those skirts were just the fashion, and I could buy one, because clothes weren’t rationed any more. I learnt minis suited me, and rolling them up a little higher suited the dockers.

I had to find somewhere to sleep, but there were other women at the docks and they steered me right. I learnt new prices for old services, and why KY was better than Vaseline, and that some of my new friends could be very friendly—they taught me things Frank couldn’t know. So I wasn’t poor, I wasn’t lonely, and there were no bombs at all. I was doing better than surviving: I was happy.

That happiness didn’t last, but I’ve learnt nothing does. Every so often time’s current grips me, and I wash up on the shores of a new year. I’ve drifted around so much I’ve learnt how to sniff out the edges of society and find someone there who’ll tell me how to work safely. I’ve also learnt to always hold on to my handbag, and keep a few essentials in it: French letters, sanitary napkins, and cash which sometimes turns out not to be legal tender any more, or won’t be for decades. Apart from the bag, all I take with me when I travel is the clothes on my back, so I take off my clothes and lie on my back. That’s the one job I can always do, whatever else changes.

I’m not sure how long I’ve lived like this: it’s tricky to count years without Christmases to mark them, or even four seasons in the proper order. I know I’ve spent more than two years in 2046 alone; I’ve done that long summer five times. I think I’ve been travelling for forty years, all told.

So I’m about sixty-three, but still twenty-three. Time is a stream I swim in without getting wet: whenever I travel I arrive in the same body I had in May of ’42. That’s helpful, not just for keeping my value but because any diseases I’ve picked up stay behind, and I don’t carry passengers. That means crabs don’t come with me, but nor do babies. I must have fallen often—I know for certain there were three pregnancies in 2046—but I’ve never stayed in one time long enough to come to term. Never long enough to leave a child behind either, so I suppose I should count my blessings.

I might be twenty-three forever. I think I’ve become an eternal… you say sex worker now, don’t you? I don’t like that name: it’s the most honest but the least truthful. I’ve been called a harlot, a hooker, a tart, a brass, and a coin-operated cunt, but I’ve never had ‘sex worker’ spat at me. Pardon my language.

So you call me whatever you want, but I’ll take a word people use to make me feel small and I’ll stand on it; I’ll stand tall and proud. I’m a whore; a time-travelling whore. Half my life is beyond my control and the other half is what I do to survive; I’m no different to anyone else, really.

I might not even be the only traveller. One June in 2046 an American asked to finish in my mouth. My mind was elsewhere, and I said, “That’ll be sixpence extra.”

He laughed and said, “Like in the second world war?”

I was busy earning sixpence before I realised what that might mean about him, so I couldn’t ask questions. By the time I’d wiped my mouth he was gone, the line had shuffled forward, and I had a new customer. I can’t be certain, but I think the eternal whore met an eternal soldier.

That same June, in the same camp, I saw a girl who was the spit of me at nineteen. She could have been my daughter… or my great-granddaughter, I suppose. I felt oddly happy. Not for her—she was working as hard as I was—but for the other me, the one who stayed in 1942. The one who had a family.

I went back to the war years once—I could have made a mint on VE day, except it didn’t seem right to charge—but I’ve never arrived before I left, before the bomb dropped. I used to wish I’d land in ’39, because I wanted so much to see Frank again. He asked for the sixpence service once when we were courting but I said no, what I was doing was quite dirty enough. I thought if I had a second chance, I’d promise to suck him dry every night if he’d only stay home with me. But that was melancholia and foolishness talking. Frank signed up the day he heard Mr Chamberlain announce we were at war, and he was in Belgium by Christmas. He wouldn’t have stayed for anything. That’s who he was; it’s why I married him.

I still want to go back though, except to 1940, after Dunkirk. I’d talk to myself. I’d tell her not to use the shelter when the bombs start falling. If one hit the house she’d never even know about it until she was in Frank’s arms, so why not stay cosy in bed? And she’d be cosier if she shared that bed with someone else. I’d tell her two and six is a fair price but she’d still be selling herself cheap.

I’d say, “Don’t take a soldier straight to bed. Give him a home-cooked meal first, even if it’s only a warmed-over slice of rabbit pie and a cup of weak tea. Chat to him. Find out his name, and use it. Be a wife or a mum before you’re his sweetheart, because that’s the comfort he’s missing.”

I reckon she could charge ten bob for that, then she’d only have to earn a guinea if she felt like it.

So, that’s my story, thanks for asking. There’s no discount for letting me bend your ear, though. It’s still fifty quid, or sixty if you want me to take my mask off.

5. Behind Closed Doors

I sat on the sofa in my best friend’s flat. The rain poured down outside the window, mirroring the tears on my cheeks. The storm raging outside, matching my emotions.

“It’s just not fair, Tasha,” I sobbed. “Everyone else seems to have such perfect lives. Their happy smiling faces all over social media. I hate the fact that Dave and I are getting divorced. I seem to be struggling at work. And I’m not getting any younger. My life is such a mess.”

Tasha pulled me into a big hug. We have been best friends since we first met at university, and she is always there for me. Kind, big-hearted, but also one of those people who always seems to know everything about everyone. Whenever we talk about old friends, she always seems to know all about their lives and how they are getting on.

“I have so many regrets,” I continued, blubbing against her shoulder. “I wish I had done things differently, made different decisions.”

Shifting positions, she moved me, so I was lying on my back on the sofa, my head resting in her lap. Tasha looked down at me. “Come on then, let’s travel back in time. Imagine we could travel back to our university days. I am going to give you three chances to imagine you had made different choices. So, what is your first one? What different decision do you want to make?”

I smiled at Tasha and wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Really?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” she replied. “I know what most people are doing now. So come on, let’s time travel.”

I laughed and paused to think for a moment. “Okay. Well, given how things have turned out – falling for Dave and choosing a creative job doesn’t seem to have worked. Remember, that big bank that approached me and wanted me to join their graduate scheme. I want to go back in time and say yes to that offer. Hopefully I would then be a rich successful businesswoman by now.”

“Fine,” said Tasha. “So, if you had taken that route, let me tell me where you would be today.”

She gently ran her hands through my hair soothingly and started to talk. I let my imagination float with her words. Then a huge crack of lightening sounded, and I found myself transported into that life….

I glanced down appreciatively at my expensive looking suit and picked up my Prada handbag. I climbed out of the taxi and onto the elegant London street. I nodded to the doorman and headed up to my apartment. It had been a long and stressful day in the office, and I was glad to be home.

My husband, Steve, called out in greeting as I entered the flat. “Hi” I responded, more focused on reaching the fridge and pouring myself a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Relieved, I sat down at the table and took a long sip of the delicious, cool liquid. I kicked off my heels and retrieved my phone from my bag. I started to skim the latest emails as I enjoyed my glass of wine.

All too quickly my glass was empty, and I poured myself another – a little larger, hoping it would last longer than the first.

Steve entered the room. He leant over me, his lips briefly brushing mine in a very perfunctory kiss. “Day okay?” he asked.

“Stressful as ever,” I sighed, barely looking up from my emails. Pausing just for another large mouthful of wine.

“Mine too,” Steve continued. “Thanks for asking.”

I ignored the hint of sarcasm. “Have you eaten?” I enquired.

“Yeah. I didn’t know when you would be back. There is a ready meal in the fridge.”

I nodded. I collected the ready meal and refilled my glass again.

“Another?” I could hear the hint of judgement in Steve’s tone. “It’s a Monday night.”

I glared at him. “I deserve it, today has been a particularly tough day.”

“Aren’t they all,” he retorted and walked out of the room.

I took a large glug of wine, needing it to deal with the interaction. I picked at the ready meal and finished dealing with my work emails. I poured one more glass, starting to enjoy the effects of the alcohol.

Then I started surfing social media, mindlessly killing time while I drank the rest of the glass. Looking at my watch, I knew I must retire for the night.

In my slightly drunken haze, I went through the motions of getting ready for bed and climbed in beside Steve. He was already asleep, his back towards me, snoring faintly. I passed out into an alcohol fuelled slumber.

I woke again and glanced at the clock beside my bed. 3.09 stared back at me accusingly. I felt thirsty and my head ached, but worse were the feelings of regret and self-loathing. I had told myself I needed to stop drinking during the week, but I had failed on a Monday night. I wanted to drink less but also felt I needed to numb the stress of work and the loneliness of my marriage.

“I don’t want this life,” I called out and suddenly, I found myself back on Tasha’s sofa.

“That was horrible, Tasha. I don’t want to live like that. She looked so glamorous and successful from the outside, but her life was so lonely. No, I don’t want that.”

Tasha stroked my hair some more. “Okay. Let’s time travel again then. What different decision do you want to make this time?”

I thought some more. “Well, that marriage definitely lacked passion, so I want something different. Do you remember that boyfriend I had, Johnnie, who was really good in bed?”

Tasha giggled and nodded. “I do recall you telling me that. Repeatedly!”

“I dumped him because I thought I preferred Dave overall. I want to travel back and change that decision. I want to stick with Johnnie.”

“Your wish is my command,” Tasha said in her best Fairy Godmother impression. She started to talk once more and as the storm raged around us, I was again transported into another life.

I felt a tug on my arm as Johnnie secured the rope, attaching my wrist to the leg of the bed. I was naked and tied spreadeagled. A tall dark-haired man stood between my legs. He looked over at Johnnie. “Time to check how wet your missus is, Johnnie,” he chuckled.

My eyes flicked to Johnnie’s face, seeing him smile back at his friend, I felt a rollercoaster of emotions. My body already felt deliciously stimulated. But I also felt a jolt of trepidation at what lay ahead and who these people were.

“Go on, Jack,” Johnnie encouraged. “You know she loves the way you touch her.” Hearing them discuss me felt humiliating but nonetheless flamed my arousal further.

Jack rubbed two fingers against my pussy. I could not help but emit a small moan of pleasure. His fingers paused at my opening and then pushed inside me. “Just as wet as I expected,” he proclaimed to Johnnie and the others in the room. I felt so sexy and desirable.

He gently thrust the two fingers in and out of me and brought his thumb to my clit. He drew tight little circles with his thumb, and I could feel myself getting even wetter. I pulled against the ropes as my body became heightened, my back arching off the bed.

“Look at her wantonness,” Johnnie sniggered as he moved to one side of me. He bent forward and started to suck on my left nipple. The amount of attention my body was receiving felt so indulgent.

I watched as another girl knelt at Johnnie’s feet. Leaning in towards him she started to gently suck on his balls. He groaned in response and his teeth closed around my nipple. I cried out in an intoxicating mix of pleasure and pain.

A third man moved to the top of the bed. He adjusted the position of my head, so it hung back off the end of the mattress. “Open wide and say ahhhhh, sweetheart,” he told me. I obeyed obediently and he pushed his throbbing cock into my mouth.

I felt incredibly used but so unbelievably naughty. The three men worked in unison. I slobbered on the cock in my mouth. Johnnie caused wonderful sensations in my breasts. Jack eventually replaced his fingers with his thick cock, driving deep inside me with every buck of his hips.

Then his fingers found my clit. I could not contain myself any longer and I cried out, cumming over and over in a spasm of ecstasy. Through the crescendo burning in my head, I was aware of each of the men climaxing, shooting thick ropes of cum into me and over me.

I closed my eyes, panting as the men withdrew. I heard Johnnie escorting them out. Then he came back to me and started untying the ropes. I was ready to curl up in his arms, needing him to hold me for a while.

He undid the last rope. “Well, that was cool. The girl sucking my balls was amazing – you should ask her for tips,” he laughed. “Anyway, you better get cleaned up. I’ll try and think of something even wilder for next weekend.”

I watched as he walked out of the room, and I felt the most unbearable pang of loneliness. The pleasure had been so exquisite but the realisation that there was no more depth to our relationship than wild sex, left me feeling used and empty.

“I can’t live like this,” I whispered despondently and there I was, back with Tasha again.

“It seemed wild and crazy and amazing and exciting,” I gushed. “But it was actually such a sad and lonely existence.”

“Maybe lives that look perfect from the outside, aren’t so perfect on the inside,” Tasha reflected.

“Or maybe I have just chosen badly,” I retorted.

“One more chance to find out. Let’s time travel again and change one more decision. So, what will it be this time?” Tasha asked.

“Well, I don’t want anything as wild as that. And I don’t want an incredibly stressful job either as we saw where that led me,” I paused to ponder my options. “I recall that night at university when Piers asked me out. The very rich one. I said no. I didn’t think he was my type. But now I wonder if I should have said yes. He always seemed very in control of everything, it might be a very charmed life with him.”

“Is that your choice?” Tasha asked.

“Yes, yes I think so.”

“Then let’s time travel again. Back to university days to change that decision and then to see what your life looks like now.”

I felt more prepared this time as Tasha stroked my hair and started talking. A huge rumble of thunder reverberated around us, and I tumbled into my alternative life.

It was a beautiful Spring morning, and I waved the two girls off at the school gates. One of the other mother’s turned to me and engaged me in conversation about the new teacher and whether I wanted to get involved with organising the School Easter Fair. I enjoyed chatting with her, but for some inexplicable reason I could feel myself becoming anxious as the conversation went on. I could not work out why, but I felt increasingly desperate to excuse myself and return home.

Eventually I did and I walked briskly back along the country lanes. I breathed in the clean air and reprimanded myself for my silly anxiety. The scenery was beautiful and as I approached our big country house, I thought what a wonderful life this is.

I walked in and I called out to Piers. “I’m in here,” he responded from the kitchen. “I made us coffee.”

I smiled to myself. A gorgeous house, beautiful children and a husband who cared enough to make me coffee for when I returned from the school run.

“Hello darling. Thank you for making me coffee,” I chirped happily.

“Do you know what time it is?” he asked ominously.

“Just after nine I believe.”

“Yes. And you know I expect you back at nine. I have coffee ready at nine,” his tone was low and emotionless.

He dropped my cup of coffee onto the floor. I watched as the china smashed against the tiles, leaving a pool of hot black liquid.

I gasped in shock.

In one sudden movement he stepped towards me. He punched me hard in the stomach and I doubled over in pain. He grabbed a handful of my long blonde hair in his fist, pulling me backwards. Tears prickled my eyes.

“Stop, you’re hurting me,” I cried out.

He ignored my protests. “Why are you late?”

I swallowed hard, trying to steady my breathing. “One of the mother’s wanted to speak to me at school.”

“Liar,” he spat at me.

“I’m not….,” I started. A firm slap across my face stopped me mid-sentence. I wanted to sob but was too scared to utter a sound.

“I bet it was one of the Fathers. I bet they tried to speak to you.”

I shook my head mutely. He reached up under my dress and grabbed roughly at my knickers, ripping them off me.

“Did you get all excited talking to those men?” he sneered. He forced my face and torso down against the kitchen counter. “Do they not know you belong to me?”

He kicked my left ankle, forcing my legs wider apart and I heard him undo the buckle of his belt.

“No,” I cried out. “I don’t want this.”

“Tasha, make this stop,” I pleaded, and instantly I was back with her. My heart was racing and my breathing ragged.

“It’s okay. You are back here now,” Tasha reassured me. She stroked my hair again as I calmed.

“I don’t want any of those lives.”

“I know,” said Tasha. “From the outside each of those lives look wonderful. Other people would see the high achieving business executive, or the super sexy desirable woman, or the idyllic wife in the country luxury.”

I nodded.

“We only get to see what others choose to let us see. The pictures they want us to see of them looking their best on Instagram or Facebook. But nobody else gets to see what happens behind closed doors, or to know how each of those women feel behind the façade.”

“So, what do I need to do?” I asked hesitantly.

“You need to stop thinking about everyone else’s life,” Tasha smiled. “Stop worrying about the decisions you made in the past. Focus on what you want from the future.”

The storm reached a crescendo outside, but this time I allowed myself to start feeling excited for the future of my own life.

Image by mikegi from Pixabay

12 thoughts on “BFM 2021: Final Voting Round

  1. Congratulations to all five writers for making it all the way through to the end. You’ve all produced some great stories along the way but, to be honest, I found all these final stories a struggle, to a greater or lesser extent, for two reasons. Firstly, time travel is just so damned confusing, in much the same way as mind-reading proved to be in the last round! Stories 1 and 5 coped best with this, wisely steering clear of the technical complications of time travel. Story 2 suffered most from mind-bending complexity. Secondly, why so much violence? I wish there had been just one writer that chose to foreground beauty or humour or love or hope. Story 4 came closest but even so… So, by elimination, my votes went to 1, 4 and 5.
    Elk x

  2. I don’t like time travel stories. I didn’t imagine I’d ever write one. I don’t think it’s possible to write one that explains or justifies time travel without the author having a PhD in Quantum Waffle, otherwise we risk introducing multiple contradictions and paradoxes, because time travel is either impossible or impossibly difficult. Just as George RR Martin never explains the how and why of dragons in Game of Thrones, it seems to me that the only way to write time travel is to treat it as a dragon: include it, never explain how it works, and make the story about how its existence affects people.

    Picking two out of four stories in the final of a writing competition, when everyone’s writing at the same level and all the stories have different styles and themes, is almost as impossible as time travel. I voted for #4, because I wrote it, and I judged the others on whether they took the dragon approach.

    I’m not sure #1 is time travel at all—it felt more like a magical mulligan—but it didn’t try to explain how anything happened, it simply trusted the reader to suspend disbelief while telling its own engaging story.

    #2 began well by presenting time travel as a fact in its world, and one which required no explanation, and the way it was stitched into the story as an almost mundane detail really worked. But then the story introduced background to the time travel (e.g. the Agency, timeline protection), which sets structure for how time, and travel within it, works, which inevitably introduces inconsistencies (e.g. the correct timeline is protected, but time itself is a fickle entity).

    #3 was another gripping story that let itself down by trying to explain too much. The first clause of the first line is a paradox red flag, and the narrator visits their own timeline to interact with themselves in paradox-creating ways. But the paradox gets hand-waved away with Quantum Waffle, because it can’t be properly explained.

    #5 seemed more like magical mulligans or hypnotic fantasies than actual time travel, but it presented its paradox-free version of time travel as a simple fact, and didn’t attempt to explain how it happened.

    So I voted for #1 and #5, the two I didn’t think were time travel stories (I refer readers to the first sentence of this feedback.)

  3. This was a tough challenge and all the writers stepped up well. The final 5 are obviously skilled writers to have come this far and I give my opinions on the stories they submitted while wishing them all the best of luck. I commend them for their tenacity – they’ve written out of their comfort zone and to timed prompts and prescribed word limits – all great skills to have going forward.

    Hindsight’s 2021

    This was such a tale! I was gripped and entertained, couldn’t guess where the plot was headed and I loved the spooky feeling that it invoked. Of course gas-lighting and domestic violence are not pleasant topics, but this gave them a voice. We walked in the shoes of a well drawn character, and the supporting cast was believable too. Great writing & marvellous plot vehicle to use the stone as a ‘key’ or portal.

    One. Last. Time.

    This was a bold plot, but complicated, at times I lost track of the action. Descriptions, particularly Casey’s nose dripping blood and the surroundings when she approaches the apartment block were skilful. The implied horror didn’t quite touch me, although our heroine’s passion to avert disaster on her final attempt was convincing.

    Future’s Past

    I loved the scene set here, and the way it wraps round in a loop at the end. Descriptive passages are strong and well crafted, while the humour is pleasing. A gripping piece of fiction.

    Drifting with the Current

    “Time is a stream I swim in without getting wet” – what a line! Marvellous thoughts and concepts expressed clearly and entertainingly in this piece of fiction. The main character’s glorious resilience is summed up here: “I’ll take a word people use to make me feel small and I’ll stand on it; I’ll stand tall and proud” – what a fitting mantra. Well written and wrapped up with a clever closing line – props to this author.

    Behind Closed Doors

    I loved the ‘story telling’ feel of this entry, as opposed to some which felt more like an action film. I enjoyed exploring the thoughts and motivations of the protagonist; knowing she was anchored in the present, under the soothing influence of her best friend gave this time travel adventure an experimental feel. I was shipping her and Tasha though, perhaps with more wordcount they could try a future together!

  4. 1. Hindsight’s 2021 – A perfectly circular tale that wraps back and hugs the beginning with a wicked grin. It’s a great strategy, pulled off with success.
    2. One. Last. Time. – A solid tale that builds momentum through increasing suspense.
    3. Future’s Past – A great opening set the foundation and pulled me in. Lots of detail/description made it easy to visualize. Well bookended, like #1.
    4. Drifting with the Current – An interesting character study with lots of historical details. I am especially drawn to the voice of the character.
    5. Behind Closed Doors – This one reminded me of the film Sliding Doors. I like the take on the prompt.

  5. Story 1 – I loved the plot idea here and much of the story was well written. The problem was that the narrative failed to build tension and the plot development was telegraphed from an early stage.

    Story 2 – This had a rather plodding narrative with a lot of irrelevant detail. Also the plot wasn’t easy to follow.

    Story 3 – It is the great what if of time travel isn’t it, what if I met myself? Such a good plot idea but the story was let down by prose that rather lacked pace and sparkle and utimtealy never quite deelped what it promised.

    Story 4 – The best of the stories. An interesting take on the idea if time travel and some nice, humorous observation. I loved the ending which put us back in 2021 but did it subtly.

    Story 5 – The grass isn’t always greener and the road not taken would not necessarily have led to a better place. A nice idea, well executed. The downside was that the narrative was rather pedestrian.

    On a general point all of the stories could have done with better editing. There was too much description and detail that didn’t help to drive the narrative. Above all, be ruthless with adjectives and adverbs. Show Don’t Tell and Less is More are cliched staples of creative writing courses but they are cliches for a reason.

  6. 1. Hindsight’s 2021
    Wow, what a chilling story! That Jesse was really bad news, and the psychic a godsend! I really like how you brought the story round back to the beginning with the rock. Very well written, and the suspense kept me in the story, and wanting to read on! Well done, a story worth of the finals!

    2. One. Last. Time
    When I read, I visualize the images, and your story made me see some scenes, I might have seen in movies. There were paragraphs where I had to go back to keep those visuals intact,but throughout the story I felt the urgency of Casey’s last jump. Repeating ‘one last time’ in the story definitely kept the urgency intact.

    3. Future’s Past
    Those last paragraphs put a smile on my face, and I had one thought: he’s stuck in a time travel loop. I enjoyed reading this story, and actually felt sad for him that he has sunken so low, and can’t seem to do anything to get out of it. Maybe it’s a lesson that we shoudn’t want to change our past?

    4. Drifting with the Current
    I adore the conversational tone of this story. It’s like I was sitting right next to the narrator, listening to the story with my mouth open. What a story it is. So many elements here! I love how you jump from time frame to time frame, without losing the thread of your story. This is the kind of story that belongs in the final!
    And, as a last note, I will definitely do my best to hang on until 2047!

    5. Behind Closed Doors
    I love the lesson in this story, which is something so many of us can apply to our own lives. The first time she traveled back, with the crack of lightning, it felt too cliche, but the writing is smooth, and the story kept my attention, wanting to know what other lives she would see.

  7. I think all the writers did an amazing job. Time travel tales are difficult, as it is easy to tie yourself and the plot into knots involving the intricacies of the Time Travel you want to portray. I think keeping those details simple works the best.

    I take my hat off to you ALL for being in the final and sending us some brave, entertaining stories. It is easy for others to say this could have been better – or that needed to be less detailed – or I would have done it like this… But having been in the final of the Smut Marathon, I know only too well that it takes guts to even put your work out there to be scored and compared… So BRAVO to all five of you. I hoped you enjoyed the run as much as I loved reading your tales. 🙂

  8. Bravo to all the writers that made it to the final round(I guess I have to include myself). Not just for putting yourselves out there, but for persevering. I can honestly say there were more than a few times when I wanted to quit (although it’s not part of my DNA), and I imagine others felt the pressure, too. I didn’t vote (likely to my own detriment) but thought each story was unique, and highlighted each author’s style, skill and aptitude. Win or lose, being finalists is a big deal, so congratulations. Give yourselves a pat on the back.

  9. As Mrs K so rightly says, ‘BRAVO’ to all the writers who made it though to the final round. And bravo to all those writers who have taken part. As a judge, it has been a joy to read all the entries. We all share a love of words, of stories, and a willingness to create works of fiction. It is a joy to wallow among such creativity.

    I seem to have misplaced my notes for the final round but I take my hat off to all the finalists for writing enthralling stories on the theme of time travel. I don’t think I would have known where to start.

    The story I liked the most was ‘Drifting with the Current’ by Marsha Adams. It was a richly layered story which touched and moved me with its imagination and brilliance, It entranced me and it is an incredibly worthy winner.

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