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Keeping Time with the Joneses

It didn’t surprise anyone on Peachtree Circle that the Joneses were the first in the neighborhood to buy a time machine. After all, they’d also been the first to lease a suborbital condo, to purchase their own Servo-Droid, and to subscribe to the Alien-Plant-a-Month club.

The time machine, which they installed in their rock garden, was not technically against HOA rules, even though every time they fired it up, the whirring and spinning echoed down the block and the light shone directly into the Martins’ bedroom window.

Initially, no one complained about the Joneses’ extravagant time-themed parties. The machine spun and flashed into all hours of the night as neighborhood couples in flapper dresses and top hats slipped bottles of SKYY vodka into ’20s speakeasies. The binge-watch of the first five Super Bowls was all anyone could talk about for weeks, and even Mrs. Martin herself had to reluctantly admit that Oklahoma! was better with the original cast.

But when the Joneses took the Boy Scouts on a camping trip in the Byzantine Empire and they all came back with the bubonic plague, the more cautious among us stopped sending our kids over to the Joneses’ unsupervised. And when they upgraded the machine with the Future-Pack DLC and started spoiling the endings to the latest Stellar Conflict movies in casual conversation, we all agreed: something had to be done.

“We can’t retroactively make laws against time machines,” HOA president Joe Fischer declared at the emergency meeting, about which we conveniently forgot to inform the Joneses.

“We could if we had a time machine,” Mr. Martin muttered, and no one could argue with that.

Thus, it was unanimously decided that, for the safety of the children and the sanity of us all, the HOA officers would sneak into the Joneses’ and use the time machine to preemptively disallow the installation or use of time machines in our neighborhood.

That night, we watched through binoculars from the Martins’ bedroom window as they tiptoed across the Joneses’ lawn and flipped on the machine.

It spun.

It hummed.

It pulsed with blinding light and the crackle of electricity.

Then a scream rang out and everything went black. The smell of burning electronics filled the air, and we all rushed en masse to the Joneses’ rock garden.

“It’s a paradox, idiots,” Mr. Jones was explaining to the HOA officers, who were lying on the ground, their clothes and beards still singed. “If you travel to the past to outlaw the time machine, then it won’t be here for you to use to travel to the past to outlaw it. Don’t you folks understand time travel at all?”

We all gazed sheepishly at our feet while Mr. Jones surveyed the damage to the machine. He shook his head. “Looks fried.”

Joe Fischer cleared his throat. “We could pool HOA resources—”

“Never mind,” Mr. Jones said. “It took up too much room anyway; now we can use this area for Pinkie’s habitat.”

He gestured to a crate stamped “CUSTOM RECOMBINANT DNA PETS, INC,” and we all leaned in to read the customs label.

“One extra-large saber-toothed rabbit.”

Wendy Nikel

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published in Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

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