Flash Fiction: Time Crunch

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Meant to post this last night. Whoops.

I realized I haven’t posted any of my real work in a long time, so I thought I’d try out one of my own prompts. Glad to know what you think.

Time Crunch

It stood in the center of the garage. A puzzle of greenish copper gears and cranks with worn leather handles. A metal mess the size of a Volkswagen Microbus. And, from somewhere inside it, a faint ticking.

            “Where’d you get it?” I asked.

            “Stole it.”

            “How’d you move it?”

            He took a long drag on his Kool. He wasn’t going to answer.

            I stuck my hands in my armpits. My fingers were itching to pump some levers and tickle some toggle switches, but this was no time to play around. Both our futures—or rather, our pasts—were at stake. Imagined scenes sped through my head, a thousand should-have-beens. He’d have finished school, graduated with honors, gone on to college. Met some girl and married her. Maybe I’d even be an uncle by now. It was funny; most of the ideas I had about how much better our lives would be were about him, not me.

            “So how does it work?”

            He shrugged.

            “You couldn’t steal a manual, too?”

            “We’re not gonna use it.”

            I almost hurt my neck, I turned my head to look at him so fast. I knew he didn’t steal it for me. He stole it so he could get back six years of working at the plant to keep me alive and in school. So with so much on the line for him, and with the job half done, why was he backing out now? He had the hard look in his eyes that always scared me, but I was too mad to keep my mouth shut.

“Then what the heck are you gonna do with it?

            He threw his half-smoked cigarette on the ground and mutilated it with the toe of his boot.

            “No,” I shook my head when I realized what that meant. “We finally have the chance to bring them back. You can’t just—”

            “They were my parents, too.”

            “So why can’t we try? Look, you probably just pull that—”

            He smacked my arm back and I yelled so loud we could hear it shake the garage door.

            “I already stopped it,” he told me. “I already went back. I already saved them.” Something weird and distant in his voice made my gut turn.

            “So they should be here with us right now, right?”

            “You were riding your bike that day. Just up the street.”

            “So why aren’t they here with us right now?”

            “I changed it back.”

            “You what?”

            He closed his eyes. “I tried it a million different ways, and it always happens the same. Either the truck hits them,”

He paused, because his voice cracked on the word hits. The knot in my gut spread to my chest as he swallowed before finishing the sentence.

“Or it hits you.”

            All of a sudden my legs were like paper, crumpling under me until my butt hit the concrete floor. He turned around and started searching Dad’s old workbench. I felt sick when he hoisted the sledgehammer.

            “Why’d you pick me?”

            He stopped and looked at me. “The same reason I never let them ship you off to foster care. What, are you stupid?”

            He turned around again, raising the hammer over his shoulder like a baseball bat. I pushed myself to my feet and stumbled through the door into the house. Before I’d even closed it behind me I heard the clanging crunch of the metal as the machine caved under the love of my brother.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. Thank you…enjoyed it.
    I’m still trying to get a handle on writing fiction…sigh. Do enjoy reading other writers efforts and posts.
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

    • Just keep writing and reading. You’ll learn a lot by practice and osmosis.
      P.S. We’re ALL still trying to get a handle on writing fiction. For all the advice I offer up here, sometimes I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

  2. Oh, I love that last line. Great fiction.

  3. Really enjoyed this and I too really like that last line – under the love of my brother.

  4. A wonderful story.
    You could feel the tension building all the way through. I thought the use of short, sharp sentences in your dialogue aded to that tension. As a reader I knew something was going to happen but, until the end, not what.
    A great read – thanks.

  5. Wow!
    This is simply superb!
    You should share more of your work here… it’s just amazing!

  6. I am still reeling, REELING from this piece. Well done. I have a twin brother and I think I would make the same agonizing choice. Blame it on fate and say that’s how it should have been anyway, and try to live with it.

    I was wondering why they wanted to improve their lives, but it’s flash fiction and there isn’t much time to go there. I liked the detail of smoking Kool’s and keeping it in a garage. There are no other physical details in the story, other than the pushing and shoving, which is very physical and non-diplomatic. Those all take on greater focus since they *are* the only physical details. I imagined two rough people with a lot of potential but who never had the chance to develop it and see beyond the day in front of them.

    • Yes! You describe them well. The Kool’s were a little tribute to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

      Improving their lives was about the older brother, mostly. He became the younger one’s guardian after their parents died, which meant quitting his senior year of high school and getting a dead-end job. His promising future is, if not destroyed, put off while he puts his brother through high school and then college.

      And I’m thrilled to leave you reeling!!! Just make sure you always read sitting down. ; )

  7. I really liked this. I especially like your title. Always have a hard time with them myself. Any pointers? Or is it like the characters and the story. Just be quiet and listen.

    • The title was just one of this week’s Inspiration Monday prompts – the the story was actually inspired by the title, instead of the other way round. But how I come up with the prompts is, as you say, by listening. Most of them just come to me while I sit and wait for them. Some are twists on a common idioms, some are idioms as-is, that I think could be made into interesting stories if seen from a different angle. If I come across an interesting phrase throughout the week, I’ll jot it down for Monday.

      Thanks for reading!!!

  8. whoa ! this was awesome 🙂

  9. Excellent piece. Agonizing choice…and wringing out the emotion.

  10. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: things you can’t hide « BeKindRewrite

  11. There’s a lot of quiet beauty and love in this piece that makes it stand out. The line “It was funny; most of the ideas I had about how much better our lives would be were about him, not me.” is so lovely, while also being so full of portent and foreboding. Quite excellent work.

  12. Well done, Steph. Nice to read some of your stuff. Love the build-up, the let-down and the twist. Back to the Future all gone wrong. Thought we was getting some steampunk at the beginning!

    • Ah! I started out TRYING to write steampunk…still someone destroying a time machine, but for different reasons, under different circumstances and with a humorous tone. Couldn’t manage it. Then this happened. I’m glad you liked it. : )

  13. Wow.

    Very powerful, and from such a fascinating perspective. You capture the character of the (older?) brother so well with only a few well-chosen strokes.

    “So with so much on the line for him” The repeated word tripped me up a little.

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