Back | Next


Andrew Kaye


Dr. Peligrosa hated his meetings with the senior faculty.

As Professor of Advanced Temporal Locomotion, he presided over the most technologically advanced discipline in the university’s esteemed School of Esoteric Studies. He considered very few of the men and women around the table to be his peers, and considered even fewer to be his friends. If he was going to be honest with himself—Dr. Clarissa Blackheart, Professor of Applied Necromantic Sciences, was the only person at the table he actually liked.

This said a lot about his colleagues, because aside from the turtleneck sweater and the stylish glasses, Dr. Blackheart was the very definition of a mad scientist. Dr. Peligrosa recognized all the signs. The blood under her fingernails. Her tendency to cackle during electrical storms. Her frequent social media updates from local graveyards. And yet despite all that, he found Dr. Blackheart—dare he say it?—delightful. He enjoyed every moment in her (probably literally) intoxicating presence.

Dr. Blackheart winked and smiled at him as she took her place at the table. Dr. Peligrosa’s heart fluttered—affection, maybe, or possibly black magic. It was sometimes hard to tell.

Dr. Lilywhite, Professor of Cryptozoological Affairs and the school’s assistant dean, did not wink and was probably genetically predisposed not to smile. “Well, Jaime?” he said, displaying the warmth that had earned him the nickname ‘Dr. Chillywhite’ among his students. “You called this meeting. Are you going to tell us what this is all about?”

“I wanted to discuss…the clause.”

“Dr. Kringle has already apologized for the break in, Jaime. He’d never heard of a Sephardic Jew before.”

“The clause in my contract, Richard.”

Dr. Lilywhite groaned. “Not this again. Jaime, you signed the contract and every clause along with it. We can’t have you irreparably damaging the timeline. Until you find a paradox-proof time traveler, your work will remain theoretical and your time machines will be for display purposes only. The last thing we need is someone going back in time, killing their ancestors, and preventing their own birth. A paradox of that magnitude will cause reality to fold in on itself like…like…”

“… An origami swan,” said Dr. Peligrosa, smiling. “You’ll recall I wrote a paper on it. Luckily for us and reality as we know it, I’ve finally found a way around the paradox.”

He reached into his jacket pocket and—resisting the urge to flourish—placed an eyeball on the table.

Not an actual eyeball, of course, but something closely resembling one—it was spherical and soft, with a single aperture. Most of the professors recoiled, except Dr. Blackheart, who had seen far worse things rolling across tabletops. Dr. Peligrosa cleared his throat. “This is my latest time machine.”

Dr. Lilywhite leaned in for a closer look. “A bit small, isn’t it?” he said—overly critical, as usual. “Your previous efforts were much larger.”

“Nowadays seventeen different devices can fit onto a single cell phone,” he said, noting with some satisfaction that Dr. Lilywhite appeared to be trying to figure out which seventeen devices he meant. “I admit that this time machine isn’t as sexy as ones shaped like cars or phone booths, but those were designed for living things. This is designed for ghosts.”

Dr. Lilywhite sniffed importantly through a beard worn more convincingly on cartoon lumberjacks. “Ghosts, Jaime? Don’t be preposterous.”

“If a professor in the School of Esoteric Studies can’t dabble in the preposterous once in a while, Richard, where would we be? I’ve been looking for a paradox-proof time traveler for years! I ran scenarios, for example, with the Professor of Abrahamic Xenobiology to see if angels or djinn would be suitable candidates. And before that, I was assisted by the Professor of Cuteness Theory until we found out how much damage a duckling with a camera strapped to its head could cause. But ghosts…ghosts won’t interrupt an experiment to proselytize and won’t go berserk at the sight of bread crumbs. More importantly, ghosts are incorporeal. No bodies. No voices. They can’t even be seen by the naked eye. A ghost can go back in time without changing the past.”

“That’s an ingenious idea,” said the Professor of Complimentary Psychology.

“Thank you, Dr. Wu. With Dr. Blackheart’s help, I’ve designed this time machine to hang unobtrusively in a ghost’s ectoplasmic matrix.” He glanced uncertainly at Dr. Blackheart, who gave him a thumbs-up. “The ghost will be able to operate the machine with minimal willpower, opening a portal in time that it can then float though. The machine even includes a small video camera to record the trip.”

Dr. Lilywhite narrowed his eyes. “It sounds…plausible, Jaime. But why call us here? You seem to have figured out a way to use your machine without breaching the clause—”

“That actually wasn’t the clause I wanted to talk about, Richard. I was referring to the other one. The one that guarantees the full support of the senior faculty as long as I adhere to the first clause.”

“But I just gave you my support—”

“I need to kill a student, Richard.”

The other professors looked at each other nervously, except Dr. Blackheart, who never looked at anyone without leering. Finally, Dr. Lilywhite managed to say, “Why in the world would you think we would let you do that?”

“I need a fresh ghost,” he said, with a shrug. “They have a short shelf life.”

“You most certainly may not kill a student!”

“But Dr. X430 has killed dozens of students,” he said, pointing a damning finger at the Professor of Expendable Humanities. Dr. X430, the only robot among the faculty, regarded Dr. Peligrosa with its expressionless red lenses and beeped.

Dr. Lilywhite scoffed. “Those deaths were accidental.”

“It was studying the flammability of human tissue!”

“The students filled out liability forms,” he said. “Honestly, Jaime, this is ridiculous. In order to prevent a time traveler from killing someone in the past you’re going to kill someone in the present?”

“Killing someone in the present won’t destroy reality.”

“It will for the person you kill!”

“Actually, I won’t be killing anyone,” he said. “Dr. Blackheart has offered to take care of the details.”

“Absolutely not, Jaime. That’s even worse.”

“Worse? We only need one ghost!”

“Frankly, Jaime, your cooperation with Dr. Blackheart calls the entire project into question. I don’t trust her. I’m not convinced she could stop at just one student. You know how necromancers are.”

“Richard, I hardly think that’s fair—”

Dr. Blackheart cut him off with a wave of her hand and said sweetly, “I can defend myself, Jaime, thank you.” Then she snapped her head angrily toward the end of the table. “Fuck off, Lilywhite!”

“Clarissa, please…”

“I’m not a necromancer. I’m the Professor of Applied Necromantic Sciences,” she said. Dr. Peligrosa noticed that she was getting so irritated that a dark nimbus of applied necromantic sciences was forming around her hands and blackening the tabletop. Her expression took on an arctic chilliness that put Dr. Lilywhite to shame. “I have PhDs in ghostwhispering and ambulant cadaver studies. Don’t compare me to some dime-store sorceress with a fondness for skulls and costume jewelry. I’m a professional!” A smiled crawled across her face like a crack in an ice floe. “And, might I add, that while I study ghosts and reanimated corpses, I haven’t married any of them.”

Dr. Peligrosa winced at that. It was well-known among the senior faculty that Mrs. Lilywhite was, in fact, a sasquatch.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. Voices were being raised. Chairs were being pushed back. The discussion had gotten away from him, grown, leveled a small city with its radioactive breath. It was time to put this monster down. “Insults and arguments will accomplish nothing, ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t call you here to ask for permission. My contract gives me all the permission I need. I came here with a spirit of full transparency—pun not intended—so you could start planning for any potential…unpleasantness.”

Dr. Lilywhite’s face collapsed into a scowl so deep it threatened to swallow most of his beard. “Very well, Jaime. Very well.”

The erratic buzz-saw whine of an 80s-era computer printer announced a comment from Dr. X430. Dr. Wu tore off the sheet that sputtered from the robot’s chest. “It’s a list of underperforming students.”

Dr. Blackheart snatched it from her. “Very helpful. Thank you, Dr. X430.”

It beeped.

“Keep this in mind,” Dr. Lilywhite said. “Dr. Blackheart is your responsibility now, Jaime. There’s no telling what she’ll do once she’s killed a student. This is setting a dangerous precedent. For years her studies have gotten by on corpses generously donated by Dr. X430, but this could convince her to take matters into her own hands. There’s no mistaking that evil glint in her eye.”

“That’s my astigmatism—”

“Watch out for her, Jaime!” he continued, as he and the other professors filed out of the room. “Don’t let her well-documented murderous tendencies go unchecked!”

Dr. Peligrosa waited until the door closed before leaning back into his chair. “That went well.”

“Yes. Yes it did.”

He paused. “Well documented…?”

“They were mostly teenagers,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, it’s not like any of them even belonged to him.”

Three days later, Dr. Peligrosa settled behind the desk in his office and turned on his computer monitor. An uninspiring headline about the university’s equally uninspiring basketball team featured prominently on the campus splash page. His eyes fell gloomily to the folder icon marked “Assignments to Grade,” and he sighed as long and as mournfully as his lungs would allow. He sometimes wished he could be more creative with grades, like the Professor of Greco-Roman Divination (who graded everything with augury) or the Professor of Forgotten Realms (who used a sack of polyhedral dice).

He had nearly worked up enough courage to open the first file when Dr. Blackheart sidled in.

“Don’t ask me where I put the body,” she said, by way of hello.

She smelled of blood. It was not the strangest of her perfumes, but it was unusually strong today. She was wiping her hands clean with a damp paper towel, which had turned a soggy red before she dropped it into his wastepaper basket. She was followed though the door by the rust-colored Pomeranian she had named, against all reason, Muffin. Sometimes it was hard to remember that Dr. Blackheart was the kind of woman who had a favorite internal organ based on tactility.

Muffin was normally a happy creature—well-fed and never wanting for bones—but today he was out of sorts, even skittish. He was growling the low, menacing snarl of a dog twice his size and staring fixedly on a patch of empty space beside Dr. Blackheart.

“A few hours ago I acquired your ghost, Jaime.” She tossed him a pair of green-tinted glasses. “Don’t mind Muffin, he just gets nervous around the undead.”

Dr. Peligrosa put the glasses on and saw the transparent form of a young woman floating dejectedly at Dr. Blackheart’s side. “Dear God, Clarissa, when I said ‘take your pick’ among the listed students, I didn’t honestly think you’d kill one of mine! That’s Mia Thompson from my Time Travel 101 course!” There was no mistaking Mia’s curly hair or her tendency to wear the T-shirts of obscure punk bands, which had apparently carried over into the afterlife.

Dr. Blackheart shrugged. “You wanted a ghost, I got you a ghost. I found her taking notes by your time machine exhibit in the Zeddemore Wing. She was a target of opportunity. The place was otherwise empty.”

But Dr. Peligrosa’s concerns were already forgotten. He started pushing furniture aside to give the time machine space to open its portal. Then he reached into his pocket. “I always keep this close to my heart,” he said with a wry smile, handing Dr. Blackheart the time machine. “I’m thinking about calling it ‘the Clarissa.’“

She nearly laughed. “You can name it after me once you prove it actually works, Jaime.”

He watched as she installed the time machine into the chest of Mia Thompson’s ghost. He exhaled loudly as it hung in place, surprising himself—he hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. “Excellent,” he said quietly. “This is perfect!”

“I need to clarify something before we begin, Jaime. Once the ghost goes through the portal, I won’t have control over her anymore. If she forgets her orders or gets lost or confused, we may never see her or your time machine again. I’m telling you this because we decided to use an underperforming student.”

“I knew the risks going into this, Clarissa.”

“Then where do you want to send her? Ancient Rome? Tokugawa shogunate? Inca Empire?”

“Let’s try the early Cretaceous. No humans to even worry about, and we’ll hopefully get some good footage of dinosaurs. They’re always a crowd pleaser.” Although he tried to sound like he was choosing a safe option, he was really just trying to win a bet he’d made with Dr. Alhazred, who taught Dead Languages but whose fascination with extinction went well beyond words. Dr. Alhazred swore most dinosaurs were covered in blue and white feathers “because blue jays are fuckers, that’s why, and they had to have gotten it from somewhere.”

Dr. Blackheart made a series of strictly scientific and by no means magical gestures with her left hand, leaving faint trails of black-and-purple energy hanging in the air. Mia Thompson’s ghost suddenly became alert, as if she had heard someone calling her name. “I have a job for you,” Dr. Blackheart said, and the ghost nodded.

“I’ve inserted a time machine into your ectoplasm. Can you sense it?”

The ghost nodded again.

“Excellent. You can control it with an extension of your willpower—the same willpower that gives you shape. Think of a time and a place and the machine will calibrate itself accordingly. A portal will open. You are to go through it. Understand?”

Another nod.

“I want you to open a portal to the early Cretaceous—”

“—110 million years ago—”

“—Yes, 110 million years ago. And then I want you to come back in ten minutes. Can you do that?”

Mia’s ghost hesitated, then nodded for a fourth time. Dr. Peligrosa watched with fascination as Mia’s ghost rippled and the time machine shimmered. A misty, swirling cone of energy spread from the orb and formed a portal in the center of the room. It was small at first, but Mia’s ghost frowned with effort and the portal expanded to a diameter of nearly five feet. Mia’s ghost turned and narrowed her eyes at Dr. Blackheart. Then she floated though the portal, which abruptly closed behind her with a sound like paper tearing.

Muffin, already on edge, began barking furiously.

“It worked,” Dr. Peligrosa said. “It worked!”

In his excitement he gave Dr. Blackheart a hug—a hug she did not return. He pulled back, embarrassed. Dr. Blackheart managed a weak smile and adjusted her glasses. “Sorry. I don’t…I don’t do well with physical displays of affection and DAMN IT MUFFIN SHUT THE HELL UP! Sorry.”

“No, no. No need to apologize. I.…” He tried to stand a little straighter. “How about a drink? A little celebratory bourbon?”

“I don’t think we should celebrate just yet,” she told him, but he was already heading back toward his desk. “Did you see the look the ghost gave me as she went through the portal?”

“I didn’t think ghosts had emotions.”

“Only two: misery and anger. She was glaring daggers at me.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t crying daggers?” he tried.

“This is serious, Jaime. Her last-minute flash of aggression might complicate things and I WILL TURN YOU INTO A LITTLE COAT, MUFFIN, IF YOU DON’T SHUT UP RIGHT NOW! Sorry. He’s giving me a headache.”

She looked down at the enraged Muffin, an uncharacteristic look of concern on her face. “This portal technology,” she said, an apprehensive lilt at the edge of her voice. “If the ghost can go through the portal, could anything come back out?”

“The odds of that happening are infinitesimal,” Dr. Peligrosa said, pushing his chair back and opening the filing drawer he had repurposed into a liquor cabinet. “You saw how it worked. The portal closes as soon as the ghost goes through. You don’t need to be nervous. No body, no voice. Paradox proof, remember? She can’t go back in time and prevent her own birth.”

“No, no, I understand, Jaime. It’s just…what if she tries to prevent her own death?”

Dr. Peligrosa was about to say something, but he had a momentary lapse in thought. What had he been doing again? Something about grading papers. And bourbon. The two were not always mutually exclusive. He shrugged, grabbing the bottle and very nearly two glasses from the back of his filing drawer. He placed them neatly on the desk and stared at them a moment, trying to focus. Then he turned to his computer monitor.

The university splash page glowered back at him in stark black letters. “Professor Killed By Dinosaurs!” screamed the headline, with “Dinosaurs Mysteriously Vanish After Grisly Kill” whispering loudly beneath it. Suddenly the bourbon made sense. His inbox was filling up with emails—accusations, mostly, and one from Dr. Alhazred demanding twenty dollars. 


Dr. Peligrosa sighed. The school had a damned Professor of Crichtonian Cloning on staff, but the moment a pack of deinonychus materialize on campus it’s the time travel expert that immediately catches all the blame.

It couldn’t have been his fault. He never got a chance to use his latest time machine. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the device, holding it up to the sunlight and watching the rainbows play across its surface. “Poor Clarissa,” he said sadly, to the time machine as much as to himself. “I really thought we could get this to work.”

Someone rapped on his office door.

“Come in.”

One of his students—a young woman named Mia Thompson—crept into the room. Her clothes were torn, her knees were scraped, and the stack of papers clutched against her chest was spattered with blood. “I…I finished the extra credit assignment,” she said, her voice wavering. “Sorry it’s late. I…I was finishing some research down in the Zeddemore Wing when the dinosaurs showed up. I’m still a little shaken up about it. I saw…everything, sir. You ever have a brush with death?”

His heart fluttered sadly. “All the time.”


“Just reminiscing, Ms. Thompson.”

“All of the time machines you had on display were destroyed, sir. What are you going to do now?”

“I can always build more, I suppose.” He gave the ball one last, wistful look, then crushed his failure between thumb and forefinger.

It damn near broke his heart.

Andrew Kaye is a professional ne’er-do-well from the suburban wilderness of Northern Virginia, where he lives with his wife, his three children, and a large, empty space in his basement that should probably be filled with a robot or something. Sometimes he writes speculative fiction, edits the humor magazine Defenestration, and draws the webcomic Ben & Winslow. He thought he traveled back in time once in 1987, but it turned out he was mistaken. You can find him lurking in his usual haunt on Twitter @andrewkaye.

Back | Next