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Time Machine Required

Thunder crashes and rumbles. My stomach sours.

“This was a really bad idea.” I flick my apple core aside.

Oops, probably shouldn’t have done that. Mum will freak, but it’s too dark to see where the core went.

Why hasn’t anyone invented a time machine? If they had, I would rewind a few hours and not catch the bus to the bank, empty the savings account Nanna set up for me, or blow every cent on the plants at my feet.

Will I make better choices when I grow up?

Lightning pierces the sky, illuminating my creepy, ghastly destination. I ought to rethink this crazy plan, but the nursey won’t take the plants back.

I already checked.

“What’s done is done, Laura. Buck up.” I scamper down the fence.

Icy rain slithers down my neck, evading the raincoat.

“Useless thing.” I swipe at the rain and tug the collar of my raincoat higher. Didn’t King Solomon once say all is vanity? Why couldn’t he have done something useful with all his wisdom, like invent a time machine or a coat that actually keeps rain out?

I collect the sodden plants at my feet, the storm providing the perfect cover for my technically illegal activity.

I thrust a spade into the mud. I might as well finish what I started.

A torch would be nice, but I’d be busted for sure. Plus, I don’t want to see the creepy crawlies hiding out in this overgrown lawn. A shiver chases down my spine as my imagination conjures a spider sprinting away from my clumsy fingers squishing in the rank mud. Or worse, a snake!

A myriad of cheap plants slips from their pots and plop into the tiny holes I dig until the nursery bags are empty. What little bravery I possess scatters as a lightning bolt strikes much too close for comfort. My hands scramble to collect the empty pots and bags before my feet make a mad dash for home.

Shivering and exhausted, I crawl under the covers and sink into my soft mattress. A warmth settles over my chilled body like God is smiling down on me. Maybe this will turn out alright after all. Oblivion overtakes me, and in my dreams, a fire-breathing dragon is bellowing and belching about how I defaced his place.

Warm, cloying sunlight pierces through my nightmare. Despite my misgivings about how the real-life ‘dragon’ will react,

hope blossoms in my chest. It’s morning.

I throw back my covers. Caked mud flies everywhere. Piles of the rank stuff mar my delicate rose patterned sheets. Mum is going to flip when she sees this mess. I should have showered before I went to bed. Oh, well, too late for that now.

I scramble down to the end of my bed, the mattress springs squeaking and squealing. I peek through my pink, fluffy curtains, anticipation pounding in my ears.

Straggly, mismatched plants greet my eyes. My fragile hope disintegrates into charred wisps of smoke.

“Why did I think I could plant a garden by myself?” I flick a piece of dirt off my arm. “Mum was the one who said we ought to do something nice for Mr. Henshaw. I should have waited for her to come up with something.”

Do I have time to dash over there and rip out the plants before he sees them?

Mr. Henshaw’s door creaks open.

Thump! My head connects with the windowsill in my hurry to duck out of sight. Rubbing the aching spot, I wait for the bellowing. His cane thumps closer and closer to the edge of his veranda. Any minute now! But only the ticking of the clock in the hallway tickles my ears. I risk a peek and catch the grumpy dragon wiping away a tear. He cracks a tiny smile. Who knew his face could do that?

Guess Mum was right. He wasn’t born mean, just lonely since his wife died.

The dragon—ahem! Sorry, I mean, Mr. Henshaw glances towards my house. I bolt up, throw open my window, and wave enthusiastically at the lonely old man who usually snarls and snaps at me.

Miracles of all miracles, he smiles and waves a frail, wrinkly hand back. No, wait! He’s beckoning me to come over.

I scramble out the window and thwack! My pink socks ooze into the mud. Perhaps, I should have taken the back steps and put on shoes. Oh well, I slop my way to the fence.

“Hi, Mr. Henshaw!”

“Hello, little Laura.”

He knows my name?

A sparkle lights his blue eyes. “I was going to ask if you did this, but either you took a mud bath or you were the little elf in my garden last night.”

Heat burns up my cheeks. “Do you like it?” My eyes wander towards the straggly plants. My joy quickly evaporates. “It’s not that great.”

“It’s perfect.” His gnarled hand thumps down on my shoulder. “How did you know carnations were my wife’s favourite flower?”

“I didn’t.” Didn’t even know I’d planted carnations, but I must have. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the labels on the plants at the nursery, just their cheap price tags.

Happy tears line his eyes. “Well, then, it was a good guess.”

No more words pass between us, but they aren’t required as I grin up at his beaming face.

He likes my gift. Satisfaction curls around my stomach, pleasant and sweet. It’s a good thing no one has invented a time machine, or I’d have chickened out and missed this.

God is right; giving is better than receiving. I stand a little taller. I am so doing this good deed thing again!

“Laura!” Mum’s horrified voice pierces through my open bedroom window. “What have you done to your bed?”

Oh, no! I need to go back to last night and take a shower before going to bed. Quick, someone invent a time machine!


This story (minus a few tweaks) was longlisted for the 2021 Sydney Hammond Memorial Competition anthology and published in the 'Gold Rush' anthology.

Image created in by Dienece Darling

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