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An Historic Rejection

Mark Thomas is a retired teacher, an ex-member of Canada's National Rowing team, and a clumsy banjo-player.

I suppose writers are like gamblers or fishermen, we loudly celebrate our triumphs and conveniently bury the failures.
I'd made a point of mentioning a rare bit of success to an elderly neighbor of mine, who also fancied himself a writer. A popular science fiction website had finally accepted one of my stories, about a robot obsessed with Gustav Klimt's early paintings, and they were even going to pay for the privilege of stroking my ego.
We were eating breakfast at our favorite diner when I casually let the news drop.
My neighbor immediately asked me to submit one of his efforts, under my name. He had offered several stories to the same website but theorized they had been rejected, unread. My new status as a contributing author would provide the entre his genius needed to be appreciated.
I magnanimously agreed to look at a story and he surprised me by immediately pulling some papers out of his jacket pocket. I read while we finished our coffee.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"Well," I said judiciously, "it presents some problems. This particular website specifically warns against submitting stories containing racism, chauvinism, excessive violence or gratuitous sexual activity and you've managed to spectacularly violate all of those norms within four pages."
He pursed his lips. "One could argue they are integral to the story. Not many people truly appreciate the flavor of those times."
"I suppose, but the site also has an injunction against specific over-worked plot devices. The website mentions, tongue-in-cheek of course, not to send them stories about time-traveling to kill Hitler, and that's exactly what you've done."
"No!" The old man was shocked. "My story is the exact opposite! Hitler's scientists, the most brilliant minds of the century--Strughold, Blome, Rudolph, von Braun--have constructed a time machine in the Fuhrerbunker and the leader is able to escape the degradation and weakness of that era to live a life of artistic contemplation in our modern age." A bony fist hit the table and rattled our cups.
I tried to be conciliatory. "Well, perhaps the publishers are just prejudiced against certain attitudes towards time travel, those that assume historical changes can be made with surgical precision. They like stories where unintended consequences overwhelm the protagonist." I returned the papers. "I'm sorry, but I just can't submit this."
The old man huffed and rubbed the white patch of moustache over his quivering lip. He seemed on the verge of continuing the argument, of offering proof positive that his understanding of time and history was correct, but suddenly retreated into quiet, unobtrusive civility.
"Thank you for your frankness," he said to me.
"No problem." My neighbor rose and slowly walked back to his apartment while I enjoyed another cup of coffee. It was surprisingly satisfying to see life from the other side of the desk, and deliver a disappointing verdict rather than receive it.
One could easily get used to that sort of thing.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 18th, 2019

Author Comments

I like the frustration that is at the heart of all "Time travel" stories. You'd think the technology would be liberating, but humans have the capacity to sabotage any scientific achievement. I guess, this is a brief version of a classic Phil Dick theme.

- Mark Brian Thomas
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