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She Died As She Lived

Riley Tao (they/them) is a student at the University of Chicago. In their free time, they enjoy writing stories online and playing with their cat. They obsess over spreadsheets and wonder how they're going to make a living when they grow up. They have previously been published in Reckoning Literary Magazine, and have upcoming publications in Protean Magazine and Cast of Wonders.

The girl who claims to be my daughter stares at me pale-faced, wide-eyed, one palm shading her eyes against my car's headlights, the other outstretched as if that would stop me from running her over with a twitch of my foot. The wending, midnight road is empty save for the two of us.
"You can't be my daughter," I growl.
"Just listen--"
"You can't be my daughter," I repeat, "because right now, my wife is about to give birth to our only child. And if you make me miss this--"
"You want her to be Riley," she whispers.
I freeze, one hand on the little blue notebook in my pocket. "How--"
"They found it. In that journal of yours. You had wanted to name me something American, and Mom wanted something Irish, and she said you used to joke about which culture had the ugliest names, but you must've changed your mind near the end...." The girl swallows, fists clenched.
"How did you know that?" I ask.
"Let me in. Let me drive."
"Just tell me," I say.
"You have to get to the hospital anyway, right? Let me come."
I sigh and unlock the door.
"Who are you, really?" I ask her, as I start driving again.
"I told you. I'm your daughter. From--from the future."
I grunt. "And if I asked you for the truth this time?"
"It's the truth. God's name. Slow down. Please."
"You've already slowed me down enough," I snap back.
"No, Dad, please, just let me drive." She bites her lip as I accelerate into a curve.
I turn to say, "I'm not your da--"
"Dad, look out!" She wrenches the wheel, but the car's front tires bite empty air--
--and I know why the time traveler looks at me like she's seen a ghost.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 3rd, 2022


Author Comments

This story was created when a friend gave me a challenge: write a story in a single sentence. After thinking for a few minutes, I said, "The time traveler looked at me like she'd seen a ghost." Starting from that single seed of a story, I decided to give the narrative a little more room to breathe, and the result is the story you're reading today.

- Riley Tao
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