Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Mortality, Eternity
by Joseph Green

Absolute Pony
by Alisa Alering

Quisic Smith and the Russian Puzzle Doll
by Sean Monaghan

Clever Bubble
by Antha Ann Adkins

by Matthew Wuertz

To Walk the Earth
by Rebecca Birch

Five Stages of Future Grief
by Gary Cuba

Lost Planes, Lost River
by Michael Hodges

Funny Money
by Chet Gottfried

Insanity Machine
by Lawrence Buentello

Ten Minutes
by Eamonn Murphy


A Quantum Mind
by Eric M. Jones

What is Science?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Ten Minutes

By Eamonn Murphy

“AND WHICH ONE OF YOU is my husband?” demanded Glenda Foreman, looking from one identical man to the other. Her pretty blue eyes were bright with anger and her kissable lips were compressed into a thin red line.

Two other men stood off to one side. They looked like each other but neither looked like her husband so she was not, for the moment, concerned with them.

They were both tall and broad with a large black beard. One of them was looking confused, possibly drunk, and the other one merely seemed annoyed.

“Which one of you is my husband?” she demanded again.

“I am,” they both replied simultaneously. They both looked exactly like him. Short, slightly built with greying hair and round wire spectacles through which they regarded her with anxious brown eyes.

Glenda took a deep breath. “Professor David Foreman is a lecturer in philosophy and a man devoted to philosophy, too; devoted to the search for truth. Now tell me truthfully, which one of you is the real David Foreman?”

Both men hesitated for a while then replied, simultaneously again, each pointing at the other:

“He is.”


It had all started years earlier, one of those ongoing problems that married couples put up with, a small glitch in an otherwise harmonious relationship, but the trigger event had been a few days before.

Mr. and Mrs. Foreman were in the garden of their rather nice detached house on the edge of the Downs in Bristol, England. They both worked at Bristol University, which had several buildings in the area, and lived close by. The Downs is a large green area preserved unbuilt on for the use of locals and very handy for dog walking and other outdoor pursuits. Their black Labrador, Molly, was bounding about eagerly as she knew it was time for her walk. Mrs. Foreman noticed this.

“Do you know what time it is?”

David Foreman raised his wrist slowly and gazed at the chronometer thereon for a full second before replying.


She sighed heavily and reached for the mobile phone in her coat pocket.

“It’s twenty to five, dear,” he said hastily.

Her lips were compressed. “Thank you,” she said, decompressing them briefly.

“I did answer the question.”

“You knew what I meant.”

“It was phrased badly. You should have said, “What’s the time, darling?” David Foreman was a professor of Philosophy and took a Socratic approach to questions and statements, perhaps unwisely ignoring the fact that Socrates’ fellow citizens had eventually killed him.

“We won’t argue,” said Glenda. “Let’s walk Molly.”

Mister Foreman, like Socrates, was inclined to argue. “Molly thought she was going for a walk ten minutes ago.”

“Well, I had to burn the rubbish.”

He shook his head. “Ten minutes ago you said we’d take the dog for a walk. Ten minutes later we do. When I have the dinner ready you’re always ten minutes late sitting down for it. When we watch the film on telly tonight you’ll come in ten minutes late and ask me what’s going on.” He was ranting now but couldn’t stop himself. “You are always ten minutes behind me!”

“Now you’re just being silly,” she said in an aggrieved tone.

“No,” he reiterated firmly. “You’re always ten minutes behind me.”


“She’s always ten minutes behind me!” David Foreman said, and thumped the table in frustration.

The table was in a pub on Whiteladies Road, near the University and he was there for his regular Saturday evening drink with his good friend Professor George Armstrong Custer, the noted physicist. Custer was a tall, imposing man with a large black bushy beard and moustache. He was not much bothered by marital problems and merely shrugged.

“Divorce her. Get another wife. There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

“Damn it, Custer! I love her.”

Again the scientist was unimpressed. “Love, bah! It’s merely a temporary chemical imbalance in the brain. One usually gets over it after a few months.”

Foreman leaned forward. Usually their Saturday pub talks were about the issues of the day, then philosophy, physics and other more metaphysical problems. Their own lives seldom intruded so this was new territory and he was genuinely curious. “Didn’t you love your former wives, old friend?” he asked hesitantly, not certain if personal questions were allowed. ”Surely the first one, at least?”

Custer seemed unconcerned. “I loved all of them, for a time, but it wears off, quite quickly for some of us. You’re a bit slow. Is it ten years you’ve been together now? And she’s your first wife, isn’t she?”

“She is. And I still love her even if it is just a chemical imbalance. But her habit of being late all the time is getting me down.”

“Oh, well. It’s nothing to do with me.” Custer leaned back and took a large gulp of his English beer. It was unseasonably warm that day and the pints were being sunk a little faster than usual. Furthermore, he had started a little before his friend, frustrated at his own problems, and was therefore slightly drunk already.

“Maybe you can help, though,” said Foreman. “You see, yesterday, in that fuzzy time between sleeping and waking when the mind wanders freely and is at its most creative, I had an idea.”


“Glenda is always ten minutes behind me. What if I could go back ten minutes? After that we would be in synch again for the rest of our lives.”

Custer nodded. “That makes sense.” The fact that it made no sense at all had eluded him due to beer. “But how can I help?”

Foreman leaned forward and tapped his index finger alongside his nose in a theatrical secretive gesture. “Time travel, old friend. There have been rumours.”

“What rumours?”

“Rumours that you once had a time machine.”

Custer was guarded. “I did some work for the Temporal Institute, a private foundation set up by a wealthy man with an interest in such matters. He died and funding stopped as his heirs were not interested. The machinery was destroyed.”

“Ah!” Foreman tapped the side of his nose again in the exaggerated manner of a drunk with clandestine knowledge. “But you know how to make one. I heard a rumour that you kept a spare.”

“Let’s forget the whole thing,” said Custer suddenly. He picked up the two empty glasses. “Pint?”

“Same again,” said Foreman. He felt a glow of pleasure and not just from the alcohol. There had been a glint of interest in old Custer’s eyes at the thought of a genuine experiment. He had often said that he was bored with writing books of mere theory, that he missed real research with real machinery. With more good beer, thought Foreman, that spark of interest might be kindled into a roaring flame.

“Let’s have a whiskey chaser for good measure,” he said. “It’s Saturday night. No school tomorrow.”

Custer shrugged. “Why not?”


“Is that it?” asked Foreman.

Things had developed quickly after more alcohol; too quickly, perhaps. It was the same night and the pair were now in the basement of Custer’s big, detached house looking at what he claimed was a time machine.

It sat in the centre of the large room. It had a glass tube running from floor to ceiling, about six feet in diameter with a thick metal base and a thick metal cap. It looked like a gigantic fuse, so much so that Foreman half expected to see “13 amp” inscribed in the metal. The base had steps built into it and at the top of the steps was a glass door, almost invisible so closely did it fit into the tube.

“This is the time machine?” he said, checking to be sure.


“Does it work?”

Custer nodded drunkenly and raised his right arm, wagging an index finger righteously. “Two men ... (hiccup) ... two men travelled into the past using this very device. I was one of them.”

“Who was the other?”

“A young fool!” said Custer, suddenly angry. “It turned out badly and I swore never to meddle with time again. But ... but this ish different.” He threw an arm around Foreman’s shoulder and gave him a matey hug. “You’re my friend. My besht friend in the whole wide world.”

“I absolutely am,” said Foreman, meaning it sincerely.

“And you don’t want to go back ten years either. Just ten minutes. Thass virtually nothing.” Custer swayed back and forth slightly and, still firmly gripped by the bigger man’s companionable arm, so did his best friend in the whole wide world.

Foreman detached himself carefully. “So it’s a cinch.”

“A what?”

“A cinch. A doddle. A breeze. A walk in the park. Easy.”

“Easy.” Custer moved over to the control panel next to the tube. “I’ll set the controls.”

Foreman grinned. “When me and my wife are in the same time frame we can live happily ever after.”

“Absolutely.” Custer did not look up from his dials and switches.

Suddenly the time machine burst into life. It emitted a loud humming noise and there was a bright glow inside the tube.

Custer stepped back, looking confused. “I haven’t finished yet!”

The glow faded and a man in a a blue shirt, blue jeans and a sports jacket was standing inside the tube.

Foreman pointed in amazement. “It’s me!”

Then the basement door burst open and a large man with a bushy black beard and moustache stormed into the room.

Foreman pointed in amazement. “It’s you!”

Then he scratched his head and frowned. “I need to sit down.”

“Stop this foolishness!” said the new Professor Custer.

The drunken Custer stared at him. “You!”

“Of course it’s me! Now stop what ...” He saw the man in the tube. “Damn it, I’m too late.”

The David Foreman in the time machine opened it and stepped out. He quickly descended the steps, marched over to the newly arrived Custer and poked him in the chest. “Hey, you! You insulted my wife!”

Mildly alarmed, and very confused, Custer took a step back. “No I didn’t!”

The smaller man looked baffled, and a little drunk. “Yes you did.” he said.

“Your wife isn’t here,” growled the sober Custer. He turned to his doppelganger. “I’m obviously too late. You sent him back.”

Drunken Custer nodded, looking serene. “I am saving his marriage,” he said slowly, as if explaining something to a child.

The new Custer gave the deep, exasperated sigh typical of a sober, rational person trying to deal with a stupid drunk. The exasperation was even worse than usual because the stupid drunk was himself. “Do you know what will happen if the faculty discovers you have experimented on human beings? You’ll never work again.”

Meanwhile the two Davids were staring in awe at the time machine. “It works!” they said, almost in unison.

“Of course it works,” said the sober Custer. “That’s not the issue.” He looked at his double again. “In my haste I mistimed my return. I’m too late to stop you. You’ve already sent him back ten minutes.” He pointed to Foreman.

Drunken Custer frowned. “No I haven’t. I didn’t finish calibrating the machine.”

“But you will, you idiot! Or you did, rather. I mean, I must have created a new timeline now but on the previous one you went ahead and sent him back. He arrived here and now, just before I did. Now we’ll have to send him back because he’s here, so we did.”

Both David Foremans stared at sober Custer.

“What?” they said in unison.

At that moment the basement door burst open again and another figure entered the fray.

It was Glenda Foreman.

The first person she saw was the sober Custer so she marched over to him and waved her finger indignantly under his nose. “What do you mean by keeping my David out ’til this time of night?”

The scientist heaved a mighty sigh. He was doing that a lot tonight. Now he had three drunks and an irate female to deal with. He pointed to his left.

“Woman, behold your husband.”

Glenda paused in confusion and took stock of her surroundings for the first time. She realized that she was in a basement full of machinery with two sets of identical men. She turned to the pair that resembled the one she had married.

“Which one of you is my husband?” she demanded furiously.

“I am,” they both replied simultaneously.


Glenda took a deep breath. “Professor David Foreman is a lecturer in philosophy and a man devoted to philosophy, too; devoted to the search for truth. Now tell me truthfully, which one of you is the real David Foreman?”

Both men hesitated for a while then replied, simultaneously again, each pointing at the other:

“He is.”

“Oh, this is hopeless!” She turned to the scientist. “I bet you are responsible for this, George Custer!”

It was too much for a sensible scientist to bear. Sober Custer still recalled the conversation that had set him off on this mad escapade and refused to accept all blame. He drew himself up to his full formidable height and shook his fist at her.

I? No, damn you! You are responsible for this, you silly woman! You and your perpetual tardiness!”

“Don’t you call my wife a silly woman!” shouted both husbands simultaneously. The one who had not come out of the time machine was slightly more drunk. He stepped forward and threw a punch, connecting with the right side of Custer’s face.

The big man was too surprised to react at first. Then he took a step forward. “Why you ...”

He paused as two David Foremans squared up to him.

He looked to his own double for support. Drunken Custer was in a chair, snoring.

Taking a deep breath he turned back to the husbands and the angry wife, holding up both hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Enough. Which one of you came out of the time machine?”

The one to his left spoke. “Me.”

Custer pointed to the one on the right. “You. Get into the time machine, please.”

The small drunken philosopher still had his fists clenched and looked at the scientist suspiciously. “Why? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to send you back ten minutes to become him.”

“What?” David Foreman looked at his double then back at Custer. “What?”

The other Foreman was thoughtful. “I think you should do what he says.”

This provoked another suspicious glare at Custer. “I don’t trust him.”

“Do you trust me?” asked his double.

David Foreman looked at David Foreman and reached the inevitable conclusion. “Of course. You’re me, aren’t you?”

“Then do what he says. Get into the machine.”

“I really would like to know what’s going on,” said Glenda.

“Don’t worry, dear. It will all work out.” The husband not designated for the machine came over to her and took her arm gently. He nodded to his doppelganger. “Go.”

Custer was waiting by the glass tube, holding the door open. David Foreman stepped in hesitantly. As soon as he did Custer slammed the door shut and bounded over to the controls.

“Ten minutes!” he cried and moved a large lever.

The glass tube glowed. The David Foreman inside it vanished.

Glenda stared at the time machine. “Where’s he gone?”

“He’s here beside you,” said her husband, more or less sober now. He turned to Custer and nodded at the big man’s face.

“That’s going to be a black eye in the morning.”

Custer managed a wry smile and nodded to his snoring duplicate. “Hopefully it will teach him a lesson.” Then he ran a large hand over his bald head and looked very tired. He gestured to the door. “It’s been a trying day. I would like to be alone.” He glanced at the other scientist and amended, “Or nearly alone.”

They hesitated, looking at him.

“Goodnight,” he said firmly.

“Goodnight, my friend.” Foreman took his wife’s arm. “I’ll explain it all later, dear.” He turned back to his colleague. “Pint next Saturday?”

The old man laughed. “Why not? But no whiskey chasers, eh?”

The philosopher nodded. “No whiskey chasers.”


“So you see, dear, the Custer we left snoring will wake up in the morning and realize he’s made a terrible mistake messing with human guinea pigs. He’ll go back to try and stop himself and it will all happen as you saw.” The couple were sitting on their sofa the following Sunday morning having a nice cup of tea.

“But what about the other one? Won’t there be two Custers then?”

“He is the other one. The drunken snorer will vanish and reappear the night before. And for a while there will be two of them, as there were two of me, briefly.”

“And one of you gave big fierce George Armstrong Custer a black eye for calling me a silly woman.” She gazed at him admiringly. “My hero.”

“Yes.” He had the grace to look somewhat abashed. ”I’m sorry really. He was trying to help our marriage.”

“Of course.” She stood up and picked up the empty tea cups. “All this craziness started because of me.”

Remaining seated he looked up at her. “So, does this mean you’re going to mend your ways now?”


His eyebrows became involuntarily raised. “You’re going to be punctual in future? On time for everything?”

“You’ll be able to set your watch by me.”

“And when will that start?”

She grinned. “Oh, in about ten minutes.” END

Eamonn Murphy is a 53-year-old writer living near Bristol, England, and working for the National Health Service. He grew up reading Marvel comics, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and all the classics. He reviews books and magazines for SFcrowsnest.

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