Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews

Seven Deaths of an Empire

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On Character Voice


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Monthly Short Story Winner: 1750

Time Travel by Jezzy-Art

Imagine you or someone from our time is transported back to the year 1750 (the start of the industrial revolution) with everything you/they know. There’s no going back. What is your/their plan? What can or will go wrong?


1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The main character must travel back from our time to the year 1750 (no returning).
3. Prose must be 500-1750 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by Lordoftheword with “Youthful Optimism”.

Congrats on your win!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

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“Youthful Optimism”
by Lordoftheword

“Two minutes. It only took you two minutes to get us killed, Thomas!”

“I know, sir. But we’ll get out of this yet! You’ll see.”

Dr. Winston raised his wrists and shook the rusty shackles that bound him to the wall. “What did I tell you? All you had to do was follow my simple rules!”

“Be quiet in there! Or I’ll flog the both of ya!” screamed the jailer.

Thomas looked dejected and embarrassed. He’d been so caught up in the excitement of time travel that he couldn’t help himself in the marketplace. But there was a reason they had the rules in place. The iPhone never should have made it into the teleportation chamber, and the boy damn well knew it!

A day earlier they’d found themselves smack dab in the middle of the shit, piss and squalor that was London pre-Industrial Revolution living. Three things had gone wrong immediately.

First, they were in the wrong place and time. Dr. Winston himself had programmed the machine to send them back to Nepal in the Autumn of 534 BCE. His young apprentice, Thomas, had recently taken an interest in Buddhism and the lad wanted nothing more than to meet the Buddha himself. And while time travel wasn’t perfect, it sure as hell wasn’t this imperfect. He was almost two millennia and half a world off the mark.

Second, they were wearing the wrong garb. One of the most important rules of time travel was to ensure your clothing fit the time period. Attracting unwanted attention was dangerous, and they’d appeared out of nowhere wearing ascetic monk robes and sandals in the middle of a London winter. Dr. Winston was pretty sure his balls were still somewhere in his stomach from the cold, but that might have been for the best anyway. He remembered from his university days that the British often punished witchcraft with castration, and if they couldn’t find his berries they might just laugh and take pity on him.

Finally, as often happened with new time travellers, Thomas had arrived in 1750 London with time sickness and projectile vomited purple fluid all over the white, packed snow in the busy London marketplace. Dr. Winston was pretty sure the purple fluid was harmless stuff, for it tasted strangely like kiwis, and kiwis never killed anyone. But the liquid purple shocked the people of London and they crowded around. To make matters worse, his god damned iPhone slipped out of his robes and they became doubly interested. That’s when things really went wrong.

The young fool started taking “selfies” with the local populace, and the auto-flash went off and blinded them as he took it. Dr. Winston had tried to intervene, but the people mobbed Thomas and begged to know what it was. Initial guesses from the peasants and merchants varied, and at first many thought it was a lavish gift from the Indies, brought by way of the Silk Road. Eventually, the general consensus landed on it being a holy relic, gifted to the English by Pope Benedict XIV to be displayed in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the completion of her rising western towers. If he’d had a chance to speak, Dr. Winston would have professed to the masses that they were all correct, and that he and Thomas had great business to attend to and needed to make haste. But, of course, Thomas was excited, and when teenagers get excited they tend to make poor decisions.

Smiling, Thomas asked for space while Dr. Winston tried to scramble through the stinking peasants and end the madness. Instead, Thomas scrolled through his photos and brought up the selfies. He called an older gentleman over, and with eyes wet and lips trembling, the old boy hobbled over and looked down at the luminescent screen, expecting to see God.

He saw himself.

The old man dropped dead of a heart attack right where he’d stood, but not before uttering the one word that would seal their fate.


The people began to scream and stir, and a young woman ripped the iPhone out of Thomas’ nervous hands, looked down at the screen and above the excitement she yelled, “Fiend! The boy’s taken my soul! This demon has cursed me, cursed us all!”

All it took from that point were a few more people to look at the photo and they scooped him up, bound his hands with wet rags and dragged him off to the sheriff’s office. But not before he’d completed his final act of stupidity and started screaming at Dr. Winston to help him. Soon the mob had the both of them, and now here they were, chained to a wall and awaiting judgement.

“They’ll listen to reason. I’m sure of it, sir. Please don’t worry.”

“We’re in a time in which reason has little to do with it, Tom. These people still believe the earth is flat and that doctors can heal people by making them bleed and blow snot. Did you see the streets?”

“Filthy,” Thomas replied, wiggling his nose at the stench.

“Right! Steam power was invented here only a few decades ago, so all the piss and shit of London still runs down the streets like the River Seine instead of being pumped through a sewer system. We came fifty years too early, my boy. They’re still hanging people around these parts, and I’m not sure there’s a reasonable case we can make that will change that.”

“We’ll see,” Thomas replied confidently. He hadn’t given up hope, and Dr. Winston admired his young and foolish stupidity.

Hope sprung anew in Dr. Winston a few hours later when the jailer lumbered over to the door and inserted his key into the lock. But it didn’t last long, for apparently the evidence against them had been so robust that the trial had occurred without them even being present. A handwritten note was handed to both of them, proclaiming in bold lettering they were to be hanged that very day in the same marketplace they’d appeared a day earlier. At the bottom of each letter was a line in which, the jailer told them, they had to write their names for the official records. He then passed them an ink-dipped quill. Dr. Winston penned his name with a shaking hand.

So this is how it would all end. After a hundred or more trips through time and space and he was to die by hanging in a dingy London marketplace? He looked over at Thomas, so young and bright, and he felt a pang of guilt rack his entire body. What had he been thinking bringing such a young lad?

“What is it you wrote there?” Dr. Winston said, looking down at Thomas’ letter.


“It says Thomas Paine! Your last name is Truffle!”

Thomas furrowed his brow in confusion, but before he could look back down at his writing the jailer snatched the papers away from them, threw them each a chunk of bread and returned to his jailer’s desk on the free side of the bars. Dr. Winston put his head in his hands and began to weep, enraged not only because he was about to hang from his neck, but because the sixteen-year-old boy genius was calm as glass and he was bawling like a babbling baby.

Hooded they walked down the streets of London, and the crowd jeered and threw rotten fruit and small rocks at them, reveling in the excitement of the execution.

As their hoods were removed and they were led up the stairs to the hanging block, Thomas whispered to Dr. Winston: “Give me your wrist.”

Dr. Winston looked down at his wrist and saw the faint glow of the implant beneath his skin. It was usually their way home, but the return time was permanently set to a week and they’d only been in London a few days. He wished now, more than ever, that he could reprogram the implant to activate whenever he’d pleased. But it was a safety precaution. A week was enough time to enjoy the past, but not enough time to completely destroy it. It also forced time travellers to use caution, for with a magic button to take them home whenever they pleased, who knew what kind of trouble people would get themselves in?

“Sir, your wrist!” Dumbfounded, Dr. Winston obeyed. Thomas offered his own wrist and then he was suddenly yanked away, but not before whispering something unheard into the implants as their dim lights connected through skin. Dr. Winston felt his wrist get unusually warm.

“What did you do?” Dr. Winston barked as they took their positions above the trap doors. He was so interested in Thomas that he almost forgot he was about to hang for witchcraft. That was until he felt the noose slip tight around his neck.

“You’ll be okay. Just give it a minute,” Thomas said, winking up at him. “It’s a failsafe. You didn’t read the manual did you, sir?”

“Manual? Manual?! I built the damned machine!” he snapped. But it was true; he hadn’t read the manual.

“I see. Well I won’t be coming with you, sir.”

“Wha –? Won’t be coming with me? Thomas, what have you done?”

“Stop this at once!” screamed a voice from the crowd, waving a piece of paper in the air. “If you dare pull the lever on that boy, I’ll have you gutted apple to button!”

“Who speaks? Name yourself!” the gallows priest bellowed, enraged by the interruption. The crowd went silent.

“My name is Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Paine is coming with me.”

Ben Franklin? The Ben Franklin? Dr. Winston was stunned into disbelief, but when he looked down at Thomas, there was a knowing there. He’d known Ben Franklin was coming for him. But how?

Had his youthful optimism been something more?

And then it clicked.

“Thomas Paine! The philosopher! The American revolutionary!” he exclaimed as Thomas was unbound and led down the steps. And then he felt the sharp pull.

Dr. Winston was sucked back through the nether, returned to his experimental lab in Dallas, Texas with a red rope line around his neck and tears in his eyes.

For the rest of his days he spent his waking hours in the libraries learning about Thomas Paine: political theorist, founding father of America, and the boy that nearly killed him in the slummy streets of 1750 London.

– – –

Congratulations again to Lordoftheword! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by Jezzy-Art.


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