Fiction: Smudge

An essay by the daughter of Hershel Conway, as provided by Jane Abbott
Art by Luke Spooner

My father was called a crazy man. More than that–a mad scientist. Although I considered such terms to be insults, I admittedly never protested their validity. I never found the heart to blame anyone to think of him as such. Father always had ludicrous ideas and theories, and he was never afraid to share them with anyone–not even those who didn’t possess the genius intellect to understand him.

Seeing that I was one such girl of average intelligence, Father spent hours on end thinking of how to explain his fantasies to a child. He often succeeded in doing so. Every lesson became a story that drew me further and further into the fantastic realm of science. These tales were mostly focused around astrophysics, a topic that sounded infinitely more drab and dull when coming out of the mouth of anyone else. Father was a genius in this regard, a master of entertainment. I enjoyed every lecture except one: the time travel demonstration.

It began on a warm July’s day. I was reading a picture book about insects. My left elbow had been scraped badly due to a combination of poor balance and a bicycle that lacked training wheels. Father had patched me up, made me a peanut butter sandwich, and set the book in front of my face to dry my tears. About a half hour later, when the sandwich had been eaten and I had made my way to page 36, Father rushed to my side with a jar of water and a piece of paper. Seeing the smile on his face, I followed protocol and put my book down.

“How do you travel through time?” he asked. I blinked in confusion before answering:

“I don’t know.”

“Think simply. Just guess.”

“You … build a machine?”

“Exactly!” Father took a seat to my right. He lay the paper on the counter. Then he plucked a large paintbrush from his coat pocket, as well as a red pen. “You could call it a machine, but I’d call it more of an invention. I’ve named it Chronomorphium. It’s a tool that will allow us to move forward in time. Isn’t it neat?”

It most certainly was neat. Father drew a small dot in the upper left corner of the paper. “This,” he said, “is us. Our world. And this”–he tapped his pen against the jar of water–“is Chronomorphium.”

“Really?” I asked in wonder.

“No, not actually. This is water, but it represents Chronomorphium.” Father dipped the paintbrush into it. “The paper is the universe as we know it. The farther right we go, the farther in time we are. For example, if we go here, just an inch or two to the right, we’d travel, oh, maybe a few years in the future. If we go across the page, we’d go quite a bit far ahead. Perhaps even by a thousand years.”

Father slid the wet brush across the corner. He blew on it, fanning his hand at the same time to dry it faster. The corner began to rise and curl. I’d seen that happen many times before whenever I tried to paint. Father placed his middle fingertip onto the counter and his index finger to the corner of the paper, right over the red dot.

“This is where we once were,” he said, bending his middle finger. Carefully, he made a little mark on the paper where the red dot hovered over. “This is where we are now. With a bit of Chronomorphium, we can travel a short distance. Do you follow?”

I nodded intently.

He picked up his brush, dipped it again, and swept it across the inside of the curl multiple times. The corner curled even further. Father marked his progress again with another scarlet mark. “Now we’re even farther forward in time!”

“Can I try?” I asked, reaching for the jar.

“Wait, I’m not done yet.” He picked up his jar of water. He swished the liquid around for a moment, studying it intently, before pouring it out on the corner.

I yanked my book to safety, staring at him with anger and confusion.

His eyes weren’t on me, though. They were on the corner of the paper, which had turned into a messy pulp. The ink had run and smudged.

I looked at the mess, then at the carpet where the water had begun to drip to.

“Will you pick the corner up for me, please?”

I gingerly pinched the corner between my thumb and finger. The water was cold to the touch, almost frigid. The paper felt fragile, thin, and grainy. As I tugged on it as gently as I could, it ripped without a sound. I held the mushy corner to my face. The ink of the red dot had spread to the entire corner, turning it a faded pink. The world on the page had been distorted and destroyed.

“That is exactly why we must be careful when fooling around with such an unexplored concept such as time,” Father stated. “No one knows what kind of paper our universe is made out of. It could be thick like cardstock or cardboard, or it could be thinner than a tissue.”

Perhaps it was my ignorance to a bigger picture that caused me to pay no mind to the paper. I didn’t care about the rip in the universe so much as what had become of the world. Father must have seen my vacant expression, because he gave me a rough pat on the back.

“Don’t you worry,” he bellowed cheerfully. “We would never use so much Chronomorphium. We are scientists. We are far more calculated than that. I was simply putting on a show for you. Do you want to try it?”

“No, thank you.” I didn’t mean to whisper.

Illustration of someone in a white dress walking past a dark house with strange swirls in the sky overhead.

From my window, I watched in horror as the houses I grew up playing around crumbled down into nothingness, then the buildings nestled in the heart of the city, then the rest of the world.

Father took me out for ice cream after that, as well as a walk in the park. Although the demonstration had never left my mind, I pretended that it did for his sake. I loved Father, quite as he may have been at times. At a subconscious level, my farce of well-being was a small part of a debt I owed him for his kindness and patience with me. I knew of the antisocial, isolated nature that often came packaged with a scientific mind. A man with a personality like that would never make a good father, it seemed. I was lucky among children of geniuses. Father fed me, played with me, and loved me, all while maintaining his reputation as a pioneer to astrophysical science. The least I could do was assure him that I was alright.

My dream that night was very odd. Though I feel it would be a bit dramatic to label it as a nightmare, its content was disturbed enough to leave me feeling tired and uneasy the following morning. While I slept, I dreamed of myself in the kitchen, engrossed in my insect book. I heard the familiar footsteps of Father approaching. He called my name, and I turned to him. His face had turned into an unsettling smear. Father’s features no longer stuck out as they should on a human. They were blurred and crude. I woke right then and there, my heart pounding as though it was trying to free itself of its ribcage.

In a few years’ time, Father’s application for a test trial of Chronomorphium was approved and funded. A child no longer, I frequently conversed with him about his studies. By this point in my life, time travel had consumed his. He kept a calendar hung on the wall and marked each passing day with a red X. The day of the trial, April 11th, grew nearer and nearer. When it finally arrived, Father hugged and kissed me goodbye. He promised to be back at the end of the day, but the look in his eyes suggested the possibility of a broken vow. He knew as much as I did about what kind of paper the universe was made of. He knew as well as I did whether he’d be back. I followed the protocol I had taken on since that July day: offer him a confident smile.

He took it, thanked me, and left.

I poured a cup of tea for him in the evening. I drank mine and poured myself another. I watched the steam from his dissipate into nothingness. The following morning, I dumped Father’s cup into the sink and made more tea. This time, I left it in the kettle so it would keep its heat longer. Just as I expected, he never came back, nor did any of the others directly involved in the experiment.

Only a day later, the earth shook, and the tea I’d made for him crashed to the floor. From my window, I watched in horror as the houses I grew up playing around crumbled down into nothingness, then the buildings nestled in the heart of the city, then the rest of the world. Day by day, the remainders of humanity fled to what they prayed to be safety, desperate for asylum from the oncoming apocalypse. With every tsunami, fissure, tornado, and hurricane came the curse against my father from the survivors. Scientific explanation had abandoned us, just as my poor mad scientist had abandoned me for his dreams.

Only my home still stands against the rubble of everything. No one knows that the deathbringer’s daughter shivers inside, pondering how long until the cold takes her life as well. I cannot argue against their outrage. There’s no doubt in my mind that this sudden end was a consequence of his reckless actions. He bent the fabric of the universe, and the universe bent back. Perhaps in that same ripple of the universe’s revenge, our planet was ripped apart at the seams, damned to break until nothing is left but bits and pieces floating in empty space. We are small, after all, and more fragile than we could ever imagine. With one scientific achievement, our entire being has collapsed.

As I lay dying in my bed, I can only think of my father, who I’m sure is dead as well. I can only hope that his death was no worse than ours–that he went out of existence in the blink of an eye. He most likely has been broken, too, stretched so far apart as he jumped through time that he’s been reduced to nothing but a sheet of atoms floating in space, an unrecognizable smudge in the universe.

Hershel Conway was born the evening of July 8, 2045, in Glasgow, Scotland. A man with endless curiosity and unlimited genius, he quickly became an icon of science to the rest of the world. His first invention, the “Manipulator,” which solidified small quantities of dark matter into tangible substance, landed him as a household name for generations to come. Though Conway’s life was one of exploration and accomplishment, it wasn’t without its grimmer moments. Conway’s wife of four years, Sherri Blake, filed for divorce in 2071, leaving her heartbroken ex-husband to care for their young daughter. Rumors speculate that the stress of being left on his own to care for the child whose mother no longer loved him drove Conway to more macabre areas of interest, such as his expedition to revive animal subjects by “resuscitating their brain matter, segregating it from the dead flesh, and connecting it to an interface that could record any signs of intelligence.” His request for a grant was immediately denied. He then moved on to less heavier subjects such as the possibility to travel forward in time. Conway’s discovery of what he called Chronomorphium landed him once again in a positive light. Some scientists did little to contain their excitement at his approved plan for testing it, while others worried for his safety. The first experiment involving human life will take place on April 11, 2083. Only time will tell if this trial gives humanity a new way to travel through the universe.

Jane Abbott was born in 1999. Since an early age, she’s lived in Spokane, Washington. This is the first of a hopefully long list of publications for her. Her love of science-fiction was heavily inspired by video games like the Metroid series and the Alien movie franchise. Jane currently attends Spokane Falls Community College and hopes to become an author as well as a creative writing teacher.

Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at

“Smudge” is © 2019 Jane Abbott
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner

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