Escape Pod 283: Grandfather Paradox

Show Notes

I am doing the drawing for the A&E Prize pack at the end of today! There is still a couple of hours to get your email with “CONTEST” to feedback at and you can win Blu Ray copies of Space 1999 and The Prisoner!

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 275
  • Next week… How far can you see on a clear day?

Grandfather Paradox

By Katherine Mankiller

JUNE 23, 1994

Ann stuffed her blood-spattered clothes into the next door apartment complex’s dumpster. He wasn’t dead, but it was harder to get a knife through someone’s chest than she’d expected. Maybe he’d bleed to death before someone found him. She didn’t care either way. She was a juvenile, so it wasn’t like she was going to fry.

She walked. The YMCA was open. She locked herself in the men’s room, curled up on the floor, and fell asleep.

The next morning, she stopped at an IHOP and told a grey-haired waitress, “I don’t have any money, but can I have a cup of coffee?” The waitress must have felt sorry for her: she bought her breakfast. Afterwards, she went to Safeway and hid a steak and a bottle of beer under her coat and walked out. And kept walking. Someone had a barbecue grill in their back yard. She took it, and the charcoal, too.

What she could really go for now was some mushrooms. She should swipe some Kool-Aid and find a cow pasture. Or maybe she could rob a veterinary clinic. Anything to get the thought of him touching her out of her head, and that beer wasn’t going to cut it.

Steak and beer. Almost luxurious.

The sign read “Open House.” Yes, that sounded about perfect. She spent the night there, on the carpet smelling faintly of shampoo.

It had happened to him, too. What her father had done to her, his father had done to him. Which, in her opinion, just made it worse. He knew what it was like.

When the police arrived and told her she was under arrest for murder, she couldn’t stop laughing.

JANUARY 4, 2014

The crane lifted the sealed concrete container out of the hole in the ground. Ann lay down in the snow next to the hole and reached inside. “My arms are too short,” she said.

Martin lay down next to her.

“Excuse me?” Dr. Chandler, the president of the university, said.

“I’m sorry,” Martin said. “I thought my department chair had spoken to you. Martin Robbins, physics. My head programmer, Ann O’Connell. Please, continue.”

Dr. Chandler gave them a dirty look, then walked over to the microphone. “This time capsule was sealed in 1914. The items inside represent what they wanted us to know about the past. I’m sure our history department is hoping I’ll cut the speech short and let them get at it…”

There was a chuckle from the crowd.

“Got it,” Martin said. He pulled out a grimy Tyvek envelope, and opened it. Inside, there was a penny dated 2013. Martin smiled at her. “Looks like our own time capsule arrived intact.”

FEBRUARY 9, 2014

“How are you feeling today, Ann?” Dr. Katz asked. Her glasses were perched precariously on her nose, and her bun was in danger of falling down.

Screw her. “Is my hour up yet?”


Fine. Be that way.

“How are things going with Martin?”

“I stopped dating Martin.”


“Because he wanted to sleep with me. It was awful. Ugh.”

Dr. Katz was giving Ann that psychiatrist look. Well, Ann had felt like she had to. Saying no would be rude. Well, not rude, but… Anyway, no more Martin. She’d had her phone number changed, and if he came around again? Restraining order. Work the system, or the system works you.

“How does that affect your job?” Dr. Katz asked.

“I have vacation time,” Ann said. “I took it.”

Dr. Katz looked like she felt sorry for her. Ann hated that.

Dr. Katz asked, “Do you have any remorse over your father?”

“Do you think I should?” Ann asked.

“I was asking you,” she said. Crafty. Ann guessed that was why she paid her the big bucks.

“Is my hour up yet?”

“I know you’re tired of my asking you that, but you’ve never answered.”

Ann shrugged and looked away.

“Do you really think his dying made your life any better?”

No. Ann didn’t have to live with him any more, but it still happened.

Hmm. Maybe Dr. Katz was worth the money Ann paid her after all.

FEBRUARY 10, 2014

Martin looked skittish. Well, Ann supposed she didn’t blame him.

“I’m sorry I… whatever it was I did,” Martin said.

“It’s not you,” Ann said, and smiled the most charming smile she could muster. “It’s me.”

Martin just looked confused. Confused and skeptical.

“Can we take it slower?” Ann said.

“You tell me,” Martin said.

Ann looked away. “How’s the project?”

Oh, he seemed so excited she’d asked. “After the penny,” he said, “we tried animal subjects, but it’s a lot harder to confirm that those arrived safely. We think they did.”

Perfect. “Will you show me the notes?”

Martin seemed to consider it. “Well,” he said. “I suppose you do work here.”

NOVEMBER 11, 1955

Ann dropped her blood-spattered lab coat in an alley and hotwired the car. It was an older model, of course–perhaps she should say “contemporary model” instead–but those were easier. Billy Watson had taught her how to hotwire cars in exchange for a blow job. She’d promptly stolen his car.

Grandfather was in the phone book. They lived out in the suburbs.

Time to change a little history.

DECEMBER 25, 1988

Ann sat on the floor with her Raggedy Ann doll. Her grandmother was in the kitchen, cooking. Daddy was… well, she wasn’t sure where he was.

“Ann? Sweetie?”

Ann looked up.

Ann’s grandmother was holding a sheet of cookies fresh out of the oven. “Where’s your father?”

“Outside, I think.”

“Go and tell him Christmas dinner is ready.”

Ann put on her coat and gloves, and picked up her doll. She went outside, shutting the door behind her. “Daddy?” she said.

There was no answer, but there were footprints leading to the back yard, already filling up with snow. Daddy was lying in a snowdrift with a bottle, his eyes closed. He was covered in a light layer of snow, too, melting off his face, but clinging to his eyelashes.


He opened his eyes.

Ann didn’t know what to say. She thought she should know. She was nine years old, not a baby any more. But she stood there, clutching her doll and looking at him.

He sighed, and sat up, and said, “What’s up, baby girl?”

“Dinner is ready,” Ann said.

Daddy started to cry. He dried his eyes and wiped his nose on his sleeve, then took Ann’s hand and went into the house with her.

“You’re drunk,” Grandmother said. “Couldn’t you just behave yourself for one day?”

“He put his cigarettes out on my arm,” Daddy said. “Look!” He tried to roll up his sleeve and failed.

Grandmother started to cry. Ann stood there in her coat and hugged her doll.

AUGUST 12, 1989

The car came to a stop in front of their house. “Thank you for taking me, Mrs. King,” Ann said.

“It was good having you with us,” Mrs. King said. “It’s a shame your father doesn’t take you camping more often.”

“He gets sick a lot,” Ann said.

“I’ll wait here and make sure you get inside okay.”

Ann climbed out of the station wagon and retrieved her backpack. She walked up the sidewalk and unlocked the front door. She opened the door, and Mittens the cat rushed out. There was an awful smell.

Mittens cried, a mournful meow.

Ann stepped in, cautious, slow, walking towards…

She screamed, and ran out the door. Mrs. King was starting to drive away. She chased the station wagon, and Mrs. King stopped. She climbed in.

“Drive,” Ann said.

“What’s the matter, Ann?”

“Wait! I want Mittens!”


“Wait!” Ann opened the car door and picked up the cat, then got back in and shut the door.

Mrs. King just looked at her.

“He’s dead,” Ann said, and started to cry.

FEBRUARY 9, 2014

“If I could give my father one gift,” Ann told Dr. Katz, “I would give him a happy childhood.”

She wasn’t a detective, but she wanted to solve her grandfather’s murder. She’d read all the newspaper accounts. If it wasn’t for grandfather’s murder, Daddy would still be alive.

“Maybe we should talk about the abortion,” Dr. Katz said.

“I panicked,” Ann said. “I just don’t think I’m psychologically healthy enough to be a parent.”

“And Martin?”

“We’re getting a divorce.”

“How does that affect your job?”

“It’s a bit uncomfortable,” Ann said. “But it’s not like we aren’t professionals.”

Ann had been afraid for a moment that Martin would change the access codes, but that was silly. She was divorcing, not fired, and the wheels of academe turn slowly.

Maybe she could set things right, once and for all. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her, but maybe she could make things right for Daddy.

NOVEMBER 11, 1955

Ann sold her engagement ring and bought a car. Finding the house was easy; she’d lived there after Daddy died.

Grandmother was a tired-looking woman on the front porch with a black eye. “Don’t remarry,” Ann said.

“I beg your pardon?” Grandmother said.

Ann’s timing must have been off, because the man who came to the front door wasn’t her step-grandfather.

“Remarry?” he said. “Who are you?”

“A friend,” Ann said.

“Eileen ain’t got no friends,” he said. “Get off my porch.”

Grandmother looked scared, so she did. She headed down to the edge of the property.

That’s where Ann saw her. Herself. Whoever. If this whole time-travel thing became common, the linguistics people were going to have a problem. She didn’t know how this was possible, but she supposed time-travel was really Martin’s area. Although she suspected he’d be unsettled to meet himself, too.

“Fancy meeting you here, doppelganger,” the other Ann said. “Guess I didn’t quite get this one right.”

There were raised voices coming from the house. Grandmother screamed.

“If she loses the baby, we’re both done for,” Ann said.

“We can take him,” the other Ann said. “The two of us? No problem.”


The other Ann gave her a scornful look. “You’re not scared of him, are you? The things father did to us, he did to father first. He deserves to die.” She beckoned. “Come on. We’ll get it over with.”

“You think I came here to kill him?”

“You didn’t?” the other Ann said. “Why did you come?”

NOVEMBER 11, 1955

Ann hated her doppelganger.

Ann shouldn’t hate her doppelganger. She made her. She was her: the Ann she wanted to be, the Ann she created by coming back to kill Grandfather. She thought she’d love her, but no, seeing her, she was so full of hate and envy her throat was full and she couldn’t breathe.

If she was going to kill for her, shouldn’t she love her?

“Apparently,” her doppelganger said, sitting on the ground, “Grandmother has no taste. Her next husband was a bastard, too.”

Damn. Ann had never thought of that. “Well,” she said, “we can’t have a long line of us coming back in time to kill her husbands, can we?

Doppelganger Ann laughed a little. “No. Maybe if we called Child Protective Services…”

“I don’t think they have Child Protective Services yet.”

“The police?”

“For an unborn child?” Which meant that they couldn’t just cut to the chase and kill Grandmother, unfortunately.

“What are we going to do, then?”

“I can’t not kill Grandfather,” Ann said, sitting on the ground next to her. “You’ll cease to exist if I don’t.”

“I don’t want you to kill anyone,” the doppelganger said.

“We’re all born of original sin,” Ann said. “Except you. You were born of my sin.”

Somehow Ann didn’t think that was what her doppelganger wanted to hear. “There’s more than just cause and effect going on here,” the doppelganger said. “Ethos anthropos daimon. Character is fate. Maybe if we changed Grandmother somehow.”

Apparently, they’d taken similar coursework in college. “Character is created by cause and effect,” Ann said.

The doppelganger shook her head. “No. I have no control over the things that happened to me, but I can control how I react to them. That’s character.”

“You may have free will,” Ann said, “but not me. I am a product of causal determinism.”

“Don’t be such a fatalist.”

“You know,” Ann said, “we can argue free will all day, but right now, I have a child molester to kill. What say we continue this philosophical discussion later, over wine and cheese?”

“But this impacts whether what you do makes any difference!”

“Either way,” Ann said, “I’m performing a service to society, and I suggest you not interfere.”

“But he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“How do you know?” Ann stood.

Her doppelganger stood, too. “I can’t let you do this.”

“I’ll say it again: stay out of my way.”

At least her doppelganger seemed to have the wit to be scared. She stood aside, and Ann went back into the house. Grandmother was weeping at the foot of the stairs. Grandmother started when she saw her, but Ann put a finger over her lips and mouthed, “Gun.”

Grandmother looked at Ann like she was her savior, and pointed at the back door. There was a shotgun next to it. Ann picked it up and started up the stairs, moving as quietly as she could.

He was lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling. He saw her peering around the corner. “What the hell do you want?” he asked. “How did you…?”

She pointed the shotgun at him. “I know what you are. I know what you’re going to do to Eileen’s child.”

He sat up and stared, looking terrified.

“It happened to you, too, didn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Wrong answer,” she said, and pulled the trigger. It went straight through his heart, which was probably an easier death than he deserved, but in a sense he was a victim, too. What happened to her happened to him. But what happened to her happened because of him, because of what he did, because of what happened to him.

Stop the cycle. I want to get off.

NOVEMBER 11, 1955

Grandmother looked at her so strangely when she came in the front door, but otherwise she took a second Ann surprisingly well. “I’m not her,? Ann said.

Grandmother looked up the stairs, then raised an eyebrow at Ann.

She probably only had a moment. “Listen to me,” Ann said. “No matter how nice he seems, don’t marry the investigating officer.”

“How will I support my child if I don’t remarry?”

“Can you move back in with your parents?”

“I wouldn’t raise a child in my father’s house,” she said.


There was a gunshot upstairs.

“Don’t touch the gun,” Ann said. “It’ll have her fingerprints on it. Say it was a strange woman, say you think your husband was having an affair with her, they’ll believe you.” After all, it worked the first time.

“Who are you?” she said.

“We’re your granddaughter,” Ann said. Grandmother seemed to take that better than Ann expected.

The other Ann came barreling down the stairs. “Time to go, doppelganger.” She looked at Grandmother. “Don’t touch the gun. Call the police.”

Grandmother nodded.

“Don’t forget what I told you to tell them,” Ann said. “They’ll never believe the truth.”

“I don’t think I believe the truth,” she said.

NOVEMBER 11, 1955

They ducked under a bridge. “Well, this sucks,” the other Ann said.


“I was hoping that I would cease to exist at this point,” she said. “I guess it doesn’t work that way.”

Ann heard a car come to a stop on the bridge over them, and ducked under a bush into the mud. She heard the other Ann make a disgusted noise, and the car doors opened, followed by the sound of footsteps.

“Come out with your hands up,” a voice said. “This is the police. You’re under arrest for the murder of Charles O’Connell.”

The other Ann started to laugh.

JANUARY 19, 1956

Grandmother brought a date to the trial, a good-looking older guy who appeared to have money. Ann didn’t like the way he kept his hand on her back. Possessive. Like he owned her. On the other hand, there were only two Anns running around so far, which might be a good sign.

The other Ann pled guilty and suggested the death penalty. The judge looked disturbed by that and sentenced her to life in prison.

Ann found herself thinking of Martin. She supposed that it didn’t matter what she did now. Unless, of course, she wanted to steal her father from her grandmother and raise him herself. She still didn’t think she’d make a great parent, although she figured she couldn’t do that much worse than grandmother. But she’d had her chance, and she’d aborted it. So she bought herself a big bottle of vodka, and found herself a nice snowdrift to drink it in.

JANUARY 4, 2014

The crane lifted the sealed concrete container out of the hole in the ground. Martin lay down in the snow next to the hole and reached inside. Ann stood next to him, her hand resting on her pregnant belly.

Martin pulled out a grimy Tyvek envelope. “Got it!” he said.

Ann threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

About the Author

Katherine Mankiller

Katherine Mankiller has been published in Electric VelocipedeEscape Pod, and ChiZine. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. When not writing, she’s performing amazing feats of Geek-Fu. Over the years, she’s asked that her business cards read everything from “Alpha Bitch” through “Queen of Awesomeness” to “Zen Master” – to no avail.

Her greatest ambition is to rule the world.

Find more by Katherine Mankiller


About the Narrator

Kim Gianopoulos

Kim Gianopoulos is a person who exists.

Find more by Kim Gianopoulos