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Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #2166432
What would happen if I could journey back in time? A Pretty Pesky Prompts Entry
What if…

Ken sat on the porch drinking his morning coffee. He really enjoyed this time of the day, a time when all the possibilities were still waiting to be discovered. Lighting another cigarette, he watched a dew covered web shimmering in the bright sunlight. He blew a smoke ring and was struck by its resemblance to what he imagined a tachyon might look like. Time’s rabbit hole, he thought. What would happen if I could journey back in time? To when would I go?

The answer jumped into his mind. He’d always loved words, even obsessed about them until… If I could change one moment…


Ken peered out into the sea of faces, picking out his parents and their worried looks.

“Could you repeat the word?” he croaked into the microphone.

“The word is ‘squamulose,’” a disembodied voice intoned.

Ken felt the sweat on his forehead begin to run down his face. His mouth was just the opposite. It was dry as the Sahara. “Can you use the word in a sentence?”

“The stem of the mushroom is squamulose.”

That didn’t help a whole lot! He let the word roll on his tongue, trying to capture the sounds and ferret out the correct spelling.

He looked again at his parents. The Scripps National Spelling Bee was important to them. His father had come in third it in 1981.

Focusing again, he asked, “What does this mean? Can I have a definition?”

The panel just stared at him. As he watched, their eyes grew large with accusation. He could see their thoughts:

You’re not worthy to be on that stage!

You’re a loser just like your father!

“Stop it,” he shouted. “Squamulose! What does this mean? You have to tell me!”

The doctor turned away from the observation window toward the worried looking couple standing there. “We put so much pressure on our kids to succeed, I’m not surprised that we’re seeing more children like this every day.”

“We didn’t know …” began the older version of Ken.

“I understand. The good news is that, with a little rest and a little therapy, Ken will be fine. We just need to downplay competition and keep your expectations from pressuring him beyond his ability to cope.”

“We understand, Doctor. Can we see him now?”

“Of course,” he said, ushering them toward a doorway. “When you talk to him, though, avoid big words,” he said with a sad smile.


Ken returned to the present, his reverie dissipating like the smoke ring. His dreams of being a writer had been dashed in that one moment of terror, of confusion. He shook his head and took another sip of coffee. The grounds of the sanatorium spread out in a peaceful vista. I guess this isn’t too bad, all things considered.

His thoughts were interrupted by Dave, the orderly. "Hey, Ken. It's time for therapy. How are you doing today?

"Squamulose: S-Q-U-A-M-U-L-O-S-E."

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An entry for the August round of "Pretty Pesky Prompts
Prompt: Think back to your childhood when someone would ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?” And write a story about how your life would be different if those crazy childhood dreams had come true.
Word Limit: 1000
Word Count: 516

The winning word for the 1962 National Spelling Bee was squamulose ~ [skwam-yuh-lohs] an adjective meaning furnished or covered with tiny scales.

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