The children came home from trick-or-treating much earlier than Julia expected. Her son and daughter sullenly crossed the living room and dumped their nearly empty candy bags.
“Why are you two back so soon?”
“We kind of did something weird,” Ewan said.
Julia raised her eyebrow. “What kind of something?”
Ewan pretended to zip his lips, so Julia turned to her daughter. “Violet?”
Violet’s mouth twisted, but before she could answer the door flung open.
In walked her son and daughter. Again. They were bickering, blaming each other for something, when they looked up and saw their doubles.
“Woops,” Ewan said.
Violet’s mouth dropped opened.
“I think someone should explain what happened.”
“Well…” both Ewans started, but before they said anything else another set of children stormed into the house.
“See, I told you this was a bad idea!” Violet yelled, pointing to the two other pairs of siblings.
“What — ” But Julia didn’t even get a question out before another pair of her children came through the door, worriedly gawking at the others.
Two more sets of children burst through the door, arguing amongst themselves.
“This is all your fault, Ewan!”
“Everybody quiet!” Julia bellowed in her best mom voice.
All the children quieted down, ducking their heads.
“Ewan. Tell me what happened.”
All her sons began to chatter, and she held up a hand. “One at a time, please.”
“There was a man,” one Ewan said.
“A man with a hot air balloon!” another said.
“And a booth,” another added.
“He said the booth was a time machine,” the first one said.
“We didn’t believe him,” the fourth one said.
“We sort of believed him,” the second one said.
“I told him it was ridiculous,” one of the Violets said.
Julia waved her quiet, and all the Violets slumped and sulked.
“We figured if we went back in time, we could get twice as much candy,” the first Ewan said.
“You thought,” one of the Violets muttered.
“You went into the booth?” Julia asked.
All sets of children nodded.
“But all the houses we went to wouldn’t give us more because they’d already given us candy!” the fourth Ewan said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“I told you that would happen,” another Violet said.
“How many times?” Julia asked.
They all looked at each other. The Ewans shrugged. The Violets pouted.
Julia sighed. “Show me this booth.”
The crisp October air nipped at her nose as the children crunched through dead leaves and they made their way to the town square. Vendors had set up booths selling caramel apples and hot cider, face paint and fortunes. Performers juggled balls, did card tricks, and twirled in hoops.
Julia ignored them all and made a beeline for the hot air balloon on the far side of the green.
The man beside the booth grinned as she approached, but his smile faded as he noticed the long line of repetitive children.
“What on Earth happened here?” Julia demanded.
The man twirled his mustache and frowned. “I was testing a theory.”
Julia narrowed her eyes. “What theory?”
“That the time stream would work to fix a time paradox!” He spread his arm expansively.
“You allowed children walk into this machine, unsure of the consequences, and let them duplicate themselves?”
“Oh, no. They’re not duplicates. They’re from different timelines. All here at once. Isn’t it remarkable?”
“I much prefer unremarkable. You will fix this immediately.” Julia shook a finger at him.
The man became flustered. “Oh. Dear me. I’m not sure how. I had assumed time would fix itself.”
Julia let out a must-I-do-everything-myself huff. “Can you send me back to when you first arrived?”
The man tilted his head, thinking, then nodded. “I believe so, my good woman. But what do you intend to do?”
She didn’t tell him. Instead, she told the Violets they were in charge and marched into the booth.
When she stepped out, it was earlier in the day. The sun was still out, and people bustled about setting up the festival.
The man with the balloon had just touched down, a teenager securing the balloon with thick ropes. Julia stepped forward and shooed the kid away.
“Do you have a permit for this balloon?”
The man twirled his mustache. “Permit?”
Julia put her hands on her hips. “Without a permit, you can’t land here. The nearest balloon landing is two counties over. You’ll have to park there and find another way to travel here.”
“Yes, but — ”
“No exceptions, I’m afraid.” She untethered the balloon and gave the basket a push. The man stared dumbly as the balloon rose until she gave him her mom glare. He jerked to attention and let a burst of flame into the balloon.
Julia waved as he floated away, then made her way back home.
There, her children — only two of them — were putting on their costumes.
She was there, too, helping them get ready.
“Hmm,” Julia said.
The other Julia and her children stared at her open-mouthed.
“It’s a long story,” Julia told the other Julia. “Trust me, these odds are much better, having two of us rather than a dozen of the kids.”
Past Julia thought about that for a moment, then shrugged. “I suppose I could use the help.”
“Does that mean we have two mommies now?” Violet asked.
“For the foreseeable future, yes, dear.”
Violet smiled and gave her a hug, but Ewan did not look thrilled.
By day, Sara is an unassuming copy editor, but at night, she morphs into her writer alter-ego, creating and destroying worlds as she sees fit. Since with great power comes great responsibility, she also keeps her local writing group organized and their fiction website running. At home, she has a Cthulhu-worshiping husband, a supervillain-in-training step son, and a pit bull with a grass allergy who thinks she’s a human. There’s no reasoning with any of them. You can find Sara online and on Twitter @saraelwriter.