crocodile eye and nostril peeking up out of cerulean water

Crocodile Dilemma

This story was written in response to the following prompt on r/WritingPrompts:

Paradox Manifestation Department, what’s your emergency?

“Paradox Manifestation Department, what’s your emergency?”

“What? Hello? No, I need to call 911!”

“Technically, ma’am, you need to call the PMD, so here we are.”

“No, I took my phone specifically to call 911, and you started talking before I could even dial! I have an emergency! Who is this?”

“Ma’am, please remain calm. This is an emergency number. If you had dialed 911, you would have explained your situation, and they would have connected you with us. We are the service you need.”

“How could you know that before it even happened?”

“I didn’t. But since we are speaking now, you clearly need our services, so what is your emergency?”

“A crocodile has stolen my baby! My little Hailey! Can you help me?”

“That depends, ma’am.”

“It depends?! If you say you’re the person I need, why are you unsure whether you can help?”

“Did the crocodile say anything when it stole your child?”

“How did you know it said something? Crocodiles can’t talk!”

“Ma’am, if the crocodile spoke to you, then it must be true that crocodiles can speak.”

“But I’ve seen crocodiles at the zoo and on TV, and none of them said a word!”

“Yes, but if any one of those crocodiles ever spoke, then it would validate the idea that crocodiles do indeed speak.”

“My god, I must be going crazy. I hope I’m going crazy.”

“You would prefer going crazy to getting your child back from the crocodile?”

“No, if I were going crazy, there would be no crocodile and Hailey would still be safe at home!”

“Well, since neither of those are the case, then you must not be going crazy, which is a good thing. Now, tell me what the crocodile said.”

“I can’t belie— The crocodile said that in order to get Hailey back, I must guess what the crocodile will do next.”

“Ma’am, the crocodile will not return your child.”


“That is to say, you must tell the crocodile that its next act will be to keep your child.”

“Why on earth would I do that? What kind of emergency service is this?!”

“Ma’am, please remain calm. If you tell the crocodile it won’t return your child, then according to its own terms it cannot, in good conscience, keep the child, since that would result in your guess being correct, and it would therefore have to return the child to you.”

“But… if I say the crocodile won’t give her back, then I’m only correct if it actually doesn’t give her back!”

“Yes, but any other guess will be incorrect and the crocodile will keep your child.”

“This is absurd! Get me Animal Control!”

“I’m afraid they won’t be able to help you. Now please, ma’am, I am a trained professional. Tell the crocodile it will not return your child to you.”

“I can’t— My breathi—”

“Ma’am, please remain calm.”

“My chest is— tight… Every breath feels— like it’s only… half as much air as the… previous breath…”

“I’m glad to hear that, ma’am, rest assured it means you’ll never completely run out of air. Now, please, tell the—”

“Okay, okay… Cro—crocodile… your next act will be—oh, god… to not return my poor little Hailey to me…”


“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you there?”

“Yes, I… The crocodile is clawing at its head. Its eyes are bleeding.”

“This is good, stay on the line. Keep talking.”

“There’s a box here, near the crocodile.”

“What does the box look like?”

“Just a wooden box. Oh, god, do you think Hailey is inside?”

“She very well could be.”

“But she might not be… Because if I guessed correctly that I wouldn’t get her back…”

“No, you guessed correctly that the crocodile wouldn’t return her to you. That box could quite possibly contain your child.”

“I don’t see how to open it. Oh, but lifting it, it weighs the same as Hailey. My poor little girl, oh, Hailey! Hailey, it’s mommy! Hailey, can you hear me? Oh, god, what if she’s dead? I’ve got to get this box open!”

“Ma’am, I strongly recommend against opening that box.”

“Don’t open it? But what if she’s alive and needs help?”

“It’s just as likely that she’s dead.”

“But why on earth wouldn’t I open the box to find out?!”

“Because as long as the box remains closed, your daughter is simultaneously dead and alive. Technically speaking, if left as-is, she’s guaranteed to outlive you.”

“She… she is?”

“Yes. And if you see to it that no one ever opens the box, your daughter will live until the Sun explodes and swallows the Earth. But if you find a way for her to escape even that fate, she will live quite literally forever.”

“Alive forever… in a box.”

“In a box, alive forever.”

“I don’t know what to think… I suppose I’ll have to buy her a whole new wardrobe; none of her clothes will fit around this thing!”

Sign up below and receive a free ebook of my 2021 flash fiction collection illustrated by my talented artist friends!

Success! You're on the list.


  1. Stephen Weihs

    Fun Story! However, if you permit me, I believe the ending misses the point of the Shrodinger’s Cat paradox. According to the paradox, the baby in the box exists in a dual state. It is both alive and dead until the box is opened, at which time one of the realities disintegrates. The Paradox Manifestation Dept should have advised the mother not to open the box under any circumstances if she wanted to insure her child’s well-being. The mother then could happily take the box home secure and content in the knowledge that, at least as far as quantum physics goes, her baby would never die.

    1. Zachary Dillon

      That’s true, and that’s a better ending! I got caught up in the “conflict resolution” aspect of the PMD, so I made it lean toward closure. I may have to revise it in the future, if YOU will permit ME!

Leave a Reply