The Life That I Can Save - A Short Story

Another short story for your listening pleasure! Transcript below is the first draft of the script, there were some slight changes made during the recording, and a few more during the edit, so it doesn't line up exactly, but it's pretty close. Enjoy!

 

The Life That I Can Save
Written & Produced by Jesse Ferguson

Cast:

Travis, George, Narrator: Jesse Ferguson
Darlene: Ariel Ferguson

“Have you got eyes on him?” A voice in her ear asks.

“I see him,” she says. “He’s on his way to the bar.”

“You need to be there when he gets there, Darlene.”

Relax, Travis. Time machine, remember?” She heads to her car and looks around. No one in sight. Perfect.

“Uh huh, just be careful, don’t let anyone see you shift.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll check in once I’ve made contact.” She taps her ear to end the call, pushes a button on the dash, and she and the car are gone.

----

George was in a foul mood before he got to the bar. Three drinks in, he’s ready to beat the shit out of the next person who looks at him wrong.

“How we doin’, sir?” The bartender asks as she wipes down the counter. He’s trying to remember her name. Darcy? Darla? He supposes it doesn’t matter. “Need anything else?”

“One more and then I’m out.” 

“Out of here? Or out of cash?” She cocks one brow up and grins. Teasing, but not mocking. He should be mad, but isn’t.

He grunts. “Both, I guess.” She pours two fingers into the bottom of a fresh glass, then puts the bottle away.

“You’re in here more often lately. Something the matter?”

He winces as the whiskey goes down, and his face darkens. “An anniversary.” 

And then he’s back there, in the ambulance with his son. He can smell the blood, the bile, the shit.

He pays his tab and heads for the door.

“Be careful, okay?”

“I’m Mister Careful.”

She chuckles. “See you tomorrow, Mr. Careful.”

“Hmmm. Probably.” He shuts the door a little harder than he means to.

----

He’s staggering more than he’d like to admit. He slips on the curb, stumbles out into the street. A car honks as it swerves out of the way. As the headlights flash in his eyes, suddenly it’s nine years ago, Cameron is fifteen, and they’re out for a run, way too late. He sees the driver lose control, his reactions too slow for the weather, ill-equipped to handle a car this late at night. Too much alcohol in his blood. He can smell the tires squealing as the man behind the wheel snaps back to awareness and tries frantically to prevent what’s about to happen. 

----

He flinches instinctually, and now he’s George again, tripping on the street, falling backwards onto the sidewalk. He lands on his wrist just so, and a shockwave of pain shoots up his arm, all the way to his shoulder. He cries out, and winces as he leans against the building.

Now he’s on the floor in the hospital, leaning against that disgusting wall, while Cam is in the ICU. He can barely breathe, and he’s doing everything he can to hold his shit together. He looks over at Molly. She’s crying. He’s already tried to comfort her, but he can’t get past his own worry. The door to the ICU opens, and the look on the doctor’s face tells him everything. His vision goes blurry, and he tastes salt in his mouth.

----

Back on the street, he can’t see through the tears. He’s still sobbing when a hand lifts him up by his arm and eases him into the back seat of a car. He tries to stop crying as the figure gets in the driver’s seat and shuts the door, but a solemn, feminine voice says, “It’s okay, George.” He recognizes her voice, but can’t quite place it.

“Cry,” she says, and he cries.

----

George is on his knees now, straddling the man who took Cameron away from them. He feels each impact his fists make on the man’s skull. He thought it would feel good. Cathartic. But it doesn’t. It feels… empty. Hollow. It hurts. Why does it hurt? 

The man’s nose is broken. His eyes are swollen & caved in. Several of his teeth are on the ground. There’s blood everywhere. In the driveway. Splattered on his shirt. The man hasn’t been moving for several minutes now, but George can’t make himself stop. Someone is pulling him off, dragging him away. His chest is heaving, and tears have blurred his vision again.

----

 He wakes to the sound and smell of coffee brewing. He doesn’t remember getting out of the car, or getting into his bed. He definitely doesn’t remember making coffee. He slowly, sorely, painfully gets up and looks around his apartment, then stumbles and falls back onto the bed when he sees the shape of a woman in the kitchen.

“Shit!” He yelps as his head hits the back of the wall. “Who the fuck are you?!”

 “Don’t you recognize me Mr. Careful?” She turns toward him, coffee in-hand. 

“From… from the bar? Dar- Darlene.” He’s  pretty sure that’s it. “How did you get here? Come to… how did I get here?”

“I picked you up, brought you home. You let us in. Cream & sugar?”

He shakes his head, takes a cup from her. “Thanks, ummm… we didn’t… did we?”

“No. Your post-incarceration celibacy is intact.” Her face is measured, sympathetic. “Yes, I know. I’m so, so sorry about Cameron.” 

His jaw tightens as he flushes with anger. “How the fuck-”

“Don’t worry, I’ll explain.” She puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes a little, but her voice gets notably more forceful. “Sit down, George. This is going to be a lot to take in.”

She starts to pace as she talks. “Yes, I know about Cameron. I also know about Brandon Pearson, the driver who killed him. The man you beat to death in his own driveway. No, it’s okay, I’m not judging.” She looks nervous, like she’s trying to befriend a wild animal. “That’s… actually why I’m here.”

“You need a killer?”

“I need a dead man.” 

“I hear he’s buried a few miles out of town.” He doesn’t need this shit. He starts to get up, but she puts a hand up to stop him.

“Not him,” she says. “You. Please…” And something about the way she says it gives him pause, makes him sit back down. She’s… she’s scared, but not of him. She needs something from him, and she’s scared he’ll refuse.

“Okay, what do you want with me?”

She takes a breath and re-centers. That small victory seems to have given her a bit more confidence. 

“If you could prevent what happened to you, what happened to your son, from happening to another person, would you?”

“How would-”

“Never mind the how. Would you do it?”

“I… yes, I would.”

“What if that other person was… was another version of you, exactly like you, or rather, exactly like you were, nine years ago, before Cameron died. If that other version of George existed, and you could prevent his life from turning into yours… would you do it?”

“Yes. Jesus, yes.”

“Even if your life doesn’t change?”

“Darlene,” he finally stands. ”I got enough misery for six Georges. Yes, I’d do it.”

She takes a deep breath, obviously relieved. “Okay,” she says, as she pulls a long shoelace from her pocket.  “Imagine this shoelace is the last nine years of your life.” She points to the little plastic part at the end. “This is where... Cameron dies,” she says, and her sympathy is almost too much. She points to various spots on the shoelace, adding. “Here is where you, ummm, confronted Brandon Pearson. This chunk here is the three years you spent in prison for manslaughter. This part is-”

All the jobs he couldn’t hold down? Molly leaving? “This part is mostly alcohol, I get it.”

“Right. Umm… Okay. Right here,” she grabs the very center of the shoelace, reaches back into her pocket, this time pulling out a pair of scissors. “This is where we are right now. What if we could-” Snip. “Cut off this timeline, and go back to here.” She brings the top half of the shoelace down to the bottom.

“Wait… are you talking about time travel?!But that would mean...

“I’m talking about time travel. But listen-”

“Are you telling me I can save him?” He gets a bit too up-in-her-face, and she flinches back. “I can save my son?”

“No, not your son. Not your Cameron. But you can save a Cameron. Here, look:” She brings up her shoestrings again. “If you go back, you can make it so this...” she says, pointing to the plastic end. Cam’s death. “... never happens. The timeline is altered, Cameron survives, so does Brandon, and the George from nine years ago never goes to prison. The family stays together.”

“Yes.”
“But George, you need to understand-”

“Yes.”
“George, listen to me.” She puts a hand back on his shoulder and directs him back to the bed. He sits down, she sits next to him. “Even if you fix your life, you won’t be able to live it. You’re still on this string over here. It’ll be the other George’s life. Your timeline will end, and his will take over. You’ll have to walk away from everything, and become an Outsider… like me.”

Neither of them say anything for several minutes. Finally, he asks her, “Who did you save?”

“My parents died in a car accident when I was seven. I grew up as a ward of the state, passed around from one foster family to the next. Most of them were good people, but some… weren’t.” She pauses for a moment, looks away, rubs her elbow, as if she’s trying to cradle herself. “It was a hard life. But when I was twenty-five, a man found me, and he offered me the chance to prevent my parents from getting into that accident. By saving their lives, I could save their daughter's life, too.

“That little girl lives to 84 years old. She becomes a graphic artist, gets married, she and her wife even adopt a son.” She smiles, and looks down, contemplative. “My life was ruined. It wasn’t going to get better, so I gave it up. I gave it to her.

“I’m not offering you a way to fix your life,” she says. “Your life effectively ended nine years ago. You’re never going to be happy as long as you’re still trying to walk around in its corpse. I’m giving you a chance to change things for everyone else. Your life can end, instead of Cameron’s.”

He stands up again, and leans against the counter. He leans his head down, closes his eyes. Of course he has to do it. He has a chance to save Cameron, he has to take it. Parents always talk about how they’d die for their kids. When the accident happened, when Cam was in the ICU, he begged God to take him instead. Was this really any different? 

He looks back at Darlene. “What will I do? Do I get, like, a new identity or something?”

“That’s an option,” she says. “You can start over as someone else, in a different time and place, so you can’t interact with your old life.”

“That’s an option,” he repeats. “What’s the alternative?”

“You become an Outsider and work with me. We’re made up of people from all over the world, across all of history, and even from your future. We monitor the entire timeline, looking for seams, places where someone has gone back in time to manipulate events in ways that are harmful to humanity, life, the earth, the universe, etc…”

He goes back into the kitchen. “An ‘Outsider,’, eh?” He asks, as he pours two more cups of coffee. He walks back to the bed and hands one to Darlene. “That’s got a pretty nice ring to it. Just one more question.”

“Go for it.”

“Who just... carries around a spare shoelace and a pair of scissors?”

She laughs. “Someone who knows she’s going to have to try to explain time travel to a hungover asshole.” Now he’s laughing, too. For the first time in ages, he’s laughing. He’s… not happy, but maybe... Content?

“Okay,” he says, once he’s calmed back down. “When do we leave?”

Episode 18 - Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

UPDATE: At the time of this recording, Bill & Ted Face the Music was still scheduled for release on September 1st. It has since been pushed up by a week, to August 28th.

This episode is most triumphant! We sit down with Scott Thomas and Rachel "Quirky" Shenk of The Infinity Podcast to discuss one of Jesse's favorite time travel movies: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, just in time for the third installment of the series. We talk about what it gets right (almost everything), where it falls short, and the impact it's had on other time travel media since. Enjoy!

Rachel

Scott

The Infinity Podcast

Episode 17 - Wait For Me

We sit down with Jeeyon Shim and Kevin Kulp to talk about the Kickstarter they just launched, Wait For Me. It's a time-travel journaling game, where the player jumps back and forth through their own life, writing journal entries to their past (and future) selves. As of publication, the kickstarter is still active for a little less than a week, so check it out!

WAIT FOR ME

Jeeyon Shim
Kevin Kulp

 

BONUS EPISODE - Memento in Chronological Order

This is the excerpt from our Memento episode where we did our best to describe the plot in chronological order. Thanks again to our guest Greg Downing of Through the Wind Door!

Episode 16 - Memento

Update: I fixed an editing error where a "Future Jesse" line was in the wrong spot, overlapping some other speech.

Two big things:

First, I want to apologize for the audio quality this episode, especially mine. With everyone being quarantined at home, it's more difficult to find quiet places with good acoustics to record. I think I've got it sorted now, but it was too late to salvage my audio this episode, so I'm sorry in advance.

Second, and more important: the completely avoidable death of George Floyd at the hands of white supremacists in police uniforms, like so many before him, was a terrible tragedy. The release of this episode was delayed several weeks, because Jonathan and I felt it was more important to focus what platforms we have on promoting and elevating Black voices instead of talking about our own project which, while gratifying, is inconsequential next to all this. We here at Recorded tomorrow are unequivocally on the side of protesters in this struggle. Our show doesn't bring in any revenue, but Jonathan and I have each individually made donations to organizations working for racial justice, and we encourage each of you to do the same if you can. Because Black Lives Matter, and this fight isn't over.

---------------------------------------------

So, Memento isn't actually a time travel story, as anyone who's seen it will tell you. That said, we wanted to talk about it because it's a prime example of Narrative time travel, where the events unfold chronologically, but the audience as observer hops around from one part of the story to another, and as a result, we experience the story out-of-order, as if we were a time traveler. Memento isn't the first story to do this, it may not even be the best version of it. But it's one of the few stories where that narrative time travel is absolutely integral to the experience. 

We're joined by Greg Downing of the Through the Wind Door podcast.

Media References:

Memento (film)
Memento Mori (short story)

Episode 15 - Edge of Tomorrow

Today we talk about what could be the perfect time loop film, 2004's Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt (and, of course, the late Bill Paxton). We're accompanied by returning guest and Psyduck Enthusiast Scott Thomas, along with DJ and Twitch streamer Justin Turner joining us for the first time. We break down the story of the film, how it exemplifies (and often subverts) common time loop tropes, we discuss its brand mismanagement, and the difficulty adapting manga to film. Enjoy!

Check out Scott

Check out Justin

The Party - A Short Story

We've decided we should put our money where our mouths are, so Jesse has written a short time-travel story. We hope you enjoy it!

 

RECORDED TOMORROW PRESENTS

THE PARTY

by Jesse Ferguson

Alex notes the time and takes a champagne flute from the tray, giving the server a wink as she does. 7:46PM. The server smiles in return and Alex doesn’t mind that she's patronizing her, she's in entirely too good a mood. 

Because it’s going to work.

“Hey, Alex!” Martin, the host, waves at her as he makes his way across the room. Alex has spent six years, two months and nine days working her way up the ladder in Martin's company, getting close enough to him to earn an invitation to this party. This is where she'll make it all happen.

Right now, somewhere in Seattle, there’s another version of Alex - a younger version, still using her real name - hard at work boosting cars, breaking into houses and shitty office parks in the industrial district. In four months and twelve days, that version of her will be arrested on felony burglary charges, just nine days after she turns eighteen. Her court-appointed lawyer will be too busy with a hundred other cases to put much effort into helping a poor kid everybody knows is guilty. She'll be convicted after just three days, and sentenced to ten years in prison. She’ll never be able to vote.

“Enjoying the party?” Martin's made it over to her now. He's wearing a tan suit and a slightly worried expression. “The band just got here, they’re setting up now,” he sighs, “I should have hired a DJ...”

Relax. I’m sure they'll be worth the wait,”  Alex says. Why not give him something to be happy about? It won't last. Alex almost feels bad about that. “And it doesn’t matter. We’re not here for the band. We’re here for you. Well, you and your new trinket."

“I can't wait for you to see it, Ms. Wells,” he says as he puts a hand on her shoulder, friendly and casual, but without coming off as creepy, like a lot of men in their fifties would. Damn it, now she does feel bad. She likes Martin, and he doesn’t really deserve what’s going to happen.

Seven months, fifteen days from now, that younger Alex-with-her-real-name will find a hidden cache in her cell. Inside, there will be a stack of newspapers and a locked box. The top newspaper will be dated a day after she finds the cache, the next one a week after that. She'll compare it to the papers delivered to the prison on those days, and they'll line up perfectly. 

On the far end of this room, there’s a locked door. Beyond that, some number of other security measures unknown to Alex--for now-- then vault with a three-thousand-year-old clay statue sealed inside it. The statue was recently excavated from Nigeria and it’s worth around sixteen million dollars. Martin acquired it through what he likes to call "back channels," which Alex assumes is richspeak for "he exploited his wealth and influence to plunder it from the culture to which it belongs." On second thought, maybe he does deserve it.

“I’m impressed you’ve been able to keep the statue secure,” she says, with just a little bit of awe in her voice. Martin may be a kind man, but also a rich man, and a little ego-stroking goes a long way. “How did you manage it? A piece this old, this rare, thieves must be lining up to take a crack at it.” 

Seven months, twenty-two days from now, after the second newspaper from her cache matches the one delivered that day, her younger self will start looking through the rest of the papers. The third one will be dated a week from today, and it’ll be folded open to a story with the headline RARE NIGERIAN STATUE STOLEN OUT OF THIN AIR. The article will be circled in felt marker, along with the words THIS WAS YOU, written in her own handwriting.

“Well, that’s the secret,” Martin’s eyes twinkle with mischief. “One of the advantages of using ‘back channels’ is that there aren’t a lot of records. So nobody knows exactly what I have, except the lovely people at this party. Most of the real security is at the gallery.” 

Alex has to fight to maintain her composure. “Wait, you’re saying there’s no security on the statue right now?” She’s a little shocked that she managed to get the question out without her voice faltering.

Martin laughs, “Oh, my dear, of course there’s security on the statue! It’s in a vault with three-foot thick walls, and I’m the only person who knows the combination. It’s being monitored continuously via closed-circuit camera, and I opened the vault and checked on it personally, just before you arrived.”

Seven months, twenty-three days from now, younger Alex will reach the bottom of her hidden stack of newspapers. There will be a dozen of them, each folded open to an article describing an unbelievable theft. Each will be circled, with something to the effect of THIS WAS YOU scrawled on the paper. In every case, the handwriting will be hers. At the bottom of the stack of papers, there will be a key to the lockbox, and inside that will be a device that allows her to travel through time.

Alex has to sit down. Martin moves on and starts mingling with other guests. The band has just started, they’re playing an old Leonard Cohen number. Alex hasn’t heard this song since ten years from now. She didn’t really like it then, but the irony of the situation is too much, so she laughs, leans back on the couch, and enjoys the music.

Starting in seven months and twenty-four days, young Alex will spend several months figuring out how to use her time-travel device. Over those months, she’ll learn that the portals it generates are rooted in place geographically, but that she has fine control over them temporally. She’ll be startled by slightly older versions of herself, and then a few days later, she’ll travel back and startle slightly younger versions of herself in turn. She’ll even use it to escape, first travelling sixty years into the past - before the prison was built - then back to the present after she’s moved outside where the walls would be. But then she’ll remember that some of these thefts will take place during her incarceration, and decide that the best alibi is already being in prison, so she’ll go back to a moment after she left. Prison will be a lot easier to bear once she knows she can literally leave any time she wants.

Alex mingles with other people. She’s not really listening, but she’s paying just enough attention that she’ll be able to recall a key detail or two from each conversation later. It’s important to be seen, heard, and recognized by as many people as possible. After all this, there will be interviews and statements, but there can be no question where she was tonight. Every minute must be accounted for.

Eleven months, nineteen days from now, her younger self will start researching Martin’s company, and building an identity for herself. Being able to spend a few weeks outside to make arrangements and payments, then be back in her cell before anyone notices she left will prove immensely useful. She’ll build credentials, skills, fake references and work history, everything. Alex Wells, this Alex, will be born.

She notices Martin starting to make his way up to the stage, and positions herself at the door. She needs to be right next to him when he opens the safe. 

“Everyone, everyone!” He says into a microphone, “Thank you so much for coming. I’m really excited to show you all this piece. I don’t know if I’ve told all of you how I came to acquire it…” Alex notes the time as his speech goes on. 9:13PM. Eighty-seven minutes. Her heart is racing, and she’s starting to sweat. Eighty-seven minutes isn’t much time...

Calm DOWN… she thinks as she takes a deep breath. This is going to work. She knows it’s going to work, because it’s already worked. But Alex can’t stop the nerves as Martin makes his way over to the door where she’s standing.

Eight years, nine months, and eleven days from now, younger Alex will be released from prison, earning early parole for good behavior. By this point she’ll have researched all the heists in all the newspapers in her cache, and created identities for each of them. She’ll check in with her parole officer, make a few last-minute arrangements, then open a portal and step into six years, three months and three days ago. 

Martin is unlocking the door now. Alex is looking at him, her face as excited as his, though for very different reasons. He opens it, and the whole group head toward the vault: Martin first, Alex right beside him, and a dozen or so other party-goers behind them. She spots the cameras, one in each corner of the hallway. No blind spots. Shit, that’ll be tricky.

Six years, two months and nine days ago, Alex started her first day of employment at Martin’s company. She’d impressed him and his hiring managers in her interviews, and was eager to be a part of the work they were doing. Five years, four months and thirteen days ago, she got promoted. Then again four years and nine days ago. Two years, two months and five days ago, she accepted a position directly under Martin himself. She gracefully inserted herself into his group of “work friends,” and made sure she was always in his social circles. Seven months ago, right after the statue had been discovered and Martin had decided he wanted it, but before he told anyone that, Alex had let it slip that she’d always loved ancient Nigeria, and especially their art. Thirty-six days ago, Martin invited Alex to this party.

Now, at the vault, she squeezes his shoulder, her smile a dark mirror of his own, and watches as he keys in the combination: 7-4-8-2-9-6-1-6-7-9. She memorizes it. He opens the vault door, and everyone gasps.

The vault is empty.

There are no signs of forced entry. No alarms went off. Everyone is rushed back out of the hallway as Martin calls the police, then his security company. Alex has never heard him scream at another person like this.

Two hours and twelve minutes ago, Alex opened a storage locker she’d rented three months earlier. There was part of a couch and several boxes of random stuff in here--mostly to keep up appearances-- but tucked back in the corner was a wooden crate. She pried off the lid and marveled at the perfect, priceless, ancient Nigerian statue. She saw the papers with expert signatures, verifying the statue’s origin, age, and authenticity. She had to hold in a shriek of joy as she resealed the box and locked the storage unit back up. All her hard work, all her research, everything she’d put into this project was going to pay off.

“Thank you, Ms. Wells,” The officer says to her after he’s taken Alex’s statement. He moves onto the next guest, and she finds Martin. 

“I’m so sorry, Martin,” she says as she gives him a hug. “I just can’t believe it.”

“I just-” Martin is frothing with anger and embarrassment, but he puts on a calm face for Alex. “I just saw it. I just looked at the damn thing not two hours ago! I don’t understand how this guy even knew it was here, much less how he got past us in the party. Nevermind how he knew the combination! I tell you, it had to be someone on my security team.”

“I hope you find him, whoever he is,” she says, then bids him goodnight and heads to her car.

The whole drive home she can’t help grinning. She’s got almost everything she needs: The window of opportunity, the exact location and combination of the vault, and a perfect alibi. She still needs to figure out how to get past the cameras, but she knows she will. 

She’s got all the time in the world.

 

Episode 14 - PRIMER

Jesse & Jonathan sit down with a packed panel of film folks to talk about the platonic ideal of smarter-than-you time travel movies: PRIMER. We discuss how it avoids most of the pitfalls we've discussed on our show, and which one it jumps into head-first. We don't all love it, but we all respect it, and we talk about the whys of both. True to form, we also go off on a number of tangents, and chase after that sweet, sweet, Audible money.

Guests:

Chris Chipman of TheChippaMadeThis
Seth Decker of The Film Rescue Show
Returning guest Scott Thomas of The Infinity Podcast

 

 

Episode 13 - Starting Your Story

We put our money where our mouths are this month! Writer, streamer, podcaster, and game designer Emma Larkins has come to us with the very beginnings of a time travel story, and we apply the principles we've worked out over the last year to help her figure out where to take it, and how to start it. This might be the best episode we've ever done, and we're really proud of it. 

Find Emma:

Twitch: @EmmaLarkins

Twitter: @EmmaLarkins @LudologyPod

Ludology

New Rule: 

Solid time travel mechanics do not a story make - Time travel is a tool a writer uses to tell a story, not the other way around.

Media References:

Home Alone (sort of)
Source Code
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 
Groundhog Day
ARS PARADOXICA
Here and Now and Then, Mike Chen
Living With Yourself
Avengers: Endgame 

BONUS EPISODE - Back to the Future (Film Rescue Show cross-broadcast)

The folks over at The Film Rescue Show invited Jonathan and Jesse to join them to talk about Back to the Future. We had A LOT of fun with this, and they were gracious enough to let us publish their episode on our feed. So sit back & listen to us pitch a couple ways we'd fix the time travel mechanics of the Back to the Future trilogy.

C/W: There's more swearing in this episode than usual, sorry!

 

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