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