You heard right.
I want to go back, change a decision I made.
I can send you back, but I can’t guarantee you’ll change the decision. There are a lot of wild card factors involved. But I do offer this guarantee: Your money back if you’re not satisfied.
Have you ever had an unsatisfied customer?
All of them. Until I send them back.
But after they return…?
Let’s put it this way: I have never ended a transaction with an unsatisfied customer.
a pause / then: Do you accept checks?
No. And no credit cards, sealed bank accounts, nothing like that. Cash on the barrelhead. You were told that before I agreed to meet with you.
I…I only have a few hundred dollars.
smile Luckily I’m not in this for the money.
resigned nod When do we start? Do I give you the money now?
Let me see it.
an envelope emerges from a purse thick fingers count it / hand it back
Aren’t you going to keep it?
No. You hold onto it until you return, until you’re satisfied. Then you pay me.
One thing: We’ll need a contract, make this all official and business-like. such a contract is produced from a drawer Now, just give me all the pertinent details: Where and when do you wish to be sent back, who are you attempting to contact, what is your reason for changing the past…?
Is all that necessary?
Sadly, yes. When you come back, you will be synching up with a new time line you’ve created. You’ll remember this trip, this conversation, but in a matter of days, sometimes only hours, it will fade away like a dream. I need the contract for my protection, to prove I did what I said I’d do.
Aren’t you afraid I’ll forget to pay you?
taps contract Not with this. Now, details: Who, what, where, why, and most importantly, when?
hesitation, then a torrent of details: handsome guy / turned him down / married another / marriage failed / handsome guy married another / happily ever after for him / wonder what would have happened if for her
Al inks all the details in neatly / carefully notes time & date / pushes multi-page contract across desk
Read it carefully. Make sure all the details are correct.
she does / they are / she signs
Al gestures to a large door.
On the other side: A chamber densely lined with blinking electronic devices; a simple wooden chair sits in the middle.
When I activate the time machine, you’ll experience a brief period of intense vertigo and a blinding flash of light. As soon as that happens, you’ll be back at your college and will have fifteen minutes to explain to your former self the mistake you made and why it’s important she make the right choice. As soon as you convince her, you’ll be automatically yanked back into the chamber in the present time -- or should I say, the now altered present time. Now, sit down and wait for the countdown clock to begin, and best of luck.
she goes in / sits down / moment of apprehension as door closes / countdown clock begins:
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 –
Suddenly the door flings open! Al lunges in / yanks her out!
Are you okay? Are you okay?
Yes – wait – what happened? Did something go wrong?
With the machine? No. With you? Yes. You managed to convince your college self not to dump the guy. But that turned out to be the biggest mistake of your life. You dated for six months, then he dumped you for your best friend. You fell for a creep on the rebound, and he turned your life into a living hell. I’m going to spare you the ugly details, but you ended up with no degree, no career, a criminal record, and more medical problems than I’d care to recount. You were literally reduced to this or suicide or death in a charity ward when you came back.
What? No! I don’t believe you!
Read ‘em and weep.
presents contract / she reads it / all the details are wrong / different
I didn’t sign this!
Oh? Check the last page.
her signature sits on the page / none of the details are the same
Your alternate timeline self begged me to send her back so she could warn you. Can’t do that; something about doubling back too close on your own time stream. But she could come back after I closed the door and tell me not to send you back. She brought this contract with her to prove she’d talked to me in her alternate timeline. I yanked you out of the chamber just in time.
But…where is she? Where is this alternate me?
Gone. Vanished back into the time stream the instant we undid your mistake.
confusion / perplexed / hesitant
Al speaks to her not unkindly Look, you just had a narrow call. A real narrow call. But you’re safe now. Yeah, you didn’t get the guy you wanted, but you weren’t going to get him anyway: Just wasn’t meant to be. But you do have a degree, you do have a career. Build on that, do something with this. Forget about your disappointments. Forget about the guy you turned down, the guy you divorced, hey, forget about ever even trying to change things. Just look to the future and move forward.
pensive look / slow nod / sigh
You’re right. You’re right. No more wallowing in the past. Just…just the future from now on. Thank you, Al.
You’re welcome. …uh, aren’t you forgetting something?
My fee. You had no money to pay for your second trip back, but you said I could keep the money you promised for this trip. See, I do honor my satisfaction guarantee; I’m not charging you for the first trip since it provided a very unsatisfactory result. But your second trip was successful, the tragedy was undone, so for that trip, I’m due.
thick fingered hand extends palm up
she blinks / reaches into purse / withdraws money
Al counts it (again) / salutes her with it / holds open the door that leads to the stairs that lead up to the sidewalk
that evening / as every evening / Al practices the signature transposition trick before a phalanx of mirrors in his apartment
he’s good -- damned good -- but practice makes perfect
the signature transposition trick: an old magician’s sleight of hand / get the mark to sign their name to a playing card / tear the card up before their eyes / produced the signed card in a brand new deck another mark has been holding for the entire trick
really quite simple…when you know the trick
and when you do know the trick switching the last page of one contract for another is child’s play the time machine is just window dressing no more real than the bogus science degrees lining his office
still…even child’s play takes practice
Another day, another dollar thinks Al to himself as he runs through the trick for the tenth twentieth thirtieth time that night honing his skills until the switch is seamless / invisible / perfect
Luckily for me there really is a sucker born every minute. And thanks to them, time is money…
© Buzz Dixon based on an idea by & with the gracious permission of Jim MacQuarrie illustration by Malcolm Smith