I’d been thinking of doing it for so long, that when the opportunity arose I almost didn’t know what to do with it. But it was obvious enough. In high school I’d read about an incident that had taken place some time ago, the distant past. A goat, the school’s mascot, was put down after it attacked a student. I would save that goat.
This wasn’t just any student, though, but rather Charlie Morris, who went on to become a minor movie star, washed up at the time I finally gained possession of the time machine, his career basically over.
The thing was, I cared less about Charlie than the goat. Something told me that the goat was far more significant than it appeared. I can’t really explain that. If I tried, I would just sound crazy. I mean, you’ve probably already formed any number of assumptions about me just based on the fact that I’ve admitted to valuing a goat over a movie star. I bet even movie stars you personally can’t stand would still rate higher for you than a goat. Unless you are a chupacabra.
It didn’t matter. I felt compelled. I know, putting it that way isn’t going to help your opinion of me in the slightest. It’s the truth. That’s all I can say.
I entered the time machine, set the coordinates to the period of the incident in 1973, and before I knew it, there I was, looking at my old high school, when it was, well, a little more old. I became aware immediately that I was being observed. Irrationally, I expected to turn around and see Charlie, or the goat. But it wasn’t either of them. It was another kid, a classmate of Charlie’s. He was staring at me, as if he had been expecting me.
“You jerk,” he said. That’s exactly what he said. Not out of surprise, not out of alarm, but spite. There was anger in his voice. “I’ve been waiting for you all afternoon, you know. In some ways, all my life. And let me tell you, I haven’t been looking forward to this day. At all.”
“I have no idea how to respond to that,” I replied.
“Unfortunately for both of us,” he continued, “you won’t be going back into that time machine of yours and leaving. Not right away. I might as well introduce myself. One of us should be the good guy. The name’s Vinnie Epstein.”
“Richard Tartt,” I stammered. I never stammer. In addition to thinking I’m crazy, you can also consider me an idiot. All the evidence you need is right there.
“I know what you’re here to do,” Vinnie said. “You’re going to save the goat. You’re going to change history. From your perspective it hasn’t happened yet. From my perspective, too. Technically. But I saw it, in my dreams, when I was very young. I always knew this day would come. I’ve been dreading it, but what could I do? You’re from too far in the future. The first time I meet you it’s already too late.”
“That’s great, kid,” I said. Stupidly. Access to time machines does not make you smart. My first mistake was made long before acquiring the time machine. Stealing it. I was a teenage hooligan. I made worse decisions than antagonizing a goat. I can admit that now. There’s really no point in trying to make myself sound better. In your eyes, I’m just getting worse and worse. I get that.
“You have no idea what it’s been like,” Vinnie said. I didn’t have a chance to state the obvious before he continued, and suddenly I realized even the obvious to me wasn’t what he’d meant. Naturally. “Before you showed up here I never had anyone I could talk to about this vision. They would have thought I was crazy. Even I started to wonder. It was just a dream, right? It was an easy thing to doubt, after a while. But now you’re here and everything has been confirmed. I can’t even believe I ever had the ability to stop you, now. History has already changed. Don’t you get it? Everything you knew and everything I knew doesn’t even matter anymore. Now it’s exactly what it always was. The goat didn’t die. Care to guess what else is different? I bet you can’t. Not in a million years.”
He was right. Before I left, I was a janitor, at this very high school. The time machine was just another piece of equipment in the science lab. Imagine that. In a few short years revolutionary technology becomes the mundane. Flying cars were the same way. What do you expect?
I knew immediately that I wasn’t a janitor anymore. I had swapped fates with Charlie. Completely. I can name all my crummy movies now. And waiting for me when I got back? Charlie the janitor. All because a goat lived? I’m not here to explain that.
The thing is, I felt most bad about Vinnie, the other kid, the real victim, the one I never saw coming. (Heh.) The moment I hopped out of the time machine again, barely remembering having actually saved the goat, I wanted to find out whatever happened to him. That was the only thing I cared about.
Turns out Vinnie wrote a screenplay about this very incident. Sat in development hell for years. He never had a script produced. This whole thing was so ridiculous, even Hollywood wanted nothing to do with it. I’m really certain he hates me.