There is a framed cross stitch on the wood paneled wall in front of you. In flowing cursive, flanked by pink and yellow flowers, it says:
- This is the before time
- You will not remember this
- Good Luck
A middle aged woman in a thick woolen sweater with a picture of a snoozing kitten on it enters through a door and sits at the cheap wooden desk across from you without saying hello. She pulls a folder from a stack to her left and scans its contents for a while before finally looking up at you over her glasses.
“So, Derrick Whitecotton,” she says.
You say nothing.
“That’s your name.”
“It is?” you ask.
She glances down at the file in front of her, cocks her head to the side for a moment and thumbs through the stack on her left.
“No this is your file,” she says. “Odd. It says here that you’re bright.”
“Um,” you say. “Where am I?”
“Didn’t you see the cross stitch?” she points to the wall behind her.
“And you can read?”
Again, you nod.
“Then what’s left to be explained?”
You shift in your chair uncomfortably and she glances back down at the file.
“Oh, I see,” she says. “Very little intuition.You’re one of those smart people who needs all the data before you can start drawing conclusions. No wonder you don’t make it as a creative.”
“What?” you say.
She sighs and rests her head in her hands, rubbing the bridge of her nose for a few seconds. She seems to be mumbling something to herself, a prayer or mantra. When she lifts her head she wears a plastic customer service smile like a sales-person on flight attendant. You wonder why you know what those things are.
“I’m sorry Mr. Whitecotton, we don’t have a lot of time here, but let me try to explain it for you briefly.”
“This is the before time,” she says it like it’s a place everyone has heard of, like school or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You wonder why you know what those things are as well.
“Mr. Whitecotton, you are about to be born.”
She checks a simple gold watch with a brown leather band.
“In about 90 seconds, in fact. So, if you please, there is a good bit of information I need to get through and then you’ll have a decision to make. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” you say.
She glances down at your file and says, “So here are the highlights, the things in your life that will have a real impact.
“In 3rd grade you’ll lose a fight to a boy named Sam Tomlinson, he will be sent to juvenile detention which will lead a life of crime ending in the deaths of three innocent people 12 years later ”
“I kill three people?” you say.
“No, Sam Tomlinson kills three people, then dies in a prison riot twenty three years later,” she says. “Mr. Whitcotton, I’m sorry, but we don’t have a whole lot of time here. I have a lot more folks to brief today and your mother has been in labor for 15 hours. Please, no more interruptions.”
“OK, sorry,” you say, and she continues.
“In fifth grade you will buy a popsicle for a boy named Joey Franklin, who, a week later, will buy a soda for a girl named Francine Donaldson, who, due to those acts of kindness, among hundreds of thousands of other small factors will become one of a very few incorruptible United States senators. In ninth grade you will begin performing improv comedy. You’ll be ok, not great but good enough to be on a team Margot Shannon during college. She will star in several movies and TV shows. You’ll pursue comedy after college for three years but ultimately quit when your girlfriend Laura becomes pregnant with your only child, a girl named Samantha. You will get married and remain happily so for 5 years at which point you’ll hit her during an argument.”
You open your mouth to protest. She shoot you a warning look.
“You will enroll in couples counseling and never raise a hand in anger to her or anyone else again. Laura will file for divorce 3 years later. You will not remarry. You will make a good living as an electrician ensuring an education and financial stability for your daughter. You will die from a stroke at age 62. Your great granddaughter Carrie-Anne Danvers-Whitecotton, born 3 years after your death, will receive some renown in the field of quantum computing. Your line will end with your great-great-great grandson Eric Danvers, who will die childless, during a junior hockey match at age 15.”
She closes the file and looks you in the eye, hands folded lightly in front of her.
“So that’s the plan,” she says “Do you want to accept the path set before you or do you wish to make your own way.”
“I have a choice?” you ask. “What will happen if I don’t want the plan?”
She shrugs and flashes that customer-service smile.
“That’s up to you,” she says. “It could be better, it could be worse. The question is, do you want control?”
“I don’t know.”
“Either way,” she points again to the cross stitch behind her. “You won’t remember.”
“I hit my wife.” you say. “People get murdered because of me.”
“And if you go in blind maybe that won’t happen, or maybe something worse will. Maybe the world ends in nuclear holocost. Maybe you become president and end world hunger. Maybe you fall down the stairs and die at age two. No one knows, and neither can you.”
“But what if other people go their own way?” you ask. “Won’t that ruin my plan.”
“That’s not really my department,” she sighed and looked at her watch. “They handle that sort of thing upstairs.”
“I don’t know what to do,” you say.
For a moment the plastic smile cracks into something empathetic, almost human.
“If it’s any consolation, Derrik, this plan isn’t any better or worse than most that cross my desk,” she says, then checks her watch and the plastic grin is back. “But it’s decision time. You will be born in five seconds. Make your choice. And good luck.”
Thanks for reading The Before Time! If you enjoyed it, hit that like button and leave a comment. If you’d like to check out more of my weird stories and musings about life, the universe, and the meaning of existence, then subscribe to Mindful of Madness. I just started a podcast and you can check it out on Apple Podcasts or your preferred app. You can also find me on twitter @drewjokeringram or on Instagram @andrewingram88. My comedy album, “This Was A Bad Idea” is on Spotify, iTunes or pretty much anywhere else you listen to music. Thanks, my self-esteem depends on you.