Other Worlds Austin’s next Orbiter screening is the North American Premiere of YESTERDAY LAST YEAR on Wednesday, June 21 at Flix Brewhouse.
In the film, Michael, a driven research scientist working on time travel theory, spends all his time in the garage ‘lab’ trying to perfect a device. Sandra, his wife, is at the bottom of his priority list. Only his friend and associate, James, seems to get Michael’s full attention. But which version of his friend is it, and which version of his wife? A love triangle caught in the circle of time, YESTERDAY LAST YEAR is about the mistakes we make and how far we’re willing to go to fix them.
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More info HERE
In honor of the character Michael’s DIY grit, plus an added dash of inspiration from creepy Tom Waits tune “What’s He Building” (because obviously), the OWA team is sharing stories of other garage creations…
Next: Bears picked this story out of his weird brain
Every night from 11pm to 3am the lights were on in that garage. I knew because I had taken to watching from across the street. Being an insomniac, besides the obvious disadvantages, affords you the time to really understand what happens all around you while everyone else sleeps.
2022 Hymeadow Place. An old ranch home, out of step with the rest of the neighborhood, the original home that once owned all this acreage but sold to a developer to launch mega-mansions all around him. Jim McDonald. There was nothing very strange about him. He came to HOA meetings, cul-de-sac barbeques, he even helped the children build their Halloween Fun House (a one room haunted house) in the old barn next to his house (another relic from the time before this was a neighborhood).
But the garage was different. He never parked his car in it, his or his wife’s, which sat in the driveway under covers. Tinted windows across the front revealed light inside, sometimes interrupted by a passing shadow or a flash, but constant light from 11pm to 3am (sometimes 4am if his wife was out of town). If I opened the windows, I could hear the muffled sounds of banging, the whir of the power screwdriver, coming from the other side of the garage door. What was he building in there?
My husband was completely uninterested in what was happening across the street. I couldn’t even get him to invite Jim and his wife over for dinner, and what was I supposed to do, walk over at midnight and knock on his garage? How would like that look? The whole neighborhood already regarded me as some sort of interloper considering my husband had lived here for five years with his first wife, former HOA president and general goody-goody who knocked on doors and encouraged people to come to Easter Sunday Services at her (so saccharine yet aptly named) Good Neighbor Church, where she was Hospitality Chair. When Kevin cheated on Tara (not with me mind you – although everyone acted as if it was) and they divorced, her disappearance left a vacuum in the neighborhood that no well-meaning woman could fill, let alone me.
That came out wrong. I’m not not well-meaning. I just don’t give a fuck whose kids are selling cookies for whatever school club so they can go to somewhere they won’t appreciate on someone else’s dime. I don’t want to be in your book club. I’m not getting people to sign a petition to put in a speedbump. But I’m also not walking around the neighborhood with a ruler measuring the overgrowth of people’s lawns, or complaining about dog walkers not cleaning up after their charges.
Anyway, I’m not that girl. Apparently, I am the type of girl that stays up into the wee hours of the morning spying on the neighbor across the street in 2022 Hymeadow Place. Not that I could see anything happening behind those tinted windows. I just didn’t have anything else to do.
I started to catalogue the sounds I heard, as best I could. I even kept a notebook by date. June 14th, 11:00 pm lights on. 11:32 pm electrical sparks. 11:45 the sound of a power drill. And so on. I got so good (or so I thought) that eventually I could do it from bed. I would open the windows at around 10:45pm and then just sit in bed drinking a glass of wine making my notes. Kevin slept like a log next to me. He knew of my little condition so even if he did stir, he probably just assumed I was keeping some sort of diary or planning tomorrow night’s dinner with an extensive shopping list.
We had a routine marriage at this point. Breakfast and kiss goodbye in the morning. Dinner ready at 6:30. Netflix until 10 or so. Sex most nights. And sleep at 10:45. Lather Rinse Repeat. Not that I was bored or disappointed. This was what I had wanted. I had all day to do whatever the fuck I wanted. My commitment to Kevin amounted to about 5 total hours a day, with pretty vanilla sex on a regular basis, and then my duty was … excuse the pun … discharged. Don’t judge. Most marriages have a similar amount of face time. And I was completely devoted to Kevin. And he to me. As far as I knew. And we were happy.
What’s the classic quote from the monkey trial - ‘I don’t think about things I don’t think about’ – that’s Kevin. So no, he was not interested in what Jim McDonald was building in his garage. But I was obsessed with it. I stopped doing my jogging at the gym and just ran circles around the neighborhood, sneaking a glance at 2022 every time I passed. It was easy to do my stretching there too. Just once I thought he might come outside to chat, or just be like mowing his lawn. But no, he was the neighborhood ghost.
It was the party at Danielle’s that gave me the best chance. Danielle lives three houses down from us. She’s one of those nice-to-your-face talk-shit-behind-your-back soccer mom bitches that desperately wants to live in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. It was Danielle who first spread the rumor that I was lying about my age. Can I help it if I just look a lot better than my driver’s license photo? And who lies about their age to say they’re older than they are? The women on Hymeadow Place just needed something to gripe about behind closed doors, and here is this interloper who looks… well, better than them. I keep in shape. I spend a couple hours a day working out. Because I can. Kevin likes it. I didn’t tell them to pop out babies and eat Cinnabon.
I didn’t even really want to go to Danielle’s party originally. I remember I had even given our regrets when she popped by during the day to remind us. But Kevin said he wanted to go, and if he was going, I wanted to go too I guess, so I had to call Danielle and un-regret us. And it was a good thing too because that was where everything changed.
Jim McDonald showed up a just a few minutes after us, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to approach him. Instead I got my clutches into Betty, his wife of forty years. Betty’s funny because she has made a habit of not acknowledging that I am not Tara, Kevin’s first wife, and just talks to me as if I’ve lived in the neighborhood for years. She’s even asked me how the Church is. Maybe she’s senile, but I like to think she’s playing some sort of hilarious game that only she and I know the rules to. I try to say shocking things to shatter the interaction, things that can’t be reconciled with both Tara and myself.
“Now Tara,” Betty asks, “when are you and Kevin going to have a baby, you are both so attractive and you know, the world needs its babies to keep turning.”
What a funny concept I think, but respond with a devilish grin, “But Betty, surely you remember my church only allows sexual relations outside of wedlock.” I did my best to steer the conversation to the garage. “You must be a pretty sound sleeper,” I offer, “I sometimes see Jim working late into the night in the garage.”
“Oh, that’s not Jim,” she answers without a hint of secrecy.
“What do you mean?”
“Jim never goes in the garage.”
I tried to dig a little deeper. “Well, maybe while you’re asleep.”
“Oh Tara dear, I never sleep, you know that. I’m an insomniac.”
“But Jim – “
“Is in bed next to me the whole time, I assure you.” And just then, the unthinkable happened. Tara showed up. Danielle, 'cause she’s a spiteful shit, had invited her to the party. Kevin looked like a deer in headlights as Tara ensnared him in a death embrace. But this awkward moment proved to be my saving grace.
“Want to get out of here?” I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find the offer coming from none other than Jim McDonald. I simply nodded my head and he took me by the hand and led me out the back door.
Soon enough, Jim admitted his motive. “I think seeing you and Tara together might break Betty,” he laughed. “You want a cold beer in my garage?”
I didn’t even have to work for it. I just nodded. He led me in through the side door and flipped on the lights. “Can you get our guest a beer?” Jim asked. I had no idea who he was talking to until Jim came out from behind the fridge with a couple of beers. Yes, Jim. There were two Jims. Identical in every way except clothing.
I looked at my Jim, the one who had brought me here. “Twins?” I asked.
“Way too easy,” he said and opened the beers, handing me one. “I call them automohumans. They can perform various tasks but nothing too complicated, nothing like original thought.”
I didn’t even know how to respond so I just spent a moment looking around the garage, which was more of a laboratory. Giant covered plastic tubs lay in rows across the floor, human sized. Vials of liquid in test tubes. Chemical formulas drawn out on white boards. “When I sold all this land I was able to pursue a few chemical engineering ideas I had been kicking around since my days in the military,” Jim explained, “Classified, but to my photographic memory, easy to reproduce.” He turned to his duplicate, “Jim, go to the party at Danielle’s. Betty will be missing you.” And Jim, other Jim - automohuman Jim - left.
“You cloned yourself” I finally mustered.
“Not an exact copy, more like a shell. He’ll go up in the bed with Betty while I am working.” So that explained it. But to what end? I finished my beer.
“Can I have another?”
I opened the fridge and grabbed another cold one. “Is there more than him?”
“What do you think?”
“I think yes. In these tubs.” I went to open one but he rushed over.
“I wouldn’t. Not that one.”
“What’s the purpose? Are you selling them? To other people who want to lead double lives?”
“No. It’s more people who want a more pliable version of someone else. I just need a bit of DNA, and I can build from there.”
This was getting to be too much. And yet, why would he lie. I mean, I could expose him in a second. For some reason he trusted me, knew I wouldn’t tell. My mind was spinning. “What if they run in to each other? What about the original? Do you kill them?”
“Well, I don’t,” he said simply, downing his beer. I never would have expected the neighbor across the street was some sort of mad scientist. But it all made sense. He had been in the military. The women in the neighborhood had talked about how good looking he had been when he was younger and would head off to the base in uniform – he was still pretty attractive for a man in his late fifties.
“How much does it cost?”
“For you or for someone else?” he asked. And I had no reply. Why would I replace Kevin? Our life together was easy enough, our time together easily suffered through, even mildly enjoyed. Then a thought popped in my mind. I don’t know where it came from, and I felt guilty as soon as I blurted it out.
“Could you make one of me? Someone for Kevin?”
“And what would you do with all that time?
“I don’t know. Something. Something else. I would go somewhere.” My hand absent-mindedly stroked one of the tubs. “I’m just being hypothetical here,” I back-tracked.
“I would never make another one of you,” he said, disappointing me for reasons I couldn’t understand.
“Just being hypothetical.”
“I would never make another one of you, because you are perfect,” he said as he approached me, a little too close for friends. I guess show a girl your creepy laboratory, and you think you can get to first base with her. “Go ahead, open it up.” He glanced down at the tub my hand was still resting on.
“What’s inside?” This had already become a bit unnerving for me.
“Open it.” I did. Inside was a naked man, submerged in bluish thick liquid. The man was gorgeous, like a Chippendale model, but yet oddly familiar. “I’ll be ready in a few days.”
“Who is he?” I asked, desperate to know by now. The automohuman was almost like some sort of Greek god. Too bad he would be vapid like 2nd Jim.
“You like him, don’t you? Good, because I need your help.” He went over to his desk drawer, and pulled out the key. He handed it to me. “He’s going to be confused. He’ll lose about a year of memories at least. That’s how long the cells take to grow.”
“How does he have memories?”
“From the old body. Give him this key and keep him in here until he knows what to do. He’ll like you, I know.” I looked at the key in my hand. “This key for him, like you were for me. My breakthrough.”
“What do you mean?”
“I said you were perfect. But I was wrong. You were perfectly flawed.” I couldn’t quite understand what he meant so I just watched as he opened up a cabinet and produced a revolver.
What a dick. Why would he say something like that? But I couldn’t respond. So I just said that. “I want to tell you how rude that is to say to a girl but for some reason I can’t bring myself to do it. I can only say it in this round about way.” He smiled broadly.
“And that, sweet sweet child, is why you are perfect. Because you are non-compliant.” I watched him load the revolver, fear taking over me but yet I could not move. “I’m going out to the barn now. I’ll be able to help you clean up in there in few days. Remember. The key. It’s important that it be you that’s here, and no one else.”
For some reason, I nodded. Maybe it was because he was holding a gun. But I agreed. Jim walked out the door. I stood in that laboratory for a moment, wanting to explore its every fantastic corner, but I figured I had better get back to Kevin at the party.
As I opened the side door, the unmistakable sound of a gunshot echoed through the night.
I went back to the party. Kevin was there, still talking with Tara. Apparently they had made up.
And there was Betty, blabbing on and on to her husband Jim. Fake Jim.
And since then I’ve been going to the garage every night at 11pm. Kevin even caught me and suggested maybe this marriage wasn’t working quite like he expected. The other day I saw his phone, he and Tara had been texting. So I go every night into that garage and wait for what Jim McDonald built in there. And while I’m in there, I read all the notes Jim left locked in the desk, notes to the man that is about to be, notes about who I am, about why I am perfectly flawed and he will be too, about the subtle error in the process that granted free will, about what Kevin did with the original me, after original me got him to cheat on Tara and he shot me to keep me quiet – none of which I remember – about why I don’t remember that, because the bodies take eight months to grow, about how he had successfully made my new body about six years younger than the original which was why I looked older on my driver’s license than I do in real life, about how he had amplified that to removing thirty years from himself for the new Jim, Jim Three, who he also hoped would be non-compliant but maybe possibly devoted to … well, me.
It’s a lot to study. Fortunately, I’m an insomniac. Tomorrow I may even suggest Kevin take Tara out again, to see if maybe they still have a spark. I’ll be here waiting. For James. James sounds better than Jim. I’ll just tell him his name is James.