The Expiring Man
by James I. Wasserman
forum: The Expiring Man
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Expiring Man



          James looked up at the sunny sky. It was great weather – great for losers, that was.

          James Draylin was photosensitive. He could easily burn, and yearned for those endless days of mild temperatures and overcast skies. James was a little vampiric.

         Nevertheless, he strayed onto the sidewalk in front of his red-bricked townhouse. 

         “Another day of this garbage, and I’m going to refuse to go to wor—

         James heard a scream. There was a little girl, probably about 6 years old, standing in the middle of the street holding a toy firetruck. 

         James quickly recognized her: Irene Wilton’s daughter. 

         He saw two cars racing, one in each lane, speeding inexorably towards a disaster. Idiot kids playing chicken, or something. He grit his teeth in contempt.

         Unfortunately, his moment of anger cost him dearly. James did what he had to do-

         But did not do so successfully. He leaped in front of the cars, but before he could throw the child out of the way or even touch her—

         The cars’ breaks squealed. They still slid onward, mowing through the Wilton girl as well as James Draylin. Blood shot up in their windshields. They smashed into Irene Wilton’s decorative brick fence…


         James found himself standing in some kind of a metal cage. Well, it didn’t seem to be meant for imprisoning people, as it was mostly some kind of metal portal. He was dizzy. He remembered the accident, remembered the pain. He let out a scream of distress.

         He was still standing there.

         “Welcome back from the grave, Mr. Draylin. Have a good trip?”

         James got his bearings. He was in some kind of dungeon-like room. There were electrical wires, canisters of things, and this device – a square, 3-dimensional door in which James was standing. A million tiny gears cranked. Some kind of electricity spread through it.

         “Whuhh---What---where the hell am I? Am I dead?”  James spat.

         “Pretty much.” The voice came from one of three men in the room: the one who spoke was a middle-aged man in a well-stitched grey suit, his face drenched in sweat despite continuous wipings with a hand towel. The second man was much bigger – a man in a military uniform. However, it bore no marks or indentification. Lastly, the third man was wrapped in a lab coat and looked up through long-left-unclean thick glasses.

         James was still in shock from being struck by the car.

         The man continued speaking. “Let me fill you in, Mr. Draylin. You were killed in an attempt to rescue a child who was in the middle of the road when the racers came. It’s the thought that counts, I suppose. You’re a true altruist, albeit an unsuccessful one.”

         “Who---who are you people? Where am I?” James blubbered.

         “You’re in a underground science facility, a good distance in the future of the scenario you just participated in.”

         “But…I died, like you said…how did I get here?”

         The lab guy took over. “The miracle of technology. This technology.”

         “Uh huh.”

         “It’s experimental, but we have been able to build this machine and localize to that point in time when you and Miss Wilton perished… Well, more accurately, shortly before your death.”

         “I travelled through time? This is the future?” James was pretty receptive to any explanation at this point.

         The man in grey nodded. “This machine can only find one locus in time and space. We were fortunate to be in this position.”

         “I don’t get it…am I really dead? Not waking up in hosp…well I guess not a hospital, but maybe I was kidnapped…” James’ thinking aloud was not helping.

         “You may call me Dr. Felham. I assure you.. …well, I suppose we did kidnap you, from a few seconds before you died into the future.”

         “But I felt the car slam into me.”

         “You did die, but we had your imprint in our locus of control and brought you here.”

         “Why?” James asked, still bewildered.

         “Sorry about the technical babble. Essentially, we can send you back and you’ll appear shortly before the accident.”

         James didn’t get all this. This business about a time machine. Him dying, but not dead? Or dead and resurrected? 

         “You were in the area,” the lead man said, “The only one present close enough to the locus.”

         “What locus is that?”

         The man slicked his hair back and straightened his tie. “The locus of the little girl’s death.”

         Even though this was all completely baffling, James came to a realization; he knew what was coming.

         “You brought me back to save the girl, right?”

         Felham nodded solemnly. “Your effort, admirable as it was, didn’t succeed. We would like to send you back so you can try again.You were the only one in close enough vicinity.”

         James was in magic-land, but it sort of made sense, if you ignore the absurdity of all of it. He had a million questions. Will I be changing the future? Why is this accident so important? Did I really die, or lose my memory due to brain damage? He was still unclear about this time machine. He was no technical wizard and no physicist. There were definitely gaps in the story, but this would not be surprising since he may just not get all the details.

         “Can I live? If I manage to live, can I just go back to my life?”

         “I’m afraid not,” Felham spoke, “you see, we are sending you as sort of a…well, a faked image from another dimension, one apparently created by our device. If you succeeded, the Draylin from that time would just keep on living. You affect his destiny, you see? However, your form, semi-incorporeal, will seem like a translucent man. Unfortunately, this form has one major disadvantage.”

         James was too overwhelmed – he decided to buy this for now. After all, he felt, remembered, experienced the car striking him. He should be dead. “What disadvantage?”

         “Your form, sent back, is temporary. In other words, you have little time, and after it is spent, you decay away and the remaining Draylin is left with the fate that you affected onto him.”

         “You mean---I expire?”

         “Exactly. After some time, you turn to mush.”


         “If you fail to save the girl, we can send you back again. That time, though, you expire earlier.”

         “Great, again.”

         Felham smiled. “You’ve got to do this for us, Mr. Draylin. Die with some peace knowing that you saved a life.”

         James just nodded. “Okay, okay. Save kid. Good stuff.” He said, deciding not to make this any more complicated.

         “Ready? Remember, don’t idle. Throw the child out of the way. Save her life as you intended!” Felham threw a switch.


          James was in the middle of the street, like before. Maybe that was just a dream, he thought. He got his bearings ---

          And saw the Wilton girl on the street. “It’s real…” he muttered, “I’d better…”

          He heard the screech of the cars’ approach. He realized that the situation was arriving quickly. James did feel like a …sort of an incorporeal form. His image didn’t quite match up with the James Draylin image. It was almost like he was somewhat of a spectator.

          No spectator here --- he dove into the street…

          James had been so confused when he jumped in that he wasted too much time in thought, like before. He flew towards the child—

          And felt himself melt away. He felt his arms lose feeling—looked down and saw that they had turned gray and were falling away like piles of dust. He was fully melted away into a puff of grey powder as he saw both himself and the child being killed as before.


          As the men had explained, he re-appeared in the same room. 

          “Killed. Just like before.” Felham said. The three men were there.

          Whatever James felt, he figured it had to be the feeling of dying, or something.

          “I was distracted… …this is all very confusing – it was like I was the same person but I appeared to be slightly out of sync with my body – felt like a ghost, controlling him..”

          The scientist (assumed the part due to lab coat garb) spoke. “Yes, it’s a long and complex process you just undertook. You see, part of you is superimposed on your original. It would take quite a while to explain the paradoxes we are trying to avoid. If all of this is destroyed, it still would have, hopefully, become successful.”

          “Successful?” James asked.

          “In saving the girl, of course. Get ready for your next try. Remember – this time you will expire earlier.” Felham interjected.

          Something was odd. This whole thing is odd, James mused. He did notice that he wasn’t getting very many details about any of this.

          Still, he felt obligated to comply. It was for a good cause, anyway. He would feel better about it – a hero’s death, anyway.

          “Ready?” The scientist asked, hand on the switch.

           Before James could respond, he was back at the scene again. His first feeling was bewilderment, as before. He realized he probably had to get used to –

          He heard the cars. Turned and saw the girl. She was playing. James leapt across the cars, but landed on a windshield after being struck. The cars crashed into each other and the child was covered in car wreckage. 

          James felt himself turning grey, dissolving into nothingness.


          He was in the portal again.

          “Damn. You still thought too much. Obviously, you’re not used to this … situation. We can try again, but you’re going to have to hurry before you dissolve away.” Felham straightened his tie. 

          “Well, nothing’s changed.You’ll have to—

          James rebutted. “Have to go in again? Look, I’m not sure what’s going on here. This is very strange and I’m not quite digesting it.”

          “We’ve told you the story.” Felham responded, unwavering in his calmness.

          “No, you haven’t. Why this point in time? Why me and the girl? Do you just pick people off the street randomly and prevent someone from dying?”

          “Need to know basis.” The military man spoke for the first time, and it was a cliché.

          “I think I need to know. Why this basement?”

          “Let’s try again.” Felham motioned to the scientist.

          James was in the street again, feeling like he was cut off in mid-sentence. Apparently, these people weren’t keen on discussing things. They had avoided his questions. Why the girl? The room was like a dungeon. They did not seem like typical scientists nor military personnel. Why this situation? They said that nothing had changed. Did that mean they were trying to change history in some way? In this situation?

          Once again, wheels moving. He dove to the child as fast as he could, trying to slide in like a batter nearing second base. However, he tripped and fell face-first into the pavement. He looked up, watching as the vehicles’ screeching tires slammed—


          He “expired” before he could see the accident.

          Same room, same hosts.

          “We’re nearing a danger period,” The scientist said, “He may have too little time to save her.”

          Felham and the military man muttered to each other.

          Felham looked at James.

          “Let me explain this, because this may be the last time you have enough staying power to possibly save the child.”

          James nodded. “I almost got her…just tripped. Might work if I start on it right away. 

          “However, before I go, I insist you answer some questions. Firstly, who are you? Secondly, where are we? Thirdly, why this sit—

          Felham cut him off. “That girl must live. She’s important. Otherwise, the future looks bleak. We’re a crack team in an underground basement representing the government.”

          James somehow didn’t get it all. These men just seemed to be so goal oriented that they didn’t care about him, only what he could do. But there was no other option. Overpower these guys? No. Escape the scene? No; he would expire. James was still bound, however, by the desire to save the child. No child deserves to be murdered like  that. It seemed like he was dead. It made sense.

          “Now, get ready. Really clued in. You have minimal time and this mission is of utmost importance, for us all, and for our leader.”


          James found himself on the street. He quickly slid down, which worked this time, and with his last momentum, thrust himself towards the child. He felt himself turning grey, fading away …

          The last thing he saw was the child rolling up the curb. Before the smash he smiled – he had saved the girl’s life after all. 


          James Draylin yelped in pain. Then he realized where he was.

          Back in a room; this time, a white room with scientific equipment everywhere. He was once again, though, in the portal device. This time there was a group of people around him: Four people, 3 men and one woman, were clothed in full laboratory garb; One man was dressed in a black suit; and directly in front of him, a tall, blond-haired, stern-looking woman, also in a lab coat. This place was much more well-lit.

          There was so sign of Felham, or the mystery militia. 

          One thing struck James: there was a giant smbol on the wall of the room. It was of two arms, crossed, hands in fists. An aura of white light surrounded it.

          “What…?” James looked around.

          “Am I dead now?” he asked.

          The woman spoke. “James Draylin, I presume?”

          James nodded. “What happened…? Where’s Felham? Where am I now?”

          “My name is Laurel Bester. What do you remember?”

          “I… I… died, then got brought back… eventually saved a kid’s life… now I’m here…” James seemed to be talking mostly to himself.

          Bester nodded to the man in the black suit.

          “Then you remember everything?”

          James let out a silly laugh. “How do I know it’s everything?”

          “All right – what DO you remember?” Bester said, unfaltering in her stern poker face.

          “It was sort of like… the situation here. Some guy named Felham, a military guy, some scientist. Looked a lot different than this, though. It was like someone’s oily basement there. I was killed… trying to save a kid’s life. They kept sending me back to save her, but each time I would turn to dust sooner snd sooner. I finally rescued the kid, but I still died in that accident – now I’m here.” 

          “Yes. You saved the life of Alexandra Wilton. You obviously don’t know her significance.”

          James looked confused. “Significance?”

          Bester nodded.

          James looked around again. “You…you are being much more… open about this than they were. It was like they snatched me up, didn’t explain what was going on, and sent me on this mission.”

          The man in black stepped forward. His shirt, now more visible, had the wall symbol on it as well as his name: S. Agent Ray Tennant. Bester had the same logo on her pin.

          Agent Tennant spoke up. “You’ve been deceived, Mr. Draylin. That day, that minute, that second when you and the girl died (and when she subsequently lived), was so significant to history that it became a powerful locus of energy. We have some devices constructed that rudimentarily try and send someone through time. All failures until your locus appeared.”

          James was getting more, rather than less, confused.

          “Again – what is the significance?!

          Bester took over. “You see what’s around you, Mr. Draylin? Compare these surroundings to the ones you briefly witnessed. You’re in a portal again.”

          James finally picked up the obvious. “I…  I changed the future?” 

          Bester nodded. “That little girl, Rebecca Wilton, was the daughter of Irene Wilton, your neighbour.

          “Young Rebecca was born with psychotic tendencies. She thought she was god and satan, and told her mother on numerous occasions that her mission in life was to ‘blow up everything’. 

          “Irene was an ardently committed Christian. She saw visions, and bad things started to happen. She found organs of cats and dogs lying around the floor. She felt that her daughter was the spawn of Satan, and she felt that even if it was her daughter, it was her duty to God to purge Rebecca.”

          James was starting to come to a grim realization. “So I saved her… she lived…”

          “Yes she did, despite Irene Wilton’s decision to place her in the middle of the road while she was distracted.”

          James grit his teeth. “I saved her…”

          “And Rebecca Wilton became a key figure amongst hate groups. While she clearly suffered from Asperger’s disease or some other psychosis, she was a charismatic figure. Her group grew, and to make a long story short, eventually took over the government. 

          “We are the underground here. We are called the Conglomerate of Light. Our symbol represents solidarity, and the crossed arms indicate the power of many united.”

          James began feeling worse and worse. I unleashed a Hitler-type figure?

          “We found some rudimentary plans for the device you are standing in.” Bester explained the technology, the expiring figures, the locus, everything like Felham’s group described.

          “You are the only one in proximity to what was called F-Day, or the day where the leader was saved and began her quest of fascism.”

          “So… I killed the leader…” James wandered off in his speech. I killed the leader—obviously Felham wanted to change the past to bring about this future I’m seeing now.

          “You must help us, Mr. Draylin. Restore the timeline.”

          “You mean get the girl killed?

          “That’s right.”

          After Bester’s directions were over, he found himself sliding into the child. He didn’t get the first couple of tries, but in the third phase, he managed to jump over the child, leaving her to be smashed.

          He was in a dark room again. A room he recognized.

          “I’m Felham, Mr. Draylin.” The group was all there.

The End.




copyright 2005 James I. Wasserman.

James I. Wasserman is is a 30 year old Ph.D. student in Psychology/Psychopharmacology.  He is mostly a horror writer but dabbles in dark humor and fantasy.  He has featured stories in literary, science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines.  Wasserman is always open to comments or other venues to publish or a chat and can be reached via