📅 Published on October 5, 2021


Written by JRT McMahon
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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Have you ever laid awake at night, staring at the ceiling wondering what your life would be like if you had made different decisions?  If you had gone left instead of right, if you had said no instead of yes.  Do you wonder how big or small these choices needed to be in order to affect your life?  Could something as simple as stopping for a moment to tie your shoe send your whole life onto an alternate path?  Could something as severe as a job change ultimately bring you to the same place as if you never left your previous job?

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the butterfly effect, the idea if you could go back in time and alter your decisions, that it would alter the course of your life for better or worse, like something as small as the butterfly’s wings could cause hurricanes hundreds of miles away.  It’s an idea that always presents itself in fantasy.  But we seldom think about how we who are in the present are those butterflies, always fluttering our wings, changing not only our lives in our day-to-day choices but the lives around us, forever.

I would always lay awake and wonder, “What if?”  until my brain went numb, and I eventually drifted off to sleep.  Just like the butterfly effect, though, these thoughts only existed inside a bubble of fantasy that popped whenever the sun rose.  The thoughts plagued me for many nights, but they were always just flights of fancy.  I always thought that if I did have the power to change things that I would opt not to.  It’s a lot of responsibility to alter your life and by proxy others and a lot of arrogance to assume you’d make anything better.

Sometimes I would think about what would happen if I was able to go back and urge my mother to see a doctor faster, if we were able to detect her illness before it got too bad, before she would eventually have to be moved into hospice.  I don’t know what was harder, seeing her leave her own home on a stretcher or packing up her belongings.  As I put things into boxes, I would have brief memories of my childhood.

Each object I touched, I could remember my hands, much smaller hands, running over the object, trying to discover how it worked.  Mom always loved how curious I was, said I was going to solve the world’s mysteries someday.  The memories faded, though; every time I placed something into a cardboard box, I had to stifle the memory and move on.

I don’t even remember grabbing the TV, one of those old Tvs that had layers of static over whatever you were watching.  I just remember my forehead hitting the curved glass, my fingers wrapping around the side of it.  The air in the house was so still, it felt like the world had stopped moving, just to let me sit in the moment.  The corners of my mouth dropped like fishing hooks were dragging them down.  My fingers shook, rattling the TV against my forehead.  No words came out; rather, my throat made sounds as I tried to choke back my emotions.

Sitting on my knees with my head pressed against the TV, I let those emotions flood into me, and they all spilled out through my tear ducts, rivers running down my face and dropping onto the white carpet below.  After however long, with my throat hoarse and my face drying, I was able to pick myself up from the carpet and put everything away.  I had scheduled movers to come by and take care of some of the heavier stuff; they were supposed to take the TV, but I decided to hang on to it.

Putting it into my car, I drove home and let it sit in the middle of my living room, not wanting to drag it anywhere else.  The day had already been long enough.  I made my way up to bed, exhausted and worried.  I watched the ceiling.  The room was dark, and the view above me looked infinite.  My mind began to wander, to memories, memories of the time I had spent with my mother in the past year.

Times where I would look at her, see the gloss in her eyes or the way she moved across a room, and just tell myself she was getting old.  All the crimson flags I personally watched hoisted high into the air yet ignored.  Those flags are all I can see now, armies of misinterpreted signs of aging marching across the battlefield.  All my failings hoisted high.  Raising my arms, I crossed them over my eyes, a different kind of infinity, one I could fall asleep in.

I wasn’t able to see the sunrise immediately, but enough of it was able to creep under my arms to create a pink sliver of light.  Moving my arms, I saw the infinity was gone, and I crawled out of bed to get ready to see my mom.  My house felt just as still as hers was, especially when I made it downstairs and I saw her TV sitting in the living room, reflecting the room and myself on its black screen.

Pulling myself away, I headed into my car and started driving.  On the way, I looked down and noticed the needle on my fuel gauge drifting towards empty.  I thought for a moment about whether I could make it to the hospice and back with what I had left.  I didn’t want to waste my limited visiting hours waiting for my gas to fill, but it was a close call.  Ultimately I pulled into a gas station and pressed the nozzle into my car.

Squeezing the pump, I watched the small digital numbers climbing higher and higher.  Mom always used to try and get it to hit 20 exactly, and it’s one of those habits I kind of just mindlessly try to replicate.  I watched the numbers blur together, and releasing the handle revealed that I had missed the mark, digital numbers reading “$22.35.”

Paying my total, I once again got on the road.  Part of me was dreading seeing her, at least seeing her in a place like that anyway.  It was like accepting that it was real, and I didn’t want to do it.  Maybe that’s why I stopped for gas, just to delay it for a moment.  Once I got there, though, it sunk into me how this was reality.

It was exactly like I was worried it would be.  Sitting at the side of her bed as she laid on her back, looking towards the ceiling.  It felt like she wasn’t even there.  Thoughts of her flying over cityscapes filled my mind.  I could feel her, though, the heat her hands were giving off when I placed mine over them.  A horrible feeling of guilt riddled my brain, and I wished more than anything I had a way to do things better, that I could get her help, not just some bed.

Time seemed to move fast in there; almost as soon as I saw her, I was walking out of the building and heading back home.  I was surprised to see that as I pulled up to the driveway, there was a light emitting from inside my living room.  It was soft and blue, flicking in and out like something was passing in front of it.

I turned off my headlights and watched the display from my driveway before getting the courage to step out of the car.  Slowly, I walked up my steps and walked across the porch to try and peek through the curtains.  My heart rattled as I looked inside my house to find that the old cathode-ray TV in the middle of the room was on.

The rest of the house was dark and I didn’t hear any source of movement, but watching the TV, it was clear the nature of the old TV was causing the flickering light.  Unlocking my front door, I stepped inside and looked at the TV with the same skepticism I would give an intruder, like the thing had violated my privacy.  I could feel myself unintentionally keeping my distance from it like I was worried it would attack me.

Closing the door slowly and turning on the lights, I felt myself a little more at ease and able to approach the TV.  With the lights on, I was able to see very clearly that the plug for the TV was still resting on top of it.  I tried to figure out why the TV would be on, wondering if something like a residual electrical charge was a thing.  As my finger started to press down on the power button, the snowstorm of static on the TV started to shift.

It should have been impossible for the TV to be picking up on any kind of signal; even so, an image began to form on the screen.  Dumbfounded, I rested my finger on the power button, interested in what shapes would be revealed behind the static.  I thought that perhaps, I had fallen asleep.  Maybe too tired to get out, I passed out in my car and was still sitting in the driveway, because what I was seeing had to be a dream.

The static was clear enough for me to see an overhead shot of an instantly recognizable car driving down a very familiar street.  The camera angle shifted like it was on a dolly until I was able to get a glimpse of the driver inside.  Turning my head, I looked at the living room around me, feeling much more alien than before.  I observed every nook and cranny, every spot of light, and every shade of darkness, looking for anything out of place, thinking maybe someone was somehow messing with me, or perhaps there was some otherworldly creature watching me.

There was nothing, though, just me and the TV that I was pulling my attention back to.  I watched, bewildered, able to see myself driving.  I shifted my vision for a moment to my arm and realized I and the me that was on the TV were wearing the same thing.  I saw myself look down at the car’s dashboard and let out a sigh.  It dawned on me I was seeing myself from earlier the same day.

Out of the window of my car, I could see the gas station that I stopped at earlier, but instead of stopping, the TV showed me driving by it.  The version of myself that I was watching on TV had decided not to stop.  The scene changed, and it was darker.  I watched from the car window as I left the hospice and entered the vehicle.  Sitting in my living room watching myself, it felt like someone had injected me with some nerve-numbing agent.  I just couldn’t pull myself away from the screen, as absurd as the vision was, I needed to know how it played out, deciding not to stop at the gas station.

As the version of me on the screen drove home, he looked down at the meter again and must have noticed the gas was running lower than he thought.  There was a heavy sigh from him that seemed to stir up the static-like it was reacting to the sound.  The same gas station came into view, and he started pulling into it and rested the car next to the same pump that I had used earlier in the day.

He started to exit the car, and the view followed after him until I was able to see myself standing there filling up the car.  I was surrounded by the yellow glow of the gas station’s overhead lights.  I could see in my eyes that I was drained.  Even through the static, I could feel that the copy of myself on the screen was staring off into infinity.  His mind was emptied and his actions aimless, and I wondered what had happened to me in the hospice that drained me like that.

With his fist still clenched tight, he started pulling the nozzle out of the car, and as he carelessly pulled it loose, he slipped.  A part of the nozzle scraped against the car as he tried to get his footing, causing a small spark to appear.  It was tiny, but against the white static, I could see a speck of red drift and make contact with the still flowing gas.  There was a flash, the whole screen engulfed in a bright yellow.

A noise rang out, a loud bang as if someone had put a magnum right next to my ear and pulled the trigger.  I reacted by throwing myself backward away from the TV as the thing had just snipped at me.  Fingers spread on the carpet, and a ringing in my ear, I stared at the TV that had returned to the dark screen it had when I left in the morning.  Again the screen sat there looking like the ceiling of my bedroom always had.  A land of endless possibilities.

I had just seen what would have happened had I chosen not to get gas.  I had seen the outcome of a different decision, and it ended with that.  Such a simple choice meant the difference between me making it home or not.  There was no way I could sleep; I didn’t think I would be able to.  I would just sit there wondering what I just witnessed.

Instead, I tried to figure it out.  I looked over the TV, trying to see if there was some alternate power source.  I’m not sure what I was looking for, though; maybe even the smallest inkling of a rational explanation where there wasn’t one.  As I stood in the living room staring down at the object in front of me, I considered what I should do with it.  I didn’t want to throw it out, so I thought it might be okay to just put it in the basement where I could ignore it.

But I was too curious, and wondering about the TV felt like the only thing that was keeping my thoughts away from my mother.  I even wondered if it would be able to show me what would’ve happened if I had caught my mother’s illness sooner.

If I had been better.

So I decided to let it be, and maybe I could see a better life for my mother.

As I had thought it would, it turned on again, calling back the static.  Specks of white and black drifted around the screen until the image, as expected, shifted.  Though where I was hoping to see my mother, I instead saw my living room, with me standing in front of the TV.  Biting my nail, I watched as I leaned down and grabbed the sides of the TV before hoisting it in the air.  And I realized what I was watching.

This was the timeline where I had chosen to take the TV into the basement.  I looked over at the basement door several feet away from me and then back at the TV.  The copy of myself made his way over to the same door, resting the TV on his forearms to free a hand that was able to turn the handle.  The basement door swung open, and with a careful flick of a nearby switch, I saw light emit from the doorway.

Slowly the copy of myself stepped down the stairs trying not to topple over, but I knew he was shaken from what he just watched.  I know because I was still shaken.  I couldn’t understand why I would immediately need to put the TV in the basement; it could have waited, right?  If I had decided to bring it downstairs, could I have waited?

The camera followed behind me, and from over my copy’s shoulder, I could see the cord on top of the TV slide off, but my copy couldn’t.  There was a soft thud as the cord landed on the wooden step, and when my copy tried to shift to see the source of the noise, his foot landed on the cord, and his ankle rolled in response.

It all happened entirely too fast.  With his foot still holding the cord down, my copy started to fall forward.  The TV came loose from his hands and he tried to grab the nearby railing, but his momentum was too much to brace.  He fell over the TV and flipped down the wooden stairs twisting his arm behind him.  I could hear each impact as his body tumbled to the bottom of the steps.

When he hit the bottom, I could see that the arm that had twisted on the way down was poking out at an odd angle, like the shoulder had been pulled from its socket.  He shifted, trying to make it back to the steps but clearly labored by the pain, his movements were slow.  With his head resting on the final step, the camera focused in on his face.  His mouth opened as he breathed, trying his best to catch a decent breath.

His face squinted as he struggled to move, letting out noises I remember hearing when I cried in front of the TV not too long ago.  Then I remember the TV, at the top of the stairs in that universe, the TV that no longer had him holding the cord in place.  There were two soft thuds that crescendoed into louder banging as the TV gained speed rolling down the stairs.  I could see in my eyes the understanding he had.

This was the same me that saw myself die at the gas station, the same me that knew what the TV showed me.  It was just a me that decided to take the TV downstairs.  There was a moment of silence as my copy started to move, trying to avoid what was coming.  But before he could even lift his head off the step, I saw the TV crash down, right on the back of his neck.  With his chin on the step, the TV pressed down hard, the copy’s body went limp immediately.

The TV, the same TV I was watching this all unfold on, rolled off of him, crashing to the basement floor beside him, both dead and broken.  I can’t explain why that was the breaking point, but I felt my stomach churn.  Hot acid climbed my throat.  I was going to throw up, but I wasn’t going to be able to make it to the bathroom.  I ran to the kitchen, trying not to look at the basement door.  It felt like I was down there, like I remembered being down there just seconds ago.

As I tumbled into the kitchen, I looked at the sink and then the garbage can.  Ultimately deciding I couldn’t make it to the sink and threw up into the trash.  It all came out so fast that I barely made it, warm chunks of my meal spilling into the garbage can, spilling on the very same cardboard boxes that housed the food previously.  Once I finished up, I went over to the sink and let my mouth fill with cool water drowning out the grit of my vile.

With most but not all of the taste gone, I started to walk away from the sink when I heard a crash come from my living room, a sound similar to when my body hit the floor in the basement.  Looking over, I could see on my kitchen counter there was a knife on the edge that I forgot to put into the sink, and before I even made it to the living room, I knew what I was going to see.

On the TV, I saw myself, the version of me that decided to try and make it to the sink so he could just rinse the sick away.  The version of me that stumbled as he struggled to hold it in and, as he did so, braced his hand on the counter.  Instead of gripping the counter, though, his fingers laced around the knife, the very same knife that I saw sticking out of my throat on the TV as the life drained from my copy’s body.  Then when life left his eyes, the TV turned off.

I walked over slowly and knelt in front of the TV, placed my fingers on the side of it and my forehead on the glass.  So very tired, I sat there as the static roared to life once more and shifted into an image of my mother and me.  I was younger on TV; I could tell from my appearance that stress hadn’t run me ragged yet.  That version of me got up and walked over to my mother, told her that he was worried about her health.

They got in the car together and started heading to the hospital.  I could feel a smile washing over my face; finally, I was doing something right.  Not me exactly, but the version of me on the TV was vigilant enough to see something wrong.  The smile faded, though, when we were passing through an intersection, and a truck breezed through the light, killing us both on impact.  The static returned, and my fingers clenched.

Anger swelled over me, causing every nerve in my body to run rampant.  I wanted to see myself fix things.  Another image of my mother and me appeared in another instance where I decided we needed to see a doctor.  This time though, there was an accident in the hospital that led to my mother dying right there and then.  Pulling back my head, I slammed it forward, feeling my skull bounce against the hard glass.

Another image, another choice, another death.  This time I died choking on food, waiting for my mother’s results.  My hand that no longer grabbed the TV was balled up and swung forward, pinging against the TV as I screamed in defiance.  Over and over, I hit the TV; over and over, I watched either me or my mom pass away as all my past choices led to one or both of our ends.

My knuckles split, spilling red onto the TV screen every time I made an impact, but I couldn’t feel it.  I just wanted to see a world where I did the right thing, but every single outcome just took her away from me sooner; nothing got better.  I had to watch us die dozens of times.  I only noticed how much I had been screaming when my jaw became sore.  Or how much I had been crying until the taste of salt filled my mouth.

“Please stop,”  I said, lowering my fist to the crimson-stained carpet below.

Red flags.  I had missed them all, and then my carpet became soaked in them.  The TV, almost as if it was responding to me, turned off.  All I could see in it now was myself, but this time it was just a reflection of me sitting broken inside the infinity.  Time doesn’t stand still, though.  At some point, I had to get up, I had to wrap the mangled hand, and at some point, the sun had to rise.

When it did, I got a call, a nurse telling me that my mother was in a critical condition, that they didn’t think she had much time left.  I was out of the door as quick as I could be, offering a cursory glance as I passed the gas station.  As I arrived, I was led to my mother’s room.  They said they had taken her off machines and drugs, so she was lucid enough to speak, that if I wanted to say goodbye, it was time, and then, it was just me and her.

I sat beside her as she turned her head to look at me, offering a smile that was far too warm for this world.  “What happened to your hand?”  She said it like she had all the time in the world.  I raised it.  Red was starting to slip through.

“That’s not important right now,”  I replied, reaching out with the hand I hadn’t battered against the TV to hold hers.  She looked at my face, deep into my eyes in only the way that she could.

“It’s okay to be sad,”  she whispered, her voice trailing in and out, a somber gloss pulsing over her words like waves against the sand.  With her free hand, she made a gesture, and I bent over resting my head on her chest as she ran her fingers through my hair.  Her breathing was so light I could barely feel it.

“I’m so sorry.”  I could feel my words coming out; they shook something awful, sounding like a jumbled mess.  “I couldn’t save you,”  I continued, warm obnoxious tears plummeting from my eyes spilling onto her gown.  “I couldn’t-”  My words trailed off as I heard a soft breeze of air, her attempt to quiet my troubles.

“It’s not your fault.”  I could feel her aged fingertips rub against my scalp like she was trying to mold my brain, to take away the pain.  “You can’t change the channel, dear.”  My lip stopped quivering as the words came out, and she lifted my head to meet her gaze.  “This is the one you’re stuck on.  You have to see it through.”  She smiled at me again.

She had to have known.  I knew that she knew.  “But through it all…”  Her eyes, heavy and aged, started to close.  “My time with you was my favorite show.”  The smile she had been putting on started to relax as the stiffness her body had before melted away.  She was gone.  But as I sat there looking at her, I couldn’t help but think of when I was cleaning her house.

Putting all the things we had both lived with in boxes, remembering all the joy we shared, all the things we did.  Even in the rough times, how much she still cared for me.  I made a lot of decisions in my life; not all of them were wise.  Some turned out rather horribly, but I think I was seeing them all wrong.

Getting to make those decisions beside her, I should have been cherishing that instead of thinking about how to change it.  Even if I was missing the red flags, I got to see a lot of those smiles.  You have to live with your choices.  You can’t change the channel.  You can only decide what you do moving forward from those choices.  You are a butterfly shaping your future.  Make decisions you won’t regret, and if you do end up making a bad one, there are so many more ahead.

The TV sits in my living room still, put in the corner.  It hasn’t turned on since I came home that day.  I don’t need to know what my other choices lead me to; I only need to handle the ones I’ve made.

I miss and love you, Mom.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by JRT McMahon
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: JRT McMahon

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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