by: Chris Thompson
An attempt to write the entire plot to a classic 80s film, using only one-thousand of the most common words in the English language….
As a scientist, I find that the fundamental ability to acquaint people with the world in which I work often resides in my ability to effectively communicate without the overuse of elaborate or complex scientific terms. However, in practice I have found that my successes with this effort are mixed, depending heavily on me being able relate what I do to things that people who do not work in my profession can understand. The elimination of techno-lingo, the whittling down of complex ideas to simpler, less obscure concepts and the use of analogies are all effective tools when trying to communicate in this way, and for some, me included, it can be a challenge.
So when I came across webcomic xkcd’s Up Goer Five, an absolutely absurd attempt to describe NASA’s Saturn V rocket using only one-thousand of the most common words in the English language, I became fascinated with the idea of trying to describe what I do in such a manner. Then I attempted other things too. Like trying to describe the Moon. Or writing Shakespeare. Or explaining what exactly the Industrial Revolution was. Some were hilarious. Some were downright unreadable. Then the other weekend, during a particularly rainy Saturday, I watched Back to the Future for the hundredth time and an idea was born: I would write the entire plot to this classic 80’s film using only the one-thousand most common English words. And with that in mind I present to you Back to the Time That Has Not Yet Happened….
This is an exciting story about a cool, young kid with big ideas who lives with his family in a town named after both a high place and a low place. His father is always scared and does not have a lot of power in life, so he lets himself get pushed around by this big jerk who he works for. His mother does not take good care of herself and she drinks a lot to forget about her sad life and the past. The young kid has an older brother and sister who act strange and live at home and do not have a lot of power in their life either, just like their dad. I guess you could say they are a family that does not get a lot of good news.
One night during dinner, while the young kid’s father watches an old funny show on the moving picture box – ignoring his family while they eat – his mother tells the family how she first fell in love with the young kid’s father. It happened in a strange way she says – as she fixes herself another drink – many years ago, when her father hit the young kid’s dad with the family car….
After listening to his mother’s memory story, the young kid puts on his red jacket with no arms and goes to see his friend, an amazing older doctor with all this crazy white hair. They meet in the parking lot of a large place where there used to be many stores but there now are none. The mad doctor tells the young kid that he has built a time-trip computer from a very nice looking car with doors that go up and down like a flipper. If you’re going to build a time-trip computer, the mad doctor says, why not make it look good? This time-trip computer car gets all its power from a very angry rock that sends out lots and lots of smaller pieces of the rock into the air that you can not see, making the air sick. This rock, if used in a bad way, can kill many tens to the hundreds of people and is owned by a few very serious people in the world.
The computer car needs a lot of this angry rock’s power to make a very strange part of the time-trip computer work. This strange part is very important, and looks a lot like three tire spokes that light up and meet in its’ middle. If it gets all the power that it needs, then this strange part will make a person take a trip in time, but since the time-trip computer is in a car, it has to go very, very fast and have many feet of open road to drive on. To show the young kid how the time-trip computer car could work, the doctor types in a date that he would like the car to take a trip to. This date is ten times three years in the past and is the date that the doctor first came up with the idea for the tire-spoke part, which makes time-trips possible. But, before the excited doctor can make his first time-trip, some very bad men that he took the angry rocks from start to attack him with guns and flying things that throw fire. During the fight the doctor is shot by the angry bad men and killed. The young kid, very scared at his friends death, tries to escape in the time-trip computer car. Acting out of fear, he turns on the time-trip computer, still set for ten times three years in the past.
All at once he is taken back in time and when the young kid arrives in the past he is at first very confused. He gets shot at by a scared man who thinks that the young kid is from another world. After escaping, the young kid drives past the place that he will one day live in. It has not yet been built and looks like a huge piece of empty land. After getting out of the car and walking around, the young kid comes to realize that he is in the past. To make things worse, his time-trip computer car runs out of power and he does not have anymore of the angry rock to make a time-trip back home.
Wanting to get back home very bad, the young kid hides the time-trip computer car by the side of the road and sets off to find help. He realizes that he is in the town that he grew up in, the one that is named after both a high place and a low place, but it is very strange looking and different. It is ten times three years in the past and things do not seem quite the same. In the time when the young kid lives, his town is not clean and things are broken down and the people do not have good jobs and it is not a nice place to live. The young kid feels strange because things are good in the town and the people are nice and the streets are clean and every building he sees looks like it is taken care of and new and he is not used to it being this way.
Still a little bit scared, the young kid walks into a place where you go to eat and tries to call his only friend living in the past, the mad doctor with the crazy white hair. After he finds where his friend lives, he stops and orders a pop drink without any sweets in it. Confused, the man behind the counter gives him a black coffee. Suddenly, the young kid notices that his father is sitting right next to him, eating his breakfast. Only his father is the same age as the young kid. His father does not know the young kid is his son because they are in the past. The young kid finds out that his father is not very cool or well-liked when he watches his father get pushed around by the jerk who he will one day work for.
He tries to follow his father after the big jerk tells his father to leave the place where you go to eat, but loses sight of him. Eventually he finds his father, but this time he is high up in a tree, trying to look in the window at a young girl as she changes her clothes. As his father tries to get closer to the window for a better view, he falls out of the tree, landing in the road, right in front of a fast approaching car. Not wanting to see his father get hurt, the young kid runs over to his father and pushes him out of the way, only to be hit so hard by the car that he passes out. His father, scared, runs quickly away so he will not get caught. The older man who hit the young kid yells to his wife inside their house for help, saying that he has hit another one of these damn kids with the car.
When the young kid wakes up, he realizes that he is in the house of his mother and that it was her father who hit him with the car, just like the story she had told him that night over dinner in the time that has not yet happened. Except instead of his father getting hit by the car, the young kid did instead. The young kid agrees to have dinner with his mother’s family, who also are his family, just much younger. But things do not go very well as his mother keeps trying to touch his leg in a way that is not very right for eating dinner. She also makes her mother believe that the young kid should sleep over their house that night to be safe, and that he should stay in her room. Nervous, the young kid starts to realize that his mother has fallen in love with him and not his father. Scared, and worried that he has changed the parts of time that have not yet happened, the young kid jumps up and leaves his mother’s house, running off to find his mad doctor friend who is still alive.
The young kid finds his doctor friend easily, as he still lives at the same house as he does in the present time. But the doctor is much younger and does not know that the young kid is his friend. The doctor in the past is just as mad as he is in the young kid’s time, and it is not easy for the young kid to make the doctor believe that he has taken a time-trip. But slowly, with a lot of noise and yelling, the young kid is able to make the doctor believe that he is from a different place in time, a time where they are friends, and he needs his help to get back to that time that has not yet happened. The doctor explains that it is very hard to help him because there are no angry rocks that can be used to power the time-trip car computer in this time. The only power that they can use to get him home is made from bright lines of light that flash down from the sky when it rains and no one ever knows when these bright lights will happen.
The young kid remembers a piece of paper he had been given in the time that has not yet happened, when he was kissing his pretty girlfriend. It mentions a bright line of light that will hit a building in town with a big watch on it in exactly one week and it also says the very second that it will hit. The young doctor is big time excited and tells the younger kid that this is how they will get him back to the time that has not yet happened. But the bad news is that they only have one chance to get it right or he will be stuck in the past. There is not very much time so the young kid and mad doctor have to make many important plans quickly to take the power from the bright line of light and put it in the time-trip car.
But there is one more problem for the young kid. His young father did not meet his young mother and fall in love. This is a very big problem because if they do not fall in love then the young kid will not be living in the time that has not yet happened. His sister, his brother and him will not ever be because his mother will never have them. This is very bad and the doctor tells the young kid that if he does not get his mother to fall in love with his father then he is in very big trouble. The young kid tells the doctor that he will spend the week getting his parents to fall in love.
Over the next few days the young kid makes several attempts to set his father up with his mother. But something seems to go wrong all the time and it does not work out, one time even ending with the young kid beating up the big mean jerk his father works for in the time that has not yet happened. Finally, running out of time, the young kid agrees to go to the Love Under the Water school dance with his mom, the very dance where his mother and father first kissed. The young kid knows that his mother falls in love easily with men who are strong and can take care of her, so he plans to be mean to his mother and have his dad “save” his mother from getting hurt.
In a bad way that is not very cool, the young kid’s plan goes wrong. The big mean jerk who his father works for in the time that has not yet happened is drunk and pulls the young kid from the car where he is sitting with his mother. The kids who hang out with the big mean jerk beat up the young kid and lock him in the back of a car while the big mean jerk forces himself on the young kid’s mom. The young kid’s father – not knowing that the big mean jerk is now in the car – opens the door, expecting to save the girl and have her fall in love with him. Instead, the big mean jerk tries to hurt the young kid’s father, but the young kid’s father stands up to the big jerk for the first time in his life. The young kid escapes from the back of the car just in time to see his father knock out the big mean jerk and save his mother. In love again, the young kid’s mom follows his father into the dance where they kiss for the first time. After they kiss, the young kid’s father thanks his son from the time that has not yet happened for helping him to win at love, which means that the young kid will not be dead in the time that has not yet happened.
Now that he knows he and his brother and sister will be present in the time that has not yet happened, the young kid runs to meet his doctor friend so he can take his time-trip. The doctor is making the final fixes to the parts that they will use to take the power from the bright line of light that comes down from the sky. The young kid gets in the time-trip computer car but before he can close the door the doctor finds a letter in his pocket that the young kid put there. The letter tells the doctor when he will be dead in the time that has not yet happened but the doctor does not want to read it, scared that it will make time act different for him.
The young kid drives the time-trip computer car very fast so that the strange part that makes time-trips possible can work and just as the bright line from the sky hits the building with a watch on it, the car takes its power, going back to the time that has not yet happened. The young kid, not wanting his doctor friend to be dead, had set the time-trip computer to ten minutes earlier then when he had left so that he could warn his friend about being shot – only he does not make it in time. Once again, he sees his good friend killed and there is nothing he can do about it. Sad and scared, the young kid runs over to his doctor friend only to find that he is not dead because he wore a jacket that can stop very fast flying things that make people dead and come from guns. When the young kid asks the doctor how he knew to wear the jacket, the doctor shows him the letter that the young kid had given him when he was three time ten years in the past. The letter is old and brown, even though to the young kid he had just made the letter a few hours ago. Very happy that he has changed time, the young kid gets a ride home from the very much not-dead doctor. The young kid goes inside his house and the doctor gets back into the time-trip computer car, excited to go another three times ten years into the time that has not yet happened to see what has changed. The young kid, very tired from his own time-trip, goes to his bedroom and falls into a deep sleep, thinking that everything is right in the present.
When he wakes up the next morning the young kid finds out that his family has changed. His mom takes good care of herself and is happy and in love. His father is very well liked and has a lot of power in the world because he writes space stories about a person from another world. His brother has a lot of power too and has a good job and is cool and dresses well. His sister no longer has a problem finding boys who will like her and she is happy. And the young kid sees that his parents have a closer love life then they did before he left and that has made everyone around them good and cool.
The young kid also finds out that the big mean jerk who had been mean to his father his entire life now works for his father and is friends with the young kid’s family. The big mean jerk is no longer a jerk or mean and he now takes care of things for them. All of these things have happened because the young kid has taken a time-trip, helping his parents in ways that he did not understand. The young kid can not believe all the good things that have happened to his family and then he gets one final surprise that is just too much. As he is outside, meeting up with his girlfriend who he has missed and trying to understand his family’s new power, the mad doctor comes back from three times ten years into the time that has not yet happened. The mad doctor is dressed in very strange clothes and tells the young kid that there is a problem with the children the young kid has had with his pretty girlfriend.
As the story ends, the young kid and his girlfriend enter the time-trip computer with the doctor. The young kid asks the mad doctor if there is enough road to make the time-trip computer work and the doctor answers that where they are going they do not need roads because the car can now fly. And with that the time-trip computer car flies in the air and with a bright flash of light they all head three times ten years into the time that has not yet happened.
To Be Not Ended.
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