Life Improvement Inc.
By Avelina Kiyome Sanchez
In a dystopian future America, the third great depression drives a desperate teenager to an unconventional job interview for the mysterious company, Life Improvement Inc. And what she finds out about the company is…unexpected.
TITLES INT. OFFICE Astrid, late teens, rebellious, deadpan, and unruly, sits down uncomfortably. Earl Gray, 40s-50s, Chief Operating Officer of Life Improvement Inc., calm, cool, and collected, sits in front of her and takes out his notes. ASTRID I’m Astrid. MR. GRAY It’s nice to meet you. I am Earl Gray, Chief Operating Officer of Life Improvement Inc. ASTRID (amused) What a name. MR. GRAY Let’s get started. How did you find out about this job opening? ASTRID It’s a pretty basic story. The job shortage got to me, just like everyone else. Couldn’t even get minimum wage work. Then your guy tracked me down in the lobby of my apartment building - I mean, I’m not surprised my apartment is bugged- MR. GRAY We did not bug your apartment, Astrid. ASTRID I don’t care. I’m just glad that lady with the BMW tracked me down and got me this interview. MR. GRAY (pauses as he processes) All right then. So, how much do you currently know about this company, and your prospective role in it? ASTRID You guys make people’s lives better. MR. GRAY (surprised) Oh, how did you know? ASTRID Um, the name? Life Improvement Incorporated? MR. GRAY Ah. Indeed. There’s a pause as Astrid and Mr. GRAY stare each other down, each expecting the other to speak next. ASTRID Well, Earl, are you going to tell me what LII does? I’m just warning you ahead of time that if this is an office cubicle job- EARL No, no Astrid, nothing like that. You may sit back down so you can hear me out. ASTRID Hm. MR. GRAY We make people’s lives better in ways most couldn’t even imagine possible. The position you are currently interviewing for is a huge part of accomplishing this company’s mission. ASTRID Earl, don’t tell me I have to sell drugs again- MR. GRAY Of course not. Astrid, what we’re making here is a legitimate, scientifically engineered product. It’s called the Time Jar. ASTRID What does it do? MR. GRAY You know how you experience these perfect moments every once in a while and you think: “I wish this one moment could last forever”? Well, these jars make that possible. To an extent, that is. You see, the name is pretty self-explanatory. Time is trapped inside the jar, so when the jar is opened, time around you stops so that your chosen moment freezes and can thus last longer. Each jar allows a moment to last 24 hours. Astrid pauses to process. ASTRID (almost sarcastically) And I thought Apple was crazy when they came out with those telepathically communicating AirPods. MR. GRAY Yes, I know this possibility may be hard to wrap your head around, but this kind of work is what we do. Now, your position would be the Time Jar delivery manager. You would be in charge of getting all those deliveries out to customers (more) MR. GRAY (CONT’D) who ordered time jars. Remember, this company is very discreet, so how are you with keeping secrets? ASTRID I mean...you wouldn’t have to worry about me spilling confidential information- MR. GRAY (interrupting) I’m asking how you are with keeping secrets. In everyday life. Like, when your friend Billy tells you at a sleepover that he has a crush on Jennifer from math class, but that you can’t tell anybody, what do you do? ASTRID (in all seriousness) Absolutely. I’d die before revealing Billy’s horny little thoughts to any of my classmates. Okay, well maybe not die for a little bit of pre-teen drama, but I’d let someone beat me up and still keep my mouth shut. MR. GRAY Okay, good. Next question: how would you put out a fire? ASTRID Call the fire department. MR. GRAY And what if your dog was still in the burning building? ASTRID I hate dogs. MR. GRAY Fine. What’s your favorite type of pet? ASTRID A tortoise. MR. GRAY (pauses) Okay then. Your tortoise is trapped in the fire. What do you do? ASTRID Well, it would be a very hard decision, but I’d have to leave it inside to burn. MR. GRAY Really? ASTRID Gotta save my own life. If I go back in to try and save the tortoise, both of us die. I mean, this is assuming the firefighters would come when it’s too late. MR. GRAY Yes, that is a correct assumption. Now onto the next question, how do you feel about skydiving? ASTRID It would’ve been better without the parachute. Oh hey, you got a product for that? MR. GRAY I see. ASTRID May I ask you a question? MR. GRAY Yes? ASTRID What other products does LII make? MR. GRAY None, currently. These Time Jars are newly developed and have been thoroughly tested, so we have every bit of confidence that they will be very lucrative. For now, we are investing all our time and energy into them. You see, the products at LII are eachgroundbreaking so we have to really focus on perfecting one at a time. ASTRID So what have some of your past products been? MR. GRAY I think it’s time to move onto the next interview question, I’ll leave plenty of time for your questions later on. Okay so I know I have been asking some odd questions, and I do apologize for throwing you off guard, but your answers are very important for me to see if you’d be a good fit for the job. I’ll move on to some more conventional questions now: how often do you smile? ASTRID About twice a month my neighbor does something stupid I can laugh at. MR. GRAY Ah, okay, good. ASTRID Is there a problem? MR. GRAY Not at all! In this company we like to hire an emotionally (more) MR. GRAY (CONT’D) diverse group of people. We find that it maximizes productivity and creativity among employees. ASTRID Oh. Okay. Never heard that one before. MR. GRAY What do you mean? ASTRID Everyone would prefer people to smile. I mean, it seems like a pretty unrealistic expectation given this decade is called the Third Great Depression. Oh well. MR. GRAY Yes, well, do you have any questions for me at this point? ASTRID Now will you tell me about past products? MR. GRAY Alright. Well, as I said, we make people’s lives better. And we do that in...very innovative ways that...don’t necessarily work for everyone. ASTRID Not gonna lie, that sounds problematic. MR. GRAY We’re changing the world, Astrid. It’s as simple as that. Every groundbreaking accomplishment like this company goes through its growing pains. Underneath the huge corporation is just a group of inventors trying to make the world a better place for everyone. ASTRID LII has killed people, haven’t they? MR. GRAY No, Astrid, we are not the military, we are a commercial company. Now, to answer your question, one of our biggest products for quite some time was called the Memory Box. Basically, people would purchase a box where they could store one memory that they want to take out of their mind but never forget. We’d keep it for them in the necessary conditions to maintain the memory, and whenever they’d want to revisit it, they could. ASTRID Oh. That actually sounds nice. (shift) What was wrong with it? MR. GRAY Unfortunately, when people forgot the memories they put into the box, they also tended to forget that they had a missing memory at all. So eventful moments or big chunks of their lives were just lost to them. Family members would complain, and people would visit the hospital with instances of amnesia, having forgotten that their missing memory was right here in the box they had purchased. Then the problems with the product quickly escalated when we somehow reached a different clientele. You see, criminals would stop by and give us their memories of when they committed (MORE) MR. GRAY (CONT’D) their crimes so that if they got questioned by law enforcement, they couldn’t give anything up. ASTRID Oh shit. MR. GRAY Eventually, when the police started showing up, we had to break code and give them the criminals’ lost memories. We nearly got sued and arrested so many times that we decided to give up the product altogether. ASTRID (suddenly interested) What other products have there been? MR. GRAY The memory box was what then led to...Break and Bye. ASTRID Break and Bye... MR. GRAY This was less of a product and more of a service. We learned to be much more discreet by the time we launched it, so it ran for some time. Clients would come to us and request that we quietly rid them of someone who has been...not useful to society. ASTRID Bye as in B-Y-E...so you did kill people. MR. GRAY (sighs) Just with this one service. We needed to recover financially from The Memory Box in order to keep this company running. Astrid, you know how hard it is to keep businesses afloat these days. And we made sure to do a thorough check of whoever we were supposed to get rid of to make sure they were absolutely unnecessary to society. We were helping to reduce the overpopulated country. But, long story short, we had a very bad scare about law enforcement starting to notice us, so we shut everything down very abruptly. ASTRID Damn. I can’t believe you had the balls to make a hit service within a giant company. MR. GRAY Which we quickly realized was a mistake. ASTRID (excitedly) So how do you get your customers? MR. GRAY Unfortunately that is classified information. All you have to worry about is delivering the Time Jars. I have a few more questions to ask you, but I’ll leave more time later on for your questions, okay? ASTRID (deflated) Sure. MR. GRAY Good. Now, how do you handle high pressure situations? ASTRID No situation is high pressure. MR. GRAY Really? ASTRID Yeah. I mean, when something goes wrong, what’s the worst that could happen? In your company, for example. The CEO is arrested. You get sued and go bankrupt. (shrugs) Nothing you can do about that. Just let events play out and if it all works out, great. If the worst happens, you get that out of the way and figure it out from there. MR. GRAY But what about if you were a surgeon? If your hand slipped, you could kill your patient. ASTRID Well good thing I’m not a surgeon. (sarcastically) Why? Is delivery manager a high-pressure job? MR. GRAY Of course it is. There are plenty of risks that come with delivery, and you would be responsible if something went wrong. ASTRID (smirks) What kinds of risks come with delivering a few jars? Tripping on peoples’ doorsteps? MR. GRAY Exposure, for one. As I said, this product must stay discreet. ASTRID Sure, but can’t you just lie and say there’s something else in the jars if you get questioned? I mean, they’re just a few metal jars. MR. GRAY They’re not metal, Astrid, they’re made of glass. ASTRID Glass? Wait - isn’t that a bit fragile? MR. GRAY Exactly. Glass breaks. If we’re not careful, these delivery-people are carrying boxes of jars at a time. Thirty jars break, that traps them in time for an entire month. ASTRID Well if I’m hired, the first thing I’m going to do is change the material of the jars. MR. GRAY Unfortunately, that is not possible. Time can only be contained in good old-fashioned glass. (beat) As I said, this job is high-pressure all the time. ASTRID Wait, back up. How do you make these products? MR. GRAY I’m afraid that’s all we have time for today. It was lovely to meet you, Astrid. I apologize - we got a bit off-track today, talking about LII’s history. That’s my fault. I guess I’m very passionate about what I do. Anyway, I hope to learn more about you at round two of your interview tomorrow. ASTRID (excited) I made it to round two? MR. GRAY Round two is mandatory. On your way out, my secretary will hand you a pamphlet that gives you a bit more information on our company. It should answer many of your lingering questions and prepare you for tomorrow. Also, a car will be waiting for you just outside your building at five a.m. sharp. You’ll know which one it is. Have a good evening, and I’ll see you tomorrow. SFX: footsteps to the door, door opening then closing. MR. GRAY (sighs) Who’s next, Rainy? MR. GRAY’S SECRETARY (from intercom) Jax Fox. He’s waiting just outside. MR. GRAY (exhales) All right. Bring him in. END OF EPISODE
I experimented a lot while making this piece. When I first decided to make an audio drama, I had no idea where to start in the recording and sound editing process. Many YouTube videos later, I found out about a lot of cool special audio effects that I definitely had fun playing around with. But as an inexperienced podcaster with a zero dollar budget, I didn’t want to make my piece too crazy complicated. So I wrote a simple conversation between two people, and let the dialogue convey all the thrill and weirdness of my sci-fi distopian plot. Anyway, everything I did to make this was all very DIY which really showed me that there are so many ways to get your work out there. I used two actors (me and my dad), and recorded our voices on my Apple ear buds. My dad also composed and recorded the theme song (big shout out to him yay). And finally I recorded all the sound effects with voice memos on my phone. The door opening and closing at the beginning and end of the episode is me opening and closing my bathroom door. The footstep sound was made by me walking with boots on my hardwood floor, bent over in order to hold my phone by my feet so it could pick up the sound. A little bit (well, a lot) of editing and special effects later, all these sounds add up to something that turned out a lot better than I expected. I can say that the hard work paid off and I am truly proud of my piece. I made this audio drama specifically for my Girls Write Now submission, but the fictional world and characters I created actually inspired me to go even further. So this is just a pilot episode to an entire series called Life Improvement Inc. that I released to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. I got even more of my friends and family to act in it, and overall it was just really fun to make, and a great way to fill up my free time as a second semester senior. So a big shout out to GWN for pushing me to do make all this happen!
Avelina Kiyome Sanchez is a senior in high school from New York City. She is the creator and writer of the audio drama Life Improvement Inc., which you can find on all listening platforms. Avelina also runs the blog 100percentmixed.com, sharing her journey of being a mixed-race teen. You can find one of her articles published in the magazine Mixed Asian Media. Avelina is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Silver Key and Honorable Mention recipient for various short stories. Other than writing, Avelina loves acting, singing and math. She’s also a fan of bubble tea, cats and true crime.