Monday, February 29, 2016

Microstory 266: Perspective Forty-One

Perspective Forty

My yoga classes have become a huge joke. I’ve tried going to a few different places; I like to change things up as a general rule anyway, but there are problems with all of them. My mother used to always say that I could “find the problem with perfection”. She also called me Negative Nancy. Not the worst mother I could have had, but certainly not the most supportive. The whole reason I started practicing yoga was to relax and learn to lead a healthier lifestyle. But these people—oh my God, these people—they just don’t seem to get how this whole things works. First of all, people are always coming in late. I’m friends with the instructor, and I’ve suggested to him that we lock the doors with a sign that tells people that if they’re not in before class starts then they’re just out of luck. Unfortunately, he can’t afford to lose the business, but he wishes he could do something like that. The most frustrating thing is that when they come in late, they make a big thing about it. They want to announce their arrival in some way, sometimes literally. They make a big ruckus, which is particularly noticeable because we’re all trying to be calm and quiet by then. If ever I were late—which I never would be—but if I were, I would be as quiet as a mouse. Or I would just skip it that day, if only to keep from bothering others. My husband says that I shouldn’t be surprised the culprits don’t feel the same way about the situation. People who are prone to being late are also prone to either not being aware of, or not caring about, other people’s needs. There’s a correlation between the two behaviors that is so very much likely unavoidable. And he’s right, as always. I just wish he weren’t so loud about it all the time. I love him so much, but I didn’t realize what I was getting into marrying a guy who is so much smarter than me. But I suppose that’s exactly why I love him, isn’t it? My yoga partner, on the other hand, is more my speed. As bad as her emotional and psychological problems are, she makes the classes easier to handle, just by being around. Too bad she has family game night, or we would be able to exchange disappointed looks about the man whose phone is ringing...again. It happens literally every time. We think he just wants us to believe he’s so damn important.

Perspective Forty-Two

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 10, 2064

Mateo woke up almost naked on the beach somewhere. Leona was nowhere to be found, but there was a pile of clothes nearby. They weren’t his, but they were all that was available, so he put on the brown button up shirt, the eerily familiar brownish sweater, and the dark brown slacks. He removed the brown socks he was already wearing because they were wet. He called out for help as he wandered around, but no one replied. Upon coming up on a yellow inflatable boat, he realized what was going on. Just like The Shawshank Redemption before, he was now supposed to play out the movie Cast Away. The biggest problem with this scenario was that the main character from that movie was on the island alone. Who knows what horrors Leona was dealing with on her own. She could be somewhere else on the island, or she could be running from Michael Myers, for all he knew. He tried to remain positive, and noted that at least the day hadn’t begun with a plane crash.
During the last tribulation, The Rogue had combined two different stories into one, so there was no telling what would happen here. It might have only been Cast Away, or something else could be tossed in to make it more complicated. If it became a mashup of that and Lost, then he wouldn’t be alone, but he would also be in far greater danger, especially since he never watched the show. As he was walking through the jungle with an instinct to head for higher ground and survey the scene, he picked what few berries he could find. There didn’t seem to be any coconuts, which were a staple of the original film. The Rogue was again making alterations, presumably in an effort to throw Mateo off his game, and to make the tribulation that much more difficult. In fact, the berries could be poisonous, like the ones in The Hunger Games. But there was no way to know. He had heard a high school friend one time mention something about an edibility test, but Mateo didn’t know how to perform one, so whatever.
Upon climbing to the top of a ridge, he could see a great deal of ocean and land below him. Something in particular caught his eye. He was too far up at that point, but it looked not unlike a person. This figure wasn’t moving, though. If his memory served him, it was a dead body. He scrambled down the side of the cliff, wishing that he had instead been placed in the movie itself, so all this work could be edited out. Once back down to the bottom, he ran up to the body, still waiting for him on the edge of the treeline. But it wasn’t a dead body, or a person at all. It was a dummy of some kind. The Rogue didn’t seem like the kind of person who would turn away from killing, so why the charade? Mayhaps he was not as dangerous as they thought. It was true that they did not know of any time when he had killed anyone. This was all a game to him, so he was clearly sick in the head, but maybe that’s as far as he was willing to go.
On the dummy body, Mateo found a pair of shoes that were too small for him. But underneath it he found some other things. Video tapes, divorce papers, a volleyball, ice skates, and an ugly brown child’s dress were somewhat buried in the sand. Yep. Those were from the movie. He cut off the toes of the shoes and put them on. Then he tore up the dummy’s clothes to seal up the shoes as much as possible. Was that it? Was that all the Rogue wanted for the game? It must be.
Mateo spent days alone on the island, and days is to be taken literally. Night never came. The sun shone down on him perpetually. He eventually realized that the clouds were not moving, but it wasn’t until the next week that he uncovered confirmation on what was going on. A bird was flying through the air, as birds do. But once it flew far enough over the ocean, it stopped in midair. Time was moving faster on the island than in the outside world. This meant that his pattern had not been completely broken. He couldn’t tell exactly how much time had passed for the rest of the world, but he could be rest assured that it had not been so much as a day. It probably hadn’t even been an hour. He wasn’t capable of doing the math himself, but he imagined that the entirety of four years would take place over the course of only one day for everyone else in order to match up with the timeline of the film. Awesome.

A few hundred days into the Tribulation, Mateo was sure that no one else was on the island. Due to the film’s time jump, there was no way to know for sure what the character in the movie had been doing during the majority of his time marooned. And so he just did the only thing he could do: survive. He eventually did find coconuts. He fashioned spears from the ice skates and hunted for fish. He realized, however, that there was not an endless supply of these fish, as most of them were trapped outside of the time bubble. They were free to traverse the barrier back out and become trapped as often as ever, but could only return once in a blue moon, from his perspective. And so he began to capture some of the fish and kept them in a tank built of wood and lined with the inflatable boat. There they could breed. They didn’t do it a whole lot, because Mateo was no fish farmer, but it was enough to keep him alive.
Night slowly fell about halfway through the year. He didn’t question why the time difference was smaller than what the movie led him to believe. He was just grateful that it was nearly over, and hopeful that he would finally be able to return to Leona. The Rogue apparently had other plans. “Had enough yet?”
“I have,” Mateo answered. “This is a bad one.” It was mostly about the boredom.
“Why have you not built a raft?”
“Tom Hanks doesn’t do that for another three years.”
He laughed. “Good. You’re learning.”
“Where is Leona?”
“I can send you to her. Rather, I can let you go to her.”
“What about the time bubble?”
“It will follow you through the ocean.”
“I’ve yet to build a raft,” Mateo said.
“Yeah, I’m tired of this one,” the Rogue lamented. “I didn’t realize how boring it would be. If I had started with the plane crash, you probably would have died, and then our fun would be over too quickly. But this is excruciating, so I’m going to just give you a lifeboat.”
“How kind of you,” Mateo replied sarcastically.
The Rogue ignored the comment. “Look behind ya.”
Mateo turned to see the lifeboat frozen in time on the other side of the temporal barrier. Without speaking, Mateo began wading towards it through the water.
“Oh, and you’ll have help out there!” the Rogue called up to him from the beach.
Mateo did not respond, because that was surely a joke. And it sort of was.
“His name is Richard Parker!” Shit. That’s not good. He should have grabbed one of the spears.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Odds: Eleven (Part I)

I’ve always wanted to play and win the lottery, but I never have. I was convinced that the chances of winning were so infinitesimally small that the perfect set of circumstances had to be in place for a win. You can’t win by playing over and over again, because each time you play, your chances revert back. Playing more than once increases your chances of winning one of them, but not of winning any of them. And so I waited. I continued on with my life without giving it too much thought, but it was still always in the back of my mind. I was not born with nothing, but could not simply have anything I wanted. I know how important money is. When I was nearly fifteen years old, my parents suggested I get a job. I’m not quite clear on the specifics of the law, but I know that I could have started working at least a year earlier, and I’m not sure why I didn’t. Looking back, I feel selfish for that. My father suggested I become a lifeguard but I don’t know what gave him that idea, but it would explain why he waited until I was older.
I have an extreme and overpowering instinct to protect people. When pedestrians are crossing the street, I slow down, not so that I won’t hit them, but so that I can keep an eye on them and make sure that no one else does. If I were to hear a bang, I don’t think I would hit the floor, I think I would look for people who needed help. Now, how effective I would be in a crisis is a different story, but my main concern is always others. Months ago, I was diagnosed with autism, and I’ve spoken briefly on this, but I didn’t really get too much into it. The word autism is from the Greek autos, meaning “self”. It is generally characterized by self-absorption, and a sometimes debilitating fear of interaction with others. Autistic people are all different—there are as many types of autism as there are people with autism—but one thing that seems to bind us all is social anxiety. This has led experts to believe that we spend too much time in our own heads, and that we are not concerned with others. But this is an insulting and ridiculous description that I take offense to.
The truth is that I don’t process information the same way neurotypical people do. I don’t ask questions, I don’t try to discuss, and I don’t even read as much as you would think. I learn best by seeing a problem and finding the answer through logic. Historical figure John Doe did this and this and this. Why? What was his motivation? Well, tell me the time period, his economic station, and his location, and I might be able to figure it out. That was not only an example of my thought process, but also of my expertise in tangent. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this is actually a tangent of a tangent. Mind blown?
When I’m in my own head, I’m not thinking about myself; I’m thinking about you. I’m thinking about what you want out of me; how I should respond to you. I’m thinking about the kinds of things you like and hate. I’m looking at how you dress, how you stand, how you look at me, how you look at others, whether you’re attractive, if you understand the value of a dollar, what movies you like, what you ate for breakfast, what your problems are, if you really hate me as much as I think you do, who you’re going to vote for, and if you’ve noticed how long I’ve taken to respond to you. And when we’re not in a conversation, but you’re in proximity, I’m thinking about whether you’re going to say something to me, what you’re going to say, and what I should say to you. I’m calculating every single possible scenario that could possibly come out of this, consolidated so they’re easier to manage. You might be mad at me, or you might be planning to give me a compliment. Or the world could end. It’s all possible, and I don’t really worry about which ones are the most plausible. I just throw them all in there.
All of what I’ve said is relevant because, since you didn’t know what I was thinking when you were around me, I’m not sure how my father could have known that I would excel at being a lifeguard. Even though I have this urge to help and protect people, I sure as hell don’t seem like I do. I would imagine that a great deal of people would think of me as kind of a dick. I don’t try to be rude, but I def come off as that, and it’s because my facial expressions don’t match my feelings. But that’s just me, that’s what my face looks like. You call it ugly, but it’s better known as bitchy resting face. Look it up.
I did well as a lifeguard, but it ended when I graduated from high school and went on to other things. I’ve had many jobs since then; more than I wish I had needed. And I’ve hated all of them, for varying reasons. I sometimes hated the people I worked with, and sometimes hated the work itself. But for the most part, I hated them because they ended. Looking for work has been the most stressful neverending experience of my life. I thought school was bad, but at least they let me in the door.
Both fortunately and unfortunately for me, I’m a writer. D’uh. And I’ve always had this idea that one day, I’ll publish a book, become rich and famous, and I’ll never have to work again. That’s not worked out so far, and so I’ve had to continue my search for work. But the fact that it may still happen—and I can never prove that it won’t—has always held me back. I’ve never been able to pursue a job search at full force, because it’s always seemed like a stepping stone. I didn’t think I would ever need to worry about a career, and I’ve just learned that I didn’t. But not for the reason I thought. I found money in a different, mostly unexpected, way.
Eleven. I was born with an extra finger on my right hand, which meant that I had eleven manual digits. It was surgically removed when I was eleven days old. Either because of the surgery, or just because, the rest of my fingers and jacked up. Goddamn ten. Eleven is a weird number, and I’ve always admired it for that. One is the loneliest number. It takes two to tango. Three’s a crowd. There are four elements. Five is a spiritual number. Hexagons are some of the most useful shapes. Seven is...never mind, that one doesn’t count. Eight ball. A cat’s nine lives. Ten is so perfect that everybody loves ten and fuck ten! And people like things that come in dozens—heh, gross. Nobody cares about eleven save musicians and physicists, and so I care about it. Nobody bases things in eleven. No one uses the undecimal system. No one organizes things in groups of eleven. Nobody likes it. It’s either more than you need or less than you think you deserve. It’s in the middle, it’s outcast, it’s dismissed, it’s teased and underestimated and thrown away. It’s me. I’m Eleven, and so that’s why I chose it as my first number.
Actual size.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Microstory 265: Perspective Forty

Perspective Thirty-Nine

My husband thinks that our family life is going to get better if we spend a night each week playing games. I thought it would be fun, but it’s started stressing me out. Intellectually, I know he’s trying his best, probably. But I can’t help but feel that he is just covering for something bad. I haven’t always been faithful in our relationship. I haven’t gone all the way or anything, but still, he knows about it, and I know that he’s just waiting for his moment to use it against me. I’m always worried that he’s going to abandon me for his mistress. Whoever she is, I’m sure she’ll treat him right. Probably. Lord knows I don’t. But that’s just who I am. I’m a bad person. What am I supposed to do about it? I was born broken, and there’s nothing I can do to fix myself. Sure, I can take the medicine my psychiatrist prescribes me, but exactly how much can that do? These tiny little pills are packed with what, magic? I’ve always had a hard time believing in that kind of medicine. if you give me a vial of something, or if you inject something into my blood, then I can kind of see how that works. But pills just seem completely ineffective to me. I don’t feel any different. I guess he did say that there was only so much they could do anyway; that the pills can only help with my anger and stabilize my moods a bit. It’s hard to take him seriously, though. He probably has dozens of other patients that he cares about far more than me. And why should he focus on me? It’s not like I have suicidal thoughts or anything. I mean, sure, that would take the pain away, and it would be easier for my family if they just didn’t have to worry about what I was going to do next, but death isn’t a good answer. Probably. All I need to do is be a better person. I can do that. I can fake it, even if it means I have to do it forever. I just need to watch how good people act and mirror them. Shouldn’t be too hard. Probably.

Perspective Forty-One

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Microstory 264: Perspective Thirty-Nine

Perspective Thirty-Eight

Not long ago, my wife was diagnosed with what our current health professionally prefers to call emotionally unstable personality disorder. This means that her behavior changes on a regular basis due to intense feelings of neglect and betrayal. She is constantly worried that people around her are either purposely making decisions against her best interests, or simply that they will leave her. But then she has these moments, sometimes that last for months, where she is extremely happy and affectionate. I’ve always known that she was different; I dated her for long enough to see these transitions, but I wish we had had the official diagnosis for longer. If I had understood more precisely what she was going through, I could have treated the situation better. I should have treated it better either way, though, shouldn’t I have? I learned little tips and tricks to make sure that she was as comfortable as possible. I was usually able to subside her massive depressions and suicidal thoughts by saying the right things, but I know now that this was not enough. I was encouraging these feelings and just waiting for them to go away rather than dealing with them and actually helping her through it. If she was treating someone poorly, I wouldn’t just straight up let her do it, but I would mirror her thoughts so that I could slowly redirect her to a more healthy outlook. Our daughter has always felt the worst of it, and she’s never known why. We raised her completely erratically and unreliably. We’ve let her do what she wanted, we’ve punished her severely, we’ve just left the care to herself. That wasn’t right because it made her think that she was doing something wrong, and that she could never be sure what was going to happen to her next. I intend to work as hard as I can to not only help my wife feel better, but also ensure my daughter’s happiness. I’m looking into some options to help us become a better family. I think everyone could do with a little therapy, but I also have this idea to institute mandatory family game night. I hope I’m making the right decision this time.

Perspective Forty

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Microstory 263: Perspective Thirty-Eight

Perspective Thirty-Seven

You should give this a listen. He is my favorite musical artist of all time. I thought I had found my favorite band when I was in eighth grade, and I still listen to them all the time, but this guy’s voice is just magnificent. Our radio station has this bit where they play local bands and try to get them exposure. Several of these groups have actually gone on to become famous nationwide, or even worldwide. Now this guy here didn’t quite start out like that. He put up a few videos on the internet and word of mouth propelled his career exponentially, but the support from the radio station certainly didn’t hurt him. I have been his fan since day one. My older brother used to play with him in high school band, and even amongst all the wretched noises from kids with no talent, I could hear his soul. He stood out, and it was clear that he was the best. I started following him on social media and waited for his career to begin. I wanted to encourage him personally, but I didn’t want to come off as pushy or creepy, so I was quiet and patient. Now I’m not so scared. He went on tour last summer, and I followed him around to nearly every city. My grandmother fell ill so I missed a few shows, but other than that, I was right there, literally front and center. I cannot figure out my parents, though. Every several months, they completely change tactics with how they raise me. And they have been doing this my whole life. Sometimes they’re incredibly strict and overbearing; other times they barely notice me; and they occasionally go through these moments where they let me do what I want as long as I’m being safe. Fortunately, this matched up perfectly with the tour. But now I’m back home and all they can talk about is my grades. They should know that they don’t have to worry. I’m no genius, but I’m also no slouch. I do all right. I wish I could start a band of my own, but that’s not my thing. I need to think of something to do; someone to be, because I am going to college, but there’s no way it won’t be a state school. Ah whatever, I have plenty of time.

Perspective Thirty-Nine

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Microstory 262: Perspective Thirty-Seven

Perspective Thirty-Six

I’ve not always been as rich as I am today. I was born into welfare, and my parents worked their asses off to provide for us and move up in the world. By the time I dropped out of college, my father was making six figures, and my mother wasn’t all that far behind. I grew up with a respect for money that most people don’t share. Even other people considered to be “new money” don’t have this respect, and end up blowing what they have on frivolous pursuits and self-destructive habits. When I was in elementary school, there was a family next door who was even worse off than we were. The difference was that the parents were high all the time, and didn’t bother taking care of their daughter. I was but a kid myself, so I couldn’t just bring her into our house, but I spent years stealing food for her; sometimes from the store, and sometimes from my parents. Now that I’m older, I see that I should have just called social services on them, but like I said, I was only a child, and I thought I was doing the right thing. She was rather quickly adopted by a nice family that lives on the other side of town, and I didn’t see her very often, but we did try to keep in touch. She encouraged me to pursue my music career. Yes, I’m one of those artists who got their start by uploading a few videos to the internet. Someone already famous caught wind of my work and word spread like wildfire. So here I am headlining my own concert after months of touring with and opening for another band. I’ve never not believed in God, but I also never really gave it much thought. But living next to those drug addicts gave me some perspective, and I’ve been able to stay clean. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that everything happens for a reason, because that flies in the face of causality, but perhaps it influenced my lifestyle more than I can understand. My neighbor friend comes to as many of my shows as possible, and who knows, something may be starting there.

Perspective Thirty-Eight

Monday, February 22, 2016

Microstory 261: Perspective Thirty-Six

Perspective Thirty-Five

I was adopted, but this didn’t happen when I was a cute little baby, or just a twinkle in my father’s eye. No, I come from death and destruction. Well, perhaps that’s a bit overdramatic, but I certainly wasn’t born into royalty. My birth parents were lazy drug addicts. And I’m not even talking about hard drugs like cocaine or meth. They just smoked pot, but a lot of it, and they never weren’t high. Our next door neighbor’s son was, fortunately, often there to look out for me. He stole formula when I was an infant, and squirreled away food from his own house as I grew up. His family wasn’t the richest of people either, so it’s not like there was plenty to go around. When his parents found out, he expected them to be angry for helping me. Instead, they were angry that he had let it go on this long without contacting the authorities. They had their own problems to deal with, so the fact that my life was even more messed up than theirs was something they simply did not have time to notice. Social services came in and removed me from the unsafe home. My parents didn’t even fight it, and I’ve not heard from them since. I remained in the foster system for only a few weeks; a miracle, really. Older children are rarely, if ever, adopted before reaching the age of majority. Like I said, people usually pick adorable babies, or they just hire a surrogate. I ended up lucky enough to be matched up with a loving forever family of two parents and a brother who spends his time helping outcasts at the rec center. Despite this, I developed fairly radical views on the foster system. Some say that pro-life terminology needs to be transformed into anti-choice so that people truly understand that pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-death, and that the key to change is awareness. But I don’t feel like that’s enough. The real problem is that people are having too many babies. And too many of these children are essentially left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, when a couple wants to raise a child but are biologically incapable of it, they so often choose surrogacy. That angers me a hell of a lot more than it does others. What we need to be doing is taking care of the humans that already exist. I’m not saying we should start some kind of population control program that limits families to some arbitrary number, but we should make surrogacy legally difficult. And we should encourage adoption above it. If we can get a handle on this, then we can go back to those medical options, but until then, I say we try to make things better for the current populace.

Perspective Thirty-Seven

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 21, 2014

Mateo, Leona, and Prince Darko slipped out of the house quietly and headed for the street. Their phones were waiting for them on the steps. Danica had been right that time would always tether them together. They hadn’t thought to test that before. Like any good time traveling device, their phones told them exactly when and where they had landed. It was Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 21, 2014. The prison guard had said that personnel don’t ever work in the same time period they live. Wait. “This is the day of my jump. My first jump.”
“It is,” Leona agreed. “What a coincidence.”
“I do not believe in coincidence.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Okay well, I do...” Mateo began. “But not in this case. I’ve been given a second chance. I can stop this. I just need to get to the graveyard.”
“The powers that be will never let you stop yourself from starting your pattern,” Prince Darko said.
“Shut up,” Mateo and Leona said in unison.
“I have to try this. I have to save my parents’ life.”
“And what about me?” Leona asked.
“What happens to me?”
“Well...I mean. What does happen to you?”
“Well, you and I never meet. If we ever do, you’ll be fourteen years older than me.”
“But you’ll still be here. I mean, this version of you will. You’re here now.”
“Not necessarily. You’ll be changing the timeline.” Prince Darko pointed to Leona. “Since this woman is out of her natural time pattern, she may be able to remain here, and there will be two versions of her. But probably not. I’ve not heard of it. In all likelihood, she’ll be erased. As will you. And that’s assuming you miraculously pull this off. But you’re a salmon, not a chooser or power. You’re not allowed to change things unless you’ve been assigned to.”
“But you are,” Mateo said to him. “You’re one of the powers, so you could change it for me. And you could find a way to keep Leona and me from being erased. I’m not trying to stop myself from meeting her. I’m just trying to save my parents’ lives.”
“I’m not a power,” Prince Darko said.
Leona shook her head.“What are you talking about? You clearly are. You were in the chooser block.”
“Yes, I’m a chooser,” he agreed. “I’m not a power.”
“They’re not the same thing?”
“You’ve been using them interchangeably, but no, they’re not. Choosers get to choose how they manipulate time, usually with some kind of specialization. For instance, I’m an object threader. I can touch and object and move back and forth along its time path, but I’m bound to it. I can’t move past its existence, and I can’t travel in any other way. The powers that be, on the other hand, can manipulate time in any way they like, and they use this...power to jack with other people’s lives. Bottom line is that choosers are just salmon who aren’t controlled by the powers.”
“Oh my God!” Mateo nearly yelled. “Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this?”
“People don’t seem to know,” Prince Darko said. “I’m not sure why. You’re right to be upset; it’s a pretty big deal.”
“Wait, this doesn’t make any sense,” Leona said. “A few years ago, you claimed to be on our pattern, just an hour earlier. We saw you jump into the future, and you were there waiting for us.”
Prince Darko shook his head in confusion. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do,” Mateo said. “Stop lying. You said that you had been on our pattern for two years before we got on it. You said we were a tripod.”
“I’ve never met you two,” Prince Darko claimed. “Not before today.”
“I just told you to stop lying.”
“Mateo,” Leona said. “He’s a time traveler. He must not have experienced that yet. That is our past, but it’s his future.”
“Oh, right,” Mateo said, but he was still not completely clear on the matter.
“I don’t know that that’s true. I mean, yes, that is a sound theory, Miss...Leona, right? But that doesn’t sound like something I would do. I mean, I know you guys don’t know me, but I know myself, and tricking people into trusting me just isn’t my style. I’m not saying I’m an angel; I was imprisoned for a reason, but not for anything like that.”
“Why were you locked up?”
“I just met you. I’m not going to tell you something like that. Sorry.”
“If you didn’t know us, why did you think we were breaking you out of your cell?” Leona had her hands on her hips.
“What did you expect me to do? Question it?” He scoffed. “I didn’t want to be there.”
“That makes sense.”
“Well, even if you’ve not yet done it,” Mateo said, “I’m already mad at you for trying to tear our relationship apart.”
“Rule number five, Mateo,” Leona said to him cautiously.
Mateo had to think through this for a moment. Which one was that? Avoid alternate versions of yourself? No, that was a tip for later. Treat everyone you meet with respect, as they may unexpectedly return. That one works. At this point, Prince Darko had no reason to hate them. Best not to antagonize him, as they may still have a chance to keep him on their side. “You’re right.”
“What rules?” Prince Darko asked.
“Do you go by Prince Darko?”
He was taken aback. “My mother used to call me that, but no. Darko will be fine, thank you.”
“Good,” Leona replied.
“But Mario Matic is your father,” Mateo questioned, but wasn’t sure which answer he wanted.
“Yes, he is. I’ve encountered him a couple of times.”
“That means we really are brothers.”
Darko lifted his chin and stared into Mateo’s eyes. And then he leapt over and gave Mateo a big bear hug. “I had no idea.” He wouldn’t let go. “It’s so nice to finally meet someone in my family I might actually be able to get along with. I don’t know what you think I’ve done in my future, but I promise you that I will never be on anyone else’s side but yours.” He finally released Mateo from his grip. “You included,” he said to Leona. He really did act drastically different than when they first met.
“Then maybe you can help us. I need to warn myself. You were right that I can’t stop this from happening. But I might be able to save my parents. Get us to Topeka.”
“I would need an object that’s going to or was at some point in Topeka.”
“Oh right.” Mateo frowned. “There’s no way. If this were the future, we could just call someone in our family to scoop us up with a fancy airplane.”
“We can still use an airplane,” Leona said reluctantly. “If you insist on messing with time, then all we need to do is find a flight going from Detroit to Kansas City.”
“Yeah, that could work,” Darko nodded. “Kind of a tall order, though. Normal people aren’t just allowed to go up to commercial airplanes. So if you don’t want to go ahead and purchase a ticket and sit through an entire ride, which wouldn’t take any more time, then we’ll have to sneak in.”
“That’s true.”
Suddenly, a little Toyota pulled up next to them on the street. A young man stepped out and handed Mateo the keys, along with a five dollar bill. “Be careful with it. This baby has to get me to Topeka, Kansas by tonight. I’m going to a funeral.” He then walked into the restaurant.

“What is happening?” Mateo asked. “Were we just...”
“...handed a miracle?” Darko asked, taking the keys from Mateo and tossing them through the passenger window.
“I don’t like this,” Mateo said.
“We have to take our opportunities,” Darko said.
And so they took him once again by the shoulders and threaded the car to the future.
They were suddenly in the Topeka cemetery. The driver of the car they had threaded was nowhere to be seen. People were standing around having fun, beers in hand.The Rogue appeared before them. “I’ve let you come here to watch,” he said. “I won’t let you alter time, though. This is just to give you perspective.”
“This is cruel,” Leona said.
“Cruel is my...” he sighed. “Sorry, I’m not going to say that. That’s a dumb line.”
“There’s Saga and Vearden,” Mateo pointed out. The door-walkers were in a conversation with some of Mateo’s friends, Frida being one of them. “Half-brother,” he said to Darko, “meet my half-sister.”
“Interesting,” Darko said. “I didn’t know Aquila had any family.”
“You know her?”
“We’ve met.” He smiled and looked around a bit. “Dad?”
They instinctively turned their heads to where Darko was looking. It really was their father. “I didn’t know he was here tonight.” He was watching the other Mateo intently, but was making no effort to reintroduce himself. Instead, he was talking with Mr. Halifax, the Gravedigger.
“Why are there so many salmon here?”
“This is an important occasion,” the Rogue said. “The two of you are considered the most influential salmon of all.”
“No one was there when I made my first jump,” Leona said.
The Rogue lowered his face but kept his eyes up, as if looking at her over imaginary reading glasses. “They weren’t?”
They continued to scan the crowd. Danica and Dr. Baxter mysteriously walked out of a crypt and focused on the original Mateo as well. After the door closed behind them, the family name on the crypt changed to read January 3, 1743. “Mateo, you might get to see Daria again,” Leona said reassuringly.
He did want to see her once more, but there was no way he would. “She didn’t know who I was when we met in 2019. And she would never lie to me.”
Daria never did show up, but her nurse from Ulinthra’s facility was there, along with the girl who they saw leaning against him at Daria’s funeral. Mateo stepped forward, thinking it was time to find out who the two of them were. The Rogue held him back again and shook his head. “Not yet, kind sir.” Son of a bitch.
It was midnight. They watched as the other Mateo had his final conversation with Kyle then jumped out of the timestream. Saga and Vearden stopped while they were running to help and ended up walking through the magic tomb portal. After the door changed, Danica and Baxter went through, presumably back to The Constant. Mario and The Gravedigger hopped into an empty grave and never came back out. The two mysterious choosers watched the commotion for a few moments and then looked over at the four of them. The girl waved affectionately while the guy smiled at them, then they jumped away. They were following rule number eleven; keep them guessing. The scene changed and the two of them were back in their house in 2064. Darko wasn’t with them.