Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 17, 2102

No sound. The air would shift between a little too cold to go without a jacket, and a little too hot to wear a long-sleeved shirt. Eventually, Mateo grew used to the climate change, and once he stopped caring about it, The Cleanser seemed to have stopped forcing it upon him anyway. He spent months in the cell, doing very little but eating, drinking, sleeping, and meditating. At first, Mateo thought that he was merely being kept in a temporal bubble, but then there were little indications that this was not true. He could see very little through the tiny window just under the ceiling, but he was able to pick up on small adjustments. As each day passed, and the run rose, the sight was different, and it felt different. The floors grew dustier at an unnatural rate. It was an incredibly cramped space, and he was never allowed to leave, but it was survivable. He had air, food, water, and his strength of will. That could never be taken from him.
This was definitely no bubble, and the Cleanser had said as much when he first put Mateo in the tiny room. Mateo just didn’t want to believe it. After all this time of toying with him, and the Cleanser was finally ready to just lock him up and ignore him? No, that didn’t make any sense. Why would he continue to react to Mateo’s choices, like no longer suffering from the temperature fluctuations? Though, to be fair, the Cleanser was immortal, and he could jump through time anyway. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he would only return to watch when it was necessary. He could spend entire lifetimes doing whatever else he wanted. No, this was real. Mateo was stuck in the cell with nothing but a magical bowl of bottomless porridge, a magical glass of bottomless water, and a piece of chalk to keep track of the days. It was difficult to measure the passage of time, but he could guess. From his best estimates, he had been in there for a total of three months.
“Open on twenty-eight!” the Cleanser yelled, probably just to himself. There were several clicks, releasing locks all the way down the door. “It’s your lucky day, Matic. You’ve served a life sentence. Eighty-eight years. I can’t believe you lived this long, that’s not normal. But we gotta let you go. We should rethink our definition of lifetime, and not make it so specific.”
“Eighty-eight more years?” Mateo asked. He went into the cell that many years after first being activated as a salmon. This was a mathematical coincidence that could not have actually been a coincidence. He looked over to his calendar wall. “I was two days off my mark.”
The Cleanser just stared at him.
“Oh, come on. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”
“Hold out your arms. He started pulling objects out of the aether and placing them in Mateo’s arms. “One plaid scarf. One comb...brown. Two loose pieces of gum...stale. One egg,” he said in a strange but humorous voice while handing him a single hard-boiled egg. “Five golden rings. A DVD of Cool Runnings. Murder, She Wrote. A bandanna with your name on it. A mix tape, push play on it. A time mirror.”
“That one actually is mine.”
He continued the joke, “a pregnancy test. Another pregnancy test.” He tilted his head in feigned surprise, but remained stone-faced. “A third pregnancy test. My autograph.”
“Is that it?”
“The details of what really happened on the day of JFK’s assassination. Your little pony. An actual horcrux.”
“Oh, hold on. And a second copy of my autograph to give to your daughter.” He winked.
“Don’t think you’re getting these things back just because they don’t actually belong to me.”
He shook his head in genuine surprise. “I don’t understand what’s with you, man. This should have broken you. You were in there for over twelve weeks. How do you still have hair that’s on your head, and not currently being digested, or...stuck to the walls?”
“Maybe I’m just stronger than you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He dropped his voice into a calm and thoughtful therapist impression. “You’re the one who’s trapped. Not in a place like this.” He waved around the cell. “But in here.” He placed three fingers on the Cleanser’s chest.”
“I just can’t quit you, Mateo Matic.”
He held onto the voice. “I know.”
“Sometimes I think I should just kill you and be done with it.”
“Why don’t you?”
“You’re interesting. You surprise me. That’s rare for someone with my power.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“Okay, you ruined it.”
“Ya know, as far as tribulations go, this was actually kinda nice.”
“And we’re back! Are you serious? You liked this? I mean, forget about all your zen crap for a second, and notice that I wasn’t lying. It really has been eighty-eight years. We’re nearing the end of the 22nd century. You’ve missed more than you ever have before. At least then, you were able to check in with the world and catch up a bit. You know nothing. All you have is Leona...assuming she’s even still alive, I honestly haven’t bothered to keep track. Everyone else has been through so much without you. You’re a stranger in a strange land. You don’t exist.”
Mateo took a deep breath and smiled like a yoga teacher welcoming his students. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it,” he quoted from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Mateo added, “But if you don’t keep going, you might miss whatever’s waiting for you up ahead.”
“Okay, well...I guess you have a point there.”
This wasn’t Mateo’s tribulation. This was tough, make no mistake. It was one of the most difficult things he had ever gone through, but it wasn’t the worst. He’s watched the love of his life die, and he’s watched her cut off her own legs. He’s lost three parents—two of them twice, and had no relationship with a fourth. He saw his aunt on her deathbed, a good friend go mad, the world pass him by, and he experienced perpetual torture for thousands of years. Life was gonna suck from now on, but that wasn’t a big deal, because it was always going to suck. His life was never going to have a happy ending, and it was never going to be simple, or easy. He accepted this long ago, right around the time Future!Leona conditioned him to convert recent moments into fading memories. No, it wasn’t Mateo’s tribulation, it was Zeferino Preston’s. Because Zeferino Preston couldn’t understand why this didn’t destroy his enemy. And he would never understand this, because Zeferino Preston had no faith.
“I’m still not convinced that I can’t break you.” Classic Zeferino.
“There are some things not even you can do, Zef.”
“What did you call me?”
“Zef. I’ve heard others call you that before.”
“Yes, family.”
“And the future version of Leona.”
“Yeah, and I literally tore out her heart, didn’t I?”
That was a good point. Zeferino’s anger was increasing, and Mateo didn’t know if he would come to regret it, but he had to take the risk. Leona, and the rest of his family, were supposedly safe on Tribulation Island. He couldn’t be completely sure about that, but again, risks. Family was a sore subject for the Cleanser, which was probably why he went by his nickname in the first place. Mateo had a responsibility to use that to his advantage, ethics be damned. “I’m not afraid of you.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Zef.”
Yeah, that anger was not going anywhere. “You think I can’t hurt you. Oh, sweetheart. I have so many ways to hurt you that I haven’t even tried. Let’s start with this one!” He swung his hands down to his sides, as if presenting himself to a moved audience after a macabre solo dance number. This motion tore Mateo’s clothes away and sucked them into a wormhole using a vacuum cleaner sort of effect. He apported a flurry of mud in midair that flew right onto Mateo’s naked body. He kicked him in the stomach with the sole of his shoe, knocking him back into the cell, and down to the floor. “Who are you?” he asked rhetorically before lobbing a sandwich at him.
Mateo sat in his cell with no food or water for what must have been another week, never able to sleep due to the blaring of the song “Easy Street” throughout the entire duration. Finally, newly activated Savior, Xearea Voss teleported in and escorted him out. He woke up a few hours later in a bed. The weather was cool, so they were apparently not back on Tribulation Island. It was, however, still only 2102. He had, in fact, been in a temporal bubble the whole time.

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