I wake up—and it’s still about a week before Christmas, so the bullshit that follows isn't even appropriately seasonal—and the ghost of Fred Durst is standing at the end of my bed. “Did you die, Fred Durst?” I ask him, and the ghost of Fred Durst stares me down with a look on his face that says I’m a massive fucking dumbass.
He’s not wrong, to be honest, but in this case I was really only saying it to wind him up, so what I just said should not be taken as evidence of my dumbass-ness.
Or maybe it should, since it was a conscious attempt to antagonize a definitely-massively-powerful supernatural figure that I once asked, in total seriousness, if it was god, which, if you think about it, is not exactly a sign of rational thought.
The ghost of Fred Durst stares down at me with eyes that look like they’ve watched empires fall, and he says “I wear the chain I forged in life....I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
I look him over, but the only chain I see is a wallet chain, and I’m pretty sure that one’s not handmade. I tell him so, and he rolls his eyes at me. “Seriously, nothing?” he asks me. “What did they teach you in school, anyway?”
“Uhhhh,” I can’t actually think of a very good answer to that—my memories of the regular high school are pretty evenly divided between terror, misery and crushing boredom, and I don’t remember learning much of anything from any of it, expect for a working knowledge of the amount of pressure that needs to be exerted to incapacitate a human eye, which, now that I think of it, is actually a reasonably useful skill in the line of work I ended up in.
“Don’t even worry about it,” the ghost of Fred Durst says, “We’ve got bigger shit to fry, yo.”
“Pretty sure that’s not how that one goes,” I tell him, but then the ghost of Fred Durst is hustling me out of bed and he’s glowing at me, and I reach for my phone to text John that I’m being kidnapped by a supernatural douchebag, but we’re disappearing in a cloud of weird light before I can reach it on my nightstand.
We end up in what I’m pretty sure is the cafeteria of John’s and my high school, though I’ve tried never to picture any part of the place in the years since then, so I could be wrong. I’m also pretty sure I’m dreaming, so I could just be seeing what I would expect a high school cafeteria to look like.
I haven’t exactly got a wealth of happy memories about high school, so whatever’s coming, I’m fairly certain I’m not going to like it. Sure enough, there’s Billy Hitchcock, and the whole gang following along right behind him, making towards a table in the back corner where, yep, there’s teenaged me, sitting in front of one of the ugly, puke-green plastic lunch trays, and I do not need to be here, I do not need to see this, I am ready to get the fuck out, when I notice the ridiculous neon shirt Billy’s wearing and oh.
Oh. I know this memory, and it’s actually not a terrible one. It’s a few weeks after I first met John, and any minute now, he’s going to wander over across the room like he’s got no idea what’s going on, and start chatting with me, all casual, about explosives, in a way that makes me look like I know all about it, until Billy backs away.
Then we’re going to cut third period to actually start blowing shit up, and when we’re staring at the smoking wreckage that used to be some poorly stored athletic equipment, he’s going to look over at me and say, “I looked it up, Wong is the most common last name in the world. Imagine looking through the phonebook for someone who’s last name is the biggest section in it, man.”
Any minute now.
It’s definitely not a total victory in teenaged-Dave’s life, and the worst is definitely still to come, but as moments to get dragged back to go, it’s not the worst one it could be. It’s not even in the top ten.
Only it doesn't go the way it’s supposed to.
“That’s not what happened!” I yell to the ghost of Fred Durst, who is standing all still and serious by my side. He’s staring at teenage me and Hitchcock, at what’s going on there, but I can’t do it, and anyway, I’d rather shout at the sick fuck who dragged me here than watch the sick fuck I haven’t, at this point in time, kind of killed yet, anyway. I know I sound pretty rattled, but this turns out to have been a pretty key day in my development as a person, and seeing it veer in a direction I am one hundred percent sure is not the one that happened to me is definitely freaking me out.
“In this world, you and John never became friends, and he had no reason to care what they were saying to you,” Fred Durst tells me mournfully.
“Hey wait, I’ve seen this movie,” I say. “I never said ‘the world would be better without me in it,’ or anything lately, though. Isn’t this the kind of thing that should have happened around the time when I was all suicidal over being an artificially constructed monster?”
“Nah, bro,” the ghost of Fred Durst says, “If this had happened then, I never would have been able to convince you to fix it, yo, and this isn’t the kind of thing we can fuck around with. This is about the fate of the world, yo.”
“Yeah, isn’t it always?” I’ve got to admit, there’s something kind of great about getting to be all casual about it with him. Yeah, I saved the world once or twice. What are you gonna do about it? I let my tone say for me.
The lunch room is fading around us, and not a moment too fucking soon, I’ve got to say. We don’t fade straight back into my room, though. Instead, we sort of float there in the misty, in-between place for a moment, and Fred Durst says, “This is just the beginning of the way your life could have gone. Tomorrow night you will have the chance to try to keep it on track.”
He stares at me in this way that I think is probably supposed to look all serious and wise, but it’s Fred Durst’s ghostly, soul-patchy face, and he mostly just looks kind of constipated.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how they did it in the muppets movie, man,” I tell him. He raises his eyebrows into a kind of disappointed face.
“The fate of this planet has rested in your and John’s hands twice now,” he says, all slow and serious, like he thinks I’m not getting it. “how do you think that would have gone if you and John hadn’t known each other?”
He says it like I’m not grasping the seriousness of the situation, but the thing is, I get it. I just think it’s retarded.
“Well, what do you want me to do about it?” I ask, more to see what he’ll say than because I really think doing anything he tells me is actually going to help.
“You’re going to talk to him,” the ghost of Fred Durst says. Right. Because that always goes well. “You’re going to tell him why he should go over and talk to your teenage self.” He says it like he really thinks I should have worked this out by now, and the fact that even supernatural, Fred-Durst-Jesus has no more patience for my shit is made pretty obvious when he asks, “Why did he, anyway?”
I turn to Fred Durst and I’m all ready to lay into him about it when I realize I’m not sure. I remember meeting John, or course, in Gretz’s computer class, and I remember the impression he made on me with ASCII vagina, but I realize I actually have to idea what impression John had of me that prompted him to head over to my lunch table a week later, throw himself and his lunch tray down beside me and say, “You know, with a name like that, you’d be pretty easy to trace for any private investigator, never mind the government.”
Undead Fred Durst claps a ghostly hand on my shoulder while I’m thinking about it, and says, “Well, you have a day to think about it.” Then he disappears, and I’m back home in bed.
When I pick Amy up at the bus station the next day, I fully intend not to tell her anything about it, which lasts for at least seven minutes before she looks me dead in the eye and asks, “Okay, what is it this time?”
Generally, I’m actually a pretty great liar, but if you’ve ever seen me try to keep anything from this girl, you would seriously never know it. Still, I try.
Of course, it’s just as well that I fail miserably, because not only does she not call me crazy and turn back around and get straight on the nearest bus going somewhere far away, but she’s actually got an idea of what I should do besides my original plan of trying to hypnotize teenage John, which sounds, when I say it out loud, even more retarded than it did when I was plotting it out on the drive over.
“Why don’t you ask John?” she asks. “Ask him why he did come over and talk to you?” and of course, once she says it, I have no idea why something that obvious hadn’t occurred to me, too.
“Oh shit, is it that time already?” John asks me, when I explain what’s going on to him that night over waffles. “Yeah, totally, I remember this. Except for the thing about Fred Durst,” he says around a mouthful of bacon, “That’s just fuckin’ weird, man.”
“And the conversation I’m going to have with your teenage self tonight isn’t?” I’ve got to ask him.
“Yeah. That’s pretty weird, too,” he agrees. “But that’s just, like, time travel. Freaky supernatural shit.” He says it like time travel a freaky supernatural shit are just another Tuesday, which, to be fair, isn’t too far off. “But you don’t even like Limp Bizkit. Shit, man,” he goes on, laughing, “does anyone like Limp Bizkit?”
I shrug at him. “I don’t know. I blame Justin, actually. Probably his Fred Durst impression was an early sign he was going to get possessed by Korrock.”
I’m not just saying it to say shit, either—or, I am, but that doesn't mean it couldn’t be true. It’d make about as much sense as anything else about this shit.
“So what did I say to you tonight?” I ask him, because usually I’d be up for exploring the incredible depths of stupidity we’re caught up in before we try to do anything about it, the idea that something could go back and make being a teenager even worse is definitely shaking me up.
“I don’t—I’m not sure, man,” John says reluctantly, and I think it’s probably a sign that he’s as freaked about this as I am that he doesn't just start making shit up to fill in the gaps. “I was pretty sure it was a dream for a long time? It was just after the soy sauce that I started to think maybe it actually happened.”
Amy thinks I should explain the situation to teenage John. John thinks I should tell him something way weirder than the truth, so that when the truth does actually happen, he won’t be surprised. “Or I won’t have been surprised? If I’m surprised now, does that mean that you’re not going to and so you didn't? You fucker. I can’t believe you’re not going to take my advice.”
I think we’re not nearly drunk enough for this conversation, because if there’s any situation that’s more appropriate to drink through than the holidays, it’s the guy from Limp Bizkit dragging you through time fucking with your personal history, right?
That’s how we all end up crashed out on my couch when the ghost of Fred Durst drops by again.
This time, Fred Durst doesn't fuck around trying to trip me up with Dickens references, just sweeps me straight into the past, and it’s not until I’m looking around and recognizing John’s teenage bedroom that I realize he didn't take me alone this time.
John’s jerking his head around the room, not focusing on the teenager wearing his face who’s lying in bed watching us with wide eyes, but clearly looking for something. “Dave, man, where’s Fred Durst?” He asks me.
I shrug. “Guess he’s shy? You never met him the first time, either, did you?”
“What the fuck are you doing in my room?” teenage John asks us. He’s only about fourteen and kind of scrawny, and his voice breaks halfway through the sentence, and it occurs to me how skeevy it is that we’re standing here in his bedroom in the middle of the night.
To the surprise of no one with half a brain, teenaged-John likes Amy best. I can hardly blame him, because I like Amy best of the three of us, too, but it’s weird. If actual John was looking at my girlfriend like that, I’d be pissed, but when this tiny does it, it’s kind of almost weirdly cute, like puppy love.
Also, telling John what to do tends to have disastrous consequences, and I can’t imagine adding raging hormones to the mix is going to calm that tendency.
He asks her, “If I don't do it, will you have to come back to try to convince me again?” he’s kind of leering at her. I’m pretty sure it’s actually working in our favor in the context of the incredibly fucking stupid mission, though, so I settle for just punching actual John in the arm, hard.
“What, dude? I can‘t do anything about it,” he tells me. He sounds a little embarrassed, actually, which is a tone I’ve heard from John maybe twice in all the years I’ve known him. Will know him. Fuck.
“I don't think that’s how it works,” Amy tells teenage John. “I think we only get one shot at this. And I know it sounds weird, but if we don’t get it right, really bad things could happen.”
Teenaged John peers at me dubiously. “I swear, it’s not that bad of a deal,” I tell him, but even I know it doesn’t exactly sound convincing.
Actual John clears his throat, then. “Hey, uh,” he looks back and forth between me and Amy, “Could you guys give us a minute?”
I nod and head towards the bedroom door to give them some space, because honestly, if anyone can ever convince John to do anything, it’s going to be himself. “No!” teenage John hisses, though. “You can’t go out there, what if my dad sees you?”
I have been glad not to have to think about John’s father in years, so I take his point. Instead, I take Amy’s arm and pull her to the far corner of the room, facing the wall, away from them. “We’ll just be over here.”
They’re quiet, which is strange, because I would have thought that if anything was going to be louder than John by himself, it would be John squared. After a moment, I can’t resist peeking behind me.
John is sitting next to his younger self on the bed, whispering in his ear. Both of their faces are very serious. I turn back around to face the cracked plaster of the wall.
After a moment, teenage John clears his throat and says, “Okay. I’ll do it.”
“Great!” John tells him, jogging back over to Amy and me even as the room starts to dissolve into mist around us. As teenage John disappears from view, John shouts to him, “Don’t worry, kid, you grow up free as a fuckin’ wild man, with a fuckin’ massive cock!”
The world is still there when we wake up in the morning, so it must have gone okay.