“You have a cat now?” Stella asked, holding up a can of Whiska's. A dingy bow was stuck, lopsided, to the top.
“What?” Raph peered back into the kitchen, raising an eyebrow. “Where did that come from?” he asked, though he realized, even as he was saying the words, that he knew where the can must have come from. He covered the realization with a weak laugh, hoping to avoid having to make up an explanation. He found his cover stories rarely went over well.
“Right, well,” Stella said, having already lost interest. “Thanks for the measuring cups. I'll bring them back when I'm done.”
“Actually, while you're here I--” Raph began, but she was already outside the door. “At least wash them when you're done...”
He picked up the can of Whiska's and turned it over in his hands. The expiration date, hidden under the bow and nearly scratched away, said “25/12/2057”.
Soon after, there was an electronic zap and a small crash in the living room.
“Did you leave me a can of cat food?” Raph asked without moving from the kitchen. “From the future?”
“Merry Christmas!” came the voice from the living room, singsong and with a hint of menace.
“Merry Christmas? When did you leave this here?”
The Visitor peered into the kitchen. He was wearing a dishevelled red hat that matched the bow on the cat food and the scratches on his face. “This morning, before you woke up.” Raph tried and failed in an effort not to look unsettled. “Henri was out decorating the zombie nativity. It seemed like a good time to come.”
Ignoring a dozen or more questions about the necessity of decorating zombies for the holidays, Raph decided on his usual avoidant tack. “Thanks,” he said. “You don't want me to... eat this, do you?”
“It's a special occasion!”
“The future still sucks--” said the Visitor.
“And so you expect me to suffer!” Raph cried.
“--and so it's the best I can bring,” he continued.
“I'll... save it for a more special occasion,” Raph said, doing his best to ignore the vague sense of guilt he felt at snubbing the Visitor's holiday tradition, despite his reservations about the Visitor's sincerity.
“That's fine, I can always go and watch you when you do eat it,” and with that the Visitor disappeared for a few seconds. Raph took a step toward the door, hoping to end the conversation by virtue of his own absence, but before he could get out of the kitchen, the Visitor returned laughing. “That was great! I told you that you'd learn to like it.”
Raph did his best to ignore the looming sense that he'd be eating cat food in his eventual future. Most of the Visitor's predictions had never come to pass, and yet he couldn't help but picture himself as a grizzled old man sitting on the couch, alone, crying and eating cat food--with the Visitor in his ratty red hat appearing partway through the affair just to gawk. He barely suppressed the resigned whimper that escaped his throat.
“It's not all that bad,” the Visitor began, but he got no further before he was cut off by the apperance of his own double. “Not yet,” he said, waving a hand as his alter-self reprogrammed his time machine. “Ten more minutes, at least.”
This time Raph did whimper, though it was lost in the staticky sound of the Visitor's other self departing. Weeping and eating cat food had quickly gone from a distant hypothetical to a more immediate inevitability.
“Do you have a can opener?” the Visitor asked.
“Suppose I don't.”
“You have to.”
“I don't!” Raph declared, sliding in front of one of the drawers, making short work of the Visitor's search for its hiding place.
“Move, Raph!” the Visitor said with quixotic imperative, pushing him to the side. “You saw me; you'll cause a paradox.”
Raph wilted visibly and eyed the can of cat food warily. “It's not from after 2057, is it?”
“No.” The can hissed slightly as the Visitor began to open it. Raph worried about his gag reflex. It seemed to be kicking in early. “Here you go!”
It was brown, slightly lumpy, and smelled of something indeterminate and strange. The only food he could think of that resembled it at all was a very, very bad pâté he'd once had. The thought was remarkably unhelpful, and as the Visitor handed him a small fork he wondered whether maybe his own tears would add enough salt to disguise the taste.
As he raised the first small bite to his mouth, he wondered again what he'd done to deserve this. He wondered if perhaps it was punishment for something he had yet to do, and he resolved to do whatever that thing was very well and thoroughly. The world seemed to narrow to only him, the fork, and the wobbling brown mass on its tines. It was one of the first times he'd been able to fully tune out the Visitor, and as such, the first bite was not entirely disagreeable. Just the aftertaste was.
“See!” proclaimed the Visitor, clapping him on the back. “It's not so bad.”
“No, no it's not,” he replied, though he could feel what was left of his dignity seeping through the floor somewhere near his shoes. At least it was over with and this time, he thought, there would be no pictures posted to Facebook.
After a moment, the Visitor began to look impatient. “Aren't you going to finish it?”
“I have to finish it?” Raph nearly whined.
“My other self isn't here yet to see it and close the time loop,” he said.
“Connard!” Raph mumbled under his breath as he remembered the Visitor's assertion that it would be another ten minutes. He estimated it had been about two, which meant there were eight full minutes remaining of either eating cat food, or being harassed about not eating cat food. Raph was certain he could sense a sadistic grin on the Visitor's face, even if it wasn't entirely showing.
He chose to spend the minutes with the fork and the mush. Finally, after dozens of arduous spoonfulls, he set the can down on the table triumphantly, like a man who has just won a bet. The two Visitors lacked the good grace not to high-five one another in front of him.
“You should've seen your face!” said one, shortly before disappearing.
“I knew you had it in you!” said the other with a note of pride that Raph quickly decided he resented.
“Why,” he spluttered, finding sudden assertion for his own well-being at the bottom of the can, “did I just have to do that?”
"Didn't I tell you?" he looked perplexed for a fraction of a second, then by some future magic pivoted the silence into a dramatic pause. "Here's what was going to happen: Christmas would have passed without you eating cat food, and over time you never would have built up a necessary immunity to the taste, which is imperative for travel to the future, making your first visit a terrible affair in which you never give up my bucket... making you a terrible hostage."
Raph gripped the side of the counter, his knuckles going white. A flurry of objections filled his mind, but the only one he could get out was “It's not even Christmas!””
“What?” The Visitor looked at his wrist. “Ah, merde!”