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He Really Does Die This Time (No Joke) (Seriously)

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I stared disdainfully at the dark sticky liquid that coated the head of my axe. I was going to have to clean it off before the head started rusting. Amy and I sat in the car outside our house for several more minutes, sore and exhausted. Defeating giant evil flying brains from the depths of Hell was really more of a three-person job, but Amy and I had just been forced to work with what we had.

Eventually Amy turned to me. "I'm going to take a shower to get all this gunk off. Wanna join?"

Any other day I would have said an enthusiastic yes, but at the moment I had started thinking about two people doing three-person jobs and the lack of dick jokes in my life, and I just wasn't in the mood.

"No thanks," I said. Amy gave me a look, and I knew what she was thinking. "Here, give me your crossbow. I'll put it back in the shed for you."

She smiled sadly at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Thanks," she said and got out of the car.

I sat in the car for a couple more minutes, then dragged my tired body to the shed out back, and, once inside the house, I collapsed onto the couch with my axe and a wet cloth.

It had been almost a year since John had died (for real this time), and I was handling it pretty well, if I do say so myself. I only thought about him and got unimaginably depressed one or two times a day…

… Okay, maybe I wasn't handling it so well. But can you blame me?

As I sat there, wallowing in my misery, wiping my axe off, I thought about Leinenkugels and late nights of video games, about ramping things and a freshman computer class.

My cellphone rang. It sat on a table across the room. I considered just letting it ring, but since Amy was really the only person who called me these days, I decided it might be important, and I answered the phone moments before it would go to voicemail.

"Hello?" I said.

"Dave! Thank God! Listen, I got a situation over here, and I’m not talking about my penis.”

I closed my eyes, squeezed them shut. It didn't take long for me to realize what this was. I could hear the desperation in John's voice, and if I strained my ears, I could even make out the faint clicking sound of the wig monster in the background.

"John…" I didn't know what to say. I hadn't heard his voice in so long. I thought maybe, I should feel happy, but I just felt like I was sinking even further into some dark pit.

"Dave, things are weird as shit. I need you to come over. There's this spider monster thing in here, and I need your help."

"John…"

"Damn, I called you too late, didn't I?"

"Just a bit."

I thought back to those few days (metaphorically) from Hell spent in the back of a van smelling like piss, and in the auditorium (literally) from Hell, bashing wig monsters with folding chairs and the power of music. I remembered watching Big Jim dying, and not knowing, still not knowing to this day, whether it was the wig monsters or my shotgun that had killed him. And I wished, so hard, that I could turn back the clock. Because Hell with John was so much better than life without him.

"What year is it? Hey, tell me, do we survive that Mayan shit in 2012?" John's voice was slower, more calm now, as if the wig monster was completely out of his mind. It was probably a side effect of the sauce, bending time and reality so that his immediate concerns were no longer as pressing.

I wondered how much I could tell him. Weren't there some unwritten rules for time travel? Like don't change the past or you'll create a paradox? Could I tell him last week's lottery numbers, and then suddenly I'd become a millionaire living in California, or did it not work that—

And then it hit me. I thought about Todd, a man who never existed except in my memory. If shadow men could change the past to get rid of people, then couldn't I do the opposite?

"John, listen to me. You have to remember what I tell you. No, write it down. Write it down and don't forget it."

"Dave, I'm trapped in here with a monster that's wearing a wig. I'm not getting a paper and pencil."

"Fine, I don't care. Just remember this, okay? It's really important. On January 7th, 2019, at 3:05 a.m.—"

You even have the time memorized? Pathetic, Dave.

"—you, me, and A— er, my future girlfriend are going to respond to a call that says there's some kind of giant penis on the ceiling of some abandoned warehouse. When you get there, you're gonna look up and see this big pink pile of shit with a fucking dick right in the middle of it, and you have remember, I'm telling you, John, remember that—"

"Wait.”

I stopped talking. I assumed that John had to go and ward off the wig monster or something, but the only sound coming from the phone was his breathing. I heard him sigh.

"… I'm dead, aren't I?"

I paused, for a moment too long. "What? What are you talking about, John? You’re not dead. In fact, you're sleeping on the couch in my house right now!"

“… Come on, Dave.”

I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood, tightened my grip on the phone.

"Okay, fine, you caught me. You're dead. So what? Just shut up and let me save your life."

"There have to be some rules for this time travel crap, Dave. You're going to create a paradox and destroy the universe or something. You shouldn't mess with this." The disapproving tone that John's voice took on was the one I'd always hated, the one that said: You're getting lost, Dave. You're going too fucking far.

Back when John was alive, all he would have to is take that tone with me, and I'd drop the issue, put away the knife, withdraw in shame. But things were different now. John was dead, had been for a year, and I could feel the anger and rebellion bubbling up inside me.

"What rules? Bullshit. That's bullshit, John, and you know it. Well, okay, you don't know it yet, but we're going to deal with so much shit over the next few years. Fucking demons, and monsters, and shadow men, and, jesus, this goddamn supercomputer tree thing, I don't even know, that's got this giant blue eye that's still following me. None of them ever cared about rules." I was speeding up, talking faster and faster. I didn’t think John could make any sense of what I was saying, and neither could I.

"Besides the shadow men mess with the past all the time."

"So I'm not exactly sure what the shadow men are, but they don't really sound like people you want to imitate."

"Fuck you."

"We all have to go sometime, Dave. Isn't that what you say all the time? You have no idea how much morbid shit I have to put up with from you. People die. You tell me that over and over, like I don't already know. Well, you know what, I think you're the one who doesn't know."

Fuck you.”

“I died saving your life, didn’t I?” John asked.

Not just my life. Amy’s too.

I didn’t answer, but John could tell anyway. “Thought so,” he said, sounding smug. “I always knew I would go out in a heroic blaze of glory.”

“I don’t want you to go out in a heroic blaze of glory, John,” I complained, exasperated. “I don’t want you to go out at all.”

“Tough luck. What if you try to change the past, and it ends up being you who dies and me who lives? How is that fair?”

“Or we could both live.”

“Or we could both die. Or someone innocent could die.” Amy, I thought. “Don’t play God, Dave. Don’t play shadow man."

“This doesn’t sound like you, John. ‘Don’t play God,’” I scoffed. “Since when do you give a monkey’s ass about this shit?”

“Since there are important things at stake. Important people.”

So that was it, wasn’t it? John didn’t want it to be the other way around, didn’t want it to be me buried and him wandering around aboveground trying to figure out how life worked without a best friend. And that wasn’t fair, but life is never fucking fair, and I realized that I didn’t want to spend what could be my last conversation with John arguing.

“Look, you suck as a person, but I love you.”

“I love you, too, Dave,” John replied, relief evident in his voice. “And I’m sorry, but I have to ask. My funeral…?"

"Everything you asked for, man,” I said, smiling despite myself as I thought back to the most legendary funeral I had ever attended. There’d been numerous guitar solos, and all the mourners were required to bring their own Slurpees and pour them into the grave before it was filled. “…Everything except for the horse with two penises. But you knew that one wasn't going to fly."

“Damn, I was so sure science would have gotten that far by then. Well, can't blame a man for trying."

“Hey, you know, when you’re on the sauce again, it’d be nice if you could, you know, call again.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Dave. It’s not gonna help you move o—”

“Come on, you owe me this, at least.”

“I s’pose you’re right,” John answered after a moment. “Look, I should go. Gotta get your past self over here at some point. I’ll talk to you later?”

A weight lifted off my shoulders. Maybe this was a horrible decision, maybe it was just prolonging the inevitable. I didn’t care.

“Talk to you later,” I said, and we hung up.

Twenty minutes later, Amy walked into the living room, her hair and body wrapped in towels. She took one look at my face and frowned. “Hey, are you okay?”

I was silent for an entire minute, just thinking. The whole time, Amy slowly got more and more worried. But eventually I said, “You know what, I’m okay. I’m okay.”