Neal Montgomery was biking home after .25 cent burger day at McDonalds. It had been his idea to go, but Kevin Steen had hijacked the whole gang and they'd abandoned Neal when he'd stopped to tie his shoelace. Neal chased briefly, but it was sad and pointless to chase after people who were trying to evade you. The boys were Neal's closest friends, and they all liked each other. Steen just needed someone to shoo away. An egalitarian Kevin Steen would have been without mystique. Steen aspired to a rebellious stance informed by his sister's early Offspring CDs, a strained relationship with his father, and a neighbour who wore ripped pants.
The next day Neal's friends would act like they hadn't rode off on him, or they'd pretend that they never intended to lose him, but only to bike faster. The next day someone else would be abandoned, or maybe Neal would be abandoned again. These things were cyclical. It had been almost a year since Neal had been brought to tears by such a betrayal.
An unfamiliar red Nissan truck was parked in his driveway. People in Lac-Sainte-Catherine weren't big on foreign built trucks. Fords and GMCs were the norm. This was years before two-tonne Toyota Tundras would make the scene.
In the kitchen his dad was drinking a beer, which Neal hadn't seen in some time. Neal didn't know why or exactly when his dad had stopped, but only that the daily cases of beer were no longer carried into the basement. There'd been no beer in the house when Neal had left at 6:30. The Labatt 50 his dad drank must have been stashed somewhere or borrowed from a neighbour.
His mom looked like she'd been crying. Neal, at 11, was just mature enough that this didn't make him cry.
"There's someone downstairs to see you," Neal's mom said.
Neal poured some Mountain Dew into a glass and headed for the stairs.
"Shouldn't you explain to him first?" asked Neal's dad.
Neal's mom shrugged.
Neal's interest was piqued. He'd expected the visitor to be a friend or neighbour. Any adult visitor should have been upstairs with his parents. Yet downstairs sat a man in his 40s. Neal's three-year-old sister was on the man's lap.
"Hi there," said the man.
"Hi," Neal said.
"Let me see your arm," said the man.
Neal shuffled his feet and held out his stick-like arm.
"See those freckles?" asked the man, and then held out his own arm.
"Hold out your other arm."
"There's no way to say this that isn't ridiculous. I'm you. But they call me, wait for it, 32. I bet you never met a person with a number for a name before?"
Neal had nothing to say.
"Your parents said ten minutes. I think that's fair."
Neal drank from his Mountain Dew. As usual, it was flat.
"They said you were at McDonalds. I remember riding bikes to McDonalds. Who were you with? Kevin Steen? Archambeault? Gravesy?"
"Steen and Archambeault, ya, and a few other guys. I don't know a Gravesy."
"Oh, I've played hockey against him."
"Some things will be different. But many things will be the same. That's what they tell me. That's why I'm with you and not some other Neal. Because it's close. I remember everything in this room, except maybe that owl."
"How'd you get here?" asked Neal.
"I'm a guinea pig. I'd been in jail, and volunteered. I probably won't be able to get back, and apparently staying here won't be good for my health either. That's the kicker."
Neal turned his back on the man to sit in front of his Dell PC.
"I want to tell you a few things. Is that alright?" asked the man.
"I don't care," said Neal.
"Next time Kevin Steen abandons you, or decides you're the one he wants to persecute, write him off for good."
"My parents told me the same thing. That a real friend wouldn't behave the way he did. But you can't explain it to a parent. I'm accountable for my own mistakes, but I put a lot of the blame on Steen. I think some other guys could too. Archambeault didn't turn out all that magnificent. Until 25 my life was one big Kevin Steen impression because that was the only way I knew how to please the world. When I finally stopped, I had no idea how to please the world. Archambeault is still doing his Kevin Steen impression. Kev got inside us in the crucial years and rotted us from the inside, is my feeling."
"He's not that bad," said Neal.
"You think that now, but I'm telling you he'll be showing up in your dreams decades from now," said 32.
Neal rolled his eyes like a syndicated sitcom character might. It was amusing to 32, if darkly so, how children of the 90s were programmed by the preceding decade of televisual mediocrity because that's what aired in afternoons.
"Want to hear some predictions? They'll eventually give my message some weight. No guarantees, but how about the safer bets?"
"One thing I'm pretty sure of, is that if I'm here, a place called CERN will be built in 10 or 15 years. If you start hearing about CERN and a large hadron collider, look for betting lines...um on the Internet...those will be easy to find by then...look for betting lines and bet big on 'Will the Higgs-Boson be discovered?' Pro tip: It will."
"You should write this down."
Neal removed a sheet from the printer and wrote, "Sern Hugs Boston." The man put down Neal's sister, walked over, and corrected it.
"This one is slightly less probable. But you should also invest in a company called Altavista as soon as you hear about it, and stick with it after the bubble bursts. Borrow money if you have to. Get a paper route. You can set yourself up for life."
"I already have a paper route."
"Okay, how about this, I bet in a couple years when you get the album OK Computer your dad will sing along to 'Karma Police' but he'll think the chorus is 'Call the Police' and you'll have a good laugh about that. He'll also think that the song 'Werewolves of London' by Warren Zevon is actually 'Werewolves of Thunder'."
"He already thinks that," said Neal, his foot tapping at an inhuman pace.
"See? You can trust me. Even if you shake off Kevin Steen halfway through high school you'll have a better go of things."
"What are you Kevin Steen's girlfriend or something?" asked Neal.
Exhaling through his nose, 32 closed his eyes.
"That reminds me of something. Don't let social status dictate who you date in high school. Date the prettiest girls you can. You're speaking to a man with a ten year prison sentence worth of regret under his belt, and there's nothing I regret more than turning away from pretty girls in high school because of what a bunch of small town rubes thought."
"Date pretty girls," said Neal, "I was planning on doing that anyway."
"I too was known as a smartass. Let this sink in though: If there's a girl every single person hates, a girl they have some cruel name for, but she has a pretty face and a nice body and you can stand her, you are going to be the genius that dates that girl. You got that?"
"I will be that genius."
"Good. And, if I said, 'Don't do drugs' I'd sound like McGriff the Crime Dog, but it really is in your best interest not to. Prison is not fun. I was not having a good time there."
"You mean McGrady the Crime Hound?"
Neal's sister had a coughing fit and the man patted her on the back a few times.
"What's it like where you're from?" asked Neal.
"It's not like Skynet or anything," said 32, pointing to a VHS copy of Terminator 2: Judgment Day on a shelf, "It's just kind of depressing."
"People take everything too far."
"Like bombs and stuff?"
"More like a technological paradigm shift."
"So I should get good at computers?"
"You could. Or you could not. This stuff is all very instinctual to use."
"So what's the problem?"
"Problem is people start getting microprocessor implants in their noggins. Once you get to around 40% implants, that 40% starts desiring more and more implants to improve functioning. The organization that sent me here, the generals involved were wired right up, way past 40%. More machine than man as they say. They had bugs."
"What kind of bugs?"
"Not insect bugs, bugs like errors. For example, this one general, we realized, couldn't tell us apart whatsoever. He couldn't tell a 300 pound black guy from skinny old me. So some wise ass would throw a muffin right in his face, and the general's only option would be to punish us all. The other generals must have seen who did it, but they didn't want to acknowledge that this guy was obviously 80% cyborg. But, yeah, I mean, things aren't necessarily worse, it's just a different world. Humanity seems to be on the wane, which might be a good thing actually. That's what made me eligible for the program actually. The fact that I remained natural. They say natural like it's a deficiency. It kind of is, I guess."
"Why'd they send you?"
"I was sent back to get some old technology from the 70s that's suddenly needed to read some proprietary code, but it seems like a lot of work and I'm not going to bother."
From the top of the stairs Neal's mom asked if they were almost finished. The man picked up Neal's baby sister and kissed her forehead.
"One more minute," he said, and put his hand on Neal's shoulder, "Okay pal. I'm wishing you all the best. Here's one last piece of advice. Don't coast on your intelligence. Being smarter than the people in this shit town won't make you smart enough for the real world."
"So my message in a nutshell. Avoid Kevin Steen. He's toxic. It will be his voice in your head that says the cruellest things, even long after he's gone. Are you listening? Can Windows 95 compute this? I am a time traveller from the future, young man. You aren't going to listen, I can tell. I wouldn't have listened. Shit. Well, at least fuck as many pretty girls as you can while you're in high school. Excuse my language. Geez. Goodbye man. Give 'em hell."
Neal followed 32 up the stairs. Neal's mother embraced 32 for a long time. This was awkward for Neal because 32 was his mother's age, and holding his mother in this tender embrace right in front of his father.
"Does Kevin Steen still live on Carol Court?"
"No, he lives on Montague Crescent," said Neal.
"That's by Pro Sports Grille?"
"Yeah," said Neal.
"See you later," said 32, and laughed a beaten-down kind of laugh. He and Neal's father exchanged stoic nods. The door closed. The Nissan pulled out of the driveway.
"Jesus Christ, why did you tell him where Kevin lives? What does he need to know that for?" asked Neal's dad.
"Fuck Kevin Steen," said Neal.
On the pretence of profanity, Neal was sent to his room.
BIO: Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, Variety, and HTML Giant. His online fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and university journals of moderate renown. Stories have appeared in print in M-Brane, Feathertale, Filling Station, and elsewhere.