It was harder to get to Jamal’s place than I would have thought. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get around when you don’t have any money or identification. The only thing we did have between the two of us was the plane we ‘borrowed’. In theory, we could have used that to get to Jamal’s house, except for a few minor problem. One, it was hard to read street signs when you were flying. Two, it was illegal to drive a plane on the road and was not very inconspicuous. Not to mention, most people didn’t really appreciate having a plane go through their neighborhood, whether it was in the air or on the ground. And three, and perhaps most important, we were low on fuel.
Tilly wanted to hotwire a car, but I preferred to not break any laws we didn’t have to. Instead, we pawned the plane for very little money. We then spent that money on food and bus tickets. From the bus station, we had to hitch a ride. But that only got us in the general area of Jamal’s house. The driver was kind enough to pick us up, I didn’t want to force us to take us the rest of the way. So, we then walked the remaining few blocks.
We were both worn out when we finally reached the house. Still, Tilly managed to get a cautious excitement. She was happy to get to see her father again, but was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of her father living in this strange place. I couldn’t blame. I found this all pretty weird as well.
I let Tilly knock on the door and we were both surprised to see a young boy answer the door. We exchanged uneasy looks. I checked the address again. “Um…” she began uneasily, “is Jamal Sampson here?”
“You want my dad?” the boy asked. “Dad!”
The boy ran off and Tilly looked at me. “Did he just say ‘dad’? Is there something you guys aren’t telling me?”
I shook my head. It made no sense to me, either. Once again I began to wonder if we had gotten the wrong address. There could always be two Jamal Sampsons in the world, but before I could say anything Jamal appeared in the doorway.
I was surprised to see him. I mean him in his original body. He wasn’t a dinosaur, but of course he wasn’t. It would have been pretty strange for him to be living out here in a body of raptor. “Hello?” he said, giving us a strange look.
Mathilda was relieved to see him. She even let out a little laugh. “There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Jamal chuckled nervously. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
“Real funny, Dad, but this is serious…”
“I’m sorry,” Jamal interrupted. “What did you call me?”
“We really don’t have time for this, Dad.”
“I’m sorry, young lady, but I have no idea who you are.”
Tilly forced a laugh, but she was starting to look a bit scared. “Ok, jokes over. You got me. Now can we move on?”
Jamal was starting to get agitated. “I’m not joking. Who are you?”
“It’s me, Dad. It’s Mathilda. Tilly.”
“I have no idea who you are. I’ve never met a Mathilda in my life.”
I stepped in then. “I’m sorry, Sir. We must have the wrong house. Have a wonderful day.” I pulled Tilly away from there before things escalated. She resisted at first, but once I got her moving I had to hold on to keep her from running away.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” she whispered to me as we walked away. “He didn’t even recognize me. I’m his daughter!”
I glanced back over my shoulder. Jamal was still watching us. I waited until we were a couple houses down before I said, “This isn’t our world, Tilly. You have to remember that. We both do. We should have left as soon as we saw him in his real body. We should have known that this wasn’t our world. The General changed this place. It was dumb of us to think he had just altered Ramstov.”
“But he’s still my father! How could the General have altered that?”
“I don’t know, Till. That seems like something we need to find out. We need to know what else the General has changed about this world.”
Tilly connected to the wifi of the houses we passed and searched the internet for information on Jamal. I felt silly for not having done this first, but I expected Jamal to be Jamal. Now I knew better. It turned out Jamal was owner of an auto shop. he had just opened his fourth store. He was also married to a woman I’d never met and they had two children, both boys. There was, however, no mention of Tilly anywhere. She searched everywhere and couldn’t find one piece of evidence that she ever existed. “I don’t understand,” Tilly said. “What is this?”
“I know what this is,” I told her. “This is Jamal’s life without me. This is the life he would have had had he never met me. Without me, he never leaves the autoshop. He gets to spend his time doing what he loves and succeeding at it. He doesn’t waste his time, risking his life besides. He never gets hurt so badly that he needs to have his brain transplanted into a new body. He never gets hurt a second time and needs it done again. Without me, he gets to keep his original body. He gets to grow old in it.”
“He never travels back in time because I was never kidnapped,” Tilly added. “Because without you, he never meets my mother. Meaning in this reality…in this reality, I’ve never been born! How does that even make any sense? How am I even here, Frank? How is that even possible?”
“It’s ok, Tilly,” I said, trying to calm her down. The girl was going through a pretty heavy existential crisis at the moment. “It’s ok.”
“How is it ok? I shouldn’t even exist!”
“You exist because Zlodeyskiy didn’t change the timeline. He didn’t change the past. He didn’t change anything that happened. He just rewrote it.”
“He rewrote it without me.”
“No. He rewrote it without me. Don’t you see? He didn’t know who I was. He thought I was Fran Stone, so he created a new world around her, meaning he created a reality with Frank Clay in it. That’s what this world is. This is a world without me in it.”
“So, you’re saying I’m not important, that I’m just collateral damage?”
“We’re all collateral damage, Tilly. Don’t you see that? I didn’t create this world. This world wasn’t created for me. This isn’t about me. This is about the General. This is his world and we’re paying the price. Neither of us exist here.”
to be continued…