THE TURTLE WHO NEVER WAS
Based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Disclaimer: All TMNT-related characters are the property of Mirage Studios. So there.
The Two Spirits
Michelangelo couldn't sleep.
His bed, normally a nice and comfy place to rest, was at the moment the most uncomfortable and horrible resting place in the world, somehow managing the impressive feat of being too hard and too soft, too hot and too cold, all at the same time. The blankets felt itchy and clammy, and the pillow was just as comfortable as a rock. A wet, slimy, moss-covered rock.
For the umpteenth time, he tried shifting around in the hope of finding a slightly more comfortable position to sleep in, only to be rewarded with a new wave of nausea and a new surge of the throbbing headache, the two aspirin he'd taken earlier apparently counting for nothing. He fought back the urge to retch, knowing exactly how much more comfortable that would make his bed, and lay still until the nausea eased up just enough that he wasn't in immediate danger of hurling.
Man, he hated being sick. And he especially hated being sick when all the members of his family had all grown tired of playing nurse to him and had left him alone to "let him get some sleep," sleep that stubbornly refused to come to him no matter how many sheep he tried counting.
Some family they are, he thought, feeling very sorry for himself. I'm suffering here, and they don't even care.
Well, all right, if he was to be honest with himself, they had been spending the better part of the day waiting on him hand and foot, but the point was that they weren't doing it anymore and now they were all angry and annoyed with him, something that just made him feel even worse. Maybe he had been a little demanding of them, but how often was it that he had the opportunity to have his brothers at his beck and call? Could they really blame him for wanting to make the most of it in his misery?
Raphael had been the first to lose his temper, of course -- his red-masked brother had always been short on patience and long on sarcasm. After having gone to the kitchen five times in one hour for "just one more glass of water," Raph had returned with a bucket filled with icy-cold water and threatened to pour it over Mike unless he quit his nagging.
"What do I look like, your nanny?" he'd snapped. "Want me to tuck you in too? With your blankie and teddy bear, huh? Hey, how about a bedtime story: 'Once upon a time, there were four mutant turtles, and one of them didn't wanna go to sleep, so his brother strangled him to death! The end!'"
Donatello had held out longer, he'd had enough after the twelfth time Mike had asked him for a TV in his room.
"Mike, I'm busy," he'd sighed. "I need to fix that sewer alarm system, and I don't have the time to move TVs or re-wire them every time you want one moved. If you're that bored, read something. Just stop acting so melodramatic! You're perfectly capable of managing on your own for a few hours."
And Leonardo had gone into full 'lecture' mode the last time he'd been called in to fluff Mike's pillow.
"I know you're sick," he'd said, his voice stern. "But you're not that sick. It's just a touch of the flu, nothing life-threatening. You can't expect us to keep bending over backwards for you, especially not when you keep bugging the shell out of everyone! You always do this!"
Mike snorted as he thought of Leo's lecture. Bugging the shell out of everyone, he says. I'd like to see how he'd cope with feeling this miserable. That goes for Don and Raph too... melodramatic and childish, my foot. What, I can't spread a little misery if I want to? I spread happiness all the time. Whenever I feel happy, I do my darnedest to share that feeling with those guys, and nobody thanks me for that either. And first none of those ungrateful jerks will pay me back by bringing me a little happiness here in my misery, and now they're telling me I can't even --
He was interrupted in his mental ravings by a sudden knock on his door, and the entrance of Splinter.
"Michelangelo," said the rat softly, stepping in through the door and approaching Mike's bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Like sh-- not so good," said Mike, catching himself at the last moment. Splinter was not the sort to tolerate swearing from his sons, even when said sons were sick and miserable.
"Would you like some more herbal tea?" said Splinter, ignoring the unsaid swear word.
"Ugh, no thanks. I'd just throw it up again..." Mike suddenly felt a little guilty about his mental rant. Maybe he'd been a little unfair -- after all, Splinter was here and offered tea; even if Mike at the moment couldn't bear the thought of actually drinking it, it did show that at least someone cared...
"Very well," said Splinter. "I have spoken to your brothers, Michelangelo. I know that you do not care for having to stay in bed for so long, but it is the only way that you will get better."
"I know," Mike sighed. "It's just that I get bored, and when I'm bored I feel even sicker."
"Michelangelo, your brothers do have other things to do," said Splinter with a gentle reprimand in his voice. "Much as we might wish otherwise, the world around us does not stop moving when one of us is feeling sick."
Being lectured by Splinter was not like being lectured by Leonardo. Splinter seldom nagged or got all "fearless leader" about things the way Leo did, but he was an expert on, with just a few choice words, making you understand exactly what it was you had done wrong, why it was wrong, and why you should feel bad about it. And where you could blow off Leo, you couldn't with Splinter, because you knew he was generally right. Mike sighed again.
"You are not to disturb any of them again today," said Splinter. "You have tried their patience enough for one day. Besides, you need rest, and you are not going to get it by calling everyone into your room every five minutes."
"Okay, Master Splinter," said Mike, feeling even more miserable than before.
"Good. Now, do try to sleep."
As Splinter made his way back towards the door, Mike called out to him. "Master Splinter... one question?"
"Yes?" The rat turned in the doorway, looking at him.
"Am I annoying? I mean, when I'm not sick, too?"
Splinter didn't answer at first. He just looked at Mike with an unreadable expression for a few moments before saying: "Why are you asking me this, Michelangelo?"
"No reason," Mike muttered, deciding not to repeat Leo's earlier words about him always bugging the shell out of everyone.
"Ah." Splinter didn't ask any further questions, but it was apparent from the look in his eyes that he'd probably guessed what Mike had been thinking. "I believe you have been called that several times before, especially by Raphael. I have never seen any indication that this have bothered you before."
"Well... it doesn't. Not really. It's just that -- "
"Then do not let it start bothering you now, my son. Try to sleep."
He didn't say I wasn't annoying... Mike realized as the rat exited the room and closed the door behind him, shutting the world out.
All right, Mike thought, closing his eyes and leaning against the disgusting pillow again. Maybe I am annoying. So what? I don't care. At least I know how to have fun. That's more than what I can say about them. Another wave of nausea hit him at this point, but he managed to keep it down, swallowing several times until his throat hurt like crazy. I wonder if April and Casey think I'm annoying too, he mused. Or Leatherhead, or Usagi, or Angel... or professor Honeycutt... but not Klunk. I'm pretty certain Klunk doesn't think I'm annoying. Or at least he's good at pretending he doesn't, seeing as how I'm the one who feeds him...
"You are more than annoying, Michelangelo. You are worthless."
The voice came suddenly. Mike's eyes flung open and stared out in the room, gasping in disbelief when he saw its source:
Right there in front of him stood a tall, menacing-looking man, clad in a full body armor which sported so many sharp metal blades that one careless swing of the arm could have decapitated anyone foolish enough to stand near enough. The man's face was completely hidden between a metal mask; only a pair of cold, merciless eyes were visible, staring at Mike with a mixture of contempt and amusement.
"Shredder?!" Mike yelped, sitting up in his bed and staring at his unexpected guest. Instinctively, he reached for the nunchucks on his belt, only to remember a split second later that he wasn't in the habit of wearing his belt or weapons in bed. "What -- what are you doing here? How did you find the lair? What have you done with my family?!"
"Your concern for your family is touching," Shredder spat. "But you needn't worry about them. I am here for you, and you alone."
Mike leapt out of bed, only barely noticing that he could all of a sudden move without feeling pain or nausea, and that his feet made no sound against the floor as he landed in front of Shredder, ready for battle.
"Oh, please," said Shredder. "I could tear your shell from your body with no effort at all if I had wanted to. But I'm not here to fight, and you are in no condition for it anyway."
"Oh yeah?" Mike taunted, doing his best to quell the fear that welled up in him. "Bring it on, metalface!"
"Are you stupid as well as worthless?" Shredder barked in a tone of voice that Mike had never heard before, not from him. "You are in no condition! Or haven't you noticed that you are no longer in your body?"
"What are you talking ab--?" Mike cut himself off as he cast a quick glance back on his bed and saw...
An icy chill went through him. There, lying in his bed, with closed eyes and deathly pale against the vividly-colored sheets, was Mike's own, silent and unmoving body. Mike stumbled back, unable to take his eyes off the ghastly sight, and fell on his butt, vaguely registering through his panic that he felt no pain as he landed on the floor, nor did he make a single sound.
"Your body is still lying there in your bed," said Shredder in a tone that almost seemed like a mocking parody of Leo's 'lecturing' voice. "Your spirit has left it. Do you understand now, or should I break it down into one-syllable words?"
"Whah -- buh -- am I dead?!" Mike managed to say, staring at the other him. "No... no, it can't be... I'm just dreaming! Yeah, that's it, dreaming. Hey, Mike, now's a good time to wake up! Rise and shine! Up and at 'em, buddy!"
"I am afraid you will find that your efforts are in vain, Michelangelo," came a new voice from just behind him.
Mike turned his head to find himself staring into a very familiar, very kind and very hairy face.
The old rat smiled. "No. I am sorry, Michelangelo, but I am not the Splinter you know. Nor is he --" (he motioned with a furry hand towards the Shredder, who was still standing motionless and watching the scene with obvious disdain) "-- the Shredder you know. These are merely the forms you perceive us in."
"...what?" said Mike.
"Let me explain." Splinter -- or the thing that looked like Splinter -- extended a hand and helped Mike up on his feet again. "You currently have no body. Your spirit retains your general form in appearance, because that form is what it is most used to, and it retains some sense of the physical laws your body is bound by, mainly as a force of habit. In the spirit realm, your own will and perception influences the world around you to a much higher degree than in the physical, mortal world. My colleague here and I... we are your guides here."
"Indeed. Let us just say that we appear to you in these forms to give you something, someone, you are familiar with. You may call us 'Splinter' and 'Shredder' if you wish. It might make things easier on you."
Mike felt his head spin. Or possibly it was just what he perceived as his head that was spinning, if what the Splinter copy had said was true. It was just a little much to take in all at once, and Mike wasn't at all sure he wanted to take it all in either, not if it meant what he thought, what he feared, it meant.
Still... he had to ask. "So what's this all mean? I am dead?" he said, surprised at how small his own voice sounded.
"Not yet." Shredder looked at him. "But were it up to me, you would be. You are a complete waste of space, as far as I'm concerned."
"You are not dead, Michelangelo," said Splinter kindly. "You are at a crossroad. Your final fate, or destiny, will be decided in these hours. And it will be up to you to make the decision."
"Final fate? You mean I gotta choose whether I wanna live or die?!" Mike laughed out loud in relief. "Well, that's the easiest choice I've ever had. I wanna live, of course!"
"Why?" Shredder fixed him with his eyes. "Didn't you just now think how nobody cared about you, and how you were only an annoyance to everyone you knew?"
"Well..." Mike paused.
"Face the facts, Turtle. Your brothers and your master would be better off without you. They are the ones who accomplish things. They are the ones who matter. What have you ever accomplished, besides running around like a fool and fouling up the lives of everyone unfortunate enough to know you?"
"Hey, you're talking to the Battle Nexus champion here!" Mike protested.
"A fluke. A stroke of blind luck. Don't even try to convince yourself otherwise. Besides, what did you accomplish with that victory, apart from constantly bragging about it afterwards and annoying your family with it? Your master Splinter, and his master Yoshi, both used their victories to create inspiration in others. You just use it to boast your own greatness, even though you know that greatness to be fake."
"Uh, I'm the Turtle Titan! Big superhero here!"
"A joke of a superhero who would be better off leaving the crimefighting to the real heroes, you mean."
"Um... and I helped take down the Shredder -- the real Shredder!"
"Your part in that was minor at best. The others would have done just as well without you."
"...I delivered all those Li'l Orphan Alien toys to Brown Street children's home?"
"Oh, please. "
Mike turned to Splinter. "Ya know, not to nag or anything, but could I have another guide? Someone who isn't him? I don't think he's gonna work out."
Splinter smiled. "I am sorry, Michelangelo --"
"How about Silver Sentry? I wouldn't mind having Silver Sentry as a guide."
"Getting rid of me wouldn't make the truth any less true," said Shredder. "Deep down, you know just as well as I do that you are by far the most worthless, the most insignifigant member of your family. You do not matter in the least, you never have, and you never will."
Now now," said Splinter calmly. "Everyone matters to the ones they are close to. Michelangelo is no exception."
"Michelangelo is a waste of space," Shredder repeated. "He has never, and will never, do anything worthwhile. Were it not for the foolish notions of family loyalties, he could die today and it would change nothing for anyone."
"It is not a question of what--" Splinter began.
"Excuse me? I'm standing right here, you know," said Mike, starting to feel rather ticked off. This entire situation was just a little too weird, even for him. "Look, it doesn't matter what you guys say. I know I'm not worthless, and I do want to live, so why don't you reverse whatever it was that you did to separate my spirit from my body and let me get on with getting better. Please?" he added as an afterthought, figuring it might be a good idea to at least feign politeness.
Shredder turned again to regard him, eyes cold and harsh behind the metal mask. "Still foolishly refusing to acknowledge what you know to be true? What do you say we find out for certain?"
"Find out for certain? What'chu talkin' about, Willis?" said Mike in his best Gary Coleman voice.
"It's very simple: I claim that you don't matter. You and the rat claim that you do. What I'm proposing is that we take a look at the world such as it would have been without you."
Mike blinked. "You can do that?"
"We are in the spirit world," said Splinter. "As I explained to you, everything is a matter of perception and will. With enough practice, anything is possible. This is how I was able to touch you, for example, even though you are currently an intangible spirit."
"Whoa," said Mike, caught up in the moment. "Hey, is that why I'm still able to walk on the floor, instead of sinking through -- no, wait a minute!" he interrupted himself. "I'm not interested in seeing any me-less worlds! Besides, could you get any more cliché than that? I've seen it on TV, like, a million times! We watch It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas -- well, Raph doesn't, 'cause he says he never could get past the title, but... And it's not like that's the only example! Everyone does the 'the world would be different if I was never born' thing! Kermit the Frog did it, Garfield did it, Donald Duck did it, and Silver Sentry did it in one of the issues of Justice Force, but he says that that was just something the scriptwriters made up and that it never actually happened, so --"
"Michelangelo!" said Splinter, sounding so much like the Master Splinter Michelangelo knew and loved that the Turtle instinctively shut up.
"I knew it," said Shredder in an annoyingly self-satisfied voice. "He's too cowardly to face the truth."
"I'm not a coward!" Mike snapped. He took a deep breath to steady his voice, and then, after a quick mental debate with himself, nodded. "All right, fine! You're on! I'll grin and bear with the clichés if it it gets you to shut up! Uh -- but I'll be all right, won't I?" he added, casting a glance at his bedridden body. "I won't die while we're away or anything? Or get lost in some alternate reality where I was never born?"
"You have our word that you will not," said Splinter. "That would rather negate the entire point of you making a choice to begin with."
"Great," said Mike. "Just had to ask. So, how do we do this? Click our heels together three times, or...?"
"No, nothing so complicated," said Splinter. "Watch."
And, almost without warning, the room started to spin around them, pulsating and flickering not entirely unlike multicolored strobe lights, and Mike found himself being thrown around by unseen forces through a cacaphony of wildly twirling lights and shadows and shapes. He almost felt sick again, and would probably have thrown up if he'd had a body that could throw up, but as it was he just felt the nausea and dizziness pass through him and vanish almost at the same time as the spinning came to a sudden halt and deverything went dark.
"Whoa," he said, gripping at Splinter for support but passing through him and falling flat on his face. Behind him, he could hear Shredder snort -- it almost sounded like a repressed laugh, but he couldn't be sure.
Splinter once again helped Mike get to his feet. "Your spirit keeps thinking it is still in your body," he explained, "and is trying to react the way your body would to this type of transportation. You will get used to it."
"I'm not sure I wanna get used to it," Mike muttered. "Did we make it? Where are we?"
"Take a look around and tell me," said Splinter.
Mike was just about to say that it was too dark for him to get a good look at anything, but then he discovered that this wasn't true -- his eyes, or what he perceived as his eyes, or however this worked, were quickly getting used to the lower level of light, and he found that he could easily see everything around him, even in the dark.
It was his room, and it wasn't his room. It had the same basic shape and size, and that annoying crack in the wall that was always the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes in the morning was right there where it always was -- but that's where the similarity stopped. His bed was gone, along with all of his other things; videogames, books and comic books, DVDs, weapons and equipment, all absent. Instead, the room was filled with various random objects, organized in different stacks or piles. Some of the objects was stuff he had never seen before, but others were very familiar -- he recognized Don's first computer and Raph's old teddybear, Pookie (which Raph had thrown away at the age of seven and afterwards furiously denied had ever existed).
"Okay," he said, looking at both Splinter and Shredder. "Ya know, I'm gonna say it. I'm gonna go ahead with the cliché and say it. I mean, I just can't not say this, it'd go against every single narrative law ever written. Here goes: Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
"Cute," said Shredder dryly.
"It looks like my room, but..." Mike paused, letting the idea sink in. "If I'm not around, I guess the others used it as a storage room. I really don't exist now?!"
"That is correct, Michelangelo," said Splinter softly. "Welcome to the world in which you were never born."
He waved a furry hand, and Mike saw to his surprise that the air in front of them began to shimmer, not unlike how it might during a heat wave or over a burning fire. In the middle of the shimmering, an image appeared; somewhat blurred and unclear, but easy enough to make out -- a trafficked road somewhere in New York. Mike was about to ask what this was, but then his eyes fell on the small boy in the crowd on the pavement.
"Whoa!" he said again, looking at the glass jar in the boy's hands. "Is that --?"
"Your original owner, yes," said Shredder in a bored tone. "Or more correctly, your brothers' original owner, since you were never born. He was planning on getting four turtles that day, but the pet store didn't have more than three turtles for him when he came to buy. He was planning on returning later for a fourth one, but wanted to take the first three home as soon as he could."
Fascinated, Mike watched the scene that developed in front of him. He had heard it described so many times, but couldn't actually remember it taking place. Now, he saw Splinter's story of their origin play out right there: The TCRI truck, the old blind man, the almost-accident. And the canister with the mutagen, unnoticed by most of the crowd as the violent motions of the truck sent it flying.
Almost in slow motion, it seemed, the canister hit and smashed the glass bowl with the three baby turtles in it, causing the newly-made turtle owner to drop it. There was a moment of horrible chaos... and then, both canister, glass shards and turtles vanished down the manhole and plunged into the darkness of the sewers.
The scene changed, showing the three baby turtles crawling around in the glowing green ooze that leaked out of the broken canister, as the pre-mutated Splinter scurried up to them, peering at them with curious eyes that already seemed much too intelligent for a normal rat. Mike watched as the rat tried to clean the ooze off the turtles before gathering them up in an old, discarded coffee can, which it dragged away to its nest.
"You might notice that in this world, there was much more room in the coffee can," said Shredder sardonically. "Three turtles do not take up as much space as four, so your brothers had much more elbow room. At least until the mutagen started working."
"Whoa," said Mike again. He had often wondered how his origin, so often told and retold by Splinter, had actually looked like back then. He'd painted vivid images in his head of everything he'd been too young to remember, of the kid and the truck and the accident -- and when he saw it now, it turned out to be completely different from anything he'd managed to envision. It was both disappointing and at the same time very, very exciting.
"That was brilliant!" he exclaimed as the image faded and the air turned normal again. "Can you show anything else like that? How about cartoons? Can you show cartoons?"
"Actually," said Splinter, with a hint of a smile, "yes. But this is hardly the time and place for that, Michelangelo. This display was merely meant to serve as an introduction to this world. And as you could see, your brothers' and master's origin remains unchanged, with one notable exception."
"Me," said Mike, sobering up.
Mike nodded thoughtfully and looked towards the closed door. "So. Out there is a world where I don't exist, and my brothers and father don't know me." It was a slightly frightening concept, but also somewhat intriguing. How did everyone manage without him?
"Why not go out and have a look for yourself?" said Splinter, as if he had read Mike's mind.
"Won't they get slightly suspicious when they see a strange mutant Turtle just coming waltzing out of the storage room?" said Mike. "Hi, I'm your brother from an alternate world. You don't know me, but I know you. Ask me anything. No, I'm not a spy, don't attack me -- come to think of it, you can't attack me anyway, because I'm intangible. Somehow, I don't think they'd take that too well."
Shredder growled. "You are a spirit!" he snapped. "You are invisible to the physical world! Nobody will be able to see or hear any of us!"
"That's not how these stories usually go," said Mike dubiously. He wanted to add something else, but was cut off as Shredder gave him a hard shove, sending him tumbling towards the closed door. But instead of a painful collision with the door, he fell right through it, as if it wasn't there at all, and stumbled head-first into the main chaimber of the Lair.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Author's notes: This is the revised/rewritten version of my first ever multipart fanfic, which was originally written and posted at the Stealthy Stories community. While I liked the basic idea and theme, I thought the story was lacking in several places. So now I'm doing a rewrite, hopefully managing to fix the problems I had with the original version.
Few notes on this chapter: Michelangelo's comment about everyone who's done this story before is only partially correct -- Yes, Donald Duck had an 'if you were never born' experience in the short 1994 comic The Duck Who Never Was (a story created in celebration of the Duck's sixtieth birthday, and ispiration for this story's title), and Kermit the Frog had one in It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie from 2002 -- but Garfield never had one. It was Wade from the U. S. Acres/Orson's Farm segment on the Garfield cartoon who had the experience (and discovered that the world was more or less exactly the same without him in it): As for the Silver Sentry one, I made that one up.
Oh, and Raphael never having seen It's A Wonderful Life because he could never get past the title is a reference to Batman: The Animated Series. I thought it fit his personality.