The Big Question
I’d like to say that I’ve become a better person over the last several years. Apparently, I used to be a total psycho wielding an Emperor Palpatine finger puppet and maybe burning down a few schools along the way…?
Yeahhhh, I can confidently say that part of my life is over.
Now? It’s time to heal. And that means pouring over a lifetime–multiple lifetimes, I suppose–of information about myself.
I invited my old friend Dwight over, grabbed a big ol’ bucket of Rib-B-Q flavored chips, popped on my favorite song (“Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” by Seabird) on endless repeat, and now I’m sitting at my computer desk, ready for anything.
“AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” A shrill voice screamed as a manilla envelope crashed through the window and into Dwight’s hands.
“Yoda?” Dwight sat up. “What are you doing here?”
“Finished my multiversal travels, I have…” Origami Yoda spun around in Dwight’s hand, collapsing into his palm. “A Tylenol, I require…”
I shrugged. “The more the merrier, Yoda. Remember me at all?”
Origami Yoda’s head turned with a start. “Jacob Minch? Heck, what the?!?”
“I’m not that Jacob.” I smiled. “I don’t even really remember you. Just glimpses of the past.”
“Then here to help, I am!” He shrieked. “Getting used to helping people one after the other, I am!”
I turned back around to face my computer. “Well, then, in that case…”
My name’s Jake, and this is my last case file.
The big question: Who is Jacob Minch?
This case file will be concerning three lives.
The first of these lives is, simply, the life I remember having. Well, I sorta-kinda remember it. Even though it’s supposed to be my whole life up to this point, it doesn’t feel like my life. Not like I lived it. It’s all fuzzy, like a furball in the back of your throat…is that a weird expression?
The second life is the one I feel the most connected to. The one I feel like I lived. That’s the one that Dwight is helping me to compile. (Well, Origami Yoda’s doing most of the compiling. Dwight’s just lying upside-down on my bunk bed yodeling the Krusty Krab tune from Spongebob.)
Turns out, Origami Yoda has knowledge of, like, a whole multiverse of Minch madness. Sounds like a headache to me.
Speaking of headaches, the third life is the one I feel the least connected to. Yet…it feels so real. I’m haunted by actions the record says aren’t there. I know I did horrible things, but as far as everybody else is concerned, I’m a clean slate.
It’s really hard to deal with, y’know? How do I know I’m a better guy?
I thought it would be best to start at the beginning with these questions, so I asked Origami Yoda to pull together my lives’ story from day one.
The stories of my life generally start out the same. Dad and Mom had me somewhere between 1998 and the early 2000’s. I tried to make Dad promise he’d always be there for me, but of course, he didn’t. He wasn’t.
I started looking for my dad everywhere. I couldn’t remember his face very well, so I tried pretending that he was each and every dad who came into my preschool, including the father of a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very weird kid. Of course, that’s how I met Dwight. I’d finally found someone with at least a passing resemblance to my dad, so…y’know…I started hanging out around the Tharp family. Pretty soon, I had way more fun hanging out with my new best friend than trying to fill in an empty hole in my family.
Dwight and I? We did everything together. In two years, I’d taught him everything my dad had taught me about origami. I didn’t tell Noah a little while ago, but even in this life, just like my multiversal doppelgangers, I remember Dwight clear as day. When we first saw the trailer for Revenge of the Sith on TV, I jumped from the couch and Dwight swung from his plastic blue anchor, each of us holding a plastic lightsaber in hand and pretending to be Obi-Wan and Anakin. When the time came–May 19th, 2005–my three lives each took a drastic turn.
In my darkest doppelganger’s life, I’d had a big fight with my mom the night before the movie, so I slept over at the Tharps’ house and provided them with a fake phone number.
In my redeemed doppelganger’s life, my mom drove me to the theater around noon to meet up with Dwight and his dad.
In my own experience, Dwight and I met up on our bikes at the cinema, and our parents told us they would pick us up after the movie ended at 2:30.
In every life, Dwight and I loved the movie. And in every life, it was the last time the two of us hung out in a very, very long time.
After we got out of the theater, we sat on the bench and waited for our parents to pick us up.
I started the conversation, as usual.
“Did you like the movie?”
“Is that Dwightish for ‘yes?'”
I reclined contently against the bench. The movie was amazing, don’t get me wrong. The part at the end with Darth Vader was easily the best part. Well, that and the lava battle. Oh, and every moment General Grievous was on screen. But I felt like we needed more than a couple of collectible posters to celebrate the moment.
So I folded a puppet.
Dwight folded one too.
One of them was Emperor Papertine.
In every version of the story, Papertine’s creation sparked a fight between us. I don’t exactly remember what about.
Dwight’s Comment: I remember, my dear fellow! We were having a riveting discussion regarding the recreational activities to be had with the finger puppets we had crafted whilst waiting in limbo for the arrival of our parental figure, of which the exact individual differs between universes.
Presently, I glanced over at Dwight. “In this universe…that was the last time we talked in a really long while.”
Dwight shrugged. “It was the last time for us in a whole lot of realities. We just aren’t meant to be friends.”
I blinked. “Gee, and just when I thought you and I were back on the right foot again!”
“Yup!” Dwight cracked a mischievous smile–a good reminder of why I got into fights with him in the first place. But I’m 95% sure we’re chill now.
While this world’s version of me and Dwight had our friendship gradually fade from that day, in the other universes…well…I ran away. Whether it was because of family troubles or fake phone numbers or fighting or dramatic angst, most versions of me apparently ended up wandering the world as like, what, a seven year-old?
That’s not the life I had. Things went a tad better in my world. I didn’t have Noah to call a brother, so that kinda sucks, but I had a good, fairly normal, kinda boring life for a bit there, mostly just moving from place to place, school to school. I even bumped into Dwight and the McQuarrie kids a time or two! But that’s where our stories really start to change.
Because in those other universes, my interactions with the McQuarrie students were far from good…
About the Whole “Evil” Thing
Like I said, my other selves spent their pre-middle school years homeless. Skate parks, Qwikpicks, and abandoned buildings became their temporary homes, thievery and deception their bread and butter. I know I didn’t live these lives, but I have a faint recollection of sleeping under bridges and faking phone calls to my parents so passersby wouldn’t suspect anything was “off” about me. There was a schoolyard scrap with Ryan J. Knight, I kinda remember that. Everything is so vague.
“Jedi Bob!” Origami Yoda chirped from behind me.
I spun around. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. He had an origami Lego figure on his hand! Thanks, Yoda!”
I turned back to the computer and returned to my studies.
Now, about the whole “evil” thing, I know that the younger, evilest doppelganger of myself wasn’t a crazy sociopath by any means at that point. I like to think that nobody is born evil. Maybe they’re born numb. They don’t realize the pain they can cause. Otherwise, that evil is learned.
Well, that’s how I cope with the thought, anyway.
At least in the life of my more villainous self, my wandering about over the years had led to scrapes, cuts, bruises, gashes, and at least a little bit of blood loss. I looked pale as frick. (Err, y’know, that other version of me did. I look awesome, thank you very much!)
I remember the worst injury my evilest self had. On his first Christmas Eve on the run, he thought for the first time about returning to some form of normalcy. Without much of a family to go home to, he ventured to the Tharps’ house. The air was bitter cold and nipped at his features. He tripped a number of times, skinning his knees and freezing his palms. But as he perched himself against the window of Dwight’s house to see if they’d let him in…
He saw Dwight’s father, a man whom he’d thought of as like a father himself, yelling up a storm. The storm was only magnified by the screaming of Dwight’s mom.
That Jacob never did see Dwight that day. He didn’t want to barge in on an already tense moment.
Dwight’s father walked towards the windows.
Dropping to his knees once more, Jacob’s hands stayed buried in the snow as he clung to the side of the house. Dwight’s dad slammed the outside door and trudged to his car, with the dog trailing behind him, before driving away.
Jacob pulled his hands out of the snow with a shock.
He couldn’t feel them.
Wrapping his hands in his sleeves, Jacob continued the long hobble back towards the local Qwikpick. It was closed, of course, but that didn’t bother him. He smashed open the glass doors with a baseball bat, ignoring the shrill alarm as he stuck his hands over the diminutive hot dog roaster.
Only one hand got better.
The other turned as black as Anakin’s gloved hand.
Jacob had nothing. No one. Nobody who wasn’t too caught up in their own problems to be burdened with his. Jacob was alone.
But he wasn’t alone.
He jabbed his numb hand into his pants pocket, pulling out a damp, wrinkly, and probably moldy piece of paper.
Jacob had Papertine.
After that, even as the glow of police sirens flashed across his face, just like his hand, Jacob Minch didn’t feel a thing.
The Week of Emperor Papertine
Now we come to the good part. The part everybody remembers. (Well, used to remember. Anyway.)
The week that my other selves found McQuarrie Middle School. The week of chaos, mayhem, origami wars, food fights, super sabers, death shredders, puppet duels, and even fires. The Week of Papertine.
It started on Monday. The first day seemed fine at its start. Dwight, Tommy, Harvey, and Kellen were sitting at their table when Jacob approached them. In both realities, Dwight didn’t say much about seeing “me” again.
Dwight’s Comment: Awkward.
Anyway, the McQuarrie Crew dispersed to homeroom, and my evil selves got to work. Pulling aside some students and handing them paper clones and droids, they set everybody loose in a giant battle all over the cafeteria. From my understanding, Emperor Papertine actually had some sort of mind-control power, like what Dwight told me about Tippett Academy or that fake-mustachioed president guy I heard about on the news. Actually, I’m not all the way convinced that the evilest Jacob’s Papertine wasn’t given this power by that mustache guy. The only thing I knew for sure was that, at that point in time, his life force was tied to that puppet. If anything ever happened to the original Emperor Papertine, he would die forever.
Regardless of who was behind this power, the first three days of the week went on like this, with an origami Clone War raging in one universe and a slew of political and romantic intrigue in the other, until my evilest self did it. He called over the loudspeaker for every kid with an origami clone trooper to execute Order 66, which meant even the good kids had gone to the evilest Jacob’s side now. It was then that he truly became Emperor Minch. He switched out the mind-controlling Papertine for a fake, taunted the McQuarrie gang into a battle, and after a fake-out defeat, he set fire to Papertine’s lightsaber (making a SUPER SABER), and nearly burned down McQuarrie. Heck, the other Jacob from the other reality did too, but his was with blue “force lightning” sparklers.
I’m starting to get a bit of a headache from trying to keep the universes straight, so from now on I’m just gonna approach my past lives like this:
Emperor Minch = The evilest Jacob from the most eccentric universe.
Jacob Minch = The Jacob who fought for the Bounty Hunters in a long campaign, only to become a hero and sacrifice himself to stop Emperor Minch in the end.
Jake Minch = Me, the guy who is probably just as confused and unsure about all this as you are.
Man, I’m hungry.
“Hey, Dwight?” I glanced back over at him as he picked Yoda’s nose with a green toothpick. “You wanna get some Wendy’s before we keep going?”
“Nah.” Dwight clutched his stomach. “My tummy hurts.”
“That’s because you ate all my Rib-B-Q chips.” I sighed. “C’mon, buddy, let’s grab a bite.”
I sat in the big booth by the window across from Dwight. He was trying to balance one straw…on top of the other…on top of his nose…while he stood on one foot…
“Hey man, can we talk for a sec?” I scooched in towards the table.
“Question of yours is what?” Origami Yoda shot up into the air.
“No, uh, not Yoda.” I slowly lowered his paper-wielding hand. “I wanna talk to you, Dwight.”
“Look, uh…” I sniffed. “I know we just had a little bit of a falling out in this world before, but in those other worlds…I just really screwed everything up. Those other me’s, I mean. I feel really, like, guilty about it all. And I don’t know why. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”
“And…I’m especially sorry that I wasn’t there for you when your dad left. I shoulda been there. You needed a friend.”
“I had one.” Dwight nodded intently. “That’s when I met Tommy.”
“Really?” I sat up straighter in my seat.
“Yeah. It was a crazy few years there. Dad left, I met Tommy, we got to know Harvey and Kellen and even my neighbor, Sara, and Yoda flew in through my window.”
I blinked. “Wait, what?”
“A good story. For another time.” Origami Yoda perked back up, then lowered back down.
“Dwight…” I exhaled, trying to keep my breathing level as I realized my leg was nervously bouncing under the table. “Do you know why I can recall the past?”
“I’m not asking him.”
“I…” My breath caught. “I’m asking you, bud.”
“Uhh…” Dwight tucked his head into his sweatshirt and pulled his fries in there too.
“Already know you, that which you are,” Origami Yoda mumbled.
“Seriously, Dwight!” I reached across the table and pulled Yoda off his finger. “I don’t wanna hear it from him! I need to hear it from a friend.”
Dwight sat up. “You’re not ready.”
I gathered up my burger, fries, and drink, trudged out of the building, and into my car.
I ripped into my hamburger as a spritz of ketchup spattered my shirt. I caught a glance at myself in the rear-view mirror.
“Who am I really?” I rubbed my temples. “What am I doing?”
I shut the car door, pulled open the door to the Wendy’s, and stepped back inside to sit down with Dwight. No pressure. No interrogation. Just two friends making amends.
There was only one problem.
Dwight was gone.
A crinkled note rested on his seat, and a pinned-down-by-a-soda-cup Origami Yoda with it.
I picked up the note in a frenzy.
It’s clear to me that you just aren’t ready to hear the truth yet.
I really want to help you, and I think the best thing to do right now is to leave Yoda with you.
When you’re ready to confront the truth of who you REALLY are, come find me. You’ll know where to look.
I can’t keep wasting my time.
I need to get to the bottom of this.
Dwight won’t stop playing his twisted game of hide and seek unless he sees that I’ve cracked the code about my life.
Urggh!! Why does this have to be so complicated?! Am I a good guy, or am I not?
“Your choice, that is!” Origami Yoda chirped from the back seat of my car. “Continue your research, you must! For the case files, you have no need. All in your memories, these stories are…”
“Right. Yeah. Right.” I squinted my eyes as I hurriedly pulled off to the side of the road. “Time to take the magical mystery memory tour…”
I closed my eyes, preparing to fight harder than ever to recover the memories of my other selves. To my surprise, however, the memories flooded my mind without a fight and clearer than ever.
After the Week of Papertine and his Super Saber had ended, Emperor Minch had made it his mission to convert Dwight to the Dark Side.
Huh. I guess even evil guys miss their friends.
Emperor Minch’s plans had almost succeeded, but thanks to the combined efforts of The Origami Fellowship (a buncha kids from a Lord of the Rings-inspired school) and the Origami Rebellion (Tommy and the gang), he was sent to jail.
Oh yeah, and he almost died!
I forgot that part.
Emperor Minch was on the roof of Tolkien Middle School with Peter, and he fell off the building and into a fire the Fellowship had innocently set outside.
He should have died.
It woulda been the end of his evil machinations. The end of a tenure that brought pain to a bunch of students.
But thanks to a multiversal Mail-lennium Falcon, Emperor Minch survived, and got a small taste of a bigger multiverse in the process.
And those machinations changed.
Emperor Minch gave a half-hearted fight against Origami Yoda’s Chosen One, still causing tons of pain and suffering to everyone around him, all the while knowing he could change EVERYTHING as soon as he could find his way back into this World Between Worlds he had discovered.
I wonder, did he ever think to use this power to make things better? To fix the situations that brought him where he ended up?
“Maybe if he’d just taken responsibility for his actions instead of blaming his circumstances,” I pondered aloud, “he might’ve gotten better.”
From what I could see in the rearview mirror from the back seat, Origami Yoda shook his head sadly. “I agree.”
I returned to memories that were not my own. Emperor Minch went to jail, where he spent a while planning and plotting, until an unexpected visitor approached his cell.
“Master?” he called out.
“Yes, my student.” The shadowy figure drew closer.
“Are you here to break me out?” Emperor Minch’s voice sang with relief.
“No second chance this time.” The Master pulled out the original Emperor Papertine, which had been in his care since the Death Shredder incident.
Emperor Minch’s relief vanished. “Wait, what are you–?!”
The Master held the origami figure of which Emperor Minch’s life force clinged to, and prepared to tear it in two.
“Rest…in…pieces.” Casper Bengue laughed.
“I’m getting REALLY sick of remembering this stuff.” I shuddered. “I just remembered a death, man!! You want me to keep remembering??”
“Trust your instincts, you must. Feel, don’t think.”
“That’s a Qui-Gon quote.”
“A good quote, it is!” Origami Yoda hrrmphed. “A shame it was not mine.”
I lowered myself into my driver’s seat. “Feel…Feel…Feel…”
I felt Emperor Minch’s despair. The terror coursing through his veins as he scrambled to snatch a Wishing Skittle from the pouch on his master’s belt. The pure bliss he felt as he and the original Papertine disappeared out of the jail, before the puppet could rip completely, and into the wide starry expanse of the World Between Worlds.
I felt his thirst for revenge. His burning desire to conquer a thousand worlds.
I felt his secret shame. The regrets of a hundred evil actions. The sorrows of a boy who had nothing and no one left. His parents were long gone. His best friend was happy with other friends. Even his master, the one he’d encountered on his long days and cold nights of traveling, the one person he thought he could trust with his own life, was willing to betray him in an instant.
It was with all that conflict stirring in this young man’s heart that Emperor Minch revealed himself to the more grounded universe of the Origami Bounty Hunters, and their world’s Jacob Minch.
Suddenly, I felt that Jacob’s feelings.
I remembered the life he carried. How he went from a hurt young boy to a shattered young man. How he started off on the very same road that Emperor Minch had, yet somehow he’d eventually managed to break free of his chains, eventually to the point of sacrificing himself for his friends, by seeking the Light.
He had a brother in that world.
And well, in this world, Noah was my best friend. Back when I’d “met” him, I was going by the name of Jim. If I’m being honest with myself, that name never felt right. Now I know why. But it felt right talking to Noah. When I found him, I felt at at home. We both did.
Then the Foldtastic Four thing happened.
Then I found out who I really was.
And this all brings me–all of me–to here.
To Origami Yoda.
To face my past.
“I know.” I looked into the mirror, unafraid. “I know the truth. I know what happened. I know who I am.”
“Three lives have you lived, Jacob Minch…” Origami Yoda murmured. “And many more deaths have you died…”
“It was me. It was all me. I did those things.” My breath caught. My heart wouldn’t quit pounding. “That evil was me.”
“It was,” Yoda stated. With a grunt and a stamp of his little paper cane, he trudged up my arm (which really freaked me out) and looked me in the eye from atop my shoulder. “But no longer the case, that is. Destroyed the Sith, you did.”
I blinked. “Yeah. Wait, yeah. I…I stopped Emperor Minch. I saved my friends, I…Yoda, I died. If…If I’m here–if I’m alive–then that means…”
“Easy to kill a Minch, is it ever?” Yoda chuckled. Then he gave me a warm smile. “Undone your wish, someone has. The love of a brother, perhaps? The guilt of an enemy? Or, perhaps, the compassion of an old friend…”
I let all of that sink in for a moment. These past three lives’ memories weren’t abstract. They were linear.
“All one story, this is. Your story!” Origami Yoda said. “When Emperor Minch perished at his twilight, awoke he did as a new Jacob, in a wide world of bounty hunters. Born, your second self was. But even the end for this new you, death was not. Reborn you were. Jim, you became. Now, Jake you are. A big question you asked yourself, Padawan. Ready to answer it, are you?”
The Big Answer
Who is Jacob Minch?
I haven’t gone by the name of Jacob since, oh, before I was born.
I am Jacob. I’ve lived three lives, and not all of them were good. I’ve been dealt bad hands, I’ve made bad decisions, and my fate was never really good. But it’s time to change all that.
I have a chance to make my life better. To make everyone’s lives better. I won’t waste it.
My guilt will come in waves, as it always has, but I know how to handle it now.
Where once darkness dwelled, now hope lives.
My past is dead.
I am changed.
I will never stop making the most of my new life.
And it all starts now, as I pull my car across the street from the site of an abandoned movie theater. The birthplace of my darkness.
Don’t get me wrong, that darkness isn’t gonna leave me.
There’s nothing wrong with a little walk along the dark side.
After all…it’s the road less traveled.
Dwight sits across the street, on that fateful bench from all those years, all those lifetimes ago.
“Hi. I’m Jake.” I stepped out of the car. “Mind if I sit with you?”
Origami Yoda hopped onto my finger as I sat next to Dwight. “Hey, buddy.”
“Hey.” Dwight rocked in his seat.
“I believe this is yours.” I held out a hand, and Origami Yoda danced across my palm towards his.
Dwight looked me in the eye, catching me off guard. “Yoda’s already helped Captain Micah. McQuarrie. All the universes. Me. I think…I think he’s ready for a break.” He closed his hand, leaving Yoda in mine. “I think you should keep him.”
“Me?” I blinked. “Dude, I’m…I’m the last person who should have him. He’s Origami Yoda, for Pete’s sake! He deserves to be with you, o-or Tommy, or heck, maybe even Harvey! I can’t…”
“You can. He’s yours, now. And he could really use a friend.”
“Well…” I chuckled. “He sure is better than Papertine.”
“Yeah.” Dwight scrunched up his face. “Evil is weak.”
That’s how it ends. That’s the story of Jacob Minch. The story of me.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I kept living a great life.
I got a job.
I met a girl.
Yoda and I gave our friends some advice when the whole world came crashing down.
And, of course, I got to go to the wedding.
Dwight and I continued to be the best of friends. You would even say brothers.
Oh hey, I never did thank you for letting me vent all this case file stuff to you. I must’ve been spamming your emails for awhile there. I just wasn’t sure where to send this whole thing, and I thought you guys might be the only ones who kind of get it.
I love you guys!
Enjoy the honeymoon!
THE END THIS IS.
Special thanks to JohnF, Noah, and the other writers who have helped bring Jacob Minch to life over the last ten years!