I was playing in my room, alone. I did this often, because I could easily entertain myself with the toys I had. I didn’t worry about the rest of the house most of the time, because it was much easier to just worry about one room. Besides, Father doesn’t like it when I’m in the halls.
A voice came from the speaker in my room. “Nate, dinner is ready. Come down to the kitchen, dearie.” It was Mother calling me.
I stood up and hopped toward the speaker. I pressed the button that would let me speak me back through the speaker. “Coming, Mother. Tell Father I’ll only be a moment.”
Her voice cracked through the speaker again. “Alright, honey. Be quick.” The static of the speaker ended. Mother was no longer holding her button. I opened my door, and began to walk down the hallway. I would have ran, but Father forbids running through the halls. Sometimes, though, I still would.
This wasn’t the right time to, though. If I did run through the halls, Mother and Father would know. They almost always do.
It always took me a while to walk through the halls to get to the kitchen and other rooms. Mother and Father have told me our house was big, and called it an “estate,” but I didn’t know much about that. I just knew that the hallways were big, empty, and lonely.
I thought about things a lot while I walked through the halls. I liked to think about how hard Mother must work to cook the meals she does, and about how wondrous those meals are, too. She’s a really good chef.
Every now and then, though, I hear Mother with her helper. I don’t think that the helper is around all the time, but the helper is still here sometimes. I think Mother should have more helpers, so that she doesn’t have to work so hard all the time.
I heard a cough through a door behind me. My arms tensed up, but my legs ran. I yelled all the while. There was a ghost in our house!
After a few moments, I found Father’s hands suddenly on my shoulders, stopping me in my tracks. “Nathaniel, why are you yelling? And why are you running through the halls?”
“Father, there was a ghost!” I sniffled and wiped my nose on my kerchief. “I heard it, I heard it, Father!”
“There isn’t a ghost, Nathaniel. You just scared yourself. Although, those halls are rather gloomy. Maybe we should put in brighter lights for you.” Father let me go, and we continued walking to the dining room.
“I think I’m fine now, Father. You’re probably right.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Ah, glad to hear it son. Your mother prepared something absolutely delightful for us tonight. You just wait until you see it.”
Father and I kept walking until we reached the dining room after that. It was quiet the rest of the walk.
Father was a nice man, with white hair. His skin had wrinkles, and I only knew this because mine didn’t. I had to ask him what they were. He also has his hair combed backwards. I told him he should be a vampire because of how he looks. He looks pretty old, so I think he is old.
Father opened the door to the dining room, and used his hand to tell me to go in. So, I went in and then took my seat at the table. I was taught to sit at the same spot on the table every day, and so I sat at that spot. Strangely, though, our table could seat many more people. 33 more people, in fact. We only ever used one end near the kitchen.
After I had sat down, Father sat down too. He also walked slower than I did, so he didn’t get to the table as quickly as he would have if he were my age. That’s what he says, anyway. I still think I could outrun him even then. I was fast!
Then, Mother came out with a tray in her hands. There were already plates on the table, because there alway are. I think Father cleans them up and sets them back down after I eat dinner with them and go back to bed.
“I made creamy pesto tortellini for us tonight,” Mother proclaimed. She put the tray on the table, and served me a bowl. Father put a bowl on both his and Mother’s plate. He would normally make their plates while Mother made mine.
I took a little bite from the food. I knew what pesto tortellini was, but Mother really liked it when I acted surprised at it and pretended it was my favorite food. I really liked Fettuccine much better, but I couldn’t make Mother mad.
“This is really good, Mother! What is it called again?”
Mother smiled a wide smile. “It’s called pesto tortellini, dearie. I’m glad you like it so much.”
We ate dinner without talking. Then, after I was done, Father and Mother sent me back up to my room. I thanked Mother for the meal.
Before I left, however, I asked Father one last quick question that I ask him every night. “Father, when will the marks on my neck go away?”
He told me the same thing that he always told me: “When you get older, Nathan.” After he said that, I left the dining room.
I was feeling much more brave walking through the halls this time than before. However, this bravery was slowly lost as I walked. I started remembering all of the times that I had previously heard footsteps behind a closed door, and all sorts of other scary noises. Father always told me they weren’t real, and that ghosts weren’t either, but I don’t believe him. I’ve heard whispers behind that door, and if there aren’t any people, then there have to be ghosts!
I stepped through the halls slowly. I knew that I would probably hear a ghost, but this time I decided I would be ready to face it. I was going to tell this ghost exactly what I thought of it. Right, yes! That’s what I’d do! If I told the ghost to stop, it probably would, and I wouldn’t be scared anymore!
So I kept my quiet steps. No longer was I slow because I was scared, but because I was sneaking up on a ghost. I could still be brave! I had heard these ghosts for a few weeks now, but today was the day I would finally stop them!
I crept next to the door where I heard the coughing and waited for another cough or whisper or sound, just to be sure that I wouldn’t miss it. Then, I would jump into the room and surprise the ghost! I smiled, because I was so smart. There was no way that this ghost would get me, not on my watch! I would sit there for as long as I needed to in order to stop that ghost!
I waited for a moment. Then, I waited for another moment. Then another. After a few moments, I lost track of the moments until I heard some talking through the door. I figured out that the talking was a speaker, because there was static for a second after the words stopped. Maybe there wasn’t a ghost. Maybe Father just talked to me through the speaker, and my room couldn’t hear it.
I was wrong. The static didn’t go away, but instead another voice spoke out in response. Then I heard father’s voice again, then the speaker static went away. Father had just talked to a ghost!
I put my hand on the doorknob to try and pull it open, but the door opened on its own. I fell forward, and bumped into a tall man’s legs. I looked up at him. He was very tall, had a big white beard, and wore beaten up overalls. I hadn’t seen overalls since I had last been outside. Why was he wearing them inside?
“Oops. I didn’t know you were there, you little scamp. What were you looking for?” The old man looked at me, but he didn’t seem angry. It was hard to tell underneath his beard and bushy eyebrows.
“Um, I was just- um,” I didn’t know what to say. This man wouldn’t believe me if I told him I was looking for a ghost!
“Come on, kid. I’m not going to be mad.”
The old man bent over a little bit, and put his hand on my shoulder.
“You can tell me. I’m not your father.”
I shook my head very quickly. I wasn’t telling the old man no, but I was just pulling myself together.
“I was looking for a ghost, mister. I thought that you were a ghost.”
The old man laughed. “I’m not a ghost, but I can see why you would think that. No, I’m just your mom’s gardener. I keep to her flowers. You’ve probably seen them.”
I nodded at him. I had seen the flowers before.
“I can see why you’d think I was a ghost, though. Your parents never really wanted you to know that I exist. They like to have you thinking that they run this whole mansion on their own. It isn’t true.” The old man stepped backwards, and pulled me into the room. It wasn’t a harsh pull, but it let me know that he wanted me in there with him so that I could step in on my own.
“Why would they want me to think that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. What I do know is that they don’t want you to find out about your three older brothers.”
“I don’t have three older brothers.” I crossed my arms at him. “If you knew this place, you would know that!”
The man stood up. “How old are you?”
“I’m eight,” I told him.
“I’m fifty-three. I think I know about this place better than you. Let’s just call that good.” He turned, and went back into the room. I saw him sit down on the bed. “You’d best get going to your room; I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble.”
“How many other people are here?” I asked him.
“Plenty,” He replied. “Most of them don’t know about you, though. They just know that during certain times of the day, they need to stay hidden away for a while. Speaking of which,” The man pointed to a nearby clock, “That time is running out. Hurry to your room, Nate.”
I turned around and left his room, hurrying back to my own room. Once I got there, I sat down on my bed. “That doesn’t make sense. If I have three brothers, why wouldn’t I know them. That old man must be crazy or something.”
I laid down, and was ready to go to bed. Somehow, I still couldn’t stop thinking about how confident the man seemed to be.
I woke up, and looked at the nearest clock. It was 3:30 in the morning. I didn’t need to wake up for lessons for at least four hours. So, I tried to go back to sleep. However, I still couldn’t. I rolled around in my bed, and thoughts ran around my head.
Who was that man? How does he know I have three brothers? Wait, I don’t have three brothers, I have no brothers. I’m an only child, I don’t have any brothers, just my mother and father. They would have told me if I had a brother.
Then I sat up. That’s it! I’ll go prove to him that he’s wrong! I’ll go out right now a find proof I don’t have brothers! Then he can’t tell me things like that.
I got out of bed, put on some really quiet socks, then snuck out of my room. I looked down either hall, and no one was there. Perfect. I then crept down the hallway, toward a room where I knew there were photos of me.
Mother had a room where she kept photos of me and of me with them, and if I had any brothers, they would have been in there too. I took soft steps on my tiptoes until I eventually made it to the hallway that had that room.
I took normal steps, then. Tiptoes really hurt to do for a long time. That didn’t matter, though. I was at the room, and I could find proof that there was only me! I pushed the door to the room open, just a crack.
“Hello?” I whispered in. There wasn’t a response. I opened the door the rest of the way, and gently pushed it shut. It closed with a loud “click,” and I winced at it.
All of the photos I was familiar with were there. There was the yearly family portrait that we took, all lined up on one wall. There were photos of our holidays at other countries in the world, different places at different times. I spent a little longer looking over the nice memories.
There were also photos of a baby, which I’m pretty sure were me. They didn’t matter too much. Lastly, I found photos of our house and the surrounding area. It was an open field, very much unlike the cities we holidayed to.
“There. No photos of anyone who could be my older brother. It’s just me and no one else. Well, there are also my parents, but no magic older brother.” Confidently, I walked toward the door.
Halfway to the door, a picture fell off of the wall near it. It must have been loosened off of the wall when I shut the door! Except, I didn’t close it that hard.
I picked up the photo, gently, and went to hang it back up on the wall. However, I noticed a safe in the wall. The were buttons with all of the numbers on them, and some red zeroes to the left of those buttons.
I didn’t know the code, but it was really weird to have this safe back here. I looked closer at the photo in my hand. It was just a plain photo of me and my parents in Paraguay. I turned it around. There were four numbers on the back. 11 14. If this was the code to the safe, I was unsure why there was a space between them.
Either way, I tried the code. One, one, one, four. The red numbers changed to the number I had typed every time I put in a number. After all four were in, there was a beep, too loud for my liking, followed by the safe opening. Inside was a photo album.
I took it out, and looked inside. There were photos of me, but they got older and older as I looked through the book. My parents also looked much younger in every photo. About halfway through the photos, I didn’t look like me anymore. I looked older, and my parents started to look like the age they were now. A few more pages in, and the older me suddenly had a scar that was just underneath his eye, and went down next to his lip.
Did this photo album predict the future? Was I going to get a large scar on my face? No, that didn’t make sense. My parents don’t like what they look like in this book.
Was that man right? Do I have older brothers? I had seen older brothers in movies, and they never look just like their younger brother.
I put the photo album back in the safe. I shut the safe door, and put the photo back over it. I left the photo room, and went back to my bedroom. I laid down, and waited for sleep to come. It didn’t.
At 7:30, I got up from bed. I was exhausted, and I didn’t sleep very well. I had lessons in thirty minutes. I got dressed and went out to the kitchen in for breakfast.
While I was walking through the halls, the man from yesterday stopped me. “Morning, kiddo. I’ll be going before your ma and pa get mad at me.”
I waved to him as he passed. He whistled a small tune as he went away.
I got to the kitchen, and I had a bowl of cereal. There was always breakfast ready for me when I got to the kitchen, but Mother was never to be seen. I think she gets up early to make me breakfast, then she goes back to bed. I ate it, then went to my lessons room. It was 7:56.
At 8:01, I was ready for lesson, and in the lessons room. My teacher was already waiting for me.
“There you are, Nathan. Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning, Mr. Lewis,” I replied. I yawned a huge yawn.
“My lord, child. You look exhausted. Did you sleep well last night?”
I shook my head in response.
“Oh. What was on your mind?”
“Why didn’t Mother and Father tell me I had an older brother?” I asked. Mr. Lewis looked at me, puzzled.
“Because you don’t? I’m certain I would have taught at least one of them if there had been one.” Mr Lewis pat my shoulder. “You shouldn’t worry about it. We’ll have some short lessons for today, then you can go take a nap. Rest and sleep are very important, you know.”
I nodded. “I guess you’re right. Maybe I just wish I had an older brother,” I told Mr. Lewis, so he wouldn’t worry.
He was wrong. He was so incredibly wrong.
I never actually napped after lessons. I was too awake to. I was too confused to. More importantly, I was too angry to. Why did Mother and Father hide this older brother from me? And did I actually have two other older brothers?
Lunchtime came around, and Mother and Father called me to lunch, through their speaker. I went to go eat with them.
“How did lessons go, Nathan?” Mother asked me.
“We had short lessons today. I didn’t sleep very well,” I informed her. She put her hand on my forehead.
“Are you sick, dear? You don’t seem to be running a fever.”
Father shrugged. “Nate probably just had a poor night of sleep. It happens to all of us. Let’s have lunch.” We all sat at the table and ate. I was mostly silent the whole while, except for one question.
“Father, Mother, do I have an older brother? Or maybe more than one?” I asked them. They looked at each other. I think they were confused, but Father looked mad.
“No, dear. You’re an only child. You don’t have any older brothers. Just you,” Mother responded.
“Did you ever think of having an older brother for me?”
Father laughed. “No, we didn’t. A bit unfortunate, now that we can’t. Maybe an older sister would do you better. Girls are always more sensible than young boys.” Father looked at Mother while they laughed.
“Okay,” I said, and that was all I said.
After lunch ended, I returned to my room. Nothing felt proper. Not only was Mr. Lewis lying to me about my older brother, or maybe brothers, but so were Mother and Father. Why did only that one old man know about my older brother, or maybe brothers?
That night, I wanted to look around more. There was more information that I was missing. I needed to find it, but I didn’t know where to start. There were dozens of rooms around the house, and any of them could have been the one I needed to find more. But what could I do? I still wanted to prove that I was an only child, but I was losing ground.
“This is my bedroom. Would my older brothers have had different rooms, or the same one?” I pondered. I think that we would have all had the same room. It makes sense, because it would be a lot of work to move things from one room to another over and over again.
That meant that there had to be something hidden in my room, something that I never found and was hidden here by someone else. They were here before me, and were probably older than me, too, so they must have known about hiding spots that I didn’t know about.
I needed to start looking for a clue. When you hide something, you want to be able to find it again, so you make clues so that you can find it yourself. Someone must have left me a clue.
I hopped out of bed, and started to poke around. I first went and looked in my closet. I didn’t use it for much more than clothes, so there’s a good chance that someone hid something in there that I didn’t know about.
After looking through all of the clothes for a little while, I looked in the small, hard to find drawers under the clothes. There were three drawers, and I left all of them empty. Yet, I still looked inside each of them, hoping to find something odd. There wasn’t anything.
I sighed. I shouldn’t have expected anything in the drawers. They’ve always been empty.
Then, I remembered something. You can usually pull drawers out of there spots. I don’t remember where I learned that, but I learned it either way.
I started with the drawer on the right, the one closest to my door. I tugged, and it came out of the wall. I looked at where it was before, and there was nothing. Well, nothing I could see. It was still dark.
I got up from the closet floor and got a flashlight from my dresser. It was a small light, but it would work.
I went back to the closet and shined a light into the drawer-hole. It was empty. I put the drawer back, and pulled out the next one. It was also empty. Then, I tried the last hole. I took the drawer out, set it aside, and shined my flashlight into the hole.
There was one slip of lined paper, like I use during lessons. It looked like some sort of letter, but it was never sent. I don’t think it was ever seen, either.
After the dear, there were multiple scribbles. The letter was written in pen. Scanning down the letter, there were many other spots where things were scribbled out. The backside was basically one big scribble.
Dear [many scribbles],
I’m [scribbles] going to [scribbles] live somewhere else. I decided that I [scribbles] do not want to be a [scribbles]
I want to be my own person. I do not want to [scribbles] be Nathan. You [scribbles] already had two, you don’t need a third. I’m going to [scribbles] live somewhere nearby, just in case, but I don’t want [scribbles]
Nathan was probably a good son. But [scribbles]
If you read this, come find me. I will live [scribbles] near here. It should be nearby, so you can find it.
If you are Nathan, you [scribbles] don’t have to be him. Be someone [scribbles]. You don’t have to, but you can [scribbles].
Here, the handwriting was getting more rushed, as if the words were angry. No, not angry. Frustrated.
If you are Ethel or Frank, don’t look for me. I don’t need you anymore. I will change what I look like, so that I am no longer the Nathan you wanted from me. I don’t want to be him.
On this point in the page, there is a small drop of blood. Well, it’s actually kind of big. It makes a few words hard to read.
I think I [blood drop] until I get enough money to [scribbles]. Actually, don’t worry about what I’ll do wit[b l o o d d r o p]cause I’ll be fine. Go make a new Nathan if you are that desperate for one. [ b l o o d d r o p ]ay from there. I’ll give him a better life than you gave me or the secon[b l o o d d r o p]ay. I’ll get him parents who will treat him like himself. They’ll let him know w[blood drop]o be an individual.
P.S.Ignore that blood. It doesn’t matter. I cleaned up the rest, so it doesn’t matter.
After reading the letter, I couldn’t sleep. What was the point of the letter? Who was it written to? Why was there talk of multiple Nathan’s? I laid in bed, trying to think of what it could all mean.
That morning, I figured out the answer. That’s it! The old man! I thought to myself, I’ll ask him about my older brother, or maybe brothers! I’ll show him the letter, too!
With my mind made up, I decided to find that man. I took the letter, then went out to the hall. It took me a few moments to remember where the room he was always in was, but eventually I found it. The halls were still eerily empty when I walked them.
I opened the door to the man’s room. Inside, he was sitting at a table, reading. Hearing the door open, he looked at me.
“Aye, lad. It seems you’ve come back. Looking for someone to play a game with? I think you might enjoy chess.” The old man took a pair of glasses off of his face and placed them onto a table.
“I wanted to ask about him. Them? The older brother- brothers- you say I have.” I shut the door behind me, and walked into his room.
“Last time we talked you insisted you didn’t have any older brothers. What changed your mind?” The old man smiled at me. He knew how to get what he wanted.
“I snuck into my photo room. Behind one of the photos was a safe with a photo album,” I paused, not sure how to continue.
“Ah, you found a photo album. Tell me, did he have a scar on his cheek or no?” The old man asked. I nodded.
“That is your most recent sibling,” The old man told me.
I shook my head. “Then why does he look just like me! Brothers aren’t copies of each other!” I stepped toward him with one more step. “Brothers still look different! That could just be a future me!”
The old man chuckled and shook his head. “Those brothers of yours are just copies of you. No, that’s not quite it. You’re all copies of your eldest brother. You’re going to be the last copy, as your parents are getting too old to take care of more kids.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I crossed my arms, “You can’t just copy a person. People aren’t books.”
“What’s in your hand?” The old man asked me. I had forgotten about this letter.
“I found this letter. It was hidden underneath a drawer.”
“Do you mind if I read it?” he asked. I handed him the letter, and he read it. Afterwards, he looked at me.
“Son, I wish I understood it myself, but you are a copy of your the oldest Nathan. That Nathan is older than even I am. If you don’t believe me, then meet me here again at eleven tonight. I’ll show you it’s true. Copying people is called cloning, and it’s becoming a popular practice.” The old man stood up. “You’d best get going, however. I wouldn’t want you to be late for your morning lessons.” The old man motioned for me to leave. I did as such, and went back to my room.
“Eleven tonight. Okay old man, I’ll be there. Just you wait.”
Father was calling to me from the speaker box. “Nathan, come down to the kitchen. It’s dinner time.”
I hopped off of my bed and moved to the speaker. “Yes, Father, I’ll be there right away.”
“Atta boy,” He replied.
I went to the kitchen and had dinner. The longer I ate, the more questions burnt on my tongue. There was so much that my parents hadn’t told me. How come I didn’t know about the old man, the gardener. Why didn’t you tell me about him? Do we have other secret people in our house? Do I have an older brother or an older copy of myself with a scar on his cheek?
I asked none of those questions. I received an equal amount of answers.
At 10:42 P.M., I went to the old man’s room.
“You’re rather early, lad. Eager to find out some truth?” he asked me.
I refrained from nodding. “Yes.”
“Then let’s leave, Nate.” He stood up, and walked out of the room. I followed him, and we moved through the halls.
“Where are we going?” I asked him.
“We’re going outside. The man who wrote that letter lives not too far from here. We’ll find him easily.”
“Will it be cold?” I felt like I was asking too many question compared to last night.
“Not on this June night. It will be rather warm. No need for a coat,” He told me.
After some more walking, we went down a long flight of stairs, and left through an entrance near the base. Outside, it was lightly raining.
“I thought you said I wouldn’t need a coat,” I accused the old man.
“You don’t. A little water won’t hurt you, lad.” He marched through the rain, determined. I tried to follow suit, but I wasn’t so sure.
We walked for a long while. Eventually, the old man had to carry me because I was tired, and wet. Not cold, but wet. However, we eventually did come upon another house in the distance. It was like a mouse compared to my house.
The old man set me down at the door. “He used to also be named Nathan. However, he changed his name after finding out he was the second copy of the first Nathan. His name is Edgar now, but you can just call him Ed if you please.” After saying that, he knocked on the door.
The door opened. A man stepped into the door, one with a large scar on his cheek. “Brad? What are you doing here so late?” The man looked down at me. “Nevermind, don’t answer that question. Come inside.”
The old man, who’s name is Brad I suppose, patted my back, and I entered the house. Brad followed me.
“What does the kid know?” Brad asked.
“He knows you exist, and that there is one other clone, and the original,” Brad responded.
Edgar led us into a room. He had a teapot on a small coffee table, and a couple teacups next to it. “Help yourself,” he told us, while motioning toward the tea. I didn’t drink any, but Brad poured himself a cup.
“What’s your name, kid?” Edgar asked me.
“My name is Nathan,” I told him.
He shook his head. “Nathan is 62 years old. He doesn’t even live in this country anymore. You should pick a new name, but I won’t force you.” Edgar poured himself a cup of tea. “Alright, let’s talk.”
Over the next while, Edgar told me all about cloning, about the marks on our necks- Edgar is a clone as well as me- and about how illegal what our parents are doing is. He didn’t call them “our parents,” however. He called them Ethel and Frank.
“There you go. Do you have any questions?” Edgar finished.
I nodded. “I don’t have a scar on my cheek. Why do you?”
Edgar stood up. He paced toward a window, and cracked it open. “I gave myself this scar. It’s what makes me different. I was 15 at the time, by three days. It hurt terribly, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.” He sat back on his couch. The home was much smaller than the home I was used to.
“Why did you choose to live so close to my home, when you could have left?” I asked.
“I wanted to get you out of there. I wanted to get any future “Nathan’s” out of that house. You will likely be the only and last one I rescue, with Brad’s help.” Brad smiled at Edgar’s response.
“Oh. Thank you. I think.”
Edgar patted my shoulder. “You’ll appreciate this more later. I’ll have to find you foster parents. What should I put on the documents, though?” Edgar looked away from me for a second before looking back, as if expecting an answer.
“What?” I asked.
“What is your name, kid?” Edgar asked me once again.
I thought about it. I didn’t know many names. I needed to pick one? I had never thought about naming myself before, or anyone else for that matter. How do I pick a name?
I looked around the room. I looked at Edgar, I looked at his table and his floor and his couches and his walls and his ceiling and his doors and his teacups and his kettle and his paintings on his walls and open window.
“Brad. I think I want to be called Brad.”