I hopped onto the train. It had nearly left without me, the impatient little thing. It was one of the aspects I liked the least about trains. They always seemed like they were in a rush to abandon whatever stop they were at.
Either way, I found a seat and took a rest. To everyone else, I was just another random passenger. There was nothing that made me different, and there was no reason for them to suspect that. I knew better.
In my pocket I carried a small locket. I took it out, and opened it. Inside was the image of a small girl, who looked remarkably like me. Her parents were next to her in the image. They had taken the photo when she was seven years old. That was six months before she turned eight, and eight months before she died. The photo was taken 17 months before I was born.
Someone sat in the seat across from me on the train. I ignored them, and continued to examine the photo. I always spent a few minutes each day with this photo, simply glad for what I had.
“Hey there. What are you looking at?” Someone said to me. I looked up from the locket. It was the person who had sat across from me. He was a tall and handsome man. He was wearing a vest and a tie, but no suit jacket. It looked as if he was showing off, but still wanted to appear to be slightly casual.
“It’s a locket with a picture, nothing more.” I informed him. He leaned toward me.
“Come now. Just a little picture couldn’t be that important. Is it a long lost lover? Maybe a daughter you had to send away, and you still send her money each month? What could it be?” he asked. He smirked at me.
“That was very rude of you, and I don’t wish to hear anything else from you,” I replied. I put the locket away, and turned my face away from the man.
“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to be so intrusive. God, this suit must be getting in my head. I’m a lot more confident than I normally would be. Can I just try again?” he desperately asked. I knew what kind of game he was playing. I had seen it a million times already, and I wasn’t going to take the bait.
“No, you may not. I’m not going to deal with such rude men on trains.” I told him. I saw him shake his head from the corner of eye.
“Dumb broad. Whatever.” After saying that, he got up and walked away. Of course he wasn’t really curious about my locket, he was trying to just get to know me then get to bed me. That wasn’t happening. I was going to visit my parents, and I didn’t have time for his shenanigans.
I returned my head to a resting position and closed my eyes. I leaned back and let out a long breath. I heard someone new take the seat across from me. I didn’t bother to open my eyes.
“Excuse me, miss. I don’t mean to intrude.” I heard the new person say. This was also a boy, but he seemed younger than the last man.
I opened my eyes and got a look of him. He was tall and thin, and his glasses sat halfway down his nose. He looked a bit nervous, but I could tell that it wasn’t just because that was the kind of guy he was. He put a duffel bag in the seat next to him.
“Really, I don’t mean to be rude, but I couldn’t help but overhear that last guy. What was this about your locket? Once more, I really really don’t want to be a bother.” His eyes darted around sometimes, but he made an earnest effort to keep eye contact.
“Who are you?” I asked him. He was still just a kid I had no obligation to, but I was still curious.
“Oh, right. My name is Austin. I was just heading down toward Mt. Pleasant. I was here in Osceola because I was visiting my grandparents for a few days. Um, yeah,” he finished. I smiled a little.
“My name is Miriam, but you can call me Miri. The locket has a picture of my parents, along with another girl,” I told him.
He gave me a confused look. “Another girl? Like, not your sister or cousin or anything? Just some random girl?” The boy- Austin was trying to sort this out in his head.
“Well, she’s not just some random girl. She’s- I’m- hmm.” I wasn’t sure how to tell him.
“If it’s too much of a question to answer, don’t worry. I’m sure I can get on without knowing.” Austin informed me.
“No, no, it’s fine,” I replied, “I was trying to think of the best way to say it. And, well, there’s really one way to say this.” I looked around the train car to make sure no one was listening. The last thing I needed today was a hate crime.
I leaned toward Austin and he followed suit. “I’m a clone of that girl,” I whispered. Austin shot back into his seat.
“Dude, you know that dozens of people probably hate you for that? Like, probably most of the people on the train?” Austin was now speaking much more casually. The surprise must have knocked the forced politeness out of him.
“Yes, I’m aware. I’m not going to stop living just because some idiots think I’m unnatural.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound rude there. But jeez, that’s quite the bomb to just drop on a train like that.” Austin sat forward again. “Where are your scars, though?” he whispered, staring at my neck.
“I wear makeup,” I said. “The scars are rather easy to hide away, actually. You might be surprised.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I haven’t used makeup too much, so I guess I haven’t really thought about it.”
“When have you used makeup?” I asked him. His eyes lit up.
“Oh man, it was so cool. So, I used to volunteer for this haunted house thing a couple of years ago, and they did so much cool stuff. I had this black makeup put around my eyes, and it, like, dripped down my face in solid droplets. I wore this hood that covered my face, and hid in the dark. Oh, right, the rest of my face was painted a bright white, and the black was put over that. Anyway, I would hide in the dark, wearing this black clothing and being hidden away in the dark. When people would walk past me, I would take the hood off and follow behind without a word. The person following in the back would eventually notice me, and they would all panic and run forward.” Austin lost his reserve when he described his experience. After all of that, he leaned back in his seat. “It was fun, but I can’t do it anymore. It doesn’t pay at all.”
I laughed. “My, that does sound just a bit frightening. I haven’t ever worn makeup like that. However, yes, a bit of skin tone and blending easily hides the scars on my neck.”
“So how long have you been wearing that makeup for?” Austin asked me.
“Well, I grew up just a town away from Mt. Pleasant. If you think Mt. Pleasant was small, you should see Westwood. It was this tiny suburb off and away from Mt. Pleasant, with only around a hundred people living there. So, I didn’t cover up my neck for most of my life. Even though the nearest schools were in Mt. Pleasant, there weren’t enough kids to hate me. The teachers had to live in quiet tolerance, and the kids just thought my scars were kind of cool. Of course, I didn’t know I was clone at the time, so I couldn’t tell them.” I smiled, thinking about my childhood and Lincoln Elementary School.
“Okay, that’s pretty nice, but you still didn’t tell me when you started wearing makeup.” Austin was smiling, too. It didn’t feel as snarky as what he said, though.
“Oh, right. Well, I started to wear makeup in High School. I still knew most of the kids who were at the school with me, and they had found out I was a clone at that point. Some of them were unsure what to feel about me, because I was such a strange anomaly. However, they still didn’t hate me. They just didn’t want to bring it up. I wore makeup on my face at first, but I had to learn about blending my neck, and then scars were just hidden away from there. It was very beneficial once I started working in Osceola. They hadn’t known me for most of my life, so they were a lot quicker to judge.” I put my hands up to my neck, and gently touched the scars with the tips of my fingers.
Austin leaned forward a touch. “Okay, that makes sense. But wouldn’t plastic surgery just be easier, and save you time? I mean, you hide the scars anyway, right? No one would the wiser.” He looked genuinely curious.
“Some people would be the wiser. My parents, for one. They know that I’m a copy of their original daughter, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. They love me for who I am, and everything that comes with it,” I said. This was the liveliest train ride I had had in a long while.
“So they particularly like your scars? Huh. That’s not something I’d expect from a mostly Republican city.” Austin looked out the window, and just stared out.
“Well, they were Republican. They changed their vote after seeing how anti-clone legislation could hurt their daughter so much. They tried to talk some others into changing their vote, too. You can imagine how successful they were.” I leaned toward Austin’s position staring out the window.
“Oh, sorry I was staring out the window. I was listening, I was also just trying to think about this a bit. Your life is kind of a huge existential conundrum. Like, there are so many questions we should be asking ourselves about life, all because you and so many others are clones.” Austin looked at me eagerly. I think he wanted to hear what I had to say on the matter.
“Why, that’s quite a vocabulary you have, Austin. ‘Existential conundrum.’ Well, I don’t really think of it as an existential conundrum. I exist, and that’s that. I am a human, and so are you. We both live, and that’s something to celebrate. Wouldn’t you agree?” I asked. Austin averted his gaze from mine, as if there was something particularly exciting in the carpet.
“Yeah, I guess so. Miri, don’t you ever wonder if you were meant to exist?” Austin didn’t look up. There was something strange about his question.
“That’s not my question to ask. The Bible doesn’t say anything about cloning people, and neither should we,” I told him concisely.
“Yeah, but even if you weren’t a clone. Are you meant to exist?” Austin whispered something nearly inaudibly.
“I’m sorry, what was that last bit again?” I asked.
Austin’s eyes snapped back to mine. “Nothing. I decided I didn’t want to say it.”
“Well, alright. I do believe I’m supposed to be alive, but many don’t. Those folks aren’t my problem. They don’t understand that I’ve lived just as long as they have, and that I’ve worked as hard too. Being a clone doesn’t mean not being a person. Is that enough?” I tipped my head at Austin. He was a peculiar child.
“No. You still talked about being a clone. What if you weren’t? Are you still meant to be alive?” Austin had a look on his face. I didn’t really know what to make of it. Was it desperation? Hope? A mixture of those and general curiosity?
“Well, God gave the first Miri life, and she gave me life. By that virtue, I am meant to be alive. If I was the first Miri, then God would have given me life directly. Thus, I am meant to be alive. That’s all that matters on this green Earth.” I was satisfied with my answer. I hoped that Austin would be to.
“There is no god,” He replied. “I’ve nearly died. I should’ve seen the face of god if I were to die. I saw nothing. There is no god, and there is no proof that we are meant to be alive. There is no reason for you to exist, and no reason for myself to exist.
That must have had something to do with what Austin had mumbled. He had to have said something about himself existing.
“Austin, sweetheart, you’re fine. You are meant to exist. You-”
“How do you know? How?” Austin interrupted me. “You don’t have any more proof than I do.” Tears were beginning to well in the child’s eyes. His intense gaze made me want to avert mine. I noticed scars of stitches on his arms. Looking back at his face, there were many faded scars lining his cheeks and forehead, too.
“You should have the most reason to question your life,” he continued. “You were literally created in a lab, with tools and vials. You were born from a process made only a few dozen years ago, and yet you have absolutely no doubt. How?” A tear from Austin’s eye rolled down his cheek, yet his voice didn’t waver.
“Austin, what’s wrong?” I decided to find the root of the problem.
“I’m, I’m going to go now. It was nice talking to you, Miri.” Austin stood up to walk away. I grabbed his hand and pulled him back down.
“Austin. What has happened?” I demanded.
Austin wiped his eyes, and looked at me again. “I already told you. I’ve nearly died three times. Reckless driving from an alcoholic father. Some mystical god didn’t save him, and it didn’t stop my mother from kicking me out of the house when I told her I had no faith. If this is the existence I was led to, then what’s the point of even existing? If I’m just one of god’s playthings, then why should I keep going? No, there is no god, and there is no reason to be.” Austin was stone cold at this point. At least, his gaze was.
“Austin, God still cares about you, I promise. I know-”
“No!” Austin interrupted again. “This isn’t a return-to-faith situation. Hell, to think that a fucking clone would try to bring me closer to god. Your very life is a spit in his face!” He claimed.
“My existence is just proof that man has come closer to God!” I declared.
“Yeah, closer to replacing him!” Austin responded. He sat back down, after realising we were catching eyes. They looked elsewhere after he sat.
“Miri, I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m leaving my home, and I’m just going to go wherever I think I should be next. I have a little over four hundred dollars in that bag. What ‘plan’,” Austin put air quotes around the word, “does god have for me? I’ve been all but doomed. I nearly died, and yet I haven’t. I wasn’t saved by god, I was saved by a man named Steven Duncan, and you were made by another such man.” Austin pulled his bag closer to him.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Austin.” I put a hand on his leg. He brushed it off.
“Then say nothing. You have no reason to be concerned. I have no reason to care, either. God, I finally meet someone who I might relate to, and they fucking tell me god is the answer.” Austin pulled his bag onto his lap.
I remained silent. I wasn’t sure what to say to him, but I knew I had an answer. I could think of something if I had the time.
“You have anything else important to say?” Austin asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“I, um,” I began. Austin shook his head.
“You’ve got nothing. I’m leaving.” Austin stood up, took his bag, and walked to the next train cabin.
“We’re both stopping in Mt. Pleasant. I might have some connections for you, Austin. If you hadn’t left.” I sighed. How could a boy be so Godless at such a young age?
I waited on the train for the next hour and a half. Once we got to the stop at Mt. Pleasant, I got off of the train, holding my own bag. I was going to stay just a couple of nights with my parents. They were going to pick me up at this train station. Yet, I couldn’t help but think of Austin. The poor boy has to have somewhere else to go, right?
Then, he was there. I saw his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and he was just walking away.
“Austin!” I called out. He looked back, then quickly walked away. I ran to catch up with him.
“Austin, I can get you connections. I can get you somewhere where you can keep being a student, or whatever you want to do. I want to help you.” I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Why do we exist?” He asked.
I knew I needed to tread carefully here. If I mentioned god, he would just get angry and leave again. “We… Just do. I don’t think anyone has the answer you seek, Austin. I think you need to find your own answer.” I waited to see how he would respond.
“Alright, sure. How do you plan to help me? If I get legally identified, I get put back into Osceola. How are you going to help me?” He turned around.
My phone started buzzing in my pocket.
“Do you have any other family you could stay with during the time? Anyone I could take you to?”
“If there was, I would be going there already. I going to Waterloo. You can either help or you can walk away.” Austin turned to face me.
“I have a call to answer. Let me take that, then I’ll answer you.” Austin waved his hand. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, then hit the green “answer” button.
“Hey, Dad. I’m at the station.”
“Great,” He said, “Where at, exactly?”
“Here, you tell me where you are, and I’ll find you.”
“I’m at the pickup station, like always. Is something wrong?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m here with a kid who has nowhere to go. He’s trying to get to Waterloo. Could we give him a ride?” I was desperately hoping Dad would say yes.
“Some kid? And he’s just going to Waterloo, without a ride? What’s he thinking? Where’s he going?”
“I think it would be better to ask him, honestly. I just know he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” I looked at Austin, and he was leaning against a nearby tree, with his bag at his feet.
“Alright,” Dad said, “You two come over here, and we’ll discuss it further then.”
“Thanks, I’ll see you soon.” I hung up, and walked to Austin.
“Hey Austin, my dad might be willing to drive you to Waterloo. Do you want to come and meet him, see if he will?”
Austin stood up from the tree, and tossed his duffel bag back over his shoulder. “Hell, I might as well. Lead the way.” He motioned for me to go, and I led the way.
We walked to my Dad’s car, in the pick-up zone. He was waiting for us, leaning against the hood of his car.
“Miri! Dear, oh how I’ve missed you!” Dad said, standing up from the car. He took a couple steps toward me, and gave me a solid hug.
“And here’s the man of the hour!” Dad said, releasing me from the hug and turning toward Austin.
Austin stuck a hand out. “My name’s Austin. Yours?”
“Joseph. You can just call me Joe.” Dad took Austin’s hand, and shook it. “So what are you doing away from home, Austin?”
“I was kicked out. I’m going to Waterloo, because it’s a bigger city, and that makes it easier to find a job.” Austin put his bag on the ground next to the feet again. He didn’t seem excited for this talk.
“Aren’t you a bit young to be going out and trying to start a life?” Dad gave him a stern look. It was the one he would use on me when he wanted to know the truth.
“I’m eighteen. I can do as please. Are you willing to get me closer to Waterloo, or no?” Austin asked. His arms were crossed, as if he knew what Dad was trying to do.
“Hell, kid. I suppose I will. But, it’s getting late. Would you like to come stay the night at our home, have dinner, then get you out there tomorrow?” Dad smiled at Austin.
“I’d rather not. A christian household isn’t one for me. I’ll accept help, but I’m not going to stick around. Besides, I don’t know where-” Austin pulled a phone out of his pocket and looked at it, “-5:13 counts as late for you, but it’s not late. Waterloo is only another two hours away, less if traffic is light.” Austin put his phone back in his pocket. “If you want to drive me to Waterloo, I can help pay for gas and such. Besides that, I’ll find another way.”
Dad sighed. “You sure are determined. I don’t see what God has done wrong to you, but fine. I’ll drop Miri off at home, then we’ll go. Dinner’s on you, though. Hop in.”
Dad got into the driver seat. Austin waited to see what seat I was going to get into. I got into the backseat. Austin sat up front.
“I don’t see how you two can have so much faith when one of us sitting in the car was literally created by another human being,” Austin said.
“You know, Austin, sometimes, I wonder the same. Usually, though, I wonder how people can hate another person so much, clone or not. Some people take God a little too literally, because some really unworthy things have been said in the bible before. People are people,” Dad said, shrugging after.
“We’ll talk some more about this later, I think,” Austin said. “You might have something worth bringing to the table.” After that, Austin stayed silent.
We drove for a little while, and Dad dropped me off at home.
“I’ll see you again tonight, sweetheart,” He told me.
“I’ll see you,” I replied. With that, he drove off with Austin, and I entered my home.
“Mom! I’m home!” I called out.
“I’m in the kitchen, dear!” She called back. I went through the front room and into the kitchen.
“Where’s your father?” She asked me, seeing that I was alone.
“He’s doing someone a favor. He won’t be here for dinner.”
Mom wiped her hands off on a small towel. “How rude of me, I didn’t even ask how you are!” Mom came to me and hugged me. “Miri, how have you been?”
“I’ve been pretty good, Mom. But I just had an encounter that kind of confused me. It has to do with where Dad is.” I sat down on the kitchen island, and Mom went back to what she was doing.
“Well, go ahead,” she said.
“I met a boy on the train. He was leaving his home, because his dad was an alcoholic and his mom kicked him out.”
“Wait, was? Doesn’t that mean the dad is still around?” Mom asked.
“No,” I looked at the countertop. “His dad died in a car accident, that almost killed him, too. His name is Austin, by the way. He’s going to Waterloo with Dad, to try and start a new life out there.”
“Isn’t he a bit young for that?” Mom asked.
“He said he was eighteen.”
“Well, good for him, then. It’s always nice to see the youth show some initiative.”
“He also made me question God. I’m not totally sure what to think.”
Mom was probably looking at me. I just know she stopped working with her hands at this point. “Honey, you’re going to be put into tough situations of faith all the time.”
“Yeah, I know. But what if he’s right? I wasn’t created by God, I was created by a man. They could make more of me if they wanted to. Scientists could just become the new gods, couldn’t they?” I looked up at Mom, pleading.
“I suppose they could,” Mom said, “but I don’t think they could completely replace the whole of God. God created something out of nothing. There’s some science rule against that, isn’t there?”
“There is. It’s called ‘conservation of matter,’” I said.
“See? Scientists also can’t create a heaven or a hell, can they?” Mom looked way too confident in herself, I think.
“I don’t know, mom, maybe they can? They can create living people, so what’s to stop them from creating even more later?” I put my hands on my lap, and clasped them together.
“Well, I imagine God himself would come and put a stop to that, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t let people do anything he doesn’t want them to do.” Mom went back to preparing dinner.
“I suppose you’re right,” I told her. “God wouldn’t let us do anything he wouldn’t want us to do.”
Mom nodded. “You feel better now, hun?”
“Yeah, I think I feel better.”
Mom stepped away from the counter, and gave me another hug. “Clone or not, sweetheart, I would love you no matter what. God let you be in my life, and I love him for that too.”