Protest

1199 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

Sitting in my car, I could still hear the shouting of the crowd from at least a couple hundred feet away. I was scared out of my mind, but this was my only shot, and I had to follow through. I grabbed a bandana from the passenger seat and slid it over my face. I tightened it behind my head, and adjusted my nose so it sat on it properly. I sighed a hefty sigh, and touched the scars on my neck. If I wasn’t going to go now, I wasn’t going to go ever.

I pushed the car door open and stepped out. The noise increased drastically. I could hear chants of “unnatural” among other things. I’ve committed to this. I’m doing this. I’m not backing out.

I stepped toward the sound of the crowd. It was a short walk before I actually arrived there, and once I did the noise was practically unbearable. I should have brought ear plugs or something, I swear.

I stood and stared at the edge of the crowd for a long while. They shouted and waved signs that they held above their heads. I’ve committed. I’m going to follow through. Let’s just try and walk past these guys. I can get through this, and life will be better afterward.

I took a deep breath, puffed out my chest, then marched into the crowd. I gently pushed past some people, muttering “excuses me” and “pardon me” and kept moving forward. Most people didn’t actually bother to stop me, which was surprising. This was going to be a lot easier than I thought.

As my confidence was bolstered, I started to move a bit more brashly. I would actively push people aside so that I could keep moving. I didn’t bother with the polite phrases, and just kept moving forward. I was so close, I could almost taste it. I could get my scars removed. I just needed to keep moving.

However, as I got closer to the center of the protest, people wouldn’t move for me as freely as they did before. I was suddenly faced with more people standing in my way and refusing to budge. I had to actually shove them aside to keep moving.

I put my hand onto the shoulder of one person, ready to pull him back and out of my way. He turned around to face me. “Hey, pal, what’s the big idea?” He asked.

“I’m moving past.”

“The fuck you are!” He shouted at me.

He shoved back. I felt myself fall backwards, and into another body. I heard that body grunt on impact, turn around, and push me again. This time, I was able to stop myself before falling into anyone else.

Despite gaining my balance, the first man stepped towards me a swung a first. I tried to block it with my arm, so he just punched that instead of my face. Suddenly, my forearm felt numb.

He followed up with another fist, and I barely slid aside from that one. It grazed the side of my head. Trying not to get punched again, I took my numb arm and swung it toward the side of the man’s head. It hit him squarely. He staggered back, and I tried to take the chance to get away.

“There’s a fucking toy trying to run past!” I heard his voice scream. I kept moving away, and he was separated from me by a couple of bodies at least.

I pulled my hood up over my head. I hoped that it would help me avoid being recognised by anyone else. Yet, even after getting away from the scene, somebody else grabbed my shoulder to stop me.

“Why are you covering your face?” I heard a rough woman say. “Got somethin’ to hide?” This couldn’t end well.

“I’m trying to just walk through. Please let me be.”

“I think you’re hiding something, boy. Take it off!” She demanded.

“I have a right to privacy!” I shouted back. I tried to move past her again. I shouldn’t have come. This was a bad idea.

She grabbed me by my abdomen. “You aren’t going anywhere.” She tore away the fabric on my face. I gasped. She moved her face near my neck.

“Looky here!” She said. I looked around. Others were standing near us. They were all looking at us. “We’ve got ourselves a goddamn doll!”

The crowd roared. They were furious.

“DOLL!”

“FAKE!”

“POPPY!”

“UNNATURAL!”

“BASTARD!”

“COPY!”

The woman was much stronger than I expected. Despite my attempt to struggle after having the bandana torn away, I couldn’t get away. I didn’t want to have to fight again. I didn’t think I had a choice.

She shoved me backward, and I was caught by other men standing in the circle. I was gripped tightly by the two of them and held in place.

“No,wait!” I shouted. It didn’t matter what I said; I was still punched in the face.

I was hit again, and again. My vision began to fade around the edges, and I could feel moisture on my face.

I was tossed to the ground, and people began to step on me, still shouting slurs and chanting “unnatural” at me. Everything was sore, but after a few more hits I just felt numb. I could hear cracks coming from myself, but they felt distant and unreal.

After some more of this, everyone walked away from me. I was still lying on the ground in the middle of a crowd, but no one was paying attention or bothering me.

I tried to reach my pocket, where my phone was. I couldn’t get myself to move my hands. They hurt when I tried. So I just lied there.

I wanted to get my scars removed for this exact reason. I was going to become a free man, because I wouldn’t be discriminated for being a clone.

Wait, what was the new term they came up with? Right, Biostruct. I was going to end my years of being perceived as a biostruct. No more time being called poppy, or doll, or anything like that. I was just going to be Lee, and that would be it.

I think I cried while I was lying there. I really couldn’t tell. It hurt to breath, so I couldn’t truly sob. I also couldn’t really tell if there were tears on my face.

As my vision got smaller and pools of blood widened in what little vision I had left, I gave up. I closed my eyes, and I gave up. The sound of the crowd screaming and shouting began to fade, and I could only hear my own thoughts. I only had a small circle of vision left, so I closed my eyes. At least, I hope I closed my eyes.

I wish I could have spoken one more time. I wanted my last words to be something profound. Although, I couldn’t think of anything really important to say.

Wait, I have something. I tried to whisper something, but I couldn’t get a sound out. I couldn’t even feel my body anymore. I had wanted to say I’m sorry for existing.

Good News

3983 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

I leaned back in my desk. I had finished the article. The story was going to get out, and maybe some people would finally stop being the absolute worst when it came down to it. The people I wrote about didn’t choose to be in the situation they were in. About a million pro-birthers had protested the people that I wrote about, despite those people making it very clear that there shouldn’t be anger and blame over the situation.

I decided to look over the first paragraph before I went to bed, just one more time.

On August 28th, and Ohio school teacher was incredibly surprised to find that she was staring at herself in her classroom. Maria Brunner, 31, recognised herself at the age of sixteen within her classroom. The student, Jane Moldam, wasn’t exactly sure why Brunner wanted to see her after class on only the first day of school. However, once Brunner explained the situation to Moldam, they both were in shock. Brunner had accidently been cloned, and nobody knew about it.

It was a simple paragraph, sure, but it told exactly the story I needed it to. After that paragraph was when I was able to bring some new information.

“I was kind of terrified,” Brunner admitted, “because I didn’t ever remember going to a cloning facility. At first I thought I was just seeing things, but it became very apparent that I wasn’t after only a few seconds. I knew I needed to look into this.” Brunner did exactly that, with the help of Moldam and her parents. The duo discovered that Brunner had gone to donate blood many years prior, and that the blood that was supposed to be used for testing had accidently been taken to the cloning branch of the donation clinic, which collected blood for both cloning and donating. The vials for testing and for cloning are essentially identical, and so it was incredibly plausible that two bottles could get mixed up.

However, you may be wondering how Moldam’s parents didn’t realise that their daughter hadn’t been cloned. “We knew after only a couple of months that Jane hadn’t been cloned properly,” Mrs. Moldam informed me. “A mother’s instinct, you could call it.” However, the couple decided to keep the clone anyway. They decided that the cloning law deeming it illegal to try and be rid of clones for any reason should apply here as well, even if baby Moldam was not the clone the were supposed to receive.

So what did Brunner do with this knowledge? Well, she did what any good teacher should do: she accepted her student for what she is, and continues to teach her despite the circumstance. “Everybody has the right to an education,” Brunner elaborated. “I will teach Jane and any other clones who come into my classroom, no matter what.”

“I had no idea, honestly,” Jane confessed. “My parents didn’t ever really tell me that I was cloned wrong. I knew that I was a clone, but I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. It wasn’t until Miss Brunner showed me a photo of herself at sixteen that I became concerned. I had been bullied over being a clone before, and I didn’t want that to happen at a national level.”

I shook my head. I had already read over more than I had intended to. I needed to go to bed before I lost my mind again, nitpicking mistakes that don’t exist.

With that, I turned off the computer and stumbled away, into my bedroom and onto my bed. The article would release tomorrow, and hopefully people would decide to be a little more humane to clones.

***

I stepped into my grocery store, hoping I wouldn’t be confronted by anyone today. Usually, I’m not recognised by anyone as a writer, but some dick online decided that the world should know that I wrote the Brunner-Moldam article.

I crossed over to the baker section of the store. I was supposed to pick up a cake for my youngest sister’s birthday. She was turning 16, and she just wanted a small party with me, mom, and a couple of her friends. Mom put in me in charge of grabbing a cake.

“Hello, how may I help you?” One cook from behind the counter asked. Or is baker more accurate? I’ll go with clerk.

“Yeah, I need help picking out a cake for my sister. She’s going to be sixteen. She doesn’t want anything fancy,” I informed the clerk.

“Okay, got it. What kind of flavor would she like?” the clerk asked.

I thought for a moment. “Probably vanilla. And easy on the frosting, she’s not a huge fan of sugar.”

The clerk scribbled some notes, nodding. “Vanilla, light frosting. Yeah, I can do that. Anything you want written on the cake?”

“Um. Sure. Actually, no. I can’t think of anything good. If you can think of something witty, though, I’ll give you artistic liberty.” I shrugged at the clerk. I might be a writer, but this was different type of writing.

The clerk laughed anyway. “Yeah, sounds good to me. I’ll let you know if I do think of anything. I think this will ring in to about twenty-two dollars. Come over here, I’ll ring you up.” I did as the clerk said, and followed him over to a cash register.

Yet, as we walked by, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation. “You fake bitch! You have absolutely no right to tell me no!” I looked toward the sound. There was some old man with a raggedy and grey beard harassing a young worker at the store. She was probably just a little over twenty.

“When I tell you to do something, you do it, poppy-bitch!” He said. I cringed when he called her poppy. “One second, clerk, I’ll pay in just a moment,” I told him without looking away from the creep and the girl.

“Let’s just head over to the bathroom, and we’ll-” he said before I pulled his shoulder and twisted him around, facing away from the girl.

“Hey fuckface. Maybe you should rethink.” I gently informed the man.

He laughed. “You fucking dolls think you have rights?” He spat in my face. “Get the fuck out of my face,” he finished.

I grabbed his neck with my other hand. I held two fingers on his neck, on spots where I have scars. “Alright, asshole, you have one chance to re-fucking-think.”

He shook his head, and then tried to headbutt me. I pinched his neck, and he stopped his motion, attempting to catch his breath. He reached his hand up to pull me away. I tightened my grip.

“I warned you. Rethink.” His arms scratched at my own arms, and he was getting more desperate. I looked to the girl. “You okay?”

She nodded in response. “Go get a manager or something,” I told her. She nodded again and hopped away.

I loosened my grip on the man’s neck, so that he could breath. “Don’t do anything dumb,” I told him. He gasped for air, and staggered backward.

“You dirty fucking copies don’t belong in this world. It’s not the way God intended.” The man leaned against the wall, and coughed again.

“Shut up. I’m going to have you dealt with, then I’m leaving,” I informed him.

“You aren’t going anywhere, you pansy-ass. I’m going to have you arrested for assaulting me.”

“Okay, sure. I have two witnesses that you’re lying, one is the girl you were harassing, and the other is the clerk and the stand.” This geezer was delusional if he thought I was going to get arrested, just for being a clone. That’s against the law.

“Oh, good, the manager has arrived. Finally.” I turned back to the old man, who was still wheezing.

“This man was harassing the girl who brought you over here. I stepped in to intervene, and he spit in my face. To keep him from potentially attacking me, I grabbed his neck and held him in place. I let him go once the girl left,” I informed the manager. “Police should be involved.”

“Okay, I’ll handle this, sir. You can leave this to me,” The manager smiled and waved me off. I didn’t trust him.

“I’ll leave once the police are called. This man was sexually harassing another person, and calling her by slurs. One of your employees, no less.”

“Of course, sir,” the manager said. “I’ll have this handled immediately. Please, just continue your shopping.”

“You aren’t going to take any action against this man. You have no plans on doing anything besides letting him go. You’re a real bastard, too,” I told the manager. He frowned when I said that.

“I’m sorry you feel that way but-”

“Shut the hell up. I have more important places to be.” With that, I walked away. I was going to find that girl and make sure she was okay.

“Hey,” I heard from behind me. I turned around, and the girl was catching up to me. “Thanks for helping me back there. I wish I had just called the police instead of getting that manager.”

“You’re fine,” I told her. “I didn’t think the manager would be clonemisic as well.” I started to walk again, and the girl followed beside me.

“So you’re a clone, too?” She asked.

“I am,” I replied. “But I would have helped you either way. That man was just being an asshole.”

“I should get a new job,” She said. “I’m sick of people treating me poorly around here.”

“This happens often?” I asked.

“Not that specific thing, but if I do something someone doesn’t like, they’re quick to call me a doll, or a poppy. Sometimes people just outright refuse to let me help them, when they see my scars. I’ve thought about getting them removed, but… I’m sure you’ve seen the news.”

“I have,” I replied. “I don’t get them removed for a different reasons. Being a clone is part of my identity, and I refuse to just let people walk all over that. I still managed to carve out a life, so I’m satisfied.”

“Good for you,” she said. “I only wish it was that easy for me.”

“It wasn’t easy for me, don’t get me wrong. When I was your age, I had to deal with the same shit. Hell, I have to deal with the shit anyway. It’ll get better, kid.” I was hoping that would inspire her or something.

“You’re right. It will get better, and it’ll start with this!” Suddenly, she took her apron off and threw it onto the ground. “Now I’ll go do something else. I have enough money to last me a few months, at least.”

“You’ve wanted to do that for a long time now, haven’t you?” I asked. I started to lead us to walking out of the store. I would buy the cake elsewhere.

“Maybe. I’m glad I did it, though.”

“So what now?” I asked.

“I’ll probably just search for a new job. One where I hopefully don’t have to interact with anymore clone-racists.” She shrugged, and kept walking with me. Shortly after, we stepped outside.

“It was nice talking to you, but I’ll have to go,” I told her.

“My name is Amanda,” she informed me.

“I’m Allen. Actually,” I fumbled around in my pockets, and found one of my small business cards, “Here’s my card. I’m a writer, for various sources. This might make for a good story one day.”

“Thanks, Allen. I’ll be going now, too. Stay safe,” Amanda said as she walked away from me.

I got into my car, and drove out of the parking lot. It was time to try a new store.

***

Cake in hand, I knocked on the door. My sister opened it. “Happy birthday, Sarah. I’ve got your cake,” I told her.

“Sweet, just bring it into the kitchen,” She replied. I did as such, and found Mom hanging around the kitchen too.

“Hey, Mom. What’s up?” I asked. She shrugged. “I was just waiting for you, honestly. Sarah is chatting with her friends. How did your article go?”

“I think it was a good article. It was published this morning. I haven’t looked at my feedback yet, though. The only thing I know is that some asshole doxxed me, so I was getting phone calls all morning.” I sat at the table, in a chair across from her.

“Excuse me, doxxed?” She asked.

“Someone found out my personal information and leaked it online. Phone number, email address, even my regular address. I should be getting a few letters in a couple of weeks. It’s a bother, but it should pass. It’s actually not the first time I’ve been doxxed.”

“You have to be kidding me,” She replied. “Someone leaked your home address and you aren’t worried?”

I shook my head. “Doxxers just try and use it as a scare tactic. No one is actually going to show up to my door, but I’ll have some angry folks trying to shout at me before that passes too.”

Mom sighed. “You worry me sick. What happens when someone does show up to your doorstep?”

“I’ll either call the police or beat them off of it. That’s the risk of being a high profile writer sometimes.”

“I can’t believe you’re just so calm about this. I would be losing my mind.”

“Then it’s probably a good thing you aren’t online very often. A lot of people get doxxed, even by fans who are just in way over their heads. It sucks, but you either get passed it or move houses.”

At that point, Sarah came into the kitchen. “I read your article,” She said.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“It was a good article. Honestly, though, I can kind of understand why people would be so terrified of that. Imagine, a second you walking around without you knowing,” She said.

“Well, Maria didn’t have to imagine that. She lived it. The point of the article is that you don’t need to be afraid of clones, because clones are still people. That idea of a copy of you running around is scary to them, too, because that means that they might be hated by someone else who they are a duplicate of.”

“Oh. Right. I must have missed the point.”

“Or my last paragraph,” I said, before laughing. Sarah laughed too.

“Well, it is a scary possibility. I don’t know. I know that you’re a clone, and that I’m not afraid of you, but so much of it just seems… I don’t know.”

I patted her shoulder. “It’s okay to ask those sort of questions. Being a clone is kind of a nightmare, especially since we’re rather uncommon.”

“Yeah, there’s only one biostruct for every one-thousand bionats. I learned that in my health course two years ago.”

“Well, it’s a pretty accurate fact. Kudos to that teacher.”

“He didn’t teach it. I read it in the book. He tried to brush past clones as quickly as possible.”

“Of course. I take back my kudos.”

“Either way. I think it was a good article. I’m going to go now,” My sister informed me.

***

At home that night, I was finally ready to see what people had been saying about that article. I booted up my computer, and typed in the title of the article.

The first thing that came up was my article, along with a few other news sites basically restating everything that I had stated. I changed up the search terms, and looked up “teacher student clone.”

Again, my article was at the top. Lucky me, people might actually be reading my article before any other articles and getting the facts there first. However, just below, were articles from sites that I knew to dread. They were alt-right sites denouncing my work as the work of some devil.

With wonderful titles such as “Cloned teacher discovers mistake student” to “Recent clone events make it very clear that cloning is unethical and needs to be stopped,” My article was being slammed by anyone who distrusted any aspect of cloning.

“I’m going to have to clear my history after this bullshit.”

I clicked an article, and glanced through it. It summarised the events of my article, cherry picked some quotes, then claimed that Jane was a blight upon the earth who didn’t need to exist, and that cloning should be stopped.

Worse yet was the comment section. Filled with bionats patting themselves on the back for hating clones, and all of them feeding each other terrible lies. They would tell each other that if they didn’t take back their basically everything, clones would replace all of them.

It was a rabbit hole, with dozens of sites either subtly denouncing clones, or very loudly denouncing clones. Even sites that usually have a liberal bias showed their reserve on the subject, essentially ignoring everything that Jane and Maria were saying!

I rubbed my temples. This was going to give me a headache.

I closed all of the browsers and leaned back in my chair. What was it going to take to get these folks to stop being clonemisic?

“I should just go to bed. I don’t know why I do this to myself all the time.”

As if out of wretched timing, my phone rang. It was probably someone calling to let me know that I’m the worst for writing an article sympathetic to clones. Either way, I picked up.

“Hello, Allen speaking.”

“Um, Hi. This is Amanda. The girl from the store a couple days ago? Sorry if I’m calling at a bad time, I just-”

“You’re fine,” I said. “Thanks for calling.”

“Okay, good. I wanted to tell you about my experiences as a clone. It might be helpful.”

Ruthless

3667 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

“Zero-Zero-Three-Two, report,” A voice shouted from in front of the crowd. I pushed my way past other kids, and stood in front of him.

“Zero-Zero-Three-Two, reporting,” I said to him. He looked down to me.

“Three-Two, you have once again been caught attempting to fight the doctors. You will return to your room, and a harsher punishment will be decided later,” The man replied. I didn’t know his name.

“Fine,” I replied. I turned back to the crowd, and pushed through them again. All of the confused children with buzzed heads looked at me as I passed. There were whispers as I walked away.

“He’ll be first.”

“They hate him.”

“Do you think so?”

“No. No one ever has.”

Their gray clothing merged into one color as I left. Once I had gotten past them all, I didn’t bother to look back.

I walked down the hallway, until I found my room. 0032, the sign next to it listed. I opened the door, stepped in, and sat on the empty ground. The door locks on the outside, so that once I entered the room I couldn’t leave.

I looked to my own grey sleeves. They were torn up to my elbows. I tore off another piece of the fabric from both arms, and tied them together on one side. Then, I threw the cloth over my neck. I tied the cloth closed from under my chin. It was very tight, but it stayed in place.

I smiled to myself. This would piss them off even further. What else could I do? I wondered to myself.

I stood up from the ground. The only light I received was from a dim light bulb that was too far out of my reach for me to do anything with.

Remembering something great, I took off my sock on my left foot. I shook it out to no avail. So I reached in with my other hand and pulled out a small rock. I had stuffed it down with my toes, so that I could do more to anger the people here.

I put my sock back on. I reared the rock back and threw it at the light above. The small rock missed its mark, and returned to the ground. I picked it back up and tried again. After a few more times of this, I eventually did hit the pole-shaped light. It cracked. It took me another few throws to get the rock to hit the bulb again.

Yet, with determination, it struck the bulb one more time, and the bulb shattered all over the ground. The room was suddenly pitch black.

Carefully, I lowered myself to the ground. I gently slid my hand along to find the shards of glass. Once I did, I swept as many as possible into a small pile, then swept them in front of the door. The door opened outward, so whoever stepped in would be in for a rude awakening. I sat next to the door, but just far enough away that the light that came in would make me invisible.

All that was left for this ten-year-old to do was wait.

***

Sometime after I committed to waiting in place, the door did indeed open. “Zero-Zero-Three-Two. Report.”

I stayed still. I stayed silent.

“Zero-Zero-Three-Two. Report!”

I held my breath steady.

“You broke the light. You little bastard.” The voice stepped into the room, and I heard crunching.

“Oh, and you thought you would set some sort of trap for me? Fuck, you aren’t the brightest.”

Shit! He was right. I forgot that it’s only us who don’t get shoes. They still do.

“Come on you little shit. Let’s go,” The voice commanded once more.

The light from the door lit most of the room. All he would have to do to find me was look over. I needed him to step in more.

“Zero-Zero-Three-Two. You have one more chance to get over here before I make your life a living hell.”

I let go of my breath, and dove at the man’s feet. “Shit!” He shouted as he fell. I got off of him quickly, and shut the door, keeping us both inside. Both of us were stuck inside a pitch black room, with no way to tell wear the other was except for sound.

And I was wearing socks.

“Damn it, you fuck!” The man shouted. I skittered to the opposite side of the room. He grunted as he stood. “I’m going to find you, shitstain. Let’s make this easy.”

I heard the man take another step. There was a very loud crunch underneath as he did so. The glass shards had stuck to the bottom of his shoes. Every step he took made crunching sounds, but each crunch got quieter. However, they never really went away. Neither did the heavy breathing of the man.

“Three-Two, this is the ballsy-est you’ve ever gotten. Too bad you’re wasting it on getting a fucking beating.”

I kept the layout of the room in mind as I snuck around the walls. I would get to the door at one point, and I would see if any of the shards were left, or if any were large enough to do anything.

We both took tentative steps. The difference were that the man’s were audible. This unnamed man.

Eventually, I found the door. The man’s footsteps weren’t near me, so I got down and brushed my arms across the floor to feel for a glass shard. There was a large one, one that would do exactly what I needed it to do.

I stood up from my place. “Okay fuckface, I’m by the door.”

Pounding. Footsteps pounded toward me. I dashed aside, and ran behind where I thought the man was. I heard him hit the wall and swear. I danced to where the sound came from, and jumped onto his back. He reached at me, but it was too late. I knew exactly where everything on him was. I found his throat quicker then he found the arm that I was using to hold myself onto him. The glass shard found his common carotid artery quicker than his other arm could lift itself to try and stop me.

I heard the man gurgle as he fell. I breathed heavily. He might be fine. He might not die. I should be worried now, right? That is what happens when you do something terrible, right? You go crazy and feel bad? You care about what’s happening?

I crouched down and felt the warm body beneath my fingers. I didn’t care about him. I wanted him dead. I was furious with whomever he was.

I pulled my hand away from the body. It felt moist. I wiped it away on my pants. However, it just got moist again. I was bleeding.

Only a couple more minutes passed before someone else showed up. They opened the door, saying the familiar phrase “Zero-Zero-Three-” before cutting it off to shout “Jesus Christ!”

The new man bent down and put his fingers on the body’s neck, the opposite side from where I stabbed.

“You killed him,” he said as he lifted his fingers away.

“Good,” I responded. “Good!”

***

My back was killing me. It was also poorly bandaged, and I could feel the soaked rags covering my back. I was in the mess hall again, with all of the other kids. Specifically, I was with my friends Zero-Zero-Four-Two and Zero-Zero-One-Eight. One-Eight was a bit older than I was, but Four-Two was a bit younger. I called Four-Two “Fort” and One-Eight “Nate.” They called me “Ruth.” Nate told me it was short for the word “Ruthless,” and he thought it sounded better than what I used to be called. I used to be called “Threet.”

“Ruth, you know that they’re going to just get rid of you, right?” Fort asked.

“I know. They are going to kill me anyway. They are going to kill all of us at one point. Nate is the closest one to his own death. He only has a few years left.”

“Jesus, Ruth,” Nate replied, “That’s pretty intense. I mean, I know you just killed a man, but christ.”

Fort and Nate had plates of food ready, and were eating. I had no plate. Fort and Nate were watching for chances to slip me a couple bites of food.

“If they wanted me gone that badly,” I said, “They would have killed me already. Clearly, I’m valuable to them. I have something special that they want.”

Nate shook his head. “Yeah, your organs. You haven’t slept on a bed in weeks, and you just killed a person. Like, you’re fucking intense. I think that makes your heart tougher or something. Like, there’s no way they’d want to pass that up.”

I shrugged. Fort slid a piece of slodge my way. I scooped it up and packed it into my cheeks. Fort spoke up, “I don’t really think that any adults could use a ten-year-old heart, anyway. I think that they need, like, bigger hearts.”

I shrugged again.

“Ruth, you know you’ve got some huge bags under your eyes, right? Did you even sleep last night?” Fort asked.

I smiled at him. “Not really. Ten lashes can do that.”

Fort and Nate exchanged a glance. “This is the third time this month, Ruth. There’s no way you’re doing alright while you bleed from your back consistently.”

My smile widened at Nate. “The doctors can’t properly check my health or take any blood from me while I’m at risk like this.”

Nate frowned in response. “Yeah, sure, but it also means that you can’t do anything to protect yourself if you’re feeling so weak,” Nate stood up, “Let me see your back.”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. But if you take off the bandages, be ready to put on new ones.”

Nate tugged at my shirt, lifting it up from the bandages. He gently placed his fingers upon my back. I winced at the contact.

“Ruth, look at my fingers.” I did so. His index and middle finger were both red. “You’re still bleeding right now. You’re bandages haven’t done anything.”

Again, I shrugged. “That just means the doctors can’t take any blood while I’m at risk.” Nate shook his head.

“Damn it, Ruth,” Fort said. “If you die, then who’ll keep the other kids from picking on Nate and I? You’re lucky you’re alive right now.”

Nate piped in, “If that whip had hit your spine just right, it could have paralysed you.”

I guess he had reason to be worried. They were kind of nerds. However, Nate was the one who told me about our scars and our common carotid arteries. That’s also how I knew where to stab the man last night.

“Even if I do die, Fort, anyone who has the balls to pick on you will regret it,” I wasn’t sure if I was right, but I certainly hoped I was.

“You think your legacy is that strong, Ruth?” Fort asked.

I thought about what he had asked for a moment. “Honestly, not really. But now that you’ve brought it up, I’ll make real fucking sure that it does.”

Fort looked away from me. Nate didn’t. “Ruth, you aren’t going to die.”

I turned to Nate. “We all are. Some sooner than later.”

Nate closed his eyes, and hit his fist on the table. “Fucking damn it, Ruth. Fucking fuck, fuck,” he murmured. “You aren’t going to die.”

I sighed. He was trying to make himself feel better. I was going to die, and he knew it.

“Wait. You’re right, Nate.”

Nate looked back at me. “What.”

“Yeah, I’m not going to die. I’m going to get the fuck out of here. I’m running away from this place. Tonight.”

Fort suddenly shot up. Nate put his head in his hands, but not enough to keep him from looking at me.

“You’re crazy,” Nate said.

“So?” I responded.

“You’re not going to get out of here. Nobody does.”

“I’ll be the first.”

“If anyone can do it, it’ll be Ruth,” Fort cut in.

“Fort believes in me, Nate. Come on, I’ll do it and you know it.”

Nate laid his head down on the table. “Not with your back the way it is, Ruthless. You’ll collapse who-knows-where, and you’ll be taken in and harvested before you can fully die.”

Fort shook his head. “Dude, Ruthless killed a dude with a fucking light bulb. A. God. Damned. Light bulb.”

Nate shook his head. “He got lucky. He’s not going to be able to get out of this fucking place. Ruth, you can’t seriously be considering this, right?”

I smiled at Nate. “I know where the windows are. I know how to get to one. I’m going to get out of here.”

Nate covered his face in his hands. “Oh god.”

Fort beamed. “Ruth is going to get out of here, no matter what.”

I patted Fort’s hand. “And once I do,” I said, “You two are going to have to tell everyone about my legacy.”

***

“So you’ve finally decided to submit to a check-up, Zero-Zero-Three-Two? Good. I was worried that your lashes might disable you,” A doctor said to me. He pulled my bandages off of me, and threw them away. “Christ, you’re still bleeding some amount. How did you even sleep last night?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“This will take about a week of healing before I’ll be able to check on you properly, but it will shorten the time it takes to get you set up for a check-up.” The doctor began to wrap some clean and new bandages around me. “You’d best not perform any rebellious acts while your back is healing. I’ll try to talk them into getting you at least a mat to lay on, and feeding you properly during this process. That doesn’t mean I’m making any promises.”

“I didn’t expect any,” I replied.

“Good,” he said, “Then I believe you should be ready to leave. Remember, rest and don’t perform any strenuous activities.”

“Sure, doctor,” I replied.

“Goodbye, Zero-Zero-Three-Two.” As the doctor bid me farewell, I walked out of his office, down the hallway, and into a closet. It was a janitorial closet that I knew remained unused most of the time. The odds of someone getting to me in there were not very high. I just needed to wait for night time to come, then I would get into the doctor’s office and break out through the window in his office.

I entered the closet, and climbed into a small cabinet on the ground. It was mostly empty, save for some packets of something. I assumed they were some kind of cleaner. I took them out and put them on top of the cabinet.

I sat inside of the cabinet, and that was it. No one knew of my plan, and no one knew I was going to escape this way. I just needed to stay awake, and get out when I could.

Seconds turned into minutes, then into hours. I didn’t know how much time was actually passing inside of that cabinet, but it was surprisingly comfortable.

At least, it was comfortable enough to fall asleep inside. I woke up and panicked, hitting my head on the top of the cabinet. I then shoved a door open and ungracefully slid out. I looked around the dark closet. I could only see a dim light coming from under the door. So, I crawled over to it to have a peak.

Underneath, I could see that most of the lights in the hallway were off. The only one that was on was the one inside the doctor’s office. The light creeped out of the open doorway.

I groaned and let go of my head. It was already on the ground, so it just turned inward. Now I had to wait for the doctor to leave his office. His window was the safest to leave from, because he had a bush outside to keep me hidden, and then another one was a few yards away. I could run from one bush to the other, then sneak away from there.

But of course, the doctor had decided to not leave yet. I watched underneath the door for a few minutes, waiting. Nothing changed. Instead, I decided to sneak out for just a short while to see what was going on in the office.

I stood up, and carefully opened the door. It slid open rather quietly, and closed just as quietly. I carefully snuck to the office. I took a peek inside, and only saw one person. It wasn’t the doctor. It was a different man. He sat there, as if waiting for someone. I assumed it was the doctor.

“Zero-Zero-Three-Two. Come in. I’m glad to see you. You’ve kept me waiting for quite a while,” The man spoke, without ever looking up at me. I stepped into the office.

“I knew you weren’t actually submitting to a doctor’s appraisal. You’re way too stubborn for that kind of living, aren’t you? No, you were plotting something. A janitor found you asleep in that closet a few hours ago. He wouldn’t have even checked if you hadn’t put the mop cleaner on top of the cupboard. Rookie mistake,” he said. He was examining a knife.

“Hmm,” I replied.

“So, what was your plan, really? I’m dying to hear it,” he said. I stared at him, silent.

“Don’t feel like talking, huh? That’s alright. I was going to give you ten more lashes either way. Fuck the doctor’s orders.”

I closed the door behind me, and sighed.

“Ballsy, kid. I don’t know what you think you’re going to be doing, but I can tell you you’re wrong.” The man stopped leaning against the counter he was on, and stood up straight.

“If you are going to kill me, do it,” I demanded. The man looked surprised. “Kid, you are worth over one-hundred thousand dollars. Do you think I’m going to throw that kind of cash aside? Not today, bucko.” He took his knife and put it into his other hand.

“Then why did you bring a knife?” I asked. He had to have a reason for having it here, even if it wasn’t to kill me.

“I like knives. Now, let’s get the fuck out of here.” The man put his knife into a sheath at his side. He walked over to the door and opened it. He stepped out and waited for me to follow him.

I followed him very closely, near the knife that he had. I had part of a plan: I was going to take his knife, and cut him somewhere. I just needed to think of where.

Then, something that Nate had told me a long while ago echoed in my mind. You know that little string at the back of your foot? It’s called the achilles tendon. I saw a dude cut his own one time. The fucking thing curled up into his leg so fast, he couldn’t do anything about it. The doctor told me he had to open the back of his entire leg to pull it back down and reattach it. At the time, I told him he was being gross and to talk about something else. Now I’m glad he hadn’t.

In a swift motion, I grabbed the knife from its sheath. “What the-” the man exclaimed as I grabbed his ankle and cut at the back of his foot. Nate was right. The string just flew up into his leg, and the man fell down.

“FUCK!” He shouted. I dashed away from him, back to the doctor’s office. The man kept swearing and shouting as I ran.

Once inside the office, I climbed onto the counter and pushed the window up. I slid out of it, and landed inside the bush. It gave me small cuts and scrapes as I went down. Once on the ground, though, I looked for anything that might see me. There was nothing outside. So, I crawled underneath the bush, and then ran to the other one. I dived below that one too. Once I passed under the bush again, I got up and ran away.

I ran long and hard into the night. I had to stop sometimes, though, because I would get tired. The night was dark, and I couldn’t tell what was around me most of the time. Rocks could easily be someone curled up and hiding. A rustle in the grass could be some dangerous animal. And the other noises, I didn’t even know what to make of them. I had never been out during the night for long enough to familiarise myself with everyone.

After some amount of time was wasted by resting, I saw someone. I looked around for somewhere to hide, but I didn’t see one. There were no bushes, rocks, or even trees around. Just the knee-high grass.

“Hey you!” The figure yelled at me. I froze in place. “What are you doing out so late?”

I said nothing. I just turned to the figure and stared.

“Are you okay?” it asked.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to the figure’s question. I hadn’t heard anyone but Nate and Fort ask that before.

The figure approached me, walking at a brisk pace. “Can you talk? What’s your name?” It asked. Now that the person was closer, I could tell it was a girl. I hadn’t seen one in a long time.

I nodded at the girl. “Jesus, you like you got into a fight with a badger. Let’s get you out of here.” I nodded at her again.

“What’s your name, kid?” she asked me once more.

“You first,” I replied. The girl grunted. “Alright. My name is Ruth.”

I blinked a few times. “So is mine.”

She gave me a weird look. “What kind of boy is named ‘Ruth?’”

Limited Scope

4337 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

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.”

Second Son of the Second Son

5568 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

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 mo 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 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 our, 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.

Dear,

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.

Signed,

[scribbles]

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.”

Vessel

7630 words. A part of the “Proxy” series of stories, a series of stories about clones and their lives

Home. Here I am again. I looked up at my house, and imagined prison bars in all of the windows. The thought wasn’t very humorous. Maybe I was being a bit unfair, as my house wasn’t poor or anything. I was angry because now that the holidays have come, I have to see my sister again.

I stepped into the home, begrudgingly. I shed off my jacket, and attempted to shed off the negative feelings that come with seeing my sister. It only worked on a superficial level.

I hung up the coat on one of the hooks, took off my shoes, and placed them below the hook. I forced a smile out of my face, and went up the stairs near the door. I heard that if you force yourself to smile, you would be happier. I wasn’t sure how true that was.

Either way, I had about two hours to be in my room. Maybe two and a half, if I pretend that I’m doing homework. Or if I actually do some homework, for Christ’s sake.

I perished the thought when I remembered that I didn’t have any homework. It was the middle of winter break, and I had already done all my homework at the start of the break. The only reason I had been allowed to go out today was because my friend, Holly, had planned for us to go out today a few weeks ago, and had spent an amount of money reserving a small theater room for the two of us. She knew that I would be stressed about all of this, and had tried to soothe me. It worked. A little.

I walked down the hallway a short amount, then entered through the first door on the left, into my bedroom. I walked in, politely shut my door, then flopped onto my bed. I took a pillow, put it over my face, and groaned.

I spent the next two hours in my room, screwing around with various things. Under normal circumstances, I was very good at doing productive things. Normal circumstances, of course.

“Veronica, come down now! We’re going to get Victoria from the airport now.” I heard my mother call to me. I stood up from the bed.

“Go on ahead, Mother. I’m just going to get a little ready before I prepare the house for her a little more,” I shouted back down. I heard mother and father speak downstairs, then the door opened and shut.

“They’re gone. Perfect. My creators have left to go get the only reason I’m here at all. God, I wish Holly could be here at least. These are going to be the most stressful five days of my life.” I laughed. “I say that every year. It’s always true.”

I looked at myself in the mirror, and at the scars on either side of my neck. I used to receive shots in both of my common carotid arteries, the ones that directly connected my heart and my brain. I haven’t needed one since I was six. It’s been about eleven years since I’ve last received a stabilising shot.

I usually don’t care who looks at the scars, but Victoria despises seeing them. Thus, I have to wear a scarf around the house so that she doesn’t have to see them. So, I put on my scarf, taken off of a table that also held my computer, and wrapped it around my neck. I used to have an uncomfortable and itchy one that my parents gave me, but Holly bought me a much nicer one for a late Christmas gift a few years back. The worst part about the scarf they gave me is that they could have easily afforded to buy me a nice one.

I didn’t like wearing makeup, so I didn’t bother using any foundation to cover up the scars, either. Although, my scarf would probably have rubbed it all off anyway.

Looking in the mirror, I adjusted my scarf. By the time I was done, you would have had to have super vision to see my scars. I took a second more to admire myself in the mirror. My black hair was cut just below my chin, and it contrasted well with my light skin. The best part of my face, in my opinion, were my eyes. Green as green could be, and they had little patterns in them that could keep me staring at them for hours. They could keep anyone staring at them for hours, I think.

I took one last look at my safe haven. My bed was in the corner, with its blankets crumpled and loosely spread out. My dresser leaned against the wall opposite of the foot of my bed. It had various belongings strewn on top of it, and some photos taped to the wall above it. My closet doors remained closed next to it, and my mirror was on the back of the door. My table and computer were rested next to my bed. I opened my door and left.

I went back down the stairs. I walked into my kitchen, which was across the way from the front door, and checked on the oven. I opened it and looked at what was inside. Lasagna. I hate lasagna.

With a sigh, I shut the oven door. It wasn’t finished cooking.

The only reason we were making lasagna tonight was because my sister simply adores lasagna. She acts like she can never get enough, and makes dumb jokes about being just like a particular cat. That comic isn’t even funny!

Pushing those thoughts aside, I started setting the table. I took out four plates, set them at four respective seats, and got silverware to match each. I didn’t have to set things down, but I knew that if we ate quickly enough, I wouldn’t have to sit around and listen to Victoria drone about all the things she doing, and all the traveling that she’s done, and blah blah blah.

I took a few glasses out of the cabinet, and set one for every seat just as before.

Then, I noticed that the flower pot in the center of the table was running a bit low on water. So, I picked up the pot with newly shaking hands, took it to the sink and poured water into it. My hands shook violently as water filled the jar, and my vision began to blur. What a wonderful time to start crying. They could all get back at any moment.

“Good hell!” I shouted at myself. I turned off the water, put the flower pot back, rubbed the tears out of my eyes, then folded my arms across my abdomen and held them tight. I was going to get myself under control before anyone could see me. I was going to be strong. This was the last year that I needed to do this. After this, I could leave and the world would accept it. One year is all would take. One single, god-forsaken year.

I took a few deep breaths, and let my arms loose. I took a tissue from the counter and wiped my eyes with it. I properly threw the tissue away, then turned to look back at the table. Perhaps this would convince my family that their accidental creation is worth their time.

I went back toward the door, and waited for everyone to come back. I wasn’t sure when they’d be back, but I knew that I needed to stay at the door for when they arrived.

After a couple minutes of waiting around the entryway, I finally heard the car pull into the driveway. I felt like it took them a bit longer than usual to get back from the airport, but I couldn’t tell. Maybe they were avoiding me.

Father opened the door, let everyone in, and all of them hung up their coats and took off their shoes.

“Veronica. I thought you said you were getting ready. Why didn’t you put on anything nicer?” Father glared at me.

“My clothes are presentable. I was just putting on my scarf. I also set the table, if it makes it any better.” I had my hands behind my back, in order to look polite. It also doubled as a way for me to grip myself tightly. It helped me relieve stress, when I grabbed things harshly.

Mother sighed. “Steven, dear, just let it be. It could be worse.” She walked past me and into the kitchen without saying a word. Father glared at me as he passed, and Victoria pat my head as she entered the kitchen.

“Good girl,” she said.

Victoria was wearing a knee-length dress. Her hair was jet-black and, in curls, fell into her shoulders. Her lips were a cherry red, her eyeliner alone could fly her into the distance, and her eyelashes extended past what they should naturally. Her eyes only fell into my vision for an instant, but there was no mistaking the vivid green that they held.

I followed them into the kitchen. I waited for them all to take a seat, and then took the one that was left over. “Oh! I forgot to ask how your classes have been. How have they been, Victoria?” Mother smiled at her.

“They’ve been swell. College is absolutely amazing. It’s got a great faculty, and good people. I love it.” She smiled her perfect smile. I hid my disdain.

Father grinned at her. “I’m glad. It was a good choice to send you there. You’ll be a fine doctor.”

“I think the lasagna is pretty close to done,” I mentioned. Everyone looked at me. “I- I checked on it a little earlier. I just don’t want us to get so caught up in conversing that we forget.”

My mother stood up and went to the oven. She looked at it, nodded, and then pulled it out with some oven mitts. “You were right, Veronica. We still have to wait for it to cool, though.” She sat back down, and the table was awkwardly quiet. Par for the course.

Victoria was the one who broke the silence. “So what’s been new you with you guys, Mom and Dad?”

Father shrugged. “Not a lot, if we’re being honest. We work, we eat, we rest. Sometimes we go out, and that’s always fun.”

“Until your father finds the wine on the menu. Then I’ve got to drag him back home.” Mother laughed, and so did everyone else. I didn’t see why alcohol was such a point of humor. It’s actually ruined so many lives.

“That was one time, Debra!” Father said, in between a couple of chuckles. “You’ll never let me live it down, will you?”

Mother has made references and jokes to this story for a few years now. It’s basically her only conversation piece. If they would ever bother asking me anything, I could easily bring more to the table than they’ve seen in months.

“Have I told you the story about how I pranked Rachel?” Victoria giggled the entire sentence.

“Is it the one when you convinced her that it was 10 A.M. when it was six, and that she had almost missed a final?” Father was starting to laugh himself a bit as well.

“No, no. This one’s better. I gave her a twinkie filled with mayo instead of cream!” Victoria roared with laughter. Father followed suit, and mother only laughed a bit. She didn’t care much for that sort of humor. I also wasn’t a fan of cheap pranks that Victoria had read about online.

The conversation went like so for a few more minutes, before Mother went and got the lasagna ready. We all served ourselves up some, and had dinner. Just like prophecy, as Mother put lasagna on Victoria’s plate, Victoria couldn’t help but say “I just can’t get enough of this stuff. I’m a real life Garfield, aren’t I?”

Dinner passed. I choked down a few bites of lasagna before I lost my appetite for the stuff. I continued just drinking water for the rest of the meal. My parents and Victoria gave me looks once each of them had realised I had stopped eating. Father’s was a look of disgust. Mother’s was one of disappointment. Victoria’s was a look of quiet scorn.

Everyone finished their meals, and they all got up to clean off and put away their plates.

“Don’t worry about cleanup, guys. I’ll handle it. You just go on ahead and enjoy yourselves.” After I made that statement, everyone else looked at each other. They were silent for a moment. Eventually, Father shrugged.

“Fine by me. Let’s go.” He put his plate back down and walked away, through a door connecting the kitchen and the living room. Victoria and Mother exchanged a glance before also leaving. I didn’t see what their glance conveyed.

I was glad to do the dishes. It meant that I would have an actual chance to simply be alone. I wouldn’t have to stress about Victoria for just a little while, or my parents. It would just be me and simple manual labor.

I loosened the scarf’s tight grasp upon my throat. I didn’t take it off completely, however. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

I started my cleaning duty by taking the leftover scraps of lasagna out of the pan, and placing it into some tupperware. Then, I took the leftover dishes and dropped them into the sink. Before washing them, I took a moment to clean off the table. After cleaning the table, I cleaned off the plates. I took my sweet time, for both my benefit and theirs.

I finished the last bit of dish cleaning, and put the dishes away.

I walked up to the door, but not past it. I peeked in, and saw my family laughing and talking in the front room. I tightened my scarf around my neck.

So do I go in or not? I could probably go up to my room without any problem. If I went up, I might get into some amount of trouble. If I went into the living room with my family, I’ll hate it the entire time. Although, would I really get into trouble? I did just clean up the dishes, so maybe they’d be willing to forgive. Also, wouldn’t Mother and Father want to spend time with their beloved Victoria without a reminder of their poor choices?

Honestly, there were more pros to going into my room than there were cons. At worst, my computer would be taken away for a while, but I’d get it back once school started again, at the very most. There really wasn’t much risk.

I took a couple of confident steps past the front room door- not too slow and not too fast. Victoria made eye contact with me for a moment, but made it look as if she hadn’t seen me. At least I could count on her for that much.

Once I got back into my bedroom, I tore the scarf away from my neck, and threw it onto my table. That’s where it normally stayed.

I sat down at that same table and turned on my computer. It was a rather nice computer, and it didn’t take a very long time to start up. That was the best part, because it meant that if someone started up the stairs, I would hear them and turn off the computer before they’d even make it to the top.

A second later, I had an internet browser open and started up a messenger to contact Holly. I would have just messaged her on my phone, but it was programmed to be unable to connect to the internet and it had a limited amount of texts. Sometimes, though, if I plugged it directly into a router, it could connect to the internet and download things. I have a couple of games that don’t need any online connection, for when I get bored.

Hey Holly.

Holly replied in an instant. She probably got back to me on her fully-capable phone. Hey! What’s up?

Yeah, Victoria has been WONDERFUL. We had lasagna for dinner. She made the same Garfield joke as always. If I had been any more spiteful when I typed that message, I might have broken some keys.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be. I sent that message, then quickly sent another. Thanks for the scarf. It’s so much comfier than what I used to have to wear.

Oh yeah! I’m glad. I remember feeling how rough that scarf was. Holly sent that message, then immediately sent the next. It’s as if they sought out the worst one they could to buy.

I laughed. I wouldn’t put it below them.

I wish I could be there with you. Although, if we’re being honest, I’m kind of surprised that they even let you hang out with me today.

The moment that I had read the message, I started typing furiously, to get my reply out as quickly as possible. They used to not, remember? It wasn’t until the sixth grade that my teacher sympathized with me and gave me a printed copy of my rights. It took me awhile to get through all of it and figure out what all of it meant, but it made my life so much better. Sometimes they use it against me, however, as the paper demands I be a part of holiday activities, but it didn’t say that I could choose to avoid them. I don’t know what the logic is behind their spite.

Holly’s ‘typing’ icon stayed up for a bit. I waited for her reply, almost nervous.

Mr. Klepper was always a pretty liberal teacher, now that I think about it. That was the year we became friends, I remember.

I smiled. I think she had spent her time choosing every word carefully, to remind me of the good times. Holly sent another message.

I think he set us up as partners during some assignment for that reason. I think he knew that I was too naive to have any reason to hate you. Honestly, I’m so glad it happened, and I’m glad we’re still friends.

After she sent that, her typing icon showed for a moment, then disappeared. That’s when I took the opportunity to reply.

I’m still a human. I still have feelings and thoughts. I’m glad that Klepper cared. I’m glad that you care, too.

I sat back, and breathed a sigh. It felt nice to hear Holly say that, and it felt even better to tell her the same.

Holly sent me another message.

Once you’re 18, I’m going to take you away from that place.

My eyes started to blur up a little. I rubbed them, then wrote a reply. Thanks, Holly. It means a lot. I sent that message, then typed up another. I’m going to go to bed now. I cleaned up after dinner to get away from my guardians, then just went up to my room instead of hanging around. I ought to get to sleep before they get suspicious.

Holly started replying, but then her typing icon disappeared. The typing icon appeared for another moment before disappearing. Finally, Holly sent a message that simply said I’ll see you later. Goodnight.

I shutdown my computer, then went to bed and had a very loose dream. It was somewhat based on a memory I had forgotten, where Mother had kissed me before I went to bed a few years ago. After the dream, I woke for a moment. I had enough time to think about how strange it was that I could still remember that, before I swiftly returned to sleep.

*****

I woke the next morning to the sounds of cooking and discussion. It seems like everyone else had woken up before me.

I climbed out of bed, put on some clothes, then shuffled out of my room. I crossed the hall and entered the bathroom. Once I was done there, I went downstairs.

The first person I saw was my Mother. She looked at me, then quickly started to push me back up the stairs. “Veronica, you forgot your scarf,” she said with her matronly voice

“Oh. Right,” I mumbled. I took groggy steps back upstairs and to my room.

I re-entered my room and tossed my scarf on over my neck before returning to the base floor.

Once I was downstairs, I directly entered the kitchen. With absolutely no delay, I saw Victoria at the table. She didn’t look very satisfied with me. Neither did Father, who was sitting next to her. Mother had to turn around to see me. She frowned.

I walked past them, and starting preparing a plate of breakfast for myself.

Mother spoke before anyone else. “Veronica. You didn’t put your scarf on very well.”

I yawned and rubbed my eyes before responding. “Sounds about right.” The words had left my mouth before I could revise them.

Father stood up at hearing that. “Veronica, you are going to go back upstairs right now and put that scarf on right before I do it for you.”

I sighed, put down my plate and turned around. Looks like I was going to commit to this. “Really? Look, I’m just going to grab a breakfast- thanks for cooking it, by the way- then head back up to my room. You making a huge scene is causing a lot more discomfort than two small scars.” I wasn’t lying, either. The scars were just small and jagged circles, probably no wider than a dime. At a distance, you couldn’t even tell they were there. I turned back around and kept preparing my plate.

“Veronica, you are not going to disobey me. Now.” I could hear Father gritting his teeth. He liked to act real big and threatening, but I had learned more about discipline hanging around Holly’s house than I ever had here. Father is all bark and no bite. When he does bite, it’s hardly even a nibble.

“Kay. I’m going upstairs right now.” I had finished preparing my meal by the time Father had finished making his statement. He sat back down, and I left the kitchen with my plate. I always had breakfast in my room, and so it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise to anyone that I would walk downstairs in a sleepy state, get some food, then leave.

Once in my room, I started up my computer. It was on in a moment, and I opened up a desktop link to a news site, and watched their morning video. See, my family thought that because I did sports, I didn’t care for the news or reading. They were desperately wrong. I actually had just as good of grades as Victoria got, except I also participate in so much more than she does. I’m basically a better version of her, except I’m not the favored one.

I watched the news and ate my breakfast for a couple of minutes before I heard a knock on my door. I paused the video, put down my plate, then opened the door. It was Victoria. I didn’t bother to fix my scarf.

“Ronnie, come on. Do you really have to make my short trip here so hard? I’m only going to be here for five days. Couldn’t you just put on a nice act while I’m here?” Victoria was pleading with me. She was begging me to make her time here more enjoyable.

“What, are you jealous of me? Is it my youthful beauty, or the muscle I have that you never built?” I knew taunting her wasn’t going to help anything, but it was too easy. “I already told you, there’s nothing you can do about my existence. I am here. Your parents chose to bring me into this world because you were sick and close to death. It isn’t any of our faults that I’m here now. It is all of your faults that you choose to make a big deal out of me. Now, are we going to have this same argument every year, or are you just going to finally move along and accept me?”

Victoria closed her eyes. “Unacceptable.”

I responded quickly, “Okay, maybe making fun of you at the start was a poor choice. I’m sorry for doing that, but everything else that I said still stands. I exist, whether by choice or not.”

Victoria stepped into my room, and adjusted the scarf on my neck, in a delicate fashion. Looks like she couldn’t bear to hurt a younger her.

Once she was done with my scarf, Victoria spoke again. “Veronica. You know how I feel about you. I know how you feel about yourself and about me. Can’t we just compromise?”

I laughed. “You know that we’re too far beyond that. Your idea of compromise is that I sit around and be an obedient little girl while you don’t change anything about your behavior or thoughts. That isn’t compromise and you know it. You couldn’t have gone through nearly five years of college without learning what compromise is.”

Victoria sighed. “Okay, fine. Then how about you just put on your scarf for dinner tonight, and I’ll talk Mom and Dad into letting you stay up here for lunch. Does that sound fine?”

I tapped my chin. “Hmm… That’s a tempting deal, but not quite what I’m looking for. How about I wear my scarf around, and you convince them to let me go to Holly’s tomorrow. That sounds like a fine deal, right? It’s the best deal, I say. You don’t have to hang around me for an entire day, and I get to go spend time with some people who actually appreciate my presence.”

Victoria looked at me with wide eyes. “If you’ve been sitting on this idea for so long, why didn’t you ever recommend it before?”

Once again, I started my answer with laughter. It was more nervous laughter this time. “You think that they’d listen to me? I’ve tried to convince them let me spend these days while you’re here at Holly’s before. They always get indignant and angry, for what seems like no reason. They demand that I stick around, then get angry when I don’t.”

Victoria looked off, as if thinking deeply. “Fine. I accept your deal. Don’t think I like you, though.”

I shrugged, and almost made a biting remark. It took some effort, but I restrained. “Alright, then sis. I’ll see you at dinner. Unless you want to talk them into not having me hang around then, too.” I winked at her for added effect.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. They’ll do what they like, and you can deal with it.” Victoria crossed her arms, turned around, and stepped out of my room.

“Hey Vicky, maybe if you slam my door, you can make it seem like you just yelled at me, then make the lunch thing a ‘punishment.’” I smiled at her while she kept her hand on the door. My hands were behind me. She kept her back to me. Then, in an instant, she turned around and slammed the door shut. However, I still saw the surprise on her face for the short instance where it was visible.

I sighed as she left. “That was easier than I thought it would be. Maybe she’s just impatient and doesn’t care?” With that aside, I sat back down at my desk to eat my breakfast and watch the news. My hands were lightly shaking, and my heart was pounding.

“Every time we have that chat, I still get so nervous.” I hit play on the news, and picked up my plate.

“Just last night, another reproduction riot occurred at the local clinic. There were no direct assaults, however, one family leaving the clinic with their newborn had rotten tomatoes thrown at them. No charges have been pressed as of yet, but a couple of police officers are still searching for the culprits. The other officers either abandoned the effort or ignored the offense.

“Unfortunately, more of them ignored the offense than didn’t. If you are the family who was assaulted, I personally would like to reach out to you and wish you well.”

Then, a much angrier man cut into the woman’s audio. “I don’t give a damn about them! These poppies don’t deserve to have a-”

I paused the video and closed the browser, sighing. “Great. This again. God, where do these people get off, anyway?” I stuffed the rest of my food in my face, then went downstairs to clean my plate off. I didn’t worry about my scarf, as Victoria had already handled it.

“Veronica, come here.” Father’s voice rumbled in the living room as I passed. My heart began to fervently pound my ribcage.

“One- One moment, father. I- I’m just going t-to clean off my plate.” My voice shook. There was no way this could end up well. I think I got a little too confident while I was upstairs. This could not end well.

I rinsed my plate off in the sink, then went into the front room. Politely, I held my hands at the back of my waist. Tightly.

“Victoria here has decided that you deserve an early present, since she forgot to get to you anything. So, she asked if it would be okay to let you spend the night at Holly’s house tonight before returning after lunch tomorrow. I thought it was a very kind and generous offer from her, so I’m allowing it.” He beamed proudly at his daughter. She returned the smile, but then glanced at me again. She looked worried, and it almost looked sincere

“Thank you, Victoria. I’ll check in with Holly right now to see if it’s alright with her family.”

Mother spoke up hastily. “No need to, dear. We’ve already checked for you. Feel free to pack a bag and head over.”

I held back a smile. I tried to remain neutral. “I won’t need a bag, I’ve left enough clothes over there. I’ll just get my coat and shoes and go.”

Father shrugged. Mother gave a forced smile. Victoria stared at the floor.

“Goodbye, everyone. And thank, you, graciously.” I smiled at them, graciously. It was a legitimate smile, unlike other times before.

I walked out of the front room, into the entrance, then put on my coat and shoes before I left.

The cold, winter air outside was refreshing. I liked feeling it enter my lungs. It would have been a very refreshing walk to Holly’s house, but her dad was already in his car, in front of the house.

I walked up to the car. “You got here really fast, Rob. I only just got permission to leave.” Robert motioned for me to climb into the front seat. I did as such, then quickly realised that his windows were up, and he didn’t hear my first statement.

“That was crazy fast, Rob,” I said. He nodded. “Holly told me about your conversation last night. I really wasn’t in the mood to let you deal with that, so I started messaging your father, to try and let you come over. At first he was adamantly against it, but he eventually gave in.” Rob started the car, then began driving away. It wasn’t until this moment that I had realised that his car had been off, and he had been waiting for me.

“How long have you been out here?”

“About twenty minutes. I came down the moment he let me know you were free. He apparently didn’t tell you that I was here.”

I shook my head. “Par for the course. He waited for me to come down by my own accord, which I did to put away my breakfast plate. I think the only reason he let me go was because my progenitor asked him to let me go.”

“I don’t think progenitor is a very flattering term. You should just stick with sister or Victoria.”

I shrugged. “I suppose. It just doesn’t feel very fitting.”

Rob reached an arm over to pat my shoulder. “Look, it doesn’t matter. You can do what you please. Here’s the deal though: I also invited them over to dinner at my house tonight. I want them to see how Holly and I treat you, and I want to talk to them. They made you, and you deserve to be treated better. Just try to not be too aggressive about it, alright?”

“Oh, boy. That’s assuming I’m capable of being aggressive. I was already a bit aggressive to Victoria this morning, I don’t think I could muster much more.”

Rob grunted. “We’ll see. Don’t worry, we’ll be there to help you.”

We arrived at Holly and Rob’s house. I opened my door, and Holly was already waiting for me, and she leapt into me, giving me a hug.

“Wow Holly, it feels like I haven’t seen you in ages,” I remarked. She laughed, and so did I.

“Hey, you’re still-” Holly began to tear off my scarf, “-your scarf. You don’t need that here.”

“Thanks. I had almost forgotten I was wearing it.”

We all went inside, and from there things moved forward. Holly pulled me around the house, showing me some of her holiday decorations. I say “holiday,” because her and Rob didn’t really celebrate one winter holiday exclusively. It was comical to most, but I found it admirable. It really wasn’t easy to accurately celebrate so many holidays at once. They were very ambitious.

Eventually, we sat down for lunch, which were just a couple of sandwiches. I had really good time with the family all day, up to the point where my family was invited over for dinner. I had forgotten about that, until they had arrived at Rob’s doorstep, and he had let them in. The table had already been set, and I was going to eat. However, moments before my family had arrived, Holly had told me to wait before I even served myself a plate.

Everyone came to the table, and sat around it. There were six of us, which was the perfect amount for the table. Rob sat on one end, and Father sat on the other. Holly and I sat on either side of Rob, and Mother and Victoria sat on either side of Father. The table was essentially split in half right down the middle.

Rob smiled and started to speak. “I’m glad all of you are comfortable. Help yourself to whatever is here, and I can get you some water if you don’t care for sparkling cider.” My family generally thanked him, and started to set up their plates.

“Ah, yes. I’m also glad that you were all able to make it here tonight. Is everything to your liking?” Rob was being a gracious host, and I was thankful for it.

“Everything is fine, Mr. Wilson. Thank you for having us over,” Mother responded. Mother was the least sincere of my family, because she hid everything she felt behind politeness.

“Please, just call me Rob. What would you rather I call you?”

Mother and Father both spoke at the same time. “Debra, Dear.” “Robinson is fine.”

“Alright then. Debra. Mr. Robinson. How’s Veronica been doing in school, do you know?” Rob smiled at my parents, and they both simply looked at each other in dismay.

“She’s been fine. Although, her grades aren’t what matter to her most, it’s her sports that she really cares about,” Father said.

“Actually, Veronica has been doing really well in our economics course. She’s even helped me with my work a few times,” Holly piped up, with a smile.

“Economics. I’ve never seen a soccer player who excelled in economics.” Father really didn’t understand the idea that people were multifaceted.

“Not only that, but she also does really well in our medical anatomy and physiology course, and she always scores really high on her history tests.” At the rate that Holly bragged about me, you would think she was trying to sell me like a telemarketer would.

“Veronica, dear, you never told us this.” Mother looked at me expectantly.

“You never asked.”

Victoria was looking at my neck. Her look wasn’t angry or uncomfortable, but it was curious.

“Oh, sorry I don’t have my scarf right now, Victoria. Holly took it off of me earlier, and I forgot to put it back on. Would you like me to go get it?” Even though I could have been spiteful, I chose to not be. I still had promised this to Victoria, and she had held up her own part of the deal.

“No, no. You’re fine. I’ve just never really bothered to look at anyone’s scars for long.” She opened her mouth as if to say more, before closing and making a perplexed sound.

My parents looked at her, and they weren’t sure what to make of the situation. I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.

Dinner went on as you would expect. We talked and ate. Holly’s family and I did more talking than my family did. Victoria kept her eyes focused on either me or her plate. Eventually, we finished, and my family wanted to return home. They weren’t satisfied, that much I could tell you, but they weren’t about to be rude in someone else’s home.

However, as the three of them were walking out of the door and into the cool, dark evening, Victoria told them she wanted to stay for an extra moment.

“You’re coming or you’re walking home,” Father stubbornly demanded.

“I’ll walk, if that’s fine by you,” Victoria rubbed her arm. It wasn’t exactly nervous, but it also wasn’t confident.

“It isn’t fine by me.” Father turned his body back into the door frame. Mother put her hand on his shoulder, but not in a very forceful fashion. It was more habitual than anything.

“Alright, then I’ll just have to go against your wishes. Sorry.” She briskly pushed him out of the the door, and shut it.

“Veronica, I need to talk to you.” She turned toward me, suddenly desperate. Her makeup in this state looked less regal and more like a mask she didn’t want to wear.

“What?” I stumbled toward her. Holly followed, and put her hand on my shoulder. Rob was still at the table.

“Let’s sit down. I need to ask you a few things.” Victoria put her arm around my shoulder, and pulled me toward the table. She was only a couple inches taller than me, thanks to the high heels she was wearing.

Victoria sat me down at the table and then sat next to me.

Rob stood. “Should Holly and I go? This seems urgent.” Victoria waved her hand in a vague fashion. Rob took it as an invitation to sit. Holly took it as a sign to leave.

“I don’t remember nearly dying, Veronica. I don’t remember being sick. I just remember thinking that I had a younger sister, and then later finding out I didn’t. What do I not know?” Victoria held my hands in hers.

“What?” I asked again.

“You heard me. Why do you know this and I don’t?”

“I- You don’t?”

Victoria shook her head.

“Wow. This is crazy. Father and Mother never told you?”

Victoria shook her head even harder. “Clearly not, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking. You said I was sick and near death earlier today. When- When I was only six. I almost died?” Victoria was staring straight into me. I felt as if I was looking in a mirror. One that I had been avoiding for such a long time.

“Yeah. That’s right. You were six, and I didn’t yet exist. You were diagnosed with a disease that multiple doctors argued about what it really was. Eventually, you were tossed on a bunch of different medicines. You didn’t get better. At some point, a doctor suggested that our parents clone you in case you die. In order to properly clone someone, you need living tissue, and the easiest way to get that is through blood. So, they took some of your blood and made me. Then, you didn’t die from the disease. Now, we’re both here.”

Victoria’s face tilted down. A drop of water fell onto my leg. Then another.

“Vicky,” I began. I tried to think of something else to say, but I couldn’t.

“I thought you were some sick experiment. No one ever told me.” Victoria’s face still held its position.

“Legally, you can’t clone anyone unless they are at risk of dying. Like I said, cloning requires living tissue, so they couldn’t clone you after you died. You’re right, I am some sick experiment, but I didn’t choose to be.”

Rob handed Victoria a box of tissues and a warm, wet rag. I think the rag was to clean her tear-stained makeup off of her face.

“Give me a moment, Ronnie,” Victoria stood up and went to the sink. She rubbed her face with the rag furiously for a while, then cleaned herself up with some tissues.

“I’ve been terrible to you. I can’t believe I let this go on for so long.” She stopped speaking, and instead elected only to cry.

“Vicky- Victoria. Look, you didn’t know. I- hell.” I shook my head at the ground. “I don’t really know what to say. I’m not going to lie, I can’t talk my way through this. I’m sorry.”

“Veronica, I’ve been wretched. You don’t deserve any of the hell I’ve given you. You might be the only clone I know, but you’re still the one who should matter the most. I just-” she stopped to sniffle and wipe her nose, “-I let ignorance abuse you. My own lack!” She stood up, and wiped her nose. I don’t know if she knew what she was really saying.

“I’m going to go, Veronica. Stay safe.” With that, Victoria walked out of Rob and Holly’s house.

Rob stood up from the table. “I ought to get her home safely. You stay here with Holly; I’ll go handle her.” He then walked away.

I didn’t really feel anything at that moment. Victoria, the basis of my existence, and my sister, broke down in front of me. It took her years and a side comment I had made for her to change herself. Yet, I stood in the kitchen. I couldn’t think of anything. Should I be glad that she finally was going to treat me better? Should I be angry that it took her so long, maybe tell her that it’s too late? I think it would be possible to feel regret, too, because I did treat her pretty poorly myself.

I stepped upstairs, to get Holly. I felt emptier than I should have. This was good a thing, I’m pretty sure. Why didn’t I feel something?

When I entered Holly’s room, she was sitting at her small two person table, drawing something. “Hey, Holly. Vicky left, and your dad went to take her home. Did you hear anything, maybe?” I slipped into her room, and sat in chair the across from her. It was only a two-person table.

“I heard a couple of things. Mostly your sister sobbing. I don’t really know what was going on.” She lifted her pencil up from the paper and set it aside. On the sheet was a detailed flower.

“Well, Victoria apparently just found out why she was cloned. She didn’t know before, I guess. She apologised, then left. I don’t really know what to make of it.” I put my head in my hands. “I don’t know.”

Holly put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay. I know.” She then pulled me toward her so that she could hold me in an embrace.

I cried. Even now, I don’t know what my tears meant.

*****

The day before Victoria left, she handed me a box. She told me not to open it until she had left. It was now December 27th, and I felt it was appropriate to do as she had asked. I sat at my desk, with the box in front of me.

The box itself wasn’t very large. It was maybe two inches tall, and only a little wider and longer than that. In fact, it wasn’t even a gift box. It was just a plain old cardboard packing box, maybe for shipping something small. To top it off, it was only taped shut by weak tape that I tore with my hands.

In the box, there was a card. On the front, it said “Merry Christmas.” Inside, Victoria had written only a three word note, without even a signature. For your scarf.

I looked inside the box, and there was a pair of fabric scissors. Which isn’t to say I know the difference between normal scissors and fabric scissors, but it’s packaging made it very clear they were fabric scissors.

I lifted up the scissors, and tore them out of their container. I felt the weight in my hand, and gave a couple of test cuts on the air. I reached over and gripped the scarf tightly in my offhand, the scissors still in my right.

I held Holly’s gift tightly. I held Victoria’s gift briskly by the handle. Neither item made contact with each other.

Instead, I placed the scissors on a shelf, in front of an empty photo frame. The scarf, I placed onto my neck loosely. It was tight enough that it would stay on, but it wasn’t enough to cover my scars.