Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
It had been wracking my brain for months. What exactly did he keep in there? Why was he being so secretive?
Even when I was younger, my father was more than happy to share his work with me at the dinner table. I listened intently, fascinated by the projects his biotech lab was working on. I didn’t understand most of the jargon, but that’s probably why he was so willing to reveal the hidden truths of the trade. He knew I wouldn’t retain enough to be a liability.
But then there’s the room.
It was an extension of his bedroom; one that was built when we moved in so he could do some of his work from home. Its secrets were locked behind a cast-iron door, and no matter how many times I asked, my father would not divulge what he described as being, “classified research.” Eventually, I stopped nagging him about it.
That brings us to to the other day.
My father woke me at 6:30am sharp for my weekly blood draw. It was something he started last year as a precaution. Knowing the dangers he potentially brought home each day, he felt the need to check in and make sure I hadn’t been infected with one of the many strains of harmful bacteria he worked with. Up to that point, I was in tip-top shape. No issues since the day he started. This day, however, broke the streak.
My dad went to his secret room, ran his usual tests on my blood, and raced back to see me, startled by an alarming discovery. My blood had been tainted by something, as he described it. He assured me there was nothing to worry about; he would just need to go in to work to run some more scans and get second opinions on the data. He promised to be back before dinner.
With that, he rushed out the door, clearly rattled by his findings.
When dinner time rolled around and he wasn’t home, I became a bit worried and called him. He answered and said there were more tests to be performed, but everything was looking good. He told me to cook one of the microwave meals in the freezer and not to wait up, as he would be late arriving home. I did as he instructed and got ready for bed. That’s when an idea sprung to mind.
I had attempted to open my father’s secret door on many occasions, to no avail. There were two deadbolts in place, as well as a run-of-the-mill padlock. Without the three separate keys needed to unlock it, it was a fruitless endeavor. Still, it was fun to try and imagine the wonders that would await me upon potentially opening it. It was the fuel that sparked many of my daydreams over the years.
As I so often did when he wasn’t home, I ventured into his bedroom and walked over to the mysterious door. Upon closer inspection, I was surprised to see the deadbolts undone. The only thing standing between me and my dad’s classified research was the cheap lock hanging at the door’s handle. He must have left in such haste that he didn’t feel the need for redundancy; sure I wouldn’t be prowling about his room while he was at the lab. Curiosity was a far stronger feeling than he knew.
Knowing this would be my only chance, I got to work. Using wire-cutters and a thin, metal coat hanger, I constructed a makeshift lock-pick. Shaking it within the keyhole, however, was not rewarding. I only succeeded in twisting the pick into a pretzel-like form, rendering it useless. Disappointed, I knew what had to be done. It was time for plan B.
I felt somewhat foolish as I hurried out in the darkness to our garden in the back yard. As I picked up a sizable stone and headed back in, my father’s trust in me was broken, and he would soon know. My prize would have to be worth the damage, because there was no way I could hide or explain away a busted lock. But the allure of whatever it was that lurked within his room had such a strong pull that I almost didn’t care. The need to see its contents far outweighed the fear of impending punishment.
Once inside and back at the iron door, I looked down at the rock in my hand. I now had the power to solve the mystery, and I was elated. With a couple of vicious swings, the lock gave in to the force and fell to the floor below. My heart was racing as I slowly pulled the door open and peered inside, astonished. It was a truly marvelous sight.
Inside my father’s room was a plethora of tanks, wires, and devices; all of which looked to be lab-issued in design. Certainly not anything I had ever seen in a retail setting. Within the tanks, a blue, neon liquid, with pockets of air bubbling to the surface; each with its own unique creature. Some were fused together, others had too many eyes or appendages. One in particular that caught my attention was a fox-like rodent with transparent fur and skin, granting me a glimpse at the inner workings of its body. A close second favorite would have to have been a fiery orange bird the size of my palm with iridescent wings. All of these living marvels were suspended in animation, locked in a peaceful slumber behind their glass.
The oddities in the room had far exceeded my expectations. My dad was creating new life; fathering a new era not only in his field, but in mother nature. These animals had the potential to deeply alter the face of earth’s wilderness. Perhaps they even had the power to benefit the world’s ecosystem as a whole. I was so very proud of him.
As I gazed at my father’s work in awe, I noticed something. In the center of the room was another tank, larger than the rest, covered by a completely opaque, black sheet. This must have been his pride and joy; a creature that stood out in a way the others couldn’t. A magic he must have captured so brilliantly, that he didn’t even want to look at it himself for fear of being distracted, transfixed by its appearance.
Excited, I was compelled to dislocate the sheet from the tank. In doing so, I was mortified.
Behind the glass was a human, but only a portion of one. It was a head and partial torso, cut off just below the chest. New cells were being replicated at a steady pace, slowly completing its shape. With its increasingly rapid rate of regeneration, it looked as though it might be in a walking state by week’s end.
It being human didn’t trouble me so much. It was the face. My face. This project of my dad’s was a clone. A living, breathing copy of my DNA.
Unsettled, I couldn’t help but stare. Even the minutest detail was accurate, down to the individual hairs floating above its scalp. I was no longer enamored with my father’s room. My stomach had turned to such a degree, that I felt as though I had become sick. Then, the strangest thing happened.
My clone opened its eyes.
On either side of its nose were black ellipses, the likes of which I had never seen on a face before. After its eyelids receded, the mouth opened and I was accosted by a muffled, but frightening shriek. Its incomplete form thrashed about wildly. I ran away as fast as I could, the sound of glass shattering behind me. I foolishly forgot to the close the door, too preoccupied with my own survival. I looked back once while running and saw the horrifying sight of a dark-eyed version of me from the chest up, floating through the house to my position.
I left as quickly as possible and sprinted into the trees towards my father’s lab. Coming from the direction of my home, a terrifying symphony of unnatural screams filled the forest.
The facility where my father worked, as well as our home, was located along a dirt road in the woods. Moonlight soaked the path, granting me ample visibility to make my way there. My trek was met with the eerie soundscapes of the forest, including the occasional far off outburst from my copy, who I knew must have been gaining on me. Having legs was an advantage. My pace never wavered, and I was able to reach the lab within the hour.
Before venturing over to the entrance, I surveyed my surroundings. The unsavory sounds of midnight animals filled the air around me; the outcries of wolves, predatory birds, and bears. These, however, were not what I was listening for. Once certain that my copy hadn’t followed me, I used the speaker box to communicate with the receptionist. Luckily, the response was immediate.
“How can we help you?”
“Hi. This is Garrett’s son. I really need to see my dad.”
There was a brief pause before I received a reply.
I waited patiently, but nervous. As I stood there, my ears were met with a familiar, inhuman sound, reverberating off of the trees at the edge of the clearing. It was closing in.
“What is your full name, date of birth, and social security number?”
I was beginning to panic, but was able to provide the information requested.
“Thank you. One moment.”
The horrific sound was no longer distant. It grew louder as I watched the grotesque form of my clone floating up the path, coming towards me. My breathing became sporadic, as did my heart rate.
“You’ve been approved. You may enter at the sound of the buzzer.”
I quickly opened the door and entered the building, slamming it shut behind me. My other self did his best to charge at the closed door, but was unable to penetrate its thick, metal layers. I was finally safe.
At the front desk, the receptionist offered a greeting and pointed me in the direction of the next floor where my father’s office was located. I thanked him and headed off upstairs.
The second floor of the lab was a labyrinth; red carpet and identical white doors weaving in and out of the dimly lit hallways. I tried turning the knob on the first door I saw, which belonged to Room 371. It was locked.
“Hello? Is there anyone in there? I’m looking for my father.”
A man opened the door for me and sat down at his desk. The room wasn’t anything special; some work stations with a plant and waste bin in the corner. No sign of my father. I tried conversing with the man who let me in, but he ignored me completely. His strange demeanor and zombie-like state were unsettling. Unable to get any answers out of him, I left. The door was swiftly shut behind me.
The other rooms were exactly the same. I tried dozens of them. There was always a single worker inside – all of whom ignored my presence. The closest I came to a conversation was one of them trembling, muttering to themselves, This isn’t worth the paycheck. After that, I stopped knocking on doors all together and simply wandered the hallways. It seemed there was a rule against speaking to outsiders.
Just as I was about to go back down to the receptionist and ask for directions, I saw a door at the end of one of the halls, unlike the rest. It was white, but instead of a room number, there was a plaque affixed to its surface.
Dr. Garrett Covenwood
Head Of Operations
That was it! My dad’s office.
I waltzed over and knocked on the door.
“Dad? It’s me. I made a mistake. I really need to talk to you.”
There was no response. Fortunately, the door was unlocked. I gently turned the knob and pushed it open, revealing the inner sanctum of my father’s workplace. Another area I had always wanted to see; one that I constructed many times in my imagination. Unlike the secret room at home, his office was entirely normal.
There was more red carpet and plain, white walls. A single desk was perched in the corner, complete with a computer and piles of paperwork. On the opposite side was a filing cabinet and a few chairs. That was it. It was as ordinary and mundane as it could possibly be, but I was not disappointed. My only goal was to tell my dad about the copy and hope he would know what to do.
I scoured the room in hopes of finding a phone to call him with. There wasn’t one. Instead, I discovered a strange, red button protruding from the side of his desk. In pressing it, something unexpected happened.
I watched, amazed, as the far wall of my dad’s office opened up and slid into the corner, governed by an unseen mechanical interface. Behind it was a long, brightly lit tunnel. Upon crossing the threshold, I noticed several tanks lined up along the walls, similar to the ones back home. Inside them; more copies of me, suspended in bubbling liquid. I was, once again, mortified.
I couldn’t fathom what my dad was doing or why. I wracked my brain for answers, but none came. Before I could contemplate the matter any further, I noticed something. There was an opening at the end of the tunnel. Just before it was a final tank on the right wall, numbered 2263. The glass was broken and its contents had been emptied.
I raced over to the opening and found a room filled with computers and various electronic hardware. There, laying in the center of the room, was my father, his lower half in a pool of blood.
I ran to his side and turned him over, tears wetting my face. He was still breathing, but barely. He managed to open his eyes and smiled upon seeing me.
“I thought I… I thought I told you not to wait up for me.”
I smiled, but continued to cry.
“I’m so sorry. I broke into your room and let out that thing. I didn’t know what to do.”
He coughed. My eyes scanned his body and identified a gash at his lower abdomen. I applied pressure as best I could.
“It’s okay. There’s some things I need to tell you before I go. Please listen carefully.”
I wiped the tears away with my arm and nodded in agreement. What I heard changed my whole life.
“As you know, your mother died in child birth. I was never the same after that.”
He coughed some more. I applied more pressure, hoping that it would keep him alive.
“What I never told you was that you died too. The birth was premature and the complications that arose were too much for your fragile form. You never made it out of the operating room.”
I bore a look of shock and confusion, almost gasping as he spoke.
“I couldn’t save your mother, but I thought I could save you, at least in some fashion. It was the only thing that kept me from losing my sanity after her death. I extracted the stem cells from your body and used them here to make more of you. Clones.”
“Clones?” I asked, “But why?”
“I couldn’t bear the thought of being without the two of you. Saving you was my only hope. Unfortunately, there were side effects that came with the methods we used.”
He let out another loud cough. Blood dripped from his mouth.
“All of the clones gained unforeseen abilities. This affected their temperament and caused them to lash out. Each and every model went haywire within a day. You were our most successful attempt.”
“You mean… I’m a clone?”
I could barely get the words out.
“Yes. But your vitals are the same as your predecessors. In addition to their vicious behavior, all of the previous versions of you become comatose within three months’ time. That’s when we place them back in their tanks, where they remain in an eternal slumber. With the tests I ran today on the prototype at home, I thought I had solved it. I tried the antidote on one of the clones here at the lab. It backfired.”
Blood seeped out from behind my hands. No amount of pressure could stop it.
“I was able to wake it up, but it grew wilder than the rest. It had abilities the others didn’t and used them to attack.”
“How long have I been alive? How much time do I have left?”
He coughed some more. I wasn’t sure he would even be able to respond.
“You have one more week. You all have neural implants. That’s how I was able to give you your memories.”
I was saddened by the news, but it was strangely relieving to know the truth. My father looked up at me one last time. The blood was now pouring from his wound.
“I hope you can forgive me. I love you so mu…”
His eyes went blank and his head fell in my arms. He was gone.
I sat there for a long time and cried over my father’s lifeless body. Even if I was only three months old and equipped with fabricated memories, he was the only family I ever knew. Even if it wasn’t a real relationship, I loved him.
As I wept, footsteps echoed in the distance. I turned to see the full-bodied clone that had broken free from the tunnel, standing at the edge of the room. His eyes were dark and his mouth opened at an unnatural angle. He let out a shriek that pierced my very soul and struck fear into my racing heart.
I had to escape, but how?
I stood to meet its horrific gaze. Terrified and without many options, I tried conversing with it.
“Hello. Can you see me with those eyes of yours? I’m just like you. We’re family, in a sense.”
It tilted its head in curiosity. I cautiously walked towards it.
“It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you. I was created, just as you were. We are the same, you and me.”
My heart was pounding so hard as I closed the gap between us.
“See? There isn’t anything to be frightened of. I’m your friend.”
Now inches apart, I put my haphazard plan in motion. Without giving it a second thought, I pushed my clone aside with a great deal of force and rushed out of the tunnel and into my father’s office. It screamed a sickening cry and ran to me. Eventually, I no longer heard its feet touching the floor. I turned to see it levitating in my direction, just like the unfinished prototype before it.
I ran out of my dad’s office and navigated the maze of halls with sheer luck, successfully making it down the stairs and to the first floor. I called out for the receptionist to help me, but he was not at his post. It seemed I was on my own.
In a flash, I yanked open the front door and stumbled out into the cool, night air. There on the path, waiting for me, was the prototype, still floating above the earth. I dashed to my right and took off into the trees, desperately hoping the shrubbery would hide me to some extent. It was no use. I looked back to see both clones, honed in on my position, both flying into the forest. There was no way I could outrun them.
Thinking quick, I developed a theory. Their eyes were void of color. I thought of the exchange I had with the clone in my dad’s office. It was a long shot, but I carefully took cover behind a tree, walking as softly as I could manage. The clones followed suit, but dispersed at my last position, seemingly unaware of my whereabouts. They split up in an effort to find me.
My theory was proven correct. They were blind; only able to react to sound. That’s how they were able to navigate the forest in the dark. If I was quiet, I thought, I might be able to leave unnoticed.
Putting as little weight as possible into each of my steps, I made my way to another tree, then another. I repeated this process until I accidentally stepped onto a fallen branch, creating a loud crack that rang through the woods. My cover was blown. Within a matter of seconds, the two clones caught up to me and readied themselves for an attack. I was out of breath and energy; unable to run anymore. There would be no escaping them now.
This was it. My final moments. Knowing I only had a week left anyway, I wasn’t all that bothered. The only thing that kept me scared was the thought of what these foul creatures would unleash upon me. They had abilities unknown to the natural world. Seeing the agony my father went through when he passed, it was safe to assume I was in for a great deal of anguish at the hands of my other selves.
I closed my eyes for the impending torment. That’s when a fleeting thought bubbled to the surface.
If I was a clone, just like them, did I have powers too?
I opened my eyes and just barely had time to dodge a red stream of liquid that shot from the prototype’s mouth. It met the tree at my side and melted its bark clean off. The other clone extended its arm and turned its hand in a circular motion. The space around us seemed to bend, making my vision blur. I was inflicted by hallucinations, the likes of which I never want to experience again. Bound by this power, the visions, at the time, felt all too real.
I was standing in a white room in a hospital. From what I could tell, doctors were scrambling to deliver a baby. I managed to catch a glimpse of the woman between the outline of their forms. It was my mother. I had only ever seen her in pictures, but I was certain it was her. This was the day I was born – or at least, when the actual me was born.
Her pained cries ricocheted off the walls and burrowed into my ears. After a moment or two, the sound abruptly stopped and the doctors dispersed, forming a path to the table. I hesitantly stepped over to it and was greeted by a terrible sight.
My mother was still, her eyes glazed over. Something was moving within her abdomen. It began clawing its way out, blood and organs spilling over onto the floor. A face appeared above the mess. It was one of the clones, its dark eyes cutting through my stare and shaking me to my core. It expelled a black smoke from its mouth that swirled around the room and filled my field of view. It then dissipated, transitioning to another scene.
I was now outside of my home, peering in through the window. My father and I were having dinner inside, laughing together, like we had on many nights before. A tear trickled down my cheek as I watched. Then, without warning, the version of me in the house turned to meet my gaze, its eyes consumed by a familiar darkness. It was the clone, still toying with me.
A wicked smile danced across its face as it stood up from the table and stepped over to my father, who was still laughing as if nothing had happened. All the while, it never turned away, our eyes still locked in a sickening stare.
I cried out, futilely.
The clone placed its hands on my father’s head. I struck the glass to warn him, but it was no use. His smile grew wider. I shut my eyes, not wishing to see what would come next. There was a loud crack followed by the thud of a body meeting the floor. I reluctantly opened my eyes to see the clone, right there at the window. I fell back in fear and hit my head on the unforgiving ground. The illusion was then broken.
I found myself back in the forest, pinned to the ground by an unseen force.
I had to act fast.
I tried to tap in to whatever reservoirs of energy I possessed. The clones readied themselves. I saw the prototype open its mouth again. I would be a goner if not for what happened next.
Almost out of my control, I broke free of my restraints, releasing a wave of energy that propelled the copies deeper into the woods. I stood in an upright position and nervously awaited their return, still unsure of how to use my newfound abilities. Their screams bounced across the treeline. They appeared before me, their faces contorted in pure anger. With them, an armada of wildlife; deadly creatures that didn’t exist in any textbook. A bear the size of a house with grass-like fur, wolves with six legs and three eyes, human-sized bipedal rabbits, and a slew of others I had no time to examine. They must have been failed experiments from the lab.
They charged at me with blood-lust in their eyes. Using what seemed like a collective of telekinetic energy, I was hurled upward into the air. They gathered below and waited for me to fall to them. I helplessly flailed about while descending to what I thought would be my inevitable death. On my decent, something awoke within me. All at once, I stopped falling, and hung there in the night sky, facing the group below. Then, almost instinctively, I unfolded my arms and legs out in front of me. Something I can only describe as a loud, metallic creak was expelled from my mouth, while a glow left my skin and washed over the forest.
I came to on the forest floor. The many lab experiments that once haunted me, including my clones, were scattered around, inanimate on the ground. There were colorful sparks dancing across their heads. Their neural implants must have short-circuited in the blast. They wouldn’t be chasing me again any time soon.
As I strolled through the forest towards my home, I thought of my father. No matter how wrong he was in what he did, or how artificial my memories were, I still held him close to my heart. I would have to spend my last week of life mourning his death and finding a way to come to terms with everything.
I don’t know if I’m fit for an afterlife, so I can’t be sure I’ll ever see you again. Just know that I do forgive you and miss you terribly.
You will always be my father.
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