The Next Morning
A gathering of brightly colored balloons proclaimed a thirteenth birthday and fluttered from the mailbox in the morning mist. The birds were eerily silent, and the street was lined with far too many cars to be occupants of the few houses in the neighborhood.
Alex knew something wasn’t right.
He parked against the curb in the only available spot. As he got out, he checked the address hurriedly inked into his palm one final time. Looks like it’s aboutseven houses away. He began to walk softly down the sidewalk toward the house he believed Albert to be in.
“Alex! Over here,” said a hushed whisper from behind a tree. His gaze shot to his peripheral. He smiled when he met eyes with Janey, or to his recent surprise, Sacagawea. She was standing behind a tree four houses down and across the street from the address he texted her roughly twelve hours prior.
“Why are you out here, Janey?”
She ran over and gave him a quick and welcome hug before turning back to the house. She continued to converse in a heightened whisper. “I got here seven hours ago. No one has gone in or out of that house.”
He looked over to Albert’s house. “It was probably a sleepover.”
Janey shot back an incredulous look. “And all the parent’s stayed over too? Look at all these damn cars, Lex. Does that not seem just a little strange to you?”
She was right. It was incredibly strange. Alex did a quick count of the cars and noticed they were all situated around the birthday boy’s house. “Are you ready to go inside? Wait. I mean, are you armed?”
She shook her head ‘no,’ and he tossed her the pistol he had been carrying for some time now.
“What about you?” she snapped back.
His eyes widened. “Well, if you find me about to get murdered go ahead and put one or twelve in their skull.” Alex grabbed her hand and led her across the street to the silent house at the end of the block.
The door to the house was slightly ajar. Alex slowly pushed it open and stepped into the foyer. “Don’t come in,” he called back over his shoulder to Janey, who wouldn’t have obeyed such an idiotic command in a million years. “You gave her the gun,” Alex quietly scolded himself for giving such a stupid order in the first place.
She pushed past Alex and stopped dead in her tracks, almost slipping in the blood that covered the white tiles in the foyer.
There were bodies everywhere. Men, women, children; no one had been spared from the carnage. Janey doubled over. She desperately wanted to vomit but could generate only heaving and sobbing in the face of such a massacre.
Alex slowly knelt down and put his arms around Janey. He did his best to comfort her but could not make sense of what he seeing. This wasn’t someone attempting to kill the returners, this was a mass grave disguised as a birthday party.
“This is my fault,” she started to say in between breathing that bordered on hyperventilation. “I had my chance to kill her. I should have killed her!” Janey buried her face in the tile entryway.
“This wasn’t her,” he said in a barely audible grunt.
Janey looked up in disbelief. “How the hell could you possibly know that?”
He doubled-checked his reasoning against the tattered massacre in front of them. “She’s too controlled for this.”
She remained silent and stared at the bodies strewn around the living and dining rooms for what felt like minutes. Janey grabbed Alex’s ankle as he tried to move through the room. “Please, don’t leave me here.”
He turned back and gave her a convincing look of comfort. “I need to check the rest of the house.”
Alex walked carefully in between the corpses and made his way back into the kitchen, his shoes squishing into the bloody carpet and making a horrible noise with every hesitant stride. The kitchen was bathed in a vile odor. The cake remained uncut, and all of the candles had melted down to waxy circles all across the frosting.
There was someone else in the room.
He stopped moving completely, not wanting to startle the boy kneeling beside his slain parents in the middle of the linoleum. The boy was covered in blood up to his shoulders with crimson fingerprints painting his face.
“Albert.” Alex said quietly not to startle him, inching closer to the birthday boy kneeling on the floor. “Albert, my name is Alex.”
“I know who you are,” said the boy without looking up from his parent’s bodies. “You used to be known as Alexander the Great and you came here to gather me up. You thought you could protect me. I am remiss to inform you, Alex, but you are just a little bit late.”
Alex felt a knife press into his throat from behind. His neck tensed up at the realization of such an amateur mistake. He had not bothered to secure the location before letting his guard down.
He swallowed and wondered if this was how it was all going to end for the second time. For a master tactician, Alex made a grievous and amateur mistake.
Albert rose to his feet and begrudgingly waved the person holding the knife from of the table and over to where he was standing.
Alex was shocked to see a little boy land with a joyous thud and come running into view next to Albert. He was holding two kitchen knives caked in a considerable amount of blood. He now had no idea what was going on.
Janey stumbled into the room and recoiled from the site of Albert and the little boy with knives standing over so many bodies. “What the hell is going on?” she asked.
“I was just about to—”
Albert cut him off. “This is Richie. Say hello, Richie.”
“Hello,” said the little boy named Richie in a distinctly classic French accent.
“I would be dead right now if it wasn’t for my pal here,” Albert said as he placed a friendly hand onto Richie’s shoulder. A tear ran down his face before he continued. “He is a brave young man.” He turned to Alex with gravity. “There were eight men, but they were all the same person. Does that mean anything to you, Alexander?”
Albert motioned to the young boy standing tall, still on alert for any further confrontation. “I found him by creating a worm that illegally sources child psychologist’s encrypted data world wide. The algorithm cross-references the data against phrases from my own file. Dreams of another life, delusional identities, expertise in unlearned mechanics; you know, that sort of thing.” Albert paused and checked the perimeter of the house before popping open the fridge and pulling various food items from it like fruit, meats, and breads. “I don’t believe we have much time.”
Janey took a knee and put a hand on the birthday boy’s shoulder. “Albert. Are you okay?”
He stopped and gave her a surly look. “Of course I’m not okay.” Tears filled up the young man’s eyes. “Richie, can you grab your backpack and,” he sniffled, “pack all of that up for the road?” Albert then embraced Janey and began to cry full out on her shoulder. She gently ran her fingers through his hair, like her mother used to do when she was that age, doing her best to calm him down.
Richie bounced back into the room and began throwing all of the food items into his Darth Maul backpack. He was a boy of staggeringly few words, but given the existing circumstances was a beacon of efficiency.
Alex turned to the sobbing Albert and put his hand upon his shoulder. “Who is Richie, Albert?”
He sniffled in return. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Albert turned to the young boy in the Star Wars backpack. “Richie, what do you remember from the other life you had. Remember? The one before you were a kid for the second time?”
Richie got a face resembling that of a child ordered to eat something healthy and green before responding, “I remember knights and horses. I had two older brothers” He stopped and shuddered. “There was also a bunch of weird stuff with men.” He did not pause before asking, “What’s an Aquitaine?”
Alex’s eyes swelled with amazement. “Richard the Lionheart?”
“Correct,” mumbled Einstein as he secured the backpack to Richie as best he could and led him toward the front door. “And now we must depart.”
Janey returned to her feet and carefully stepped over Albert’s parents. She returned to where Alex was standing. There was a look of concern plastered all over her face. “Are we really about to add kidnapping to the list?”
“I don’t think we have a choice,” he motioned around the house at the aftermath of what had occurred. “Look at what happened here. In an ordinary situation, I’d surely listen to what you’re saying but we are not in anything resembling an ordinary situation. This is going to happen to all of us.”
“Right, until we get some clue as to who cloned us in the first place—”
Albert cut her off, loudly. “We’re not clones.”
Janey was startled by how quickly the young man hurtled between differing emotional states. “I didn’t—then what are we?”
“It’s the memories. A clone is simply a rebirth of the same DNA—like an identical twin, really. Beyond the physical, there is no similarity.”
Alex stepped forward. “Perhaps we could talk about this in the car?”
Albert ignored him. “If we even had the knowledge to back up a human brain, which using rudimentary math would be in upwards of a thousand terabytes of data, there is simply no available technology to map said data back to the trillions upon trillions of signals bouncing around at untouchable speeds along your synapses. Think of it like trying to map the entire known universe with a pencil and a piece of paper—to the micrometer.”
Janey sat down in one of the kitchen chairs and gave Alex a tired glance.
“Well, common sense would suggest that there is another possibility,” Alex suggested to Albert.
He sneered back, “common sense is as useful as any other voluntarily inaccurate data you might feel like throwing out.”
Alex smiled. “I simply mean, if we’re to sit around and debate the impossibility of what is clearly possible, that is a waste of time.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
“I suggest get everyone to Kansas and find who or what is coming after us.”
“And our families.” Albert curtly amended Alex’s statement.
Richie jumped, literally, into the middle of the conversation, “can we get hamburgers on the way?”
Janey smiled, “of course.”
With that, Alexander the Great, Sacagawea, Albert Einstein, and Richard the Lionheart grabbed what was left of their things and walked out of the house and hopped into Janey’s car.
Albert hobbled to his knees in the backseat as the car began to pull away. He looked at the balloons still fumbling about in the breeze over his mailbox. He did not bother wiping his final tears away as he whispered one final goodbye to his parents and his friends.