“Ok, but I don’t get why we have to give up our weekends for this,” whined my sister Margaret.
“We think it’s very important for you and your brother, Maggie,” said my mother from the passenger seat of our old minivan.
“I don’t even get what it is,” Maggie replied.
“It’s hard to explain…You’ll understand when we get there.”
The five of us were on our way to the middle of the Berkshire mountains, a small town called Crum Hill, where our parents had a ‘surprise’ for us. Maggie and I sat in the bucket seats in the middle of the van, mom and dad were up front, and Maggie’s twin sister Valerie was alone in the back seat. Valerie and Maggie were polar opposites. Maggie was loud and obnoxious while I rarely ever heard Valerie utter more than a syllable or two. They were two years older than me; Maggie rarely let me forget it while Val never seemed to care.
The two of them always seemed to have different health problems. Val went through everything silently, while Maggie just complained more and more. Currently they’re undergoing thyroid issues and always change from being too hot to too cold.
I turned to look at the back seat and as usual, Val was sitting in the center seat, hands in her lap, staring straight ahead.
The sun was setting as we pulled into a parking lot in front of an unmarked building. It looked like an old office of some kind, but there were no signs or anything. We exited the van and stretched after six hours of driving.
“We’re here!” said dad in a halfhearted tone trying to get us excited.
The rest of us mumbled incoherently in response. Suddenly a light turned on in the small office building, and some shadows moved behind the closed blinds. We walked over to the door just as it opened, and I was surprised to see a familiar face. It was Miss Aylor, who used to go to our church, but she’d stopped attending years ago. I just assumed she died, since she was pretty old. As she opened the door, I examined her face, and she didn’t seem that much older than I remembered — maybe even younger — but she did look tired.
“Hi,” she managed to utter while tugging up the corners of her mouth. “Come…in.” She slowly pulled the door open so we could enter. I looked sideways and saw Maggie roll her eyes at the thought of spending the weekend with old people.
As we entered the office building, I was surprised at the interior. From the outside, the building appeared to be from the early 1900’s, but the inside seemed as modern and high-tech as any building in the 80’s. It’s 1986 now, and my hopes rose at the prospect that there may be some cool things in here after all.
“Dr. Brown…” Miss Aylor said from in front of us without turning her head. Every syllable she spoke seemed to exhaust her. “Will be…so excited to see you.”
“Well we are excited to meet him as well,” my mother replied courteously. Miss Aylor opened an unmarked white door and stood to the side for us to enter. As I looked around, I saw three older men seated on velvet couches in the small room. There was barely enough room for all of us to sit comfortably, but the kids squeezed onto the couches.
I looked at the three men again and noticed that two of them appeared to be twins, and just like Maggie and Val, one seemed to have bright and focused eyes while the other sat there staring into space, removed from reality. I figured this must be some sort of twin study and my hopes sank again because the focus would be on the girls all weekend.
The man who was not a twin leaned forward and spoke first. “Hello, children,” he smiled a warm smile beneath a fluffy white mustache. He caught me off guard when he looked my way and spoke directly to me, “Timothy, I’m very excited to meet you. You are 13 years old, is that right?”
I nodded, becoming more confused by the second.
He continued, “That’s great! Well, we have some big news for you.”
I looked at my parents but they were focused on Dr. Brown as he continued. “Have you heard the term ‘cloning’ before?” I nodded again. “Well, what we do here at the Crum Hill Research Center is similar to that. We like to think of ourselves as ‘life extenders.’” At this, the lively half of the male twins chuckled and nodded. The three of us children sat in confused silence. Suddenly, Dr. Brown hopped to his feet, startling me. He took two steps toward one of the twins on another couch. “This is Mr. Henry,” he said, motioning toward the livelier twin. Mr. Henry smiled at me and gave a little wave.
“Mr. Henry,” continued the doctor, “is a real, organic human being, made the old fashioned way.” He winked at my parents. All this time, Mr. Henry’s twin sat beside him, staring into space like a rag doll. “And next to him is his clone…have you given him a name, Mr. Henry?”
“Umm, Louis? Mr. Louis?” replied Mr. Henry.
“Great!” replied Dr. Brown. “So, Louis — Mr. Louis — is Mr. Henry’s clone. He’s been created in this chamber behind me from Mr. Henry’s DNA.”
I looked at the mysterious door he had mentioned behind him, and then at Maggie who looked back at me. For once, she didn’t have anything to say. She and I were both thinking the same thing as we turned to look at our sister Valerie. Valerie sat in silence as always, looking straight ahead.
“Now,” continued Dr. Brown, “I know this may be hard to hear, but fifteen years ago, your family was part of an earth-shattering experiment which has allowed us to give hundreds of people hope.” He motioned to Valerie. My parents listened, expressionless.
“We took your sister Maggie here and made a copy of her. You’ve always known them as twins, but actually, Val — is it? — is her clone.” I looked at Maggie and her jaw sagged agape in shock. Val did nothing.
“The reason this gives us hope is simple. We will all grow old and die, right? Well, when that happens, we can take your brain and move it into your clone, allowing you to go on living, just in a fresh, new body. Right now, these clones have a barely-functioning brain, like a blank video tape.” He smiled when he had finished explaining this like he had just won the Super Bowl.
“So,” I spoke up after the reality had set in. “I don’t have twin sisters? Val is a…” I didn’t want to say it out loud, as if that would make it more real. “Val is a clone?”
“That’s right,” Dr. Brown nodded.
“And honey,” my mom turned to face me. “We brought you here because Dr. Brown has been very kind and offered to make us another clone since we let him experiment with Maggie…and Val.”
“Yes, we have had tremendous success with this! Just this year we cloned the daughter of a wealthy family from California. Are you familiar with the Olsens? No? Well they now have a beautiful pair of ‘twin’ girls.” He chuckled at his own cleverness. After a moment of silence, Dr. Brown piped up again. “Well! I’m sure you are all tired from your trip! Let me show you to your rooms and you can get some rest.”
We all stood up and filed through the door. Miss Aylor and Mr. Brown led us out to the lobby and down a hall lined with doors. They opened three doors for us — one for mom and dad, one for the twins, or, clones, and one for me. I got my own room! I walked in and found that the room looked like a hotel, but there was no TV. I was sad about that, but jumped on the bed and turned on the light. I opened a notebook and began to write in my journal about what I had learned that night. It actually made a lot of sense, since Val was always so lifeless and Maggie was more lively. Wind rustled the branches just outside my window and a chill ran down my spine. When we were driving here, it was obvious that we were in the middle of nowhere and that was scary. I ran over and yanked the curtains closed.
Fifteen minutes later, I was finishing writing and drawing in my notebook when a pounding came on my door. It scared me half to death and I jumped in my bed before I realized it was probably just Maggie. I bounced over to the door and opened it. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t a family member, but one of the older men who was in the room earlier. I instantly realized he was the clone, not the ‘real’ one.
I was so surprised I stood there for a moment, looking at him before he stepped forward and I impulsively pulled the door open more for him to enter. he dragged his feet into my room and began grunting and moaning. It was creepy, like a zombie from a movie. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to get my parents. Before I made it to the door though, I felt his hand grab the back my t-shirt. I yelped, but he yanked me back and put his hand over my mouth. I panicked and thrashed back and forth, trying to escape.
“Zzzz…..shhhhh,” he said, trying to calm me down. A few seconds later, I realized he was communicating that he didn’t want to hurt me so I settled down and sat on the bed with him.
“Ayyyeee,” he began, trying hard to speak coherently. “I ammmm in paiiinnnn.” I was confused.
He slowly bent down and pulled up the bottom of his pants to reveal a massive sore of some kind on his shin.
“Owwww,” I said when I saw it. “How did you get that?”
He moved slowly and put his pant leg back down. “C — clooone,” he drawled.
“Don’t…clone,” he managed to get out. He then lifted up his left hand and showed me his fingers. Once I noticed it, it became obvious. His ring finger looked different than the others. With his other hand, he lifted it up and it slid right off, revealing a nub that only went to the first knuckle. The rest of the finger was just a plastic prosthetic. I began to get scared by what he was saying. What if cloning was really bad for you? Maybe that’s why Maggie and Val both seemed to have so many health problems!
Just then I heard a voice calling in the hallway. It sounded like Dr. Brown yelling, “Louis! Louis, where are you?”
He turned his head to the door and his lifeless eyes got a little wider. He looked back at me before standing up and repeated, “Don’t…clone.” He walked over to the door and opened it.
Dr. Brown ran over to it and said, “Oh, there you are!” He then looked over Louis’ shoulder and saw me on the bed. He walked past the clone and approached me on the bed, forcing a smile beneath his stache. “He shouldn’t have been in here. Did he just wander in?” I nodded. “Did he do anything to you? Are you okay?”
I nodded again, then asked, “Mister Brown, is there anything that can go wrong with cloning? I don’t know if I want to do it!”
“Oh, don’t be silly!” he smiled and continued. Through the door I could see Louis standing in the hallway, staring into the distance. “There is nothing to worry about! It will give you a nice long life, and then another long life! Ha!”
“Well, it’s just that…Mr. Louis showed me his finger. And his leg — “
“Oh, he did? He should not have done that! He’ll scare you kids! He’s not the brightest of clones. He can be a little clumsy.” Dr. Brown smiled again before standing up and saying, “Whelp! I’ll let you get your rest. You have a big day tomorrow!”
He left and shut the door behind him. I crawled under the covers and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I heard the branches outside the window scraping the glass, and kept thinking about being cloned. I thought about how Val wasn’t really Maggie’s twin, but was just a lifeless copy of her. Did that mean she wasn’t a real person? I didn’t want to believe it.
I seemed to lie there thinking for over an hour because I couldn’t sleep. I was lying on my side facing the door because I didn’t want to face the window when suddenly I saw two shadows come and stand in front of my door — two feet. I heard people whispering just on the other side of it and slammed my eyes shut since I was supposed to be asleep.
I heard the door ease open and one person — probably Dr. Brown — whisper to someone else, “Good, he’s asleep. We can take him now and do it before he wakes up and tries to fight us.”
Another shiver ran down my spine. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be cloned anymore, even if it would make me live longer. Their footsteps drew closer to my bed and I had to make a decision. I shoved the covers down and looked up, seeing a momentary shock on Dr. Brown’s face. I ran over to the window and pulled it open. I reached out, grabbed a branch and climbed onto the tree. After shimmying a few feet away from the window, I looked back to see Dr. Brown leaning his head out the window with his hands on the pane.
In a soothing voice, he called to me, “Where are you going, Tim? What’s all this about?”
“I don’t want to be cloned!” I yelled back. I saw a light in the next room over turn on.
“Well why don’t you come back here and we can talk about it?”
“No! I don’t want my body to fall apart!” Dr. Brown turned to look at the other person in the room, whom I couldn’t see. At that, I crawled further along the branch and climbed down the tree to the ground. It was fall, so it wasn’t freezing cold but I was chilly in my pajama shirt and shorts.
I started running away from the office building back up the road we had come down. Behind me, Dr. Brown yelled, “Timothy! I assure you, there is nothing to fear! Timothy!” I was surrounded by a dark forest on all sides and I heard a door slam open behind me. I was scared of the forest, but didn’t have an option. I turned to the right and ran into the forest. I went about twenty feet from the road and lay on the leaf-covered ground. I saw Dr. Brown and Mr. Henry run past me, saying something about me running back to town. I didn’t know how far the town was, but decided I had to get there and find someone to help me. Even my own parents wouldn’t help because they were the ones who brought me here to be cloned in the first place! A few minutes later, I saw the adults running back to the office building and heard them talking about getting a car to get to the town. Minutes after that, Dr. Brown’s MG sped past me and I came out of the forest. I followed the direction of the car to the town. I was barefoot on the pavement and kept hoping I wouldn’t step on anything sharp.