Monthly Archives: November 2011

Brian & Andy

by Joel Allyn

 2,700 words

November 24, 2011

Two identical 12-year-old boys wake in a fallout shelter, both believing the other to be their copy

Brian searches the bookshelf for the perfect book. He’s familiarized himself with the available library during their stay, however long it’s been – the only clock is frozen at 11:23. They are the only company he has here besides Andy. Andy sticks to the movies, says he doesn’t like any of the books they have, but Brian thinks if they had every book ever written it wouldn’t interest Andy any more than the eighty or so at their disposal now. Just another reminder they aren’t completely identical. On the outside they’re almost a mirror image of one another. Both thin boys around twelve, with chestnut hair just below ear length. They are both in jeans but Andy wears a blue, yellow and red striped polo shirt and Brian has on a grey t-shirt.

Brian looks around the small room they share, looks at the stone steps leading up to the metal door, and the light above it which they both silently hope will turn from red to green. He looks over the rest of his windowless white haven. Most of it at the moment is of little interest to him, the shelves lining the wall filled with records and movies where Andy sits before a glowing screen, his back to Brian. The bathroom and washing stations behind the curtain, the extinguisher and the first aid box hanging adjacent on one wall and the large mirror on another, the oversized red area rug trying in vain to warm the place, he passes over all of it without pause. His eyes settle on the wall that houses the bookshelf on one side of their cots and the pantry shelf and fridge on the other, Andy’s side. How long, Brian wonders will all that food and water last? The air filtration systems, or tanks, or whatever the hell keeps pumping air through the vents seems to be fine – though he still worries that any moment toxic gas from outside the door will come seeping through. The rest though, how long will the rest last? It’s enough for a long time sure, but maybe not long enough, and the way Brian figures, it’ll last just about half as long as it would if he were here alone.

He wouldn’t mind sharing if it was his family with him, he’s not greedy, that’s not it, but Andy is just a copy. He isn’t real. There’s not much difference these days, that’s true, but even with blood and living tissue, a perfect copy is still just that, a copy. It’s not a person, it wasn’t born. It was created, and let’s skip the test tube baby point or we’ll be here all day. Brian might feel a little worse about it if he could even remember how the hell he’d ended up in here with Andy in the first place. He can remember everything before getting here and everything since he woke up staring into his own face without the aid of a mirror, but he must have blocked out finding Andy and then the shelter. And he has to be a replica, Brian has a brother and a sister, but no long-lost-twins, last he checked. Before everything was silent and grey, there were folks rallying and demanding rights for the copies, even to charge those who killed them with murder. Brian doubts that trying him will be a top priority in whatever new world comes next. Not just because they’ll be busy either, Brian knows in his heart that the survivors will understand. They say humans can get used to almost anything, but it seems most of us never get used to the idea of dying, and do what we have to survive.

Brian is still before the book shelf, running his fingers over the spines when he hears the familiar squeak of Andy’s chair swiveling around, “Just pick one already, haven’t you read all of them by now anyway?”

“Haven’t you seen that movie?” No response is given, and after another moment the chair squeaks again.

Any correspondence has become short and clipped – and usually derisive – since the fight. Brian had finally lost it, watching Andy enjoying his day’s rations, and grabbed the food away, yelling at him that he was just a copy and didn’t need it, just thought he did, was programmed to. Andy had the nerve to deny it, even going so far as to claim that it was Brian that was the copy of him. The argument went on, got vicious and eventually physical, both drawing blood from the other. They’ve since been forced to dance the awkward ballet of those feuding in tight spaces.

Brian takes War and Peace down off the shelf, passes it from one hand to the other, too heavy, and then puts it back without opening it. He’ll feel when it’s the right book. He’ll know. Just like he knows he is not a copy, he just knows. The thought occurs to him that Andy may feel the same way. This is more troubling to him than he would like to admit. So he asks Andy what he’s been asking himself since the fight.

“How do you know you’re real?”

There is no squeak this time, but after a second there is a reply, “I just know. You can feel it when you’re real.”

“So then how do you know I’m not?” Brian asks.

Another second, then after a small squeak, “I don’t know. Maybe you are – maybe we’re twins or something.”

Brian turns and looks Andy in the eye, “We’re not. You know we’re not.”

“All I know is I’m real.” He says.

Brian pulls The Brothers Karamazov, repeats the hand to hand gesture, too light, and returns Dostoevsky just above Tolstoy.

“Do you remember how we got here?”

“Of course.”

“How?”

“Everything was, well ya know, it was happening, and I got lost. Then I found you, or you were already here when I found the shelter, I don’t really remember. But I woke up and found you lying on the cot next to me, figured you’d got us in here.”

Brian starts to tell himself that must be exactly what happened, that he just blacked out, met Andy and got them both safely inside. Yes, that sounds right. It feels wrong, but it sounds right. He continues perusing the titles with his fingers, and asks something without looking at Andy.        “What else do you remember, from before?”

“Everything,” Andy says.

“Go on. I just want to see if they really give you all my memories.”

“I have a family. My little brother Jimmy, Sandra is my sister, and I have a dog named Ozzy who’s -”

“- a black shepherd your dad named after Asimov, his favorite science fiction author. God, it’s so creepy how they get all the details right.”

I’m real!”

Brian gave him a thumb up, his eyes still on the books, “Okay, Pinocchio.”

“Kiss my ass, shitbrains,” another squeak.

Brian’s hand drops from the books it’s dancing over and falls to hover by his side. He turns and stares at the back of the chair. That eloquent phrase has been barked at Brian by his sister Sandra since before he could even say her name. It jarred him a little to hear this imposter, this fraud, use it as though it were his. It isn’t his! That face isn’t his, that voice isn’t his, none of it is his! The only things that belong to him are that stupid shirt and his name. He stole the rest. Or not. For just a moment Brian thinks that perhaps it’s true that it’s not Andy’s fault that he was created the way he was. But those words are too personal, they are sacred. It’s silly, he knows, but they mean too much, they are like a hidden talisman helping to shield him against this farce and they have been violated by this vile doppelganger. Something about him using them made Brian finally lose his certainty, his feeling of knowing, and question whether he was really her little brother at all and that can’t be allowed. It crosses a line. Using that phrase and turning his back on Brian sealed his fate.

Brian exhumes IT from among the seven King selections. He tosses it hand to hand, hand to hand, just right, and then holds it tight in both. He feels the heft of it. It feels right. He walks up behind the chair, and as he does he again hears strange muffled noises from behind the mirror. He’s been hearing them but dismissed it as part of the movie. Now looking at the screen he sees that’s not the case. No matter. He walks around the left side of the chair to face Andy, who after ignoring him for a few moments sees the book in Brian’s hands.

“What?! Finally found one you like, freak?”

Brian smiles, and tightens his grip, “Yup, it’s perfect.”

Brian waits until Andy’s attention is drawn back to the film. Once it is he pulls his arms back over his left shoulder, twisting his body tight like a coiled spring. Then he releases. The first shot connects hard to the face with loud thwack, shattering Andy’s nose. We don’t look alike anymore, shitbrains. The sound bounces through the room like the echo from a high dive belly flop. He feels the weight of the object in his grasp, sees the red of the polo shirt turn a dark crimson. Either the movie or the mirror suddenly gets louder. Andy screams and grabs at his face, he tries to get out of the chair but the second shot slams him back hard against the soft leather. The third shot to the face leaves him stunned and he drops his hands away, the fourth knocks him from the chair and his skull hits the rug below without a sound.

Brian is no longer smiling. He kicks Andy onto his back, kneels over him and brings the book down on the other boy’s head again, and again, and again. When he can’t bring it up above his head anymore, he grips both sides of the thick novel in hand like a rock, or a sandwich, and proceeds to smash the book down like a coconut on a white stone. He knows it isn’t the way they’re made anymore but he wants to see metal and bolts and cogs and springs and lights beneath the stripped synthetic skin, but as the skull caves under the force of the blows there is only a dark red pulp. Brian is crying as he continues to erase any semblance of a head, yelling into the mess the same thing repeatedly.

I’m real! I’m real! I’m REAL!”As the warm blood splashes all over his face, he imagines it is oil and bares his teeth.

The book, now coated in blood, finally slips from his hands and he collapses onto the rug, panting, drenched in sweat and staring at the ceiling with vacant, unseeing eyes. He lays there until he catches his breath, already thinking about what to do with the body. He hadn’t thought that far ahead he realizes, and now pictures a corpse rotting away and filling the small space with its putrid odor. Brian looks at the stone steps leading to the metal door with the red light over it. He sees the yellow suit hanging there and decides he can risk the time it will take to dump Andy outside, it’s not like he’s going to bury him. It’s only a few minutes at most, what’s the worst that could happen? He gets to his feet, grabs Andy’s legs and hauls him towards the door. The spine and skull remnants leave a trail of blood.

Brian hits the button on the door and it slides open. He looks over the landscape and after seeing a drop off that way, decides east is as good a direction as any. He pulls the body by the ankles, fogging up the screen on his suit with his labored breaths. He gets to the drop off and without looking rolls Andy over the side. The noise the body makes when it hits something is not the sound of a body hitting dirt. The sound reminds him of the thick smack of meat hitting a butcher’s block. His gut tells him to just walk away but his curiosity gets the better of him, and Brian looks over the edge. He stares unbelieving for a few moments then starts screaming and turns and runs back towards the shelter, looking behind him as he goes to make sure the things form the pit aren’t coming after him, coming to drag him down with them.

Brian runs in through the door, and after he is decontaminated he paces around the room mumbling to himself. He looks up and sees his reflection in the large mirror. He turns from his reflection only to run into it again over the sink. He smashes the drinking glass beside the sink and is digging the shards into his wrist when a deafening buzzing noise sounds throughout the shelter, the tone of the alarm does something to Brian and he drops the shard of glass and just stands there, motionless.

The red light above the metal door turns green. The lights in the shelter go dim, and only then are the silhouettes of people behind the mirror visible.

There are three of them, a woman in glasses with her auburn hair in a tight bun, an older gentleman with white hair and a beard to match, and the third, who looks how you might picture either Brian or Andy to look like around the age of forty, all of them wearing long white coats.

“I really thought we had it this time,” she says, tossing her pad and pen down on the table.

“I’m lost. They’re as close to perfect as we can get. We can’t possibly alter them to make them any more genuine. They’re indistinguishable from a regular person down to the molecular level.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. We made them too much like us,” the younger man says, and then walks to the changing room.

The other two follow and without another word, they put on their full-body yellow suits, strip off the boys’ clothes and take Brian out through the metal door. As the door slides open the dark turbulent skies are visible over the scorched earth. They drag the body a hundred yards east of the facility and push it over a drop-off into a large hole. It lands atop a pile of twelve-year-old boys in varied states of decomposition, some with slit throats, others with their wrists opened or stab wounds in the chest, many more with twisted necks and more than a few without a head. They walk back to the shelter and go inside.

“My father was right about all of this. Even after years and years of work, after his success at copying me, he knew it wasn’t the answer. Now all these perversions of my own boy…that’s enough. I can’t watch it anymore”

“You know how you feel after, but we need to keep at it, you know that, it was your idea. Otherwise that’s it. One more and then we toss it in, okay. I know we’ve said that before but we don’t have access to equipment for any other option, and we know you and I can’t — I mean…” she says, looking away from the younger man, her cheeks reddening.

The elder man picks up where she left off, “We’re going to need to take a new sample from your boy, and I’m sorry but that’s all-”

“It’s not worth it. That was it.”

“Please honey, we-”

“We’re done. I’m burying him tomorrow, properly.”

“We need him!”

“He’s done. We’re all done.”

Advertisements

Local Tourist

By Joel Allyn

11/11/2011

1,700 words

A successful man struggling with a childhood trauma revisits all the sites of his hometown, which he has ignored for years.

I’m sitting atop the Ferris wheel Mark, Richie and I used to ride as boys. The view is still the same, the city to my left, the lake to my right. Everything else has changed, but it’s still a pretty good place to die.

I have been sick for some time. I have no proper diagnosis, and you won’t see anything on an x-ray or CAT scan, but I’m just the walking dead at this point. I went around today getting reacquainted with the city of my childhood. Went and visited almost every place I’d hung around with Mark and Richie. All the spots we later abandoned as we got older, realized our haunts were known as tourist traps, and therefore not cool. I’ve walked by several of these places since on an almost daily basis, never sparing a second glance.

Once, Mark and I grabbed a beer right across the street from where it happened, and we didn’t mention Richie at all. Come to think of it, since he was killed I don’t know that we have ever spoken of him. I know that besides giving statements to the cops that day, and later explaining things to our parents, we’ve never talked about Mark’s choice, but it still weighs on me every day. Even now, some twenty odd years later, I still second guess every decision, wondering what Richie would have done in my place. But Richie’s gone, and I’m not, not yet.

Called for an ambulance a few minutes ago – once I see those flashing lights I will finish out this wasted second chance, but at least I’ll go out with a bang. Just have to make sure my aim is true. I am, after all, an organ donor. I have plenty of regrets, but there are two things I know I can say I did right, what I’m about to do and how I spent today.

It wasn’t even the typical ‘last day’ stuff I got to do, like quit my job. It was more about finally abandoning all my fear and absurd reservations and hardened opinions. Finding joy in things I’d dismissed long ago, never bothering to grant them even a second thought.

After coffee and making a call into the office, I stopped over and visited with Mark for a while. He looked like shit, but despite everything he was his typical ever-optimistic self. I pried for details but he was concerned with more important matters – how funny the pudding looked, and whether or not I’d seen the young nurse, the cute one, with the great tits. I hadn’t, but nodded and we laughed together. Then at last, we got on with it. No donors so no chance, but no big deal, he made sure to add. He’d done plenty, most of it good, said I was living proof of that. We didn’t mention the flip side of that coin, but for just a moment Richie hung between us in the silence.

Told Mark the news about Dave Duerson, the former Bear had shot himself the day before. Duerson had been one of Mark’s favorites, and I wanted to tell him first, to gauge his reaction. I explained how he’d shot himself in the abdomen, in order to preserve his brain so it could be donated for research. He wanted it studied for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I only remembered the name because brain changes associated with it have been found in over twenty athletes who died relatively young.

Mark’s sadness was clear, but he admitted, “Well that’s pretty damn noble of him. I mean god damn.”

I was relieved that he agreed with my view on the whole idea. We played a few games of scrabble and a couple of games of chess. I went out and snuck him in some real food before leaving. Gave him a big hug, said my goodbyes and started towards the door. Halfway across the room I stopped, turned back and mentioned to Mark that I planned to swing by the Ferris wheel at the pier.

“Jesus, man. I don’t even remember the last time we went down there,” he said.

But he did, we both did. How could he forget, everything from that day is still etched in my memory like stained glass – from breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, to the Ferris wheel, the boat downriver, and the tragic ending.

I knew I’d never get another chance, so I put aside all the fear and guilt that had kept me mum for decades. I let myself blurt out the question which has plagued me for so long. Since the day Mark made the choice which saved my life, my life instead of Richie’s.

“Do you ever regret it, Mark? Ever think you made the wrong choice?” I said.

There, it was out, the worst was over, I thought. I had asked, and no matter what else, I could have some peace after letting that albatross fall away.

Bless him, he looked me square in the face and lied, “No, never.”

After leaving the hospital I headed straight to Gino’s East. I felt guilty, thinking of the grub Mark would be stuck with for a while after his transplant surgery. The day was about indulging guilt free though, and nothing says indulgence like a deep dish pie from Gino’s. Sounds like a commercial slogan. I hadn’t visited our old favorite pizza joint in close to fifteen years, since I’d taken some girl from college who I’d wanted to impress with my local eatery knowledge. I craved it often enough, but never quite enough to deal with the mandatory forty-five minute wait just to place your order, and good luck grabbing just a slice.

After passing through the double glass doors, I was greeted by a woman old enough to be my mother and seated at the bar. I ordered a beer and sat there with a big dumb smile on my face. The place hadn’t changed a bit. Still dark, still filled with graffiti, red booths lining the room, the air filled with garlic and the smell of old beer which has seeped into the wood over the years. It was packed as usual, but I felt like it was all just for me, and I was right at home. The only thing different was the pizza – it was even better than I remembered.

I only made it through three slices, but took the rest to go and gave it to the first homeless guy I came across. He looked at me like I was a god and seemed lost for words. I just smiled and walked on.

I thought I was just walking around at random, but when I found myself standing before the imposing dark tower, I suspected I knew better. As I ascended all one hundred and eight stories I was giddy, no other word for it. On the elevator, I couldn’t even hold still and must have looked like I either really had to pee, or was just mental. I noticed a woman who seemed to be attempting to merge with the corner of the lift.

The view was one I’d seen dozens of times. I knew I’d enjoy it, but hadn’t expected to be quite so overwhelmed. In the midday quiet of the observation level, looking over everything, I held out my arms and cupped my hands, as though I could cradle the entirety of the cityscape below. If ever the full weight of Mark’s choice – and now my own – weighed down on me it was then, as I was far removed, above it all. I actually surprised myself when I felt a tear or two cascade down my cheek. I started laughing. I turned and saw the woman from the lift, hurrying away.

Hours went by without notice. I walked from one glass wall to the next, soaking up every bit of the place that held my birth, my adolescence, my manhood, and soon, my death. It should have been a priority to go there once a month, hell, maybe once a week. The view somehow helps put it all in perspective. It’s all so small from up there. You almost believe you could put it in your pocket and take it with you. Of course, once you’re back on the ground, the feeling first slips and then fades, and then you forget. It’s like a near death experience. You promise that you’ll make the most of every moment of your second chance and you recite carpe diem, and for a while it works, but nobody can really sustain that attitude every day. You forget to remember, and then you lose it.

Today, at least, I managed to hold onto it.

I visited quite a few other places before coming to the Ferris wheel, but time is short, and I think I’ll keep those for myself. Mark will know what they were, I’m sure, and that’s really all that matters. Some places better than they were, some worse, some gone, but they were all great. The trip down river, at sunset, is still the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had.

Mark won’t go on to change the world. I can’t be certain of that, but I don’t see him selling his dad’s bar to go off and cure cancer or anything. He will go on though, and better him than me I feel. I like to think this is what Richie would have done. Though of course, he would have thought of whoever will have to clean the mess off this Ferris wheel, and found a better way. He was always the better of us.

The lights are coming around the corner, that’s my cue. Thank you for everything, Mark. I didn’t deserve any of it, and I wish I’d done more with it. I wonder what Richie would have done?