Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conspiracy of Me

This story was originally published in the October 2004 edition of Skive Magazine. It's no longer stored online with that publication, so here it is again, with some slight alterations.

There’s only one thing to say when 217 clones of yourself are walking the earth, wreaking havoc, conspiring to install a global oligarchy despite how many lives are ruined and innocents killed: I’m sorry.

I'd be the first to admit, somehow things went wrong. These things start when you have a semi-expensive university education, nothing but a crusty jar of mayonnaise in your refrigerator, and are willing to sell blood, marrow, organs to supplement your income. Soon, you're in a place like Madagascar, and, next thing you know, you’re signing papers before a so-called doctor with insect-like facial hair, amidst a symphony of tribal drums, screeching birds, and gunfire, and getting a huge check--the true value of your parts. Then, you’re in an exotic locale such as Kuala Lumpur, you see someone familiar amidst old-world shanty vagrants and new-world skyscraper businessmen, chase him until you reach the city's outskirts, and amidst a symphony of, well, tribal drums, screeching birds, and gunfire, you're face-to-face with yourself. What do you do? Stop, scream, run like hell, of course.

After my first encounter, I figured, it was just a nightmare. Then, after the second, I figured, drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation--I wasn't engaged in these, but they'd make good explanations. Then, they're everywhere--in passing cars, the bank, bowling alley. Complete infestation.

The doctor I had visited called. Dr. Multiplication was his name—yeah, really. He said to resist them. They're trying to contact me. They want to control the world, achieve global oligarchy, eliminate the English royal family, the World Bank, the Illuminati. They've already started. He said, I must not talk to them. They will hunt you down, you must flee.

So this doctor had granted me fugitive status. I was free to abandon my life--and my recently stocked refrigerator--and run from pursuers he created. Free to run from multiple versions of myself, no less. Great. How would you explain this to your therapist without her putting you on the thorazine submarine? You don't.

I traveled across the country, frequenting motels that rely on neon signage for communication and empty soda machines to make your experience truly miserable. All the while, I was dodging my clones. They're pumping gas, eating pancakes and sausage at diners, hitchhiking along dust-baked roadsides. Several times, I ran as a pack chases me. Saying my name, in stereo, in my now-hated voice.

I caught news snippets from CNN and discarded newspapers in diners. A Kremlin break-in. An assassination attempt on the Turkish prime minister. Some world-renown financial policymakers have disappeared. I think, this has to be their work.

Eventually, I tried calling Dr. Multiplication. His phone had been disconnected. I called his university department and, idiotically, asked for him. The receptionist said they'd never had a Dr. Multiplication, perhaps I should check mathematics, or elementary education.

Great. They got him too. More likely, he gave a bogus name. Of course. I'm such an idiot.

Later, I was at the beach. It had been two days since I'd seen a clone--perhaps they'd quit. Cotton candy and kite-flying would've been fun, but instead I contemplate the ocean and think--the ocean's filled with millions of identical fish, crabs, octopi, sharks. The water itself is infinite identical molecules. So's the sand I'm standing on.

I pondered this, then noticed others on the beach. The clones, slowly forming a tighter circle around me. There wasn't an opening. I moved from side to side, looking at this much-despised, much-replicated face.

They got close, and, as I felt I was about to be crushed, they stopped. I closed my eyes, heard my voice coming from distinct points around me. They're speaking. Theodore, Bartholomew, Regis. Their names. Gilbert, Ezekiel, Thomas. I opened my eyes. They're staring at me, like patient children, waiting for me to speak.

"Um, hello," I said, demonstrating a true gift with words.

The one named Bartholomew stepped forward. He said Dr. Multiplication was a madman, that they weren't trying to conquer the world. They're just lost, without identities, want to learn about life from their original self.

In the distance, I heard screams, hurried footsteps, speeding cars. We'd been spotted, and had scared the crap out of some folks.

It's an army of me. God help them, they're looking to me for guidance.

First thing, I said, was kites and cotton candy. Then, home to a stocked refrigerator. After that, who knows?

We're going to scare the hell out of people.

For this, I'm truly sorry.

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