The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2020 Winners Anthology Fueled By Fire here.
“Clones” by Elizabeth Meigs, Marist High School
Honorable Mention, High School Level, 2020
By Elizabeth Meigs
Marist High School
There was nothing; a void. She floated in emptiness, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, just being. She sat in her tank, her own personal slice of the world, eyes closed. The fluid around her body lifted her, making her float. The number on her tank read “A24W7Z.” The closest she’d ever come to an identity.
There was nothing. Then all of a sudden, there was something. She sat up with the force of it, memories, dreams, feelings all flooding her brain. She felt their names as she experienced each one in return, but remained unsure of what they were. She thrashed her body around, trying to escape the hold on her mind, but this thing had dug its claws in deep. A mother kissing her child, an old man blowing out candles on a cake, a puppy, now aged in the next snapshot as the kids grew with him. She shook her body, willing herself to escape, only managing to spill water everywhere in her violent fit.
Next, she was a kid in a classroom, cheating on a quiz. Her chest tightened at the feeling of it, emotions overcoming her. But now, look! She was outside, a small girl bundled up, enjoying her day off from school and playing in the snow. She reached her hand out, mesmerized by the white flakes falling from the sky. One came close, and kissed her palm as it fizzled out into nothingness. The vision pinned her in place and she lay, limbs stilled, unable to move, only able to take in a ragged breath, exhaling it in the next moment.
She was now an older girl on the cusp of adulthood, sitting in a church, heavy with the anguish of loss. She now felt herself unable to breathe, and her heart hurt in ways she’d never experienced, and she clawed at her chest to make it stop.
Suddenly, as soon as it had come, everything vanished, and she was pulled back to reality and her small tank.
A gasp of air, then a second.
The strange experience relaxed its hold, and she was finally able to move. The whole thing left her feeling emptier than before. But it still left her feeling something.
What did this all mean? Why her? Why now?
She sat up in her small pool with the sudden urge to get out. She needed out. It felt like the chamber walls around her were closing in, suffocating her. A24W7Z didn’t know what to do, but she took the moment to still her breathing and examine her surroundings.
Looking around, she remembered that she was not the only one there. In fact, many shallow pools fanned out before her, behind her, and all other directions. She could see the familiar figures floating absently in each pool. Each figure exactly the same, lying face up, all body parts covered in a shallow casing of water that stopped below their noses. She reached up and touched her own features in recognition of the bond they all shared.
She remembered the faces, the face. It was cold and callous, set with wide doe eyes, and a deceptively innocent looking pair of lips. The face, sewn onto each body, each being, ended the thought of individuality and enforced sameness. She thought about that cruel face.
A thought crossed her mind, and it happened so quickly, she was startled and fell out of the tank. “This is wrong,” she thought. She wasn’t sure how her mind, meant for rational thinking, and hardwired with facts, came to the conclusion, but there it was. A sickly sensation overcame her, and she realized the evil around her. She thought back to the vision of the kid cheating on a test. The feeling was similar, only one hundred times worse.
But still, the fact that she was even having thoughts and ideas was absurd.
As she lay on the cold ground outside of her safe pool, she felt herself shrink, pulling her knees close to her chest and wrapping her arms around her slim body. Little tremors fired off like a canon all over her, and she shook, burying her head under her arms. She remembered one of her visions, the one with the kid and the snow. The feeling was similar, and she realized with a start that she was cold.
“I need to fix this,” she said, her voice hoarse from little use.
Suddenly, she heard a loud scratching noise, as if heavy metal was being dragged along a surface. Then, a light padding noise. 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2. A pair of footsteps.
She looked down at herself, and was—what was the word? Oh, yes, embarrassed. She was embarrassed looking at her naked body, with nothing to clothe herself in the near vicinity. This normally wouldn’t have mattered, but now?
The footsteps grew in volume, increasing just as she tried desperately to make herself smaller.
The footsteps stopped. There was a warm hand on her bare back, and she shivered as she leaned into that touch.
“A24W7Z, are you well?” The girl sitting on the floor thought a moment. What did “well” mean?
“I—” She tried again, willing her voice to still. “I feel different.” She looked up at the girl standing beside her, seeing the face twisted into a confused expression.
“I wonder if you caught the virus going around. We have a weakened immune system, you know.” Yes, that must be it! She wasn’t going crazy after all! A virus was to blame for these strange dreams, these visions she couldn’t shake. She nodded in agreement.
“Here, I’ll help you up and escort you to the medical wing.” A24W7Z stood on shaking legs, wrapping her arms around her chest, making a shield against the frigid air.
“So cold,” she muttered to herself as she walked beside her escort. The other girl paused, frozen like the air of the room.
“What did you just say?” the other girl said slowly, a threat of danger lacing her words.
“Nothing, I just was wondering how long to the medical wing.” The girl looked back at her. An unusual expression crossed her face, but it was gone moments later, and her face, their face, returned to a neutral, pleasant facade. A24W7Z wasn’t sure why she felt the need to cover up her misstep, but she saw something in that girl’s face, felt a prick of fear that had her arm hairs standing up straight when she tensed.
The pair of girls made their way out the metal doors that led to the rest of the compound, and started down a pristine white hallway. Other girls passed them on their journey, all the same blank expression, every girl identical to the last. A24W7Z suddenly felt completely alone in the sea of bodies.
All too soon, the girls arrived at the medical wing, and they were ushered into a room. Thankfully, her escort requested a set of clothes for A24W7Z to wear and she put them on greedily, happy to have a barrier between her and the others.
A doctor came in moments later, and the doctor’s face mirrored theirs. The doctor smiled slightly. “A24W7Z, is it?”
She nodded a yes. “Good, now what seems to be the problem?” The doctor took a seat in front of them, and the girl glanced between her and her escort, unsure of where to begin. Before she had too much time to think about it, the girl beside A24W7Z launched into the story for her.
“I was doing my routine checks of the sleeping pods, when I noticed that there was a disturbance with one. I found A24W7Z on the ground just outside her pod. It seemed to me that she may have the virus.”
The doctor pursed her lips thoughtfully. “If that’s the case, I should be able to run a test to confirm, and then give you instructions on how to heal up.”
A24W7Z bobbed her head in agreement.
The doctor got up from her chair and opened a cabinet to grab a syringe. The girl felt a shudder through her. Usually needles didn’t bother her, but today she didn’t want it anywhere near her.
“Are you sure this is necessary? I think I’m feeling better already,” A24W7Z exclaimed as she stood, eager to keep distance between the doctor and herself.
“Relax. There is obviously something wrong with you. I just have to make sure you have the virus before I give you anything.” Before she could escape, the doctor grasped her arm and guided her body back into a sitting position. It took every ounce of willpower she had not to sprint away.
As the needle drew nearer to the junction between her arm, A24W7Z sat straight up and held her breath. She didn’t like it one bit.
“Huh, you are acting very odd,” the doctor said. Then she plunged the needle straight into her.
The girl tried not to think about the doctor and her close proximity. She stared straight at the wall and pretended to be interested in the diagram displayed there. But all she could think about were the visions she was trying so hard to ignore. They weren’t normal, and they simply didn’t make sense.
What felt like forever ended when the doctor released her hold on the girl’s arm and withdrew the needle. A24W7Z gasped, releasing the breath she was holding in. The doctor only gave her another strange look.
“I’m going to test your blood for the virus. I’ll be back shortly.” The doctor exited the room. The two girls sat there patiently waiting for the results. Small talk was usually discouraged, so the escort pulled out her tablet, presumably to get some work done, while the other girl just stared at the diagrams opposite her, which featured the muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems.
A24W7Z was halfway through memorizing the muscles poster when the doctor re-entered the room. The doctor looked down at her clipboard and sighed.
“As far as I can tell, nothing is wrong with you. You don’t have the virus, and all your vitals are normal. I don’t know what to tell you.” A24W7Z frowned. Was there really nothing wrong with her? Then why did she still feel so weird?
She debated with herself on whether or not she should reveal the real reason she was out of her pod. What would the doctor say? Would she believe her? She finally decided that she had to tell somebody, even if they didn’t believe her.
“I . . . ” she began, unsure of where she was going with this. “I saw something earlier, while I was in my pod.” She felt the doctor’s and girl’s heads snap to her, and she knew she had their undivided attention. “I don’t know what to call it. But I saw things that I’ve never seen. There was this dessert and these little sticks of fire stuck in it. I think it was called a birthday.” The doctor and the girl said nothing, only widened their eyes. A24W7Z took this as a hint to continue.
“And there was this white stuff falling from the sky, I think the word was snow. It was unlike anything I ever felt before.” She paused. “I felt cold.” At this, the doctor stepped forward, and the girl stood. They glanced between her and each other, murmuring. They looked like two scheming twins standing there together. A24W7Z caught snippets of their conversation, but only the words “awake” and “impossible.”
Their increasingly inquisitive faces only served to worsen the panic she began feeling when she walked through the medic doors an hour ago. Slowly, A24W7Z lifted herself out of the plastic chair. The pair stopped conversing immediately, giving her their full attention.
“I think I should go, maybe get some more rest.”
“No, I think it would be best if you stayed. I know just the thing you need,” the doctor said, eyeing her up and down like she was a curious science experiment. Her steel gaze was unnerving.
The girl started towards the door anyway, not liking the tone of the doctor’s voice and her storm cloud eyes. A24W7Z tried to push towards the door, but the pair grabbed her and walked her to the table.
“No! Please let me go! I’m fine!”
“No, you’re not. You’re very sick. Please remain calm.” The doctor’s words did nothing to console the thrashing girl. They pushed her on the table, and before she had the chance to escape, the girl who escorted her pulled out restraints hidden underneath the examination table.
A24W7Z saw these and bucked like a wild horse. There was no way she was going to willingly let someone put those awful things on her. But, unfortunately for her, two are stronger than one, and they eventually pinned her arms enough to tie them down. The legs were next to go, and the harsh leather dug into the soft skin of her ankles. The last was a thick band that was secured tightly around her waist to keep her in place.
She felt the tears rolling down her face. She had never felt this immense feeling of fear before. The unknown scared her. She heard the doctor roaming around the room looking for tools and closed her eyes as another tear managed to escape. She thought back to her visions to distract her. The snow, the test, the cake. She wouldn’t take any of it back. It was the only thing different, the only interesting thing ever to happen in her gray life. Every day was the same blur with the same face. The same person replicated as different beings. The same manipulation.
It seemed the doctor had found what she was looking for, and the girl strapped to the table glimpsed a shiny glass bottle and another needle. The doctor inserted the needle into the fluid and filled it completely. She walked toward the exam table and stopped when she saw the tears staining the girl’s face.
“Please, there’s nothing wrong with me. Don’t take them away.”
The doctor sighed. “This is not what you were meant to be, and you are of no service with your own thoughts and feelings.”
Before the girl could protest again, the doctor rammed the needle into her skin, and she felt herself slipping, fading. She let out a breath and relaxed onto the parchment paper beneath her. It didn’t feel painful, and she wasn’t scared anymore. In fact, it didn’t feel like anything.
She relaxed her head first, then let her shoulders drop, the nothingness flooding south. She unclenched her fists, released tension in her stomach, and felt her legs become heavy.
She stared up at the cruel face above her, the same features plastered onto her own face. She hated that face.
But even that burning hatred faded, and she lay there, returned to the shell she was the previous day, unfeeling, unmoving.
“You are only worth something as a clone, not as an individual. Remember that.”