Short Stories, Writing

My Children Are Me

By Alexander Eden

The first time I gave birth, an unwanted imp violently burst from my body into the world. No one else was with me during that horrible process; just me and the parasite both screaming in a half-furnished tenement room. This was not normal. It was not natural. It should not have even been possible. A man should not have been able to give birth as I was.

I suppose calling it “giving birth” gives off the wrong idea. I don’t have the parts for a natural birth, I never did. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as reproduction by budding. The thing was not so much coming out of me as it was growing from me; rapidly expanding my stomach’s flesh like rising dough until clear fingers developed on the surface, followed by the rest of the body, swimming out of the newly formed dome. It all happened so quickly, less than 20 minutes to be sure, with no strange signs ahead of time that could have possibly led to this. I could only watch and contort as the shaky, lumped form of whatever had invaded me revealed itself, letting out its piercing whines alongside mine. And as I wrapped my arms around the ever-expanding growth, in some weak attempt to try and contain it, the newborn fell into my arms. But it was not a baby at all, far from it.

Despite its infant size, the creature was far from what could be described as infantile. Its head, arms, and legs, despite their size, were unmistakably those of a fully grown, properly proportioned man. And as I looked down with abject horror at what wriggled in my arms, I realized that I was gazing into a funhouse mirror. This minuscule man was unmistakably myself.

Before I could decide what I could possibly do with this being that I had created, it acted. This clone sprung to life, leapt from my arms, and sprinted around like a bat out of hell. I fell to the floor, dumbfounded, and watched as it ran towards the door, leapt into the air, and turned the knob to open it. And as it left to God knows where, all I could do was lie on the floor, trembling from fear and the sheer exertion spent, until I fell asleep.

In the morning, my skin had returned to normal, no physical signs that anything that happened the night before was even real. It was enough to try to convince myself that I only had one horrible dream, and for a long time I tried to do just that, letting the weeks go by ignoring the occasional cryptid sightings being reported; a goblin-man running around, stealing food and children’s clothing from people in the night. The human mind can believe a lot of things if you just work hard enough at it.

It worked, until I had my second child. It had been around a year, maybe a year and a half since the first incident, a memory I had pushed as far into the back of my mind as I could. I was still living in the same room in the same broken building, which I knew I would have to leave soon once the city got the go ahead to demolish it, though I had no idea where I would head once that happened. I was still moving from odd job to odd job, making it by the skin of my teeth each day. In short, things weren’t great.

I could have dealt with all of that if it weren’t for the loneliness. The details themselves do not matter beyond bridges being burnt and an inability to build new ones. I was completely alone, struggling each day with no one to talk to, not even knowing how to meet anyone, how to speak to anyone while in the dark place I was in. It hurt.

That was when the second birth started. At first, it was very familiar. The sudden and unexpected bubbling and rising of my skin, falling to my knees, the formation of outstretched hands trying to force their way free. You would think that this experience that was so horrifying the first time I experienced it would have been just as terrible the second time around.

I was quiet, just kneeling there, watching this child growing out from me. The pain was still there, but it was softer, tolerable. I did not fight against the child, and the child no longer seemed to be fighting against me, just making its way out. I preemptively held out my arms as a cradle, and my child slid out into them.

He was not like my first child. He did not look like a miniature me, but a genuine infant, indistinguishable from a normal baby boy. I knew he could not have been a normal human though, there was no possible way. He was some kind of clone. But if he was, why did he rest peacefully in my arms like any other newborn? Why wasn’t he a half-developed lunatic? I still don’t have all the answers to this day. My only guess is that my first birth was such a stressful ordeal, done so quickly, that it resulted in the imp.

Whatever the case was, the child I now had, despite its creation, was healthy and normal, and I could not help but embrace it. I spent the whole day cradling it in the room, alternating between dread caused by the countless questions this baby brought up and peace as I looked down at the resting face of who I had created. Never once did the baby cry or do anything else to interrupt its supernatural calm that lasted from sunrise to sunset.

The baby was gone by the time I woke up, replaced by the body of a toddler, no older than two, and the spitting image of me at that age. Needless to say, it was a surprising development. Yet channeling the calm that helped me get through the second birth, I simply watched the boy, studying him, trying to understand what he exactly was. He rummaged through my almost barren cupboard, pulling at whatever cereal box or bag of chips interested him, eating from it slowly, leaving no mess. Later, he played with whatever he could find in the room, pens and discarded bottles, making them his action figures. After that, he sat by my side on my couch, poking me, playing with my hair, studying me himself. All the while, he was silent, never once making a word outside of a grunt or gasp.

The next day, he was seven years old and could speak perfectly, miraculously aged overnight. He wanted to play with me. He wanted to know what my name was, what his name was. And I answered his questions the best I could, and somehow, despite all the strangeness, I was filled with a cardinal joy. I had someone who needed me, someone to care for, who came from me, who could only have come from me through whatever ability, biological or mystical, allowed me to create him. So I continued to entertain him, and answer whatever question he had, occasionally asking some of my own, though he knew as much about what he was as I did. I kept answering questions until one came up that froze me in place. “I’m hungry.”

I realized that I could not take care of him. No matter what kind of child he was, he was still a child, something I could not possibly provide for. I could hardly feed myself. As soon as I had gained someone to love, I had to get rid of him, for his own sake. After a painfully long silence, during which I had to come to terms with this revelation while my child just stared at me, digging into my spirit, I told him that I would take him to a place with lots of food, and new friends for him to make, in a home much better than my own.

I took him to an orphanage, told him to go inside and explain that he needed a home, and left him there. In the days that followed, I watched from a distance, in case my desperate attempt to give him proper care failed. It was a long process, but with a child who had no real memory of who he was, or who his parents were besides a single man he only knew for a day, they had no choice but to accept him into their care. It was only a month later where I read a tabloid newspaper telling a story about a little boy who grew into an adult practically overnight, and now happily worked in the orphanage that cared for him, not questioning a thing.

Two years passed before I would have a third child. You would think that having unleashed a clone of myself unto the world would have changed everything, for better or worse, but it didn’t. Maybe because no one believed the rumors of some unknown man in an orphanage turning into an adult overnight. Maybe because my grown son was just accepted by the caretakers as a strange new part of their lives. Maybe because my son was content enough with his life to not go looking for answers he wouldn’t be able to find from me or anyone else. I could only pretend to be his identical twin for so long before someone became suspicious, so I only visited briefly, watching from a distance, an occasional hand wave here and there, and that was it.

Life was different though, even if it had nothing to do with my condition. Not being able to care for my son made me realize just how low my life had gotten, and that I was the only one who could set it right again. I won’t bore you with the details, but after some time I was able to find steady work as a longshoreman, a dock worker, moving boxes on and off boats. It wasn’t a dream job by any means, but it was work that I could find easily. With each job, I got better at talking to people, first to get orders, then to get connections. I could afford a simple place, but a real place, not that excuse for a room in that tenement building long since demolished. I was happy. Then the bubbling of my flesh began again.

I was not scared this time, nor overwhelmed by a sense of spiritual acceptance. This was just an unexpected return of something I had been through before, and after a short time I had my third clone in my arms. Nearly identical to the second birth, he was just a normal baby, no strange mutations. After two days he was a seven year old, asking questions about who I, and he, was, along with every other question under the sun. Only this time, I did not look around at an empty hovel and realize I had nothing I could provide the boy with. I had a real home, I had food, I had heat. I could care for him. So I did.

The third child aged quickly; not just physically but mentally as well. Within a month, he had gone from a little boy to an adult, an identical version of me, already knowing enough about how the world worked to be indistinguishable from any other human being. This clone didn’t just have my body, but my knowledge too. If my mind was a computer, this clone had downloaded all the essentials for human survival while he was being made. All he lacked was my memories.

It was funny, he knew how to read, how to discuss and argue, even how to get from one side of the city to the other on the subway, but he couldn’t for the life of him tell anyone who he exactly was. We had each other though, and that was enough. I was his father and his mother, and when he was fully aged he was like a roommate, a dear friend who I knew for years who lived alongside me. I was happy, and so was he for a time.

One day he told me he wanted to do something. He wanted to leave the home, not just to explore the city or spend some of his allowance money, but to find a job of all things. He told me he wanted to work, not just sit around in the apartment and mooch off of me. I had no idea what to tell him. He didn’t have any qualifications for anything, he didn’t even have a past. Then I realized he didn’t need a past if he could just borrow mine.

It was a risky move, but the circumstances were so odd in the grand scheme of things that I decided it wouldn’t be harmful just to experiment with the idea. He knew I worked docks and was smart enough to figure out whatever needed to be done on the fly. Along with that, he knew about the regular workers I’d often meet from the stories I told him when he was still in a child. After a little bit of preemptive training, I sent him out to do my job, simple as that.

He did well. He did really well. He was so good at pretending to be me that no one even batted an eye. Not only that, while this job that was only a means to an end for me, just a way to live somewhat comfortably, he loved it. For whatever reason being out in the world working, even if it was as minor as moving supplies back and forth, filled him with so much satisfaction that he couldn’t stop talking about it back home. I could just sit back and have him do my job, and we both won.

At first I tried playing it as safely as I could. He only worked once a week, and I did the rest of the work, just to make sure with my own eyes no one ever noticed anything changing about me. Then later, we took weeks back and forth. I’ll admit, my time off was fantastic. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and if anything came up that I didn’t want to do, I could just have my clone do it for me. So eventually I told him to take up more of my work days. Then he did all my work at the dock for me. Extra work, too, if I wanted more money down the road. Soon enough I was getting him to go out of his way to do anything else I didn’t want to do. It might have been taking advantage of him, but he was my clone, and he wanted to go out in the world, so why should I have stopped him?

So I continued pushing him to do every duty I could, and he did them without question. First he went out with great enthusiasm; even the simplest task of picking up laundry was a new adventure for him to do. Then it just became routine, me lounging around while he did all the duties.

He started to complain that I wasn’t doing my part anymore, and to ease tensions I occasionally did something nice for him, but I didn’t stop my demands completely. I was too accustomed to the new lifestyle. Then the arguments came, him saying that I was using him like a slave, me saying that he didn’t appreciate everything I had given him. It wasn’t a good few months.

He told me he wanted to be his own man. He was tired of being me. He wanted to go to college, like I once did before I dropped out, so he could learn and discover what he wanted to do with his life. It was funny. My own clone was trying to do what I couldn’t. I laughed in his face.

It wasn’t long after when he told me he was going to leave. At first I thought it was just a threat, that he was just angry and acting out. He wasn’t joking. He packed his things in front of me, things I didn’t even know he had. Clothing he had bought with his own money, a plane ticket to who knows where he had saved up for. I told him that it would be impossible for him to survive alone, that he needed me and my past to get by. He told me that he was not me, that he would find a way. And he left. And I was alone again.

The anger passed in a few days. Then there was a silence. It was followed by a crushing sorrow. I remember when I first felt it distinctly. I was back at work, since I had no one to do it for me anymore, moving a particularly heavy box slowly up to a cargo ship. My muscles were soft from being off the clock for so long, and people noticed, even if they didn’t say anything directly. Waddling step by step, worrying about throwing out my back, I couldn’t help but softly curse my clone for abandoning me. But the fire was gone at this point. Saying those things to myself didn’t prolong my anger. It was like an emotionless mantra.

And then it hit me, the pain in my chest, the flooding of my head. A stinging, ashy sadness. It hit so hard I dropped the crate and fell on the ground, like I was giving birth again. Regret. I turned my own child into a thing. A tool. I pushed him out of my home and he was gone. I finally had everything right with this child, and I took him for granted. And it hurt terribly, because I had failed a child all over again. I bawled like a baby.

The pain haunted me like a heavy phantom holding me down. I didn’t even know where my son had gone. How could I apologize? How could I ask for his forgiveness, and help him become his own man? He had no connections to anyone, no background beyond me, how could he survive anywhere? I didn’t know, and it destroyed me.

But a great deal of time passed, as it always does, and like all wounds, mine began to heal, or, at the very least, scar. I went out of my way to meet new people, and do right by them however I could, maybe as some indirect penance. I even made more attempts to contact my second son, whose connection I equally cut before, though I made sure not replace my third with my second; it would only hurt both of us in the end. He was a good man, who cared for the orphans and lived simply, and I was proud, but I was not a father figure to him anymore, just an old friend. Each day was a struggle for me, but it got easier, and I knew I could live with it.

Until three years after my third son left home. I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.

It was a brief call. My son was on the other end. He told me where he had gone, the new home he had, and the new persona he had created for himself. He told me he forgave me. He told me he wanted me to visit him.

He told me that I needed to see my new grandson.

From what I was told, he looked exactly like me.

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