Everything aches when I wake up. Laying down on the sidewalk, all I see are the mountainous buildings that seem to be shooting miles up into a thick fog, outlined in neon and pasted with billboards. My skull feels like it’s filled with rocks and a small MMA fighter who is kicking and punching my brain in an attempt to escape. I get up and start heading down the cold alley.
I’m walking between two large industrial buildings and everything else is silent except the drip, drip, drip of the late rain. My shoes fill with water from the puddles scattered on the old, cracked pavement. I don’t remember the last time it rained. I don’t really remember anything in fact, but I can tell that it has been months because I can smell that freshly-wet cement that smells like wet dust.
I feel like I have been walking for hours, but my perception of time must be off. There are broken down cars and overfilled garbage cans lining the base of buildings. Dotting the alley with circles of white and filling the space with pitch black in between are bright lamps attached to the building walls every 100 feet or so.
As I walk down the seemingly endless passage staring at my own shadow, I pass a van with an open door. I look inside for something, anything, but I am frozen. A man stares back at me. This man is me.
* * *
I wake up again. My body feels paralyzed but my eyes are wide open. I eventually, yet dreadfully, get out of bed; it’s noon afterall.
I didn’t realize I had been spacing off in the shower. I can’t stop thinking about that weird dream; I have never experienced something so real before. I shake the thought from my mind, wash out the shampoo from my hair, and turn the shower off. I can hear faint yelling and realize it’s John, my best friend. When I am done in the bathroom, he is waiting for me on the couch. He’s watching The Bachelorette, eating those disgusting kale chips from Costco he likes.
He must be really into the show, and he jumps when I enter the room.
“Oh my god, Sas, you scared me!” he yelps and after a few calming breaths he continues, “Anywho, I have important business to share with you.”
“Yeah, what? Is Beyoncé coming to town? Or did you get another match on Tinder?” I say jokingly.
“Thanks for being rude, but no actually. I’ve been invited by the mayor to attend the city’s 350th annual charity gala. She said she is ‘very impressed’ with my work for the children’s hospital,” he gloats.
“That’s cool…” I go on, “but what does that have to do with me?”
John winks and says, “I’m glad you asked, Sascha. You’re my plus one. Saturday, seven p.m., don’t be late.”
* * *
I finally get to wear my funeral suit. My mom bought it for me years ago for my dad’s funeral when he was diagnosed with cancer. He still hasn’t kicked the bucket, so I haven’t gotten the chance to wear it yet. My dad and I never had the best relationship; he was always distant in my childhood and my mom was always there for me.
I check my phone, it’s 5 p.m. so I’m good on time. I shower, dry off, put the funeral suit on, slick my hair back, and I look pretty good for someone who lives off Chinese takeout and Netflix. John is wearing one of his many fancy suits. This one is navy with pinstripes; he has always known how to dress himself well no matter what the event. I’m a little jealous of that, but I like my all-black funeral suit.
“Lookin’ good, feelin’ good,” John chirps with a bounce before we step out the door. We take the provided limo to city hall, drink the champagne, then everything goes black.
* * *
I wake up on a wet sidewalk and the neon lights are too bright and my headache is too painful. I don’t know where I am or how I got here. I know I’m Sascha, but I have no memories of my life. Nothing is familiar; this isn’t my city and I don’t recognize these tall industrial buildings. I stumble in and out of the white and black abysses.
Walking down the backstreet, I notice a van. When I get to it, I look inside, and turn stiff like a statue. It’s like looking in a mirror, but it’s not a mirror; it’s real. He looks like me but sick. His skin and hair is snow white and I can see every blue vein on his body. I am still frozen and I can’t speak but he reads my mind.
“Who am I? Well, isn’t that obvious?” He answers before I even ask. “Enough questions already, I will tell you all the answers in time, but first, get in here. We can’t be seen in the open together. They’re looking for me.”
“Who?” I finally get a chance to speak as I crawl in and close the van door.
“You really have no idea? Your whole life they never told you?” he says.
“Who never told me what?” My mind keeps spinning. There’s no way this is real.
“Your parents. As a baby you were put into a human duplication trial under a company called Archaea,” he says, “The trial wasn’t a success; no duplicates lived except me. All the employees started getting cancer so the government shut it down when they found out about all the dying kids and sick people.”
“My parents knew about this? They let this happen?” I say.
“They signed you up… Your father was the head of the Archaea medical research team. He did all the testing on you. But when your father saw me, he took you and ran. Nobody ever saw either of you again. I’ve been looking for you since I escaped five years ago.”
“Escaped?” I ask.
“Since I was the only successful duplicate to come from the trial, they have been conducting research on me. Every day for 15 years they poked and prodded me, injected me with things, scraped my skin, dissected bone, you name it. They told me everything because they were going to kill me eventually, but I earned their trust and when they had their guard down, I ran. I’ve been looking for you for the past five years,” and with a sorrowful look on his pale face, he says, “I need your help.”