Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Three is a Crowd

When I was in elementary school—excuse me—when he was in elementary school, Mom would always tell him to put his name on the markers. That way, if he dropped them or they got mixed in with other children’s things, he would know which were his.

It was ingenious, really. Most of the things moms tell you to do are. And it’s not that I didn’t want to. He didn’t want to, I mean. He just forgot. Always meant to at the next commercial break, or after chores, or tomorrow morning.

He still didn’t mark his stuff. He has the same black, nondescript wallet as anyone else, and one time someone actually found it on the ground. Shook it in his face. This yours? He figured for sure it was in his back pocket, and without checking said nope. I lost nine dollars and a Canadian nickel that day. He lost nine dollars. He did.

My name is Ryan Rayne. His name is too. Ryan Rayne, that is. Ryan’s mother had a lot of good ideas, but not a lot of good names, apparently. I’m pretty sure she’s his mother. Not mine. Mostly sure.

By the time we got back from Clynergy Inc. it was already too late. He/we/I really did mean to label who was really Ryan. But when we pulled into the drive and shut off the engine, rain softly pattering off the glass dome of the car, we looked at each other and could not for the life of us remember which was the clone. I’m pretty sure it’s me.

When I was just him, or perhaps more accurate, before I was me, or he was we, this sounded like a really awesome idea. No wonder, with all the marketing they had for Clone Life running.

Those advertisements could make a dog turd look like a dropped fifty. Every time you turned on the car, the windshield would brighten: “Welcome to your morning drive, your green energy transport has been brought to you today by the makers of Clone Life. Clynergy Inc. is dedicated to bringing your dreams to full realization.” Followed by montages of smiling people happily swaying in grass fields. Very Arthouse.

It was like pet rock for the rich. And Ryan was rich. With his monthly allowance, Ryan could buy one thing, either a Time Trip or a Clone Life. He was lonely, like any only child born into privilege. Now he was we and we were brothers. Were.

Things would have been so simple if we had just stuck a scratch and sniff sticker on one of our foreheads, or a tattoo on opposite butt-cheeks. See, I have all the memories of Ryan A. And of course, Ryan A has those same memories. But this zap-bang procedure, it kind of addles you; shakes your brain a little. Neither of us remember going into the building or even getting into the car afterwards.

Just that smell. Like formaldehyde and cherry cough drops. I/he hate those things. And the little dream-like echo, sliding off the inside of our skulls: “The original Ryan is wearing a bracelet to identify him. You will not take off the bracelet until you have made sure of your role as originator. This is impor…” That’s where it just slips… off and down into blackness.

The next moment I am looking at Ryan, and he at me, and in our minds, working just the same for just the same reasons, we’re trying to hold onto the eel of a thought. Bracelet. We looked at our arms. Nothing. We looked at the floor.

It was so dejected on the baseboards of the car, disheveled and alone. Ryan never liked jewelry. It must have been so automatic, brushing my arm where it felt weird until I was free. He was free, that is. I’m sure he was wearing it. Mostly sure.

Early on, our days were blissful. Who cares who is what? Ryan knew me better than anyone. And I liked myself. We’d finish each other’s sentences and laugh at our jokes and play rock paper scissors with each other.

But one day, I went rock, and he went paper. And then we knew that we weren’t the same. Couldn’t be the same. The more we both existed, the less we would remain me/he/us. This isn’t what got us trying to kill each other, but it was a step.

No one pushes a domino over hoping it will murder people at the end of its run. That would be malicious. And I don’t think that very many people are malicious. Most of us are just curious fools. There is a domino standing there, and behind it another, and behind that other, another, and so on. So you push. And wait. Us Ryans didn’t set out to kill each other. But we did push that domino.

“Who gets our girlfriend?” said Ryan. He was stirring his black tea with a pinky idly, sunlight streaming down on him from the skylights.

“Our girlfriend? She’s either yours or mine, man.” Said I, deliberately stirring my own tea with a forefinger. We were both reading the morning news on our hologram slick-sheets.

“Can you believe scientists were sure of global warming back in the 2000’s?” Ryan changed the subject. “Do you think Green Co. started that? The rumoring?”

I had heard it before, because I had thought it. “Probably. They are practically the government these days. It would have taken incredible foresight, though.”

His eyes glittered. I had steel gray eyes, and they flashed whenever I was thinking very hard and fast. Ryan was still working on that first question, and I didn’t know yet what we were going to do. The bird synthesizer played on in our silence.

“Well then, whom does she belong to?” We only spoke it aloud for the benefit of the empty studio. I let him have the next sentence.

“She belongs to neither of us. She has a life too, you know.” Ryan let me take the next. It was like conversation tag.

“But only one of us can be her boyfriend, Ryan.”

“The original should get her.” Both of us laughed at this nervously. It had become a joke between us, whether he was me or visa versa. Now it was a threat. Did the original have more right to the world? To existence?

Ryan stood and stretched, moaning loudly. He turned and grabbed his teacup, and walked out of the room, calling after: “It doesn’t matter, if you want her, you can have her. I’ll never let a girl get between us.”

Those words were nice enough, but both of us knew, this was war.

When he says girlfriend, what I really mean is almost fiancé. Jenny had bright watery blue eyes in which you could see all the goodness of the world. Lips softer than the most expensive silk. Blah blah, you get it. She was damn hot, and damn smart, and she meant a damn lot to me. She was enough to fight for, whether he had ever met her myself or not.

I picked up my teacup and walked into the kitchen. Ryan was at the counter, writing a note. He looked terrible. Gaunt, with the dark shadow of a baby beard and disheveled brown hair. He looked like me on crack. When he saw me, he bolted out the back door. For a moment I thought I saw a bright pink scar on his cheek.

I walked over to the abandoned note. It had one word scribbled on it: “bananas.” I was deadly allergic to bananas. This was very worrisome. He might as well have written hand grenades or guns. A list of things to kill me.

Ryan walked in from the living room. I looked at him, then at the back door. “Did you?”

Ryan looked confused. “Did I what?”

“Nothing.” He was clean and calm, and there was no scar on his cheek.

“Did you want some lunch?” Ryan was shuffling through the cupboards for food. It was a massive kitchen with more than twenty cupboards. Along the walls were state of the art ovens and microwaves, all bolted into the Italian marble floor.

The kitchen was almost always empty. Even if she was home, Mom never cooked. Dad did, it was his job. But he was always off and away, catering for this space cruise or that.

“Yeah I’ll have something. Whatever you find.” I walked into the hologram room trying to act normal.

Have you ever tried to outsmart yourself? You buy cookies and tell yourself not to eat them all at once, but you know you will. So you hide them in a drawer you would never look and forget about them. Weeks later you open that drawer and salute yourself. Good one, me. And then you eat them all at once.

Ryan walked in with two plates and set them on the seat. Turkey sandwiches. He sat down with a huff and pushed one of the plates nearer to himself, looking for the remote absently. He was up to something. Bananas.

“Is anything on Saturday afternoons?” Said Ryan as he leaned over the recliner looking for the remote.

“Not really.” I said, holding the remote in my hand. I turned on the projector and the screen screamed happily at us, actors blasting from the wall to stop at our feet. Ryan jumped with surprise, and I switched our plates. “You want the controller?”

“No, no, that’s alright.” Ryan tried to regain his composure and took a bite of his sandwich. I watched me closely.

The lights of the hologram washed over us, an ocean of sound and color. Any more now the actors were digital make-ups. Why pay someone for his face when you can create it with a computer? It was all the same to us. The laugh track sounded like meat sizzling on a skillet.

“Time Trip! Undo, redo, make, create, allow!” Little pixie people danced around the announcer’s massive head, singing over and over. “Take a time trip through your life, making time hip without strife. Time trip! Undo, redo, make, create, allow!” It was very Arthouse.

I looked over at Ryan, who was squirming in his seat. “You okay, man?”

“I can’t, I don’t um…” he was gasping. “Swallow. Won’t go down.”

Already his forehead had swollen between his eyes. Anaphylactic shock. I flipped open his sandwich. Turkey, lettuce, bananas. I opened mine. Turkey, lettuce, cheese.

I was a bastard. He was, really. A bastard, that is. But he was me, and I wasn’t ready to watch me die. I got some Benadryl and some Gut-punch. Once I worked the Gut-punch down his throat, Ryan immediately threw up his sandwich. The Benadryl followed.

I stood next to him as he breathed hard over the toilet. “I switched our plates.”

His toenails caught the tile as his calves went taught. His body became rigid. “Don’t know what you mean.” Came the chamber echo from the toilet.

“Hmpf.” I walked out of the bathroom and down the stairs, through the hallway and out the front door. There I sat on the porch and pondered. Maybe Ryan didn’t do it. Now it seemed there was a future me running around.

I obviously didn’t want me to know about my future presence presently in the past. Present, as it were, for now. I shook my head. This was getting complicated. Too many me’s.

My only question was whether future Ryan was the banana poison-er or my savior. He didn’t look very happy to see me. But he should have known, being from the future, that I would find him there.

I had enough confusion by then, and really just wanted to make amends with the Ryan I was used to. Only one other Ryan out there trying to kill me seemed much simpler. I turned around, walked through the hall, up the stairs and into the bathroom.

“Hey Ryan?” I looked into the room and saw nothing. I turned and caught a claw hammer in my face.

“Ow,” I said.

Actually, it was more like, “Feruagharrrrrayeaaahrrrraaaaooowouck!” I held my hand to my face as I reeled, trying to figure out what was happening. “Why did you do that?”
Ryan was standing there, spittle still spotting his lips. “I thought you were going to kill me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, you almost just did.” Ryan looked more scared than I did.

“But I just saved you!” Everything I said was muffled by a red and dripping hand.

“Yeah well.”

“Well you tried to kill me!” I spat, not believing how stupid he could be. “God, you make us look bad.”

Ryan looked truly remorseful after this, and set the hammer down. His forehead still swelled to cover his eyes partially. “The bananas were just going to be a warning, you know.”

“Like hey you’re dead, by the way back off of Jenny?”

“More like let me help you, now remember that I saved you sort of thing.” Ryan patted his swollen head gingerly.

“Now I get to say that, and you hit me with a hammer!?”

Arguments with yourself between two bodies can be very difficult. Listening to irrational reasoning is much easier to do when you don’t speak it out loud. Things sound very different when you can hear them.

I looked past Ryan and noticed a soap scum message on the mirror. Hammer. Good one, me. Or was it a message to Ryan A? I pointed at the mirror.

“Did you see that, like, before you grabbed the hammer?”

Ryan turned slowly. “Yeah. I thought I had dreamt it, though. I was still reeling pretty hard.”

That didn’t help at all. But it did sound like me. The helpful fool.

I sat down on the toilet and ushered Ryan close. “Ryan we have a problem. One of us went back in time, and now he’s trying to mess us up. Or start this whole thing. Or something. I don’t know.”

“There’s three of us now?” Ryan checked behind himself nervously.

“Has to be. He was scruffy and gaunt, with a scar on his left cheek.”

Ryan’s eyes darted to my bleeding face. A chill ran down my back. “Oh.”

“Go to hell Ryan,” he said to me, scrambling backwards to grab the hammer. Ryan ran into legs. He looked at the legs, bewildered, and followed them up into the haggard face of future Ryan. “Oh hey, we were just talking about you.”

Future Ryan looked very serious. His eyes looked very gray. The hammer in his hand looked very dangerous. With a deft movement he brought it crashing down into Ryan A’s face. And then he walked out of the room. Not a word, and no note this time.

“Man, I suck.” I murmured, reaching to pick Ryan off the floor. He used the same choice word as me, and when he looked up, he too was bleeding from the left cheek.

“I suck so bad!” said Ryan, wadding tissues against his face.

“Yeah I said that too. I was just going to mention that future Ryan knows everything, because he is one of us. And one of us knows exactly what each of us will do right now in the future when we go into the past.”

“So he’s one of us.”

“Right.”

“But we don’t know which one of us.”

“Right.”

Now we were on the same track. “So if we want to stop him we need to both try different traps without telling each other what those things are. Or else you/me will know once we are he.”

“Right.”

The next four hours were spent booby-trapping the house. Both of us snuck around with pinched expressions, being very sneaky. At one point Ryan whispered to me, “If you or I knew we were doing this, wouldn’t we follow the Ryan who wasn’t us to see what we didn’t do?”

This deflated me somewhat. I was just about to admit that, yes, that is exactly what future we would do, when I heard a loud crash in the dining hall. “Marbles!” Came the cry.

Ryan and I jumped up and ran into the dining room to find future Ryan laying in a heap of note cards, sprawled unceremoniously at the bottom of the stairs. Ryan A looked pleased. “I put marbles at—“ And then future Ryan shot him in the face.

Instantly, Ryan A blew into a dark red funk, splashing onto the walls. His goop covered my left side. So he was the clone. Go figure.

I ran up to me from the future, who said that he couldn’t feel his legs. “How did you know who to shoot?”

“Well I’m here, aren’t I?” That seemed reasonable enough. Ryan looked tired and weak. He rasped, “Ryan, listen to me.”

He put a pen in my hand, and a note card. “Write, marbles, top of stairs.”

I looked at all of the note cards lying around us, like a square paper snow. There were hundreds, each with different messages. Bananas. Frying pan. Brake lines.

“How many times have I done this?” I asked, awestruck.

“Too many.” Said me from the future.

“But why? Why would you do this? Couldn’t you have killed him from the beginning? Or, like, told yourself not to get a clone?” I scribbled marbles on the card and stuffed it in my back pocket.

“Couldn’t pin down when it all started. The time travel thing, it kinda mixes your brains. When I saw you two, I couldn’t remember who was me.”

“I had a scar already, though. You gave the clone a scar.”

“If he was me, then he would need to have one.” He made sense the only way I apparently could these days, by not making sense at all.

“But why? Why go back at all?”

“You killed Jenny.”

I paused. “Wait, me, or him?”

“Both, either. Doesn’t matter. This damn feud made the whole house unsafe. She came to visit, and was killed.”

There came a knock on the front door. “Ryan?” Jenny’s voice echoed down the hall.

“Be right there!” I called, panic spreading through my veins. “So you knew once you slipped on the marbles who the clone was?”

“More or less.” Future me was fading fast. “Take the gun. It has three of the original twelve bullets still left. Save Jenny.”

“But she’s safe!” I said this just as the front door clicked open. I looked at another note-card: Bucket of rocks above front door. “No!”

When he was little—excuse me, when I was little—Mom always told me to write things down. Lists of chores, of homework, of spending allowance, all written on little note cards. That way I would never forget what to do next, or what I needed to bring with me.

I did this pretty well. Really did. It was just those little things that you figure you’ll remember when you get to them. Why bother to write, ‘brush your teeth’ or ‘make your bed?’

You figure that you’d know who you were if you saw you. Even if there were two of you, you figure you’d know who was the one of two you will have been in the present future.

Moms knew what they were doing though. Every time he didn’t listen to her it ended up badly. Every time I didn’t listen. Me. So this time I wasn’t taking chances. I only had one note card on me. I pulled it from my pants pocket and wrote the most important note of them all: Kill the bastard making banana sandwiches.

Bananas.

2 comments:

Bernadette said...

very interesting! I like the theme of mother and writing things down. this reminds me alot of Primer a movie about the logistics of time travel. these guys figure out how to go back in time for a few hours and everytime they do it they clone themselves and they end up knocking each other off. Anyway these definitely merits an illustration.

D.R. Hovey said...

Hey, thanks for reading it. Yeah I've seen primer myself. Definitely the right kind of indie sci-fi.