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YOU ARE ONE

This project may read as a complete short story, but it will be added to. The story is all over, but there will be a variety of alternate endings attached here at a later date. I really enjoyed playing with the idea of identity, and multiplication, the alternate endings will serve this greater meta narrative and allow further exploration of the strange events in David Sharpe's life.






I.


David lost his only son on May 3, 1998. It had been a typical night, after Joey’s bath the two sat together and watched “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. When the show finished up David read a chapter of “Sideways Stories From Wayside School” to his son, kissed him goodnight, and retired to his room.

He would never admit it publicly, but the police reports reflect that this is when David began to drink. For some reason that even David had trouble defining, Sundays had become the hardest day of the week since Jenna died 9 months earlier as the result of kidney failure. While the death was hardly a surprize, having long suffered from Lupus, David never fully recovered from the loss. He often wondered if he had it in him to deal with the pain of losing his wife, combined with the stresses of work, and most importantly raising their 8 year old son alone.

David drank rye whiskey, kept in the bottom drawer of his bed stand, slugged straight from the bottle. It didn’t take much to get David drunk, he was rarely eating these days, and had never been a drinker. He chose whiskey because it was tough for him to drink, and did the job quickly. His lack of enjoyment justified its use as a medicinal sleep aid, rather than being an escape. Even in college David took little interest in drink, focusing completely on his studies.

David met Jenna in the library, which they would later joke with friends was the most romantic place on earth for nerds. Not long after their initial meeting the two found themselves uncommonly late nights snuggling in the tiny twin bed in Jenna’s shoebox dorm room. They agreed to try to watch every Woody Allen movie, and made a list of them on graph paper, marking each film as they watched them. David’s favorite was “Manhattan” but he couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. David remembers that as being the background to their first kiss.

After college Jenna started suffering from what they believe to be arthritic pain. Jenna was in great shape, and generally stoic, so David demanded that she go and get checked out. That was when she found out she had Lupus and was likely to live a shorter life than expected. Almost in the same breath she was told she was pregnant.

On the drive to the pharmacy, David could see Jenna’s reflection as she gazed out the window. She wore a smile, so bright and genuine, that David had to pull over and weep. Sucking for air, suffocated by the news, David clutched Jenna and swore several times.

“Are you afraid to be a father?” She asked, like she had not just recieved her death sentence.

“Of course I do, I just… This is serious, I need you!” David choked.

“I am not going anywhere baby!”

Jenna died giving birth 8 months later.



II.


David woke up after hitting his snooze alarm twice. He was rarely hungover in the conventional head clutching, dash to the shitter to vomit kind of way. David moved and thought almost exactly one fourth slower than normal. Waking up was a chore, but he had to get Joey ready and swing him by school on the way to work. Even from his own bedroom Joey could sense that something was not right.

Joey’s room was empty, the sheets were tossed to the side like he had gotten up, but the house was small enough that Joey surely would have been heard moving around.

“Joey!” David said loudly, and the shroud was gone, he was thinking at a mile a minute.

“Joey!” He shouted this time, as he checked the bathroom, then the livingroom, the kitchen, the mudroom, the yard, he was no where.

Continuing to shout his sons name David’s eyes went glassy, his senses heightened, dread filling his belly. His balls tingled, a fearful feeling he had not had since he was a child, not much older than Joey, when he had been chased into the school bathroom by a bully. David, in a fearful sweat grabbed the cordless phone. He carried the phone as he continued to shout for his son, he even brought it to the far corner of the yard when he checked the shed. He was afraid to call, like calling made it real. It couldn’t be real, he remembered tucking him in. He remembered his sweet son, snoring as he closed the door to his room, but not all the way, never all the way.

He had no choice, he dialed the police. The moment the call connected he began to weep, he forgot his address and had to check an old piece of mail. Joey is missing, I put him to bed at 9:30 PM, I haven’t seen him since. No I don’t know where he might have gone, no he would not have gone to a friends house. He is 8 years old, please send help.

Police arrived within 7 minutes. David gave pictures to the officers and filed a report, the entire time he was convinced that the police were bored and not concerned at all. David was partially correct, these kinds of calls were common, the kid usually arriving home after school was out after a day of clowning around in the woods. The cops promised to put out a notice to all of the officers, but one slipped up saying “Just make sure to give us a call when he comes home tonight.”

David took a personal day from work, spending it instead in his car looping through the town. He stopped by all of the places that he could imagine his son visiting, friends houses, the bowling alley, the arcade, even the library, but there was no sign of him anywhere. Phone calls proved just as futile, no one had seen Joey, it was as if he simply disappeared.




III.


Over the next three years David’s small town of Brookhaven New Hampshire became characterized by the persistence of flyers begging for any information about Joey Sharpe. There was a billboard with a photo of the boy wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey and a big, toothy smile. Below the image in big bold letters, a description of the child, and an offer of a reward.

David had been investigated, his entire home was gone through with a fine tooth comb, they even had him do a lie detector test. The authorities almost seemed embarrassed to have to question him, but there were no other leads to follow. David, of course, passed the lie detector, and the investigators found no evidence of foul play. The case was a dead end, and even David knew that the flyers were not going to be the answer. In three years no one had called in with any tips or sightings other than the yahoos who had psychic experiences, and those who mistook other kids for his. So David, out of options, stopped flyering, had Joey legally declared dead, and had a small gathering to honor his lost child. David swore that he would let go, but he knew the rest of his life he would be looking for an answer.

In a matter of weeks the flyers disappeared, the billboard came down, and David did his best to come to terms with the fact that the search was over. The police had all but given up a year and a half ago and the file had been moved to the tiny Brookhaven cold case file. Joey was forgotten by his classmates and neighborhood friends, and yet the community seemed to never forget. Everywhere David went in town he could feel the harsh, judging stares of those who felt he had something to do with the disappearance. Oddly the sympathies of those who believed he was innocent were even more painful to deal with.

“I am so sorry Mr Sharpe, if you ever need anything…”

“Let me know if there is anything I can do buddy…”

“I am sorry for your loss..”

While the passing of years lessened the frequency, and with the ending of the search and David’s subsequent disappearance from the public eye, these kinds of comments remained a knife slowly corkscrewing in his head and heart.

David stopped going out. He took a job for a web design firm and was able to work from home. Most of his shopping was done late at night at the 24 hour Market Basket. He knew that most would no longer recognize him, but even seeing happy families sent a wave of agony rattling through his spine. Oh Jenna, what do I do now? He would often think. With Jenna’s death he was able to reconcile never seeing her again, but Joey could still be out there.

In the years following David started having a recurring dream of Joey showing up at the door. He was almost unrecognizable, having been gone so long. He was angry that David had given up the search.

“Where have you been?” Dream David would say through gasping tears.

“I have been here dad, you gave up on me, how could you do that?” Dream Joey would say, spitting the words in disgust.

“I never gave up Joey, I never gave up! I just didn’t know what to do!”

“You selfish pig. You got drunk and lost me.”

“I stopped drinking… I was sad… I missed your mother…”

“You were glad to see me go, now you don’t have to think of her. You could never love me because I reminded you every fucking day of your dead wife!” Dream Joey went on, “If she was missing you wouldn’t have given up on her!”

When the dreams started, that was when David starting drinking at night again. He felt like he was never truly asleep, but instead in a dreamless coma. He would wake to his alarm feeling as if he was never fully rested. Sometimes there was a hangover, on those days David would have something to drink to cope with the headaches. Sometimes became more and more frequent, and as if under the influence of a magical potion David stopped thinking of Joey at all.

David did well at work, even intoxicated. He was lucky to have gotten in on the ground floor of the internet boom and soon found himself much more wealthy that one would have expected of a grieving drunk. He chose to stay in New Hampshire, in that same little house. He told himself he didn’t want anything more, but somewhere deep inside he feared that if he moved, hope of Joey showing up would disappear. This turned out to be a good choice.

On May 3, 2014, Joey came home.




IV.

He arrived at noon, with a light knock at the door, “shave and a haircut” and David was at the door. Joey stood before him, having not aged a day from the little boy he remembered.

“Hi dad, can I have some juice?”

“Joey! Where have you been?” This must be a dream. David was barely able to speak as his son rushed by him to the fridge.

“There is nothing here, can I have water?”

David rushed to Joey and grabbed his shoulders looking deep into his eyes. This is my son he thought, it was impossible, but he knew it to be true. The constellations of freckles were in place, this was Joey, impossibly unchanged by the years missing.

“Where have you been Joey?” David blubbered, “I have missed you so much!” David pulled Joey in, squeezing as if to test his sons material nature.

“I went outside, I just walked back up…” Joey answered, confusion painting each word.

“Joey, it is important that you tell me what happened, where did you go?”

“I went to the mailbox and came back…” Joey looked scared as David continued to examine his face, gripping his shoulder so tightly it almost hurt.

David continued to try to get the story, but there was none to be told. Joey had walked to the mailbox, and then he came back. David couldn’t wrap his head around what had happened, he got his son a glass of water, then fearfully left the room momentarily. David splashed cold water on his face in the bathroom, something he had seen in the movies when people were being delusional. He could hear the TV click on in the living room as he stared, shakingly into the mirror. What the fuck was going on? He pulled his cell phone and checked the date, he stared again at his own face, as if for the first time in many years. His hair was a shock of gray, and his hairline was creeping ever higher on his head. Wrinkles played across his face, the product of years of pain and worry. His dead son, no, his missing son had come home. The son he had remembered, not the man that he should have grown up to be.

“Dad, I don’t know how to use this remote, will you put cartoons on?” Joey called from the living room.

As David entered the room, as if possessed he grabbed Joey once more and held him, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Dad, what’s wrong?”
“I am so sorry Joey, I am so sorry… I missed you.” David’s words slipping out in between gasping breaths.

The rest of the day was a dense mixture of questions and more questions. Joey was getting upset and frightened by the onslaught, so David tried to relax and just be happy to have his son back. David tried to ask more about what had happened many other times, but nothing made sense to Joey, who had just come back from the mailbox. David began to become very stressed about how to handle the situation. Should he call the police? Should he contact the media? Did his son have some lapse in memory AND a condition that would prevent aging? Was he insane, having some form of a mental break?

With a head full of questions, David chose instead to heat up a frozen pizza. He and his young son watched cartoons through the afternoon and into the night. The two passed out on the couch, David holding his son close to him, and said a prayer for the first time in many years. He prayed that Joey would be there in the morning, sure enough, he was.





V.


David had very little in the house but he did have enough for a decent breakfast of eggs and toast. Joey asked about school as he stuffed himself and David said that he could stay home today. He was still in a state of disbelief, and desperately afraid that he was hallucinating the return. He didn’t want to get locked up, and worse, fed medication that would take his son away. David had lived completely alone for so long, he had forgotten that he was lonely. He forgot how having anyone around, especially his own son, gave his existence value. For the first time since the disappearance he was alive, living, not simply existing.

They were laughing when “shave and a haircut” knocked on the door, David was so surprised that he didn’t even really think as he answered. Standing there in the doorway was Joey, David’s stomach did a flip as he turned his head, Joey was already on the couch chewing on toast watching yet another cartoon.

“Hi dad, can I have some juice?” Joey said.

“Hi dad, can I have some juice?” Joey said.

Both boys spoke in unison, Joey on the couch not even looking away from the television.

“Joey, what are you doing?” David asked, splitting his stare between the Joeys to the best of his ability.

“I am so thirsty.” Joey answered.

“I am so thirsty.” Joey answered.

David’s head was swimming as Joey in the door swept past him to examine the contents of the bare refrigerator.

“There isn’t any left, can I have some water?”

“There isn’t any left, can I have some water?”

Joey on the couch remained transfixed by the cartoons, still unphased, and seemingly unaware of Joey in the kitchen.

David fell hard on one knee, both Joeys rushed to his side, in unison asking what was wrong, neither noticing the other, but working to help him in independent ways. David started to fade, and the boys eased him to the ground as his body failed him. Everything went black.

Moments later he blinked back to life. The two asked if he was ok, they were both crying, both by his side. He tried to speak, but it came out a mess, things that sounded like words. He tried again, as his vocabulary returned saying only “I’m ok, I’m ok…” The Joeys hugged him.

David was convinced that he had lost it. He could feel them, his son, sons. He could smell them, hear them as they continued to check on his condition, always using the same words. Both of them called him dad, both looked just like Joey, completely identical. He had lost it, something was wrong with him.

“Come on dad, lets go on the couch.” Joey said pulling on his right arm.

“Come on dad, lets go on the couch.” Joey said pulling on his left arm.

He shambled his way to the couch, a Joey on either side of him, already lost in the cartoon. David looked back and forth at his sons, blinking wildly and rubbing his eyes, he even chuckled to himself. I am going insane, no I am insane. David tried to think of a question, a trick that even his own hallucinations would not be able to meet, but these boys didn’t seem to have any difference he could test. Then the obvious dawned on him.

“Joey,” He said to the one on his right, “Who is this boy?” He pointed to the Joey on his left.

“That is me dad, don’t be silly!” Joey giggled, looking at the other Joey, then looked back to the TV.

“That is me dad, don’t be silly!” Joey giggled, looking at the other Joey, then looked back to the TV.

At a loss David retreated again to the bathroom, and stared in the mirror again, splashed water again.

This is it David, time to call the police, turn your batshit crazy self over. You are unfit to be around children, no wait, these children are not here, they are in your head.

David decided to order too much pizza and see how many slices disappear. He got on the phone and ordered two large pepperoni’s.

After the pizza arrived he placed them on the coffee table in the living room. The boys dug right in as he sat and watched from his computer chair in the corner of the room. David would not eat with them.

It dawned on him that he might be able to take a picture and see if they were real. As they ate he pulled out his cell phone, and almost laughing he said “Say cheese boys!”

“Cheese!”

“Cheese!”

Looking at the picture, David saw the boys, each with a slice of pizza and sauce on their chins, but in different places. They were there, or his hallucinations included seeing them in the photo, which, all things considered, is not a great stretch.

Without saying a word David rose from his chair, and examined the pizza. Each boy had eaten two slices, and nibbled the cheese off the end of a third. Four missing slices.

David rushed back to the bathroom. Quickly he grabbed his toothbrush and jammed it into the little punching bag in the back of his throat. As David wretched into the toilet he carefully examined his vomit. Spit, bile, eggs, toast, no pizza.

David, dodging any logic and doubt that remained, determined that the boys were real.





VI.


The boys did not interact. When pressed, they would acknowledge the others presence, but they would do so in a way that made David feel silly. The fact that they were in a room with an exact copy of themselves, speaking in unison, with a confused old dad that was shocked by their presence did not seem to bother them at all. David had so many questions, but none of the words. He considered calling the police, or the doctor, or anyone, but fear stayed his hand. He would wait.

They were all there in the morning, they all slept in David’s bed. When they got up David used up the last of the eggs and dug around in the attic until he found some of Joey’s old action figures. He brought them down, and again explained that they could stay home today. The boys each grabbed toys and began to play on the living room floor. David flopped on the couch, exhausted and confused, falling in and out of a troubled sleep.

When “shave and a haircut” snapped him from his trance, David knew what to expect when he pulled the door open.

“Hi Joey.” He said.

“Hi dad, can I have some juice?” Joey in the door said.

“Hi dad, can i have some juice?” Joey on the floor said.

“Hi dad, can I have some juice?” Joey on the floor said.

“We are all out, come on, I will get you some water.” David responded, with an impatient tone. This had gone too far. He was going to turn himself in.

He got three cups, and filled them all, going down the line handing one to each Joey. Each emptied his cup and placed them in the sink.

“Can we go to the park, dad?”

“Can we go to the park, dad?”

“Can we go to the park, dad?”

“I think we gotta stay in again today boys. I need to make a call, could you guys watch some TV or something?”

“Ok dad.”

“Ok dad.”

“Ok dad.”

David smiled, a weak dismissive smile. They weren’t real. He was going to be put in a rubber room, chemically restrained, and picked apart by psychology students. Something in him was broken, and it was time to tell the truth.

David pulled his cell phone, he had not been plugging it in at night and his battery was low, but he figured the call would be quick. You just dial the local police and tell them that your son is home. He hasn’t aged a day. He came back two more times, and now there are three Joeys. They will come out, see that no one is here and take you away.

But…

What if they are real? What if something in the universe is broken, and your wish came true, but too much? What if they are real, and they lock them up, vivisect them looking for answers? What if they are the ones who get taken away and picked apart?

David decided to give it one more day.



VII.


They had cold pizza for dinner, and there was nothing to make for breakfast. They boys didn’t seem bothered by it yet, David had pulled down some more old toys to distract them. He had a plan, he would worry about food after.

As the morning rolled along David spent much of it staring at the clock. At 11am he told the boys to be good and went to the mailbox. Each day the boys had arrived at noon, they all walked back from the mailbox, so he would be there today. David didn’t know what to expect, but this seemed to be the best way to figure out what the hell was going on.

Time crept by at an agonizing pace. Every time David looked at the time mere minutes had passed. Finally, at 11:50 David saw what had happened, in a flash he knew the truth, he was given an option, and he made his choice.

He woke up with a foggy memory of men from the stars, the future. They took people, they couldn’t make anything new, but they were trying. There had been an error in the processing and Joey’s return was delayed. It wasn’t Joey, but it was. They made him.

He felt sick as they explained. They made him and gave him back too late. In a related error they kept sending him, trying to give him back. But he wasn’t real, they made him. He wanted Joey back, not the one they made. They were late. They screwed up the paperwork and gave him back too late, too many? That is not ok.

They told him he was real, they made him just like they made David, when he was a boy.

They took him too, they had been trying to make something new for a long time, but could only make copies.

“I am real!” Dream David screamed!

“Yes you are.” Dream David understood them to be thinking to him.

“I am not a copy!” Dream David screamed in response.

“Yes you are.” Dream David understood them to be thinking to him.

More things happened, David remembered feeling horrified in his dream. This couldn’t be true, thats what he remembered screaming in his dream. He understood that they felt bad, as they had about Joey. They were not evil, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. All of this continued to fall into a fog as he woke.

He remembered a choice, one that he had to make. He was one too… he made the choice.

“Dad, can we go to the park today?” Joey asked, shaking David’s shoulder.

“I don’t see why not buddy.”

The two started to get ready, the dream already becoming a vague shadow on the back of Davids mind. Then, a knock at the door.

David hustled over to answer, wondering who it could be.

A nondescript man stood in the doorway, Joey belted a shrill scream at his appearance.

“Joey, what’s wrong bud?” David asked, eyebrows pursed in concern.

“Joey, what’s wrong bud?” David asked, eyebrows pursed in concern.


End.