Whenever I see lunar rays coming into my room on new moons, when I hear the catbird bark, and I feel my internal organs curling, jumbling up like chitlins and sweetmeats on a tray handed a dying man in the desert, weakening in the sun before he can reach up to take them, I suspect they are coming for me again, like they did, starting years ago, when I was transferred to command at the new Army base. Little did I know I’d be waking with scrapes on my arms, grass scattered around my pillow, spend my hours trying to understand my secret life. It wasn’t my idea. It was theirs. Whoever they are.
The covert intruders like to pretend they are something they are not. They wear black wrap-around glasses and white pancake make-up so thick it obscures their noses and lips. Once, I pulled on a 4 fingered hand that was reaching for me, and it was wearing a glove that came off in my hand. He snatched it back from me, with his 5 nimble, human-colored fingers. He put it in his pocket in his flesh suit. I thought how slimming that skin-suit was, and made a note to find that brand so I could buy one and keep flirting with ladies, even at my age. Then, I passed out, and dreamed of cows.
I dreamed I was being replicated inside a cow womb. My visionary world became black and white. It came through speakers, and was folded over and numbered, and it stank, even after I woke up, a nasty taste in my mouth, and a hematoma in the crease of my arm. Who gave me an injection, or took my blood, I can only imagine.
Today is different. I am awake. Lying in bed, I hear a rumble in the distance. I know it’s too early to alert my troops to danger. They really don’t care, considering it’s “peace-time,” and no one attacks the United States.
I hear “my” voice in the distance. And “my son’s” voice too. I decide I’m dreaming, and try to go back to sleep. I go to the window and see dust clouds, and my own visage replicated in hundreds. I see my son’s faces too, all with the same warm appreciation showing on their pink cheeks. My stomach curdles. We’re under attack. I have seen the enemy and they are me and boyo.
I cringe seeing my clones’ stomachs bulge. I wish they pulled in their gut better. Everyone can see. It’s like being buried with an open casket, with no chance of military posture.
I hear “my” voice over the intercom asserting: “Stand down. Troops have been spotted approaching, but they are friendly. Anyone caught making improper moves toward firing on them will be sent to report to General Anzel.” How did one of the clones get into the barracks? My door opens and “I” walk in.
The replica of my mouth opens and says: “If you order your troops to fire on us, you and your son will feel every single one of our deaths, just as if it were your own. Is that what you want for him, General? The most horrible experience possible?”
“Of course not. Is this what you’ve been up to, cloning me and my son at night?”
“Not me, personally. I am a result. Your son is my brother. Any life advice?”
I feel closer to him than I have to anyone in the world.
“We are all yous. Can you imagine all of us hugging you at once, Sir? With your sons in the mix, it would be the biggest ecstatic moment possible for a man. We would all greatly appreciate it.”
I want nothing more. The Colonel bursts in the room. “Seriously? We are supposed to stand down? Are you out of your mind. . . s?” He looked like a drunk man unsure which of his doubled vision to address.
“Yes, the new troop has been sent to assist. Did you not get the message, Colonel?” says my doppelganger.
“But I’m the General,” I say. I move toward my drawer by the bed, to retrieve my gun, but the Colonel aims his at me instead.
The Colonels’ pupils widen, as he obviously finds it hard not to stare, with his peripheral vision, into the warm, crinkly eyes of my doppelganger, falling under his spell.
The approaching troop isn’t pointing guns at us. They’re smiling, that famous grin that makes all my soldiers work so hard. That rare glint of approval in a stern father-figure. It has dazzled.
“You obviously need to stay here, whomever you are, to prevent your interference with whatever the new troop is here for,” the Colonel tells me in a halting voice, as my doppelganger smiles at him encouraging. Dopamine zings around the room. He locks the door. I want want want to be hugged by my clones, and clones of my son I haven’t seen for years, since he turned his back on everything patriotic, and declared military life corrupt. Waving toward my window, my son’s clones smile as he always did to his favorite pet rabbit. Like I always wanted to see directed at me. They approach the barracks. My heart wants to leap through the glass. I can’t possibly stay in here.
My men exit, not even fully dressed against the cold night air. They stand at attention, but I can see their invisible tails wag. The times their fathers, and teachers, ministers and boot camp drill Sergeants chastised them sweat out their pores, as they beam. Their goose bumps shiver. I whimper from inside my room.
The troop salutes. The smiling doppelgangers raise their guns, gleaming those teeth like a proud father, give them understanding nods and the clones of my son wink, countless long-lashed beautiful winks all at once, and shoot them all dead.
When they break through my window, I open my arms wide, instead of wiping my hot tears, for the big, big hug.
Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing at the UCLA Z Writing Program, Writers College, and her own academy, where she has a class on Interstitial Genres including Weird. Her Slipstream novella, Equinox Mirror, is being serialized at Bewildering Stories. She lives in Berkeley.http://lucidmembrane.weebly.com/