Pirate was a cute little terrier with the heart of a hunter. His smooth-haired coat was white, with a couple of brown spots on his head and back. White and brown — those were Pirate’s colors. Not red. Not this bloody red.
A bloodstained heap was all that was left of Pirate after a car hit him. And this damn cat that Pirate was running after, it even didn’t look back when the car’s brakes screeched — too late.
Josh wiped his nose and eyes on his new tee-shirt. Mom saw it turning dirty but said nothing. Josh’s hands were covered with Pirate’s blood. He did not want to wash his hands. He did not care. He lay on his bed and stared at the wall.
“Josh,“ Mom said, smoothing out unruly hair on his head, “I know how sad you are. Pirate is dead. But we can get him back if you want.”
Josh jerked his head away from Mom’s soft fingers.
“I’m not a baby,” he said. “Dead is dead.”
“Of course you are not a baby, Josh. That’s why I’m telling you this. We had Pirate backed up in the General Database. We could get another dog that would be just like Pirate — his coat, his eyes, his everything — all his genes would be the same. We could bring Pirate back to life as if this car had never hit him.”
“Pirate is dead,” Josh said. He hid his head under a pillow. He did not want to listen.
Three weeks later they had a new dog, just like a baby Pirate.
“Look, Josh,” Mom and Dad cried in unison, “our Pirate is back!”
Josh glanced at the cute puppy drinking milk from Pirate’s bowl.
“Don’t you dare call him Pirate!” he said and slammed the door of his room. The sound was like a shot, but Josh did not feel better.
Josh did not hide under the pillow and did not stay in his room forever, but he wasn’t going to touch this new puppy either. “At least Pirate doesn’t know this fake’s slurping from his bowl,” he thought.
When it was time to sleep, Mom came to kiss Josh good night. She smoothed his covers and sat on the edge of his bed. She smelled of soap, of milk and of the new puppy. And this puppy smelled nothing like Pirate.
“You want us to take the puppy away, Josh?” Mom asked.
“I don’t care. It’s your puppy. Just don’t call it Pirate.”
“Good night, Josh. ” Mom kissed him on the forehead.
“Good night, Mom.”
She was going to leave, but Josh grasped her hand.
“Wait, I wanna ask you something.”
“Yes, Josh. What is it?”
“Mom, and what about me — me and the General Database?”
Josh felt a ripple of trembling passing through Mom’s hand.
“Don’t be silly, Josh. People don’t back up their children.”
Mom hugged and kissed Josh again, but she did not look into his eyes. Then she left.
Josh pulled the cover over his head and imagined his clone slamming the door at his parents.
“Smash it harder, coward,” Josh thought.
“Shut up, wimp!” the clone replied.
Josh figured out he had fallen asleep.
“You shut up, fake,” he said and spat at the clone.
The clone laughed. He was sure having a big time — he could not stop laughing. His eyes got wet from happy tears.
“What’s funny, idiot?” Josh asked.
“And who do you think… who do you think… you are?” the clone managed to say between the outbursts of crazy laughter. “How do you know… you are not… hahaha…”
Josh turned away from the clone. Indeed, how would he know?
He opened his eyes. Could this be true? Could he himself be a fake? One thing he was sure about — it was no use asking mom and dad.
Josh took his tablet and googled “General Database”: “Adult sites are blocked by parental control.” Helpful. “Backup your kids” — same thing. “Cloning” — the science stuff, molecular cloning, cellular cloning, history. Right, Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal. Josh had already heard about her at school. She did not live very long, this fake sheep, she was sickly or something.
Yes, if anybody knew the truth about clones, that should be doctors. And what if the doctor himself was a clone? Never mind. He must know about the others.
Josh remembered where mom kept his healthcare card — in the same drawer with the spare keys. He tiptoed to the living room, opened the drawer and fumbled for the card in the darkness. Back in his room Josh examined the card. Nothing special, no C or B anywhere, only his name and his ID number.
Josh googled for “clones ID numbers” — blocked. “Who is clone” – blocked. Useless. They did their best to hide it from him and this meant he was… A clone? A fake? A backup? Did mom feel about him as he felt about this fake puppy? No, that was not the problem, she loved fakes just as well.
So why did he feel so cold inside? What if the car ran him over and all that was left was a bloody heap, like Pirate? What would mom and dad do? Goodbye old Josh, hello new Josh. It would take some time till this new Josh is back in the 5th grade, but who cares. They could read him the nursery rhymes all over again, they’d love it.
Suddenly Josh knew what to do. Tomorrow he’d jump under the car — let them get their new Josh from the General Database.
No, not tomorrow — Sean’s birthday. Sean would be mad if the old Josh disappeared. And Greg. Maybe he should not get himself hit by a car after all.
Josh closed his eyes. Pirate jumped on Josh’s bed and licked his nose. He smelled just like real Pirate. A dream again.
Irena Pasvinter earns a living by software engineering and happiness by writing poetry and fiction. Her kids make sure she has never a dull moment. Her stories and poems have appeared in online magazines and in Poetry Quarterly. Irena brags about her publications at https://sites.google.com/site/ipscribblings/.