Doran J. Seff
After the DIY kits hit the deep web, lots of people were cloning in secret. Rich people in fancy labs. Poor people in sheds and basements. The days where you had no choice but to say goodbye were over. If you had hope, you had a little silver rope to clutch on to. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes…
Her dad had been on her mind all day. Thalia scanned the FM radio while she drove searching for anything in Spanish. The first station she found was staticky and sounded far away like it was recorded in a tin can. She didn’t speak Spanish regularly anymore and could barely make out the lyrics of the chorus.
Heart of mine, we’re together as long as one of us is beating.
Most twenty-two year olds didn’t carry the weight of the responsibilities that Thalia did. Mama got ornery when dinner was late, but they’d made her stay at work. Thalia chomped at her fingernails until she tasted blood.
She skidded into her driveway next to her dad’s Chevelle, rusting in the corner of the overgrown yard. Straight to the freezer after a long day, she pulled out her dad’s favorite cognac that she kept next to the hair samples and Mama’s nutrients. She swished it around, letting it settle into her gums and warm her up.
Mama’s nutrients were cripplingly expensive and made Mama leak like an oil spill, but you can’t put a price on results. The nutrients had steroids in them that made Mama freaky strong for her size. They smelled like dog food and turned the color of fish guts in the blender. Thalia had learned not to gag. Setting them to blend for 210 seconds, she went to her parents’ shrine for her daily prayer.
Thalia felt whole in her little nook at the bottom of the stairwell. She lit the candle under the picture of the three of them at her Quince, and started her modified rosary. When she finished, she kissed her dad’s urn. She’d never forgive herself for letting them cremate him. They didn’t know at the time that it was a sin.
She and her mother lost faith in Catholicism after her father’s illness. They prayed for him, confessed, paid tithes. None of it bought him a day. After he died, Thalia’s mother found a small congregation in a stripmall that spoke to her. The two of them spent most of their free time there, grieving together.
The Church of Divine Rebirth preached a scientific re-interpretation of Christian afterlife. They believed that the human soul lived inside DNA strands. If God wanted souls to expire, he wouldn’t have allowed man to develop the technology to revive them. The priest was so convinced of the rightness of his faith, he sold kits to the parishioners himself.
Five years later, Thalia’s mother got sick. The last day in hospice, her mother looked Thalia in the eyes and said, “Don’t let me go” as they wheeled her away. Thalia knew what that meant. It was illegal, but the law was nothing compared to God and her mother’s wishes.
The blender was done. Thalia poured the nutrients into a sippy cup, put on her gas mask, and went down to the basement to feed Mama.
Thalia opened the door to the basement. In the dark she could see a little girl plopped on a cushion, slumped against the wall. She wore a tight steel collar around her throat, chained to a hook embedded into the drywall. Her weight hung suspended by the chains around her neck, wrists, and ankles.
“Hello, Mama,” said Thalia as she flicked on the light.
The sound of Thalia’s voice jostled Mama awake. Her gaunt, greenish face recognized Thalia. She yawned, stretching her childlike arms as far as the chains on her wrists would allow. Spackled with fluids all over her cute sunflower top, Mama struggled to stand on her spindly legs.
“Fanry?” asked Mama in the raspy, guttural chuff that either meant she was happy or angry.
Mama’s alert eye circled in the socket before settling in on Thalia. It looked so much like her mothers’ eyes it was like she was still watching Thalia. The other eye lingered on the corner. Four thick yellow teeth protruded from the roof of her mouth, Mama’s attempt at a smile.
“That’s right, mi amor. Your family is here. Did you have a good day?”
“Good, little one. Let’s get you clean and then it’s time for the good stuff.”
Thalia hosed her down tenderly. Mama tugged at her chains, shivering and emitting a low hum like a fan motor over the splash of the hose washing her puddle down the drain. Cognizant of Mama’s striking range, Thalia took a towel to get all nasties out of her crevices. She sprayed down the floor with bleach. Even with the mask, there was no getting used to the smell.
“Ready to eat, Mamacita?”
Mama bobbed her head up and down on her wobbly neck, rattling the chains.
“We can’t do Spaghetti-O’s every day, baby girl. You need your vitamins to get pretty and strong.”
Mama grumbled and kicked at Thalia’s feet in futility. “SKERTY!”
Her mother’s favorite dish had always been spaghetti and meatballs. Small signs like that told Thalia that they were getting closer.
“I know, Mama. You don’t like the nutrients. But they’re working. Look how pretty your hair is getting!”
Crouching next to mama, Thalia ran her thumbs over Mama’s misshapen head. The scabs were mostly healing. Bits of grey baby-hairs poked out in scattered patches. Thalia brushed her fingers over Mama’s forehead, lingering proudly on the dozens of immaculate black curls that had sprouted from the front of her bald head like an oasis.
“Ok, Ms. Impatient. I’m getting it.”
Thalia had built the super-straw system so that she could feed Mama without getting anywhere near her mouth. While Mama was distracted with feeding, she took the chance to rub ointment on the sores from the chains. Thalia sang their little song that kept Mama docile during her rubdown.
You are my sunshine
Mama’s ankles weren’t healing. Thalia could tell she’d been kicking against the shackles while she was away. The open sores sat in her puddle all day and kept getting re-infected. She didn’t know what else to do.
My only sunshine
Mama needed a doctor, but it was too risky. There were “specialists” on the deep web, but Thalia had heard rumors of them extorting people, or of men breaking in at night to steal kits. It was too risky. Thalia knew that one day, the knock would come. If anybody dug around, it would all be over.
You make me happy when skies are grey
The wrists weren’t too bad. If she could get the ankles looking like the wrists, maybe she could take Mama out into the yard to get some sunlight.
You’ll never know dear how much i love you
Mama was getting too big for her chains. Thalia lost sleep worrying about Mama’s collar. Too tight, she might break her neck thrashing. Too loose, there could be another escape.
Please don’t take my sunshine away
Mama imbibed her nutrients in greedy choking gulps. Thalia could hear her digestion, like the faint rumble of old machinery. It only took a few minutes for the liquids to run through her. She discharged all over herself onto the floor and Thalia cleaned it up. Mama bristled at the hose.
“Good girl, Mama.”
“We’re gonna teach you some new words soon.”
Thalia looked deeper into Mama’s good eye, the most human thing about her. Red, gold, and green specs in the iris, like Christmas. So pretty. Somebody was home there.
By the time Mama’s hosing and re-hosing was done, Thalia was exhausted. She had six and a half hours before she had to be up to do it all again.
“You wanna watch Spongebob with me, baby girl? I’ve got time for one episode before bed.”
“Fanry,” said Mama, jittering and clinking with excitement.
Thalia planted a sweet kiss on the little tuft of hair on Mama’s scalp, leery of the headbutt. She grabbed the TV clicker then plopped down heavily on the wall next to Mama.
“That’s right, Mama. Spongebob is family. It’s just you, me and Spongebob.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot Gary the snail. He’s family too.”
Thalia awoke in the night to a tremendous thunk, like wood breaking. Fearing the police had battered down the door, she bolted out of her room and down the stairwell. She’d run this scenario over thousands of times in her head yet was fuzzy in the moment.
“Who’s there?” No answer.
“Who’s there?” Nothing still.
The police would have to identify themselves. This was something else. Burglars. They could be coming for her kits. Thalia grabbed her father’s nine iron that she kept by the bedroom door and crept down the stairs. The front door was closed and locked. Panicking, she dashed to the basement to check on Mama. She was afraid to find Mama strangled by her own chains or impaled on the hook. Throat on fire, Thalia flung the door open.
Mama wasn’t there.
Thalia retched at the smell of Mama’s cell without her gas mask on. A huge chunk of sheetrock was missing from the wall where Mama’s hook had been mounted. Thalia’s heart pounded out of rhythm with sudden jumps and stutters. There was a crash and shattering behind her, and her stomach turned over.
“Mama! No window!”
She dashed upstairs in the dark, scanning for the sound. The neighbors might have heard the crash. The police could already be on their way. Shaking and hyperventilating, Thalia ran from window to window searching for Mama. Then she heard a scraping coming from the kitchen.
Thalia turned the corner, and saw Mama stumbling around stacks of broken plates. The armoire where her mother kept the fancy china had been flung open and ravaged. Jagged shards littered the floor, cutting Mama’s feet.
She switched on the light and saw Mama, bleeding from several places, dragging the hook around the kitchen through the shattered china, grinding against the tile.
“We have to be quiet, Mama, or neighbors will hear,” Thalia cooed.
Mama took a step towards her. Thalia saw that she’d dislocated her thin ankles to slip out of her chains. Mama staggered over on the stubs of her legs, feet pointing sideways. Her bottom jaw hung open, dribbling on the kitchen floor.
Hands in front of her, Thalia tiptoed closer to Mama.
“I’ll get you Spaghetti-O’s, baby. We’ll go downstairs real quiet together, then I’ll bring you a big bowl of Spaghetti-O’s.”
Never turning her back on Mama, Thalia circled to the pantry and fumbled for a can behind her.
“It’s right here, Mama. I’m gonna open it for you, then we’ll eat together.”
The churning sound coming from Mama’s throat meant she was getting impatient. Thalia showed her the can of Spaghetti-O’s to let her know it was forthcoming.
The sight of the can sent Mama into a frenzy. She swung her chains at Thalia, sending the hook just overhead, smashing into cabinets like a wrecking ball. The Spaghetti-O’s flew out of Thalia’s hand. Mama lunged for the can like a wild animal. Thalia tried to flee, but her first step came down on a jagged shard of broken plate. She tumbled to the floor, the shard lodged in her heel.
Mama had the can in her grasp and was trying to puncture the aluminum with her teeth. She couldn’t get in. Pain seared in Thalia’s foot as she yanked out the shard and clamored to her feet.
“It’s a can, Mama!” Thalia pleaded. “Let me open it for you.” She took a pained step closer, foot smearing blood across the floor.
It was a step too close. Mama turned with all her weight and swung the hook at Thalia’s head. The hook walloped Thalia right over the right eyebrow, cutting her deeply and sending her reeling to the floor. Blood poured out of the gash and onto Thalia’s face, obscuring her vision.
“Mama, no!” She wailed.
Mama pounced on Thalia, bashing the can against the side of her head. The top of the can broke open against Thalia’s head and Spaghetti-O’s flew everywhere. Struck dumb by the impact, she slithered back on the floor and threw her arms up to protect herself.
Snarling, chains rattling, Mama clawed at her throat. Thalia threw up her forearm to protect herself. Mama sank her teeth deep into Thalia’s arm, digging into her tendons, latched like a vice.
Thalia screamed in agony, flailing her arm to dislodge Mama’s bite. She couldn’t pry Mama loose. The pain in her arm was immense. Kicking out with her toes, Thalia grasped for a shard of plate on the floor behind her. Finally, she maneuvered one into her right hand.
“I don’t wanna hurt you!” Thalia cried out. Mama wouldn’t stop.
Thalia had no choice. She thrust the shard into Mama’s neck. Mama let out a series of sickening squeals like a speared hog. She shook and spasmed, sounding possessed. Thalia ripped her arm out of Mama’s mouth. Two yellow teeth remained stuck in the flesh of her forearm.
The blood from her gash streamed out upside-down onto her face and pooled in the socket of Thalia’s left eye. She couldn’t see much, but stabbed again, desperate to make the squeals quiet. Thalia took her newly-freed hand and clutched it around the entirety of Mama’s slender neck.
Mama let out a muffled squeal, then grunted ever so faintly.
Through the blood Thalia could see half of Mama’s face, the side with her Mother’s eye. She would see that eye forever in her nightmares, when she had time to cry.
A low garbling came from the inside of Mama’s throat. Blood spurted from her neck onto Thalia’s face. Thalia tightened the grip and watched Mama run out of air.
Mama hung limp over Thalia, the weight of her wiry body and the chains suspended in her hands. Mama’s lifeless eye was right over her, all-seeing. Judging her. Breathless and panting, covered in Mama’s blood, her own blood, and Spaghetti-Os, Thalia broke down.
“I’m so sorry…,” she choked. “I let you down.”
Blood and snot got in her mouth as Thalia wept and sputtered and apologized to Mama.
“I let you down. I let you down. I let you down. I let you down. I let you down. I let…”
Afraid the neighbors had been keeping an eye on her, Thalia waited three days to bury Mama. That night she drank too much of her father’s Cognac, then took Mama’s body and a shovel to the backyard.
She dug in the spot for half an hour, careful to go deep enough to keep Coyotes out. When she saw the bones of little fingers in the dirt, she knew she was in the exact right place. Thalia promised herself she wouldn’t cry this time, but she did.
Thalia’s silent tears fell into the grave. She took Mama’s limp body and laid it in the ground next to the two other little corpses, roughly the same size. She put an entire pack of Spaghetti-Os in there next to her, so she could have as many as she wanted forever.
“I let you down again, Mama. I’m so sorry,” she hummed. Then Thalia said a Rosary for Mama.
Thalia took a pair of scissors and snipped the perfect curls from the front of Mama’s head, folded them into tin foil, and put them in a Ziploc bag. It took her over an hour to fill in the hole and cover it again with a chunk of grass. She kissed the bag with Mama’s curls, vacuum sealed it, then put them in the freezer.
Doran J. Seff is a writer/composer from Denver, CO. His short stories have been published in online literary magazines, and he’s written articles for various web outlets as well. He’s working on his debut novel of a series, A Divine Case of the Spins, a surrealist comedy about the afterlife. He has a 4 year old Australian Shepard named Bean. His hobbies include History, Chess, and Vandalism.