This is the third post of our January Theme Week, with a theme of New Beginnings.
This story is written by Guest Contributor, Lester L Weil, an ex-professional bassoonist, ex-professor, ex-custom furniture builder, ex-house builder. He is retired in Arizona near the Mexico border. Besides publishing his work in many online magazines, he is the editor of The Flash Fiction Press at theflashfictionpress.org.
The sliver of moon disappeared below the horizon and the black of midnight settles over the remote laboratory complex.
“Doctor Rawl! Doctor Rawl!”
Rawl roused from a fatigue laden sleep. “This had better be important or I’m going to have your hide.”
“You’d better come quick. I think he’s in trouble.”
Rawl came awake instantly and followed the nurse on a run.
In the lab, his assistant is monitoring vital signs. “Doctor, I don’t think he is going to make it this time.”
“He has to. He has to. We may never get this chance again. If he goes, our funding goes. And we’ll never get funding from any conventional source. Get the clone and the transfer machine ready.”
He looked at the old man’s body on the bed—while everyone looked to him. “Get the machine ready. We’re going now. Move!” he commanded.
“But we haven’t done the final tests,” the assistant argued. “We don’t know if we have all the fine tuning right yet.”
“Now or never. This is our only chance. If the memory transfer doesn’t work, the old man’s mind is going to be lost anyway. We were lucky to keep him alive these last six years.”
They quickly roll the old man’s bed into the lab next door where the sedated clone is waiting, already prepped. They make the machine’s connections to the old man as Dr. Rawl prepares a syringe of adrenaline. The tension in the room is electric.
“Is the clone ready?” A nervous tech nodded yes. “OK. As soon as I administer the adrenaline, start the transfer.” He gave the injection and the machine hummed.
An anxious Dr. Rawl and his assistant watch the old man’s monitors. After ten minutes the vitals and brain activity declined steadily. An RN covered the body of the clone with a warmed blanket and monitored his vitals, which were steady and healthy. His brainwave monitor showed high activity.
As the minutes passed, the old man continued his decline and finally expired. The brain monitor of the clone still showed extensive activity, especially in the area associated with memory. A tech removed the connections and rolled the bed with the old man away.
Rawl felt sorry about the old man. He had come to like him—a crotchety 100 year old with a razor sharp mind. The old man had funded Rawl’s controversial and radical research into mind/memory transfer. They had raised his clone, now four years old, hoping to transfer his memories—and more hopefully—his personality and acumen so he could continue to rule his financial and industrial empire, the passion of his life.
He watched the small boy on the bed as the connections to the machine were removed. The nurse fussed over him, straightening his blanket, making small unneeded movements. It reminded Rawl of a mother fussing over a child.
Everyone in the room anxiously watched the clone’s brain activity monitor which continued to show heightened activity. His muscles also twitched, as one in a dream.
I come slowly awake. It is warm under the pile of covers. But something’s wrong… I don’t hurt anywhere. I’ve always told people. “After age 50, if you wake up in the morning and don’t hurt somewhere, then you know you’re dead.” So… I must be dead?
I don’t move, just lay here taking stock of my body. It isn’t mine. A right hand with fingers that work normally. A right leg that stretches out all the way. No chest or pubic hair. Small penis. Hell, everything is small. But I don’t hurt, and that feels good. Really good.
I pull back the covers and get up. I am in an attic with sloped ceiling. Judging by the bed and furniture, I must be about three feet tall, if that. “What the hell?”
The room is quiet as the nurse and a tech discuss the monitor’s read-outs. Rawl could barely breathe. The success or failure of the transfer—and consequently his professional career—played out before his eyes.
Noises filter up from below. People talking, but too faint to understand the words. There is a clank. Sounds like a woodstove door. Slipping on the clothes at the foot of the bed—“Bib overalls?”—I creep down steep stairs and open the door at the bottom, careful to make no noise. I can now clearly hear two people talking in what must be the kitchen, because I can smell bacon and coffee.
I hear “Time to milk the cows,” and then a door slams.
I creep into the quiet kitchen. The remains of a breakfast is on the table. The sink has no faucet. Instead, an old cast iron hand pump like you see in antique stores. Just like the one we had when I was a kid on the farm. I look around the kitchen again. This is the kitchen we had on the farm. No running water. Just the hand pump at the sink. The coal cookstove. Bare overhead lightbulb hanging from a wire in the middle of the room. A wood-barrel butterchurn and galvanized tin washtub sits in the corner.
I run and take stock of the rest of the house. The small front parlor that we seldom used, the front porch, the long lane leading down to the dirt county road. This is our farmhouse. This is where I grew up.
There is the distant sound of a helicopter and soon a commotion ensues outside the lab. The lawyer for the old man forced his way in. “I got the message. So he’s gone?”
“We started losing him last night, so we performed the transfer. He died during the process.”
“Was the transfer successful?”
Dr. Rawl hesitated. “We don’t know yet. The sedative is about due to wear off. Then we’ll find out.” They continue discussing the situation while watching the small boy on the bed.
I wander through the house and pause before a mirror. The image looking back at me can’t be more than three or four years old.
So I’m three or four years old. I’m back on the farm where I grew up. That means… BUSTER! I run out the back door and called. “Buster! Buster! Here boy.” Oh, please let it be.
There, from around the corn crib—a black and white streak who jumps on me and licks my face as I hug him. My dog. My constant companion, the best and only friend when a small kid growing up on the farm.
“C’mon Buster.” And we head down through the pasture towards the woods where we spent most of our time. Buster and me—running free in grass still damp. This must be heaven. There is the big black cherry tree and the small creek. Squirrels jump from branch to branch. Buster and me in the woods. This is heaven.
The lawyer fussed, anxious that the clone be awakened. Finally Dr. Rawl said:
“Norma. You’re his favorite. Talk to him. Try to wake him.”
The nurse leans down, lightly rubbing the boy’s chest, speaking softly:
“Mr. Brady… Mr. Brady… Can you hear me? Can you wake up?” Then more sternly: “C ‘mon Sam. Wake up now.”
I hear my mom calling. She usually never called for me, she called Buster instead when she wanted me. I don’t want to leave the woods, but dutifully follow Buster back toward the house as I usually did.
The boy sat up in the bed. “Damn it, Norma, I was having a nice dream. So what do you want?”
“Uncle Samuel? Is that you?” asked the lawyer.
The boy looks at the lawyer, then at his body. “So it appears, Dwaine. Though it seems that I’ve changed a bit,” Sam said.
There is a sigh of relief among the assembled group, excited now that the transfer has worked, at least to some extent. When the initial euphoria wore off, there began a series of tests to try and determine how much of Sam’s memory the small boy retained. For the next 2 hours they questioned Sam. It was eerie to hear the mature ‘voice’—syntax and vocabulary—of Sam coming through the high small voice of a four year old boy.
Sam finally calls a halt to the interrogation and tells Dwaine: “Time for you and me to talk business. OK. Everybody else out.”
After a half hour of intense conversation about running the Brady empire, Dwaine is discussing whether to dismiss the CEO of a newly acquired company. He notices that Sam has quit listening and is looking off into the distance.
“Sam, are you ok? Do you want to rest?”
“No. Give me your phone.” Sam punches in a number from memory. “Dockery. Go to a little town in Ohio called Hunter. Go about 3 miles south and there is a farm on the left as you come down the hill. Buy it. If the house needs work, get it done. If the house is gone, build a 1930s style farm house—just a modest farm house. Get it done—today—and call Dwaine when you’re finished.”
“Dwaine. Get Shirley in here.”
Dwaine still found it strange to hear Sam’s ‘voice’ coming out of the small boy. It was going to take a while to think of the small boy as Sam.
Within minutes Sam’s private secretary enters the room—even though it is only four am.
“Shirley. Find someone who raises border collies—make sure he raises working dogs. Send a plane. Have him bring a litter here. Send in Norma on your way out.”
“OK, Dwaine. Here’s the deal. I was dreaming when I woke up. And now I realize the time in my life when I was happiest—when I was a boy living on a small remote farm and got to roam the woods with my dog. I’m not going to give up the chance to relive that experience. You are in charge. I don’t want to hear from you for about five years, even if things go to hell. I know I can always rebuild. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the next few years. Now I just need a surrogate mother.”
The nurse Norma arrives. Sam looks at her.
“Did you ever want to live on a farm?”