This story is by Jacklyn Carroll and won the Grand Prize in our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Jacklyn Carroll is a twenty-five-year-old writer from the South. She has a degree in English and currently works as a technical writer, writing documentation by day and fiction by night. Jacklyn can be found on Twitter (@jacklyn_lee) and her website. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching movies, listening to K-pop or hanging out with her cat, Dolly.
“How are you feeling today, Mr. President?”
Subject 34 ignores my question, continuing to focus on the playing cards in front of him. It’s been four weeks since his file dropped into my inbox. Conversations with 34 are rare, but he has slowly warmed to my presence. Every week I look at body language, eye movement. I study. I observe.
Despite his unwillingness to answer most of my questions, 34 is my favorite patient so far. He’s better than Subject 27, who lumbered around the room yelling, or 7, who took one look at my dark skin and refused to speak to me. Prejudice, it seems, lasts beyond the grave.
I look down at my tablet. It has my name, Dr. Roman Bell, printed at the top along with 34’s initials—D.D.E.—scribbled in the corner. Once the subjects are approved by a psychiatrist, they are moved out of the clinic area and are prepared to go out into the world. They are eventually given new identities, so we call them by their numbers instead of their original names.
I can hear the news blaring from the television in the hallway, reporting the third assassination this week. The government is falling, and this project—Project 1776—is the proposed solution.
Why create new leaders when you can resurrect old ones?
“When will I be cleared to leave?” 34’s eyes are now fixed on me. I think of the recommendation of approval I wrote on my last update and the REQUEST DENIED that appeared on the file the next day.
“Soon. Once you’re approved by the people in charge.” The lie feels heavy on my tongue.
“Are you not in charge?” There’s a rare hint of humor in his voice. He is well aware of how little power I actually have.
“Very funny,” I say as my phone buzzes at my hip. REPORT TO PASCAL flashes on the screen.
“Until next time, Mr. President,” I say with a quick nod. 34 is already back to playing cards. He is, if anything, a creature of habit.
“Look, Roman, I don’t have a choice,” Dr. Pascal says, leaning against her desk. “The older subjects just can’t adapt like the new ones can.”
I stare down at 34’s file. It now says SCHEDULE FOR TERMINATION. I can feel my skin start to prickle.
“I approved Subject 34 weeks ago, Jade, what the hell happened?”
“That wasn’t my call.” She sighed. “The board didn’t approve your request.”
My hands are gripping the folder so hard that the pages are starting to curl. “Subject 34 is more stable than the others—hell, they approved 45 just last week, and we all know how well his term ended—”
“Roman!” Jade interrupts me, pulling the now-ruined folder out of my hands. “I know you’re upset, but look, the bosses? They don’t want boring.”
I think of 34, playing cards in his room. I think of the stories I shared with him about growing up in a large, Greek family while he told me stories from his time fighting in World War II. Is that what all that was? Boring?
She sighs, forces a smile. “Peace doesn’t inspire people anymore, Roman. America needs someone who will fight for them.”
I look at Jade, who is still smiling, and I want to believe her. I want to believe that 34 is boring, that America needs more than a card player, more than a war hero. I want to believe her, but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
It’s almost noon, and the Observation unit is busier than ever. Nurses and doctors travel from room to room, leading subjects back down to the Laboratory. One by one, just a few floors below my feet, the older clones are being scrapped.
I sit across from 34, who’s focused on a game of Solitaire.
“The floor is busy today,” he says. “Did something happen?”
I start to answer but hesitate. His eyes flicker up to meet mine. The television is still blaring in the hallway. News of another assassination? Reports of an old one? They all seem to blur together.
“I hope to never become President again.”
His statement catches me off guard. I turn from the door to stare at him, watching as he slowly puts down his cards.
“Leading this country was my greatest honor,” he said. “I strove for peace and for democracy, and I achieved what I could in my time. But now?” He pauses. For a moment the only sound in the room is from the news: AMERICA IN PERIL.
“Once I could only imagine the future of this nation; now it is here, this future I helped create.” He smiles. “And yet, my prayer remains the same. I pray for peace. Peace is a continuing imperative. It always has been.”
He begins to pick up the cards one by one, shuffling them back into the deck. “The peace I once strove for, however, is not the same peace this new nation now speaks of. And so, my time as a leader has come and gone.”
He places the stack of cards in front of me. I can hear the voices outside the door, and I know it’s almost time. I search for something to say, something profound or inspiring, but my mind is blank. For the first time since Project 1776 began, I find myself starstruck in the presence of a leader—or, at least, the clone of one.
“If it helps,” I say, ignoring the knocks at the door, “you were always my favorite president.”
The door opens, but neither of us move.
Subject 34 is still smiling. His cards are warm in my hands. He stands, turning toward the door.
“I am ready.”
Sad and Inspiring. Keep writing. Believe you can and you will.
Thank you so much, Clara! 🙂
Joslyn Chase says
Congratulations, Jacklyn, on a great story and the win! Reading it made me think a little of Jurassic Park, a classic by one of my favorite authors.
Thank you, Joslyn!! 🙂
Loring Felix says
Excellent story. I have no problem whatsoever loosing to someone with your talent for storytelling. Keep writing and good luck in the future.
Thank you so much for your kind words! 🙂
Mike Hotchklss says
I see (read) why this won the contest. Great story, simply written. Marvelous!
Thank you so much!! 🙂
David Safford says
So powerful! I love how the relationship between Roman and 34 builds to a climax throughout the whole piece. Wonderfully done! Congratulations on the win!!!
Thank you, David!! 🙂
Kenneth Chen says
Meaningful story, I love the speech by the president. Congrats Jacklyn.
Thank you so much, Kenneth! 🙂
Paul Isaac says
Great story! I love the concept and how it rapidly obsoletes itself in the face of modern life. Such poise from Subject 34. Congrats on your win! Well deserved! 🙂
Thank you so much, Paul! 🙂
Debra Campoli says
WOW! Great story from the prompt you chose! I Loved how REAL the entire story felt ! A crazy statement regarding cloning of presidents but, WHO KNOWS? It was wonderfully written and your WIN was well deserved!
Thank you, Debra! 🙂
Congratulations. Touching story and unique perspective.
Thank you Karen!!
John W. Mac Ilroy says
Jacklyn: What a terrific story! A well-deserved win, in what I thought the toughest of the prompt categories. But I think that category lent itself to the “law of unintended consequences,\” and you took that and ran with it, I liked how Paul Isaac above put it– the whole project kind of “obsoleted itself,”, and the heavy burdens of history and leadership come through beautifully. Congratulations!
Thank you, John! I love that – the heavy burdens of history. I’m glad I was able to convey everything in a way that made readers connect with it. 🙂
Melissa Dopp says
Congratulations! Interesting story……unusual. I can see why you won! I hope to see more of your work.
Thank you, Melissa! 🙂
Gretna Bohn-Hayden says
Congratulations! I love the president you picked, I can hear his personality. Thanks
Gretna (aka Neon Grandma)
Thank you so much, Gretna! I loved doing research for this story and learning a little bit more about the different presidents. 🙂
Oh my .. gave me goose bumps!
Congratulations on your win…✅
Thank you so much, Margaret! 🙂
Trish Perry says
This is a very imaginative and well-written story. Nicely done!
Thank you, Trish! 🙂
Greg Moberg says
Congratulations on such an engaging and unsettling story. For #34 there is an outcome but for us, and as for Dr. Bell, we are left to fathom the ethical questions of what has been done and what is to be done.
Throughout, the oblique references to presidents-past is well done. I catch your intent without your having to lay it out.
Looking forward to reading more of your works. Again: Congratulations!
Justine Cho says
I loved how you expressed Eisenhower’s character with such a simple dialogues. Emotional and engaging. I was pulled in from the very first moment. Very well done. Congratulations!
Jola Olofinboba says
Jacklyn, Congratulations on your well-deserved win. As I read the story, it seemed so real and emotional that I needed to remind myself that it is fiction. I look forward to reading more of your writings in the future.
My best wishes to you,
Wow. Such a simple and creative idea. You gave it the deft hand it needed and found the nugget within. Good job.
Juanita Danzy says
Jacklyn, congratulations on your win a great story and well written my emotions ran high while reading this story. I could feel the connections between #34 and Roman. The character as president expressed himself well…great job on your story.
Juanita Danzy says
Jacklyn, congratulations on your win a great story and well written my emotions ran high while reading this story. I could feel the connections between #34 and Roman. The character as president expressed himself well.
Juanita Danzy says
Jacklyn, congratulations on your win a great story and well written my emotions ran high while reading this story. I could feel the connections between #34 and Roman.
Juanita Danzy says
Enjoyed reading your story, congratulation on your win.
GREAT job Jacklyn. Well done! Well done! Your story was simply creative and easy to read. I love your writing voice and I could feel your passion. I’ll be looking forward to more of your writing. Again, great job.