There’s a bottle in the pocket of Connor Murphy’s hoodie. His hands are also in his pocket, and he’s grasping the pill bottle, trying to minimize the rattling sound it makes as he walks through the park as midnight approaches.
He’s weirdly paranoid that the sound of the pills rattling is making too much noise and someone’s going to come along and arrest him for disturbing the peace or some bullshit.
That probably isn’t going to happen, but who knows? He’s really fucking high right now.
It’s colder than it should be for September, and he’s been walking for longer than he can remember. His parents had confiscated his car keys after they caught him smoking on the roof the week before school started, so he’d just… walked. And kept walking.
Sure, he’d thought about just taking one of the cars and either stealing keys or just hotwiring it, he guesses, but it seemed kind of rude.
You know, seeing as he was headed to the park to kill himself. Making someone in his family have to retrieve a car on top of identifying his dead body just seems like a step too far right now. For some reason.
Plus, he’s never hotwired a car.
He idly thinks to himself that there’s a lot of things he’s going to die never having done.
There’s a piece of paper in the pocket of Connor Murphy’s hoodie, printed at the school computer lab by a kid he barely knows, taken in a moment of anger, then carefully folded and put away.
But he’s not thinking about that right now.
He’s thinking about the fact that he might be stoned out of his mind, but he’s ninety percent sure that the lanky kid sitting on the park bench in front of him has his face.
Benjamin Childs is exhausted.
Exhausted to his very core.
He’s sitting cross-legged on a park bench in a town he doesn’t know, having spent the day following a kid he doesn’t know, trying to figure out if he’s ready to know the truth.
Ben’s known the truth for awhile now and he still doesn’t think he’s ready.
The rest of the group don’t know he’s here. He’s been marking people off the list over the last few weeks of summer, driving from town to town, just to get a glimpse of the familiar faces.
The faces just like his.
Yet he hasn’t approached any of them. He hasn’t brought them into the fold. Because that would mean he was responsible for them. And that’s not something he can handle right now.
He wishes he didn’t know any of this.
He wishes he’d never found out about the clones.
He wishes it could all just be over.
And Ben’s always been good at getting what he wished for.
There’s a bottle of pills in the pocket of Benjamin Childs’ blazer.
He’s washed them all down with a black coffee from the drive-through at McDonald’s.
Now he’s just waiting.
Life is getting soft around the edges, but he’s ninety percent sure there’s someone walking toward him.
Someone with a face he knows too well.
“I must be higher than I thought.”
The kid with his face kind of laughs at that. His eyes are dark and sad and unfocused, and Connor doesn’t just recognize the patch of brown in the corner.
He recognizes everything.
Sure, there are differences. This kid’s got that hipster haircut that’s popular these days - kind of short at the edges but a bit of volume at the top. He clearly puts a lot more effort into his appearance than Connor ever has - there’s definitely a hair product situation going on. He’s wearing a navy blue blazer over a charcoal colored shirt, along with black skinny jeans that are more or less exactly what Connor’s wearing, except that instead of boots, this guy’s wearing loafers.
He’s a hell of a lot more put together than Connor, that’s for sure. Not that it’s something Connor’s ever really cared about, but… well… it’s surreal.
This kid has his face. His nose. His mouth. His eyes, right down to the dark bags underneath. Connor looks at his hands and sees that he even has the mole on his right thumb. Left thumb. Right thumb? He’s not sure which is left and which is right at this point, but the point is - the mole matches.
He’s definitely high.
“Connor Murphy,” the kid with his face says, with a smile devoid of happiness. “I should have known I wouldn’t be alone. Even now.”
“You look like me,” Connor says, without really meaning to.
“I’m Ben,” the kid offers. “Ben Childs. Came here looking for you, actually.”
Connor frowns. “Why?”
“You’re one of us,” Ben says simply. “It’s not just me, it’s not just you - it’s… fuck, I don’t know how many of us are out there. We’re trying to find out. I mean, they’re trying to find out. I’m not… I’m already gone.”
“What the fuck?”
Ben kind of laughs. “Clones. We’re clones. Some kind of weird science experiment, I don’t know. We’re just lab rats, I guess. They let us loose, let us see what would happen. They let you loose here, they let me loose in New York, and they’re watching us. To see what decisions we make. How we react.”
Connor’s brain kind of catches on one part of that sentence. “You’re from New York?”
Ben nods. “New York City.”
“Better than here,” Connor points out. “Anywhere’s better than here.”
“You’re welcome to it,” says Ben, shrugging off his blazer despite the chill of the evening. “You’re welcome to all of it, actually.” He hands over his blazer to Connor, who looks at it blankly.
“Why are you giving me this?”
“You hate your life,” Ben says, leaning down to take off his shoes. “Have mine. I don’t want it anymore.”
Ben’s starting to feel nauseous and dizzy and his vision is swimming, but he’s determined to get this done. To see this through.
Connor’s staring at him in confusion once he gets his shoes off and Ben kind of wants to laugh, but thinks he might vomit if he does.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, dude,” Connor says finally. “Put your fucking shoes back on.”
“You hate your life,” Ben repeats. “I watched you today. You hate your family, you hate your school, you pushed some kid with a cast on his arm because you thought he laughed at you… you hate it here.”
“I came here to kill myself,” Connor says flatly. It’s too blunt, Ben thinks to himself. It’s too honest, but then again, what’s the point in lying to someone who’s got your face? Isn’t it just lying to yourself?
“Too late,” Ben says. “I already called dibs.” He shows Connor the empty bottle of sleeping pills and shakes it to show it’s empty. “I took them all. It won’t be long now.”
To be honest, he feels weirdly smug about this.
Connor’s eyes widen and a flash of terror flies across his face. He reaches into his pocket but Ben manages to grab his arm before he can. “I need to call you an ambulance,” Connor says firmly, stepping back and pulling out his phone.
“You need to give me your hoodie,” Ben says, just as blunt as Connor’s earlier confession. He thinks for a moment. “And your shoes.”
“Why are you doing this?” Connor demands, terror still all over his face. He’s got his phone out again, and Ben should take it off him, but Connor’s hands are shaking so much that Ben’s fairly certain it’s not going to be a problem.
“Because it’s too much,” Ben confesses. Because what’s the point of lying to yourself? Especially when you’re this close to the end? “Everything is too much. There’s the paper and school and college and Phillipa and Jerome and clone club and the murders and the illness and it’s… too much. And they want me to be strong but I… I’ve never been strong.”
“Hey,” Connor says sharply, kneeling down and putting his hand on Ben’s shoulder. The gesture’s oddly comforting. Ben thinks about Jerome for a moment, then pushes the thought from his mind as fast as he can. “You need to let me help you. At the very least you need to stay alive to fucking explain why we look the same.”
He’s overcome by a rush of nausea, then leans over and throws up all over Connor’s hoodie. Connor jerks back in disgust and Ben wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, shivering slightly. It’s cold. It’s so cold.
Ben’s got a plan, though. “Give me your hoodie,” he says, trying to inject as much authority into his voice as he can with his throat on fire, his vision blurring and his heart racing like a freight train. “And your shoes. Then take my car and go to New York. Password for the green phone in blazer’s left pocket is 1908, the black one doesn’t have a lock. Keys are in my bag, it’s just next to me. The car’s parked around the corner to the left. Red Prius. In the green phone, call Torpedo. He’ll tell you what’s going on.”
Connor stares at him for a moment, then wordlessly starts to unlace his boots.
Ben lets out a sigh of relief.
Ben’s visibly shivering as he shrugs on Connor’s hoodie. Connor puts on Ben’s blazer in a daze, not really sure what he’s doing or why he’s humoring this kid who shares both his face and his death wish.
He’s still got his own phone in his hand and suddenly comes back to himself.
This is bullshit and he has to do something.
He dials 911, only for Ben to lunge at him again and push the phone out of his hand, sending it plummeting to the ground.
“I’m not just going to let you fucking die in front of me,” Connor vows, scrambling for the phone and picking it up. The screen’s cracked and the call hasn’t gone through.
Then Ben collapses to the ground and starts seizing.
Connor’s paralyzed with fear and horror at the sight.
Fuck, Ben looks just like him.
It’s almost like he’s watching himself.
No, it’s exactly like watching himself.
He’s watching himself die.
Connor doesn’t even realize he’s dropped his phone again until he hears yet another crack. Everything’s dim and hazy and he can hear his heart beating louder than he ever has.
Then Ben stops moving.
And Connor is standing over the body, trying to make sense of it all.
Everything is deathly still for a long moment.
Connor picks up Ben’s shoes and messenger bag.
He looks down at Ben, lying still by the park bench near a trash can and the first of the falling leaves. Now that Ben’s wearing his hoodie, the differences between them are less apparent.
Aside from the haircut, anyone looking would swear it was Connor’s body.
Connor realizes with a jolt just what Ben was trying to say.
This is his chance to disappear.
To start over.
He feels like there’s something he should say or do here, looking down at the dead body of his double. His… clone? Is that what Ben had said?
Some kind of goodbye.
Connor lets out a deep breath, closes his eyes and takes a moment.
“Goodbye, Connor Murphy.”
Then he leaves the park without looking back.