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“There he is again! That bastard is following me!”
This was Annie’s first thought as she left her apartment and walked towards work. She had spotted the man out of the corner of her eye multiple times in the past week. She had thought nothing of it at first; after all, she passed plenty of people every day as she went about her monotonous routine. But then she started noticing him appearing along her route more and more often; usually sitting on a bench or leaning against a nearby wall.
She had tried to ignore him, convince herself that she wasn’t his focus. That proved futile; she never had the courage to look directly at him, but she could clearly see that his gaze was always fixed in her direction. She tried changing her route; multiple times in fact. Yet he would always seem to find her, increasing her level of uneasiness. She didn’t have the confidence to report the man; the police would write it off as a coincidence, or as a sign of unnecessary paranoia. No, she couldn’t bear to face the humiliation or disbelief of the police. Or, for that matter, of anyone in general; she decided not to tell anyone, neither friends nor family. She couldn’t handle the fallout, or the change in attitude towards her that would surely occur.
That’s not to say she didn’t take precautions, however. She invested in a can of Mace and made sure to always walk to and from work in a public area. She was never out after dark, and would take differing routes home to deter the man’s attempts to locate her residence. She was very careful in her activities, but never felt excessively threatened, and at times, managed to push the man out of her thoughts and live carefree.
Unfortunately, now was not one of those times.
She saw the man hunched over at a bus stop, his head protruding up and towards her direction, his eyes following her. She quickly glanced away and began walking more hurriedly towards work, brushing the rest of the crowd aside in an attempt to lose the man’s attention. The confused looks she got were nothing compared to the look of the man, her stalker.
“That’s what he is,” she thought, “A goddamn stalker. I’m the prey and he’s the predator. A sexual, goddamn predator.”
That was the day that Annie asked herself, “Why?” She could not fathom why someone would take it upon themselves to follow her, for she did not think very highly of herself. She described herself to friends as “unreasonably average”. They, in turn, told her that she was “reasonably perfect”; her “average” features were actually the epitome of what every other woman strived towards. Her dark brown hair was long enough with just the right amount of curl to entice the men around her. Her face wasn’t the face of the average working girl, no, it instead was the face of the ideal, determined, and strong-willed woman that the others wished they had. It also had the right amount of symmetry and allure to make the men forget that. She was told her bright blue eyes were the final ingredient; everyone would find themselves drawn to them, and would always look her straight in the face.
She dismissed it all as her friends’ petty attempts to cheer her up.
There was certainly something strange about the man, but Annie couldn’t quite place it. She thought he looked somewhat familiar, as if they had met once before. That wasn’t it, she decided, it was something else; something was just off. Perhaps it was the way he dressed? She thought about this. He didn’t seem to have many outfits, but that wasn’t incredibly unusual. No, the unusual thing was that he would change outfits periodically. She would see him wearing a grimy leather jacket in the morning, only to switch to a long trench coat in the evening, as she walked home from work. But even that could be explained; perhaps he was simply trying to throw off suspicion. No, it had to be something else-
“Again! There he is again! How? I nearly sprinted three blocks, there’s just no way he could be here!”
She had spotted him again, this time leaning against a wall leading to an alleyway, as if waiting for her to proceed through the alley, inviting her down the path.
“No fucking thanks,” she thought as she scurried past. His eyes followed her the whole way; no other passersby seemed concerned or seemed to notice him at all.
She couldn’t remember what he’d been wearing earlier, but she was sure it was different than the sweatshirt and jeans he wore now. Had he somehow been able to change outfits and still end up ahead of her on her path? No, it just couldn’t be; she had taken a different path today, in an effort to be unpredictable. He couldn’t have foreseen that she would take this particular street to work. This made her even more anxious now and extremely thankful when she reached the office building where she worked; he had never gone near her work building.
Work was unproductive. Annie couldn’t take her mind off of the man, his unflinching glare stuck in her mind. She lagged behind in her work, and as such, had to stay late to catch up. At the time, Annie thought nothing of it; she simply scrambled to finish her work and appease her boss. Eventually, it began to dawn on her that she would have to walk home in the dark. Alone. With that man surely lurking around outside; this must have been what he was waiting for. She looked around her workplace for companionship, but everyone else had left. Taking this as a sign to leave, she gathered her things and exited the building.
It was late. Annie didn’t know the exact time; she simply knew it was dark and she needed to get home quickly. She decided to take the quickest route home (risk be damned) and set off into the night. She instantly felt an unnerving presence, specifically, the lack of any kind of prescence. The streets were deserted; not a pedestrian or passing car in sight. She could hear distant voices and din, but the street she had chosen seemed dead to the world. The street itself was silent, and its silence deceived Annie. Every abnormal sound, every drop of sweat hitting the sidewalk made her jump and quickened her pace as she headed towards home. The wind too, decided to betray Annie. It blew by and tickled the sweat on her face, sending physical chills throughout her body. These, combined with the chills of nervousness she was generating, caused Annie to begin doubting herself.
“Is this the right way home?” “Should I have turned back there?” “Where am I exactly?”
All were thoughts that flooded through her head and attributed to her feelings of vulnerability and isolation. Unfortunately, as she would soon realize, she had taken a wrong turn in her fear and confusion. When she realized this, it was almost too much to bear; she couldn’t make it through. She was unsure how far she had traveled in the wrong direction, she wasn’t sure where she currently was, and she wasn’t sure on what to do. Her stomach churned at the thought of how to proceed; she shuddered at the thought of finding home alone in the dark night.
Except she wasn’t alone anymore.
She could hear footsteps approaching her position. They weren’t hurried or irregular at all; just calm and consistent. Whoever they belonged to was obviously in no rush at all. Annie was nearly hysterical, she had, just had to escape the footsteps, no matter how. She broke into a run and ducked into a nearby alley between two abandoned buildings. She hoped she could cut through and escape her pursuer. She prayed that the alley itself wasn’t a dead end, but reached for her Mace just in case. She had to be prepared to defend herself. She sprinted into the darkness, listening as the footsteps died out behind her.
Turning the corner, she saw an opening. She had made it! She was free; the footsteps so distant and no longer a threat. Thankfully, she recognized this road, and it was well lit by streetlights, a nice break from the darkness she walked through immediately prior. She checked over her shoulder to make sure she wasn’t followed. She wasn’t. She walked on, breathing a sigh of relief, and almost didn’t notice the figure ahead walking towards her.
Annie looked up and saw the man, the man who had tormented her weeks prior. He stood across from her, hands in his coat pockets, grinning down on her. Annie nearly fainted. How? How did he find her? How did he get ahead of her? How was that possible? He was behind her only seconds ago! How could he possibly be in front of her? She couldn’t reach a rational conclusion; it just wasn’t possible.
For a few seconds, neither Annie nor the man moved. Their gazes were fixed on each other, their expressions stark opposites: Annie’s of horror and disbelief and the man’s of amusement. Neither said a word, both waited to see who would make the first move. Finally, the tension was broken and the man moved forward. He stepped calmly, savoring the moment. Annie herself took no chances and unleashed the full can of pepper spray into the man’s face. The man fell over screaming and clutching at his eyes in pain. Annie screamed too, although hers was with rage. She kicked and stomped at the man, who lay writhing in pain on the ground. She kicked in vengeance for all the times he had hurt her mentally and stomped for all the things he had surely wanted to do physically. She lost herself in her rage, while the man was lost in pain.
The second pair of footsteps was drowned out by all the commotion. This second pair of footsteps approached quickly and would have been noticed had Annie been on the same guard she was on earlier. But she didn’t notice until the second pair of footsteps was right behind her and she finally turned around. Startled, she stared into the face of the man she had just beaten down to the ground. The same man she had been confronted by moments earlier. The same man who was right beside her on the ground. She saw the same grin on the same face. She was stunned as she tried to comprehend the situation and barely felt the man drive the syringe into her shoulder as she lost consciousness.
Annie eventually came to her senses. She was sitting down and couldn’t quite think straight- her thoughts muddled in a constant repetition of her kidnapping. She needed to find out where she was. In her groggy, drug-addled state, she attempted to stand up, but found that her limbs were tied down. She glanced at her arms; they were bound with tape to a heavy wooden chair. More fear and panic filled her mind as she attempted to make sense of the situation.
She had pepper-sprayed the stalker and then proceeded to kick at him on the ground. That part made sense. But then... she had been drugged and abducted. By whom? The man she saw was a carbon copy of the other man. They were identical twins perhaps? That could explain why they appeared in multiple places dressed differently. But something was still off about the men, but Annie had larger things to focus on.
Annie attempted to analyze the room, looking for anything to aid her in an escape. A single bulb above the chair she was bound to illuminated the room; therefore, there was little she could decipher. The room itself seemed old and in disrepair. It appeared as a forgotten basement of a house, or one that was seldom used. There were some boxes in the corner behind her, and what looked to be a set of decrepit, wooden stairs in front of her. Everything else (if there was anything else) was shrouded in the darkness of the room.
The silence in the room was deafening, she could hear only her quick, hushed breaths. But that was useful, for it told her that she was currently alone. She couldn’t have had much time, she had to move, had to do something. With the right movement and enough effort, she could shift the chair forward. The only plan she could formulate was to reach the stairs and try to file off the bindings on her arms. She shifted the chair forward a few feet, but then stopped; it generated too much noise, surely the man would hear it. But she had to continue on; this was her only option.
She advanced forward a few more feet, when she was stopped by the sound of movement above. The door to the basement was opened, and a figure poked their head in; Annie couldn’t quite make it out, but sensed that it was scanning the room. The figure walked down, seemingly confused, and then spotted Annie. It quickly ran back up the stairs shouting something, Annie listened in, utterly horrified.
“A1! C1! She’s awake! She’s awake! We can finally start! We can finally start! Get down here!”
“A1? C1? What the hell does that mean?” Annie thought. Still, this was her chance, the man had left the door open, and so Annie screamed for help, praying that someone would hear her. Almost immediately, her screams were followed by loud stomping from above her, as the man scrambled towards her. He came tromping through the doorway, promptly shut it, and nearly fell down the stairs to reach Annie. He rushed behind her and clamped a hand over her mouth, quelling the noise. He then proceeded to pull her back towards the center of the room.
The man bent down and whispered in Annie’s ear, “Miss Annette, please be quiet, we only wish to have a civil conversation.”
Two more figures emerged into the cellar and proceeded to join the two. One of them walked into the light and Annie could see that it was the man that had drugged her as she had kicked the other. His eyes were wide and filled with pleasure and amusement; his grin stretching up the right side of his face. Then the other figure stepped into the light behind the first and Annie could see the man she had pepper-sprayed; he was in a less joyous mood, wearing a scowl and look of scorn. Annie could see that his eyes were red and agitated. They looked nearly identical; they had to have been identical twins. Annie tried to see the man that held her from behind; instead, he pushed her head forward.
The man in front of her spoke, “Miss Annabelle, how nice to meet you face to face! Do you, uh, by chance, recognize me? I mean, heh, it’s been so long, I don’t quite expect you to.”
Annie, couldn’t say anything, and instead struggled in her chair a bit. The man addressed the one behind her, “B1! Let her speak, you idiot! See, shit like this is why you couldn’t catch her last night! Because of your stupidity, poor C1 took the brunt of Miss Annabeth’s rage; go, go get the serum ready. I want to talk with our friend here.” The man, “B1”, released his grip from Annie’s mouth and walked sullenly back up the stairs. In the quick glimpse Annie caught of him, she saw that he too looked identical to the other men. Annie drew in a sharp breath while the man in front of her continued speaking.
“Apologies, B1 isn’t very bright. A possible side effect of my own inexperience. My question still stands: do you remember me?”
Annie could barely speak, her voice trickling into the heavy air of the room, “Oh my god, please, just let me go. I-I-I don’t know what is going on, I just-”
The man interrupted her furiously, “Answer the fucking question!” He paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and spoke again, “I’m terribly sorry Miss Antoinette, I lost my temper. Let’s remain civil here. My mistake; please, just answer the question. No harm will befall you if you can cooperate in a reasonable manner.”
“No, I don’t know you. B-but, you’re the man who’s been following me and now that we’re here, oh god…” She broke in to tears.
The man ignored her sobs and began speaking excitedly to the other man in the room, “Did you hear that C1? She had seen us! As I said! But yet, she never told anyone.” “C1” smiled and nodded as the other man chuckled and turned back to Annie, “Miss Annalise, I am simply delighted that you enjoyed our presence. Yes, it’s true that we have been following you. But, have you seen me prior to this past week? Hmm? No? Let me tell you a story, a story about a very confused young man. Let’s see, it was about-”
“Fuck you! I don’t want to hear your story, I just want-” She was struck across the face and cut off.
“Miss Anastasia! Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking!” The man stopped, obviously conflicted, “Shit. I’m sorry; I just can’t control my urges sometimes. Now let me tell my fucking story. You don’t remember me, but I remember you. College, sophomore year? We had sociology together. And the year after that? Chemistry? But you don’t remember me; no one ever has. No one ever remembers John A. 'one' Hersh. But everyone remembers Miss Anita! The most beautiful woman I had ever laid my eyes on. I was obsessed; I really was. I followed you everywhere; you didn’t seem to notice. I never even spoke to you; I didn’t want to break the illusion of how perfect you must have been. God, seeing you now, it still brings me back…”
John stopped, as if lost in thought for a moment, and then leapt on to Annie, wrapping his legs around her, and pulling her close, placing his face across from hers. “God, I wanted to give into those urges. I needed to get you alone, tie you down, and ravage you. I wanted to defile your body for hours on end; it was all I could think about. And now that we’re here…” He grinned at her silently for a few moments and then sighed, “…I still can’t.” He leapt back off of her and began pacing the room, as if talking to different people.
“Sure, I could get aroused! Sure, I tried pleasuring myself, but I just couldn’t ever- Look, there was something different about my body. I tried and tried and tried, but nothing would happen. But then one day, one faithful day, something did happened. I was alone in my room, naked and-” He stopped as he saw Annie cringing “I’m giving you the full story here, so that you may understand. I felt a sudden urge to reproduce, but alas, I was alone. So I- actually, I have a better idea; I’ll show you. I’ve been waiting to do this for a while.”
John began to strip naked while Annie shut her eyes and turned away.
“C1! Keep her eyes open; I want her to experience and understand the beauty of asexual reproduction!”
“C1,” came up behind Annie and pulled her eyelids open and forced her head forward. She stared at John in front of her. He stood bare, hunched over and staring off into the corner, ignoring those around him. Suddenly he arched his back and began to twist and contort in a variety of differing ways, throwing out his arms, kicking his legs out, pulling his head back; Annie stared on at the bizarre scene. He fell to the ground making a mix of strange sounds, gurgles, and panting.
He placed his hands on the floor and began writhing them about. There was a tearing sound, as John’s hand began to bulge and tear. That’s when Annie saw it; something had burst the skin of John’s hand. In the dimness of the light, she saw it to be another hand, covered in blood and liquid, protruding from his skin. It was attached to an arm that also began to pull itself out of John’s own arm; the arm too was also covered in grimy fluids. It was as if another human was inside John, trying to pull itself out. With a final grunt, John’s skin split and the arm fully extended itself. It fell limply to his side and Annie could see the fingers twitching and fumbling around on the ground madly, trying to grasp at something. This process was repeated one by one with all of John’s other limbs; the first arm was followed soon by another, and after that, an extra pair of legs sprouted from John’s. The legs themselves were produced with a crack; their bones snapping into place one after another. These new counterparts hung flaccidly beside, lifeless and dripping gore all over John and the floor. Annie vomited.
John, on the other hand, took a short break from the exertion and caught his breath; to Annie, he seemed to be in a great deal of agony, pausing briefly only to scream and claw at the creature inside of him. The creature seemed to claw back; it too was ready for the ordeal to be over. John trudged on in his horrific display. Annie could see the damp split skin where John’s extra limbs extended begin to close up, as if it were being stitched together by some invisible force. The healing process did not appear to be seamless or painless. The skin would sometimes begin to reform on the extra limbs and was re-torn until it had formed on the proper areas. By now, John resembled a humanoid arachnid, with his eight limbs planted firmly on the floor as he arched his back and pushed something out of his chest. He wriggled around the area in an attempt to speed up the process; Annie vomited again.
And then his torso split apart, revealing another torso underneath, which was flanked by John’s bodily organs on either side trying to escape with it. After much struggling, the torso broke free and pulled itself out with the help of the attached extra limbs. Annie could make out a head taking shape as it opened its mouth to moan in pain. The creature fell to the ground beside John and scuttled away out of the light, crawling into a fetal position and wheezing rapidly. Annie thanked God that the new thing had moved out of the light. John himself had finished his part and lay in a pool of blood and filth, resting while his body put itself back together.
After what seemed like hours, John pulled himself up, and started throwing his clothes back on. He was coated in blood and slime, which seeped into his clothes. The creature beside him crawled along trying to get its bearings, suddenly it spoke, its voice a mixture of John’s and a barrage of low, guttural sounds and grunts.
“Who am I?”
“You are to be known as John D1 Hersh. You have come from the original. Your first child will be known as John E2 Hersh. Your third, John F2 Hersh, and so on. Go join your brother B1 upstairs.”
John walked over to Annie while “D1” lurched up the stairs, nearly tripping over itself. He spoke slowly, occasionally stopping and gasping for air, “He is my child, a perfect clone of myself. An exact genetic replica; he shares my memories and past experiences. We cannot reproduce through ‘normal’ sex, only by asexual reproduction; our children are carbon copies of ourselves at the time of their birth. Don’t you see? We are the future of the human race! Think of how quickly bacteria can reproduce; we can match their speed proportionally. It’s not nearly as quick, but it’s faster than ‘normal’ reproduction.”
“Then why am I here? Did you bring me here to watch you fucking spawn? That was the most inhuman and disgusting-” John cut her off.
“Miss Annabella. I-no, we,” He motioned to the man holding Annie’s head and the stairs, “Brought you here to repay you. Because of you, I discovered this incredible ability. I wanted to thank you in the only way I know how; I want to share my gift so that you too, may experience the advantages of asexual reproduction.”
“I don’t want your gift!”
“Nonsense. Eventually this will be the primary way humans reproduce; I’m giving you a chance to be one of the first. You’ll thank me later; your children will thank me later. I love you Annie, all of us do; we want you to have this. Don’t think you’ll be any less of a human being; instead, think of yourself as the next evolutionary step. B1! Bring me the serum!” “B1” stumbled down the stairs, carrying a syringe; he handed it to John.
“I won’t bore you with the specifics of this; it’s a combination of some chemicals and some of my, um, juices. I also put a mild sedative in there; you’ll pass out now and wake up in your home, ready to continue living your life. Don’t worry, we already know the address.” He paused, thinking for a moment, “Oh, you may wake up in a pool of blood and other liquids; that’s just your body rejecting all of your nonessential reproductive parts. Your, eh, eggs and such. The whole asexual act in itself comes naturally, when you’re ready. And Annie, I love you, I really appreciate all you did. I hope you’ll feel the same about me some day.” With that, he stuck the syringe into Annie’s arm as she struggled and screamed; eventually losing consciousness.
She awoke inside her home, in a pool of blood as John had said. She didn’t feel quite the same.
Written by Whitix