She’s been dead for three months yet you still catch glimpses of her in the bathroom mirror after a hot shower. The scent of vanilla lingers in the bedroom closet, her clothes untouched. She’s just gone on a business trip and will be back by the weekend. This is the lie you tell yourself every day.
You spot her in the deli section of the supermarket. At the dry cleaners. These visions are all just faint echoes. You can make her real again. All it takes is a wispy strand of auburn hair from her favorite wool sweater.
Tonight you stay late after work to get started. Unauthorized use of lab equipment is highly illegal and against company policy. But it’s worth the risk for a man with nothing left to lose.
You place what’s left of her into the replicator chamber and snap the door shut. Cherry red micro-lasers sweep across her hair fiber like tiny spotlights, mapping the patterns of her DNA sequence. From these building blocks you’ll give her another chance. One that you lost but you’re stealing back.
You watch the scanning beams for a few minutes until your eyes get heavy and you drift off. In your mind she’s smiling at you from the car’s passenger seat. The dream is so sharp you can almost touch her.
The fantasy’s interrupted by the din of shattering glass and groaning metal. Her body bounces like a rag doll from the impact. Her scream is as real as that night three months ago.
You wake up with a startle, the emulator’s kicked into high gear, filling the air with a steady thrum. The sickly fluorescent light in the lab smacks you back into the real world. But the vision of her isn’t gone yet. Once again she dies in your arms. The glow in her pale blue eyes fading, her smooth skin growing cold.
Version 1.0 of her looks promising. After bringing her home, you notice she can’t speak. Her vocal cords haven’t formed properly. She dies after five hours so you say a prayer and bury her in the backyard.
Back at the lab, you pore over the code and find the error. A mismatch at the somatic cell level. You correct it with a few keystrokes and begin a new sequence.
Version 1.1 appears healthy and babbles like a child when you sit her down at your kitchen table. Eight hours later her lips go blue and she coughs uncontrollably. You do what you can, but her lungs fail and she dies an hour later. Another grave, another prayer.
You’re sifting through the code when there’s a knock at the lab door. It’s the overnight security guard. He’s noticed surveillance camera footage missing from the last two nights. You lie and tell him you don’t know anything about it. You’ve got to cover your tracks just long enough for this thing to work. He leaves and you find the missing lines of code. It’s a quick fix so you fire up the emulator again.
Versions 1.2 and 1.3 each live a little longer, but neither one makes it past 12 hours. More holes in the backyard and more punctures to your soul. Your eyes are on fire, bloodshot from squinting at endless pages of code. After making adjustments, you start the replication sequence again.
Version 1.4 wakes up at home after sleeping for a few hours. She trips and falls down and you realize she’s blind. 16 hours later she’s dead. The scattered holes and piles of dirt in the backyard make it look like a dog’s been digging for bones.
The following night at the lab you tweak the code yet again and start up the replicator. Its rhythmic hum lulls you to nap but you don’t dream of her at all. Instead, it’s a deep, dark sleep you embrace.
You’re roused by a pounding on the lab door. It’s the security guard, along with the authorities. They burst in and arrest you for illegal use of company property. The police Miranda you while they slap on the handcuffs and toss you into the back seat of a cruiser. You’ve violated at least 16 cloning laws and regulations, according to the lieutenant riding shotgun. It doesn’t matter to you. Nothing does.
After three hours of questioning they book you and throw you in a holding cell. All you can think of is the night of the party. The crash that took her away from you. The fact that you should’ve just accepted things and moved on. Instead you chose to Xerox her memory over and over until the only thing left was a blurry shadow of her former self.
Morning. You’re sitting on the bed in your cell, back against the wall when a guard unlocks the door. Someone’s here to see you. Minutes later you take a seat behind the glass window that keeps the world outside. Your skin itches and you catch a whiff of vanilla perfume. Then she walks in, scoots her chair closer and stares at you with her pale blue eyes.
Victor De Anda is a writer in Philadelphia who enjoys watching movies and searching for good Mexican food. His essays, articles and fiction have been published in The Glovebox Chronicles, Dallas Screenwriters Newsletter and Force Yourself. You can tweet him @victordeanda and read more at victordeanda.com