“You are the sorriest man that ever walked the Earth! I swear to God, I should have listened to my mother. I never should have married such a sorry piece of—”
Doctor William Flannery was doing his best to ignore his wife’s screaming tirade, with very little success. His hands on the steering wheel were white knuckled and he gritted his teeth, raging inside as she continued, so furious at Sophia that he felt he would surely burst from it.
“I can’t believe you did this to me! After all of these years, you have the nerve to cheat on me? I sacrificed my career for you! I gave up everything for you. How dare you do this to me?”
‘It’s all Sophia’s fault. I told her never to call me! How dare she call and leave a message like that? How dare she get pregnant? I pay every freaking month for her birth control. All she had to do was take it. She did it on purpose, that’s what she did. She meant to get pregnant so she could trap me. I told her I’m a happily married man. I wouldn’t marry her if she were the last woman on the planet!’ If only Martha had not listened to the messages on his cell phone. If only he had not been so distracted driving and had noticed that she had it in the first place. Deep down, he knew he had brought all of this on himself, knew it with a sickening certainty. He had screwed up royally this time, but he could fix it. He fixed it before, he could do it again. ‘All I have to do is get Martha home. If I can get her home….’
“I want a divorce. I’m going to take you for everything you have Doctor Flannery.”
She said his name with so much acid, so much hatred, that he felt his heart flop in his chest. How could the woman he loved more than life itself speak to him with so much hate? ‘It’s all her fault, but I’ll have to take care of her later.’ In his mind, visions of violence danced tantalizingly. He imagined cutting her to pieces with his scalpel, slowly choking her to death, resuscitating her over and over again so he could enjoy the feeling of her death in his hands, and a myriad of other scenarios. ‘Sophia will pay for this outrage.’ He would enjoy killing her, almost as much as he would enjoy thinking of the perfect way to do it. He would make sure her death was long and painful. Not like Martha’s. ‘Martha….’
“Don’t you dare look at me like that! I don’t ever want to see your ugly face again you rat b—”
William turned back to the road, speeding up with impatience, and tried hard not to look at her. It was difficult not to. She was so beautiful when she was angry, the wildness in her eyes, emotions running like water across her face. She seemed more alive than ever when she was like this. Almost as alive as when he killed her.
“I can’t believe you did this to me. Are you even paying attention to me? No, of course you aren’t. You’re the famous Doctor Flannery! You’re too important for the likes of me. I’m just your wife. I’m only the house keeper as far as you’re concerned. Yeah, right! As though you’ll ever be anything! I’d call you a has-been, but you never were! I should have married a lawyer. At least then I would have expected to get screwed over!”
‘If only Martha hadn’t grabbed my cell phone.’ He was not entirely sure, as she had assured him, that it was an accident. ‘Maybe she already suspected.’ But how could she have? He had been so careful this time. He had even gone so far as to only see one woman. ‘Sophia lives three states over for God’s sake!’ He had a whole different set of clothes that he wore when he was with her, a whole different set of credit cards with all of their information pointing toward the post office box he had in that state. There was no way Martha could have found out. Was there? If she knew about the affair before the party, the cigarette butt he had taken from their table would be no good as a DNA sample. She would come back with the same memory he was killing her to get rid of, and there would be nothing, nothing he could do about it. ‘No. She couldn’t have known. Not for sure. She would have thrown a fit before we even arrived if she’d known about it for sure. I can clean up this mess. I’ll never cheat again, I swear to God this is the last time I’ll ever do this to her.’ He hated killing his wife. No matter how lovely she was when she was angry, William hated so much to have to take all of that life out of her just to make sure he could keep her in his own life.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he turned down the street leading to their house that was not, apparently, lost on her.
“Yes, thank God we’re home! I can’t wait to get the—”
He cringed as curses poured from her mouth like poison. She almost never cursed in their day to day lives. She only ever cursed at him like this when she was enraged, when she was furious enough that he would have to kill her again. He pressed the button over his visor that would open the garage door, slowing down to enter it. Martha opened her door with a growl and leapt out before he could even stop, running for the front door. He sensed more than heard the curses she threw back at him as she ran. Sighing in resignation, he pressed the button again to close the garage behind him as he pulled in. He did not bother to turn off the garage light as he walked in to the house, knowing he would have to leave again, and soon, if he was going to make it back to the party in time. Any number of people might come looking for them if he took too long. This was, after all, his big night, and it was rightly expected of him to show up for it. This was the night he would unveil his greatest innovation, his method of cloning and the incubator that made everything possible. He had to be there for it.
William followed the sounds of his wife’s ranting up the grand stairway that lead upstairs to their master suite. He found the door locked.
“Martha. Let me in. Can’t we talk about this?”
“No! Go the h—”
“Please! Martha, you know I hate it when you talk like that. Please, let’s just talk about this. At least let me explain….”
‘Open the door. Just open the door.’ He tried hard to think of a reasonable explanation for a busted door. She was sure to want one when she noticed it later.
“When I talk like this? I’ve never in my life spoken to you like this before! How dare you accuse me—”
‘Right. I forgot. Of course she doesn’t remember talking like this before.’ It did not really matter. She would never remember it this time either, or even that he mentioned how she had done it before. As she continued to fume, he took several steps back from the door, bracing himself and running at it, shoulder down. He hit it with a resounding crack and it slammed into the bedroom wall as he crashed into the room, falling to the floor as he became tangled with his wife.
“Get off of me! How dare you—”
He stopped her diatribe himself this time, struggling to his knees and wrapping his hands around her beautiful white neck. Her eyes widened. At first, all he saw in them was rage, then dawning panic as she seemed to realize his murderous intentions. ‘Yes, you always did catch on quickly, my love. Don’t worry. It will be over soon.’
She struggled against him, but no more than usual. He had had enough practice by now to know how to handle everything she could throw at him. He held her throat with one hand and grabbed one of the hands she was using to gouge at his eyes, wrenching it under his knee. He saw the new pain course across her face briefly and hated himself for having to do this to her. ‘It will be over soon. Just let go. Just die and it will be all over….’ He repeated the process with her other arm and had to work to keep her from getting any air, knowing it would only prolong her inevitable death, and wanting more than anything for it to just be over. The sparkle in her eyes, the fire he so loved to see, even while he hated what it meant he would have to do, faded away. He watched those eyes glaze over as she convulsed in her death throes beneath him. He held on several minutes after she had finally stopped trembling, looking down lovingly into her beautiful face. He let go and got off, kneeling beside her and closing her glassy eyes. On an impulse, he bent over and brushed his lips against hers in one last kiss. Another breath would never pass these lips, but he found comfort in that Martha would be alive again soon. She looked so much like a sleeping angel, even with the black smears under her eyes and the hand-shaped bruising already apparent around her neck.
“I’m so sorry, Martha. I’m so sorry I had to do this to you. I swear to God I’ll make Sophia pay for this. I’ll make her pay for what she’s done to both of us.” He would clone Sophia later using the DNA sample he had taken and preserved right after they had met. It would only take an hour. In one hour’s time, he would have another version of Sophia, one that had no memory of ever being pregnant, that hardly knew anything about him. It would be as though none of this had ever happened. There may well be questions concerning her lost memories, but that hardly mattered to him. There was nothing at all to tie him and his research to her. No one would ever be the wiser, including her. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He would never cheat on his wife again. He just could not endure having to kill her again. Looking down at the Rolex on his wrist, he saw that more time had slipped by then he had intended.
“Time to get to work and fix things, or I’ll be late getting back. We can’t have questions, can we honey?” He lifted her body gently, lovingly, into his arms, carrying her out of the room. He had to rest a moment at the top of the stairs, and took the time to ensure yet again that she was no longer alive. It was so hard to believe she was dead, when she was still so warm to the touch, when she looked like she merely slept a natural sleep and not a permanent one.
He took her down the stairs and through the hall into his private workshop. Carefully sitting her up against the wall, he walked to the incinerator and turned it on looking back over his shoulder at her as he had a thought.
“I’ll just say I locked the bedroom door by accident and had to break it in. I’m sure you’ll believe that, won’t you Martha? You’ll probably laugh and call me silly, just like you always do. We’ll get a new door tomorrow. The help is all gone for the weekend, anyway. There’s no chance of anyone walking in on us at night, so I know it won’t bother you.” He smiled to himself. “Knowing you, you might even insist on waiting until they come back, just so there’s a chance we might get caught in the act. You always were the kinky type. That’s one of the many reasons I married you.” He wondered, not for the first time, why he ever cheated on her in the first place. “It’s because you’re always too busy for me most of the time. You run around telling the help how to do their job or doing it yourself instead of allowing them do the job I pay them for. Maybe I should get us another house, something smaller so you won’t have any excuses for having so much to do. How about one near the beach? I know how much you love the beach. With the money I’ll make from my newest invention, we’ll be able to buy a dozen houses along the coast. We can live anywhere in the world. I can finally afford to retire and have all the time in the world to spend with you. You’d like that, wouldn’t you Martha?”
Opening the incinerator, he walked back over to his wife’s body, scooping her up into his arms and holding her tight. He smiled softly into her face, walking slowly toward the incinerator. “I love you so much. You know that, don’t you? I won’t cheat on you again. I promise, Martha. From now on, I’ll be the man you always told me you thought I was. We’ll be together the rest of our lives. I’ll never have to kill you again, because there will never be another need to.”
He held his breath as he quickly put her inside, slamming and locking the door behind her before breathing in again. He choked on the smell of burning hair that had escaped in spite of all he could do and turned around, unable to bear the sight of her rapidly burning body, even knowing it would all be gone in a matter of moments. Moving to his desk, he sat down and took the cigarette butt out of his pocket, cutting it into small pieces and placing them in a sterile vial. He cautiously placed the sample in an apparatus that would separate her DNA from the garbage around it.
‘Thank God she’s the only one at our table that smokes.’ He did not have to be there to know that. That was of course a relief considering he had been spent most of his time mingling. Ben, his best friend, used to smoke, but he had stopped years ago. Allison, his secretary from his office at the college, had never smoked at all to his knowledge, and while he was not very well acquainted with the Andersons, he had been around them often enough to have noticed they never once lit up. Of course, he might be able to find another viable DNA sample if he really needed to, but the clone would be missing vital memories, something he could ill afford. Considering what he would be unveiling later to the whole scientific community, someone was bound to put two and two together. The only sample whose age he was sure of was over a month old, which would just be too much lost time to be easily explained away.
While the machine was completing its cycle, William looked inside his freezer, removing a single vile containing a group of six human eggs. One of these eggs, whose genetic material had already been removed, leaving nothing but the shell he needed to grow a clone, would in one hour’s time be an exact replica of Martha. He placed them under his microscope. As soon as his machine let him know the DNA had been successfully separated, he returned to his workstation and sat. With painstaking concentration, he fertilized each of the eggs and watched. Two failed to divide. One divided twice before stopping. The remaining three continued to grow. When he was relatively sure the three would live, he culled two.
Standing, he walked across the room to his incubator, the fantastic invention that made all things possible. He placed the dish containing what would soon be his wife reborn in his incubator, knowing that even though they were still too small to see, her new cells were even now dividing at a rapid pace. It had taken him years to perfect this very process. He knew, deep down, that it was his wife that had made it all possible, even if she never meant to help or inspire him in the way she did. The first time he had killed her, years ago, when it had been completely accidental, it had taken him several months to regenerate her. He had worked hard ever since then to improve the process, determined to make it better. Over time, he had succeeded where no others had. Now, after all this time, it would only take an hour for the whole process to be completed.
“Necessity is the mother of all invention.”
He looked down at his watch. “Seven Thirty. I’m late. I’ll see you in an hour, honey.” He patted his machine lovingly. “Don’t worry. You won’t remember a thing. It will take several moments, even after you’re released, for your memories to start forming again. Of course, you’ll realize you’ve been sleep walking again and that’s how you ended up on my lab floor, just like you did before. I brought you home because you were feeling poorly, remember dear? No one will ever be the wiser. Not even you. I’ll see you in a bit. And, don’t worry about your missing dress. I’m sure the maid stole it. It was such a lovely red dress that she just couldn’t seem to help herself. We’ll have to fire her and find one that’s a little more honest, won’t we?”
He left the room, turning off the light behind him, knowing that would make her more inclined to believe she really had been sleep-walking. He checked himself in the bathroom mirror, straitening up his tie, before walking through the house, turning out all of the lights as he went. He checked the front door to ensure it was locked, and locked the garage door behind him as he made his exit. He checked himself again as he put his car into gear and the garage door slowly opened behind him. A frown passed over his face as he noticed the scratch she had made on his neck, but he pulled his collar up and hoped no one would notice it. ‘I should have been more careful. Maybe I have time— no, I don’t. I can’t spare another moment, even to find some of her foundation to cover this up. I’m sure no one will notice anyway.’
He slapped at the button and closed the garage door as he backed out of his drive way, throwing the car into drive and going ten miles over the legal limit in his rush to return to the party. The drive was a surprisingly short one now that he no longer had his wife in the car, howling at him. ‘I hated doing that to you, dear. I really did. I love you so much….’ He found comfort in the knowledge she would be waiting for him, likely in their bed, when he returned.
His parking space at the front of the building where the party was being hosted was gone, but he found another that was not too great a walking distance from the door. He fairly ran, stopping and straightening his tie, looking down at his Rolex before he entered. ‘Seven forty five. Well over an hour to spare.’ He smiled at no one in particular as he entered, shaking hands and walking toward his table. ‘They’ll make the announcements at nine. I’ll perform the unveiling, wow them all, and be back home in no time. I’ll beg out of staying for the duration. After all, my wife is sick. They can’t very well expect me to stay all night, no matter what tradition might hold as the standard.’ He sat in one of the two empty seats, across from Ben, greeting the Andersons and nodding to Alison.
“Hey, William, where have you been? What took you so long? And why isn’t that beautiful wife of yours on your arm?”
“Ben.” He nodded at his friend, catching himself before he could smile and frowning instead. “Martha took ill on the way to the house. She had to stay home. I’m going back to be with her as soon as I can.”
“What? But this is your big night! You can’t be serious. What happened to Martha, anyway? She was fine when you left. You don’t think it was food poisoning, do you?” At that, he looked down suspiciously at his plate, at the cocktail shrimp he had been busily eating since the party had begun.
“No, no, nothing like that. She just complained of feeling nauseated. She’ll probably come back and join us in a bit.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Hey, I’m going to go check up on her.”
“No!” William lowered his voice when he realized that had almost been a shout, cringing inwardly at the stares he was receiving from the people around him. “No, it’s all right. I’m sure if she feels any better tonight she’ll come back on her own.”
“I don’t know, Doctor Flannery,” Alison spoke up, “I mean, it isn’t natural to get sick like that so quickly. She may need to go to the hospital. I’m sure if it were nothing at all, she wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving you here alone, not tonight of all nights! I think someone should go check in on her, just in case.”
Doctor William Flannery felt his heart stop, felt it twist up inside of him, felt the blood freeze in his veins. ‘No! She’s not ready yet. He’ll know. They’ll all know!’
“Hey, William, you don’t look so well yourself. Is anything the matter? You’re not getting sick too, are you?”
“I’m sure he just didn’t think to worry before we said something.”
“I agree.” Mrs. Anderson gave the doctor a stern look he did not acknowledge, before turning the look onto her own husband who bent down in shame beneath it. “Men never notice anything like that. Why, I almost died last year, I was so sick, and Charlie never even noticed! Not a peep out of him. He thought I was just getting lazy of all things!” She did not seem to notice when her husband rolled his eyes, or care that everyone at the table had already heard the story and knew it was just a bad case of hemorrhoids that had ‘almost killed’ her. “I’m sure that poor, dear woman is over there near death right now! Someone should go check up on her immediately!”
“I’ll go!” Ben pushed his chair back, rising.
“No! I mean…no, I couldn’t let you go. You’re all correct. I shouldn’t have left her all by herself. I’ll go check up on her and let you know how she is.”
“You’re in no condition to go by yourself! I’ll go with you. I insist!”
‘There’s no way out of it! He’s determined to go with me. He knows! No, he couldn’t. None of them could have possibly guessed what happened. They don’t know anything about what I’ve been working on. They can’t know. There’s no way they could possibly know.’ He looked nervously down at his watch. ‘Five minutes past eight. My God, that’s twenty five more minutes before she’s ready! The drive only takes ten minutes.’ He wiped a chill sweat from his brow, worked hard to slow his breathing before he started hyperventilating. ‘There has to be some kind of way out of this!’
“Come on if you’re coming, William. Let’s take my car. I’ll drive.”
“No. That’s quite all right. As high as the price of gas is these days, I’d hate for you to waste yours on our account. My car gets better mileage anyway. I’ll drive.” He looked at his watch again and cursed it for moving so slowly. Less than one minute had passed. How was he ever going to hold out long enough?
“It’s all right, Doctor. You don’t have to worry about the time! I’m sure it won’t take you two that long to get there and back, and after all, they can’t start this thing without the man of the hour, can they?”
He cursed them for their mocking cheerfulness and stood slowly, trying his best to scrape away at as many moments as he could. ‘The scrape!’ He put his hand to his neck, but could tell that the collar still covered it up. ‘Could they have seen it? Could that have caused them to guess? No, no, no! There’s no way they could have seen it. No way could any of them have guessed at her death based on something that small!’
He fumbled intentionally in his pocket for the keys to his car, pulling them out of his pocket with painstaking care.
“Come on, William! Stop dragging your feet!”
Ben walked swiftly toward the door and William had no choice but to rush along behind him, fearful he might decide to hop into his own car and go if he were not quick enough to follow. He rushed out in front and led Ben to his car, grateful now that it was further off then it had been. He looked own at his watch. ‘Eight minutes past the hour. Only twenty two more minutes to go. The drive only takes ten. But she’ll need some time to figure out that she’s been sleep-walking. She’ll need time to go upstairs and get dressed. I’ll go the long way. But he’s sure to notice! Maybe if I distract him enough he won’t, maybe he’ll be too distracted, talking, to notice if I make a right instead of a left. Yes, I can do this. I can stall for enough time. I’ll drive the car right into a tree if I have to! What’s a car and a few broken bones compared to what will happen if anyone finds out what I’ve done? Martha would never forgive me if she found out that I’d killed her. They would take everything away from me, everything. There would be no fixing this, no fixing anything at all! Martha would never forgive me!’
Finding it increasingly hard to breath, he got in the car and took his time fastening his seatbelt, painstakingly putting the car into gear and slowly backing out. He looked over at Ben out of the corner of his eye. ‘He hasn’t noticed anything is amiss. Good. Just stay calm. Breath. Breath slower. You can do this. You’re a doctor. You’re a genius. No one’s smarter than you are. You’ve had to stall for time before, back when it took longer to bring her back. This time’s no different. You can do it. Oh, God, you have to do it!’
“I— I think we should— stop by the store on the way. Yeah, maybe get some soda? I don’t usually keep it in the house. You knew that, right? That I don’t keep soda in the house anymore? My wife— Martha has assured me on more than one occasion that it makes her feel a lot better when she’s nauseated.”
“Good idea. I’m sure it’s really nothing, William. Don’t worry yourself to death about it. God, you’re in a bad way! Are you sure you haven’t come down with something too? Your hands are shaking!”
“No, I’m just cold, that’s all. And worried about Martha. You know how much I love her. Just thinking that I was so insensitive—”
“Ah, don’t let it bother you. Really, we’re men. Women expect this kind of thing out of us. It being your big night and all, I’m sure she’ll let it slide. I’d get some flowers for her too, though, if I were you. Women go crazy over that kind of thing. Hey, let’s stop at this one. I think they sell flowers here too, don’t they?”
As soon as the car pulled to a stop, Ben jumped out of the car. “I’ll be right back! Don’t worry. I won’t take long at all. No, stay in the car! I know what to get.”
William looked down at his Rolex. ‘Martha gave me this on our last anniversary. She even had it engraved. Why can’t the time go by any faster?’ He cursed in frustration. ‘Eight nineteen.’ It was only a six minute drive from the store to his house, and that was only if he went as slow as he dared. At the actual speed limit…. Maybe he would luck out. Maybe it would take Ben longer than he expected to get back. A sudden brilliant thought struck him and he got out of the car. ‘That’s it! The bathroom! The perfect excuse to waste time! After all, he already thinks I’m sick too!’ It meant they would probably force him to postpone his announcement, but it was well worth the sacrifice. He rushed around the side of the building and locked himself inside.
He had never actually been in the bathroom at this service station before, since it was so close to his house and he had never before seen the point in going in a crappy little stall like this when he could hold it until he got home. Now, he felt like blessing the owner of the store for his thoughtfulness. He propped his hip on the edge of the sink and tried to ignore the malignant odor of stale urine and feces. His eyes never strayed far from his watch. ‘Eight twenty three! Only seven more minutes to go!’ He waited three more before he finally unlocked the door and made his way as slowly as he could back to his car, breathing a sigh of relief. ‘If nothing else, she’ll be fully formed by the time we get there. She might not be dressed, but she’ll be there. That’s all that’s really important now. Maybe I can distract Ben at the house as well. Get him to go up and look for her while I check in on her in the lab.’ He was not surprised to find that Ben was waiting for him in the car, in the driver’s seat.
“I knew you were sick! Come on, get in. I’ll drive the rest of the way. You should stay home, though. I’ll let everyone know what’s happened. I’m sure they’ll all understand why you’re not coming back tonight. After all, no one expects you to get out of your deathbed, even for something like this. They didn’t have any flowers, by the way. I guess that was the station over on Ashley. Don’t worry about it, though. I’m sure she won’t care, since you’re sick too.”
Ben chatted away the rest of the drive, but William hardly heard a word of it. He looked down at his watch, catching the time as fleeting illumination from the street lights danced through the car, and smiled to himself. ‘I’m home free. Nothing can stop me now. She’s already out of the incubator. In a few moments, she’ll regain her senses. She’ll wonder why she’s on the lab-room floor. She’ll be looking around, with those beautiful blue eyes of hers. There will be no sign of anything being amiss. She might be on her way back to bed even now.’
As soon as Ben pulled into the drive and shut off the car, he snatched up the keys and got out, hurrying toward the front door. ‘I’m sure you’ll figure out on your own what’s happened, won’t you my love? You’ll realize that you were sleepwalking again. You’ll go upstairs and dress for bed. You’ll wait for me there, won’t you?’
He unlocked the door, pausing only a moment for Ben to catch up before he went inside. ‘You’ll ask about the door and why it’s broken, but you won’t notice the missing clothes for a day or so. By then, the help will be back and you’ll just figure out that the maid must have taken your new dress. She was staring so hard at it earlier. We both knew she wanted it—‘
“—don’t mind, do you?”
William was startled out of his reverie, stopped mid-step as he was about to ascend the stairs to his room.
“I said you don’t mind if I light up, do you?”
“Yeah, light up. You know, smoke?”
“Smoke? Y—you don’t smoke.”
“Oh, I know. I just took it up again tonight and I’ve been smoking like a chimney ever since.”
“Smoking? But, you don’t smoke. No one at the table smokes. No one but Martha.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right! You weren’t there. Heck! I bet she didn’t even get the chance to tell you before she got sick, did she?” At Doctor William Flannery’s silence, Ben continued, “Martha gave up smoking tonight! Gave me her whole pack. Why, she didn’t even smoke a single cigarette tonight. Can you believe that?”