11...To Tell The Truth...
Where the hell did he start? The beginning? He wasn't even certain where the beginning was. How did he explain Alec to her? Who he was? How he came to be what he was?
"Just tell me." Clarice said quietly. She still sat next to him and could surely feel the tension tightening his body. "You don't have to sugar coat it. I've seen enough so far that you don't need to coddle me. Just tell it like it is."
The fear and anxiety in her pressed at his mind, but she was being honest when she said to tell it like it is. She was tired of being afraid. And tired of not knowing why her life had suddenly become a living nightmare.
Jonathon released a slow sigh. This was it. The moment of truth. He couldn't put it off any longer. But he couldn't just blurt it out. It was too...unbelievable. And he had to prepare her for that.
"What I'm about to tell you." He said slowly, quietly, his eyes straight ahead. "You're not going to believe it at first. You won't be able to." He swallowed tightly. "But I need you to know right now, before I begin, that I would never lie to you. And if you can believe me on that...then you will eventually be able to believe the rest." He gripped the steering wheel tighter. "But at first...you won't." He looked at her. "You'll think I'm crazy."
He returned his eyes to the road and drove along for a few minutes in silence. Clarice didn't push him. She could clearly sense he needed time to put his words together so they would make as much sense as possible. Even though he knew that nothing concerning their situation made any sense at all.
"Do you know where your mom went to college?" Jonathon asked slowly.
Clarice thought for a moment. "In Texas, I think." She said. "Somewhere near Fort Worth. In a small college town, Stephen...something. I think."
"Stephenville." It wasn't a question. Jonathon knew exactly what town it was.
"Yeah, that was it." Clarice nodded.
"Did she ever talk about it?"
"The college. Her college years." Jonathon said.
Clarice shrugged. "Not a lot. She got in on some kind of special program scholarship or something, I think. She didn't really specify. Why?"
Jonathon shifted in his seat and gripped the steering wheel more firmly. "The college was a government funded institution."
She waited for more and when he didn't give it right away, she said, "So? Don't a lot of colleges receive funding from the government?"
"Some do." He said low. "But this wasn't just some government financial aid program. The funding came from a discreet research department. And...there were requirements for the students who joined the college through this program."
"The students." Jonathon said. "Were required to participate in one medical research study per year."
"Where are you going with this?" Clarice asked slowly. "What does this have to do with our situation right now?"
Jonathon tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "I'm trying to tell you." He said firmly. "But to explain it, I have to start from the beginning, and it begins with the college."
"And my mom?" Clarice whispered. Her words were suddenly tinged with fear. "How does my mom fit into this?"
"Your mom." Jonathon said. "Took part in one of the medical studies. But what she didn't know...what none of the participants knew...was that the term 'medical' was being used very loosely."
"I-I don't understand." She said. "Loosely? What does that mean?"
Jonathon took a deep breath and released it slow. "It means it was bullshit. All of it. The so called medical study, everything. They weren't conducting medical studies, they were..." He hesitated. "They were conducting genetic experiments."
Clarice stiffened beside him. "What...do you mean by...genetic?" She asked with uncertainty. "I don't know what you're getting at."
"Genetic engineering." He said. "Recombinement DNA." Then added more quietly, "Among other things."
A heavy silence settled over Clarice for a long moment. When she spoke, her voice had a hard edge to it. "Are you...are you talking about...cloning?" She asked stiffly. "Are you trying to say that the man who killed my family was...Aaron's clone? That that's why he looks just like him? Because if that's what you're getting at, then yes...you are crazy."
"No." Jonathon interjected firmly. "That isn't what I'm trying to say. In fact, I wish..." He sighed deeply. "I wish it were that simple."
"Clarice." Jonathon spoke more gently. God, how was he supposed to do this? But Pandora's box was open and there was no closing it. "These experiments...they were about the female participants. The men were of no real value, they were just there to deter suspicion about what the studies were really for. The women were the key players."
He felt a tremor run through Clarice. "What were the experiments?"
"They gave the men placebos, to make them believe they were a part the study." He said. "But the women...they inseminated, with the foreign genetic material."
Clarice trembled again. "You mean they...put that in my mom?" She cried. "What do you mean by foreign? What was it?"
This is it, Jonathon thought. Time to bite the bullet and stop dancing around the facts. He had to force the words out. "The foreign genetic material, it was like nothing they had ever seen before." He was stalling, but there was no getting out of it.
"What the hell was it?" Clarice cried again.
Jonathon released a slow sigh. "Extra terrestrial DNA." He whispered. He almost cringed at the words, even to him of all people, it sounded nuts.
"Extra terrestrial?" Clarice spoke slow, her voice suddenly numb. "You mean...alien?"
"As in outer space alien?"
"I'm supposed to believe this?" She whispered tightly. "I'm supposed to believe they impregnated my mom with an...an alien? You are out of your mind. You're-"
"Clarice." Jonathon cut her off sharply. "That's not what I'm saying. They didn't impregnate her. The inseminated her...with the genes."
Clarice shook her head. Tears filled her eyes. "I don't know what the hell you're trying to tell me. I don't know how you can expect me to believe that aliens exist at all... much less that the government has access to their DNA. I-I don't..."
"Clarice." Jonathon said softly. "Do you really think I would make something like this up? After all you've been through, after all we shared last night...do you really believe I would make up some bullshit story that would only hurt you more? Why would I do that? Do you think I was lying last night when I said...I loved you?"
Tears slipped from her eyes. "No." She whispered thickly.
"Do you believe I want to hurt you?" He asked. "Do you believe I would ever do anything to deliberately cause you anymore pain and suffering than you've already endured?"
"No." She cried softly.
"I'm not lying to you, baby." He said quietly. "I do know how hard this is to believe...but I'm not lying."
Clarice wiped at her eyes and cleared her throat. "So..." She started, faltered, then began again. "So what did it do to...to the women, when they..inseminated them?"
She was disassociating her mother by generically referring to 'the women' rather than saying 'my mom', but Jonathon understood that fully. She had to have time to absorb it all, and until then, the disassociation was necessary. "It didn't do anything to the women." He told her. "The genes went into a kind of hibernation until..."
"Until they encountered living, growing tissue to bond with, become a part of."
"I don't know...what you're saying." She whispered.
Her subconscious was piecing it together but her conscious mind was refusing to accept it.
"When your mother got pregnant." He said quietly, his voice strained, even to his own ears. "The foreign genetic material...woke up, so to speak. The forming embryo provided a host for it to attach itself to. At first...it just held on and drew strength from the embryo until..." The ache in Jonathon's head settled into a painful throbbing in the center of his forehead. "Until it grew strong enough to dominate the embryo."
He could feel Clarice's desperate urge to slide across the seat away from him, be as far from his strange story as possible. Little did she know that his story would get much more bizarre before he was through telling it.
"My mom was only pregnant once." Clarice spoke so low Jonathon barely heard her. "With Aaron and me. So what're you trying to say? That we're..." She drew in a shaky breath and released it unsteadily. "That we're...part alien? That we're not even human? And...and if that were even possible...how could you..." She faltered as her voice thickened with disbelief and tears. "How could you...be with me like you were last night? We wouldn't even be the same species."
Jonathon's guts twisted painfully. He was going to lose her and there was nothing he could do about it. He'd come too far to turn back now. He had to finish telling her the truth.
"You're not an alien." He assured her solemnly. It should have been an amusing statement followed by a smile and a laugh, but the truth was too close to her misunderstanding that there was no humor in it at all. "Aaron wasn't either." He couldn't bring himself to look her in the eyes. "You and Aaron weren't twins."
Clarice's head snapped up. "What're you talking about?" She asked tightly, defensively. "We were twins. How the hell can you say we weren't?"
"I didn't mean it that way." He said slowly. "There was a third baby. You were triplets."
"No." Clarice shook her head with emphasis. "No, there was only me and Aaron."
"There was a third baby." Jonathon insisted. "But your mother was told that he was born dead. That he hadn't even survived through the first trimester of her pregnancy."
Clarice shook her head again. Fresh tears filled her eyes. "No." She said stiffly. "Our parents would've told us. They wouldn't have hidden something like that from us."
"Your parents probably didn't tell you because they were told the fetus hadn't even fully formed." He spoke gently, wishing that that alone could ease her fear and confusion. But it wouldn't. Not even a little. "They were told it wasn't even really a baby yet. Maybe...maybe they just wanted to focus on the fact that they still had you and Aaron, two healthy babies, two blessings from God. Maybe they didn't want you and Aaron to feel the loss that they felt."
The morning steadily slipped into afternoon as the Chevy sped along the winding road that was taking them deeper and deeper into the foothills of the Rocky mountains. The sun melted the frost from the evergreen bows and the drops splashed down on the windshield of the suburban. Jonathon barely noticed.
"So why are you telling me this now?" Clarice wondered aloud.
Jonathon released another slow breath. "I said your parents were told that the baby was born dead." He glanced at her briefly. "But it wasn't."
She stared back at him in stunned silence as he returned his eyes to the road.
"They took it." He whispered.
"Who?" Clarice breathed out unsteadily.
"The ones from the research branch who had conducted the experiments." He told her sickly. "They monitored the test subjects they had inseminated, and when your mother became pregnant, they planted doctors to oversee her pregnancy and study the growing fetuses. They were secretly extracting DNA samples from all three fetuses."
Clarice looked visibly sick. "Why were they doing that?"
"They were testing the three of you for the foreign genes." He said quietly. "They wanted to know if their experiment had been successful."
"What were they trying to accomplish?" Clarice sat with her head turned away towards the passenger window. She was taking in the information he was giving her...but she had yet to comprehend it. Or believe it.
"They were trying to make a hybrid." He whispered. "A being that could pass for human...but possess the abilities of the...others. They'd tried before, creating them in the lab, making test tube babies using the genetic material, but they had been unsuccessful. None of the babies survived beyond the early fetus stage. They thought maybe there was too much lab involvement and it was hindering the foreign genes from growing naturally. That's when they began to inseminate unsuspecting test subjects. They called it an uncontrolled experiment. Completely hands off."
When Jonathon paused, Clarice continued to sit in silence, staring towards the passenger window, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "What happened to our...to the baby that our parents thought had died."
A tightness gripped Jonathon's chest. His jaw ached as tears burned behind his eyes. "He was the only one of you three who tested positive." He said quietly. "They took him to another facility set up to study and experiment on the hybrid children. But although the foreign gene dominated his DNA, he displayed only minimal abilities. And after about the age of ten, he stopped displaying any abilities at all and seemed to withdraw inside himself."
Tears streamed down Clarice's face but she didn't cry openly. "Did he have a name?" She whispered thickly.
"They called him Alec." Jonathon blinked back the tears as the memories came rushing to the forefront of his mind.
Silence filled the Chevy for a few minutes when Clarice asked with a tremor in her voice, "Why did he kill his own family?"
Jonathon looked at her. "What?"
"That's what you were going to tell me next." She whispered. "That Alec killed my parents, and Aaron...and is trying to kill me too." She looked up at Jonathon and it broke his heart to see the innocence gone from her eyes. "That's why he looks like Aaron."
He nodded slowly and looked away from her. "Yeah. That's what I was gonna say." Victor had turned Alec into the monster that was relentlessly pursuing them. He had taken everything from him, even Jonathon. A tear slipped free and Jonathon quickly swiped it away.
Victor Orlando stood at the edge of the road across from George's gas station. He looked over the ledge at the river below. The water was muddy brown and violent, surging and swirling and crashing against the banks.
The fierce water had sucked Alec's body down with ease. Had the body been swept downstream or was it lodged at the bottom of the river? If it was still down there, perhaps wedged between some underwater rocks or logs, there would be no retrieving him. Not for months, when the water finally lowered and calmed.
But Victor was confident they would find Alec. He knew where to start looking.
He took out a cell phone and dialed a number then pressed the phone to his ear. A voice answered at the other end almost immediately. Victor spoke into the phone as he stared down at the river.
"I know where Jonathon disposed of the body."
The cop car appeared around the corner so suddenly that Jonathon barely had time to register it as a police vehicle before it zipped past them. His heart was racing. He gripped the steering wheel so tight his knuckles were white.
He watched in the rear view mirror as the cop car disappeared around another bend in the road. He forced his pulse to calm. No one knew what they were driving or where they were headed. But he was on edge in a bad way. Clarice wanted to know why Alec had killed her family and was now hunting her. How did he tell her it was his fault? That it was because of his decision to alter the course of her life...that Victor had done what he'd done to Alec. Maybe Jonathon wasn't the direct cause of Alec's state of mind, but it was his own actions that brought it about. How did he come back from that?
They passed a road sign that informed motorists there was a rest area a ½ mile ahead.
"Could you...stop." Clarice spoke suddenly, startling Jonathon and pulling him from his disturbing thoughts.
"There's a rest area up ahead." She spoke low, unsteady. "Could you stop. I...I need to use the bathroom."
Jonathon nodded. "Of course."
When the turn off to the rest area came up, he guided the Suburban into the small parking area and shut off the engine. A few yards away, a small brick building stood in the heavy shadows of the thick wooded area. On the left side of the building was a sign that said WOMEN. On the right side, MEN.
A dirt path led up to the rest rooms. Grass was growing up through the path and moss clung to the outer brick walls of the building. Nothing appeared to have been attended to in some time.
Jonathon scoured the woods behind the rest rooms. They were so shadowed it still looked like night in there. It made him feel ill at ease, but he knew that for now it was just paranoia. They were in no immediate danger.
Clarice scooted across the seat and opened the passenger door. When Jonathon opened his door as well, she looked back at him. "I can go alone." She said quietly. Her voice was dull, lacking emotion.
"I know." Jonathon stumbled on his words. "I was just..." He shook his head. "Go ahead."
She pulled the leather jacket tight around her body as she walked up the dirt path and disappeared into the women's bathroom.
Jonathon stood in the open driver door and continued to study the woods. His eyes continually flicked back to the small brick building. He didn't like her being out of his sight.
The bathroom smelled dingy, stale but at least it didn't have a disgusting stink to it. The sink was grimy and the mirror had a layer of dust on it.
Clarice wiped a clean spot on the mirror with her hand then turned on the faucet in the sink. At least the water was clean. She cupped her palms beneath the water spout and leaned over, splashing her face. The towel dispenser had a couple old thin paper towels still left in it and she plucked them out, drying her face.
The woman in the mirror looked even worse than her reflection in the motel mirror. This one had clean, controlled hair and was freshly washed, but it was the eyes that were different. She didn't recognize the eyes looking back at her. They were dark and haunted.
Clarice looked away and went to one of the stalls. She went inside and closed the door behind her then sat down on top of the toilet lid. She hugged herself fiercely as her body began to shake. The dam of tears burst and she cried uncontrollably, rocking back and forth.
It was too much. She couldn't handle any more. She hadn't even had a chance to grieve for her family...and now this. How much was God going to drop on her before he finally decided she'd had enough?
She leaned forward as the sobs wrenched from her body, tightening every muscle, making it hard for her to breathe. She tilted her head up and looked towards the ceiling. "Please..." Was all she could get out.
A sudden light rapping on the door made her jump and stifled her sobs instantly.
"Are you all right?" Jonathon asked from outside the door. There was genuine concern in his voice.
She cleared her throat. "I'll...I'll be out in a minute." She told him. She could hear the heavy tears in her voice. She sat on the toilet lid a short while longer, trying to calm her nerves. But when she finally left the stall and went to the sink again, her hands were shaking badly as she turned the water back on. She splashed her face with cold water in an attempt to dispel the red puffiness around her eyes. But there was no mistaking she'd been crying. Her eyes were still glossy with tears and blood shot.
She grabbed some toilet paper from inside the stall and blew her nose, then left the bathroom.
Jonathon was back down by the truck, waiting for her. She avoided looking at him as she went to the passenger side of the Chevy and climbed in. She stayed to her side of the seat when Jonathon got in and closed the door.
He didn't say anything about her puffy face or red, bloodshot eyes. He just started the truck and drove out of the rest area.
He didn't offer to tell her anymore just yet, and she was glad. It was only going to get worse, she could feel it. Although she wasn't sure just how it could get any worse than it already was, she was fast learning that things could always get worse.
The hallway stretched away from her as she ran, her breath unsteady and her heart racing. She could hear the man behind her, calling to her, telling her he wasn't going to hurt her. But he had already hurt her dad and brother. Her legs felt weak, like she'd been running for hours, but she couldn't reach the end of the hall. Her mother was down there, she would save her from this man.
Tears flowed from her eyes and blurred her vision. The hallway swam in front of her, making her feel dizzy. Someone screamed and she froze in place. They screamed again. It was her mom. Someone was hurting her. The man who had taken her into the bedroom.
"Momma!" She cried out and ran forward, this time making it to the end of the hall and turning the corner. She rushed to the bedroom door and shoved it open, then stopped short, her heart shuddering in her small chest. "Momma?" More tears flooded her eyes. Her mother was on the bed, naked. The man was on top of her, doing things to her that the young girl didn't quite understand yet. Her mother's head turned and she looked at the girl. Her eyes were empty, blank. Tears trickled from the corners and wet the blanket on the bed.
"Momma?" The young girl cried again, unsteadily.
The man on top of her mother twisted his head and grinned at the girl. "Watch closely, honey." He said. "And Uncle Sean will show you all you need to know about being a woman." He shoved hard against her mom and her mom cried out, but it was a quiet cry, like she was tired.
She felt the other man behind her before she heard him. His hands clamped onto her small shoulders. Her heart beat wildly and her throat closed with fear. She began to breathe hard and fast. The man on the bed drew back and stood up. The girl's eyes widened as he turned around. His pants were open and she could see his-
She clamped her eyes shut as a fierce heat spread through her cheeks. She'd never seen 'it' before...except once when she'd accidentally walked in on Aaron taking a bath. But never an adult man.
The man behind her shoved her forward towards the other man. She almost stumbled because she refused to open her eyes. "Your turn." Uncle Sean said to the man behind her. "She's all wet and ready for you."
The man stepped around the girl and went to the bed. She opened her eyes a crack and saw him kneel on the bed between her mom's legs and began unfastening his pants. Uncle Sean stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the bed. She clamped her eyes shut again because he was still exposed. "Time for your first lesson in womanhood." He said and scooped her up with one arm.
The girl screamed and kicked. "Momma!" She cried out in terror, but her mother just laid there on the bed, eyes watching her blankly as the other man took his turn at her.
Uncle Sean carried her to her own bedroom and dropped her on the bed. He straddled her small body, pinning her down, as he began tugging at her clothes. "No." She whimpered and tried to hold her clothes on, but he was too strong. He leaned over her, his breath hot against her ear. "This'll be fun, sweety. And when I'm done with you...and my buddy is done with you...you'll be a woman. All grown up." He kissed her cheek and she gasped. "Now won't that be something?"
She squeezed her eyes shut and cried out in her mind - Help me! Somebody please help me!