Short Story: Alone in a Crowded Room

The young man looked around the ballroom with detachment. In between the four walls were males of all ages. From young boys to old gentlemen, the young man observed them all. To the man, they all had familiar yet strange faces. By the man’s recollection this was probably the twenty-third such gathering he has attended, though he didn’t remember them all.
The women were likely in the next room over. He never saw them when these events occurred. The organizers made sure to keep them separate. The man was disappointed over this fact. He wanted to meet one and he was sure the separated women and he would have a lot in common. But maybe that was why they were kept apart, mused the man.
A boy ran up to the man and pulled on his shirt. “Hey Mister, when’s your birthday?”
The man smiled down at the boy. “November 12th.”
The boy looked around. “Oh, mine’s October 11th. That boy has the same birthday as me!” The current boy pointed to another lad and giggled. The man just nodded. The boy ran off to play with his birthday buddy.
“They get younger every year,” said an older voice to the man’s left. The man turned to face the speaker and recognized him from previous meetings.
“I guess,” said the man.
“I remember when it was just me and maybe another dozen guys,” said the elder.
“How long ago was that?”
“I don’t know, maybe forty years?”
The young man looked at the old guy. “And the women?”
The retiree just shook his head. “We interacted a few times then I guess we started asking the wrong questions of each other and that was that.”
The man was going to ask what questions those were but he was interrupted by a commotion on the other side of the room. Two middle aged men were shouting and pushing each other.
“I told you last year to stay away from my wife!”
“I can’t help it if she is attracted to me.”
“She isn’t attracted to you, she is attracted to me!”
“Well maybe I just have a better personality!”
No matter how much we grew up, we still remained like the boy and his friend, thought the young man. As the older gentleman focused on the ruckus as the two men were pulled apart, the young man studied the elder’s face. The ravages of time as plain as day, observed the man. My future, more than likely. Maybe I should ask him about his medical history. Can never be too careful, though I am sure my doctor knows all about what I should expect, the man darkly thought.
“This happens every year. Someone ignores the rule that we don’t socialize outside of this room and it causes problems. They never learn,” the old man said, clucking his tongue. He noticed his compatriot looking glum. “What’s the problem, young man? You don’t look so well.”
“Aren’t you sick of this? You of all people, who’ve seen this year after year? A founding father of sort. Each year we live our lives trying to forget who we really are and every year we dragged back here and reminded. It’s like the outside world is the illusion and this room is the cold, hard reality. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to see you next year and go through the usual pleasantries. I don’t want to be reminded of my misspent youth or my predestined future. I want to see you out there in the world. I want to meet a woman who I can tell the whole truth to. I am tired of being another face in the crowd.”
The elder gentleman’s eyes narrowed. “That’s dangerous talk. You know how many of those initial dozen men were lost when they voiced similar concerns? Seven. They killed seven of my friends, friends I was so close to, as you would know, friends who were essentially me. All to prove a point. We are special but not irreplaceable. The old man laughed bitterly, a crack in his previous upbeat armor. “No, we are far from irreplaceable. But they still want us, need us. They gave us a good life, no? They helped us become lawyers and doctors. Pillars of the community. All they ask for in return is this yearly meet-and-greet and us to keep our mouths shut as to how we became doctors and lawyers.”
The two middle aged men were back at it, yelling at each other, each face getting redder with anger. They wouldn’t stop, which meant someone with authority would have to step in, thought the young man. As if on cue, a door swung open and two men in labcoats came through. A calm quiet overcame every man and boy in the room. A deathly pale appeared on the faces of the middle aged men, each look mirroring the other’s. The men in labcoats grabbed one of them. It didn’t matter much to them which one. The captured man struggled but soon was resigned to his fate.
“I hope you enjoy her, you bastard!”
As soon as the man was hauled off, the room was alive again with chatter. Soon they’ll come for us all, for the checkups and the cover stories, mused the young man. Same as it always was and same as it always will be, My past, present, and future are all contained within this room.
The old man clapped his younger friend on the shoulder. “Cheer up. I hear a rumor big things are afoot. They may designate one of us as potential presidential candidate. Seems the current administration doesn’t look too kindly on this project. Of course, the quickest way to solve that problem is to install me or you in the White House. Hell of a risky move, given the possibility of,” the old man nodded in the direction of the departed man, “but maybe it is time for a little publicity. You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
The young man sighed. What did it matter? He would still be in his preordained life, still forbidden to say anything or do anything unique. He was no snowflake, especially in this room. He doubted one of them becoming President or world famous would mean liberation for the rest of them. It would probably push the others further into seclusion. That famous person may be the Ace of Spades, but the young man would still be a Six of Diamonds. And they’d all still be just a card in a deck full of them, the man once again glumly thought.
The young man looked around the room one more time and saw the collection of faces. The young boy whose face he once saw in a mirror in his parents’ house years ago. The old face he’ll soon see in windows as he walks down the street. He was no different from the men around him he despise. It was hard for Designate A112, also known as Alan Durtz of Millwood, Nebraska, to stand out from his cloned brethren.



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