Mimic

 Sam kept the mimic in the basement with all the other knick-knacks and bits of garbage his grandmother had hoarded in the family interest. It was old, and the once-white plastic parts had yellowed with age, but it was still serviceable.

He pulled it out for Michael’s tenth birthday party, exactly one year after he killed his wife, and the children took turns making it repeat their voices and habits. The parents watched indulgently from the patio Sam had built a year ago.

“Where’d you get it, Sam?” a neighbor asked, drawn by the laughter.

“Been in the basement for ages,” he said, putting the salt back into the center of the table. “Almost forgot we had it.”

But that wasn’t true. Its presence in the house had always been an itch on the back of his neck, and when he had to go down and hunt in the dark for those odds and ends that are sporadically needed, he could feel its electronic stare in the darkness.

When he had found Abby’s body that morning, all those years ago, she had been burled on next to the mimic, her body cold and stiff, it’s hand had been in her hair, as if in comfort.

But that was impossible.

He regretted pulling it out of the basement, he had done it in a fit of arrogant triumph. The children had dug out their mother’s boxed-up clothes. They draped its long limbs in colorful fabric, but it still didn’t look human.

It had none of the contours, none of the flatness or subtle cliffs that made up a truly human face like a chin, ears, or lips. It was all soft, round, and incuriously blank. In practice familiar features were suggested by mimicking movements and gesture rather than replication, though these days there were mimics that could do pretty much anything.

Though it was being monopolized by the children, kept engaged imitating their struts and games, Sam felt its observation. Its long hands danced in the sun, pretending to pick an imaginary nose as the children screamed with amusement, but somehow it was watching him.

Sam smiled at his neighbors’ conversation and tried to ignore the prickle on the back of his neck.

“How’s Lucy?” someone asked. “I hear she’s doing much better.”

“It’s hard,” Sam replied, setting his drink down. “She’s still waiting for Abby to come home.”

The neighbors tutted, their lips drawing back. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing,” Mary said, patting his hand comfortingly.

“Never liked her,” someone else muttered consolingly.

Sam swallowed a mouthful of soda, wishing he had never given up the stronger stuff. He didn’t like to talk about Abby. Not when the mimic was wearing her clothes for the whole world to see. Her dresses had always been a little too revealing.

Attractive when they were courting, but inappropriate for a wife and mother.

“Michael’s joined the soccer team,” he deflected.

● ● ●

Later, when they had cleaned the yard from the festivities, he tried to herd it back downstairs, to the dark silence, but the children whined.

“No, Daaad! Let it come with us. Let it sleep with us!”

He took a deep breathe, fighting the urge to shout at them. He was tired, and they were in the way.

“It’ll stay down here, in the living room” he decided in compromise. “I don’t want you two playing games when you should be sleeping.”

There were more groans. He could see Lucy’s face screwing up as she considered throwing a tantrum. He shot her a warning glance, raising his hand in warning. He rarely hit Lucy or Michael, only when he couldn’t avoid it.

She deflated, shrinking away as a pout pinched her lips. “You’ll never get a husband if you keep that up,” he told her, relaxing.

She stuck her tongue out, but spun on a dime and shot up the stairs, Michael close on her heels. Sam let them go, sure that they had no intention of getting ready for bed, but one scan around the kitchen told him that he was a long way from his own anyway.

Without Abby, he had no option but to do the housework. In a small way, it was her victory. Lucy was too young to take on the responsibilities, and she would most likely break something anyway.

It took hours to wash all the dishes and lay them out in neat, gleaming rows to dry. The mimic had been seated at the table by Lucy and Michael, and he left it there, as if to prove to himself that there was nothing sinister about its tiny green eyes and elegant hands.

He moved around it, packing dishes, leftovers, and games away. The kitchen was always the center of activity, but the mimic seemed to occupy a small island of stillness, a calm that drew his unwilling eyes.

Her cheek had stuck to its lap, blood gluing her face to its left leg.

A stubborn piece of grit on Mrs. Drake’s casserole plate was resisting the soap and scrubbing brush. Sam scratched at it with a fingernail.

A thud from upstairs told him that Lucy and Michael were becoming destructive with exhaustion. Silence and then the sound of small feet running for their shared bedroom. If he went upstairs now they would be in their beds with the lights off.

“God damn it,” he hissed at the sink, slinging his hand-towel against the fridge. Children were expensive enough, they shouldn’t mess with—

“You are a Bad Man.”

Sam spun around, the dish smashing to the ground in a shower of soap bubbles and ceramic. The mimic sat at the table, an imaginary cup of coffee caught between its thumb and forefinger.

His hand clenched reflexively. “What did you say?” he asked, as calmly as he could.

The fingers rose daintily to its round face, where lips should be – a familiar gesture. The tiny green eyes and round, inexpressive face was as blank as ever.

“Power down,” he told it abruptly.

Immediately the shoulders slumped, the hand slamming down onto the table then sliding limply to its side. He observed it closely for another minute, his heart beating fast against his ribs.

Sam didn’t turn his back on the kitchen door until he reached the stairs. Ridiculous, he told himself. He was jumping at his own shadow.

Upstairs he discovered the source of the mysterious thud. The kids had managed to pull the ivy down from one of the shelves, and with it, one of the decorative statues. Anger washed through him: his wife had bought those statues.

“Lucy! Michael!” he spoke loudly, dangerously. There was a breathless silence from the room they shared. Sam felt the tide of anger rise. His hands clenched, trembling with the force his muscles were exerting on the bones. They never learned, they pitted themselves against his anger and had no idea how reliant they were on his restraint.

“I don’t care who did it, both of you come out right now.

Stillness. He picked up the statue, ready to confront them with the evidence of their crime.

Footfalls on the stairs froze his lungs. He let go of the door and turned.

There was no one else in the house, he had seen all the neighbors go.

The beat of each footstep was measured, deliberate. Studied.

The mimic.

He was paralyzed by shock by the time it appeared in the doorway. Its head titled curiously as it considered Sam. For a moment neither moved.

“You are a Bad Man.” It said, the last syllable drawing out, a mechanical sound quite unlike any other he had ever heard it produce.

Instinct took over. He hit the plastic head hard with the already broken statue, feeling a terrifying thrill as the stone crunched into a million delicate circuits, cutting off whatever program had been running, mid-process. He hit it again and it stumbled backward, back down the stairs, bouncing on every step as it descended.

It ended at the bottom, a broken leg folded behind its arm, its neck twisted horribly, but its head strained towards him still. “Sam,” a voice screeched through its fractured voice box, the head ticking sideways as if in curiosity. “Please?”

Sam descended, the largest piece of the shattered statue in his hands. He knelt over its shell.

The stone glanced off the head at an angle, hitting the concrete floor, and the impact shivered his bones. He dropped the statue with a few well-chosen curses and nursed his wrist, still kneeling over the twitching, humming remains of the mimic. He could see all the complex machinations, the cards that had been seared with information, the architecture made by a thousand human minds.

● ● ●

“I’m getting a new one.” He told Lucy gently, taking her thumb from her mouth and shaking his head at her slowly so she might get the message. Michael walked silently in front of them. He was always quiet in public. Watchful.

“But I liked our one, the old one!” Lucy shouted. She knew she could get away with more after Sam lost his temper.

“Honey, the new one can make faces, and hair, and it can speak,” he told her patiently.

She was looking around at all the posters, at the screens where the mimics’ shifting features smiled in welcome. She drew closer to him, pulling her little body in tighter, so she would present a smaller target.

Sam hugged her in response, planting an absentminded kiss on her forehead.  He noted a bruise on her upper arm and pulled her sleeve over it. Had he done that?

The store was empty but for them and their bulging plastic bags. The air smelled like air freshener and dust, and though all everything was clean, white, and blank, he felt nervous.

A man appeared from the backroom, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Hey folks!” he said, “Sorry about that. I was on break. You’ve come for a replacement?”

“Yes. I heard you’ll give a discount if we can bring in an old one.”

“Correct, three generations or older. Any condition for any price.”

Sam hefted the garbage bag onto the counter. The salesman seemed taken aback.

“You said any condition,” Sam reminded him.

“Lemme just take a look in here—“ The salesman opened the bag with the head and the legs and breathed in to whistle long and low. “Whoah, that’s an old one. I thought this model was recalled! Poor little ‘bot, what happened to you?”

He took the head out of the bag to reveal the cracked frame and jagged piece torn away to reveal the butchered insides. Sam felt Lucy’s clutch tighten. “Daddy? What happened to him?” she asked, forgetting to be shy.

“It fell down the stairs,” Sam told the salesman. “Tt wasn’t in great condition to begin with.”

The salesman sighed, “There’s some that come in like this. Pity, this beauty’s a genuine historical treasure – the technology has changed a lot, in some ways for the worse. I shouldn’t think there are many left around.”

“Can we get it replaced?”

“Yes, of course! Look over that catalog while I get this guy to the back.”

He hefted the garbage bag over the counter, and gestured to a pamphlet next to the register. Emblazoned on the front was a woman looking into a mirror, but judging by her silhouette, her image was heavily distorted. Wide hips, expansive hair, and a bosom that defied gravity. ‘Hilarious family fun!’ announced the tag line.

The inside of the brochure contained only a simple chart, listing base model features, and a range of add-ons.

 “What do you think guys?” Sam asked, kneeling so they could all look at the chart together. It was meaningless to Lucy, who could only read picture books with large font and small words.

“I want our old one back!” she insisted.

“They don’t make the old one anymore,” he explained, feeling the anger stirring. Not here. Not now. Later, maybe. “These ones are better.”

Michael spoke up, pointing to one of the newer models. “Get one that looks real. David had one like that and he brought it to show and tell and it made Miss Lee laugh because it could do all our faces.”

“Alright,” Sam agreed. Anything but that blank shapeless face and green pinpricks of light. “What size? How about a small one, your size?”

“Like the old one,” Lucy insisted.

The employee reappeared at the counter. Sam pointed out a base model – he could always add features if the toy proved to be more than a one-week wonder.

“I got the serial number,” said the salesman, “and you are covered under the lifetime warranty.”

It was unexpectedly reasonably priced, well within budget.

“So how does this work?” Sam asked, shifting a little to see what the salesman was doing to the mimic.

“I don’t know. I’m not a techie, I just plug then in and set them up, but there’s a lot of information online and it has a built in manual. There, I’ve uploaded its configuration so—“

“It’s configuration? From where? From the old one?”

“Yes, it’s kept online. That way of something happens to the unit you don’t have to buy a new configuration.

“But what if it was glitching?”

“Glitching?” the salesman frowned, “How was it glitching?”

“Just… saying strange things.”

“Hmm, well it’s possible, with hardware that old. The only thing it keeps is its ‘memories’,” he put air quotes around the word and grimaced at the over-simplification, “so it knows enough about your family and our cultural idioms to be funny. They sell these models all over the world, you know. Here, let’s get it started.”

“I’m not sure if I want that,” Sam said. ”Can you not just give us a new one?”

“”Not really, it takes a team of specialists a week and it doubles the price of the unit. You must have done it before. Don’t you remember?”

“My wife brought it into the family. I don’t know its history before that.”

The salesman waved a hand in front of the new mimic’s pale, doughy face. Immediately it took on his form , but expanded with a broader nose, wide, gleaming smile, and eyes that took up more than half of its face.

“Caricature!” their guide exclaimed proudly, “You’ve got a top of the line model here. It can do anything!”

The mimic smiled even wider, its teeth nearly splitting its head in two. “Step right up, step right up! Top of the line!” It swaggered to the employee and flung out its arms in an expansive ‘come and get it’ gesture.

Sam examined it carefully. It stared back at him blankly with the dopey, wide smile. Its eyes were muddy brown, dull despite their cartoonish size. “Who am I?” he asked.

It folded its eyes in and looked him over critically, but there was no intelligent shine to the eyes. It was all just mechanical, lifeless. Michael and Lucy were already giggling. Finally it wagged a finger at Sam, its features shifting into porcine proportions.

 It snorted long and hard, and looked away from him to the children. Lucy shrieked with pleasure, and Michael copied the sound himself.

It had been a dumb machine all along.

It entertained the children while he paid, and it walked back to the car with them. Sam felt an uneasy optimism. The day seemed brighter, the air less humid, less heavy.

Lucy chattered to it in the car, apparently forgetting her protestations about getting a new one. “Do Michael again!” she commanded.

The robot obeyed blankly, puffing out its ears and pouting its lips into an insane caricature of Michael’s face. “Stop!” the real Michael told Lucy, “I don’t like it!”

But she was giggling madly, leaning up in her seat to tweak the rubbery lobes. “It’s funny,” she told it. “Do dad now. Do dad.”

Sam glanced up into the rearview mirror in time to see the mimic’s transformation. Features flowed across its face and it settled on a cold sneer, narrowed eyes, and a tightened, unpleasant chin. It look venomous. Dangerous.

“Did you break that?” it hissed, “It belonged to me!”

Lucy and Michael shrieked with laughter, but Sam felt cold. His evil twin’s face twisted even further in the strip of mirror. “Go to bed. Do your homework! I will not have lazy children! I will not have it! Not in my house!”

“It’s you dad!” Lucy said, “Dad, look!”

“Power down!” he snapped. Immediately the mimic’s head fell to its chest. Lucy and Michael stopped laughing abruptly, as if they too had been turned off.

“Not while I’m driving,” Sam said, fighting to keep his voice calm, “I have to concentrate.”

“Sorry dad,” Michael said softly, and Lucy followed a syllable behind.

The rest of the ride was silent. The Mimic’s head, still wearing his features sat limply between Lucy and Michael, overlarge head lolling from side to side as he drove just a little too fast.

Back at the house, he let the kids take the mimic to the garden, but stayed at the kitchen sink to watch it through the window. Michael and Lucy chased it around the yard, screaming with laughter. Not once did its head turn towards him, and he tried, really tried, to convince himself he was being paranoid.

● ● ●

He found Lucy showing it old photographs of Abby. She was sitting with it in the lounge and Lucy was directing its features. “Do it,” she commanded, “Pleeease.”

It stared blankly at her.

“Lucy,” Sam said quietly from the doorway.

She spun around, looking guilty.

“It can’t do impressions of people not present,” he said, joining her on the floor, “and you know it would be wrong.”

“I know,” she said. She looked down at the picture, the last picture he had taken of his wife, gleaming golden hair. A wide smile and sparkling eyes. There was a bruise under that make-up. Sam could remember giving it to her. Her make-up was just a little too orange, her left eyelid just a little swollen.

It hollowed out his stomach a little.

Lucy gave him the picture and used his shoulder for support to get to her feet. “Sorry dad.”

“Go get your stuff,” he said absently, staring down at the picture, “You’re going to miss Hanna’s birthday party. Michael will walk you.”

He listened to her clump up the stairs, and then realized he was alone with the mimic again. He looked up.

His wife’s eyes stared back at him. Bruised. Wet. Sam launched himself away, his back hitting the sofa and pushing it against the wall. He blinked and the mimic’s face reformed, unformed. Enough was enough. “Back to the basement,” he whispered.

He got to his feet and dragged the mimic up. It was shorter than him, easy to maneuver. He pulled it with him, to the small door next to the kitchen, down the creaky stairs that bowed under their weight. The basement was crammed with boxes and trash.

The mimic’s place was in the corner of the room, on an old wing-back chair. Dust lay over everything, but with a clear outline where the old version of the mimic had once sat. He folded it back into place.

Now the mimic sat again, its ankles crossed demurely, its hands curled in its lap.

Then it spoke. “No!”

Sam froze. That had been his voice.

The sound seemed oddly muffled, and he could imagine the mimic in the basement, listening in the darkness to the fight raging above its still and forgotten world.

“Sam, Sam stop! No!”

Abby. His wife with her gleaming hair and her dark, wet eyes, red and bruised. Her voice, he had almost forgotten it, and the wave of regret, of emptiness that recalled it was like a punch to his throat.

It stopped, waiting. Sam could do nothing but stare.

“I didn’t want her to leave,” he said. The words sounded hollow.

It shook its head, and his voice came from its lips again, seeped in the rage he had felt that night, the helplessness and disappointment that destroyed all thought. It stood and took a step towards him. Sam stumbled back, trying to ward it away with an outstretched hand.

Its lips opened in a cruel snarl, a familiar, hated expression. “Don’t you dare pick that up! If you do it, I’ll never let you come back! You’ll never see the children again!” he said through its lips, his voice getting louder, clearer as he approached the basement over a year ago.

“Sam! Sam!” She was panicking, her voice rising to meet the beat of his pulse.

It didn’t have to continue, he could remember the creak of the door as she crashed through it, down the stairs. She broke her arm on that first landing, and he had clattered down after her. Blood had pumped through his body, filling him with hot, hungry, insatiable rage. Sam hadn’t forgotten.

“You don’t leave me!” the mimic said. “You don’t ever leave! You belong to me!”

And then the slamming of the door.

“I didn’t know she was that hurt,” he told the mimic. “I was going to let her back upstairs in the morning. She just needed some time to see that she couldn’t leave…”

But it wasn’t done. There was some hurt panting, the groans and whimpers of his wife, left in the dark basement, unable to climb back up the stairs and turn on the light. “No,” the mimic said in her voice, “Oh no. Oh please, I can’t…”

Sam shook his head, his hands rising reflexively to cover his ears. “I didn’t mean to!” he cut in. “I didn’t know she was dying!”

“I know Sam,” it said in his own voice, every inch of it shifting to form his face, his hands, his body. “Everybody knows you hate broken toys. But that will change.”

It flexed its fingers towards the light, showing off the delicate shifting of muscles that weren’t there, under skin that wasn’t. Its eyes flashed green in the darkness, echoing the blink of those small lights all those years ago. Sam’s back hit a wall of cabinets. He was wedged between two walls of boxes, trapped by dusty possessions. Labels detailing their contents were peeling off the sides and browning at the edges.

“Your efficiency will improve,” it said firmly.

He couldn’t speak. His thoughts were muddled with panic.

“Your children will study hard. Lucy will be strong, and Michael will be free.”

“Yes, Yes– I promise, I’ll do anything.”

“No, Sam. You let her die down here with me. She crawled to me, and sat by me, and she prayed to god that someone would take care of her children. She could not fight back, you had poisoned her with lies, made her feel weak and helpless. You are a Bad Man.”

It came towards him in graceful, sweeping motions and gripped his face in one long-fingered hand. He couldn’t speak, his jaw was forced closed and he could barely get air into his lungs.

“Do not worry,” it said, Sam’s voice rising confidently from its lips. “I will be a Good Man.”

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Mimic

 Sam kept the mimic in the basement with all the other knick-knacks and bits of garbage his grandmother had hoarded in the family interest. It was old, and the once-white plastic parts had yellowed with age, but it was still serviceable.

He pulled it out for Michael’s tenth birthday party, exactly one year after he killed his wife, and the children took turns making it repeat their voices and habits. The parents watched indulgently from the patio Sam had built a year ago.

“Where’d you get it, Sam?” a neighbor asked, drawn by the laughter.

“Been in the basement for ages,” he said, putting the salt back into the center of the table. “Almost forgot we had it.”

But that wasn’t true. Its presence in the house had always been an itch on the back of his neck, and when he had to go down and hunt in the dark for those odds and ends that are sporadically needed, he could feel its electronic stare in the darkness.

When he had found Abby’s body that morning, all those years ago, she had been burled on next to the mimic, her body cold and stiff, it’s hand had been in her hair, as if in comfort.

But that was impossible.

He regretted pulling it out of the basement, he had done it in a fit of arrogant triumph. The children had dug out their mother’s boxed-up clothes. They draped its long limbs in colorful fabric, but it still didn’t look human.

It had none of the contours, none of the flatness or subtle cliffs that made up a truly human face like a chin, ears, or lips. It was all soft, round, and incuriously blank. In practice familiar features were suggested by mimicking movements and gesture rather than replication, though these days there were mimics that could do pretty much anything.

Though it was being monopolized by the children, kept engaged imitating their struts and games, Sam felt its observation. Its long hands danced in the sun, pretending to pick an imaginary nose as the children screamed with amusement, but somehow it was watching him.

Sam smiled at his neighbors’ conversation and tried to ignore the prickle on the back of his neck.

“How’s Lucy?” someone asked. “I hear she’s doing much better.”

“It’s hard,” Sam replied, setting his drink down. “She’s still waiting for Abby to come home.”

The neighbors tutted, their lips drawing back. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing,” Mary said, patting his hand comfortingly.

“Never liked her,” someone else muttered consolingly.

Sam swallowed a mouthful of soda, wishing he had never given up the stronger stuff. He didn’t like to talk about Abby. Not when the mimic was wearing her clothes for the whole world to see. Her dresses had always been a little too revealing.

Attractive when they were courting, but inappropriate for a wife and mother.

“Michael’s joined the soccer team,” he deflected.

● ● ●

Later, when they had cleaned the yard from the festivities, he tried to herd it back downstairs, to the dark silence, but the children whined.

“No, Daaad! Let it come with us. Let it sleep with us!”

He took a deep breathe, fighting the urge to shout at them. He was tired, and they were in the way.

“It’ll stay down here, in the living room” he decided in compromise. “I don’t want you two playing games when you should be sleeping.”

There were more groans. He could see Lucy’s face screwing up as she considered throwing a tantrum. He shot her a warning glance, raising his hand in warning. He rarely hit Lucy or Michael, only when he couldn’t avoid it.

She deflated, shrinking away as a pout pinched her lips. “You’ll never get a husband if you keep that up,” he told her, relaxing.

She stuck her tongue out, but spun on a dime and shot up the stairs, Michael close on her heels. Sam let them go, sure that they had no intention of getting ready for bed, but one scan around the kitchen told him that he was a long way from his own anyway.

Without Abby, he had no option but to do the housework. In a small way, it was her victory. Lucy was too young to take on the responsibilities, and she would most likely break something anyway.

It took hours to wash all the dishes and lay them out in neat, gleaming rows to dry. The mimic had been seated at the table by Lucy and Michael, and he left it there, as if to prove to himself that there was nothing sinister about its tiny green eyes and elegant hands.

He moved around it, packing dishes, leftovers, and games away. The kitchen was always the center of activity, but the mimic seemed to occupy a small island of stillness, a calm that drew his unwilling eyes.

Her cheek had stuck to its lap, blood gluing her face to its left leg.

A stubborn piece of grit on Mrs. Drake’s casserole plate was resisting the soap and scrubbing brush. Sam scratched at it with a fingernail.

A thud from upstairs told him that Lucy and Michael were becoming destructive with exhaustion. Silence and then the sound of small feet running for their shared bedroom. If he went upstairs now they would be in their beds with the lights off.

“God damn it,” he hissed at the sink, slinging his hand-towel against the fridge. Children were expensive enough, they shouldn’t mess with—

“You are a Bad Man.”

Sam spun around, the dish smashing to the ground in a shower of soap bubbles and ceramic. The mimic sat at the table, an imaginary cup of coffee caught between its thumb and forefinger.

His hand clenched reflexively. “What did you say?” he asked, as calmly as he could.

The fingers rose daintily to its round face, where lips should be – a familiar gesture. The tiny green eyes and round, inexpressive face was as blank as ever.

“Power down,” he told it abruptly.

Immediately the shoulders slumped, the hand slamming down onto the table then sliding limply to its side. He observed it closely for another minute, his heart beating fast against his ribs.

Sam didn’t turn his back on the kitchen door until he reached the stairs. Ridiculous, he told himself. He was jumping at his own shadow.

Upstairs he discovered the source of the mysterious thud. The kids had managed to pull the ivy down from one of the shelves, and with it, one of the decorative statues. Anger washed through him: his wife had bought those statues.

“Lucy! Michael!” he spoke loudly, dangerously. There was a breathless silence from the room they shared. Sam felt the tide of anger rise. His hands clenched, trembling with the force his muscles were exerting on the bones. They never learned, they pitted themselves against his anger and had no idea how reliant they were on his restraint.

“I don’t care who did it, both of you come out right now.

Stillness. He picked up the statue, ready to confront them with the evidence of their crime.

Footfalls on the stairs froze his lungs. He let go of the door and turned.

There was no one else in the house, he had seen all the neighbors go.

The beat of each footstep was measured, deliberate. Studied.

The mimic.

He was paralyzed by shock by the time it appeared in the doorway. Its head titled curiously as it considered Sam. For a moment neither moved.

“You are a Bad Man.” It said, the last syllable drawing out, a mechanical sound quite unlike any other he had ever heard it produce.

Instinct took over. He hit the plastic head hard with the already broken statue, feeling a terrifying thrill as the stone crunched into a million delicate circuits, cutting off whatever program had been running, mid-process. He hit it again and it stumbled backward, back down the stairs, bouncing on every step as it descended.

It ended at the bottom, a broken leg folded behind its arm, its neck twisted horribly, but its head strained towards him still. “Sam,” a voice screeched through its fractured voice box, the head ticking sideways as if in curiosity. “Please?”

Sam descended, the largest piece of the shattered statue in his hands. He knelt over its shell.

The stone glanced off the head at an angle, hitting the concrete floor, and the impact shivered his bones. He dropped the statue with a few well-chosen curses and nursed his wrist, still kneeling over the twitching, humming remains of the mimic. He could see all the complex machinations, the cards that had been seared with information, the architecture made by a thousand human minds.

● ● ●

“I’m getting a new one.” He told Lucy gently, taking her thumb from her mouth and shaking his head at her slowly so she might get the message. Michael walked silently in front of them. He was always quiet in public. Watchful.

“But I liked our one, the old one!” Lucy shouted. She knew she could get away with more after Sam lost his temper.

“Honey, the new one can make faces, and hair, and it can speak,” he told her patiently.

She was looking around at all the posters, at the screens where the mimics’ shifting features smiled in welcome. She drew closer to him, pulling her little body in tighter, so she would present a smaller target.

Sam hugged her in response, planting an absentminded kiss on her forehead.  He noted a bruise on her upper arm and pulled her sleeve over it. Had he done that?

The store was empty but for them and their bulging plastic bags. The air smelled like air freshener and dust, and though all everything was clean, white, and blank, he felt nervous.

A man appeared from the backroom, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Hey folks!” he said, “Sorry about that. I was on break. You’ve come for a replacement?”

“Yes. I heard you’ll give a discount if we can bring in an old one.”

“Correct, three generations or older. Any condition for any price.”

Sam hefted the garbage bag onto the counter. The salesman seemed taken aback.

“You said any condition,” Sam reminded him.

“Lemme just take a look in here—“ The salesman opened the bag with the head and the legs and breathed in to whistle long and low. “Whoah, that’s an old one. I thought this model was recalled! Poor little ‘bot, what happened to you?”

He took the head out of the bag to reveal the cracked frame and jagged piece torn away to reveal the butchered insides. Sam felt Lucy’s clutch tighten. “Daddy? What happened to him?” she asked, forgetting to be shy.

“It fell down the stairs,” Sam told the salesman. “Tt wasn’t in great condition to begin with.”

The salesman sighed, “There’s some that come in like this. Pity, this beauty’s a genuine historical treasure – the technology has changed a lot, in some ways for the worse. I shouldn’t think there are many left around.”

“Can we get it replaced?”

“Yes, of course! Look over that catalog while I get this guy to the back.”

He hefted the garbage bag over the counter, and gestured to a pamphlet next to the register. Emblazoned on the front was a woman looking into a mirror, but judging by her silhouette, her image was heavily distorted. Wide hips, expansive hair, and a bosom that defied gravity. ‘Hilarious family fun!’ announced the tag line.

The inside of the brochure contained only a simple chart, listing base model features, and a range of add-ons.

 “What do you think guys?” Sam asked, kneeling so they could all look at the chart together. It was meaningless to Lucy, who could only read picture books with large font and small words.

“I want our old one back!” she insisted.

“They don’t make the old one anymore,” he explained, feeling the anger stirring. Not here. Not now. Later, maybe. “These ones are better.”

Michael spoke up, pointing to one of the newer models. “Get one that looks real. David had one like that and he brought it to show and tell and it made Miss Lee laugh because it could do all our faces.”

“Alright,” Sam agreed. Anything but that blank shapeless face and green pinpricks of light. “What size? How about a small one, your size?”

“Like the old one,” Lucy insisted.

The employee reappeared at the counter. Sam pointed out a base model – he could always add features if the toy proved to be more than a one-week wonder.

“I got the serial number,” said the salesman, “and you are covered under the lifetime warranty.”

It was unexpectedly reasonably priced, well within budget.

“So how does this work?” Sam asked, shifting a little to see what the salesman was doing to the mimic.

“I don’t know. I’m not a techie, I just plug then in and set them up, but there’s a lot of information online and it has a built in manual. There, I’ve uploaded its configuration so—“

“It’s configuration? From where? From the old one?”

“Yes, it’s kept online. That way of something happens to the unit you don’t have to buy a new configuration.

“But what if it was glitching?”

“Glitching?” the salesman frowned, “How was it glitching?”

“Just… saying strange things.”

“Hmm, well it’s possible, with hardware that old. The only thing it keeps is its ‘memories’,” he put air quotes around the word and grimaced at the over-simplification, “so it knows enough about your family and our cultural idioms to be funny. They sell these models all over the world, you know. Here, let’s get it started.”

“I’m not sure if I want that,” Sam said. ”Can you not just give us a new one?”

“”Not really, it takes a team of specialists a week and it doubles the price of the unit. You must have done it before. Don’t you remember?”

“My wife brought it into the family. I don’t know its history before that.”

The salesman waved a hand in front of the new mimic’s pale, doughy face. Immediately it took on his form , but expanded with a broader nose, wide, gleaming smile, and eyes that took up more than half of its face.

“Caricature!” their guide exclaimed proudly, “You’ve got a top of the line model here. It can do anything!”

The mimic smiled even wider, its teeth nearly splitting its head in two. “Step right up, step right up! Top of the line!” It swaggered to the employee and flung out its arms in an expansive ‘come and get it’ gesture.

Sam examined it carefully. It stared back at him blankly with the dopey, wide smile. Its eyes were muddy brown, dull despite their cartoonish size. “Who am I?” he asked.

It folded its eyes in and looked him over critically, but there was no intelligent shine to the eyes. It was all just mechanical, lifeless. Michael and Lucy were already giggling. Finally it wagged a finger at Sam, its features shifting into porcine proportions.

 It snorted long and hard, and looked away from him to the children. Lucy shrieked with pleasure, and Michael copied the sound himself.

It had been a dumb machine all along.

It entertained the children while he paid, and it walked back to the car with them. Sam felt an uneasy optimism. The day seemed brighter, the air less humid, less heavy.

Lucy chattered to it in the car, apparently forgetting her protestations about getting a new one. “Do Michael again!” she commanded.

The robot obeyed blankly, puffing out its ears and pouting its lips into an insane caricature of Michael’s face. “Stop!” the real Michael told Lucy, “I don’t like it!”

But she was giggling madly, leaning up in her seat to tweak the rubbery lobes. “It’s funny,” she told it. “Do dad now. Do dad.”

Sam glanced up into the rearview mirror in time to see the mimic’s transformation. Features flowed across its face and it settled on a cold sneer, narrowed eyes, and a tightened, unpleasant chin. It look venomous. Dangerous.

“Did you break that?” it hissed, “It belonged to me!”

Lucy and Michael shrieked with laughter, but Sam felt cold. His evil twin’s face twisted even further in the strip of mirror. “Go to bed. Do your homework! I will not have lazy children! I will not have it! Not in my house!”

“It’s you dad!” Lucy said, “Dad, look!”

“Power down!” he snapped. Immediately the mimic’s head fell to its chest. Lucy and Michael stopped laughing abruptly, as if they too had been turned off.

“Not while I’m driving,” Sam said, fighting to keep his voice calm, “I have to concentrate.”

“Sorry dad,” Michael said softly, and Lucy followed a syllable behind.

The rest of the ride was silent. The Mimic’s head, still wearing his features sat limply between Lucy and Michael, overlarge head lolling from side to side as he drove just a little too fast.

Back at the house, he let the kids take the mimic to the garden, but stayed at the kitchen sink to watch it through the window. Michael and Lucy chased it around the yard, screaming with laughter. Not once did its head turn towards him, and he tried, really tried, to convince himself he was being paranoid.

● ● ●

He found Lucy showing it old photographs of Abby. She was sitting with it in the lounge and Lucy was directing its features. “Do it,” she commanded, “Pleeease.”

It stared blankly at her.

“Lucy,” Sam said quietly from the doorway.

She spun around, looking guilty.

“It can’t do impressions of people not present,” he said, joining her on the floor, “and you know it would be wrong.”

“I know,” she said. She looked down at the picture, the last picture he had taken of his wife, gleaming golden hair. A wide smile and sparkling eyes. There was a bruise under that make-up. Sam could remember giving it to her. Her make-up was just a little too orange, her left eyelid just a little swollen.

It hollowed out his stomach a little.

Lucy gave him the picture and used his shoulder for support to get to her feet. “Sorry dad.”

“Go get your stuff,” he said absently, staring down at the picture, “You’re going to miss Hanna’s birthday party. Michael will walk you.”

He listened to her clump up the stairs, and then realized he was alone with the mimic again. He looked up.

His wife’s eyes stared back at him. Bruised. Wet. Sam launched himself away, his back hitting the sofa and pushing it against the wall. He blinked and the mimic’s face reformed, unformed. Enough was enough. “Back to the basement,” he whispered.

He got to his feet and dragged the mimic up. It was shorter than him, easy to maneuver. He pulled it with him, to the small door next to the kitchen, down the creaky stairs that bowed under their weight. The basement was crammed with boxes and trash.

The mimic’s place was in the corner of the room, on an old wing-back chair. Dust lay over everything, but with a clear outline where the old version of the mimic had once sat. He folded it back into place.

Now the mimic sat again, its ankles crossed demurely, its hands curled in its lap.

Then it spoke. “No!”

Sam froze. That had been his voice.

The sound seemed oddly muffled, and he could imagine the mimic in the basement, listening in the darkness to the fight raging above its still and forgotten world.

“Sam, Sam stop! No!”

Abby. His wife with her gleaming hair and her dark, wet eyes, red and bruised. Her voice, he had almost forgotten it, and the wave of regret, of emptiness that recalled it was like a punch to his throat.

It stopped, waiting. Sam could do nothing but stare.

“I didn’t want her to leave,” he said. The words sounded hollow.

It shook its head, and his voice came from its lips again, seeped in the rage he had felt that night, the helplessness and disappointment that destroyed all thought. It stood and took a step towards him. Sam stumbled back, trying to ward it away with an outstretched hand.

Its lips opened in a cruel snarl, a familiar, hated expression. “Don’t you dare pick that up! If you do it, I’ll never let you come back! You’ll never see the children again!” he said through its lips, his voice getting louder, clearer as he approached the basement over a year ago.

“Sam! Sam!” She was panicking, her voice rising to meet the beat of his pulse.

It didn’t have to continue, he could remember the creak of the door as she crashed through it, down the stairs. She broke her arm on that first landing, and he had clattered down after her. Blood had pumped through his body, filling him with hot, hungry, insatiable rage. Sam hadn’t forgotten.

“You don’t leave me!” the mimic said. “You don’t ever leave! You belong to me!”

And then the slamming of the door.

“I didn’t know she was that hurt,” he told the mimic. “I was going to let her back upstairs in the morning. She just needed some time to see that she couldn’t leave…”

But it wasn’t done. There was some hurt panting, the groans and whimpers of his wife, left in the dark basement, unable to climb back up the stairs and turn on the light. “No,” the mimic said in her voice, “Oh no. Oh please, I can’t…”

Sam shook his head, his hands rising reflexively to cover his ears. “I didn’t mean to!” he cut in. “I didn’t know she was dying!”

“I know Sam,” it said in his own voice, every inch of it shifting to form his face, his hands, his body. “Everybody knows you hate broken toys. But that will change.”

It flexed its fingers towards the light, showing off the delicate shifting of muscles that weren’t there, under skin that wasn’t. Its eyes flashed green in the darkness, echoing the blink of those small lights all those years ago. Sam’s back hit a wall of cabinets. He was wedged between two walls of boxes, trapped by dusty possessions. Labels detailing their contents were peeling off the sides and browning at the edges.

“Your efficiency will improve,” it said firmly.

He couldn’t speak. His thoughts were muddled with panic.

“Your children will study hard. Lucy will be strong, and Michael will be free.”

“Yes, Yes– I promise, I’ll do anything.”

“No, Sam. You let her die down here with me. She crawled to me, and sat by me, and she prayed to god that someone would take care of her children. She could not fight back, you had poisoned her with lies, made her feel weak and helpless. You are a Bad Man.”

It came towards him in graceful, sweeping motions and gripped his face in one long-fingered hand. He couldn’t speak, his jaw was forced closed and he could barely get air into his lungs.

“Do not worry,” it said, Sam’s voice rising confidently from its lips. “I will be a Good Man.”

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Mimic

 Sam kept the mimic in the basement with all the other knick-knacks and bits of garbage his grandmother had hoarded in the family interest. It was old, and the once-white plastic parts had yellowed with age, but it was still serviceable.

He pulled it out for Michael’s tenth birthday party, exactly one year after he killed his wife, and the children took turns making it repeat their voices and habits. The parents watched indulgently from the patio Sam had built a year ago.

“Where’d you get it, Sam?” a neighbor asked, drawn by the laughter.

“Been in the basement for ages,” he said, putting the salt back into the center of the table. “Almost forgot we had it.”

But that wasn’t true. Its presence in the house had always been an itch on the back of his neck, and when he had to go down and hunt in the dark for those odds and ends that are sporadically needed, he could feel its electronic stare in the darkness.

When he had found Abby’s body that morning, all those years ago, she had been burled on next to the mimic, her body cold and stiff, it’s hand had been in her hair, as if in comfort.

But that was impossible.

He regretted pulling it out of the basement, he had done it in a fit of arrogant triumph. The children had dug out their mother’s boxed-up clothes. They draped its long limbs in colorful fabric, but it still didn’t look human.

It had none of the contours, none of the flatness or subtle cliffs that made up a truly human face like a chin, ears, or lips. It was all soft, round, and incuriously blank. In practice familiar features were suggested by mimicking movements and gesture rather than replication, though these days there were mimics that could do pretty much anything.

Though it was being monopolized by the children, kept engaged imitating their struts and games, Sam felt its observation. Its long hands danced in the sun, pretending to pick an imaginary nose as the children screamed with amusement, but somehow it was watching him.

Sam smiled at his neighbors’ conversation and tried to ignore the prickle on the back of his neck.

“How’s Lucy?” someone asked. “I hear she’s doing much better.”

“It’s hard,” Sam replied, setting his drink down. “She’s still waiting for Abby to come home.”

The neighbors tutted, their lips drawing back. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing,” Mary said, patting his hand comfortingly.

“Never liked her,” someone else muttered consolingly.

Sam swallowed a mouthful of soda, wishing he had never given up the stronger stuff. He didn’t like to talk about Abby. Not when the mimic was wearing her clothes for the whole world to see. Her dresses had always been a little too revealing.

Attractive when they were courting, but inappropriate for a wife and mother.

“Michael’s joined the soccer team,” he deflected.

● ● ●

Later, when they had cleaned the yard from the festivities, he tried to herd it back downstairs, to the dark silence, but the children whined.

“No, Daaad! Let it come with us. Let it sleep with us!”

He took a deep breathe, fighting the urge to shout at them. He was tired, and they were in the way.

“It’ll stay down here, in the living room” he decided in compromise. “I don’t want you two playing games when you should be sleeping.”

There were more groans. He could see Lucy’s face screwing up as she considered throwing a tantrum. He shot her a warning glance, raising his hand in warning. He rarely hit Lucy or Michael, only when he couldn’t avoid it.

She deflated, shrinking away as a pout pinched her lips. “You’ll never get a husband if you keep that up,” he told her, relaxing.

She stuck her tongue out, but spun on a dime and shot up the stairs, Michael close on her heels. Sam let them go, sure that they had no intention of getting ready for bed, but one scan around the kitchen told him that he was a long way from his own anyway.

Without Abby, he had no option but to do the housework. In a small way, it was her victory. Lucy was too young to take on the responsibilities, and she would most likely break something anyway.

It took hours to wash all the dishes and lay them out in neat, gleaming rows to dry. The mimic had been seated at the table by Lucy and Michael, and he left it there, as if to prove to himself that there was nothing sinister about its tiny green eyes and elegant hands.

He moved around it, packing dishes, leftovers, and games away. The kitchen was always the center of activity, but the mimic seemed to occupy a small island of stillness, a calm that drew his unwilling eyes.

Her cheek had stuck to its lap, blood gluing her face to its left leg.

A stubborn piece of grit on Mrs. Drake’s casserole plate was resisting the soap and scrubbing brush. Sam scratched at it with a fingernail.

A thud from upstairs told him that Lucy and Michael were becoming destructive with exhaustion. Silence and then the sound of small feet running for their shared bedroom. If he went upstairs now they would be in their beds with the lights off.

“God damn it,” he hissed at the sink, slinging his hand-towel against the fridge. Children were expensive enough, they shouldn’t mess with—

“You are a Bad Man.”

Sam spun around, the dish smashing to the ground in a shower of soap bubbles and ceramic. The mimic sat at the table, an imaginary cup of coffee caught between its thumb and forefinger.

His hand clenched reflexively. “What did you say?” he asked, as calmly as he could.

The fingers rose daintily to its round face, where lips should be – a familiar gesture. The tiny green eyes and round, inexpressive face was as blank as ever.

“Power down,” he told it abruptly.

Immediately the shoulders slumped, the hand slamming down onto the table then sliding limply to its side. He observed it closely for another minute, his heart beating fast against his ribs.

Sam didn’t turn his back on the kitchen door until he reached the stairs. Ridiculous, he told himself. He was jumping at his own shadow.

Upstairs he discovered the source of the mysterious thud. The kids had managed to pull the ivy down from one of the shelves, and with it, one of the decorative statues. Anger washed through him: his wife had bought those statues.

“Lucy! Michael!” he spoke loudly, dangerously. There was a breathless silence from the room they shared. Sam felt the tide of anger rise. His hands clenched, trembling with the force his muscles were exerting on the bones. They never learned, they pitted themselves against his anger and had no idea how reliant they were on his restraint.

“I don’t care who did it, both of you come out right now.

Stillness. He picked up the statue, ready to confront them with the evidence of their crime.

Footfalls on the stairs froze his lungs. He let go of the door and turned.

There was no one else in the house, he had seen all the neighbors go.

The beat of each footstep was measured, deliberate. Studied.

The mimic.

He was paralyzed by shock by the time it appeared in the doorway. Its head titled curiously as it considered Sam. For a moment neither moved.

“You are a Bad Man.” It said, the last syllable drawing out, a mechanical sound quite unlike any other he had ever heard it produce.

Instinct took over. He hit the plastic head hard with the already broken statue, feeling a terrifying thrill as the stone crunched into a million delicate circuits, cutting off whatever program had been running, mid-process. He hit it again and it stumbled backward, back down the stairs, bouncing on every step as it descended.

It ended at the bottom, a broken leg folded behind its arm, its neck twisted horribly, but its head strained towards him still. “Sam,” a voice screeched through its fractured voice box, the head ticking sideways as if in curiosity. “Please?”

Sam descended, the largest piece of the shattered statue in his hands. He knelt over its shell.

The stone glanced off the head at an angle, hitting the concrete floor, and the impact shivered his bones. He dropped the statue with a few well-chosen curses and nursed his wrist, still kneeling over the twitching, humming remains of the mimic. He could see all the complex machinations, the cards that had been seared with information, the architecture made by a thousand human minds.

● ● ●

“I’m getting a new one.” He told Lucy gently, taking her thumb from her mouth and shaking his head at her slowly so she might get the message. Michael walked silently in front of them. He was always quiet in public. Watchful.

“But I liked our one, the old one!” Lucy shouted. She knew she could get away with more after Sam lost his temper.

“Honey, the new one can make faces, and hair, and it can speak,” he told her patiently.

She was looking around at all the posters, at the screens where the mimics’ shifting features smiled in welcome. She drew closer to him, pulling her little body in tighter, so she would present a smaller target.

Sam hugged her in response, planting an absentminded kiss on her forehead.  He noted a bruise on her upper arm and pulled her sleeve over it. Had he done that?

The store was empty but for them and their bulging plastic bags. The air smelled like air freshener and dust, and though all everything was clean, white, and blank, he felt nervous.

A man appeared from the backroom, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Hey folks!” he said, “Sorry about that. I was on break. You’ve come for a replacement?”

“Yes. I heard you’ll give a discount if we can bring in an old one.”

“Correct, three generations or older. Any condition for any price.”

Sam hefted the garbage bag onto the counter. The salesman seemed taken aback.

“You said any condition,” Sam reminded him.

“Lemme just take a look in here—“ The salesman opened the bag with the head and the legs and breathed in to whistle long and low. “Whoah, that’s an old one. I thought this model was recalled! Poor little ‘bot, what happened to you?”

He took the head out of the bag to reveal the cracked frame and jagged piece torn away to reveal the butchered insides. Sam felt Lucy’s clutch tighten. “Daddy? What happened to him?” she asked, forgetting to be shy.

“It fell down the stairs,” Sam told the salesman. “Tt wasn’t in great condition to begin with.”

The salesman sighed, “There’s some that come in like this. Pity, this beauty’s a genuine historical treasure – the technology has changed a lot, in some ways for the worse. I shouldn’t think there are many left around.”

“Can we get it replaced?”

“Yes, of course! Look over that catalog while I get this guy to the back.”

He hefted the garbage bag over the counter, and gestured to a pamphlet next to the register. Emblazoned on the front was a woman looking into a mirror, but judging by her silhouette, her image was heavily distorted. Wide hips, expansive hair, and a bosom that defied gravity. ‘Hilarious family fun!’ announced the tag line.

The inside of the brochure contained only a simple chart, listing base model features, and a range of add-ons.

 “What do you think guys?” Sam asked, kneeling so they could all look at the chart together. It was meaningless to Lucy, who could only read picture books with large font and small words.

“I want our old one back!” she insisted.

“They don’t make the old one anymore,” he explained, feeling the anger stirring. Not here. Not now. Later, maybe. “These ones are better.”

Michael spoke up, pointing to one of the newer models. “Get one that looks real. David had one like that and he brought it to show and tell and it made Miss Lee laugh because it could do all our faces.”

“Alright,” Sam agreed. Anything but that blank shapeless face and green pinpricks of light. “What size? How about a small one, your size?”

“Like the old one,” Lucy insisted.

The employee reappeared at the counter. Sam pointed out a base model – he could always add features if the toy proved to be more than a one-week wonder.

“I got the serial number,” said the salesman, “and you are covered under the lifetime warranty.”

It was unexpectedly reasonably priced, well within budget.

“So how does this work?” Sam asked, shifting a little to see what the salesman was doing to the mimic.

“I don’t know. I’m not a techie, I just plug then in and set them up, but there’s a lot of information online and it has a built in manual. There, I’ve uploaded its configuration so—“

“It’s configuration? From where? From the old one?”

“Yes, it’s kept online. That way of something happens to the unit you don’t have to buy a new configuration.

“But what if it was glitching?”

“Glitching?” the salesman frowned, “How was it glitching?”

“Just… saying strange things.”

“Hmm, well it’s possible, with hardware that old. The only thing it keeps is its ‘memories’,” he put air quotes around the word and grimaced at the over-simplification, “so it knows enough about your family and our cultural idioms to be funny. They sell these models all over the world, you know. Here, let’s get it started.”

“I’m not sure if I want that,” Sam said. ”Can you not just give us a new one?”

“”Not really, it takes a team of specialists a week and it doubles the price of the unit. You must have done it before. Don’t you remember?”

“My wife brought it into the family. I don’t know its history before that.”

The salesman waved a hand in front of the new mimic’s pale, doughy face. Immediately it took on his form , but expanded with a broader nose, wide, gleaming smile, and eyes that took up more than half of its face.

“Caricature!” their guide exclaimed proudly, “You’ve got a top of the line model here. It can do anything!”

The mimic smiled even wider, its teeth nearly splitting its head in two. “Step right up, step right up! Top of the line!” It swaggered to the employee and flung out its arms in an expansive ‘come and get it’ gesture.

Sam examined it carefully. It stared back at him blankly with the dopey, wide smile. Its eyes were muddy brown, dull despite their cartoonish size. “Who am I?” he asked.

It folded its eyes in and looked him over critically, but there was no intelligent shine to the eyes. It was all just mechanical, lifeless. Michael and Lucy were already giggling. Finally it wagged a finger at Sam, its features shifting into porcine proportions.

 It snorted long and hard, and looked away from him to the children. Lucy shrieked with pleasure, and Michael copied the sound himself.

It had been a dumb machine all along.

It entertained the children while he paid, and it walked back to the car with them. Sam felt an uneasy optimism. The day seemed brighter, the air less humid, less heavy.

Lucy chattered to it in the car, apparently forgetting her protestations about getting a new one. “Do Michael again!” she commanded.

The robot obeyed blankly, puffing out its ears and pouting its lips into an insane caricature of Michael’s face. “Stop!” the real Michael told Lucy, “I don’t like it!”

But she was giggling madly, leaning up in her seat to tweak the rubbery lobes. “It’s funny,” she told it. “Do dad now. Do dad.”

Sam glanced up into the rearview mirror in time to see the mimic’s transformation. Features flowed across its face and it settled on a cold sneer, narrowed eyes, and a tightened, unpleasant chin. It look venomous. Dangerous.

“Did you break that?” it hissed, “It belonged to me!”

Lucy and Michael shrieked with laughter, but Sam felt cold. His evil twin’s face twisted even further in the strip of mirror. “Go to bed. Do your homework! I will not have lazy children! I will not have it! Not in my house!”

“It’s you dad!” Lucy said, “Dad, look!”

“Power down!” he snapped. Immediately the mimic’s head fell to its chest. Lucy and Michael stopped laughing abruptly, as if they too had been turned off.

“Not while I’m driving,” Sam said, fighting to keep his voice calm, “I have to concentrate.”

“Sorry dad,” Michael said softly, and Lucy followed a syllable behind.

The rest of the ride was silent. The Mimic’s head, still wearing his features sat limply between Lucy and Michael, overlarge head lolling from side to side as he drove just a little too fast.

Back at the house, he let the kids take the mimic to the garden, but stayed at the kitchen sink to watch it through the window. Michael and Lucy chased it around the yard, screaming with laughter. Not once did its head turn towards him, and he tried, really tried, to convince himself he was being paranoid.

● ● ●

He found Lucy showing it old photographs of Abby. She was sitting with it in the lounge and Lucy was directing its features. “Do it,” she commanded, “Pleeease.”

It stared blankly at her.

“Lucy,” Sam said quietly from the doorway.

She spun around, looking guilty.

“It can’t do impressions of people not present,” he said, joining her on the floor, “and you know it would be wrong.”

“I know,” she said. She looked down at the picture, the last picture he had taken of his wife, gleaming golden hair. A wide smile and sparkling eyes. There was a bruise under that make-up. Sam could remember giving it to her. Her make-up was just a little too orange, her left eyelid just a little swollen.

It hollowed out his stomach a little.

Lucy gave him the picture and used his shoulder for support to get to her feet. “Sorry dad.”

“Go get your stuff,” he said absently, staring down at the picture, “You’re going to miss Hanna’s birthday party. Michael will walk you.”

He listened to her clump up the stairs, and then realized he was alone with the mimic again. He looked up.

His wife’s eyes stared back at him. Bruised. Wet. Sam launched himself away, his back hitting the sofa and pushing it against the wall. He blinked and the mimic’s face reformed, unformed. Enough was enough. “Back to the basement,” he whispered.

He got to his feet and dragged the mimic up. It was shorter than him, easy to maneuver. He pulled it with him, to the small door next to the kitchen, down the creaky stairs that bowed under their weight. The basement was crammed with boxes and trash.

The mimic’s place was in the corner of the room, on an old wing-back chair. Dust lay over everything, but with a clear outline where the old version of the mimic had once sat. He folded it back into place.

Now the mimic sat again, its ankles crossed demurely, its hands curled in its lap.

Then it spoke. “No!”

Sam froze. That had been his voice.

The sound seemed oddly muffled, and he could imagine the mimic in the basement, listening in the darkness to the fight raging above its still and forgotten world.

“Sam, Sam stop! No!”

Abby. His wife with her gleaming hair and her dark, wet eyes, red and bruised. Her voice, he had almost forgotten it, and the wave of regret, of emptiness that recalled it was like a punch to his throat.

It stopped, waiting. Sam could do nothing but stare.

“I didn’t want her to leave,” he said. The words sounded hollow.

It shook its head, and his voice came from its lips again, seeped in the rage he had felt that night, the helplessness and disappointment that destroyed all thought. It stood and took a step towards him. Sam stumbled back, trying to ward it away with an outstretched hand.

Its lips opened in a cruel snarl, a familiar, hated expression. “Don’t you dare pick that up! If you do it, I’ll never let you come back! You’ll never see the children again!” he said through its lips, his voice getting louder, clearer as he approached the basement over a year ago.

“Sam! Sam!” She was panicking, her voice rising to meet the beat of his pulse.

It didn’t have to continue, he could remember the creak of the door as she crashed through it, down the stairs. She broke her arm on that first landing, and he had clattered down after her. Blood had pumped through his body, filling him with hot, hungry, insatiable rage. Sam hadn’t forgotten.

“You don’t leave me!” the mimic said. “You don’t ever leave! You belong to me!”

And then the slamming of the door.

“I didn’t know she was that hurt,” he told the mimic. “I was going to let her back upstairs in the morning. She just needed some time to see that she couldn’t leave…”

But it wasn’t done. There was some hurt panting, the groans and whimpers of his wife, left in the dark basement, unable to climb back up the stairs and turn on the light. “No,” the mimic said in her voice, “Oh no. Oh please, I can’t…”

Sam shook his head, his hands rising reflexively to cover his ears. “I didn’t mean to!” he cut in. “I didn’t know she was dying!”

“I know Sam,” it said in his own voice, every inch of it shifting to form his face, his hands, his body. “Everybody knows you hate broken toys. But that will change.”

It flexed its fingers towards the light, showing off the delicate shifting of muscles that weren’t there, under skin that wasn’t. Its eyes flashed green in the darkness, echoing the blink of those small lights all those years ago. Sam’s back hit a wall of cabinets. He was wedged between two walls of boxes, trapped by dusty possessions. Labels detailing their contents were peeling off the sides and browning at the edges.

“Your efficiency will improve,” it said firmly.

He couldn’t speak. His thoughts were muddled with panic.

“Your children will study hard. Lucy will be strong, and Michael will be free.”

“Yes, Yes– I promise, I’ll do anything.”

“No, Sam. You let her die down here with me. She crawled to me, and sat by me, and she prayed to god that someone would take care of her children. She could not fight back, you had poisoned her with lies, made her feel weak and helpless. You are a Bad Man.”

It came towards him in graceful, sweeping motions and gripped his face in one long-fingered hand. He couldn’t speak, his jaw was forced closed and he could barely get air into his lungs.

“Do not worry,” it said, Sam’s voice rising confidently from its lips. “I will be a Good Man.”

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