The whole idea for this story occurred to me the other day while I was vacuuming. The latch on the vacuum cleaner base was broken, so at the time, the handle was lying on top of whatever cushion there was in the bag. I had left the switch in the "on" position, so when I plugged in the cord, the bag heaved full of air, and the vacuum rose up off the carpet as though it had been brought to life.
Anyway, here is the story.
Suppose a clone C is brought up in a deeply religious background,1 perhaps Catholic. This background convinces him and others that he does not have a soul; he is mere organic machinery.2 C is alone. He has been forced to separate himself from human society because he is different. Furthermore, C feels alienated from other clones, who do not share his existential funk. C ardently believes in heave--he just thinks he has nothing to send on to there.
Now many might posit, here, that C must have the rudiments of a soul because he is experiencing emotions that go into the makings of a good one; for instance, piety and humility and empathy. There can be no doubt that when we next find C in hermitage in a cave, he is the most spiritually stricken of individuals.
Here, C has turned in desperation to all the religious texts, tracts, and commentaries he can get his clone hands on. He reads everything from the Vedas to Kahlil Gibran; he reads eighteenth century spiritual autobiographies, nineteenth century Russian novels, and twentieth century self-help books. He learns everything ever written about the attainment of the soul; i.e., how one can go about this. Most of the theories recommend self-reflection, not of the angst-ridden variety, but instead stressing awareness of shared humanity and communion with one's brothers. So C fumbles around trying to befriend the other clones, but they are all a dullard class really, content to mull around like oxen while their ditto-masters yell for better copies. (This last line should be studied; it's loaded with humor.)
C's somewhat dispirited attempts to convince his docile fellow-clones that they are all brother-parts to one giant clone-soul fail. And since C is convinced that the whole project is pointless anyway (how can a bunch of no-souls add up to anything?), he heads back to his cave for another go at it.
Once there, he turns his attention to the sticky question of humanity. Being a clone and of the servant class (see 2), he is prima facie inhuman. To somehow join in with the members of human society--that, indeed, is his only hope. But in the future world, resistance is feudal (pun alert). Clearly, C has a few steps missing in his Jacob's ladder. Game over for C?
Within a few days, his longtime acquaintances notice a change in the person of C's former master. (If you haven't already guessed what has happened, don't worry; the hints in the next sentence grow increasingly more direct.) He seems more crisp and formal with them; he becomes absent-minded, often forgetting names and faces; he severs all ties with friends outside his own home; it is as though he had died and a clone had taken his place.
Which really happened. The master's death had not been due to natural causes, of course, as the reader must have come to suspect. I suppose a clarification is in order here: some might have concluded naively that C, in keeping with the mystical communicative property, might have hoped to gain his master's soul by killing him. Nothing so crude as that, I can assure you. The method of killing, though necessarily brutal, was hardly spiritually crushing. C--you must remember, a religious clone--even insisted on giving his master a decent burial. What, then? The answer is simple: C, by taking his master's place in human society, did so in the hope of conjoining his life to others, to thereby share in the Oversoul.3
All these machinations may seem the dealings of a madman. I won't lie to you: C had gone a little stir-crazy in the cave. Not to say that the murder was unplanned; on the contrary, it was shrewdly calculated to serve an express theological purpose, viz., the eventual attainment of C's own soul.4 Which begins to explain why the present story is called "The Devil" instead of just "The Prodigal Clone."
Friends of the old master, finding the new one a little distant (which is not to say they suspected anything, for who would have believed such cleverness in a clone?) withdrew from him socially. C became desperate that he was losing the link to humanity that he so desperately wanted and needed.
Fortunately, his master had been quite wealthy and had access to all the resources a clone could need if he had just murdered his master and wanted to acquire friends. Ergo, the treacherous clone began to throw parties in the true Dorian Gray tradition. The mansion would fill up at night but empty just before daybreak, at which hour C could be seen pacing the balcony, watching the last of his guests leave. During his bleaker moments, he began to suspect that his guests were not truly interested in him or in his company, just in his dwindling wealth. They hardly gave him a second thought; they shared nothing with C of their deeper selves.
C decides, one morning from his balcony, to try to appeal to the better half of the people. That night the guests found the gates of the mansion locked for good. Late-arriving partygoers, however, were speedily rerouted to a nearby chapel in small groups. Therein the clone was beginning the next phase of his career. His voice thundered out accusingly upon the drunken revelers until they fell into his arms, sobbing.
The clone was not--as the guests initially thought--yelling at them. Rather, he was using them as a test audience for his speeches. C, indeed, had a natural talent for oratory. He had sifted religious books so many times for clues to soul-acquisition that he could recite them from memory. And the range of C's erudition was equally impressive: he could quote from the Bible or Hermann Hesse, e.g., at will. How shockingly the high-sounding talk affected his listeners during those early nights! C rocked the casbah until not a single hiccupping reveler was left standing.
The great evangelist, C (not, incidentally, his popular name) eventually became a social institution all to himself. The super-church he founded struck worship into the hearts of millions of adherents. He spoke out against clones, so effectively that their manufacture was outlawed. C even had his own Sunday morning show, and thanks to the miracle of satellite television, had his message beamed worldwide. The government teetered on the brink of theocracy; in South America, there was whispered mention of a Second Coming.
The story's not over till it's over, however. The awful thought hit C suddenly one day as he was helping to raise charitable contributions in order to buy a private jet for one of his new interns. It was not a thought per se, but just a quote. It went something like this: "To influence another is to give him one's own soul." C immediately dropped his scoop and bucket and retreated to the sacristy to think.
He had influenced people, surely. What a fool he had been! All the while that he had believed he was gathering souls together, perhaps all he had actually done was to disperse his own fledgling soul--over millions of people. Breaking into a cold sweat, C began to realize the truth of the situation. What was to be done?
He hated, really, the thought of giving it all up. Wasn't there some way he could remain in power, yet cease to influence?--Nyet! Though C might conceivably spend the rest of his life simply deferring to others, by this time his words--his very mannerisms--were dutifully copied by hundreds of millions of adherents. It would be impossible to preserve anything originally his from such a sharp public eye. He would go into hiding, then.
He would go into hiding, seek to blend anonymously with the rest of humanity, never to let a word slip or gesture escape which could reveal itself as his own. Disguised, he could safely soak up all that others had to say, embrace their wit and creativity, all the while passing on little sayings and jokes everyone had heard a thousand times.
C picked up his money pail and then paused, sighed. A life like that would require a lot of private comic release.
An old man walking down the crowded steps of the church tripped over a foot that appeared to have been deliberately stuck out. He rose painfully to his feet, staring wildly all about him. "The Devil--!" he exclaimed.
1 An objection to the premise might come here. Would a "deeply religious" family ever bring up a clone in the first place? Well, probably not. C could not be considered God-made, and a fundamentalist would surely argue that the equation God-made-man-made-clone cannot be reduced to God-made-clone. Still, in my story I need a conscientious clone, and in fiction anything is possible: look at Galatea.
2 It is by now common knowledge that in the future, clones will be a slave class.
3 I use this term as I would "Human-Soul" or "Human-Spirit." C may or may not have read Emerson, but the reference is not strictly limited to Transcendentalism. Cp. Brahman-atman, Buddha-nature, or jen.
4 Note that C cannot have been damned for this deed, because he technically has no soul to damn as yet. The usefulness of murder in soul-development is well documented; cf. Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov (both works, coincidentally, C was said to have read).
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