Something was wrong with Calvin. He was acting stranger than usual, and Susie, being of an inquiring mind and keen intellect — or so she liked to tell herself — wanted to get to the bottom of it.
At lunch, she asked the oddball some questions. What did he have for breakfast? What was his favorite color? What’s the name of the club? Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, red, and “It’s a secret!”
It was Wednesday.
On Thursday at lunch, after Calvin came back from the principal’s office, Susie asked the same questions, and received the same answers.
On Friday, Susie asked the same questions, and received the same answers.
Either Calvin wasn’t noticing that she was asking the same questions, or he was deliberately skewing her results by giving off that impression. What, then, could Susie do to figure out why Calvin was acting so weird? During History class that afternoon, she resolved to follow him home.
Of course, Calvin’s house was right next door to Susie’s house. They shared a bus stop. Following him home would be very obvious.
Susie made sure to sit near the front of the bus that afternoon. She got halfway to her house by the time Calvin had stepped off the bus, leaving behind only a shouted salute to the driver. Quickly she unlocked the front door, shed her shoes, hung up her coat, and walked up the stairs. Running on the stairs was unsafe. She practically dove into her room to find her scouting binoculars, and then carefully sprinted down the hall to the window that gave her the best view of Calvin’s house.
Calvin walked in his front door. Shortly afterwards, a different Calvin walked out the door to fetch the mail. An hour later, Calvin’s dad arrived home, and Calvin went outside to play. Calvin was followed out the door a few minutes later by Calvin, wearing a different jacket, and Calvin, wearing a sweater. They ran around to the back of the house, where they were joined by a fourth Calvin, who wasn’t wearing anything more than pants, a headband, and some paint. The four Calvins trudged off into the woods.
After waiting a minute to make sure that the Calvins weren’t coming back from the woods, Susie ran to her bedroom to fetch her backpack and a chair, which she brought to the window. She did need to do her homework, after all.
The sun crept closer to the horizon, and eventually the Calvins went back into their house. They staggered themselves, entering the house one at a time over perhaps fifteen minutes. One left his coat at the step for the savage Calvin, who donned the coat and doffed his feather before entering the house.
Susie went down to dinner.
The next morning, there was a cardboard box sitting outside Calvin’s house, slightly dampened from the dew. Susie put on her galoshes and coat to go look at it, after eating a healthy breakfast.
The box was a little bigger than Susie. On one of the sides was a drawing of a button, carefully labeled in Calvin’s childish handwriting. It sat on one side, with the flaps splayed open, propping it up. It looked almost like a wardrobe. Other than that, it was just a box.
Susie stepped into the box, to see if there was anything written inside the box that might lend clues to the source of Calvin’s madness.
It was fall, and the acorns were falling. One bounced off the top of the box. One brushed the side of the box, in a way that just tapped the drawing of the button.
Susie heard a loud BOINK noise, and turned to ask the person standing in the box what that noise was. Hearing her own question, she replied that she didn’t know, and then she realized that shes were talking to herself. Shes stepped away from hers, colliding with the box wall. Shes jumped at the feel of the box behind hers, and made breaks for the open air.
Outside the dangerous box, shes looked at herselves. Susies were identical. Shes asked herselves whether that button was real, and agreed that it couldn’t possibly be real; why was she asking such a silly question? But maybe, shes thought, it would be a good idea to check, so shes went around her respective sides of the box. The Susie who went around the left side of the box had to wait for a car to pass on the street, arrived late at the back side of the box, and thus became Second Susie.
First Susie proposed that the two Susies should make a Third Susie, to see if the experimental result replicated. Second Susie asked who should enter the box, and who should push the button. Susies agreed that Second Susie was closer to the front, and would reenter the box while First Susie pushed the button.
One BOINK later, First Susie watched in horror as Second Susies stepped out of the box, utterly synchronized, saying the same things to herselves, at the same times, with the same intonations. It had to stop. First Susie picked up an acorn and tossed it lightly at Second Susies. The one who caught it named herself Third Susie, because to establish that later numbers were the ones who were lacking in resources would be to establish a precedent that would negatively affect the majority of Susie.
Susies agreed that three Susies was probably enough for now. Susies picked up the box and moved it to Susies’ house’s garage. One Susie peeled off to open the garage door from inside the house. With the object of their power thus preserved, and the garage locked back up again, Susies went into the woods to determine what shes could do with this newfound duplication.
It was obvious that Calvin had given shape to the Duplicator, and used it to fuel this week’s hijinks. She had never been able to take what he said at face value, since he was always saying the strangest things, but Susies had the evidence to support the idea that Calvin had created at least three duplicates of himself. By the numbering scheme the Calvins had claimed to use, perhaps as many as five or six duplicates. It wasn’t clear whether Duplicate Number Two was the second Duplicate or the second Calvin.
Susies agreed that the Duplicator was a power that Calvin should not retain. And now that Calvin no longer retained the power, did his duplicates persist? After some consideration, this question became the most-urgent question in Susies’ minds. How long would Second Susie and Third Susie last? As long as a week?
Susies returned to her house to find out.
And then Susies realized that Susies needed to use the bathroom.
Suddenly Susies realized that it seemed very likely that each Susie would need to eat and drink and breathe and eliminate independently. This would triple Susies’ parents’ spending on food for Susies, and increase Susies’ shower and toilet usage threefold. Susies weren’t sure if Susies would be able to hide that from Susies’ parents.
But Susies did really need to pee.
Susies’ preliminary hypothesis was that, if Susies synchronized each Susie’s elimination schedule with the other Susies’ schedules, Susies could all enter the bathroom at the same time, and each Susie could do her business while the other Susies politely ignored the necessity of Susie’s business. It would increase bathroom dwell time, but Susies’ parents wouldn’t notice a threefold increase in flushes in the house.
Individually, Susies returned to Susies’ house, and each made her way to the bathroom. When the last Susie was inside and the door securely shut, First Susie took her spot upon the commode.
The simultaneous relief that Susies felt was an unexpected result to this experiment. One Susie could eliminate for all Susies.
As First Susie washed her hands, Second and Third Susies held hers breath, and continued holding it, as each left the bathroom for hers room. And continued holding hers breath. A single Susie could breathe for all three. Susies decided to test the hypothesis further over lunch, when Second Susie went down and ate with her parents. After lunch, Second Susie filled First and Third in on what was said over lunch, and First and Third explained what it was like to feel your hunger go away and your stomach sate itself without actually eating.
Susies thought that this would easily become too much of a good thing.
With resource constraints lifted, Susies set about generating a list of things Susies could do with three separate brains and the need to only eat a third as much. Would Susies share knowledge of what happened during the day after Susies slept? It didn’t seem likely, since the Calvin Duplicates hadn’t. As a test, each Susie rolled a die and wrote down a number on a sheet of paper, and Susies filed the papers away under hers bed. Susies would check it the next morning.
Since Second Susie had spend the most time with Susies’ parents thus far, Second Susie went to dinner, and Second Susie tiptoed down the hall to wish her parents goodnight, so they wouldn’t come tuck her in and see two additional Susies sharing her bed.
The next morning, Susies knew the contents of each Susie’s paper, which suggested that Susies could each study something, and the next day, all Susies would know it, if Susies slept at the same time. It was a heartening and scary thought, because it meant that the Calvins had not slept together or well. Susies were concerned for that boy’s health if he couldn’t manage to sleep with himselves.
Susies determined that one Susie should specialize in homework and schoolwork, rotating per day to avoid Susies’ bodies developing differences. This would free the other two Susies — or more, if Susies found additional things for herselves to do — to do things like read or explore the woods or play or write or research….
Susies had so much shes could do, if only her bodies would last.
But what if her selves didn’t last? What if the Duplicator’s power came, not from the Duplicator itself, but some investiture of power? What if, horror of horrors, it was powered by Calvin’s imagination?
Susies hated to think about it, but if Susies’ existence was premised upon continued access to Calvin’s hypothetical magical powers, Susies would have to become friends with the boy, and make sure that he liked her.
This was a very forward-thinking though, a forward thought, an adult thought, for which Susies rewarded herselves with a small cookie each from the cookie jar.