The Sepia Photograph
By Roy Dorman
Remains of former days
James Benson decided to take the clothes
that were on hangers out
of the closet first. He wouldn’t sort them, just stuff them in garbage bags;
Goodwill could sort them.
With the clothes and shoes gone the closet
looked empty, but it
wasn’t. James knew his mother had stashed some boxes of mementos in the back.
He’d been curious about them as a little kid; he and his mother had gone
through them a few times, but once he hit his teens he’d forgotten about them.
The closet was a walk-in. Only three feet
wide and a little over
six feet from floor to ceiling, it was probably eight feet deep. The natural
light from the bedroom windows couldn’t quite reach the boxes in the back;
James had to turn on the bedroom’s overhead fixture.
Normally not one who frightened easily, James
felt uneasy as he
stared at the boxes. He was alone in the house, and nobody knew he was in it
cleaning out his mother’s things. If something happened, it would be a while
before someone found him.
“What could happen?” he said
as he stepped into the closet. “Let’s
get this done.”
But he was only three or four steps into
the closet when he quickly
looked back to make sure the door wasn’t slamming shut, leaving him in
“Get a grip, bucko,” he muttered
There were four medium-sized cardboard boxes
in all with a large
photo album sitting on top of the stack. He carried everything out and put it
all on his mother’s bed, already stripped to the mattress.
Though James had planned to get this whole
business finished as
quickly as possible and head back to San Francisco, he now sat on the bed and
picked up the photo album. He had done the downstairs and the basement
yesterday and could easily get the upstairs and attic done today. He felt he
deserved a little break.
He opened the album and, staring at the first
came flooding back.
This is a picture of your great grandparents’
wedding reception at
the old town hall in Bristol, Ohio. That’s my grandma and grandpa there in the
Why isn’t anybody smiling?
People didn’t always smile for the
camera back then, Jimmy, even if
it was a happy occasion.
James moved on to the next page, and then
a few more pages after
that. The photos were in chronological order, and successive pages held more
and more photos as cameras became common place.
Before closing the album and getting back
to work, he looked again
at the sepia colored photo of the wedding reception. Examining the people in
the photo more closely this time, he was puzzled to see a man who looked like
Mr. Larson, the owner of the local hardware store. He remembered asking his
mother once about the resemblance.
Oh, no, that’s not Mr. Larson, Jimmy.
All of the older people in
this picture have been dead for a while. A few of the younger ones might be
still alive, but I couldn’t tell you which ones.
But it looks just like him, Mom.
Maybe a little, but that couldn’t be
him; he’s only a little older
than I am.
James scanned the rest of the people in the
second and third rows,
and gasped when he saw…himself! He
tilted the album one way and then another to try and get the light to give him
a better angle and still found himself looking at someone in the third row who
looked just like him. It was like looking in the mirror. James was going to be
fifty-six in a month, and the person in the picture looked to be about that age
What could this mean? He probably hadn’t
noticed the “himself” in
the picture when he was a kid because he wouldn’t have seen a middle-aged man
as having any resemblance to a seven year-old.
But the man in the picture was him. And the
man in the second row
was Mr. Larson, no matter what his mother had told him. She must have known
that it was Mr. Larson. Why would she lie to him?
It was still a half hour before noon. James
decided he’d walk
downtown and have lunch at the little diner. After that he’d go to the hardware
store and ask Mr. Larson for an explanation. James and Mr. Larson were two of
the oldest people in a picture that had to be almost a hundred and fifty years
old, and neither of them was dead.
He would take the photograph album with him.
“Hello, Mr. Larson.”
“Well, hello,” said Mr. Larson,
extending his hand. “I’m sorry, but
I don’t think I know you.”
“I’m James Benson. I’m
in town to clean out my mother’s house so I
can put it up for sale.”
“Jimmy Benson! Yes, I remember you.
It’s been, what, thirty years
or more since I’ve seen you, right? You used to come in to get something now
and then that your mom needed. Oh, and I’m sorry for your loss. Your mom was a
James put the album on the counter and opened
it to the first page.
He watched Mr. Larson’s face and saw his smile slowly turn to a frown.
“How old are you, Mr. Larson? How old
are we?” James asked,
pointing at himself in the picture. “What does this photograph mean?”
Mr. Larson was probably a little over thirty
when James and his
mother had last discussed the possibility of the man in the photo being Mr.
Larson. That was roughly fifty years ago, making Mr. Larson at least eighty
years old. He looked to be a spry sixty. Not much different than how he looked
in the picture.
Mr. Larson reached out and gently closed
the album. He looked over
James’ shoulder as if to make sure they were alone in the store. “I don’t
really know where to start,” he said. “And I don’t know if you’ll be able to
accept what I’m about to tell you. You’re about fifty-something—no, wait, don’t
interrupt—and you were about fifty-something when this photograph was
“You were your great grandmother’s
uncle on her father’s side. A
month after the wedding, you were killed in a hunting accident. You “went away”
for a “reconstitution” after that first death, and eventually went on to go
through four more reconstitutions. You’ve always been quite accident prone.
“And then you were born in this town…to
“Your father was a good man, but he
wasn’t your biological father;
you started as a fertilized egg implanted in your mother. That egg contained
your own DNA material. Reconstitution is a sort of cloning process that uses a
natural birth mother for incubation.
“As to how old I am, I’ll
be two hundred and fifty in a couple of years.”
Mr. Larson stopped then and fixed James with
a stare as if to let
him absorb what he had just heard.
James stared back. “Go on,” he
“There are eighty-seven of us scattered
throughout the world. When
one of us dies, usually by accident or murder, that person’s spirit and a small
sample of tissue go to an underground facility deep in a cave in the mountains
near Denver. He or she is then reconstituted and reborn.”
“You said you were almost two hundred
and fifty years old,” said
James. “You’ve never died?”
“I’m one of nine who have never
used the reconstitution facilities.
Every fifty years or so we have to liquidate our assets and move on to a new
location. People start to look at us a little funny when we don’t seem to age
“I’ll be moving on from here
very soon. I’ll stop at the facility
for a “tune-up,” a complex makeover so that I appear to be about twenty-five or
so. Then I’ll start a new life. ”
“What has all this to do with me?”
asked James. “Where do I fit
“You’re one of us, Jimmy. I told
your mom she should tell you, but
she wanted you to live a normal life.
“And you have up until now. But we
don’t age much after we reached
the age of fifty or so. In another twenty years people you know will start
wondering about you. Your mother always said she would tell you someday, but
then she was killed by that hit-and-run driver.”
“And you’re sure my mother was
one of you? One of us?”
Mr. Larson opened the album to the sepia
picture. “After you found
you and me, did you finish looking closely at the rest of the people in this
picture? Did you look closely at this
face?” he said pointing at an older woman in the back row.
“Your mother is at the facility in
Colorado. She’s getting
reconstituted; she’ll be born somewhere about nine or ten months from now. I’ll
talk to some people to find where she ends up and let you know.”
“Thanks, Mr. Larson,” said James,
extending his hand. “I’d
appreciate that. After I have a tune-up in a year or so, could it be arranged
that I go to the area where she will live? Maybe it could be said that I’m her
uncle on her mother’s side. I’d like to be a part of her life as she grows up.”
“Of course, Jimmy,” said Mr.
Larson. “You and your mother are one
“One of us,” Jimmy mused. “But
what are we? How is it that we can
live so many lifetimes? Who established the facility in Colorado and developed
the necessary scientific database to help us maintain those lifetimes?”
“That’s too much to discuss at
a hardware store counter, Jimmy. Why
don’t you come to my house for dinner tonight? I can give you a tutorial on our
“I’ll be there at 7:00. Can I
bring a bottle of Merlot?’
“That would be great,” said Mr.
Larson, giving James a hug and then
walking him to the door. “But better make that two bottles of Merlot, okay?”
James arrived at Mr. Larson’s house
a few minutes before seven.
Walking up the steps to the front porch, he noticed the front door was ajar.
“Mr. Larson?” he called. “It’s
James Benson. Should I come in?”
James pushed open the front door and stopped
when he saw Mr. Larson
lying on the floor in the hallway.
“Yes, do come in, James,” said
a voice from the living room.
“You’re just in time.”
James didn’t move. “Just in time
for what?” he asked.
“We’ll be taking Bill Larson
to Colorado for reconstitution. It’s
his time. You can come with us if you’re finished with your mother’s house.”
“But his head is bleeding,” said
James. “That looks like a gunshot
“It is a gunshot wound, James,”
said another voice from within the
house. “Bill will need more than physical reconstitution; he’s going to need
“Bill was the hit-and-run driver who
killed your mother,” said First
Voice. “They had a disagreement, and he killed her.”
“We police ourselves,” said Second
Voice. “We can’t allow one of
our own to go rogue and jeopardize us all.”
“But, you…killed Mr.
Larson?” said James.
“He resisted,” said the First
Voice. “He wouldn’t agree to do what
needed to be done.”
“You’re one of us, James,”
said Second Voice. “But Bill’s mind
wasn’t…quite right. He may have even been planning to kill you tonight.”
James hesitated. This was all happening so
fast. But the photo
album backed up what Mr. Larson had said. The people in that sepia photograph
told a strange story, but one James had no trouble believing.
Looking again at Mr. Larson, he didn’t
seem to be someone who was
dead, but someone in need of help, in the form of reconstitution.
“After we get Mr. Larson…packed
up, I’ve got two bottles of Merlot
here,” he said. “And I think that’s tomato sauce I smell coming from the
“Yes?” said First Voice.
“I’m one of you,” said
James, “one of you.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, of Madison, WI, who
wrote BP #87’s “The Sepia Photograph” (+ BP #86’s“New Orleans Take-Out” &
“Not This Time”; BP #85’s “Door County Getaway” & “The Gift”; BP #84’s
“Goodbye to Nowhere Land” & “Nobody Should Be at 1610 Maple St.”; BP #83’s
“Door #2”; BP #82’s “A Nowhere Friend” & “Foundling”; BP #81’s “Nowhere
in Nowhere Land” & “The Box with Pearl Inlay”; BP #80’s “Andrew’s War”
& “Down at the Hardware Store”; BP #79’s “Cellmates” & “Get Some
Shelter”; BP #78’s “All Is as It Should Be”; BP #77’s “Essence of Andrew”; BP
#76’s “Flirting with the Alley”; BP #75’s “The Enemy of My Enemy…”; BP #74’s
“Doesn’t Play Well with Others”; BP #73’s “A Journey Starts with a Flower”; BP
#72’s “The Beach House”; BP #71’s “The Big Apple Bites”; BP #70’s “Borrowing
Some Love”; and BP #69’s “Back in Town” and “Finding Good Help…”), is retired
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a
voracious reader for 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school
friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious
writer. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Birds Piled
Loosely, Burningword Literary Journal, Cease Cows,
Crack The Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Every Day Fiction,
Flash Fiction Magazine,
Flash Fiction Press, Gap-Toothed
Madness, Gravel, Lake City Lights,
Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun
Honey, The Creativity Webzine, Theme
of Absence, The Screech Owl, The Story
Shack, & Yellow Mama.