“Thank God,” his mother was whispering. She was hugging him and rocking him back and forth like he was a baby. “Thank God it was her and not you. Thank God.” She was crying.
During the months that followed, Jason’s parents hardly let him out of their sight, let alone out of the yard. Bradley and Frederick occasionally came by to see him, but they were distant and very subdued. Jason thought it was because of what happened to Stephanie, but later began to realize it was something else. It had something to do with what Jason’s father had told him, that Bradley, Frederick and Stephanie were Dittos and Jason was the real thing, a natural child. The other children were “replaceable”
and Jason was not.
It was almost nine months to the day when he heard Stephanie was alive again. Her mother and father brought her over so that Jason could see her, because they said he was a hero for trying so hard to bring her out of the canyon. He was perplexed when they held out a tiny bundle of blankets. Jason held her in his arms, a tiny little figure with no hair and stubby arms and legs. He could see a little of Stephanie in the baby’s face, but that was all.
When they left, he tugged on his mother’s sleeve and said, “That wasn’t Stephanie.”
“Yes it was, Jason. It’s just that she’s younger than she was.”
He didn’t believe her. He couldn’t. Even when he was older and understood the concept, she still wasn’t the same person to him. She grew to look just like the Stephanie he knew; she acted the same, talked the same … but she didn’t look at him the same.
Over the years the colony’s forests and farmlands spread past the horizon, and thousands upon thousands of new people came there to live and work. Jason, as a man, often walked to the canyon’s edge and stared into the mists, throwing rocks and – sometimes – even calling out Stephanie’s name. When the ghostly echoes came back he liked to imagine it was her spirit drifting in the mist, answering. During these times he would leave the canyon feeling a little better, a little lighter, as if she had reached out through the mist and touched him.