First off, just let me say that I work as a thief. Not exactly proud of that, but hey, when you drop out of school at the age of 15, with no one to take care of you (both my parents are dead), you got to find a way to survive. Somehow breaking in houses and stealing came naturally to me.
I have been doing this for a while now, mainly breaking into big houses in those wealthy suburbs, looking for expensive things that I can steal and sell it off. Cash is usually the best item, but rich people rarely keep them around. Jewelry, trinkets, paintings, electronics, these are my usual targets.
About a week ago, I was in this neighbourhood nestled in between a golf course and the beach. It was the prime residential area in the city, where the richest stayed. They even had their own security team patrols.
Call it career advancement, but I had always wanted to break into houses in areas like this. Sprawling mansions, extensive gardens and massive walls. One could only dream of the riches that awaited me in these houses.
Getting into them was the tricky part. These rich people usually have an array of security measures installed — CCTVs, guard dogs and alarm rigged doors — but to an industry veteran, they were nothing more than minor annoyances.
I was over the walls in a matter of minutes, quietly sprinting towards the grand white mansion in the middle of the compound. My first target in the neighbourhood. The house was supposed to be empty tonight, as I earlier spotted a car leaving the place, and the windows were mostly dark.
Flinging my ropes up to the white columns that extended from the second floor, I pulled myself up to what must be the master bedroom's balcony. Tip for breaking into houses: Try to enter through the upper floors. They usually tend to be less guarded.
Climbing over the railing and unto a marble floor, I was greeted with the sight of a glass sliding door. Nothing unusual, until I saw what was behind the door. Or rather, who.
Staring right back at me was the face of a little girl. She was wearing a bright blue pajamas, and her hands were tied above her, around the metal bedframe she was leaning on. A duct tape was plastered across her mouth. Her hazel eyes implored me to free her.
But what unnerved me the most, however, was that her face was one that I recognized. My sister's daughter, Julie. What was she doing here, being tied up in a completely random house? And why hasn't Julie told me about her daughter being missing? Why didn't she inform the police?
Questions filled my head as I rushed to the door, unlocking it with the tools that I brought. But I had to free Julie first. My hands worked expertly at the lock, and with a satisfying click, I pushed the glass door opened and made my way to Julie. I quickly made my way to Julie, cutting the ropes that held her and removing her gag.
"Uncle Tom!" she cried out and hugged me tightly as soon as I was done. Her skin was bruised in multiple places, and I could not bear to think of what she may have been subjected to.
"Shh, don't worry, Uncle Tom is here to save you," I reassured her, hugging her tightly. Julie smelled like she has been there for days. She was trembling uncontrollably in my arms, whimpering.
Thoughts of stealing anything was out of my mind then. I knew I had to get Julie out. My ears scanned the surrounding, trying to hear if anyone heard the commotion. Aside from Julie's whimpering, the house was dead silent.
I pulled Julie away from me, but my hands remained firmly on her shoulders. "Okay Julie, Uncle Tom is going to get you back to mummy. But I will need you to follow my instructions and stay real quiet, okay?" She nodded her head.
It was slightly more challenging to exit the place with a child in tow, but Julie's small size made it easier. I was out from the house in less than half an hour, driving at full speed to my sister Amanda's house. She must be worried sick.
Beside me, Julie just sat quietly, with the occasional soft sob. "Don't worry Jules," I reassured her. "We'll be reaching mummy's house soon."
My free hand reached out for my phone, as I quickly dialed Amanda's number. A sleepy but clearly grumpy voice greeted me on the other end.
"Why the hell are you calling me at 2am, Tom?"
"What do you mean what the hell? Aren't you worried that Jules is missing?" I asked.
It was Amanda's turn to be confused. "What do you mean Jules is missing? She's sleeping right here beside us!" She switched the call to FaceTime, and sleeping soundly on the cot was Julie, in the same bright blue pajamas.
It was then when I realized why Amanda had not been even a little worried at all that her daughter was missing. Because she never was. But if that's the case, who's the girl sitting next to me?
"Uh, sorry, my mistake! Am drinking a lot!" I immediately said, before hanging up the phone.
"Uncle Tom, are we reaching home soon?" the Julie who was sitting beside me asked. I can't help but to feel a sudden chill run up my spine.
"Uhm, your mummy isn't home right now," I bluffed. "So you'll stay with Uncle Tom tonight alright?"
I drove back to my house, with more questions than answers in my head. One the girl was clearly not Julie. And I could feel something sinister happening behind the scenes. I guess it's up to me to find out.
“Uncle Tom, why aren’t we going home yet?” Julie asked me repeatedly. It was a question that I didn’t have the answer to, because I simply didn’t know what was happening. Amanda, my sister, clearly showed me that there was a Julie sleeping in her house when I called her, and yet, there was another Julie right beside me. How on earth did I end up with two identical nieces, when I should have only one?
“Okay Jules,” I said as I sat Julie down opposite me. “Before Uncle Tom can bring you back to mummy, can you tell me what I bought you for your birthday last year?”
“Rainbow Dash!” Julie shouted, her face breaking into a smile. “And you brought Julie to Hello Kitty Land!” Well, at least she got that correct.
“Good girl. Uncle Tom will bring you home tomorrow, okay? I promise. But tonight you’ll stay here, alright?” I tried to reassure her.
She nodded weakly, her round eyes staring at me. “Uncle Tom?”
“Will the bad guys come and take me away again?”
“No they are not,” I sat beside her, bringing her into a hug. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
After that, I called my girlfriend Elsie over, to help me look after Julie while I formulate my next steps in my head. She wasn’t too happy at me disturbing her sleep in the middle of the night, but I told her it was an emergency and she reluctantly agreed.
Thirty minutes later, familiar humming of Elsie’s car told me that she was here. She asked me what the emergency was, and I told her that my sister had asked me to look after Julie for the night, and I needed her help. A necessary lie, as Elsie did not know about my “job” and it would be hard to explain to her about me finding a duplicate of my niece in a mansion I was breaking into. It was up to me alone to figure out the truth.
That night, I didn’t manage to get a good night’s sleep. I dreamt that I was back in the mansion, climbing over the balcony again, in the cover of darkness. But instead of Julie, what awaited me behind the glass door was not Julie, but myself. Tied to the bedframe, slumped lifelessly over. I walked slowly towards my own body, my hands reaching out to touch it.
Just as I was about to make contact, its head suddenly jerked up, my face morphed into Julie’s. Only that she looked different. Her cheeks was melting off her face, like some sort of goo.
“Uncle Tom, save me,” she cried from beneath the grotesque sight, her face splattering on the floor, revealing her skull underneath.
I jolted awake in cold sweat, finding myself back in my room, Julie and Elsie sleeping soundly near me. Elsie had helped to clean Julie up and put her to sleep earlier, before falling asleep herself. My gaze lingered on Julie, again wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. If only I had not broken into the mansion earlier. For the remaining of the night I could not bring myself to sleep, the sight of Julie’s face melting before me burned unto my mind.
The next morning, I asked Elsie to keep Julie busy. I lied again, saying that I needed to run some errands. Elsie gave me a suspicious look, but did not protest.
“Just make sure you come back before lunch,” she simply said, and I told her I will.
I drove immediately to Amanda’s house.
“What’s the great idea calling me yesterday night at 3am?” My sister was clearly furious when she saw me standing outside her house.
“Hey sis!” I jovially greeted Amanda, trying to avoid her question as I walked past her and into her place. Amanda gave a frustrated grunt before closing the door behind me. Her husband Joe was not around, but seated on the carpet of the living room, playing with a soft toy was Julie, still in her blue pyjamas. The smell of cooking breakfast hung invitingly in the air. But I was not there to eat.
“How’s my favourite niece doing?” I called out to Julie, my sister’s Julie, as I made my way to her.
Julie turned towards me, a smile flashing across her face. “Uncle Tom!” she cried with delight as she ran to me and hugged my legs. My eyes shifted towards the toy that she left on the carpet.
“Say Jules,” I kneeled down to her height, an idea forming in my mind. I was going to prove that she was a fake. “What’s that toy you’re playing over there?”
“Oh that one!” Julie went to pick up the toy and ran back to me. “It’s Rainbow Dash! Uncle Tom gave me on my birthday! And brought Julie to Hello Kitty land!”
My heart sank. I couldn’t differentiate the both of them. Both Julies acted and talked the same way. But surely one of them must be fake?
A tap on my shoulder broke my focus. Amanda’s stern face was waiting for me. “Mister Tom, you’ve not explain why you were calling me at 3am yesterday. And what are you doing over at my house so early in the morning?”
I struggled to come up with an answer, my mind still trying to grapple with what was taking place. Before I could answer my sister, however, my phone started to ring. It was Elsie. I hurriedly stepped out of the house to answer the call, worried that something wrong may have taken place.
The voice at the end of the line, however, wasn’t Elsie’s. It was the voice of a man, heavily muffled and distorted.
“Come back to the white mansion. Tell no one.”
After I received the weird call from Elsie’s phone, I drove home immediately. Despite the instruction to head to the white mansion immediately. I didn’t know why I did that. Perhaps a part of me didn’t trust the phone call. They were not even supposed to know it was me who broke into their house and took Julie.
Amanda was just as confused when I told her that I suddenly need to leave without giving her a reason, but I figured that the less she knows, the better. I certainly did not want to drag my sister into whatever mess that I was walking into. Like they said, ignorance is bliss.
When I reached my house, I could immediately see that my gate has been left wide open. I parked by the driveway and rushed in immediately. The front door of my house was also left open, the people who had been here wanted to immediately.
“Julie! Elsie!” I called out to an empty house, hoping to hear a reply. But who was I kidding.
I scanned the house, looking for clues of the people who took Julie and Elsie away. There was no indication of any struggle. Two plates of uneaten breakfast was left on the dining table, probably cooked by Elsie. The bedroom was not any different from the morning.
As I went back to the living room, I pulled out a pen and an A4 paper. In case I don’t make it back. On it I scribbled the address of the white mansion, along with the message: “I am headed to this place.” Just as I was finished writing, my phone rang again.
Elsie’s number. But with the same distorted man’s voice. “I thought we have politely requested for your presence at the white mansion you visited yesterday. Going back to your house and leaving a message on a paper won’t help.”
I whirled around immediately, my eyes going through the house wildly. How on earth did they know what I was doing at that exact moment in time? As just on cue, the voice continued. “There’s no need to guess how we know what you’re doing, Mr Tom. We would appreciate if you can head over immediately. Or else…”
The voice let its sentence linger. In the background, the terrified cries of Elsie and Julie were clearly audible.
“You bastards-“ I cursed through the phone, but was promptly cut off by the voice.
“Remember Mr Tom, we hope that you would let no one know of your current… situation. Two lives are in your hands, Mr Tom. And please, the clock’s ticking.” Then the line went dead.
A wave of anger mixed with fear washed over me at that moment, as I looked at my phone helplessly. I wanted to kill that bastard behind the phone so badly. I went up to my room where I kept a small handgun of mine, hoping that at least some protection would be good.
To my dismay, however, someone had already sifted through the cabinet. My gun was no longer there. I then went to the kitchen, to discover that all the knives or anything resembling a weapon have been removed. Those idiots were thorough. My brain went through other ways I could obtain a gun or at least a knife, when my phone vibrated again.
A picture of my gun, along with the message: “Mr Tom, clock’s ticking.”
“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath as I headed back to my car. Those bastards seemed to know every step that I was taking. The journey there was a blur, as my mind could only focus on rescuing Elsie and Julie. Who are these people anyway? And how are they able to be constantly one step of me?
The giant gates opened slowly as my car approached the building, inviting me in. In the day, the mansion looked normal from the outside. Like any other buildings in the neighbourhood. But behind those dark glasses, something much more sinister is going on.
The double wooden door that stood guard at the front of the house opened as my car slowly eased into the porch of the mansion. Two tall white columns held up the roof of the porch, while marble slabs covered the floor. From behind the door, a man in suit stepped out, middle-aged, his sleek dark hair combed back neatly.
I killed my engine, before stepping cautiously out. The man in suit was still full of smiles as he slowly approached me. “Welcome, Mr Tom, we’ve been waiting.” His voice was no longer distorted, but it was without a mistake the voice that spoke to me through the phone. He reached out his gloved hand to shake mine. I did not have the time for pleasantries.
“Where’s Elsie and Julie?” I demanded as I reached out to grab him. Before I could reach him, I felt a sharp pain on my neck, followed by a spell of dizziness. My vision began to spin as I struggled to keep my balance, but eventually I collapsed onto the floor. The sight of the man smiling was the last thing I saw, before everything cut to black.
When I finally woke up, I was no longer outside. I was sitting on a wooden chair in what seemed to be an empty underground room, with only a swinging light bulb above me for lighting. As my eyes adjusted to the lighting, I saw a man seated not far from me, his face hidden in the shadow. The man was wearing a different suit than the one I saw earlier. White in colour, topped with white pants.
His voice, however, was the same. “Welcome, Mr Tom. We’ve been waiting for you. Shall we begin your tour?
“Tour? Tour of what?” I asked.
The man in the suit smiled, his teeth gleamed in the dark. “Well Mr Tom, a tour of our facility, of course.”
Two men that I did not notice earlier stepped out from the shadows and cut my bonds loose. My hands felt a sharp sense of relief as the circulation flowed back to them. As I turned to see the identity of the two men, I was shocked to see that they looked exactly like the man who greeted me at the front door, the man who was opposite of me. Except that one of them was in a full red suit, while the other was in blue.
The man opposite me, whom I shall call White, seemed to have noticed my shocked expression. A soft giggle escaped his mouth, as he approached me. “No need to be alarmed, Mr Tom,” he said, before patting me softly on the shoulder. “You’ll understand soon enough.”
I felt a gentle push on my shoulder as White slowly walked to the room’s exit, beckoning for me to follow. I wondered if I could attempt to escape, but decided against it with the presence of so many hostiles around. The door was closed after me, leaving Blue and Red in the room.
We were standing at the end of a long corridor, which stank terribly. There was a mixture of rotten and piss the air, and I resorted to breathing through my mouth to stop me from gagging. White chuckled when he saw my reaction, seemingly unaffected by the horrid smell. The corridor was illuminated poorly by the same yellow bulb in the previous room, while numerous other rooms lined both the sides of the corridor.
“So Mr Tom, allow me to begin,” White said as he walked slowly down the corridor, the sole of his show clacking noisily against the rough concrete floor. We passed our first room, where an observation window allowed me to peer into it. Two men were lifting black trash bags and throwing them into a burning furnace, which licked hungrily at the contents. I saw black reddish liquid drip from the bag, and the realization of what could be in them sent shudders down my body.
“I’m sorry to be starting our tour from the back, Mr Tom, but allow me to introduce you to our incineration room,” White said as we stood in front of the window. “This is where we dispose of our waste.”
He moved away immediately after, bringing me to the next room. The room looked like a freezer with a table in the middle, with what seemed like compartments built into the wall. One man, dressed in green suit was in the room, along with what seemed like a body of a child on the table. He was operating a chainsaw, cutting through the body, and depositing his work into a black trash back next to him. I had to turn away to prevent myself from puking.
White, however, was still unaffected. “This room is where our waste gets proportionated down into smaller and more manageable pieces, before we send them to disposal.”
My mind however was reeling by then, the sight of the dead body on the table burned unto my mind. I shudder to think that it could have been Julie who was on the table.
“Where’s Julie?” I demanded, as a surge of anger boiled within me.
White maintained his posture. “But we’re still not done with the tour yet,” he said with that fake smile of his.
“WHERE’S JULIE?!” I screamed as I lunged at him, not caring about my own safety anymore. I just wanted to pummel this abomination’s face. But White was faster than me. He managed to dodge each of my attempt at punching, kicking or just grabbing him. He was stronger too. Each of his punch and kick sent immense pain all over my body. My pathetic attempt at fighting him ended in less than 5 minutes, with me lying bruised and battered on the ground, without even landing a single scratch on him.
“Well I guess you’re no longer interested in the tour,” he said chirpily, before pulling my hair and dragging me across the corridor. I could only howl in pain as he did that. He dragged me past several other rooms, which in my pain I could only catch glimpses of. Men in a laboratory setting, small cages the size of children, and what seemed to be like an operating theatre. He finally pulled me into a darkened room, lit only by flickers of blue white light.
And at the corner of the room, I saw them. Julie and Elsie. Both their hands and feet were tied, and their cheeks were still wet. They both called out to me. I tried to reach out to them, only to be met by a swift kick to my stomach by White. The pain was excruciating.
He was grinning, as I rolled over on the floor, gasping for air. The shrieks of Elsie and Julie felt like they were in a distance. White pulled a chair in between us, as he faced me. “My, my, my, what a reunion,” he teased.
“What do you want from us?” I groaned as my eyes struggled to focus amidst the pain.
White scratched his head. “Simple. Just wanted to tie up some loose ends, to ensure that the nature of my organization’s business does not leak to the public.”
“You mean your murder factory?” I asked, the sight of the body and the furnace still fresh in my mind.
He chuckled at my sentence, as he rose wand walked towards the other end of the wall. My eyes followed him, to find that the flickers of light that lit the room came from hundreds of small screens mounted on the wall, above a console with numerous buttons. The entire room was like a security room you see from the movies. White was standing in the middle of them, his silhouette edged clearly among the bright monitors.
“You see, Mr Tom, what we’re running here is a service. A service that many parents, like your sister Amanda, have come to trust and rely on,” White explained.
He continued. “You may ask what service I am running. On the surface it’s called A Better Child Center, where parents send their problematic children, like behavioural issues that your niece Julie has, for example, in the hopes of us helping them solve the issues. Make the issue go away.”
White flicked a finger, and all the images on the monitor synced to show the same thing. A recording from Amanda’s house. “While other places try to change the original child, what my place does is a step ahead of time. You see, who we are is a product of our genes, behavioural problems included, so the easiest and most effective way is to of course change our genes.”
He walked over to Julie, and pulled her over to him. She screamed and I tried to rush over to her, but to my dismay Blue and Red was already in the room, with Red firmly holding me in place. “And the fastest way to change our genes is through cloning, where the unwanted genes are removed or replaced, to generate an exact same person, only that well, there’s this issue of the original copy that we have to discard.”
I struggled against the strong grip of Red as Julie whimpered helplessly.
“There are many ways to do this, you don’t have to kill. Your methods are despicable,” I shot back.
White laughed. “What matters is not the process, Mr Tom. It’s the results. Besides, how else can I achieve my grand plan if I don’t plant a kid in every house who is under my control?”
White signalled to Blue with his free hand, who emerged with a gun in his hand. My missing gun.
“From how I see it, you have a simple choice to make right now. Either you walk away from this place a free man with your beautiful girlfriend there, or the furnace will have extra two free meals tonight. What do you say, Mr Tom?”
Blue extended my gun to me, and my hands reached out for it hesitantly. “Don’t even bother about using for escape, Mr Tom, because there’s only one bullet in the magazine,” White warned, as if reading my thoughts. My shaking hands took aim at Julie.
“I’m sorry Julie,” I muttered as I pressed the trigger. A single gunshot rang in the room.
It has been weeks since the incident, where the memory seemed like nothing but a haze now. Almost as if I watched everything from afar. Elsie and I are currently enjoying our new life, and the reason I am writing here is to let you, who is reading this, know that I am no longer a thief. Instead, I am one of the professional training execs at the prestigious A Better Child Center, where we can help to turn your out-of-control child to a dream child, with a 100% success rate. Literally.
Just don’t ask for a tour of our place!