CHAZ bounded out of school and towards the bus stop. Like it knew it was a special day, the bus pulled up immediately, and Chaz got on, chose a window seat at the back and pulled out his smartphone and started tweeting.
“Birthday: so far so brilliant. On way home for family dinner. Recording equipment in the offing? Or even ukulele?? Sick!”
Five minutes later, he’d already had 46 favourites and 104 retweets. He’d even got 22 new followers today. Ten on twitter, and 12 on his YouTube channel. Life was sweet.
He got out his phone to film himself for a new vlog.
“Yo brothers and sisters it’s the day of my birth so I’m full of mirth for what it’s worth down here on earth, where we live and love to celebrate and I feel just great…”
“And it’s you I hate, so just levitate yo ass out of here,” someone who was passing him in the bus chanted.
Chaz shut off his phone. “Sod off, Dan.”
“So happy birthday, Mate,” Dan sang and got off the bus.
Minutes later, it was Chaz’s stop. Once he was home, he was planning to go straight to his room to download his video into his computer and finish his vlog. But his mum called him over. Both his parents were sitting at the table with a lovely large chocolate cake, covered with candles. God, he loved birthdays. He looked about for parcels but didn’t see any. But that was no reason to worry. Probably his present was recording equipment, and it was upstairs. That’s why they detained him. Sick.
He wished his sister could be there, too, but she’d left the family more or less years ago. Actually, come to think of it, it wasn’t long after her 16th birthday. Maybe she didn’t get what she wanted. On the other hand, the parents were a bit past it. Always going on about books written by old farts. Whatever. What could you expect? Now he communicated with his sister through Twitter mostly. She was far away in Edinburgh, studying to become a forensic pathologist. Each to his own.
“Hey Mum, Dad,” said Chaz, plonking himself down on the couch.
“Happy birthday, Charles,” said his mum.
“You’re 16 now,” said his dad. “We’d like to have a talk with you about something.”
“Yeah, sure. Can we have the cake while we’re talking?” said Chaz.
“In a minute,” said his dad. “We’d like to talk to you a bit about your future.”
“Do we have to do it now?”
“Yes, Charles. I think it’s time.”
“In the future, you know, I’d rather you called me Chaz.”
“That’s sort of what we want to talk to you about,” said his mum.
“You see,” his father started. “It’s like this, Son. You’re not really our son. Not our biological son, anyway.”
“What? I’m adopted?” Chaz gasped.
“Kind of, and kind of not,” said his mother.
“Your mother gave birth to you,” said his dad. “She incubated you, so to speak. But your genetic material is completely different.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“Charles… you really are Charles. About 17 years ago, we acquired something very valuable in an auction. It was something belonging to a famous author called Charles Dickens.”
“So I’m named after him?” asked Chaz.
“Let me finish,” said his father. “We acquired Charles Dickens’s toothpick.”
This was a bit of an anticlimax, Chaz thought. What next? William Shakespeare’s fingernail scissors?
“A magnificent relic,” said his mother.
“I don’t know if we had the idea before or after we got it,” said his father.
“It kind of all happened at once,” said his mum.
“But we had this incredible idea,” his father continued. “Charles Dickens was one of the greatest literary geniuses of all time. What a thing to give to the world, to bring back Charles Dickens. To let him continue his great work and bring beauty and literature into the world.”
Chaz could sense that this conversation was not going in a good way. And that, when it was over, he might actually not be in much of a mood for chocolate cake.
“So we had the toothpick examined for residual genetic material,” his father said. “And then we managed to revive it and grow it. And clone it.”
There was a silence. Chaz was first to speak.
“No,” he said.
“That’s right, Son. You are Charles Dickens.”
“The clone of Charles Dickens,” Chaz corrected his father.
“Yes, but that means you are, in fact, Charles Dickens.”
“But I’m not Charles Dickens,” Chaz protested. “I don’t want to be Charles Dickens. I’m Chaz. I don’t even like his bloody books.”
“Oh, come now, that’s not entirely true,” said his mum. “You’ve hardly given them a chance. You liked A Christmas Carol.”
“So?” Chaz demanded.
“That’s Charles Dickens,” said his sort-of mother. “He – you – wrote that.”
“THAT WAS THE MUPPETS!” Chaz shouted.
“All the same, Charles Dickens – you – wrote it.”
“I did not! I HATE writing.”
“You write all the time,” said his mum.
“I TWEET all the time,” said Chaz. “I tweet. On Twitter. I do vlogs Video blogs, in case you’re so bloody past it you don’t know or even notice. Not the same as writing huge, effing, boring novels is it?”
“Charles…” started his father.
“I’m Chaz, dammit. I hate being called Charles. I’m Chaz. C. H. A. Z. And you’ve just stolen my life from me. You’ve stolen my life. I had a life, and now you say it’s somebody else’s.”
“No, we’ve given you a life. A very illustrious…”
“No, stolen. I never wanted all those books you keep throwing at me. I hate books. What happened to the ukulele I asked for?”
“That’s not a serious instrument, Charles. Books are enduring works of art,” said his father.
“They’re past it,” Chaz screamed. “Just like you. I tweet. I have 12,000 followers. And counting. And I just put my first rap vlog on YouTube. I’ve got followers there, too. Not quite as many, but counting. I might even…”
Chaz was about to say, might even get a book deal, but that would have been counter productive.
“And you’re telling me I’m supposed to sit down and write these huge, insanely boring novels that nobody wants to read because, wait for it, because ‘I’m a gift for humanity’?”
“You make it sound like it’s a bad thing,” said his dad.
“OMG, I’ve had enough of this shit,” screamed Chaz, and ran out of the house, slamming the door behind him. He immediately pulled out his smartphone and started walking very quickly down the street while he typed into it.
“omg u can’t believe what psycho tossers mum and dad are. U were so right to escape,” he wrote to his sister Jane on Twitter.
The user imnotjane responded within seconds.
“O I can. It is a truth universally acknowledged that our parents are toerags.”
“U won’t believe what they told me.”
“Try me,” tweeted imnotjane. “But maybe not on Twitter.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the German magazine Spotlight