I just really liked the idea of writing a story where the main character is best friends with death. I don’t necessarily see death as a scary thing, maybe because I have a mental disease that’s gotten me close and personal with suicide or because I’m fairly religious. I also, at the time of writing this, had a friend from Romania whose nickname was ‘Grim’ and who also was rather dark and anxious like I was at times. We both got a little more friendly with death that is probably healthy. Sadly, this is as far as the story went. When I write a story, what decides whether it lives or not is if one of the characters decides to tell it to me. I know that sounds weird and artsy fartsy, but it’s the best way I have to describe it. I have to hear the ‘voice’ of a character.
No one is talking to me yet with this one.
My Friend Named Death
By T.S. Lowe
I met her the night of my first, painful menstruation.
I had lived so long as a boy, I had nearly forgotten all it meant to be female, including that sometimes they bleed out their privates. But my mother had never explained why, and with it no one had explained the pain. Looking back I was extremely lucky to have started at fourteen rather than twelve like a good many girls, but that didn’t make me any less terrified that I was either dying or that my bleeding would be discovered by the Captains of the Abbey, along with my gender, and I would be killed…or raped, and then killed.
Yes, women weren’t treated all that well in those days.
Which was why her sheer gender stunned me more than her snow white hair and moon-like glow. She was so obviously…girly. Delicate, beautiful, long-haired, fair, soft—everything I was not, thank the Gods.
But just because she was a girl didn’t make me any less terrified to be found with my pants down, bleeding from a hole in my body I wasn’t suppose to have along with diarrhea next to a tree. I had chosen my hiding spot of weakness very carefully, and it horrified me that anyone would have found me.
No, I didn’t start sobbing. The Abbey, and my own fear, had beaten crying out of us boys long ago. But I did get awfully close. I blame the head throbbing lava in my lower abdomen and the day of stress and panic.
She gasped in surprise. And her nose did wrinkle in disgust (because I smelled like a ripe ol’ flower shitting out my insides and blood), but then it was overrun by such…I didn’t know. It wasn’t like the mock pity I’d seen the Captains give a boy they’ve soundly broken. It was softer, and touched a part of me that had been raw and ignored since my mother had died.
That’s when I started to cry.
“It’s alright!” She reached out to touch my face and tears with her tiny, white fingers. “Oh, you poor thing, I know that pain.”
“Shut up!” I recoiled from her and fought to get my pants back on, mortified. She hadn’t seen, had she? My pants had to have been in the way.
She did pull back her hands, but the stupid soft look on her face didn’t leave. I tried to stand, wobbled as a new wave of heated agony rushed through my hips and lower back, and stumbled, nearly stepping into my own pile of ass-sick.
She caught my elbow with one hand. Her other had stuck her finger into her mouth. I shook her off just as she brought it back out, and I noticed a break of scarlet on the tiny pale thing.
“Here, open your mouth.”
“Like hell! Get away from me you sick freak of nature, what are you? A harpy?”
That must have hurt her. I wanted it too. But even if she was, she ignored it, taking advantage of my pain to push be back onto the ground. As I gasped from the sudden movement, she stuck her finger into my mouth.
I had tasted blood before. I knew the tang very, very well. Every Abbey boy did.
But hers was sweet. Still that salty tang of metal, but it came though as though I were eating strawberry preserves on an old spoon.
I don’t know how long she let me endure the humiliation of sucking on her finger, but when she gently slipped it out with a ‘pop,’ my pain had gone. My stomach and intestines had stopped rolling.
“This time of month sucks,” she said. “I guess you and me are some of the unlucky ones that have to deal with extra pain.”
I shook myself free of the daze. What had her blood done to me? What kind of weird witch was she? Then I stared at her for a long moment, and she stared back, oddly calm for someone sitting with a fully armed stranger in the middle of a forest next to a pile of steaming blood and shit. Oh, and it was night. Deep night.
Then I realized the wetness on my face. I touched it, like I couldn’t quite remember tears, which was ridiculous. All the little ones I allowed to curl up in my bunk wet my tunic with their tears.
Though the pain had left, I still trembled. I dropped my eyes to stare hard at a mud stain on her ratty, flour sack dress. I hadn’t even noticed how ugly it was because of how unused to any kind of pretty thing I was.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I whispered.
“What? That you had your time of month?”
“Yes,” I took steadying breath. “And that I’m…not a boy. They’ll kill me.”
She gave me a toothy, dry smile, with not a hint of joy.
“Don’t have to worry there. If I said a word, they’d kill me too.”
After the war there were a lot of orphans that lost both their parents. War brings a lot more with it than people killing each other. Famine abounded, with few farmers to till the land and most of the food going to the soldiers. In a country where women are allowed to run very few businesses and denied rights to lands, those women who weren’t pretty or desperate enough for the brothels were left to starve, along with their children.
But I was one of the lucky ones. My mother had been beautiful and plenty desperate to feed me. But more than that, she was cleverer than most people. Cleverer than even anyone I have met to this day.
Because of this, she knew she would eventually fall to the degenerating sickness that fell on most women in the war-sprung brothels, brought on by dirty men and poisonous birth controls. Long before the sickness took place, she presented me as a little boy two years older than I really was. She helped me to learn the disguise well, to not only look the part, but be the part. She told me everything I must do once she died, despite my reluctance to even consider the fact. All children have a desperate need to believe their mothers will live forever.
But, mother did die. And because I was a boy, the brothel sent me to the Abbey rather than leave me to her fate. Acting two years older than I was wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I soon came to realize, but it was important to not get too comfortable. Girls grew faster than boys, mother had told me. No one will get suspicious when I hit my growth spurt early while among older boys.
Course, I couldn’t do everything perfectly. And puberty comes with breasts, and my mother hadn’t the grace to birth me with a blocky, more manly body.
His name had been Connor.
All the boys were groups into rooms according to their age, but were watched over by older boys who were trusted by the Captains to help them maintain control and be good examples of what a real man was. Some of these boys were cruel, many were indifferent, and some few blessed ones were angels. Little ones would creep over to rooms where these kind ones were known to sleep, not caring that they would be punished in the morning.
Connor hadn’t been one of these boys. He had been indifferent, and didn’t really much care what was going on in our bunk at night and free times as long as it didn’t get him in trouble. Most nights he slipped out to unknown places anyways, and most of us were thankful enough for that.
One night, when I was twelve and believed everyone to be sound asleep, I got down and headed to the lavatory to relieve myself. Thankfully, we had some level of privacy in the form of wooden stalls, but in the early days I’d often wait till night to use it. I thought myself careful. I wasn’t the only one too. Other younger, shyer boys would wait till the bathroom was empty, if they could. Older boys could be cruel when catching someone with their pants down.
But that night, Connor hadn’t walked past the stall and noticed anything. Most boys at night didn’t. He had walked past as I had my shirt off to give my small, but horribly still existent, breasts a meager breath
of fresh air and rub down before being wrapped back up.
At first, Connor left me alone. For a day I expected my death to come on me (girls in the Abbey were strictly not allowed, and girls pretending to be men were haughty heretics), but it didn’t come. And it didn’t take long to realize why.
He tried to be sly in luring me alone with threats of revealing me. I knew what he wanted. I had been raised in a brothel for three years. I may not know the particulars of reproduction and menstruation, but I remembered why men sought women. I lived the past two years with all ages of boys, and that included young men, after all.
I had a knife. All of us had knives on hand. We orphans were being trained to be useful to our country, and the cheapest way to do that was to become soldiers. And in my fear of being found to be the weaker gender, I had trained vigorously, even more so than most.
If Connor had paid more attention to the younger boys in his watch, he might have known that.
As things turned out, he ended up dead.
I didn’t want it to go that far. I had hoped to…what? Convince him to keep his mouth shut? I must not have been blessed with my mother’s intelligence, because he had crushed me beneath him and managed to get himself between my legs before my training snapped in. I twisted, lashed out, and the next thing I knew he was laying there, pants down, and glassy eyed.
Even though I knew it was for the best, that I had only been defending myself, I couldn’t eat for days, nor sleep for the nightmares.
This was the ugly side of the Abbey. This was the ugly side of men.
But not all of it was ugly.
I found my reason to keep going in the little ones.
Little boys, barely old enough to not be called babies anymore, were sometimes brought to the Abbey. At night they would cry for their mommies, for the chill, for any number of reason. The kinder boys, those rare lights in the dark, would usher these little ones into their beds and be at their side when the Captains would lose patience for them. Cold and desperately lonely myself, I happily allowed my bunk to fill with the unwanted little ones. I would be equally mocked and thanked by those eager to get sleep. I soon became well known for my tolerance, and some would bring unruly little ones that tried even the most patient of boys. I don’t know why it was easier for me than others. I just hugged them and cleaned their little hands and faces as my mother had for me.
If anyone mistook my tolerance as weakness, my blade and fists would quickly persuade them otherwise.
The same thing that allowed me to use violence to protect my image was what made the Captains turn the other way when Connor’s body was found. With so many boys and so few able men to watch over them all, they depended more than they probably should on the inmates of the Abbey to keep order.
After all, we had nowhere else to go. Here we were at least fed well and kept in comfy beds. Even children could manage a basic, primitive way of order, if needed.
And thankfully, while my mother’s genes didn’t make me stocky, thick, or as strong as I would like, they didn’t stop me from growing tall. Perhaps that was my father poking through in my blood. And I used every bit of that height and hours of drills that most avoided to keep myself ahead of the game.
I didn’t much care for bullies, and I eventually was grateful, because of the little ones, that I’d killed one, as everyone knew of it.
And it was surrounded by all those snuffling, little bodies that I finally found some sleep without nightmares.
I didn’t cath