***WARNING--mature themes, violence, and gruesome images.***
An ecosystem was rapidly forming in the various orifices of Henry Levartson's body. Blowflies were the first to take up residence, choosing for their homes primarily his ears, nose and the gaping wounds in his chest and forearms. As darkening yellow segmented bodies twisted, crawled, and burrowed deeper, tiny eggs opened to reveal miniature versions of the same. In turn, predatory rove beetles settled and feasted upon the growing maggots.
Along with the typical decomposition, rats gnawed at Henry's body with more gusto than Henry had ever been able to muster for his own life. As the days passed, dogs smelled his decomposing corpse and tried unsuccessfully to pull away from their owners to investigate the source in the ravine. Had they succeeded, the insects and animals would have helped determine the time and cause of Henry's death. As it was, they served only to destroy the little that still remained.
One day when Henry was still alive and young enough to lay claim to all of his 15 ½ years, he decided home was unbearable. He left a short note to that effect, packed a few belongings, and fled. He always thought he'd go back; it seemed inevitable. But hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into years, and no one came looking for him. For a long time, he compulsively checked wanted posters wherever he went, partially because he was curious what people would think he’d look like years later, and partially because he wondered if he was missed at all.
There were never any milk containers with his picture, enhanced or otherwise, nor any flyers posted in the entrances of grocery stores. There was no search party, and certainly no media reports or public outrage either while he was alive or after he had died. Henry wouldn't have been surprised to learn of his solitude after death; in the five years, eight months, two weeks, and three days he’d lived since he'd left home, Henry had gradually lost his ability to feel surprise or much of anything.
Sometimes he'd make some money panhandling and would buy drugs that made him feel something, a spark of life, a splash of colour on the black and white canvas that was his existence. Always, it wore off too quickly. For a long time, it bothered him that he felt so little, but gradually that faded too.
In the same city that Henry Levartson lived, Konrad Platt and Martin Rummer also resided. Just like Henry, Konrad and Martin went through each day looking for a way to feel alive. For a time they satisfied themselves with encounters with young women, drugs, and alcohol, but they soon found it wasn’t enough.
Eventually, ever so casually, Martin mentioned he’d had a dream in which he’d killed someone.
“By accident?” Konrad asked, “Or on purpose?”
Martin shrugged, and took another swig of his beer. “Does it matter? It was just a dream.”
Konrad threw his empty bottle out of the window. “You ever killed anyone before?”
Konrad shook his head slowly. “Almost,” he said, regretfully, but didn’t elaborate, even when Martin gestured with his almost-empty beer bottle for him to continue.
Martin was quiet for a moment. He finished the last of his beer and threw the bottle out of the same window Konrad had. When he finally spoke the words that would change their lives, that would connect them to one another, and to Henry, it was with a laugh.
“You wanna try it again?” Martin said, “We’re only seventeen once...”
Konrad’s answer came by way of a smile and an already formed plan.
It was a Wednesday. Clouds crowded the darkening sky as Martin and Konrad met on the street mere blocks from their respective houses.
“I’m just curious, you know?” Martin said, “What it feels like.”
“Yeah.” Konrad lit his cigarette. “Just gotta pick the right one.”
Martin nodded. “Right. The right one. Which one’s the right one?”
“Him,” Konrad said. He gestured towards Henry, who was slouched against a wall.
“Him,” Martin echoed, and looked at Henry with more contempt than interest.
“Hey.” Henry looked up, finally noticing them. “Spare some change?”
Konrad grinned at him, and elbowed Martin. “Come with us, we’ll give you a lot of change. Eh, Martin?”
Lowering his voice, he added, “What? Death is change!” and Martin laughed.
Henry followed Martin and Konrad without question deep into the nearby ravine. The truth, if he’d thought to tell it, was that he’d forgotten why he’d gone with them to begin with. By the time he remembered he’d been promised money, and started to ask for it with a smile, Martin and Konrad had begun their assault. Henry raised his arms to protect himself, but it was a futile gesture.
The two boys overpowered him faster and with more ease than they’d anticipated. They kicked until Henry’s legs and ribs were broken, and punched until his face split and blood spilled out, and his head caved in. Martin and Konrad whooped and laughed feverishly. Henry fell to the ground, let out one low mourning moan, and died.
Afterwards, Martin and Konrad covered Henry’s body with fallen leaves and branches and when they looked back, they were satisfied that he could not been seen even if someone was looking for him. They peeled off their outer clothes, revealing the bloodless ones underneath, put them into a garbage bag and threw it away as they emerged from the ravine. No one noticed.
“I’m glad,” said Martin, “glad that I know.”
Konrad smiled and slapped Martin on the back in agreement.
When the body was eventually discovered, and determined to be human remains, Henry was known henceforth only as John Doe. When Martin and Konrad heard of this, Konrad proclaimed it the punch line.
The boys grew into men; they each found careers, married, and raised children. And they still speak, on occasion—but never of Henry Levartson.
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