Here is my short story – I mean NOVEL in it’s entirety – unedited.
“So, apparently, they have this little appendage between their legs that they use to insert sperm into the bodies of females.”
The crowd audibly groaned in disgusted. The normally noisy nighttime social sanctuary was abnormally quiet as the crowd listened intently to every word. One of the patrons ran out of the sanctuary, presumably to vomit.
“Inside?” a brave soul asked.
“Yes! When she took my clothes off she was surprised not to find it. She got mad and accused me of being a female. I was so confused. I guess the males of her species are tall like we are? So, she just assumed I was male. I told her I wasn’t female either. She just got mad.”
“How did you even get in that situation?”
“Honestly, the whole thing was a blur. I didn’t even understand she wanted me to put sperm inside her. That never entered my mind, obviously. She just seemed interested in seeing my body and kept rubbing me and stuff.”
“Is it true that they are warm?”
“Yes. That’s why I liked it. She was warm. Oh! Now I remember. We were all sleeping in the camp and I ended up sleeping very close to her because she was warm and she thought I wanted to do that thing they do. You know – sex without death.”
Everyone became very quiet. There was a question on everyone’s mind, but they didn’t want to ask. It was too loaded. It would ruin everyone’s fun.
“So, did you meet the old woman?” an elder, sitting in the back, asked. Judgement spit from his lips. “I heard that you met the old woman.”
My old friend
When I first started out from the village, I was excited. I had never been outside of it. Most people hadn’t. We all heard stories since we were young about adventurers leaving for far-off lands only to dry-up in the sun or become a mammal’s lunch.
I was different. I did not cling to my life the way other old-ones did. To be quite honest, I wanted to die. I never thought I’d be an old-one. I thought I would have died long ago. Don’t tell anyone. It’s our secret.
There was also a legend of a woman who didn’t want to die – a woman that did not die. Depending on who you ask either she simply refused to go to the spawning grounds to give her life for her children or she did and she simply, by some fluke of nature, survived. Nobody knows for sure.
I wanted to meet her. I wanted to kill her.
I traveled light. I had a bow and arrow to hunt. I stayed by the river. I brought my slug, Goldie, with me to watch over me at night if it got too cold. Slugs can stay active at much lower temperatures than us Bogs can.
I followed the river. I didn’t want to dry up. What a horrible way to die. I wanted to die giving life. Dying to become a desiccated corps is my only fear. You doubt me? You humans are so full of fear. I don’t know how you manage.
The land became different. The wet areas were no longer part of a marsh. The river and the land were now extremely distinct. Where the land stopped and the river began was a definite line. The water was void and empty. It was so clear! I could see the fish near the bottom. The bottom was sand, just like the ocean. It was so dry on land that I needed to submerge myself in water regularly for my skin not to itch. If I was outside of water for too long, it was hard to breath. My gills just stopped working. I do breathe air, but my body needs to be damp.
Eventually, I came to a valley where the river stretched out into a lake. The banks were full of tall grass, moss, and pitcher plants. The ground was soft. It felt wonderful.
Then, I saw her house. The old woman’s house was a cobble of reeds made into a dome. It looked like a house of an old-one. I suspected she took the same route as I did. She must have. It was the only route she could take to become as old as she did, to become the abomination she was.
I felt a thin line of pressure at my throat. It was a blade. “Have you come to kill me?” I heard her whisper into my ear. “You’ve come a long way for nothing.”
I gasped. I realized that she was going to kill me. She was going to kill me. I was so happy. I anticipated the knife going into my throat and severing my spine. My body would fall dead in the fertile lands of this swamp and I would be eaten. My death would give life.
I waited and waited. She did nothing. She didn’t strike. Why? Why?
After what seemed like an eternity, I couldn’t contain my anticipation. “Please.” I begged despite myself.
She took the knife away and spun me around to look me in the face. I fell to my knees. “Please.”
I did not look her in the eye. I did not want to see an old woman. What a horror she must have been. She rejected what I desired with all my being. She rejected her womanhood. She cared for her life. She acted like an old-one. Disgusting.
“An old-one who wants to die?” She looked at me with pity. “My god.”
“You should be dead!” I screamed at her. “Why aren’t you dead? How could you?” I finally looked up to see her. She was as I always imagined her to be. She was shorter than me, but taller and bigger than a male. Her color was dull and grey like a woman, but her fins and skin were worn like an old-one. She was a bit paler. She was a bit larger. She was an old woman.
“Die.” I leapt onto her. She fell. I don’t even know what I did. I don’t. I was in a blind rage. I was going to kill her and find the highest rock I could and stake her body out in the sun. Somehow in our struggle, she put her hand on the side of my face. I was screaming, “I will rip your head off. Die. Die. Die.”
It took me a long time to realize, over the sound of my own voice, what she was saying to me. “My child. My child. It will be okay. I’m so sorry.”
I felt her arms around me. She was holding me close. “There. There. It will be alright. Shhh…”
“How could you?” I sobbed. “How could you?”
“The same reason you were willing to throw away your life, old one.” She answered me.
“Did you kill her?” The elder barked.
“Of course I did. She was begging me not to.”
The social sanctuary erupted in laughter. The tension was alleviated.
“Tell us more about the warm-blooded people!” Someone yelled. “How do they lay their eggs?”
“They don’t lay eggs. They only have one young at a time and get this, it grows inside the female.”
“What? Then how does she survive?”
“The baby gets really big and then she pushes it through a hole between her legs. Sometimes this does kill her, but most of the time she survives. Then she feeds the child with liquid that comes from bags on her chest.”
“You are making this shit up,” another patron claimed, laughing. “No way.”
“What about their old-ones? What are they like? Are they short and fat!” The room erupted in laughter again.
“They aren’t tall and thin either. They don’t have old-ones.”
“They don’t have old-ones.”
“Who takes care of the young?”
“Since neither the male or female die to give life to their children, they take care of the young. Yes. The males and females take care of the young. The males are usually taller and stronger, but not always. The females are usually the ones who do most of the work taking care of the children.”
The room was full of blank stares.
“That’s why that warm woman was so confused that I didn’t have an appendage between my legs. She had no idea that old-ones even existed.”
Someone dropped their mug.
“And get this – the women often live longer than the men.”
So, I stayed with the old woman for a while. She may not have looked like an old-one, but she took care of me. She was the first one I was ever honest with. I don’t think you understand what would happen to me if one of my people knew what you know about me. The old woman and I, we spit in the face of everything our people believe. Our lives are inherently sacrilegious. You must not speak of this to anyone.
The old woman took care of me. She took care of me like I was a girl or a boy. Eventually, my disgust faded, but sometimes when I looked at her I still wanted to kill her. She was a reminder of how broken I was, how wrong we both were and how much I hated what I was.
I had to go. If I did not leave I would end up following through on my promises.
You humans. Your most sacred relationship is between mother and child. You likely think my relationship with the old woman is a beautiful thing. To us, it is as repulsive as any deviant human behavior you can think of. I’d be hacked to pieces and set on fire. At times, I thought that is what I deserved. It was what we both deserved.
I found out that she had refused. She didn’t swim into the lake of life. Her fear of death was too strong. She just wanted to take care of people. She wanted to be like me – like I’m supposed to be. She refused. Her eggs were simply reabsorbed into her body. The very thought of her body committing such genocide still shakes me to my core.
So, I left.
I thought I would never see her again. Of course, I did. You know that.