Henry Told Me – A Short Story
I wrote another short story, so I wanted to put it up on my blog. I find that some good things come out of my head when I’m sick, while other times, I can’t even write without my head feeling like a screwdriver caught in a fan. This is, fortunately, one of the former examples.
❧ Henry Told Me
Henry told me he was one of the Gods. I didn’t know what that meant, so when he offered to show me, I went along willingly. He was never the best brother, in truth — more of a friend to me instead of a relative. That was what made me go, I guess; I wanted to understand him, to see where it was he went all the time when Mom and Dad would go out. There was nothing assuming about him. He was a slim, blonde boy two years older than me at the time — that made him sixteen — and he had trouble getting girls at school. You wouldn’t think that, with all his looks and charm, but it was true. Maybe it was because he never left the house except for the times he went to the Gods.
We left the house, crossing out into the cold night air, and he shut the door behind us, locking it with his house key. We descended the driveway and turned onto the sidewalk, moving briskly through the dark, brightened now and then by the orange street lamps; I saw their reflections in the sheen of Henry’s gold hair, so he seemed to glow a little. As we went along, he began to tell me who the Gods were, and I half listened, half kept an eye on the passersby that we crossed, who seemed tall and blanketed in shadow in the half-light of the lamplit street. He told me they were from heaven primarily, but that some came from other places. They wouldn’t tell him where, and so he didn’t ask. That was how to keep safe, he told me — to stay quiet. Their leader was a man who didn’t have a name, so they didn’t call him one. He was only “God,” and Henry told me to call him that. I asked him what it was they did, and he got really close to me, as if he worried someone might overhear him somehow.
“We oversee the people of the city,” he said, “Rain makes rain, and Snow makes snow, and God… he does other things.”
I asked him what God did, and he told me not to ask any of the Gods that question, or to ask him, because the Gods didn’t like it when anyone discussed things like that.
“It makes them anxious,” he said, “And they get angry when they’re anxious.”
I quieted down after he said that, and I began to worry.
I questioned him, asking him what he did — it seemed odd that my brother would be in charge of so large a thing as the weather when he couldn’t even do his own laundry.
“Don’t ask me that either,” he said, a little forcefully, like I was a misbehaving child.
So I didn’t, and we kept walking. He didn’t talk anymore. As we walked farther and farther from the populated areas of the neighbourhood, I began to grow scared of my own shadow. As we turned down an alleyway between two large, white garages with cracked siding, Henry slowed his pace. To my left was a decrepit, old chain link fence which acted more as a grim decoration than a form of boundary; the force of a simple push could probably break it down, and to my right stood a wooden fence rotted by rain and mud. Crude images were carved into the grain, and crackling paint formed the names of neighborhood gangs, all overlapping each other as if fighting for the right to show themselves — for dominance of the fence.
“They’re here,” Henry whispered, and in the silence of the night, I heard him loud like a siren.
We were still in the alley, having only moved a little ways in, and there didn’t seem to me to be any places where people could be hiding. Henry stopped walking and began to glance around like a trapped rabbit, and from out of the night came the Gods.
I saw one of them crawl out of a sewer grate; the metal cage was pushed up and off of its place, then slid aside as a humanoid form crawled from the small hole in the ground, clambering and grabbing for something to clutch. Eyes blinked away some kind of liquid — he was covered in it — and his jaws were open wide like someone yawning in the morning, or someone screaming. A woman stood over him; I hadn’t noticed her appear, but she was there, helping him up out of the sewer. Henry leaned over to me.
“Birth,” he said, “And Fertility.”
The sewer man was Birth, I saw. He wasn’t wearing anything, but in the shadow of the night, I couldn’t discern any details. Fertility wore a long, pale robe of thin cloth that hugged her body tightly, and her hair was long and dangling in front of her face. Once she finished helping Birth from the sewer, she looked at me from beneath the shroud of hair, and her eyes did not leave my face.
Henry tapped my shoulder and gestured for me to look up — I did, and saw a man peering down at me from the roof of one of the garages. As I held his gaze in horror, another figure emerged, crawling over him to peer as well. It was a woman, and her eyes were pale and glowing. They were Snow and Rain, I learned, and they stayed up there on the roof, staring at me in silence. There were others there. Two women seemed to grow from the dirt in one of the backyards, or rather, emerge like corpses, clawing at the dead grass of the neglected yards. One was Flora, and the other was Fauna. A man tapped me on the shoulder as he entered the growing circle of people; his face was plastered in a grin that would not leave his face. A twin to him tapped me as well, but this one, instead of smiling at me, bore a frown of contempt, and it sent chills through my already freezing blood.
“These are the Gods,” Henry told me.
But I knew there was someone missing.
In total, there were twelve. The thirteenth, I saw walking slowly towards me at the very end of the alleyway, far away in the distance. He was a black dot, barely discernible, until I blinked my eyes. Like magic, he stood before me, having moved a few hundred metres in a mere moment. He was tall, freakishly so, with pale flesh and sunken eyes that never blinked — there were no eyelids on his face. A dark coat was fitted loosely over his shoulders, rotted and moth-eaten with stray threads and stains. It made me want to heave.
“Child,” the man said, and his voice was raspy, almost breathless, “I am God.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I stayed quiet.
“This is my brother,” Henry explained, and God looked at him blankly.
“Brother?” asked the pale figure.
A pang of guilt suddenly washed over my brother — I didn’t know why. He went pale, almost as pale as God, and he wouldn’t look at me even though I tugged on his sleeve. I asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t say anything. He shook me off.
“Child,” God began, and I turned to face him, almost shuddering under his dead gaze, “You are very blessed this day. Your brother has chosen you to meet us here, and there is a special honor in what you have agreed to do.”
There had been no point that I’d agreed to anything, and I told him that. Whatever he thought about my answer, if he did think at all, did not show on his face. It was emotionless as he turned to Henry.
“I had expected more,” he said, “What has he done to wrong you?”
I didn’t know what he meant by that. Henry obviously did.
“I couldn’t find anyone else,” Henry whimpered, close to tears, “Please don’t tell me I’m a bad person… I couldn’t find anyone else.”
God looked at me.
“Do you know what your brother is, child?” he asked, and I told him I didn’t, “He is Disease, a soldier of mine, and he is tasked with finding feed for me, for nature is so timely, and I am impatient — I need to consume.”
Finally, I was beginning to understand. I felt adrenaline building inside of me — I was ready to run.
“Your brother chose you, child, for the honor of feeding me,” God continued, “Out of the billions of insects upon this earth, you are tasked with sustaining me… It is an honor. It will allow you free passage into the Everlasting.”
Henry did not look at me as I gazed up at him. He was no longer the boy I had known — no longer my brother. Though as I thought about it, he never had been. I turned and bolted, fleeing from the circle and out into the street, never turning back. I ran until I felt like my lungs would explode, or burst out of my chest. That’s when I stopped, whipping my body around to make sure there was no one following me.
The road was empty.
I only saw the streetlamps casting their orange glow onto the sidewalks. Even the alley was far gone… and so was my brother. He hadn’t chased me. Not that I’d wanted him to. I began to breathe again, and collapsed onto my knees in the middle of the road; the asphalt hurt my knees, and I guess they started bleeding, because I felt warmth in my pant legs. That’s when the ground started rumbling and I turned my head. The lights of a speeding car filled my vision, then I couldn’t see anything. I had heard my body being struck by metal, then there was silence — no wind, no barking dogs, and no flickering light bulbs in the streetlamps.
The paleness of the hospital room was blinding to me when I woke up. The doctors told me I’d been in a coma, that my body had been shutting down because of the sickness. I’d woken up — they didn’t think I would. Four months later I left the hospital in perfect health and got into my car, turned on the engine and drove home. Flashes of my dreams came back to me.
Henry was my brother, but he’d died when I was fourteen. We had been attacked by a gang while walking home from school all those years ago, and I had fled the scene, leaving him there. They found his body in a dumpster a week later with knife marks carved into his forehead, formed into a word — the name of the gang that had attacked us.