Disclaimer: The Book Thief and all affiliated characters belong to Markus Zusak. Life is the only one of these characters who is mine.
I know, it's been done before. But I'm really interested by this
concept, and by the writing style. Powers of copycat, GO!
I'm hoping to extend this to go on quite a while. Tell me what you think!
And concrit is always love.
LIFE GOES ON
You may or may not have read a book called 'The Book Thief'.
If you have, then you will know about Liesel Meminger, the book thief from Himmel Street. If not, then you will not, and there is nothing I can do about that.
But that book's narrator was not me. That book was narrated by Death. My brother.
I am close to him. I am close to all of you, whether or not you know it, and while all of you will meet Death some day, you have all already met me.
But I am not Death.
I am Life.
He notices the colours.
I notice the smells. There are a lot of different smells, in my line of work.
He was also much busier than me in that year of 1943.
This, however, is not a story about Death, or even death. It is still a story about the war, though. The war that tore the whole of Germany apart, and most of the rest of the world with it.
This is a small story about a survivor.
Or rather, two survivors. The street smelt like tin and fire and burning dreams, and there were two survivors.
The first was the book thief.
The second was a boy with hair the colour of lemons.
A SMALL FACT
Sometimes, I can change things
But first, an explaination is probably in order.
My brother's function is perfectly, horribly clear; he is the end. Sometimes I think that my gift is crueler.
I am not cruel. I am just me.
But I carry souls, just as he does. And just as he has, I have been in some of the worst places in this world. I saw Auschwitz, Dachau, the trains. I saw Russia and Siberia, I saw London in the Blitz.
And in each of those places, I left my own gift. Or my own curse.
In each of those places, I left a spark of life in a mother's belly, as cells and energy began to coagulate into a human child.
I often saw my brother, in the worst of those places. On the trains, with those bone-people clustered together like oxen, alone and afraid, I trailed close to him. He didn't see me – he never does – but I stuck close to him, anyway, carrying those fragile human souls in my arms.
For companionship, perhaps.
Or, perhaps, in places as bad as that, purely because it is a relief to see an end to a life you have brought, which turns out to be filled only with pain. Once, on one of those trains, I pressed a limp soul into the belly of a woman with hollow eyes and despair in her looks. It is at times like those when I realise, once again, how cruel my job can be.
And how blessed my brother's. It was not a moment later that he plucked two souls from the woman's cooling flesh, and rested them gently over his shoulder as he moved on.
I was not seeking my brother that night, but I found him nonetheless, amid the screech of air-raid sirens and the skies that smelt like smoke and pain.
I was there on different business. But I followed him anyway.
In a crowded basement filled with cries, in Gelb Strasse nearby, a new life was preparing to enter this world.
In Himmel Street, a lot of lives were leaving it.
The infant's soul hung in my arms like a piece of cobweb, fragile and feather-light. Death's arms and shoulders were draped in them, the souls piled in his arms.
I followed him into the tailor's shop and the home behind it, as the bombs buzzed and hissed in the air, seething into great clouds of black moke and noise. Inside, it was quieter. I watched my brother lift Barbra Steiner's soul out of her body, then sling the children's over his shoulder.
And still I waited.
Arms thick with abandoned souls, Death started into the next room. I waited in the hallway.
I knew what – who – was in there. Hadn't I sent their souls, their lives, to Barbra myself?
Bettina and Rudy Steiner. And the nameless infant life in my arms made three.
Was it the right choice?
Whether or not it was the right choice made no difference to me. It was the choice I made, without even thinking, and, as Death stalked away from the burning, falling room, I reached out and grabbed the soul with the lemon-yellow hair from his arms.
It wouldn't come free. No matter how I pulled, it wouldn't come free.
But that didn't matter. I had been expecting it. Death's grip is not a loose one. That was the choice I had made, without even thinking.
Sometimes, the flashes of humanity I have scare me a little.
Sometimes, the lack of it does.
Either way, the moment I dropped the infant's soul into my brother's arms, the other soul, the one with the lemon-yellow hair, came free as easy as breathing. Not that I breathe, but you know what I mean.
I don't like changing things, and with good reason. But I knew how it would go, if I did not – all of it, every moment of the book thief's life from then on. I am Life, after all. I like to keep an eye on the children I bring. And to some extent, too, I can see that life stretch forwards from the moment the child is born.
But I didn't know what would happen if I stole Rudy Steiner from Death. And I've always been a sucker for surprises.
He didn't notice, of course. Death doesn't know Life. And he wasn't watching the souls in his arms, not even Rudy's, not even the Hubermanns'. He was watching the sky, the flaming red-gold sky, as we left the burning rubble of the Steiners' home. Around us, Himmel Street writhed and burned as it collapsed into ash.
Death went on walking.
I hung behind.
After a moment, I turned to the remains of the house again, Rudy's soul cradled in my arms as lightly as the infant's had been. It took me several minutes to find the place where his room had been, now buried under the scattered, smoking remains of the roof. Several more minutes to find his body, which was not where it had been.
It was draped in a fallen tree at the end of Himmel Street, hidden by the thick branches. His lemon-coloured hair was singed, and there was blood on the side of his head, but besides that, he could almost have been sleeping. The same branches cradled his sister.
Gently, I lifted the soul in my arms. Normally, you see, the souls I carry go into the mother's belly, but I knew that was wrong. Don't ask me how I knew. I just did.
So, carefully, lightly, I pressed the life into his heart.
It went in with a sort of dragging noise, like something being pulled underwater. I watched, concerned, afraid. I rarely work miracles.
And when you work a miracle, it's very difficult to tell whether it's a curse.
After a moment, a small flush of blood rose in his cheeks, and as the bombs went on falling, the buildings crashing down around us like dominos, I heard the tiniest, tiniest gasp of breath. Barely even there, but enough to let me know that it was alive.
Above him, his sister hung like an abandoned doll, a tiny scrap of humanity with smouldering hair catching in the rising wind.
It breaks my heart. When I see these empty vessels, that used to be humans, used to be alive, it breaks my heart. Every time.
I cannot understand how my brother does not go mad. Or maybe he does.
Anyway, as soon as I had released Rudy's soul, after I had performed the greatest of miracles, there was nothing more to do. And a thousand more places I had to be.
Because even in that winter of 1943, Life goes on.