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The First Birthday

Those Who Dare Defy Fate

By Kaitlyn GilpinPublished 2 years ago 17 min read
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The First Birthday
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Since the beginning of their culture’s history, the Thanaron people had been blessed with a unique gift. They were made aware the specific day each member of their society would die. Rather than live their life in constant dread, they embraced this knowledge.

The Thanaron people celebrated the Death Day of each person every cycle they had on the worldly plane. The closer to the person’s death date, the grander the celebration. The last Death Day celebrated would take one week prior to the actual death date. During this week, everything would be free to this member and they had unlimited access everywhere. It was considered a time to experience life to its fullest before your departure. The day prior to death, the individual chose how their remains were to be handled. On the eve of the Death Day, all the loved ones would say their final goodbyes. This provided the living with closure and they moved on.

This is how it was for most people. There were, however, exceptions. Babies that would not make it over a single cycle had no celebrations and no name. They were considered accidents intended for existence elsewhere and so to give them, and bind them to, a worldly name was thought unfair. The unborn, whose mothers were to die before their arrival, were treated similarly. Suicide attempts prior to a Death Day were punished with severity. Those who carried out such acts were thought of as horribly selfish. They were confined in a facility to ensure they reached their fated death date. They were ostracized from the community and could only receive one visitor each cycle on their Death Day but they could never leave the premises of the facility. The greatest offense among the Thanaron people, however, was not suicide. It was the actions of the Abjurators.

Abjurators were those who tried to prolong their life past their death date. They tried to flee, hide, even outsmart death. In every case, they were hunted down, captured, and strung up in the main market square. On the marked day of death, or the soonest moment after capture if death was effectively delayed, the perpetrator would be executed in front of many witnesses. Their bodies would be left on display, withering away in the elements. Desecration of the remains was ignored, if not encouraged by authorities. No one in the history of the Thanaron people had escaped their Death Day beyond twenty-four hours. This knowledge kept Abjurator numbers low but not non-existent. Very desperate people make very unique exceptions. One desperate soul, and who we turn our focus to, is Evelyn.

Evelyn had always been a pious citizen. She was very giving and creative during others’ Death Day celebrations. She was even accepting of her early death date at twenty-nine cycles. That was until Evelyn discovered she was pregnant.

Evelyn had always desired a large family but many attempts at pregnancy failed. She believed she was barren and would not experience motherhood before her worldly departure. She resigned herself to this fate after her twenty-sixth Death Day. Her partner, Admonn, had always done his best to be supportive and stayed by her side.

Upon accepting this fate, love-making had less pressure tied with it. Their romance transformed, blossomed. Two months following her twenty-eighth Death Day, the symptoms began. Evelyn dismissed them, rationalizing them away. Another month passed and she could no longer deny the symptoms. The at-home tests confirmed what her body was already hinting at.

It's finally happened! Evelyn thought happily. This can't be real! She called Admonn, eager to share the news.

“Hey honey, what’d you need?”

Without answering, she hung up. Evelyn’s death date was before the birth of her baby. No. Not after all this time! It's not fair. She placed a loving hand on her stomach, rubbing it in circles as tears threatened to escape from her eyes.

The phone rang once, twice. On the third time, Evelyn finally answered. Admonn was frantic.

“I nearly called the authorities! Why didn’t you answer?”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“You didn’t mean to?”

“I did mean to call you, but I figured it out before you answered. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay. Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes.”

She kept her voice calm but her entire body was shaking when she hung up. Her hands were clammy. What could she do? Should she tell Admonn? Would that do any good? Perhaps they could grieve together. Her frustration grew. Why couldn't this have happened sooner? Why now? It's not like she could defy her death date, could she? Evelyn had heard the stories, but there had not been an Abjurator incident since well before she was conceived. And the last one to attempt was little more than bone fragments littered on the main square.

No one was supported before. Maybe she could convince Admonn? Surely, he'd feel the same. Evelyn decided she would seek assistance but she had to tread lightly. Evelyn fixed her partner’s favorite dish, a salmon and brown rice wrap. She pulled out the finest tablecloth they owned, lit lavender candles. Anything to set a welcoming atmosphere.

Upon entering his home, Admonn’s first thought was of worry. Did he forget some anniversary? Evelyn was always the one to overdo everything while he scrambled at last minute. Something was off though. An intensity of a different type flared in his lovers’ eyes. It reminded him of her strange behavior earlier. She’d never called him at work unless the matter was urgent. And now it seemed she was overcompensating for some unknown trespass.

“Is everything alright?”

“Of course! Can’t I spoil you time to time?” Evelyn’s smile faltered.

Admonn held her gaze for a moment. Her expressions betrayed her but she didn’t speak on it. Admonn let it go. She'll tell me when she's ready.

They sat across from one another at the table. While Admonn tried to guess her thoughts, Evelyn contemplated how best to bring up such a serious conversation. Neither had touched much of their food.

“Admonn, do you think sometimes people may do crazy things for the right reasons?”

“What do you mean? What sorts of crazy things?”

“Things others would look down on them for. Even illegal things. But if it was to protect someone.”

“Is this all theoretical or?”

“I’m pregnant.” Evelyn could not raise her head to look at him.

Emotions stampeded through Admonn. First was happiness and confusion. Realization crept in slowly after. Sadness came next. When he finally spoke, it was with sympathetic righteousness.

“We can only accept this as a cruel accident and move on.”

“What if we don’t have to? Don’t you want to meet our child? Your child?”

“Evelyn.” His voice took a harsher tone. “I know you are grieving but what you are suggesting is beyond crazy. It’s sacrilege. If you talk anymore on this subject, I’ll have to report you.”

“Report me? You’d do that?” her voice cracked.

“If you leave me no other choice.” He crossed the table to caress her cheek. “Darling, it’s not that I would want to. You know that I love you. Let’s just forget this maddening topic, huh? We’ll go to the doctor tomorrow and the problem will go away.”

“It’s not a problem.” She instinctively pulled away, but softened her response to save face. “At least let me experience motherhood as much as I can. I deserve that, don’t I?”

“If that’s what you wish.” He kissed her head but his lips lacked warmth. “Shouldn’t let our dinner get cold.”

Admonn fell into light conversation with ease, but it was strained on Evelyn’s part. Every word had to fight its way from her mouth. Her mind, however, was racing. He threatened to report her. She had spent the last eight years with him and he’d throw it all away without hesitation. Why couldn’t he see things her way? They hardly ever disagreed in the past. To be so divided now was painful. Evelyn wanted to run away, escape. Yet, she couldn’t leave. If she left, Admonn might report her anyway.

In the months that followed, Admonn kept his word. He played the dutiful husband well. He accompanied Evelyn to every appointment. He even surprised her with a beautiful frame to put the ultrasounds in. The first time seeing it, Evelyn went into a crying fit. She fell asleep with the frame cradled in her arms. She longed to confide in Admonn again, but feared he had not changed his mind. If she was right, he’d institutionalize her. The conflict inside her often made her sick. Her waves of depression left her bedridden.

Her baby was her sole companion, the little kicks reminding her she wasn’t alone. Each milestone the baby reached helped her find her smile. When she learned she had a boy, she occupied her time with thinking of names. Her son was her reason to keep fighting, to keep searching for a solution.

Evelyn made it to her third trimester with no complications. But her Death Day was fast approaching. A month before her baby boy was to arrive, she was to depart the earthly plane. Evelyn had to leave her life of luxury soon. Where would she go? How would she survive? It was hard enough to move around and she hadn’t so much as camped before. Her hope relied on rumors.

There were whispers of non-Thanaron tribes living out to the East in the rugged mountains. Some sources claimed they were cursed ones, denied the gift. They lived their days cowering in fear, not knowing when their time would arrive. Daring anonymous sources claimed they were Abjurators that reached sanctuary and were deathless. Seeking out this information was dangerous. If authorities found her search history, she’d be imprisoned.

The location of the sanctuary was indiscernible. It could take up to months to reach it, if it existed at all. Evelyn had to make it. And she had to start this journey soon. Admonn was an early riser due to work, but Evelyn made sure to be awake before him. She fixed him fried eggs and French toast with lightly creamed coffee. He was so grateful to have a good breakfast before work that he didn’t think to question why she was awake. He kissed her cheek and rubbed her stomach before heading out the door. Evelyn stood in the doorway, smiling and waving.

When Admonn’s car was out of sight, Evelyn got to work. She dug out the backpack she had secretly bought the week before. She crammed everything she could think of inside; non-perishable canned foods, water bottles galore, a pot, can opener, pocket-knife and blankets. She longed to bring extra clothes and toiletries but knew she had to prioritize. The one luxury she allowed herself was a single journal and her favorite pen. Knowing it’d be too risky to take her own vehicle, Evelyn arranged for a ride to the nearest vehicle renter. While waiting, she couldn’t resist writing her farewell.

Admonn, I know you don’t understand my actions. I don’t expect you to forgive me and I don’t expect you to cover for me. All I ask is you try and find that love you had for me and extend that to our child. If you could just give me a head start, it would be more than enough. Yours forever and truly, Evelyn.

Evelyn ripped the page from her journal. She held it in her hands. It didn’t feel real. She always thought she’d depart the world in his arms, looking into his beautiful turquoise eyes. Now she wasn’t sure how she’d go, but it didn’t matter. So long as her son could be born. She crumpled the paper and threw it in the garbage can outside. Some goodbyes were better left unsaid.

Evelyn wasn’t the best liar but she managed to sidestep the questions her curious driver asked of her. She was relieved when she was finally on the road in her rented jeep. She wasn’t sure how long the roads would go, but she’d get as close to the mountains on proper roads as she could. Unfortunately, her pregnancy fatigue was a great adversary. She could only drive for a couple hours at a time before her eyes would get blurry. She’d find the safest way off the road and hoped no one would inspect the vehicle while she slept.

Fear and hunger were surprisingly helpful to her cause. They ensured Evelyn did not sleep all day. She spread out her meals as far as she could. She hoped it wouldn’t impact her son too much. The first time she reached a refueling station for her jeep, she was jittery. Evelyn had no clue if the authorities were already searching for her, and if they were, how close they were to finding her. She decided against getting more refreshments. Speed had to be her ally of choice.

The roads going East stopped on the fifth day. Evelyn managed to get an hour on rugged terrain before the jeep wedged itself in a ditch. She couldn’t get it out without help and help was nowhere to be found. She was low on supplies and had to begin her trek on her swollen feet. But she could see the faintest outline of the mountains in the distance. She still had a chance.

Evelyn walked in small spurts that stopped altogether when the sun set. She tied the blanket around branches above her for a makeshift-shelter. She had watched many fire-making videos before her journey, but it proved harder in practice. It took her hours into the night before the first flicker began. In five minutes, the flame died out and she tried again. Dirty, tired, and weakened, Evelyn barely managed a fire in the last hours of the night. It was midday before she awoke.

She eagerly finished her last bottle of water and a half of her last can of soup. She’d have to boil water in the future but she at least had the bottles to carry it in. And there were some creeks along the path she’d been journeying. Food was a different story. With all her research, Evelyn was still uncertain what forage items were safe to eat. And she never hunted live animals before. When the last can was finished, everything would get progressively harder.

Time would have slipped away from Evelyn had she not been writing in her journal every day nearing sunset after starting her fire. It kept her focused. It gave her hope. It had been two weeks since Evelyn left home. Her clothes were tattered, her body sore and bruised, but she managed to reach the base of the mountains through sheer will. She found a small cave for the night. It was the most comfortable spot she’d slept in thus far. And sleep she did. A whole day nearly passed before she could find the resolve to come to consciousness.

Voices woke her. Friends? Foes? She couldn’t be sure. Evelyn uneasily got to her feet and braced herself along the walls of the cave. The shadows should conceal her. She inched her way to the mouth of the cave. Near the opening, the voices were still very faint. She dared to poke her head out, scan the surroundings. No one was in the immediate area. Evelyn grabbed her items and dashed out and up the mountain. She was careful to use the foliage as cover as she moved until it felt safe to move naturally. She hadn’t heard the voices in quite some time. She must have eluded them. She thought it best to sit and catch her breath while she could. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep.

“Evelyn! My heavenly fates, look at you!” the familiar voice of her husband startled her awake.

It was darker now, nearing dusk. She’d been asleep for hours.

“Stay back!” Evelyn waved her pocket knife in front of her as she rose to her feet. “How’d you find me?”

“Darling, that doesn’t matter. You have to be exhausted. Let’s get you home.”

Admonn reached for her once again and once more she jabbed her only weapon outward.

“I won’t let you take him away from me. He deserves a chance to live.”

“No one is taking away anyone. Just put the knife down.”

His eyes were pleading her to seek reason. And how she longed for her old comforts! She had started to lower her weapon when she remembered it wasn’t just one voice she heard. She rose the knife quickly causing him to stumble back.

“You called the authorities on me.”

“I didn’t. It’s just me out here.” Admonn dared to inch closer. “I just want to bring you home. I love you, Evelyn.”

“I can’t go back. I won’t.”

“You’re not thinking straight. But if you just trust me, you’ll see everything will be alright in the end.”

A flash of color further down the path had distracted her just enough for Admonn to close the distance and grapple her.

“I have-” Admonn began to yell but was silenced with a headbutt to his nose.

Blood was gushing out of his nose. Instinctively his grip lessened. Evelyn took that chance to stab the blade into his arm. She was out of his grasp and running up the mountain. Admonn pulled the knife out wincing.

“She’s gone up!” Admonn yelled to his hunting party.

Evelyn pushed herself harder, but he was gaining on her. She couldn’t afford to even stumble. But stumble she did. Loose rocks caused her balance to falter and almost tipped her over. Just as she righted herself on a nearby tree, Admonn grabbed her once again.

“You never could be reasoned with.” He said through gritted teeth.

They struggled. Admonn tried dragging her back down the mountain while Evelyn did everything in her power to free herself. Her strength was abysmal to begin with and it was wanning fast. She let herself go limp. Admonn, figuring he had won, had lightened his hold on her. She waited for just the right moment before throwing her full weight against him. His arms flailed in the air as he tried to catch himself. He tumbled downward. Evelyn would’ve fallen as well had she not held onto a branch nearby after pushing him.

Evelyn didn’t wait to see if her husband got back onto his feet. She turned and ran further up the mountain. She traveled all throughout the night, forgoing any meal for the day to avoid her would-be captors. When dawn arrived, she had to find something to eat. Bird nests high above taunted her. She managed to knock one down with a rock but the eggs inside had broken on impact. She scooped up some of the yolk and ate it anyway. It was disgusting and satisfying all in the same swallow. She dared to eat some mushrooms and hoped it would not poison her.

Evelyn spent her travel that day on high alert for any signs of others. She moved slower and was constantly scanning her surroundings. Mid-day the pain started. It’s the mushrooms. She thought. It was poisonous after all. It took all her resolve to not scream. Minutes passed and the pain subsided. At first she was confused. When the pain came a second time, Evelyn was brought to her knees. Tears ran from her squinted eyes. Her nails dug into the dirt. When it passed, she realized the dampness around her thighs and bottom. It’s contractions. She realized. And my water just broke.

Fear sunk deeper into her heart. She’d have to have her baby on the mountainside alone. Evelyn searched for the safest spot to deliver her son. He’s early. She worried. Will he even make it? When the third set of contractions started, Evelyn had to settle where she was. She laid down all her blankets, stripped her bottoms off, and rested her back against a tree.

For hours, she struggled to breathe and push. Sweat drenched her entire body. She was shaking from the pain. In the early hours of dawn, just as the sun was rising, her baby boy had arrived. She had barely held him in her arms, wiping the residue from his face before she passed out. When she awoke to his soft cries, she registered the umbilical cord was still attached. She no longer had her knife. She had to use her teeth. She gagged at the taste. It took many attempts but she managed to severe the connection.

She felt too weak to move. Is this how I go? My dear Eli, the one I've longed for, is the death of me? She did her best to hold him up as he fed, but her hold continued to slip.

“Who will take care of you cherished love?” she cooed in a whispery breath.

She begged her body to rise, to continue its march but it wouldn’t listen. When her vision started to go, she began to hear voices.

“No.” she whispered.

They are going to take him away. Was her last thought before slipping into unconsciousness. But it was not the authorities that had found her. Nor was it Admonn. It was two children playing on the mountainside.

“Look! It’s a woman and is that?”

“A baby!”

The curious children rushed to Evelyn and Eli.

“Is she dead?” the younger child asked tugging on the older one’s sleeve.

“I think she’s breathing. She must be exhausted. We should get someone.”

The children ran to the only elder they knew would believe them, their aunt Ja’nessa. She followed them and was shocked to find the state the woman was in. Alive. Barely. And her poor baby crying for her to wake up. She let the oldest child, Sera, carry the baby while she carried the woman to the village.

The woman and baby were taken to the infirmary. Both were in critical condition. Ja’nessa, had gone through the backpack to learn more about the mystery woman. She took out the journal and read it all in one sitting. How hard this woman had fought for her baby just to be born. To survive the trek from the west, being hunted by one’s spouse. It wasn’t difficult for Ja’nessa to admire this woman. An additional page was found in the woman’s pockets.

“To who finds us. Please have mercy on Eli. Do not hold his mother’s actions against him. My love should not be his burden.”

Must be a Thanaron. Ja’nessa concluded. Her people had heard of the cult philosophies of their neighbors. It was barbaric to be so obsessed with death, but this woman seemed to be free of this mentality. Perhaps she could live among the tribe, if she lived.

Ja’nessa took time to visit both Evelyn and Eli. Eli recovered first. Within a week, his strength and appetite greatly increased. Evelyn took a month to truly recover. The first few times she came to consciousness, she cried for Eli and muttered curses to her assumed adversaries. Her rantings were brief as the medications took her back under. When she was finally fully conscious, Ja’nessa explained they were not enemies. Evelyn reached the sanctuary she sought.

Ja’nessa reunited Eli with his mother. Evelyn wept for the kindness she had received. She had won her duel with death. To celebrate their recovery and newfound livelihood, Ja’nessa brought a homemade pastry with a candle in it.

“You’ve dealt enough with death. It’s time to celebrate living.” Ja’nessa said.

The candle was lit and Evelyn was told to make a wish. She wished to see Eli celebrate many more cycles, and blew it, sending the wish to the fates beyond. The tales of this incident spread and the celebration took hold. Each cycle one remained on the worldly plane, their existence was celebrated. This ceremony that started in that room with Evelyn, Eli and Ja’nessa came to be known as Birthdays.

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Kaitlyn Gilpin

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