The Boy Who Loved Death4 min read


Hal Duncan
Resize text-+=

TRIGGER WARNING: Some readers may find this story disturbing.

White Stones Like Stars
Once far ago and long away, in a sleepy little village on the edge of nowhere, a small town turned commuter-zone city-suburb, miners’ houses swallowed into Seventies schemes of pebbledash matchboxes, Lego blocks of buildings nestled soulless on winding roads all lined with parking bays and patches of grass trimmed lobotomy neat…

Once, once upon a time, down a pathway of tarmac black as space and dotted with white stones like stars, night sky bound into banal functionality for trudging hollow-hearted to an identikit bungalow’s door…

Once, in Wherever, there lived a boy in love with Death.


Falling Ever Inwards
Death had come to the boy one day, as he walked home from school through catcalls and jeers he no longer even cringed at, a shape with the body of an ape and the skull of a wolf where its head ought to be. As he walked out the school gates, across zebra stripes on a busy road, from one glowing yellow lollipop to another, Death had come to him in his heart, had eaten that heart from the inside out, all life, all love falling ever inwards as light into a black hole, leaving only skinsuit, a hollow child.


The Golden Fires
Come with me, Death had whispered to him, and the boy followed Death down through the golden fires of Hell, fires that did not harm a hair on his head even as he combed it back, that hair, slick with adolescent grease and ancient Brylcreem of a beatnik father salvaged from the bathroom cabinet, the boy admiring in the mirror his fantasy of a Hollywood hitman. He leaned in toward the mirror on the cabinet door and kissed Death’s yellowed canines, whispered a promise, an offer, a deal.

He would bring Death every soul he could before they shot him.


Warpaint for a Wingless Angel
He walked into school the next day, armed to the teeth under his trenchcoat the colour of ash, the grey of concrete holocaust memorials, grey of clay bleached bone-white as birdshit, bleached of earthen red by moonlight’s acid, mixed with soot to a shade of steel or slate, and smeared on a face as warpaint for a wingless angel. He needed no wings, the boy, the upturned collar and furl of coat catching the air enough to mark him as the right hand of the god he loved, here to bring the beautiful Word, the gospel of murder’s salvation.


As in Benediction
His first victim was John MacDonald, aged 16, who approached him as he entered the school gates, nudging a friend, Hugh Williamson, also 16, and pointing at the boy, mocking his attire, pointing and laughing at the sad fool.

The boy reached into the inside pocket of his trenchcoat and slowly, calmly, with the smooth robotic calculus of a reptile’s step, he drew out his hand, clenched into a fist with his forefinger, index finger and thumb extended as in benediction. Eyewitnesses report that he aimed this makeshift weapon directly at MacDonald’s face, unblinking as he quietly, calmly, said, Bang.


And Yet
Four years later, authorities confirm, MacDonald was killed by a bomb in Ballykelly, while serving with the British Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, when five pounds of commercial Frangex explosive hidden behind a support pillar were set off on a timer by the INLA inside the Droppin Well disco, a regular haunt of British soldiers stationed at the Shackleton Barracks.

Any connection between the two incidents is unproven. The probability seems remote. And yet while most died under fallen masonry, MacDonald sustained fatal brain injury from shrapnel.

And at the boy’s quiet Bang, eyewitnesses say, four years before, he screamed.


Cold Iron Gates
It is not known why MacDonald’s friend, Hugh Williamson, the second victim, also screamed—did not laugh at an absurd make-believe of murder but rather screamed—falling backwards to scrabble himself away from a handgun formed of two fingers pointing, thumb as hammer. It is not known why, trapped by cold iron gates at his back, he cowered away from the weapon, begging for his life.

All we know is that the boy shot him once in passing, in the chest, and forty-seven years later, at the age of sixty-three, Hugh Williamson died of a heart attack.


Semaphore of Slaughter
Panic blossomed as the boy strode in through the double doors of the school’s main entry, drawing left hand out now from his trenchcoat, this too shaped in the flesh and bone icon of a pistol. Cruciform arms swung to semaphore of slaughter, this way, that way, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.

They fled from him, slipped on flooring shiny with mopwater, stumbling over one another in their terror, four more victims in the corridor:

Jane Ferguson, aged 12, leukemia at 18.

Brian Hunter, aged 14, heroin overdose at 28.

Sean and Jessica Doherty, both 13, dead at 21, car crash.


Through His Lover’s Eyes
The boy watched the rest, the whole routed crowd, fleeing past the stairs that led only to Maths classrooms on the first floor, Chemistry on the floor above, running for the far doors that would lead out to the playground and B Block: English, History, Art.

He waited for the squeeze of bodies in the bottleneck, then whispered, Boom. Dozens died in the future uttered, in the years that followed. None escaped.

Death smiled to see it through his lover’s eyes as the boy turned to enter an assembly hall packed that Friday, and already in uproar at the horror.


Impossible to Comprehend
It is impractical to detail the carnage fully, impossible to comprehend the piss and shit stench of fear, the hall echoing cacophony of shrieks and sobs, every plea ignored by the boy who loved Death, who walked from huddled wretch to wretch, putting handgun fingertips to foreheads, murdering with every quiet Bang.

Nine hundred and fifty eight pupils died that day or in the days to follow. By accident or cancer: lung; lymphatic; bowel, breast; testicular; etcetera. Whatever.

Only the killer walked away, his handgun pressed to his own chin clicking, clicking, the boy already taken by Death.

Already dead.

  • Hal Duncan

    Hal Duncan’s debut Vellum was published in 2005, garnering nominations for the Crawford, Locus, BFS and World Fantasy Award, and winning the Gaylactic Spectrum, Kurd Lasswitz and Tähtivaeltaja. He’s since published the sequel Ink, the novella “Escape from Hell!”, various short stories, and a poetry collection, Songs for the Devil and Death. His latest release is the chapbook, “The A-Z of the Fantastic City,” available for pre-order from Small Beer Press.

Subscribe For Latest Updates

Be the first to learn about our new releases, open calls, and many activities.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.


Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

But wait, there's more to read!

a book cover with a picture of an egyptian god.
Short Fiction
Marian Denise Moore

A Mastery of German

Somewhere in the world, there is a man, seventy years old, a native New Orleanian who has never left the city except for the occasional

Read More »
a white mask with the words apex magazine on it.
Support Apex Magazine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!

Apex Magazine Ko-fi

$4 funds 50 words of Apex Magazine fiction!