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Growing Up

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has had over 150 short stories published in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and Escape Pod. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods, is available from Hadley Rille Books, and she has two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.

I didn't realize I was property till my progenitor sold me. The last time I saw zir, ze looked deep into my eyes and said, "All children are assets, little one. Someday, if you are able to earn a place among the adults, you'll understand."
Ze patted me on the head with a heavy, soft, short-fingered hand, so unlike my own childish hands with their long, nimble fingers. Then ze lumbered away, leaving me with my new owner.
My new owner was kinder than my progenitor had been--ze thanked me for the cooking and cleaning that I did, and ze never needed me to drag zir from one room to another when ze was too drained to move.
But I could never forget that I was property, an owned thing. An asset. Resentment grew in me like a deep-buried seed, sending thing roots into every crack in my soul.
One night, after my owner dragged zir's bulky body to zir's sleeping chamber, I crept from my resting alcove and down to the library. The tapping of my feet seemed to echo like drumbeats, but there was no response from my owner's chamber.
The books were designed for adult hands, but I was strong from dragging my progenitor, and I managed to pull one book from the shelves, then another. The words were meant for adult eyes, and looking at them too long gave me a headache. But after that first night, I spent all of the time I could in the library. The hours of practice strengthened my eyes, and eventually I unlocked the puzzle of written language.
I discovered the adults' secrets, and my resentment bloomed into hate.
But there was nothing I could do. Without my owner's protection, I'd be claimed by another adult. There was no way I could survive on my own. I worked and I read and I tried to ignore the anger that simmered in me like a sickness.
Eventually, my owner reached zir's reproductive cycle, and produced another child. The child hatched and grew quickly, and my owner didn't bother to differentiate between us.
I trained the child, as was my duty. And I taught the child, knowing it could be my doom. But it was nice to not be alone, to voice my anger and see another face mirror my own rage. To listen when the child had questions and find any answers I didn't know with each other.
The child and I both knew what to expect when my owner, the child's progenitor, called us down into the depths of the house. We had read the stories that were not meant for our childish eyes.
"You must fight," my owner said. "The victor will consume the body of the fallen, and only then will you ascend to adulthood."
Ze opened a heavy-lidded box. Inside, sharp knives with chitinous handles glistened against dark velvet. I wondered if an adult had made them, somehow, or if children created them.
My owner put a heavy hand on each of our heads. "It is time to grow up," ze said.
The child and I exchanged a look as we each took a knife. We had not discussed what we would do when the time came. I thought about lunging forward, burying the blade deep in the child's side. I was the stronger of us. I could win, take my place among the adults.
Instead, I lowered the blade to my side. The child did the same. Then, as one, we turned on my owner. Flesh parted easily under our blades, and we shared zir's huge body equally between us.
The change is upon us now. I don't know what we will become. But I am at peace, knowing that I will never earn a place among the adults, never understand the choice that every adult made.
We will not be like them.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
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