Death was Amelie’s best friend.
She called him Mortimer. Of course, her parents thought he was just an imaginary friend, but he was real enough. They had wonderful adventures together. He taught her how to climb trees and reach the outermost branches and to ride her tricycle down the driveway and into the street with her eyes closed. Once, Amelie and Mortimer heard her mother say, “That girl will be the death of me.”
It made them giggle.
Because Mortimer was right there, and he wasn’t going to let anything happen to Amelie. She could have gone skydiving without a parachute and she would’ve been just fine.
But Mortimer wasn’t the perfect best friend. Sometimes he left for long periods of time. Amelie’s mother called them “her spells,” because she was so much more quiet and withdrawn while he was gone.
“Why do you leave?” she asked him after a particularly long absence.
“Because I get hungry,” he said.
“Hungry? Well, that’s silly, I can always fix you a sandwich, you know.”
Mortimer shook his dark cowl that covered what would have been a face.
“It’s not like that,” he said. “I feed off life. That’s how people die, you know.”
Amelie’s face brightened.
“Oh, well that’s easy, we have a retirement home right down the street.”
Mortimer’s cowl pinched across his would-have-been face.
“Yuck. I mean, old people are all right if you can’t find anything else to eat. But they have so little life left in them. It’s like trying to pick the meat off a spare rib. It’s a whole lot of work for just a tiny bite.” Amelie heard a smacking sound from the shadow where his mouth would have been. “Now children, mind you, are absolutely delicious.”
Amelie’s brow furrowed as she thought for a moment.
“So…if I found you some children to eat, you’d stick around more often?”
“Yes, I guess I would,” Mortimer replied.
The next few years brought an unusual string of deaths to Amelie’s town. Young children became remarkably accident prone. Jimmy Samson fell out of a tree and broke his neck. Dahlia Young drowned at the local swimming pool with her mother sitting right there by the side, sunning herself, and the lifeguard inexplicably distracted. And Robert Mueller was hit by a car when he rode his bicycle down the driveway and into the street.
If the investigators had done any real investigating, they might have noticed that all the deaths had a connection to Amelie. Jimmy Samson pulled her pigtails every morning during story time; Dahlia Young stole Amelie’s best friend, Maggie; and Robert Mueller pushed Amelie down into a big old mud pile, ruining her brand new dress.
It was all going along just fine until Mortimer showed up one day, shoulders hunched, twisting the ends of his robe where his fingers would be.
“I kinda got in trouble,” he said.
“What? Why?” Amelie asked.
“We’ve got this rule that we have to spread the deaths out,” Mortimer said. “There have been too many in this little town. People are growing suspicious. There have been complaints.”
Amelie crinkled her nose.
“But…but…I don’t want you to have to leave again.”
Mortimer let out an exasperated sigh.
“I know, me neither, but what else can I do? I have to eat sometimes.”
Amelie tapped her fingers on her knee while she thought. Finally, her eyes lit up.
“I know what! What if you ate me?”
Mortimer drew back, horrified.
“What? I couldn’t!”
“Not like that,” Amelie said. “You could just take nibbles. Just a little bit now and then, but not enough to kill me.”
Mortimer’s dark cowl nodded, and his shoulders drew back jauntily.
“I’d still be kind of hungry,” he said, “but I think it might work.”
So Mortimer began to feed on Amelie. A nibble here, and she caught a small cold. A nibble there, and it turned to pneumonia. He accidentally took a really big bite, and Amelie ended up in the hospital, her mother worried and the doctors perplexed.
Every night, Mortimer came to visit after hours in her room. Every morning, her condition worsened.
“I don’t think this is working out,” Amelie said one night, her voice hoarse and barely above a whisper.
Mortimer looked at her and realized what he had done. He hid his would-be face deeper in his cowl.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I think I’ve got to go now. For good.”
“No!” Amelie cried out. “Please stay.”
“I can’t,” Mortimer said. “I don’t trust myself. You’re the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. If I took even one more bite…”
“But that’s OK,” Amelie said. “Because then I’d be dead, and I’d be with you forever.”
Mortimer shook his cowl.
“It doesn’t work that way. You wouldn’t be with me forever; you’d just be gone.”
Amelie started to cry, and Mortimer patted her hand with his wispy robe.
“I promise I’ll send postcards,” he said, his voice breaking. Amelie wondered how he could do that, seeing as he didn’t have hands or anything, but she just nodded.
Her mother and the doctors were amazed at her miraculous recovery, but Amelie remained quiet and withdrawn. The only time she seemed to brighten was when there was a news report of a tsunami or earthquake that killed thousands. Then she knew her friend was doing well, and that he was sending her the postcards he promised.