“Someone came into the shop today with a box of stuff,” said Kim. “Old action figures and collectibles, you know the sort of stuff we sell. Anyway, in amongst it was a hardback annual I had as a kid. When I saw it, my mind suddenly came alive with memories, more than I could process. I ran to the back, my boss let me go, told me to take as long as I needed. He knew what was happening.”
She looked up at Triana, then across at Steph and I.
“Do you know where we are?” she asked anxiously.
We nodded silently.
We told Kim about the car accident that killed us and how we had awoken together in this plane. We left it to the bare details at that point, just the fact that we’d died and arrived here together as a family. Now wasn’t the time to burden Kim with everything at once.
“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” said Kim. “But it’s beautiful that you are still together. Speaking for myself, getting away from my family is the best thing to come out of this. Apart from meeting you guys.”
She began to tell us what she remembered.
Kim had a difficult childhood in a rough family. Her Dad was a petty criminal who fancied himself as a kingpin and wanted his family to have a hard reputation. Kim and her brothers were encouraged to fight and intimidate other kids at school, at home they were yelled at and beaten whenever they showed any kind of vulnerability. Kim did what she had to to survive, but wasn’t the scrapper her brothers were and became the runt of the family, the target, the scapegoat.
“I was abused,” she said. “Not sexually, but they broke me physically and mentally. I would lock myself in my room to get away from them. I couldn’t have any possessions they didn’t want me to have – if Dad ever found anything he didn’t think suited what he wanted us to be it would go in the bin and I’d get a hiding. So I started drawing in the margins of the books I was allowed, like a secret diary in pictures. That annual I mentioned was a book of war stories. I never liked it, but I did find it empowering to modify the pictures and disrupt all the gung-ho violence. That book was where I first met my angel.”
Steph and I looked at each other. That part sounded familiar.
“She was a calm, confident young girl who would appear over and over wherever she was needed. All the muscled army boys that were meant to be the heroes were blowing each other up and snarling at the reader, but the angel would look at me through all the horror, all the toxic masculinity, and told me I could go with her somewhere else, that I could be something else.”
I was getting an inkling where this was going, but had to ask. “So they wanted you to be like your brothers, even though you were a girl?”
Triana smiled grimly.
“You weren’t, were you?” she said.
Kim smiled back and nodded. “Not then, no. My name was Kim, though. I never changed that.
“I left home when I was fifteen. It was best for all concerned – my family thought I was an embarrassment and I just wanted out of there. My Dad told me if I ever did anything to embarrass, nark or hurt the family business they would come and finish me, but I got in his face – it was the only way to talk to him – and told him to fuck right off. I told him they could do what they liked – in truth it was never more than a bunch of dodgy trade scams anyway, we weren’t the Krays – but I was done with it. My brothers were waiting for the signal to beat me up, but Dad waved them down and let me walk out of there. He shouted after me not to think I could come crawling back, as if that was ever going to happen.”
“Where did you go?” asked Steph.
“I had some supportive friends that helped me, gave me a floor to sleep on while I sorted something out. I did the odd illegal job to get the money I needed and ended up working for a guy who knew my Dad and thought he was a dickhead. He had a business selling pirated DVDs and counterfeit merch, so part of my job was duplicating the discs. That’s where I got into watching movies – I saw all the cult classics, sci-fi, anime… I really loved anime, it looked pretty close to the world my angel had promised.”
“So you still had your angel?” asked Steph.
“Absolutely,” said Kim. “My angel had given me the power to stand up to my family, get out of there and make my own life. And now I wanted to be more like her.
“I started experimenting with cross-dressing, taking inspiration from my favourite anime characters – I saved up specially to get my first sailor fuku. Greg, my boss, reluctantly let me get on with it – I was working out of sight so could wear what I liked, but he didn’t want anyone thinking I was being kept as some kind of nonce sex toy, there were people who might have started a rumour like that so they could muscle in on his business. Greg had some kinky adult stuff in his catalogue, but he stayed away from anything remotely hardcore. Partly on principle, but also because it would have drawn attention he couldn’t deal with, both from police and the local villains who were actually distributing that stuff. Looking back, I’m lucky I never fell in with anyone who would have exploited me that way. I was about twenty, but looked much younger and was vulnerable enough that they could have pulled me in. That’ll be my angel looking out for me again.
“Soon I was dressing as a girl full time and thinking about transitioning. I got a surprising amount of support from the people around me. Of course there was trans-panic and homophobia, but everyone knew I was no threat to them sexually or otherwise and I was handy enough to defend myself if I had to. Even though I didn’t like fighting, you couldn’t have a childhood like mine without learning to throw a punch. I had to go private for my GRS – going through the NHS would have taken too long and I didn’t want the government looking closely at my National Insurance arrangements. I was able to get hormone treatment that I paid for myself, but funding the surgery was going to cost a lot more. Then my angel stepped in again, as I won just over £30,000 on a lottery ticket. Not a massive jackpot or anything, but exactly what I needed to get me on my way.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Triana.
“Yes,” said Kim. “Right up until it brought dear old Dad out of the woodwork trying to get the money off me. He started going on about how he was going to get me sectioned so he could seize power of attorney as my next of kin. When I laughed in his face he started wheeling out all these scenarios where I could meet with an accident and he’d get the money that way. He knew I didn’t have a will. I mean, I was twenty years old and barely had a pot to piss in before my win, so why would I?”
“He actually threatened to kill you over thirty grand?” I asked.
“That’s why no-one took him seriously,” said Kim. “He liked to play Gary the Gangster, but most of his schemes were stupid. It was a lot of money, but not nearly enough to be hatching murder plots over. To be honest, I think it was more of a power trip for him at that point, because I’d humiliated him.”
“So he went through with it, then?” said Triana.
“Yes,” sighed Kim. “The whole family did. I never thought they’d go that far.”
Triana gave Kim a hug.
“Do you think they got away with it?” asked Steph.
“Not a chance, they were half sharp,” said Kim. “Also the police had been watching them for years, waiting for an excuse to swoop in. They’re probably all serving life now.”
We sat in silence for a short while. We didn’t know what to say.
“It seemed to have completed my transition though,” Kim said finally.
Triana looked up. “You mean…”
“In this plane, I am all woman, with women’s parts. I still look younger than I am, as you know, but I actually did become like my angel, as if it was my true self all along.”
“Looks that way,” smiled Triana.
“The thing is,” said Kim, “my angel looked more like you.”
She looked Triana directly in the eye.
“Triana, how old are you really?”
Triana sucked her teeth.
“In relative terms, I’m eighteen,” she said. “But when I died I was twelve.”
“I knew it!” cried Kim. “As soon as you walked in, I knew you weren’t like the rest of us. We all knew we were adults playing young, but you… they told us they couldn’t use child actors for the types of films we were making.”
“It’s not a total lie,” said Triana. “They really can’t cast children, because there aren’t any. Just me.” She took a deep breath. “In fact, there’s something else you need to know about me.”
Triana proceeded to tell Kim her whole story. She told Kim about her own notebooks as David and how the image of Triana appeared in the pages just as it had in Kim’s. She told of everything she saw about people and the universe and how she came to reconcile the intersecting forces of ordered patterns and human mess. She told about the trip to the observatory right before we died, awakening with a new sense of purpose and the power to see auras. And she spoke of her role as a deliverer, moving wayward souls along to the next plane of reality.
“Wow, that’s a lot,” said Kim. “So you’re actually an angel of death.”
“You could say that,” said Triana. “But I’m not killing anyone, just being there for them when needed.”
“It’s ok,” said Kim, “actually it makes you even cooler. You’re not planning on ‘delivering’ me are you?”
“I hope not, you’re my best friend.”
“Well, if the time ever comes I’ll be glad if it’s you instead of the bony guy,” said Kim. “Thank-you for being my angel.”
They held hands for a while.
“Kim,” said Triana. “Why did you get a female body and I didn’t?”
“You mean, you still have…”
“Remember when I told Lee I had a bit of both? That’s what I meant.”
Kim laughed. “Yeah, I remember. That shut him up.”
“You know that guy is seriously overcompensating, right?”
“I had my suspicions.”
They sat in silence a little longer.
“You know what,” said Triana, “I think the reason is I never really cared what body I had, just so long as I could be the person I was inside. Whereas you were changing already, so the universe finished it off for you.”
“Good old universe,” said Kim.
“It is a good universe,” said Triana.