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Liesl's life never really got off the ground. Even her name wasn't hers. Her unwed, teen-aged mother had given her up at birth and never wanted her back into her life.
Perhaps it was because Liesl had some significant birth defects. Her head sat at an angle on her shoulders. She had no neck to speak of so she could hardly turn her head. Her shoulders and rib cage didn't look quite right. Still, she had a pleasant smile and pretty eyes. But the overall picture was enough that people would look at her in pity.
The hospital wanted to know a name for her when she was born, but the mother refused to give her a name. A German nurse suggested Liesl even though she wasn't German in any way. So Liesl it was.
She spent her early years in a succession of foster homes, each time hoping they would be the ones who adopted her and loved her. She also spent her early years in a succession of hospitals, undergoing grueling operations on her neck and shoulders. At least she was no longer in pain, but they had gone as far as they could go.
To say the other kids made fun of her would be an understatement. Kids can be so cruel. Liesl spent evenings crying in her room after school. All she ever wanted was to be a part of a loving family where she felt loved and could love them. But it never happened.
She wondered why she was born to be this way. Was it some cosmic joke? She would daydream what it would be like to be normal, for that is how she saw herself: as a freak.
By her teenage years she became bitter and cynical. There would be no boyfriends, no dates, no proms. She had a few friends but wondered if they befriended her because they felt sorry for her. She hated herself for it, but sometimes she would do mean things to her friends just to see if they would remain her friends. It was the only way she knew to test if they truly were her friend.
Then she found her best friends: drugs and alcohol. With them she found temporary escape from her dreary life. When she turned eighteen she found herself on her own. She had no serious marketable job skills. She hired out as a maid, cleaning rich people’s homes. But her drug habit caused her to steal from them, landing her in jail.
The third time she did it, she was in for three years. Prison was where she had her first sexual encounters with other women as desperate for love as she was. But after prison, she again felt the awful void called loneliness. Then came her first suicide attempt. But she was unable to do it right. Something inside her wanted to hold on to enough hope that she didn't want to die when it came down to it. But over the next few years even that small amount of hope began to wither and die.
One day she started drifting south. It was a pull, a drawing. But it wasn't the Pull from the Source. It was the pull of Death. She cleaned homes and did drugs as she went.
Why not? she thought. Who in the world cared a damn about who she was or what she did? So, it seemed perfectly "normal" when she found herself in a Palace doing housekeeping, cleaning one room after the other, day after day.
At first, she envied the pleasure partners. Compared to her life, theirs looked fun and glamorous. But after a while she changed her mind. Too often she heard cries coming from the rooms begging the guests to stop. Sometimes a door would open to reveal a figure curled up on the bed, crying.
Liesl also heard first-hand stories from the partners themselves who needed someone to talk to. Whenever one of them tried to run away, the goon squads would track them down. Frequently one of them killed themselves. The employees would look on in silence as medical personnel carried their body away.
But nothing prepared her for her first day at work after being assigned to a different part of the Palace: the basement floor. She still heard the cries to stop, and the crying. That hadn't changed. Her first clue was the sheets. They were much bloodier. Bloody sheets weren't anything new, but this was a whole different level. She had heard whispers of guests who liked to hurt others.
She had worked the basement for a month when she walked into a room to clean and saw a person still on the bed. This was a violation since the partner was to be gone by the time she arrived. The person just lay there staring at the ceiling.
"I'm sorry but you need to leave. I need to clean the room," she called to him across the room.
It was Devan. When he didn't answer Liesl walked over to him and stared in horror. Devan’s bare chest was covered in many small cuts. They were oozing blood. A small bloody knife was on the nightstand. She saw the burn marks interspersed among the knife cuts. A cigarette tray full of butts was on the nightstand.
Liesl didn't know what to do. She didn't want to call Palace Security. They were brutal. She took one of her clean rags, wet it at the sink, and cleaned the blood off as best she could, trying to avoid the burn marks. Devan didn’t even grimace. Liesl figured he had found some place of escape in his mind where he learned to block out the pain.
I guess that’s the only way to survive, Liesl thought.
The trouble with that was unless the guest was satisfied enough pain was being inflicted, the knife would cut deeper and the cigarette would be left on longer. The end of that cycle was suicide or madness.
Tears dripped down Liesl's face. Devan felt them drip onto him. For the first time, he acknowledged Liesl's presence. They looked a long time into each other's eyes.
This was the start of their friendship, but it was much more than that. It was the beginning of something that gave them a reason to live, a purpose to their life. Every day they would find a way to get together; not in any sexual sense, just to be together.
At first, they wouldn't share any of their true feelings, but that changed as they gradually grew to trust one another. Many times, Liesl was the only thing that stopped Devan from going mad, or worse.
Eventually Devan talked about the Source. Growing up, Liesl had heard others talk this way. Someone once approached her and wanted to talk but Liesl had brushed them away as soon as they mentioned the Source.
"You mean the Source exists?" she exclaimed.
At first, she was inclined to brush it aside again, but this time was different. Here was someone she trusted who could still talk positively about the Source, even in the middle of a horrible situation.
Devan had never given up on the Source. What he had given up on was himself. The more he talked the more interested Liesl became. Finding Devan might not have been just chance. What if there were a being behind it, orchestrating it, out of love and not self-interest or hate? The thought left her dizzy. It was totally opposite of how she had felt treated her whole life. She so wanted to believe but was afraid to.
Devan was declining. Liesl could see it. What life he had was slowly fading. Liesl suspected he was losing the will to live.
"Snap out of it," she would tell him.
But that’s the way it was here. Death's mist hung over the land continually. It drained life. It drained the will.
Liesl knew Devan didn't have long to live unless something happened.