The boy had no name when he came up the mountain, dressed in the tatters of another life. A bald, smiling monk carried him the rest of the path up to monastery to spare his callused, bleeding feet. The monk and his brothers gave they boy bread and watered wine. They asked him what he most wanted in the world and he looked up, pointed to the hard, half-stale bread, and said, “salt.”
The boy, whom the monks called Salt, was a fast learner. He worked without complaint for hours and asked only relevant questions. Those monks who had worried that a young man amongst them would be a noisy distraction were quickly proven wrong. Salt never spoke about the past that brought him, thin as a reed and with bleeding feet, up the mountain pass. And the monks, if they were curious or not, never asked.
One day, the abbot sat next to Salt at the morning meal and asked, “do you know what it is we try to learn here?”
Salt shook his head.
The abbot smiled, and said, “we aim to know what we don’t. To find what is missing.”
“You’ll never be finished then,” Salt said.
The abbot laughed kindly.
“No,” he said, after a while. “I suppose not.”
Salt’s cell had only a straw mat, a small window high up on the wall, a weathered urn for passing water in the night when it could be unsafe to go out, and a small ledger where he practiced his letters. Sometimes the monks would gift him with a tallow candle or two which he quickly burned through despite the greasy smoke.
If he held out both his arms he could almost touch the walls. Even so, it took Salt almost a month to notice the other boy living in his cell.
The abbot was writing when Salt entered. He stood by the door and waited until the abbot was finished. It took the older man a few moments to look up.
“Hello,” the abbot said.
“What brings you here?”
“Something I’m unsure of.”
“And you think I might be able to help?”
“Help?” Salt seemed to weigh the word on his tongue. “Perhaps. Is there another boy living in my room?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because I’m certain there is.”
“Certain? If you were certain, would you be here?”
“I suppose not.”
The abbot folded his hands. “If there is a boy, then I doubt he means you any harm.”
Salt began to say something, but thought better of it. He bowed and returned to his cell.
The other boy said he was called Scale. Salt asked if he was real and Scale shrugged his shoulders. He was bigger than Salt and had broad shoulders and dark hair where Salt was thinner and had hair as pale as sand. Salt didn’t believe Scale was real, not truly, when his own cell was barely enough to fit himself alone. Scale could not be real because there was no room for him.
To this, Scale replied, “a person has hundreds of thoughts a day and a head that’s only so big. How do they fit? They just do.”
The abbot suggested, when he saw how much progress Salt had made with his writing, that he write down his experiences with Scale. He suggested that it would make good practice. Salt did not know whether the abbot truly believed him about the other boy, but promised to do as he was asked.
On one afternoon, Salt wrote:
Carried water from the well today from just after sunrise until the Sun was at its highest point. I came back to my cell and Scale was sitting on my straw pallet. I think he was waiting for me.
“Salt. Would you like to learn something new?”
My back and arms were sore and my face burned by the sun. I did not want to learn anything at that moment, but Scale had been pleasant thus far and I did not wish to offend.
“Yes,” I said.
Scale stood up in one fluid motion and approached me. I began to step back, but there was no room. He brought his face close to mine and touched his lips to mine. I scarcely had time to react before his tongue slipped out and licked at my bottom lip.
“This is desire,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
A week later Salt learned a new usage for the rendered fat that made up his greasy candles. Scale slipped a finger inside of him and Salt gasped. His tightness made the endeavor uncomfortable, but Scale’s gentleness and persistence bore fruit and eventually the young monk began to relax.
“How do you know how to do this?” Salt asked, while Scale fingered him.
“I am the keeper of secret knowledge,” Scale said.
Salt considered this. Scale inserted another finger.
“Do you appear to everyone?” Salt asked.
“Yes, but I am rarely seen. You are balanced precariously on what you desperately wish to know and what you are terrified to remember. You called to me.”
Scale ran an oily hand up Salt’s erection and the monk shivered.
For a moment Salt was silent. The feeling of fingers delving deeper, pressing against the tense knot of centralized pleasure inside of him, coupled with the hand stroking him diligently. He stared at the ceiling of his cell and held his breath as the molten, pungent cream bubbled up out of him.
The abbot closed Salt’s journal and considered the unlikely tale of the young monk’s initiation into a fraternity of secrets. He thought of his own experiences with the other boy, the handsome shadow who taught him the passageways and quirks of his own body. Had it really been so long ago?
The abbot felt the spark of hunger in his loins and reached down to commune with the god of secrets in the flickering candlelight of his quiet cell.