All the blades had been painted to match the handle. Even as her eyes adjusted to the darkness in the pitch black chrysalis that currently constrained her, she couldn’t discern the difference between a thousand knives pointing at her and the one handle she was supposed to grab. She was still at the entrance. She hadn’t walked any further choosing to remain frozen in a final quiver instead. Like the doe letting paralysis sheathe her before the arrow hit, she stood still and stolid before the first bomb dropped. Body rattling from it’s statue, the ground’s vibration forced her from freeze to tumble and she fell to the right. Something skewered her shoulder. The cut was quick and bit as it landed in her flesh the way a bee lands and leaves you so fast it’s prick first hums long after it’s flown away and you stammer at the itchy welt on your thigh in total disbelief that it was able to penetrate you without you seeing it first. You didn’t even get a chance to swat or run. You didn’t even get a chance to be scared. This was the grand surprise, her bee, her pointy coffin. A trickle of blood made it all the way to her tricep before she could orient herself. She held her hands out.
What was sharper than that first spear were the things she remembered. He had a sudden gentleness that struck her; a sudden recompense he wanted to give her. The way he carefully turned her around to take her blindfold off right before she walked in. The way his hands felt on her shoulders; soft yet utilitarian, letting his fingers feel up the back of her neck with both salacity and pique. He blew his hot breath at her skin on purpose. Within that breath, he contained a duplicity; a fervid violence that stopped her from moving anymore. To your left. Cutting the wire clamp with some invented urgency, at the time she heard murmurs brimming with contrition, some final show of commiseration– here look and he pushed her. She was standing at the front of a long hallway with no light coming from anywhere, no door or window and no choice but to feel her way out.
She kept her hands out. What she remembered first and how she was so acutely aware of what she remembered first was the weight she carried now. The bombs were dropping one after the other and she was keeping time with her metronomic heart which had ceased performing at its normal level and was racing. They let her keep the memory of him until the end. He had examined the silver and sapphire urn around her neck, fingering it and looking at it closely, then back at her. His fingernail nails were dirty from the woods like hers. His eyes were light brown with a ring of green around the pupil like hers. He moved his sullied black fingers up the chain threatening to rip it off of her, not with his words but with his teeth that were gritted holding a phrase tight between them. This heart bruised her every time she ran and she had been running all of the time. Your tenacity, he hissed and dropped the locket so it banged the deep bruise that had grown in her sternum, is what I admire. It was your low and persistent song that led them. You’re a fearless woman. I admire you for what you tried.
There were about two short seconds between her standing at the entrance and the first strike. She knew what had pinched her shoulder wasn’t the lever she was looking for. She was three centimeters from the blade that just cut her when the next bomb dropped. She hadn’t moved herself; the floor had continued to push her. Her heart felt a hundred beats in and she couldn’t keep accurate time. Everything was a rush of noise and tremor. She stumbled backwards and the heavy locket suddenly became airy and light; moving, swinging around her throat with ease until his ashes settled in their final betrayal. The chain hung loose then tight pulling her backwards onto the knife. It made a high tin sound as it was cut from her body and dropped to the floor. What is sharper are always the things remembered; noticed differently last, noticed differently in processing and close yet un-obsessive examination. He had asked her with a smile if she wanted to keep the locket. He took her silence as a complicit yes and let the blindfold drop so she could see what had graved her.
The actions that follow our thoughts are truly meaningless. As humans, we are simply reacting to the pure chaos of universal movement but the meaning we make of them in the end is what cradles us. We make meaning of everything and nothing. Her necklace had fallen but she was still chained to the wall. As her body was drawn backwards by gravity, her neck curved to enfold the weapon and something thudded at her coccyx. It didn’t sting the way the tear at the shoulder stung or rip the way her throat was ripping open. It didn’t pierce her. It didn’t mutilate her. It announced it was there so she would know I am lever, touch me and walk through my wall of knives unscathed.
You will know it because it will not pierce you, he said. She settled on the handle and let out a long sigh. It lasted only half a second but thousands of heart beats: a long, embarrassing half a second and thousands of heart beats of relief released in breath as if she had found the exit. A pond began to form at the bottom of her throat. There were two seconds between her standing at the entrance of the doorway and one second between the next two strikes and her throat hanging on a knife. To your left and you will know it. Beneath her gallow, her tailbone knocked the knob that swung the door open and as her body settled, every sword started up her calves and thighs like vines of thorns were climbing her. The pain removed all cognition. She became only sensation.
When his voice filled her: to your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you it came from a well inside of her that was not of her mind but of her ruptured guts. Veins rushed to freedom and spilled out of her propped open mouth. Arteries were slashed. Organs were mixing. Red, viscous streams ran down her chin and dripped onto the blade that had torn through her stomach. She was a river becoming boundless, becoming lake, becoming rising flood in body. In the darkness, she could barely make out the machete-lined tomb but as the wall began to move, a tiny sliver of light bounced off the tips facing her. Every knife pointed at her from only about three feet away. The wall was opening to another hallway. Eyes heavy, spent and fluttering, were desperately trying to shut but she willed them to stay open long enough to see; fight sleep for one more second and half a heartbeat before the zero heartbeat took her. Let me see Santa Claus. Let me see what I won.
The weight she carried with her were the last two words he said: his prediction, not his warning but his knowledge and mercy, a mercy she hadn’t trusted until her final half heartbeat. And fast. He had said To your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you. And fast. The things you remember last, you carry these with you as you pass. And fast. The trauma of being stabbed to death with ingenuity that far exceeded her power, she could leave that. The tackle to the ground as he pinned her, she could leave that. Dragging her through the last mile of woods to imprison her, to taunt her, to smile at her with lust and longing and his fucked feelings of entitlement as he recounted her earlier betrayal. You are a sly bitch. She didn’t even try to explain herself to him. They understood each other the way predators understand each other; the way lions kill only with hunger and need, using war for territory and feast, killing in wilderness is not a sentimental thing. She understood him as the predator understanding herself as the predator. She didn’t fault him. Murder was a word created by humanity to press morality onto us, but animals kill with great speed and precision and there is no sense of guilt or mourning. Killing is a very natural need. Neither she nor him mourned this passage. This was not sentimental.
The way he held the blue and silver heart in admiration and removed her blindfold to show her the trap, she held that in esteem like it was the agape promised by god. You are a sly bitch. The necklace had fallen somewhere on the floor and she was free. The wall had turned all the way around and she was facing another wall of swords hundreds of feet long. Her eyes shut and she held a hazel gaze in her heart; a gaze marked starving promising return.
From “The woman who saw her own death”