by Christopher Spanel
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
The feeling was cold, if there was any way to describe it. Grace woke up to the sensation upon her throat. Her eyes opened to a figure leaning over her. She still felt the cold sensation upon her neck. Grace’s mind was unfocused, overcome by fatigure and drowsiness. How long was I out, she thought? It was dark out; the moon and stars were glimmering in window. She began to raise her head, only to feel the prick of the cold surface ever tighter upon her jugular.
“I didn’t think you would wake...” said the one above her.
Grace laid her head back down, quickly realizing what was happening. It was Jade that stood above her, holding a cold, sharp knife to her neck.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Grace. Of course she knew; what other explanation could there be?
“I have to, Grace; I can’t let you fulfill your duty. Ever,” muttered Jade. It was unusual to see Jade fighting back tears.
Grace did all she could do, finding the persuasive words within her. “Jade, let me speak to you at least, before you take away your second half.”
Jade thought for a moment, and pulled the knife from her neck, laying it down on the soft furs. Grace instinctively crawled away from her sister, keeping her distance. Jade was never a stable being, in fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if she rushed at her right now with a blood-churning cry.
“Grace I’m so sorry. I’m so confused... I... I... just don’t know what to do,” said Jade.
Grace hadn’t expected it, whether it was from guilt or sorrow, or perhaps the uncertainty of her tomorrow, but a surge of emotion sprung from the depths of her being. She couldn’t keep it in any longer, she had no choice, and so her voice scorched the air.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“You know what’s going to happen,” said Jade.
“What is?” asked Grace.
“Oh, don’t play games with me, Grace. You’ve seen what happens to other people,” Jade spit on the floor. “They go crazy and die if they don’t fulfill it.”
Both of their minds were weighing their options, but neither said a word. It seemed the silence stretched on forever. Jade began to sway to one side, and then the other, letting the dim moonlight play upon her face.
Grace stared into her sister’s eyes, remaining quiet, but her body tense and ready for anything that came next.
“Sorry, sis, but you’re dead,” said Jade as her arm snapped to the knife.
Grace was ready for just that, jolting up at that very moment, running for the open doorway of her room. She could hear Jade running after her, knife in hand. Grace knew what she could do with a knife, and it wasn’t pretty. Jade was skillful and deadly, although Grace did have one thing on her side: she was fast.
A sound rang out behind her, a loud thud, and Grace glanced back. The knife was dug into the wall where she had been just a moment before.
Grace smiled, she had survived Jade’s first attempt! She ran through her home, hitting unseen objects, causing a ruckus the whole town could hear. She didn’t care, though; she kept running: out the prickly wooden door, through the cottage, and on and on. Jade wasn’t far behind, Grace could hear Jade’s feet rattling behind her.
She had to act quickly. Where was she to go? Neither of them needed light to get around the town, they knew it like the back of their hand.
Sharp turn after sharp turn, Grace continued to run through the narrow streets of the town. She knew where she was heading, though. In the moonlight it looked like a temple of the heavens. A gleam sparkled across the golden roof, and the hundreds of columns below it seemed to stand as strong as Atlas, who held up their lofty world. She reached the stairs and climbed up them. She could hear Jade just behind her.
“Stop running, you coward,” yelled Jade. “Put up a fight at least!”
Grace was planning on doing just that. No longer was she going to let Jade boss her around. And so she led Jade into the hundreds of columns before her. It would be easy to lose her in there. Each column was three times the width of her body, and stretched to the ceiling dozens of feet above.
Her hand felt along the columns as she twisted and turned through them. In a way, she felt graceful in doing so. For once this seemed like a game to her. She had an advantage, and confidence swelled within her. Game or not, her life was at stake.
She stopped. Hiding behind a column, she tried to catch her breath and keep her deep heaves as silent as the calm wind blowing through the columns about her.
Jade’s footsteps rang in the air, a loud clamor in the silent night, but all of a sudden they went quiet. Grace’s heart dropped, and her happy advantage diminished that second. She looked around the corner of her column, seeing nothing on either side of it.
She needed a weapon, why hadn’t she thought of that before? There was one place in that temple that a weapon could be: right in the center was a sacrificial altar, where a sharp knife always lay upon the top. It was said to be a knife passed down through the ages, given by the gods themselves.
There was only one problem: Jade’s last footsteps. Grace wasn’t going to run away, though; she still had a chance, and so she made her way from column to column, her senses keen to any disturbance.
She heard a noise, a screech; her body froze, and she looked where the sound had come from. It was a just a bird, its feathers so dark she could barely see it. Again it squawked at her, as if it were egging her on.
Grace returned her focus to the task at hand, now in sight of the golden altar at the center of the temple. A smile stretched across her face, for the gleam of the knife could be seen as if it was plain day. There was radiance about it, a divine power emitting from its blade.
Grace didn’t hesitate. She made a dash for it, extending her arm out as she ran. She was just inches from the blade, inches from the weapon that could turn the tide for her, but a figure jumped out at her. She wasn’t sure which column Jade came from, but it didn’t matter. Jade was on top of her now, throwing Grace to the floor.
Grace let out a scream, letting it tear through the air and bounce across the columns like a pinball. Sharp pain then coursed through her, right below her shoulder but above her breast. Grace continued to twist, kick, and squirm.
“Come here!” yelled Jade as she grabbed Grace by the neck.
Was this it? Should I give up now? thought Grace She still felt alive, still had energy, and still had a life to fulfill. That fulfillment was hanging above her now. She did the only thing she could do with Jade pinning her down. She threw her left arm up, releasing it from Jade’s grip, and grabbed the knife that was caved into her raw flesh.
The blood was a trickle at first, but as she tore the knife from her body a stream began to flow. It hurt like no other, but that didn’t matter; all that did was the way she brought the knife down. She had to make it count as she slashed out with all the might she had in her.
Jade had started to get up. The knife made contact, but instead of it hitting her neck, it landed on her thigh, still making a reasonable gash. Grace swung again but missed, for Jade hobbled away from her, now going toward something else. The altar. The knife.
Grace snapped to her feet but it was too late. Jade was already holding it in her hand; it shone like pure beauty, deadly in itself. Grace weighed her options. If she were to lunge at Jade she would be made quick meat by the slash of her knife, and if she ran...
She made the decision in an instant; she turned and ran, clutching her wound as she went. Her speed now many times faster than her sister’s slow hobble, she could still hear her sister running after her.
“Come back here, you bitch!”
Grace laughed. It was unlike her, but she yelled back anyway, “Good luck catching me now, Jade!”
Grace knew exactly where she was going, the only place in the town that was alive at night: where the diggers dug. The run wasn’t far from the golden temple, just a little ways north, through a vineyard and some shrubs.
She came into the clearing and there the diggers were, digging away. That was one thing she was happy about, that she didn’t have to do that for the rest of her life. Dig for dead humans and animals in the long hours of cool nights. She was glad she had thought of the place, for here there were people all around, people she knew even.
Grace slowed her pace to a fast walk, scanning the faces in the dark. So far she recognized no one. All she knew was that the smell was wretched: rotten flesh, feces, and grime. Grace looked toward the shrubs she came from, now seeing Jade tumbling through them. She didn’t have much time.
Grace turned around and almost jumped, for the boy was standing too close to her. Her eyes adjusted to his face, and she recognized him at once.
“Kad! What are you doing here?”
“What do you think, Grace? I was shown to be a digger.” There was a tear in his eye.
“I’m sorry, Kad. First your brother and then this.” Grace glanced and saw Jade breaking into the first rank of the diggers. Jade would need a couple of minutes yet to spot her.
A spark of concern came to Kad’s face as he saw Grace’s wound. “What happened there?”
She looked in Jade’s direction, ignoring his last comment, “Kad, don’t ask questions, I don’t have much time. I was shown to murder Jade, and now she’s coming after me.”
Kad didn’t have to question her, he looked in the direction Grace came from and he, too, spotted Jade coming toward them.
“What do you think of my first dig?” asked Kad.
“It looks great! I’ve never seen better,” said Grace with a radiating smile as she looked at the deep rectangular cut from the earth.
“Looks like it’s going to be for your sister,” said Kad.
Grace looked from him to the hole once again; she knew the harsh reality that was coming. After all of the good years she and Jade had together, side by side, always looking out for one another, always loving one other, she wasn’t sure if she was ready. The thought of all the good memories they shared began to weigh down upon her, and ever more as they were torn from her as Kad piped up.
“Here Grace, take it. This is your duty,” said Kad, giving her his shovel. He then motioned for her to kneel down with him near another’s digging spot.
Grace could see the strategy in it. While they could spot Jade through the legs of all the diggers, there was no way Jade could see them crouching. Jade too, took the same path that Grace had and quickly came upon the spot where Grace had stood just moments before.
Kad nudged her. Grace let the weight that had weighed upon her fall aside. She no longer thought; she acted. It was her cue, and Grace jolted up, running at her sister with the shovel in hand. Jade wasn’t expecting it. It was too dark, and Grace too fast. She was taken out by the strong swipe of the shovel. Jade’s body caved in and she stumbled before falling into the depths of the hole. There was a loud thud, which wasn’t unusual in the place of the diggers. The sound of dirt and bodies being thrown into the holes was normal.
Grace looked down at her sisters’ body, looking cold and lifeless. She wasn’t happy with what she had done, but her life was now fulfilled. She looked to Kad, who now stood next to her, looking into the deep hole.
“Thanks for helping me,” said Grace.
Kad nodded but began to shake, sweat beading on his forehead now.
“Is something wrong?” asked Grace.
Kad gulped, still shaking. “I was shown something else, Grace... I’m sorry.”
Grace became perplexed. Kad gave her a little nudge, just as he had a couple times before that day. She smiled as she felt his warm arm. The nudge became harder than she had expected though, and before she knew it she was toppling over and into the depths of that wretched hole in the ground.
Grace’s face lay on the moist earth at the bottom of the hole. Not only did her prior wound scream out with pain, but her leg did too. She had broken it. All she could do now was cry as she lay on the ground next to her dead sister.
Grace didn’t care anymore, so she cried and cried, letting oceans fall. The next thing she felt was the black earth raining down on her, an onslaught of weight building upon her. Grace looked to her sister who now looked peaceful among all the soil. She outstretched her hand and grasped her sister’s. Soon she too, would be joining her.
Kad could hear Grace crying from the hole he had dug for hours on end. It was a good hole, deeper than most, wider than most, but he was no digger like the rest who were digging about him. He was simply a means to an end. The crying continued, until it became a muffled wine. He never looked down, never hesitated nor rested, but just piled on the black earth that created all life.
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Spanel