A Blade of Two Owners

By: Emma Steenhard

The Robber

I dropped the bloodied knife on the ground. The man collapsed to the ground in front of me as he gripped the front of his dress shirt, a sea of ruby red blood quickly radiating under his hands. My eyes widened and I nearly threw up from the sight of what I had just done. Before I could process anything else, I felt my legs beneath me start to run. I ran as far and as fast as I could, not stopping until I had reached the other side of town. I ducked into an alley and keeled over. My hands, somehow, were covered in blood. The world around me started to spin. I looked up at the sky, trying to calm myself down. I took deep breaths and counted to ten over and over until I didn’t feel so nauseous anymore. I wiped my hands on my jeans, but blood had already dried under my fingernails and in the creases of my palms.

I shakily pulled the wad of cash from my pocket. I fanned out the bills and slowly started to count them, trying to avoid looking at the presidential faces that stared up at me in judgement. It was nearly a thousand all together. Enough to pay the rent. The sight of it once again sent a wave of sickness through me. This time I couldn’t repress it. I leaned over and threw up onto the concrete. It was almost funny; I had killed a man, just so I wouldn’t be evicted. I had a place to sleep at night, but now I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

The Dancer

I awoke this morning leisurely, as I always did. I stretched my arms and legs and lingered in the warmth of my silk covers for several moments before slowly pulling myself out of bed to pull the long satin drapes away from the window, letting the bright sunlight in. I walked into my bathroom to take a shower, allowing the hot water to rush over me and rouse me from my sleep. After dressing and a quick breakfast of yogurt and some fruit, I walked out my front door and got in my car to drive to my comfortable, if not dull, job at a budget analysis firm.

As I drove, my mind started to wander. For some reason, I thought about 7th grade; It was an old and dusty memory, like something you would dig out of an attic. It was so distant that it barely seemed like a memory, more like something I had dreamed or watched on the television a long, long time ago. I remembered learning about the human body in biology, tracing the intricacies of the nervous system with my finger, looking at pictures of brightly colored drawings of brains and hearts, running a plastic femur from a replica skeleton through my hands. I was good at anatomy, and I enjoyed it. These thoughts evoked a strange feeling within me; I enjoyed takin walks down memory lane- getting lost in thought was one of my favorite pastimes- but this was something different; This was not a simple stroll through my mind. No, this time, I was dancing.

I shakily waltzed from fourth grade all the way junior year of high school.  The school offered an anatomy class, but I didn't take it. My mom had bothered me about it every day the summer before, urging me to enroll, she knew how much my seventh-grade science class had enraptured me. But I had refused. I tried to recall why I had insisted on not taking the class, a class that I surely would have enjoyed, but my own reasoning was lost on me. I felt a twinge of regret in my heart. Suddenly I found myself stopped in a parking lot. The dance in my brain was suddenly brought to a halt. I raised my eyes to the level of the street and gazed blankly at the cold, grey building in front of me.

The workday was more disheartening than usual. Most days I went through the motions of it all willingly, with little complaint. But today, every new piece of paperwork that slid across my desk seemed like a new mountain to climb. I was bored. At lunch, my coworkers tried to indulge me in our regular conversation; what was on tv last night, who was dating who down in accounting, where they were going out for dinner on Saturday.

It was all so trivial. I kept focusing on my coworker’s hands, anything to occupy my mind other than their dull chit chat. Her hands were smooth and thin, with noticeable veins and bony fingers. It was all I could do to not grab one and examine it up close. I imagined myself taking a cleaver to her wrist so I could have the beautiful appendage all to myself. I was surprised by my own disturbing imagination. I tried to dance myself away from the thought, but my mind just kept spinning back to her lovely hands.

After a long and dissatisfying day of filling out paperwork, the idea of driving back home just to make a box dinner and watch the news until 9 o’clock was sickening. I wanted to do something different, to find something that could fill the frustrating pit in my chest left by whatever ignorant contentment had dwelled there until my drive to work that morning. I decided to do something I almost never did; I wanted to get a drink.

I drove three blocks south and found myself in the parking lot of Goodman’s bar, a run-down establishment, but one that was known for its lively conversation and clientele. I walked inside, plopped myself down at the bar and ordered a shot of tequila. I was normally ambivalent about hard drinking, but tonight I was feeling risky. After the first shot, I ordered another. Then another. Then another. I struck up a conversation with the other patrons of the bar, laughing merrily at crude jokes and anecdotes, things I would have never dreamed of indulging in before that evening. It was fun, but it meant nothing. Despite my attempts to wash away the dread with cheap tequila, there was still a lingering sense of unrest. When I wasn't foolishly engaging with the drunken regulars of the establishment, I found myself examining the bartender’s bald head with the same strange infatuation that I had stared at my coworker’s hands. I admired its shininess and the way its lack of hair couldn’t conceal anything about the shape of the skull underneath. I caught myself wondering what it felt like to hold that bare skull in my hands.

It was about 2 o’clock in the morning when I exited the bar. The chill fall air stung my bare face. I leaned up against the brick wall of the building, sucking in a deep breath. I had drunk a significant amount, enough to make even a seasoned alcoholic nauseous, which is the feeling that promptly overcame me.

I turned into the alley that sat perpendicular to the bar and vomited onto the concrete. I panted heavily and closed my eyes to stave off the nausea. I leaned backwards and slid down the wall of the alley till I was sitting on the ground. In my reckless and drunken state, I considered just falling asleep right there, my eyelids getting heavy.

But before they could fully close, I was jolted awake by a loud crashing sound from further within the alley. I leapt from the ground and prepared to start sprinting, a jolt of adrenaline engage  But instead, all I heard was a soft grunting coming from behind an industrial dumpster. Every nerve in my body was telling me to get the hell out of there, but there was another voice, deeper, more powerful, in my head telling me to inch closer. Despite all my better judgments, that was the voice I listened to. As I neared closer to the noise, I began to recognize some basic shapes; an arm, a leg, all sprawled across the garbage of the alley. I was about five feet away from the dumpster when I realized what I was looking at.

A man was slumped against the wall, much like I had been minutes before, but instead of laying down to take a defeated nap, the man was covered in blood. Beside him lay a bloodied knife; it was plain and the handle a little battered, but the blade was sharp. It had done its job well.

I could imagine what had happened: this poor schmuck had walked out of the bar after a successful night of celebrating and some crackpot had grabbed him, mugged him, then stabbed him in the chest so he couldn't call the cops. A pathetic and cowardly crime, but a deadly one. The man’s hands gripped the front of his sports coat, clearly trying -and failing to suppress- the spread of the dark pool of red that radiated across the fabric underneath. By my estimation, the knife would have slipped past his sternum and punctured his left lung, leaving him -literally- breathless. His mouth opened and closed silently like a fish that was pulled from the safety of the water and forced into the open air. His eyes weren't much different; barely open but still holding all the fear of some poor animal struggling against death. When his eyes met mine, his legs twitched, and he let out a gasp.

I knew what he was saying: Help me. Please.

Despite the gruesome scene in front of me, I was strangely calm, my drunken state seemingly disappearing. I reached in my pocket for my cell phone so I could call 911, but as I started to punch in the numbers, my eyes slipped down to the knife on the ground. Despite knowing that the sooner I called an ambulance, the better the chances of this man surviving were, the knife held my attention for several long moments. In my peripheral, the man’s legs spazzed again, pleading me to continue dialing the number. But I didn't. I snapped my phone closed and placed it back into my pocket.

As if there was a movie playing front of my eyes, I saw myself standing upon a vast stage.

The man let out a series of pathetic gasps and grunts, as if to question “What the hell are you doing? Help me!”

But I wasn't listening to him.

I was watching the knife.

My mind was dancing. And I wanted to see the whole show.

I slowly leaned down, reaching for the blade. I heard the man gasp in horror. His shallow breaths became rapid and his legs twitched violently. Whether he was pleading with me not to do what I had already decided to do or trying to get away, I didn't know. I didn't really care either.   My hand grasped the knife’s hard plastic handle. I liked how it felt in my palm. There were a series of jumps in my mind. I met the man’s eye line once more. His eyes were widened with horror.

I could feel the heat of the spotlights on my face.

I stepped forward. I could almost hear the music. The man struggled further, but there was no use. I was close enough that I could embrace the man in a hug if I had wanted. But instead, I gently grasped his chin, the way a mother would if her child had gotten a scratch on their cheek. I tilted his head upward.

I could hear the music.

He didn't bother to struggle anymore. I looked him in the eyes one last time and smiled sympathetically. For a second he seemed to smile back. My knife flashed across his neck, and I spun on the stage. Blood poured from the wound; the carotid artery had been cleanly severed. Any last shreds of life that were in those eyes were wiped away as quick as my knife had moved.

I dropped the bloodied knife on the ground. I crouched down by the body, taking in the features of its face and the shape of its figure. What at one time would have been a handsome man dressed in a luxurious suit was now just a shell for useless organs. Maybe the shell had been a lawyer, maybe a businessman. But I didn't really care about what it had been, I only cared about what it was now. My hand found the body’s hand and grasped it gently. It was cold and stiff, a strange feeling for something associated with being warm and dexterous but satisfying at the same time; the inevitable end to the natural state of something. I traced the blue and purple veins radiating up the corpse’s arm with my finger. My hands passed the shoulder and neck that were now inundated with blood. My hands found the corpse’s skull. I ran my fingers in circles around the eye sockets and the bridge of the nose. I felt a brilliant satisfaction within my soul, a feeling of jubilation that I knew couldn’t be matched by anything else. I smiled down at the body. I imagined myself cutting it up into tiny pieces so I could examine every bone and every nerve and every ligament that hid under its skin, taking a cleaver to the wrist, wrapping my hands around the base of the skull. It was a happy thought. I wondered if this feeling is what I would’ve discovered in 11th grade anatomy. I wished I had listened to my mom. I stood up and grabbed the knife once more. I figured I would keep it since it had done me so much good.  I grinned widely as I grabbed the leg of the body and pulled it down the alley, into the darkness of the night.

The dance ended in a fantastic leap.