The back of Serena’s hard steel blade rasped as she slid it up and down my throat, searching, I was sure, for the softest, least resistive area to make her fatal incision. The metal was not cold as I had expected. Instead it had taken on the soft warmth of her skin while it lay hidden against her thigh. Serena’s heat would enter my blood stream. If I was lucky maybe a few of her skin cells still adhered to the shiny surface. If they did then our genes would mingle, become one again.
I wondered what she saw when she looked at me. Did she see a frightened, shivering, snivelling wreck. Or did she see the other side of her. The non-angry, non-violent side. The calm to her storm.
It was stupid to reflect upon such an idea. She would never be so weak as to consider another, nor had she ever seen me as anything other than a convenient scapegoat. Certainly I had never existed in her mind as kin. As sister.
The shimmer of the blade caught my eye as it trembled finely. The movement was telling. She was uncomfortable with what she was about do. My heart seized on that one giveaway motion and fed the flames of hope.
‘You hesitate, sister.’ I kept my voice slow, calm, controlled while my pulse galloped.
‘You stole my life!’ The angry hiss stole my breath. The accusation was absurd. Even as the denial, the question, began to form on my lips she was nodding. ‘Yes. I should have had the pony, the parties, the pretty dresses, a private education. I,’ the tip of the blade barely missed Serena’s chin as she pointed it to herself, ‘should have had your life!’ She had reduced the loving environment of my childhood to a series of unimportant events and objects.
Uttering a deep, melancholic sigh she dramatically swung away into a pirouette, arms held aloft. The streaming rays of sunlight glittered mesmerisingly over her twirling form. She sparkled like a jewel. Hard and cold. Sharp and cutting.
‘I would have adored all those parties and balls you turned your nose up at.’ Her twirls ended abruptly. ‘Odd, don’t you think, that I am Serena and you are Calamity.’ She giggled at the confusion that pleated my brow. ‘We could consider it an ironic absurdity or,’ her body folded into a tragic mime, ‘a horrendous mistake on the part of fate that we were switched,’ her face pressed too near to mine for comfort, ‘by a moronic imbecile who put us in the wrong baskets!’
Her nostrils flared in anger and she gently pressed the keen edge of the blade into a soft crease. The pliant tissue couldn’t resist the pressure. I had been mistaken. The faint quiver of the blade was not due to apprehension. It was excitement that had a hold of her.
But a quick death was not her intention either. She intended to make me suffer. Why – I had yet to discover. Or maybe she had already given me the answer. I was to pay for all that had gone wrong in her life. I would experience the tragedies that, in her mind, should have been mine all along. She could be right. Maybe we were switched. Certainly our names did not match our temperaments, but then what do parents know of what the future holds when they name their children?
I needed to buy some time. Seconds, a minute at the most, I hoped. It all depended on how much of her clung to the silver metal.
‘Before you kill me, answer me three things, please?’ The politeness was more out of habit than guile. Cooling blood had pooled in the hollow at the base of my throat. I hadn’t felt its trickle. The tiny pool overflowed and slid thickly, slowly down my warm chest, between my breasts, dissecting me, splitting me in half.
She stepped back. The knife remained poised scant millimetres from my skin.
Had I ever looked as beautiful as she did? Her beauty was wild; sharp and harsh like pickled chillies that stripped your tongue. Even though we were identical there was a wildness to her beauty that was captivating.
‘What do you want to know?’ I was momentarily stunned, hadn’t expected her to accede to my request. My mind scrambled for questions.
‘When – how – did you find out about me?’
Her brow creased in annoyance. ‘You’re an idiot.’ Disappointment flared bright in her eyes. ‘Of all the things you could ask you choose the least relevant. I think I lucked out on the brains sister.’ She spat out the last word mockingly with a cynical laugh. Did my laughter sound like hers? It was almost melodious, even with the mocking tone it was pleasant.
Her head cocked to one side as she looked me over; the first time she’d actually looked at me as a person rather than an inconvenience and I wanted to hide.
I could feel the reaction taking place within me as the tiny minute traces of Serena that had lingered on the blade slipped into my blood stream, creating matches and secret links, the heat in my throat escalating with every small connection.
I coughed reflexively against the discomfort and she dropped her hand. A fine line of red edged the very end of the knife. As she lowered it a single drop of the crimson fluid slipped off to splash on the dirt floor, creating a tiny crater.
We both watched as another drop splattered onto the first, disappearing into the dry dust. Her lips curled in a sneer.
‘See?’ Her hand flicked indolently at the floor and another drop flew off. Surely the was not enough clinging to the knife for yet more to fall. ‘That is all you’re good for. Fertiliser for a parched earth.’ An idle thought caught her imagination and her eyes widened with false humour. ‘I know, I shall plant a row of tomato seeds and from your blood I shall grow big, fat, juicy tomatoes.’ She gave a small jump in glee. Oohh! I shall pluck them and then do you know what I will do?’ She giggled, pressing the back of the hand holding the blade to her mouth. ‘Oh, it’s too funny.’ Her laugh shook her slender shoulders. ‘I shall – I shall –’ she couldn’t form the words for laughing so hard. ‘I’ll put them in a pretty basket and send them to him. Anonymously, of course.’ She clutched her stomach as she bent over, laughing so hard now she’d forgotten all about her earlier anger. ‘And he’ll eat them. He’ll eat you. He’ll bite into the flesh that is, in effect, you! Ha, ha, ha!’ The laughter dried off into a vicious smile. ‘He’ll eat you. Oh God, it’s too good. I’m a bloody freakin’ genius.’ She was almost giddy with the thought, her mouth watering at the mere idea of such a spectacle.
‘What does it matter? He won’t know.’ I couldn’t let her see how horrified I was.
‘That’s the point, you fool. I’ll watch him enjoy every mouthful and then,’ an ecstatic quiver shook her frame. Her veins must run with distilled evil. ‘Oh,’ another quiver raced down her spine, ‘and then I shall take such sweet, delicious, delight in telling him!’ Her loud guttural snarl rattled like bones in a jar as she pushed her face close to mine. Bile rose in my throat, her pleasure at such malevolence was barbaric.
Before she could blink, before I could think twice about the disgusting act, I had her nose gripped firmly between my sharp flint-like teeth.
Who is the barbarian now my mind whispered.
There was a sickening crunch as the cartilage collapsed, the skin giving way as easily as if it were butter between my sharp incisors; then warm, sticky, metallic gore flooded my mouth. I could detect the faint fuzz of the skin covering her protrusion against my too sensitive tongue.
It is truly amazing at how the body manages to delay the onset of pain, giving one enough time to react. It was the same for Serena. I was surprised when she didn’t use the knife to decapitate me. Instead, she dropped it, struggling in the grip of my bared teeth, trying to prise the mandibles apart until, with an escalating scream of pain, she tore herself away, her nose remaining fixed between my bared teeth, and covered her ravaged face.
The blood spread backwards, down my throat, meeting the bile still lodged there. I gasped round the flesh, trying desperately to control the gag reflex, allowing the salty liquid to slide past the constriction. The heat that flared at its passage was scorching. I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to throw up, I couldn’t. Surely I had enough of her miserable cells within me to complete the process?
I could no longer control the nausea rising in my throat and I spat the offensive tissue as far as I could, which wasn’t very far. A stream of blood and this morning’s breakfast following its arc. The mangled flesh hit her elbow and bounced once, twice, three times in the dust before rolling to a stop in front of a tightly-bound bale of hay.
‘Yoo beitch,’ she screamed, the words distorted, and lunged for my face, her hands covered in blood.
Even though I knew she could no longer hurt me I still reared back.
Serena’s fingers and palms snapped back at the wrists as they hit the invisible barrier inches from my face. ‘Aaagghhh!’
She smacked her hands at the air, against the clear shield, above, below, all around, but it was impenetrable. She couldn’t touch me.
‘W’a ‘ave yoo done? W’at ish thish? W’a’ – How – ’ Her garbled words, increasing in volume, became incoherent as she raged. Trails of sticky red gore streaming from the space where her nose used to be. I was amazed at her ability to focus when her face must be in agony.
‘I can touch you, if I wish,’ I decided to explain, my voice thick with the blood still coating my tongue, shaky with reaction. ‘But you may never, ever, touch me again unless I will it.’
‘Bitch!’ Her scream rent the air, flecks of blood and flesh flying out from her wound as she shook in her rage. ‘I’ll kill you! I – will – kill – you!’
She whirled and disappeared through the far door, a hand once more clasped over the gaping hold in her beautiful face.
I had little time, seconds, before she would return. I spat out the remains of her blood.
Hands still tied behind the chair I rose, lifting the whole thing, bending double, onto my hobbled feet and took a tentative jump towards the knife. It sat a mere metre and a half away. I gave another jump and almost lost my balance.
It was no use, I would never make it in time this way. I had absolutely no doubt Serena would not leave me alone for long. I sat back on all four chair legs.
Cold tendrils of fear snaked round my spine and I clenched my rattling teeth.
Don’t think upon it! Focus! I would not give in.
Shifting all my weight over onto one buttock I lifted the other side of the chair and twisted so it landed several centimetres further forward before repeating the movement in the other direction. The cold still spiralled down my back, urging me to hurry and I nearly tipped the chair right over in my haste. Taking a much needed deep breath I resumed my advance on the knife.
Using the rocking movement I managed to cover almost 30 centimetres before she appeared again, a large gauze, already saturated red, taped over the space where her nose used to be. Her breath issued noisily from her mouth while the gauze plumped with each exhalation.
‘Is this what you want, sister?’ She sneered as she picked up the knife and held it aloft. Her voice was clearer if nasally.
I couldn’t help but admire her determination. Damaged as she was even her pain was secondary to her original purpose – to dispose of me.
‘How did you do it? How is it I cannot touch you?’
‘Answer my question first!’ My voice wavered. Her beauty was marred but she was no less intimidating.
She circled me, her feet kicking up little clouds of dust. As she passed the hay bales she casually picked up the remains of her nose and slipped the dirty mess into her pocket. I didn’t tell her it would be better packed in ice in a rigid box. Even though I was protected by the shield I was wary. The danger was still too real for complacency.
‘No. You lost all privileges when you decided to snack! Now, tell me what you did!’
‘No,’ I mirrored her declaration. ‘You lost all privileges when you decided to kidnap me.’
An electric whiny screech rent the air followed by a voice, distorted and pitched high by a tannoy.
‘This is the police. The building is under surveillance. Come out slowly with your hands on your head!’
We were both surprised. Neither of us had expected to be found here, in the middle of nowhere.
I smiled at her shocked face. The made me feel safe and my voice calmed. ‘Game’s up Serena. There’s nowhere to go. Nowhere to run.’
Although she smiled back it was a pitying look. The hard glitter of her eyes mocked me.
‘So easily are you placated. Do you really think it makes any difference? Do you honestly believe that I give a damn about them out there?’ She closed her eyes and gave a small shake of her head. ‘Lord, what does he see in you and your obvious neediness?’
Needy? I considered the notion that I could be seen as needy. The thought was appalling.
‘Look at us. Which one is the more damaged?’ She giggled. ‘It’s easy,’ she whispered, circling me but wary of getting too close again. ‘I stab you and kill you, untie you, and they come storming in to find me writhing on the floor. Remember Calamity – the victor writes the history books and,’ she gestured to the absent appendage, ‘it does look like you are slightly more insane than I.’
Cocking her head to one side she contemplated me.
‘I was only defending myself, officer!’ She affected a little girl voice. It was good, very convincing.
The tannoy squealed again.
‘This is the police. The build…’
The sound was closer, louder. Serena’s hand snapped in a yapping motion as she advanced slowly, scraping at the blood on her palm with the handle.
‘So, I can’t touch you,’ she smiled wickedly, ‘but my lovely Kitchen’s assistant…’ She allowed the sentence to trail off and approached me, arm extended, blade horizontal.
I shook my head at her, lips twisted in a wry smile. ‘It won’t work.’ I didn’t explain why in case she wiped off her blood, washed the knife…
Teeth clenched she stamped her foot in frustration. I hoped she would give up now. The tannoy squealed again and Serena gave a screech of her own and flew to the entrance. At the last second she whirled back and threw the knife straight at me.
I snorted at her ridiculous attempt to wound me. The knife would bounce harmlessly off the shield; after all, it was covered in her cells from being sheathed so close to her body, from the blood she’d scraped off her hand. I sighed at her persistence. The shield would hold, there was no way for it to penetrate.
I was wrong.
It flipped in mid-air, turning end over end. As I watched it’s tumbling flight I noticed the Achilles’ heel, I remembered, and my calm spun away in the opposite direction.
The sharp point, still coated with my blood, slid unhindered through the barrier, far and fast enough to pierce my chest before halting at the first smears of her blood. It slammed sharply against the invisible protective layer that surrounded me, halfway through. The long blade had penetrated the pliant flesh by at least 4 inches, sliding unresistingly between two ribs.
I could feel the unforgiving hard metal close to my heart. With every swollen beat the blood filled muscle brushed against the cruel flat edge. My mind faltered as I tried to think of my best course of action.
It became harder and harder to breathe and I realised the point had managed to penetrate the lung. Oh, what a lucky hit for Serena. She had a good arm. Had I the strength to laugh I would have done, for she had not waited around to see that her aim had been true.
I began to release the shield and the knife shifted. Looking down I could see pink bubbles of gas escaping from the gash. I quickly restored the diminishing shield; it held the knife in place. Contrary to my body’s immediate requirements my breathing had quickened in panic, I could no longer control it. As hysteria overran common sense the bubbles broke through faster.
I was unaware of the commotion outside as my senses slowly shut down. Sound dissipated, the edges of my vision shrank. The light in the room dwindling until all that was visible was the dark ruby stain that drenched my shirt.
Then even that was gone and I could see, hear, smell nothing.