Flash Fiction: The First Cut

Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week is the follow-up to last week’s Opening Line Contest.

Take one of the (approximately 500) posted opening lines and use it as starting point for your own story.

I chose “The first cut is not always the deepest” by georgie538.

1000 Words.

Warning: I took it literally. Violence and death. You have been warned.

=======================================

The First Cut

The first cut is not always the deepest.

In fact, if it were, he’d be doing it wrong.

The first cut is no cut at all, it’s not even a scratch. It’s preparation for what will come, performed with a clear head and a steady hand.

More a caress than an injury, more a mark than a wound, barely severing the skin. What lies beneath has to remain whole.

It may diverge the tiniest bit and reveal the raw colour of flesh, pink and white against the darkness of the skin, promise of what’s to come. Crimson drops may gather on the edges and grow into beads, dark and shiny in the torchlight. If they fell, he’d be doing it wrong.

They will fall later. The flood will come later, the rush of life, gathered in hollow black stone.

As black as the blade of the knife. His eyes are warm and his smile gentle, white teeth and full lips under a hooked nose. He loves what he is doing, up here above the forest and the city, closest to the sun and alone with her. Gift and giver. He can feel her trust and her pride.

The tip of the blade slides from the hollow of her throat to her navel, leaving a darker trail between the white and red stripes on her skin. No beads. Not yet. The touch is so light that he can feel her breathe, his ample white sleeves swaying with the careful motions of his hands. They’re flawless. Everything about him is flawless. The white linen and the gold-plated leather of his belt must not be stained.

It’s his duty and his fulfilment to be the conduit to his god. But sometimes he wonders how it feels to be opened and bared to the world. He wonders if he would like it, to give life instead to receive it. He wonders why he gives her away so easily.

He looks into her eyes, a pensive, probing gaze. She has taken the goblet from his hand without a word, but with a joyous smile and reverence in her eyes, drunk it down in one go. Barely a sigh escaped her when she fell and he caught her.

Now black has drowned out everything else, she doesn’t blink any more, her gaze unfocused and turned inwards. Once there was amber, a warm colour in a face full of angles and expressions. Her gaze was sparkling with laughter as she said farewell to her daughter and her jaw already set in pride and determination. Now it’s slack, only the dancing shadows evoking an illusion of life. A bubble of spit gathers in the corner of her mouth, lips dark against the ashen brown of her skin and the white paint on her cheekbones.

He wonders how it may feel to be turned inside out for a god. If it still mattered after she drank the potion. And what is left when everything that remains is oneself, the beat of a heart and the rush of a pulse that will stop, the quiet in and out of one’s own breath that will cease. How it would feel to feed the god and with the god her people. He wonders if she regrets.

Perhaps she still hears the chants from the edges of the platform, a few steps below them, that monotonous sound that never disturbs him in his concentration. No melody, just a thrumming, meaningless noise that lays itself over his senses. Men clad in white and red, not more than decoration.

Not long now.

The blade is stainless, reflecting the flickering light of the torches in the many facets of its polished surface, the grip smooth and familiar against his palm. His free hand rests on her stomach, firm and warm, stretching the skin over her ribs. He marks another line along the arc of her ribs, let’s the blade follow its path with only gentle guidance from his wrist. It is shallow like the first, the junction marking her core.

For the last time, he sees her whole.

She doesn’t scream when the second cut follows the first, fast and firm beneath the bones. If she screamed, he’d be doing it wrong. The blade has its own will, has to be tamed as it slides along the mark, or it would cut too deep.

The flood begins to trickle and fills the gouges in the stone, and her breath begins to falter. It ceases abruptly when his hand delves into the hollow of her body, when it is red to the wrist and clenches around a pulsing muscle.

Her blood runs down his arm and drops off his elbow when he presents the gift to the god. The new day is his reward, the sunrise flowing red and orange over the horizon.

He is tired when he enters his quarters, hours later. Not everything is thrill and reward. The effigies had to be bathed in her blood, sticky and viscous as it cooled down. He had to wash it off himself before he could change the white linen against rough-spun cloth, the gold around his waist against a simple rope. The familiar rooms, narrow and cool behind thick walls, are empty and merciful dark. His daughter knows she must not disturb him now.

When she comes home and asks for her mother, he kneels down in front of her, lets her braid slide through his hand.

“She is gone, child.”

Wide eyes and a trembling lip. “Gone?”

He tries a smile. It fails, but his palm is warm on her cheek. “Yes.”

Tears gather in her lashes, shining, translucent beads. They will fall later. “You have given her away?”

He nods. It’s his duty and his fulfilment. If the god asks, she will be next.

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