R. C. SmithShort Stories and Vignettes

Do not read my works if you are offended by descriptions of sexuality and violence.
(Do not read them just for those descriptions, either.)

The Fourth Sacrifice

I was tired and hungry when I finally reached the little town in the valley that I had seen from some distance, walking down one of the hills that surrounded it, hoping to find a place where I could eat and rest; alms given me either out of charity or in return for what little I had to offer: my body, which, of course, I had no means to save from being taken for free, and my skills in making it provide pleasure, which, when I was lucky, were rewarded by a friendly word, a small gift, or a bowl of hot soup with some meat in it.

I had hoped for this, but I found my hopes disappointed in a curious way: there was no one around to take what I had or to give what I needed; the town seemed to be empty, devoid of all its occupants.

I wandered through empty narrow streets, at first thinking that some disaster had struck, that the inhabitants had died of a strange disease or fled a mysterious danger, but I saw no signs of any disturbances, all seemed to be normal, doors and ground floor windows were locked, some windows at second of third floors were open, from some chimneys smoke was rising steadily into the calm blue spring sky ... no signs of any people, though ... and then I heard distant singing.

I followed the sound of the voices, feeling a strange urgency to reach their source as I hastened through the labyrinthine streets until, turning one more corner, I came to a huge square that was packed with people, all the town’s inhabitants must have gathered here. The singing had stopped, and all was silent, no one talked, everybody looked straight ahead, towards the square’s other end, in expectance of an event that I knew nothing about.

Slowly I moved through the crowd, in the direction in which everyone was looking, people making room for me to let me pass, until I had reached a point from were I could see what had to be a kind of sanctuary. As the square from here on sloped down in that direction, I could see it quite clearly over the crowd’s heads.

There was a row of four pillars, made of white stone, maybe twelve feet high, some eight feet apart, and in front of each pillar was a stone table, and upon each table an object lay: from left to right a large knife, a smaller knife, a small knife, and a sword.

And to each of the first three pillars a young woman was tied, naked, facing the congregation.

The lips of the three women were moving, but I could not hear them, maybe they were speaking silent prayers.

I found myself standing next to a man, who, different from the others who had just made room to let me pass, looked at me attentively. He was a handsome man, tall, strong, with an honest and knowing face. Before I could check my words, I asked him, whisperingly, “What is going on here?”

He showed no surprise, neither at my ignorance not at my daring to ask him. “Today is the day of our annual sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice?” I asked.

“The first one will give a hand, the second one a breast, the third one an eye,” he said.

I shuddered, but I also felt an unexpected fascination.

“When will they begin?” I asked, still whispering.

“When the fourth sacrifice comes forth,” he said. “They cannot begin without her.”

“The fourth sacrifice?”

“She will have to complete the offerings,” he said. “She will give two hands, two breasts, two eyes. And, of course, she will give her life.”

“Her life?” I replied, disingenuously.

“The sword will enter her twice, first from below, through her vagina, then from the front, through her navel,” he said. “She will die slowly, and she will die in pain, to honor her obligation, and ours.”

Horror and a strange foreboding made my knees weak.

“Who ... when ...?” I stammered.

“Other than the other three girls, who have been chosen, she has to volunteer,” he said.

“But if ...”

“If not? Then there will be no ceremony, and we will all go home again, and try to cope with the consequences.”

“I have no home to go to,” I said.

“Of course not,” he replied.

A murmur rose from the crowd, as a figure dressed in a hooded gold brocade ceremonial garb, walked up to the sanctuary, faced the crowd, and stood still. I could not tell whether it was a man or a woman.

“The ceremony will soon begin now,” the man next to me said.

“But ... who ...?”

“Don’t you know it?” he said. “Do you really not know?”

I trembled. I wanted to say “No!” but my voice failed me. I could hardly move nor breathe. All I could do was nod my head.

And the crowd parted, opening a path in front of me, and they all looked at me with awe and expectation, and the man reached out his hands, and I understood and took off my clothes and handed them to him, and I silently thanked god that I had not neglected to wash and to shave, and then I walked towards the sanctuary, and up the few steps of a pedestal that I had not seen from the distance, and went to each of the bound girls and looked into their terrified eyes and kissed their quivering mouths, and took each of the knives and kissed them and put them back, and did the same with the sword, and then I stood in front of the fourth pillar, and stretched out my arms for my elbows to be tied behind me, I did not see by whom, pressing my back against the smooth stone, and the hooded figure came forward, I saw now that it was a man, and his eyes rested upon me, as did the eyes of the other sacrifices, and the eyes of all who were assembled here and depended upon me, and I returned all their gazes, and I knew they were expecting me to say the right words so the ceremony could proceed, and say them now, and into the expectant silence I spoke them, I said “Thank you,” and I smiled, and the first sacrifice’s screams rang out, and then the second one chimed in, and the third, and then a fourth screaming voice joined them, which was my own, as the blades started to cut me, all three knives one after the other, cutting my wrists, my breasts, my eyes, and in the darkness I opened my legs, and I felt how the sword entered me, and withdrew and entered me again, and I thought about how I had come to this town only in hope of a bowl of hot soup, and how much I was given instead, and I was happy because I knew that all was well, now.

(12/2008)

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