RUNNING THE BLADE

From Divine Play, pp. 523-530

 They toted her vertically into a ballroom, toward an elongated, red-carpeted pit encompassed by tiered benches. Within the pit, there was a maze of very flimsy, parallel, gray walls. When they brought her to the edge of the pit, she perceived what the maze was—three razor blades, at least two meters tall, a hundred meters long, edge up, amid finely pointed metal spikes. The blades were about six meters apart, warped here and there to bring them close together. The edges showed the shiny bevel of acuity.

The goons took off her boots and socks, and dread overwhelmed her that more of her clothing would be removed. Thankfully, the duties of anatomical exposés were being assumed by the silken-haired hostesses in their black silk one-pieces with precipitous décolletage and swathing seat.

The goons hoisted her onto the platform in front of the nearest razor blade.

Her two opponents were pacing and twitching on platforms before their respective blades. At the furthermost blade was a woman in her twenties perhaps, small but sturdy and shapely in black stretch shorts and bright blue halter top. She had brambly dark hair and skin the color of powdered milk. She looked over at Willie and smiled, lowering her eyes shyly. Good Christ, Willie thought, it’s the sincere ones that will undo me.

“Erin Manto,” said the blond thug beside her. “She’s lost maybe two in twenty races.”

“She can win this one too, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You have to win, or you don’t get through.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I kinda guessed as much.”

He stared at her, his brown eyes suddenly darkening. “Phil is right.  You’re beautiful.”

She felt the blood heat of shame and giddiness across her skin and hated herself for the feelings. “And who’s our neighbor to the left?”

“Mikey—”

“‘Our ‘neighbor᾽? How domestic!” Mikey interrupted. He was likewise twentysome, gaunt and lantern-jawed, his large head on an insupportive stem of neck. His small features were like the components for Mr. Potato Head. The curly red hair resembled paint smeared on glass.

“Mikey Scotch,” the blond finished. “Mikey, why not try being 5 percent less of an asshole?”

“Ted,” Erin said in a soft, high-pitched voice, “you shouldn’t say ‘asshole,’ even to Mikey.”

Ted blushed. “Right. I’m sorry.” He smiled. “Erin keeps me decent.”

“That’s good,” Willie said, feeling apprehension as she surveyed the long blade before her. “Decent is good.”

“You’re about as ‘decent’ as a hemorrhoid,” said Mikey….

Ted shook his head impatiently and genuflected as if to kiss her feet.

“Don’t be mad at me,” he murmured. He removed a tiny hypodermic from his pocket and meticulously plunged the needle into the top of her right foot. She winced from the pain but stood still, putting her hand on his back. Guardedly, his nose almost touching her foot, using his forefinger to nudge the plunger, he worked like a watchmaker. He slipped the syringe into her left foot.

“Post positions please,” Dr. Larius called.

 “You need to step up,” Ted said. He offered his left hand. “Ma’am?”

She grasped it, compressing her lips to stifle a smile.

She stepped onto the blade with her right foot and lifted her left away from the platform. The beveled edge sank lengthwise into the center of her right foot so deeply she was sure it was cut in two, but she still forced herself to place her right foot onto the edge. She swayed, panicked, straightened, lifted her head, conjured images of equilibrium.

An excruciating gong resounded. The crowd wrought fury, screeching and howling, and the competitive madness was confirmed. The AVIes wafted above her, as flimsily serpentine as banners. No sensation of bleeding or sight of blood on her feet. Maybe her high arches would protect her. Insanity! What am I, fifty-nine kilos? What kind of pressure is that on the blade? How many newtons, in motion? How could I not be cut? The drug that Ted had injected was affecting her, lightening her body. She was elevated, almost carefree, until she looked down and realized that if she lost her balance, she’d slice off her hands in breaking her fall. Step by step, heel-toe, heel-toe. She’d studied anatomy, starting with a coloring book when she was four. The taluses above the ankles bore all the weight, but each talus transmitted half of its half through the calcaneus to the heel and the other half of its half was transferred forward along the arches to the metatarsals. What about the underside ligaments? The . . .  the . . . calcaneo something ligament. Didn’t it hold the whole foot together? What if she severed it? My God!

The ambient light altered from white to yellow. The crowd was dark and blurred, frantic, crying out encouragement: “Go, baby, go!” Who was “baby”? “Move, you bitch!” Which bitch? She was a few meters behind Erin, and neck and neck—or foot and foot—with Mikey. Erin moved proficiently—with a lower center of gravity. Willie felt awkward, oafish, overgrown—but she’d played bizzyball, and for a time endured a “realization” of a 3VAK game―leaping from one to another of those silly rising mounds—that had heightened her equilibrium. There was an exultation in an integrated body, muscles responding in consonance with the mind.

She’d disregarded Mikey’s fist until it was only centimeters from her head, then bent forward so that his knuckles raked her right ear. She wobbled, lifted her left foot to balance, veering over the spikes and the suppurating Venusian slugs. Mikey’s blade had deviated imminently to hers. He tried to grab her right supporting leg, but she swung her left backward, striking his right wrist. He yelped and cradled the wrist to his chest. “You cunt!”

 “The anonymous handicapper,” she gasped, “called you a ‘savage.’”

“That’s right,” Mikey said, smirking, grabbing her hair and yanking on it.

“But you’re also known as”—she jabbed her elbow into his middle and used a backhanded fist against his nose—“a bleeder.” He swayed and clamped his thumb and forefinger around his nose as the blood seeped from it.

She quickened her pace and was both fortunate and unfortunate in that a swarm of tiny winged demons attacked her and Erin. Erin remained several meters ahead, but she was not progressing. The demons were bright red, a few centimeters tall, with bat wings and the traditional narrow, downturned eyes and goatees, but they wore top hats. They bit her ears and cheeks and neck with aculeate teeth. They emitted boinging squeals of rage that resembled ultrasound as she batted them away.

She retrieved a small solar fan from her belt, and the hurricane force propelled them into the crowd. People screamed expectantly, but the demons veered away just before contact.

Erin had already resumed the race.

Abruptly there was darkness, and then the disruptive flash of stroboscopic light. She stepped through pulsing blackness, through the groaning wail of spectators, and found the blade each time. When the lights returned, she was several meters behind Erin.

At this pace, the race was already over. She lifted her heels and felt the blade’s intensified bite on the balls of her feet. I’ll be a cripple. I’ll be helpless. But urgency overcame her, and the injection Ted had administered had not only numbed her feet, but also petrified them. She bounded, her legs upraised, as if running hurdles. Each landing should have bisected a foot. Win, only win, she chanted, win, only win, win, only win. No logic, no body, no mass, no space, no time, no pain, no gravity, no matter, no light, no electrons, protons, gluons, pylons, nylons, strap-ons, put-ons, morons, futons, croutons, coupons . . . She leaped, arms and legs extended, a coatrack in flight. Persistently she gained on Erin, the fans stomping, shrieking, lauding and applauding, pounding every metal surface in their vicinity with feet and fists and knees and palms. Erin glanced back at the upheaval, caught sight of her, and lengthened and quickened her gait.

Willie was a meter or so behind Erin when she noticed blood trickling along the blade below her. She stopped, heart and head throbbing steadily, astounded by the blood draining from the undersides of her feet. Her abeyance saved her, for Mikey had been approaching, gliding on motorized skates, wheels clamped to the bevel’s track, as he gripped a black-bladed iron bar over his head. Too late he discerned that she had halted, and braked abruptly parallel to her, too near for an effective arching momentum. He swung the bar and nicked the top of her head, but the bar slipped through his sweaty hands propulsively. Her left side kick marked his groin with the bloody impression of her foot. Mikey, contracting toward the pain, tumbled sideward onto spikes, but his fall was softened by two Venusian slugs that were unaccountably perching there. They exploded, releasing a sulphurous rancid smell and a bellicose growling protest akin to the sound of two flushing toilets, amplified a hundredfold. Mikey was squealing as a squad of slugs, their long jumps sustained by myriad miniscule wings, descended on him.

Willie assumed Erin must have won by now, but then discerned Erin ahead, stepping charily forward, arching her back. The errant metal bar must have struck her, for it lay on the floor to her left.

Willie bounded, fury narrowed to unyielding intent. Before her, a spotlight shone on the perpendicular edge of the finish line, and a throng had gathered. Erin sensed her approach and adrenaline must have effaced her pain, for she bolted, both racing equidistantly. Willie’s bloodied feet rose and fell within the parlous aura of the blade. Just beyond the blade, there were yellow circles painted on a black marble floor.

Less than a meter from the pointed terminus, they took flight simultaneously into the gilded atmosphere, in the long jump to victory, outside all sequence and priority, vaulting through heat and stench, smoke and perfume, and the clamorous frenzy of the audience. Eventually, more or less, they alighted on the painted golden spheres.

Amid the maffled agitation, they awaited the results. She removed compression bandages from her pouches and wrapped them neatly around her feet. Ted stood in attendance, bearing her boots. He was grinning, but she avoided his gaze, except to take the boots and smile perfunctorily in gratitude.

“You are amazing,” Ted said. Erin began wailing, “O-o-o-o-o-h-h-h!” The crowd was bawling.

“I won?” she asked, hopping as she donned her boots.

The floor opened beneath her.

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About Tom Ukinski

Tom Ukinski is an attorney in state government in the Midwest. He's been writing plays, novels, short stories, comedy sketches and screenplays for many years.
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