Andrew Openshaw is a copywriter from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. An avid reader of fantasy and horror, he is now taking tentative steps into the world of speculative fiction. To date, his work can be found in Palm-Sized Prompts, Schlock! Webzine, The Dirty Pool, Corner Bar Magazine, Literally Stories and The Scarlett Leaf Review. Always keen to connect with other writers, he can be reached via Twitter: @moriskarass and at his website http://www.andrewopenshaw.com. Married to Josephine, he is a proud parent to the world's noisiest cats: Maxwell, Molko & Bodhi.
A KNIFE AND COPPER TALE
Angela burst into the house and dashed upstairs to the spare room. The boxes brought from Grandma’s flat were still there, contents spilling over the sides and onto the floor. She’d helped her mum bring them in from the car that day. Not once did she consider how sad it was that Grandma died. Instead, she’d excitedly rummaged through the boxes; desperate to see what lovely things she could claim before they were taken away again. To charity shops and retirement homes and other boring places.
That’s when she’d found the book.
After skim-reading the ‘knife and copper myth’ instructions, she’d tossed the book away. It still lay discarded at the back of the room, spine bent and pages curled. Angela grabbed it up and flicked through till she found the entry. Using her finger to trace the words, she concentrated and read the part she’d failed to read before.
… the method will work if the intent is genuine. Usually, those who give the knife with intent are satisfied with the result, and over time they will simply forget their friend ever existed. Often, though, stirrings of guilt manifest when realisation of their actions sets in. Instead of forgetting their friend, over the next few days the giver begins to regret what they’ve done and their attention soon turns to finding ways to somehow find their missing companion.
“Yes, yes, yes!” said Angela to herself. She sniffled and turned the page.
The ability to retrieve someone from the realm of severance, as it is known, is natural to humans as it must also be to beings from the other realms. Although I describe how to do it here in these pages, the truly guilt-ridden giver will work it out for themselves eventually; although the method can take many years to formulate in their minds.
Angela paused. ‘The realm of severance’, ‘Other realms’, ‘beings’. Surely this was just nonsense? Her confidence waning, she read on.
Retrieval isn’t easy and requires sacrifice on behalf of the knife-giver. To pass over to the realm of severance, they must relinquish a part of their essence; a fundamental aspect of their very existence. The giver must think on this trait while they prepare to pass over. Only they will know what is the best, most right thing to choose.
It’s helpful to add here that the giver must also remember to take a piece of copper with them. They must give this to their friend for the retrieval to work.
A new heading read: Passing over to the realm of severance. Angela continued.
To do so the giver must channel their former friend. Staring into a mirror, they should try to remember the first time they met. How they felt then, compared to how they feel now. At the same time, the giver must focus on the trait which they have chosen to sacrifice. When they’re tuned into only these thoughts, the giver should close their eyes, keeping a firm hold of their copper piece. They will soon experience a drifting sensation, which will last for several seconds. Opening their eyes again should reveal they have arrived in the realm of severance.
Once there, they must track down their friend and give them the copper piece. Their friend must give it back, thus fulfilling the transaction. Both the giver and the receiver will then return to this realm, back to the exact place and time where the initial severance took place. Their memories of what has happened will be gone.
A final heading said: Further reading.
Readers may be asking themselves: if returning from the realm of severance means going back in time, with no recollection of ever having been there, how is it that I am giving an account of how to get there in the first place? Those that seek an answer to this question must search for a book by my esteemed colleague, Professor Trinkell, who offers in ‘Realms Beyond Our Own’, a detailed first-hand description of the realm of severance, as well as various tricks to retain knowledge of its existence once you have returned.
The passage ended there, and Angela closed the book. It all seemed rather far-fetched, but it was clear from the instructions what she had to do.
She also knew that she would have to forsake her popularity to get Carla back. But did it really matter? The last few weeks before she’d sent Carla away, Angela had experienced what it was like to be shunned and ridiculed. It wasn’t nice, but being popular wasn’t great either, what with the superficial relationships, the lies, the politics. Removing those things would be refreshing. Besides, when she returned she wouldn’t know what they were like anyway. Giving up meant forgetting too.
Angela was ready. She took a penny from her purse and went into the bathroom. Holding on to the tiny coin, as instructed, Angela gazed into a mirror on the wall. She thought back to that moment all those months ago, in assembly. The accidental wink, the horror of bringing Carla into her life, losing her lead in the polls and watching her gang drift away, her life crumbling around her.
Then she focused on her feelings now. The guilt and the sadness. The impact of her actions on others’ lives. Those people who were now suffering because of Carla’s absence. She remembered Carla’s doting innocence; right up until the moment she took the knife out of the box, she’d believed Angela to be her friend and companion, completely ignorant of her role as a tool, a pawn in a political game.
Angela worried about where Carla might be now, what might be happening to her. And how she’d realised that, deep down, she cared about Carla. Getting her back was all she cared about now.
Emotions for so long dulled within Angela began rising to the surface. For the first time since it happened, she got a wave of sadness for poor old Grandma, who’d died alone at home, in pain, with no one to say goodbye to.
Angela closed her eyes to stop the flow of tears.
When she opened her eyes again, the mirror was gone. She was no longer stood in the bathroom at home. It had worked; Angela had crossed over to the realm of severance.
There wasn’t much to see at first. A thick mist meant visibility was reduced to a few meters. Angela was outside, though, that was clear. A furious storm raged overhead. The gale screeched in Angela’s ears, just like it did when Carla was sucked out of the café. Instead of fretting, Angela ignored her fears. She was determined to bring her dear friend back, nothing could stop her. Angela was used to getting her own way and she wasn’t prepared to let her track record fail her now.
She wrapped her arms around her body for warmth and headed into the wind, peering out into the dull grey fog for signs of other people.
Another gust caught Angela and she stumbled, placing her free hand on a cold surface to get her balance. It was sharp and it hurt. She hunkered down to inspect her injury. Blood oozed from a deep cut. From her cowering position, Angela saw that she was facing the base of a jagged blade — the beginning of a huge bread knife that reared out of the soil like a deformed tree. It towered at an angle, some nine or ten feet above Angela’s head. Rigid amidst the windstorm.
Clenching her fist to stem the flow of blood, Angela got back on her feet. The wind momentarily cleared the hazy view. She looked with horror at the world around her. A vast nightmarish landscape stretched out ahead. Hundreds of giant blades punctured the endless muddy field. Both jagged and smooth, they pushed through the soil and up towards a grey wet sky, a jungle of sharp edges.
Lightning flashed, followed by a rumble of thunder and the heavens opened in a torrential downpour. It illuminated the scene and Angela caught a glimpse of other figures in the distance. They walked away from her. Another flash revealed a structure way up ahead. A mesh of sickening points, all melded together to form what looked like a castle, a stronghold of threatening steel.
Angela moved with care through the blades. All types of knives were represented: carving knives, like the one she had given Carla; bread knives; pen knives; switch blades. They were all here, transformed into monstrous versions of their original forms. Angela wondered if they were the knives discarded by those who’d been sent here. Dropped on fertile earth, they’d taken root and grown.
The other figures moved much slower than Angela and she soon caught up with one.
Keeping a safe distance at first, she realised this was an old man because of his long grey hair. He wore what looked like a soldier’s uniform, but from way back in time. Starched white trousers and a gold trimmed blue jacket. She called out as she approached but the man didn’t respond, so Angela eventually sidled up to him and grabbed his arm. She immediately jumped back when he turned to face her. Although his bicep, where Angela had held him, was intact, the rest of the arm and hand had turned into a blade, the pointed edge visible beneath his tattered blue sleeve.
A hand poked out the other sleeve, indicating one good arm remained. The man stood, swaying in the wind, staring vacantly at Angela.
For the first time since she’d arrived in the realm of severance, without thinking, Angela opened the hand which held the penny. Allowing the tendons in her fingers to enjoy a much-needed stretch. As soon as it became exposed to the air, the penny trembled in Angela’s palm. It's orange-brown colouration melting away to reveal a dazzling neon-white underneath.
A beam shot from her palm, up into the sky. This activated the old man. His pale blue eyes turned to burning white ovals in his head. Lurching forward, he grabbed at Angela with his good hand, trying to get at the precious copper, his knife-arm poised and ready to impale once in range.
Angela quickly closed her hand, shutting off the unwanted beam. Her attacker ground to a stop, his eyes returning to their former dull-state. He looked confused, disoriented, again unaware of Angela’s presence. Through the haze, Angela watched as a flurry of glowing discs all blinked off, one by one. The man slowly turned back to the dagger wasteland and began his slow march towards the barbed rampart in the distance.
Angela transferred the penny into the pocket of her cardigan, concealing it from hungry eyes and freeing up another hand to help orient herself through the harsh terrain.
Passing knife after knife, Angela stumbled over bones and kicked away skulls. She even saw corpses, some completely sliced in two. Those unfortunate enough to trip on the bone-littered earth risked falling onto one of the lower blades. Their sharp edges cutting with ease through layers of clothes and the meaty flesh beneath. Guts crawling with maggots spewed over onto the muddy turf.
Several hours passed until Angela reached the castle. It towered above her now, streaks of lightning licking at its multitude of points. Those lucky to have made it there alive entered in single file.
These drenched and tattered souls who passed through the makeshift portcullis all had vacant eyes and a steady machine-like gait. No free will, they were programmed to come here. Their clothes suggested centuries of imprisonment in this hell. There were no specific features Angela could identify from history, but certainly none of these wrecks were as young as Grandma, whose book revealed the realm’s existence.
Some had knives for both arms, while others had points for feet too. Each step an effort for those lamentable individuals, who were forced to lift heavy daggers out of the coagulating soil each time they took a step. Angela despaired at how long it must have taken them to get here and prayed Carla wasn’t one of them.
There appeared to be only one way into the castle, so Angela joined the back of the queue. Having approached from the east, it wasn’t until now that she saw it from the front. A huge wooden shield hung above the entrance, a crude picture of a man had been etched into it, along with images of knives as well as a small circle, which Angela assumed represented copper. Through the entrance, flames reflected off the blades that formed the walls of the interior. Angela noted groups of people standing around small fires, dotted about the courtyard beyond. The castle also appeared to have a roof. Only miniscule droplets of water tricked down to splash onto the stone floor.
At the gate, there was a hooded figure holding a scroll and quill; taking a register, Angela supposed, as each person entered.
When she reached the end of the queue, with just one person ahead of her waiting to be motioned through the portcullis — a woman wearing an elaborate court dress — the hooded figure froze, its quill quivering above the paper. Its head slowly rose for the first time. A sexless face with rotten teeth and a pallid complexion loomed out beneath the hood, along with two iridescent eyes which looked Angela up and down, drinking her in.
When the figure finished admiring her form, its gaze returned to the lady in front who began moving again. Both her arms as well as a left leg were completely transformed into vicious points. She limped up to the gate and was admitted.
A wave of nerves flooded into Angela as the figure returned its attention to her, beckoning her forward with a tiny liver-spotted hand. Beneath the hood, Angela saw wisps of grey hair, but essentially the creature was bald. A female sounding voice croaked out. “Well, well, well. Many a year has passed since we’ve had a visitor from the realm of men. Many a year indeed. Come along little lady.”
Angela moved closer. On the scroll, she noted two columns. One was headed ‘residents’ and contained a list of names, many with crosses next to them. There were little lines too and Angela realised they must represent how many limbs were missing. She tried to look for Carla’s name but the column was soon obscured by the crone’s withered hand, as it moved over to the second column entitled ‘visitors’ where it placed a single cross.
The small voice spoke again, “Please go and dry off by a fire, someone will be with you soon.”
Angela stepped under the portcullis and into the castle’s large courtyard. Thankfully no one paid her any attention and she made her way unnoticed to a far corner where an unoccupied fire burned.
After walking in the rain for several hours, Angela was soaked. Her fingers white cold, her face numb. She let the warmth of the fire pass through her, baking her front first then turning around to do her back. She pulled off her boots and sat on a small stool with her feet in air, drying off her stockings. Then standing on the stool, she dangled the boots over the fire and watched mud crisping and flaking off in scabby bits.
Her cut hand had stopped bleeding and a hard-bronze line had formed across the palm. With life returning to her fingers after holding them over the fire, the wound began to sting.
Angela choked back tears.
She deserved this, of course she did. But at least she’d made it this far mostly unharmed. Now she just had to find Carla and get out as quickly as possible.
Angela sat and watched the different groups of people. Surely Carla would be easy to pick out amongst all these ancient folk, but she was nowhere to be seen. People kept drifting in via the entrance too, but none of those were her either.
The figures, which had been unaware of their surroundings on the way here, and while waiting to enter the castle, were now acting normally as they thawed out around the fires. Men and woman, young and old, hugged and kissed one another. They laughed and joked and some even started playful duels using their steel extremities.
They acted like a group of old friends. Angela supposed they were. Judging by their clothes they could have been making the journey to this castle for over a hundred years if not more. Did their days always start and end the same? The idea was unbearable to Angela. She buried her head in her hands and wept, until she drifted off to sleep.
She was awoken by something prodding her arm. Consciousness returned and Angela immediately felt her face burning. Opening an eye, she saw that she’d slumped forward in her stool with one cheek pointing toward the fire; the naked flame licking only centimetres away from her head. Angela reared back and fell off the stool onto the hard-stone floor.
A hairy face glared down at her. Angela shrieked and attempted to crawl backward away from the creature, before scrabbling to her feet.
She now peered down at a tiny harmless-looking hirsute man. No more than three-foot-high, he had long grey hair which hung below a pointed steel helmet. He wore armour too, the sort befitting an old English knight. Kind eyes poked out of a thick tufty grey-brown beard. He appeared more startled than her.
The little man performed a jump and then spoke in a high-pitched voice; “Its ok, miss, don’t be afraid. My name is Flammarel, I’m your realm guide.”
A small hand motioned toward Angela. He obviously meant for her to shake it, but Angela just stared and stood perfectly still. Flammarel continued, “I must say we’re awfully excited you’re here. It’s been over two hundred years since we’ve had a visitor from the realm of men. I know exactly who you’re here to retrieve too. Such a relief I must say. Come along, follow me.” He darted off into the now empty courtyard.
Angela rubbed sleep from her eyes. While she dozed, someone had placed a thick wolf pelt over her shoulders; she pulled it tight around her now, the air cooling as she stepped away from the smouldering fire. She cautiously walked after Flammarel who skipped and hopped his way toward an open door.
TO BE CONTINUED