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CHAPTER 37 – Silence of Death

He understood her, now. It was vengeance that she wanted. She wanted to punish him, to hurt him, to inflict pain, to maim and, eventually, she probably fantasized, to kill him. She had allowed herself to focus on the satisfaction of avenging herself on her brother’s killer. Obviously, she had not thought it through.

Did she really think she could beat him with a knife? Even with a blade the size of that thing in her hand, she had no chance. Not against Mickey and his knives. And where the hell did she pick that thing up, anyway? But, even if it was more like a damned sword than a knife, she was about to learn that she needs more than a big knife. She has to know how to use it.

“Ooh, the nigger’s got a blade,” he said, following it with a snicker as though he just couldn’t hold it in any longer. Time to start working on her mind. “Is this where I’m supposed to be scared?”

She made no response. But, with eyes as dark and bottomless as an awaiting pit in hell, she peered into his.

With practiced moves with both arms, he swept his knives from their sheaths. As he whipped the two finely honed blades up to cast flickering reflections of daylight from the holed roof across her eyes, she made no move, no reaction, except she raised her own blade to a vertical position in front of her eyes before dropping it back to chest height.

It was just possible, he pondered, that she might nick him or something. That damned blade of hers was long enough. He had to get her rattled, upset her concentration. If he could get her on the defensive right from the start, he could relax and enjoy this little farce. “You really think you know how to use that thing?”

Her only response was the tip of her blade beginning to make little circles in the air between her eyes and his.

“Remember what happened to James? He had a big weapon, too. Remember his hatchet? And he even had big muscles to go along with it. Remember how much good it did him?”

He waited for her to acknowledge watching him kill James in small, painful pieces. All she did was make little circles in the air with the tip of her dagger.

“You were there when I sliced and diced him. Remember how he looked kneeling in the middle of the room before I ended it for him? Sorta looked like he was hurtin’, didn’t he? You ready for that kind of pain? You think you can take it as long as he did? He was pretty tough … how tough are you?”

Then it occurred to him that he would still have the devil-dog to deal with.

“Hey, now, what’s the deal with the mutt? Is he still not gonna try to eat me after I take care of you?”

She didn’t answer. She made no response to his question that was worded in such a way that left no question as to the outcome of their fight.

“So, why should I bother with you if he still ain’t gonna let me go?”

She made a tentative probe with her blade, sweeping it casually in from his right side. He easily parried it with his knife on that side and she resumed her position of holding it before her at chest height, the blade angled up towards the space between his eyes, the tip making little circles in the air.

“You gonna tell him to not mess with me after I slice open your belly? Huh? One on one and winner goes free, right? Right, nigger? Ain’t that how it works?”

She said nothing. But, like a striking viper, her blade flashed straight in toward his heart. He flicked his left blade over just in time to parry the thrust and jumped backwards at the same time. After the moment it took him to recover his balance, he gawked at the black witch, who didn’t appear to have changed her position at all. Her knife tip was back making little circles.

What the hell is with this bitch, anyway? She actually knew how to handle a knife. Well, so far, anyway. Shit, the first time he saw her back in that dump of a house, she was nothing but a scared shitless little bitch that knew she was in big trouble. Sure, she got out of it, but that had to be mostly luck. And he hadn’t really put any pressure on her, yet. He had let her call the shots, set the pace. Maybe he ought to let her see some real knife work, sort of just to get her attention. Maybe then she’d say something, respond to his digs, start to lose her cool. Once she started that slide, it was only a matter of time before she came apart at the seams – literally.

Mickey stepped in close and swept his left blade up from thigh level in a slash that would open her gut from side to side. When she responded by moving her blade to parry it, he brought his other blade in from the other side to slash across her knife arm.

He meant for his blade to cut deep across the muscles, weakening the arm, at least, and possibly even disabling it. But she jerked it down just as he struck, and his knife barely cut through the skin. Still, he had scored first blood.

Then, in the space of his blink, her dipping hand flicked her blade upward and over. Though silent, the steel, drawn like a rosined bow across the stings of a violin, traced a burning line across Mickey’s forearm, in about the same position as the one on hers. After he stumbled back a couple of steps, he glanced down enough to determine his painful wound was probably superficial, but still considerably worse than hers. It was almost like she had pulled a copy-cat on him – as if.

She resumed her original stance, making little circles.

“That’s gonna cost you, nigger.”

She remained silent.

“What’s the matter, forget how to talk? I guess your kind don’t get a lot of practice actually speaking when you’re out running through the jungle, huh? Just a lot of grunting, huh? Your mammy and pappy grunt to each other? Or did he even stick around afterwards? Huh? You even know who the buck nigger was that stuck your nigger mammy?”

Even though she wasn’t saying anything, he knew she was listening. She had to be starting to fume a little. His digs should be beginning to jar her concentration, so he lunged.

His right blade jabbed in toward her groin, causing her to sidestep. But when he followed up with a swipe at her thigh with his other blade, she met it with her own, parrying his blade and drawing another line across his forearm to match the line of blood on his other arm. Then, before he could withdraw, she flicked the tip of her blade across the tip of his nose. The pain was instant and intense.

Falling back several steps, he got out of her range long enough to swipe the back of his hand across the runnel of blood on his lip and chin as well as the flood of tears suddenly streaming from his eyes. The burning cut on his nose was painful enough that he couldn’t bring himself to touch it. From the amount of blood and the level of pain, he knew it was a substantial cut.

“You bitch! I’m gonna slow-peel your nigger hide off one strip at a time!”

She said nothing, and her blade tip made little circles.

He charged with both blades out like the horns of a bull. She lightly stepped aside when he went past, flicking her blade out to jab his left buttock. The pain went hard and deep, damn near crippling; nothing at all like in the Three Stooges movies. Just like she had seen him do with James – she was playing with him.

When he spun about to face her, painfully aware of a deep throb in the left side of his ass, he gaped at her standing silently in a resumption of her original stance, making little circles in the air.

She used a knife like no one he had ever encountered. Except for first blood, he couldn’t even get close to her with either of his knives, and she could cut, and stab, and inflict humiliating and debilitating pain at will with her one knife.

He lunged in and jabbed with one knife, which she parried, then he swept his other blade high, towards her face, which she parried, and jabbed low with the first one again, which she parried.

However, she followed up her third parry with a lightning-swift, searing slash of her blade across his left cheek, laying his flesh open like a gaping, second mouth. Her offense continued with a lunging slash across his right forearm. A second lunge pierced his left thigh, in and out like the flicking tongue of a snake and burning like a hot poker.

Mickey teetered on the verge of turning and running from the relentless attacks when she stepped on a pebble from the rubble that had fallen from the roof. It rolled, shifting her balance, and she went down on one knee.

Mickey charged in to deliver as much damage as he could in the moments she remained defenseless.

His right-handed knife swept in toward her neck, forcing her to tilt sideways, causing her balance to slip even more. Then, before she could regain her feet or her balance, his other knife flashed in toward her right temple, but sliced across her right cheek just below her eye, instead. Again, a last-instant flinch had saved her from a fatal stroke. But, she was still down on one knee.

Reeling and off balance in his haste, Mickey kicked out at her head.

She ducked and fell sideways, forcing her to catch her weight with her right hand – her knife hand – on the floor. So, when he charged in again with both knives flashing, her own blade was uselessly pinned by her own weight. When she threw her left arm up to block his onslaught, his blade bit deeply. His finely-honed steel pierced her flesh between the two bones of her forearm and emerged from the other side. Then, just as quickly, he wrenched it free, slicing viciously.

He swung with his other blade, but she rolled to the side and rose to her feet several feet away. She held her bleeding arm against her side as she brought her own blade back up to make little circles in the air between them. Through it all, she had not uttered so much as a whine.

He circled towards her left side, her weak side. But he couldn’t move like he should because of his own injuries. His hip throbbed, and his sliced nose burned like hell, causing his eyes to constantly tear up. He could almost ignore the burning cuts on his arms, but the throbbing buttock and thigh were definite distractions, and his nose and cheek were impossible to ignore. They were more than just disfiguring injuries, and it was more than just the pain, which was excruciating. It was also that he was sure she had done it merely to show him that she could. She could have taken out one of his eyes or even slashed his throat, ending it right there. She wanted to let him know that she could do any of those things at any time, and that she would do so when she was ready. Even with her left arm hanging useless, he was reluctant to engage her again.

She may be bleeding, but so was he, even more so. She may be weakening, but so was he, even more so.

He glared at her. God, how he hated her!

She silently peered back at him from behind the tip of her blade that made little circles in the air.

This was insane. She was just a girl, nothing but a damned girl, a nigger girl. How could she do this to him, to Mickey, the dread of every survivor unfortunate enough to encounter him?

He had honed his already considerable skills with his knives, practicing his moves in fast moving ballets that his lesser followers had often commented on as “really cool, man.” He had spent hour after hour developing moves in his mind, picturing how each move could be countered and devising counter-counter moves. He had worked out distracting moves, head-numbers that would so disturb opponents that they lost their own cool. The trick of winking at non-existent or actual observers out of view of his foe, as he had done while fighting James, never failed to rattle contestants, even if they were friendly practice bouts. It was simply a matter of making the other fighter begin to doubt his own abilities. Then, once the seeds of doubt were planted, he carefully tended them until they blossomed into full-blown disasters for the simple fools. But this black bitch seemed impervious to his digs and barbs, and, since he had no confederates in the room to which he could wink, even that ploy was of no use.

Mickey tried to circle, to get her to circle with him in typical fighters’ tactics of remaining in motion until dashing in for a quick attack. All he had to do was to get her to make half of a circuit of the stage, and the near door would be at his back, a quick way out. But, as he moved to his left, she simply moved to her right. He tried moving to his right, and she moved left. She wouldn’t circle.

As his eyes followed her looping knife point, he cursed her for playing her own mind games on him. He felt his resolve and his confidence shriveling like a delicate blossom before a blast of arctic cold. He knew that such realization of his diminishing confidence was another step forward on that irreversible slide down which he had condemned others, and he hated her all the more.

He hated himself for his weakness in succumbing to her strategy almost as much as he hated her, but he had no choice. If he didn’t fight, she would simply kill him whether he stood there or cowered in a corner. He realized, now, that this wasn’t a fight. In a fight, each combatant can expect to win, should expect to win. He had no expectation of winning. She had indicated with those chilling last words she had spoken that this was not a fight; it was an execution.

He charged.

He went in flailing both blade-tipped arms in what he hoped were irrepressible flurries of death. Although they were slowed by his own weakened condition, he continued his rapid-fire storm of jabs, stabs, feints and slashes, pushing to overwhelm her defenses. But she met each move with a parry, block or dodge and still managed to score painful strikes of her own.

Bleeding from more than a dozen burning wounds, he was determined to maintain this attack until either she went down, or he did. He tried forcing her backward towards the door with an increased, if brief, level of violence he put into each blow, but she withstood him, meeting each blow with one of equal force.

All this time, he had thought of himself as the ultimate knife fighter in this world of survivors. His knife skills had brought him through many bloody encounters out there in a world of chaos. But, even as she prevented practically all of his attacks from reaching her as easily as if he were some school kid, she continued to penetrate his own meager defensive attempts, attempts that even he had come to view as amateurish and pitiful. The number of searing stabs and slashes from her blade had mounted, and blood streamed down his face, arms, body, and legs.

He staggered back and leaned against a block of concrete, panting to catch his breath. He glared out at her in the middle of their arena where she remained silent, making little circles in the air with her red-smeared knife tip.

Why did she say nothing at his questions and insults? Why did she force him to form his own answers and responses? And he realized that was precisely why she remained silent. The answers he was forced to provide were, in themselves, more cutting and painful, more revealing than anything she could have said. It was a very effective technique. Pity he had never tried it. Pity he never would, now.

Or, perhaps she didn’t remain silent as a tactic, a ploy. Perhaps she simply had nothing to say to him. Perhaps – and he believed this, now, in his heart – his questions and insults and demands were irrelevant to her.

Well, she would speak to him! He would make her.

Forcing his weakening body forward, he made one, final charge.

She met his attack by slashing her searing blade across the outside edge of his left wrist as soon as he swung at her neck. His knife flew high into the air before clattering across the stage floor, and another cut bled away more of his strength.

But, then he scored. Half a second after swinging his ill-fated left blade at her, he followed up with a thrust with his right. Aimed to slip between her ribs and pierce her unprotected heart, his blade struck a rib and deflected downward. But the depth of its penetration meant that it had at least punctured a lung. Wrenching the blade free, he quickly buried it again just below her rib cage, wresting it out with a twist.

Yeah! Sliced her liver with that one!

Neither was instantly fatal, but he was confident, now, that she would know death this day.

Still, that wasn’t good enough. He didn’t want her to just die sometime during the remainder of the day. He wanted to squelch her last pulse with his own hand.

He grabbed her slumping figure by the throat and held her on her feet until his own diminishing strength failed. He maintained his grip on her as they both sagged to their knees, then he brought his remaining, gore-smeared blade tip up and slowly sliced open her other cheek. He reveled in the sight of her grimace, knowing he had caused her significant pain. Although kneeling, he loomed over her and leered into her face, grinning, anticipating the feel of hot blood gushing over his hands and arms when he positioned his blade to slice open the side of her neck just as he had done with her brother.

“Well, nigger, you got something to say now?”

Even as her dark-eyed gaze fueled by fiery hatred bored into him, giving him much joy in its abrupt impotence, a fiery poker rammed into his gut, burning, searing its way through. He could feel each minute bit of injury to his lacerated stomach, liver, intestine, and whatever else lay between the torture to his pierced belly and the agony of the hide ripping apart from the inside on his back. He could even feel the gush of blood running down the skin of his back.

The knife dropped from his hand as he fought the agony threatening to spiral him into a deep, dark pit. He peered down at her hand gripping the hilt of her dagger, its hand-guard pressed hard against his belly.

He peered, searching, pleading, into her eyes, dark and glistening as they glared back into his own, and then he fell backward from her shove as, still silent, she ripped her blade free.

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