The Oath – A Short Story
I usually don’t comment on my own work, but this piece bears commenting. I really don’t know what to think of it (read: gimme feedback!). I have not changed the text much from the original copy besides some basic editing and paragraphing (I didn’t really know how to paragraph dialogue back then, but heck I didn’t really know much of anything then).
It’s a very old piece, ten years old or so now. I wrote it as one of my first full stories as a freshman English major at the University of Minnesota. The assignment was to focus on word choice and language to paint the narrative. I turned out something incredibly macabre. I can see that even then, I did not really care for the big-L literary idea of making your words mean more than what they mean. Over time I have only moved further into the camp that cries “Give it to me straight, Jim! Say what the heck it is you want to say!”
I’m sure when I wrote this I thought the narrator was being chivalrous and the idea was to invoke images of classic knighthood through the narrative language. I had a thing for knights/samurai/jedi as a child. (I could even recite the knight’s code from Dragon Heart by memory. “A knight is sword to valor…blah blah blah.”)
Now I hate this guy. He’s completely self-adsorbed, if not delusional. Notice how the narrator never mentions the girl’s name, she is always referenced with “my” as in “my lady” or “my mistress.” This story is all about the narrator and his samuraiishness (like my new word?).
Be forewarned, the story is a bit…um…violent? Brutal? Sexist? Unforgiving? Probably all of those.
Please give me some feedback. Does this narrator deserve any sympathy at all? I’m not sure he does. And feel free to tell me how college-ish the prose is.
Just don’t mention the narrator dying at the end, oops SPOILER ALERT! I don’t buy that jive. Certainly narrators are confined to what they know—a child should not speak like an adult, a person who has never met an alien should not know what they are about, etc. However, there is no necessity that a narrator has to be connected to our world, or has to have some feasible means to convey his story to us. No, storytelling is magic, so the transmission is magic. That you are simply hearing a voice in your head is as reasonable an explanation as discovering a lost journal.
Anyways, enjoy my dark little tale.
(by College-Era J.M. Williams)
Even the best of swordsmen eventually fall to the sword. It is the fate of all warriors to become the victims of our trade. Thus is the fate of soldiers, centurions, knights and rangers. It seems to be my destiny as well.
So here I lay, as rain and arterial water washes away my rage. Quietly waiting for the reaper to come and embrace me in his cold, regal hands. His face does not scare me, I have seen him before. In fact, I knew that he would come now. I welcome him.
The darkness grows, and a calm cold sets in. I do not resist the feeling. A slight hand touches me. A soft, angelic voice calls to me, but I can make no sense of the words. The hand becomes forceful, but it does not matter. All I can see is her face, and all I can feel is her loving warmth preparing me for my final journey…
. . .
I won’t forget that day, the first day that I gazed upon my dear mistress. It was the beginning of spring semester. Winter’s cold hand still held a tight grip on the air. There she sat, across the room, so simple yet so noble. It was her simplicity that made her so lovely. Her hair was long and dark, yet as straight and fine as to suggest it was brushed by a dozen hand maidens, each move as much a masterpiece as the artist’s pencil stroke, or the samurai’s cutting slash. Hair was so divine it was often embraced by the passing breeze.
Her fingers ran through it as she stared at the text in front of her. Her dark, sublime eyes danced with the words on the page. I wished they would dance their way to me, and ask me for their partner. Sometimes they would look my way, but they always turned back in bashful play. Even so, I could sit there through all the seasons, just for a chance to see those eyes again. The sorrowful air was always more bearable when my princess was near. I had never felt a bond so strong, even though I was not able to bring the matter to words. So, the semester continued on, and my mind wandered with thoughts of her.
In the late spring, as the school year was coming to a close, I was blessed with a miracle. The season was warming me well. Each day that passed, her sweet eyes lingered with me a few moments longer. To finally get a long look of them, so pleasant they were as they reflected the compassion and grace of their master. I found myself locked in a trance, and before I knew it, the room was empty save her and I. The cool, evening breeze passed between us. I was powerless, she must have known it. Thus was the manner in which this night began.
She approached me, taking slow and graceful steps, gazing upon me and smiling. It was such a pretty smile, but my guard was removed mostly by the saintly sound of her voice as she spoke to me.
“Are you going home now?” she asked of me.
I tried to reply, but my words could not be brought forth. I regrouped my thoughts and pressed forth again.
“Yes, I was planning on going home now, why do you ask?”
She smiled again, “I was having some trouble with some of the homework.”
She paused, it seemed she was considering her thoughts carefully and her words seemed to come hard to her once again.
“I though maybe you could help me with it, you know, since you seem to be good at this stuff.”
My heart swelled with pride. Every day I had pledged myself to her, but now finally, I could provide her my service. I would be her loyal retainer, her right hand for any task.
The squawks of pigeons on the street changed to the haunting call of an owl in a nearby tree, as we passed the time in a local tavern. We talked for hours until our mugs cried out in thirst for want of ale. The night had been good to us. It was as if electricity pulsed though us and connected us. At that time, I had so much hope for the future.
The moon was already high when we stepped back out into the night. Dark clouds encroached on the lunar goddess. It would rain soon. Yet the dear moon, she did not flee from our sight. My lady gestured in the direction of her residence and we were off. The pace was quick and the fresh air only empowered our joviality. Even so, I began to feel regretful that our passionate play would soon come to an end. Dawn has the habit of bringing things to a close.
What a joy it was to be together with such a creature. All of our talk, no matter how boring, was high-spirited. The air seemed fresher now than ever before, and the moon seemed to shine its spotlight down just for us, lighting our path.
Soon we ventured into an area that I knew all too well. The dark alleys were paths that I had taken many times before. It should be that I could navigate them even if the moon were to suddenly burn out. As such, I spoke boastfully about this knowledge and suggested it would be much quicker if we took these unwelcoming alleys.
My lady took a step back and in hesitation asked me, “Are you sure it’s safe? I mean it’s very dark and who knows what could be lurking down those dark streets.”
I understood her hesitation, for I had too pondered the types of vile creatures that may frolic where the moon goddess could not see them. Though, I eventually grew out of those superstitious thoughts and became friendly with the dark.
I tried to reassure her, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve taken this way many times, even at night. It’s safe. Besides, if we don’t go this way, we’ll likely be caught in the rain. It looks like it’s going to come down hard.”
Still a little bit shaken up about the idea, she reiterated her concern, “Are you sure? Maybe it’s better just to take the long way.”
My confidence would not be caged, though, so I said, “I’m sure about it. Don’t worry, if anything happens, I’ll protect you. I promise…” It seemed that those words were enough for her. She came over to me, grabbed my arm tightly and we headed off into the darkness.
Right before we crossed beyond the veil of light she said to me softly, “I trust you.” She gripped my hand tight.
As we walked down the narrow, shadowy road, I strained to pick out the sounds I was so used to: a wind chime on an apartment windowsill, an owl perched on a store sign, loose papers tumbling on the ground—all the things that I was familiar hearing. We walked around one corner, then another and we approached the area where the alley became more restricted. My ears stretched out to hear the stray cat that seemed to always be in a box, lying in the narrow passage way. The air was silent.
It’s strange how instinct can tell you when something is out of place. But without any evidence, the common thing to do is to just shrug it off. Something didn’t feel right there, in that dark space, but I couldn’t figure out why. The small alleyway was silent. Where was the cat I had been so friendly with? I looked over and saw the box; it was ripped apart. I let go of her hand and bent down to investigate.
As I was looking, from behind, I heard the shuffling of feet and a muffled gasp. I jumped to my feet and turned around. There were three more men now standing in the small passage. They were thuggish and unkempt; a dirty odor filled the air. They stood between her and me; one of the cretins held her from behind with his filthy hand over her mouth. We were divided, a genius military tactic on their part.
My back was against the wall and two of the men approached, pressing me back further. One of them lunged at me. The air fled my lungs as I was slammed against the concrete wall. I tried to resist, but the thug was in a dominant position and had me overpowered. The darkness crept in and suffocated me. In the shadows I saw the shimmer of a blade. The second man approached, holding a slender dagger and thrust it at my stomach. White pain burned my abdomen. He twisted the blade. He was a talented killer. The knife was removed and the attack repeated. I grabbed for his hands and held the knife still, inside of me. I could feel my warm blood oozing over my hands. My legs gave out and the man holding me let me fall to the ground. The men hovered over me for a moment, admiring their work, then together with the one holding my dear lady, fled into the night.
The pain shot though my body. I trembled and shook violently. My mind drew a blank. I pulled the dagger from my body; I felt my fluid begin to flow freely though my wounds. My strength was fading. The fates had taken up their scissors and were about to cut my line. I could not focus. I could not breathe. The darkness swallowed me.
Then all went silent. I could hear the men, they were close by, and I could hear the muffled screams of my lady, and the sound of demonic laughter. I rolled over onto my hands and tried to push myself up. I tried once and failed, twice and failed. Desperation clouded my thoughts. There was no physical pain anymore, only sorrow, and fear. Shadows of doubt danced in my mind.
Then something else came, rage. Unholy fire coursed though my veins. I tried a third time to get up and quickly staggered to my feet. Anger. It empowered me. My body began to quiver with bloodlust. I picked up the blade and stalked down the alley. The dark was evil, but now so was I. Evil embraced me.
I rounded a corner to see the men surrounding my mistress. Her clothes were torn, her hands bound, her mouth gagged, her face bruised and bloody. They were looking for something. Money? The men danced around her like devils, groping her and laughing like imps. Fury turned my vision red.
I crept up behind one of them, the biggest one. With the dagger in my right hand, I grabbed his head with my left. I plunged the blade forcefully into his neck and in a fluid movement pushed it outward. The blood sprayed out upon the onlookers. Life left his body and he fell to the ground. The other men stared at me in horror. It must have been a shock to see me back from the dead, but I’m sure that devils have seen such devil deeds before.
The man holding my lady let her go. I crouched low to secure my balance as he charged. He tackled me and we both crashed to the ground, but as we grappled I managed to stab him in his back. It must have hit his lung because he began coughing up blood. I wrenched the knife back and forth; he screamed. His grip on me loosened and I rose to my feet.
My princess was in a panic, trying hysterically to get her hands untied. She screamed through her gag. I stared at the last man. Fear filled his eyes and his hands trembled. I must have looked like some unmentionable horror, Cerberus or the like. He seemed to scream in silence, then fled, tripping as he turned around. Silence returned to the shadows.
I turned to my lady; she had already removed her bindings and now stared at me in awe. Maybe that’s not the correct word, something more like shock, bordering on fear. I dropped to my knees before her and put my hand upon her face, feeling her bruises. She silently accepted my compassion. We both tried to speak but were struck mute. Beautiful teardrops fell from her eyes. Clear as crystals and shaped so perfect. I kept myself from brushing them away, for fear of damaging something so lovely. The clouds grew thick; they had conquered our dear moon. The rain began to fall; it came down hard. My strength faded away and I fell on my back. My mistress tumbled with me…
. . .
So here I am. Standing on the bridge between existence and not, staring deep into the abyss. I have no regrets, only that this night could have ended better for her. She is crouching over me, tears in her eyes. Her face is covered with raindrops but I can still see the tears, for they are easily the more beautiful of the two. The pain is gone now; only a hollow cold brushes on my nerves. I am having trouble keeping up my breath. Each seems more difficult than the last. It doesn’t matter, I am with her now.
She screams and forcefully shakes me. Her tears fall as hard as the rain; it pains me to see her in such torment. Even so, I am awe struck by her image and I smile.
“Why?!” she gasps and begins to cry.
I am crying too, for crying tends to be a sympathetic action. Her hand presses against my cheek, her touch pulses through my body and I cuddle against it.
“Why…” she sobs quietly, “Please say something…why…”
I hear sirens in the background. My blood slows, my breath stops, I can feel my spirit passing. I grab her hand and squeeze it with what strength I can manage. Darkness covers my eyes like a veil.
With my last breath I speak, ”My dear lady, I have fulfilled my oath…”