Sometimes there’s an invisible sword on my left hip. It’s not there now, when I’m conscious of it. The damn thing only shows up when I let my mind wander. I can sense its presence, like a stranger staring. It begs for my attention, but then I look down and it’s gone.
It’s been years since the sword came to me. At first I thought it the result of an overactive imagination. Months later, with the sword coming and going like a ghost, I figured it was an obsession. Not my first, you see, so I ignored it. Now, well, I don’t know what it is.
Though I’ve never seen it, I could describe every part of the sword. It’s short, like a katana, with an elaborate guard, a weave of metallic lace. The tiniest curve shapes the blade, and it’s bigger at the end than near the hilt, scimitar-like without actually being one. Online research doesn’t help; this invisible sword of mine seems one-of-a-kind. And yes, I typed “invisible sword” into the search engine, too.
Okay, the point of the story is this. I live in Boulder, have for years and years, since way before the rich kids moved in and started pretending they had no money. Dreads and patchouli only take you so far if you’ve got a Lexus in the driveway.
Be that as it may, Boulder’s a nice little town. It’s off the beaten path, forty minutes north of Denver, and the only thing further north is Wyoming. It’s not as if the place is attracting a lot of riff raff, the real kind anyway. You can go for a walk, day or night, and there’s nothing more menacing than drunken college kids.
Dinner on Pearl Street was at a little crepe place filled with just students and me; try the chicken Florentine if you’re in town. I duck down the alley at 6th and bang a right between the backs of the shops and the first residential street, the one near Mork and Mindy’s house. I did say years and years, right? There’s a sort of parking lot that holds about twenty cars and a dumpster. Middle of summer, the sun’s just going down. The whole place is stretched with shadow, so I don’t see the guy until I’m right on top of him.
Here’s what sets him apart from the lazy college dropouts sitting on the street with their tambourines and their hands out: he’s looking in the dumpster. Everything else is the same. He’s wearing a nondescript tee shirt underneath an open fatigue jacket. Jeans are worn. Needs a shave and a haircut. But he’s looking in the dumpster and not the half-hearted, hey-what’s-in-here kind of look. It’s a real search, like he needs whatever’s in there that somebody threw away.
It’s obvious I startle him as much as he startles me. He regains his composure first.
“Got any change?” he says. His hand’s not out, unlike the palm-up kids in their year-old Tevas. And he says it like it’s not a request.
This is hindsight, mind you. Everything I’ve told you so far happened in the blink of an eye. It was afterwards the thoughts and feelings gelled. Because in that space, that fractional moment between me coming up on him and him asking for change, I go from startled to normal. Change, got it. Guy’s a bum, like all the kids, just a little older.
“Nope.” That’s it. No apology, no excuse. Just plain nope. I keep walking and don’t freeze up until I hear the switchblade flick open behind me.
“You look like you’ve got change,” the guy says.
I can see why some people wet themselves in this kind of situation. I felt the fear wash over me like I was in the shower, cascades trickling down my body, on the inside instead of on my skin. I drained, pure and simple, right up until the wave reached my hips and touched the sword.
It was there, cold steel, alive with presence, begging me to put my hand on its hilt. I’m staring straight ahead, vision pulling down into a point centered on an honest-to-God sky blue Volkswagen van lovingly restored by some millionaire hippie. My left forearm brushes my body and touches something forged.
I don’t want to look for fear the sword will leave me. So I just grab it. Spin, lift, both hands on the hilt. Diagonal cut, high to low, shoulder to hip like I’ve done it a thousand times. The blade hits his collarbone and offers some resistance, but not much. It’s a clean stroke, perfect, meant to cut him in half. Follow through, blade down. Perfect.
He’s standing three feet away with the knife out. I’ve got my hands together. They’re empty.
I know I’m dead. He’s going to put that knife in my gut and take the forty-eight bucks out of my pocket, and I’m going to die behind Armando’s Tattoo and Pizza next to a dumpster that smells faintly of potpourri.
The guy drops the knife, a simple opening of his hand as if he forgot what he was doing. He makes a baby-with-bad-gas kind of face and falls like his puppet strings were cut. He doesn’t so much as twitch, and I run like hell.
It was in the DailyCamera the next day. Heart attack. Unidentified, but the cops were working on it. I figure I’m going to get a knock on the door, but a month of waiting and it never comes.
All of which is small potatoes. You see, yesterday my right hip started getting heavy while I walked to the market. It feels like a revolver, a Wild West kind of gun with the long barrel and grip wrapped in leathers. I haven’t a clue what to do about it. Do you?
Robert J. Santa has been writing speculative fiction for more than twenty-five years. He lives in Rhode Island, USA with his beautiful wife and two, equally beautiful daughters. When not writing, Robert is the editor-in-chief of Ricasso Press. Technically, he is also the editor-in-chief of Ricasso Press when he is writing.