by Paul Sohar
Finally, there we were, face
to face, my enemy and I, and in the only way it was possible for us to meet; he in a carefully constructed trap and I facing
him with an axe in hand, ready to declare peace in the only way it was possible between us. By death. One of us had to die,
and by then it was obvious which one. We stood there for a minute or two without making a move, both of us overawed by the
significance of this confrontation. It was more than that: a confrontation with destiny. At first he looked at me with feigned
indifference, keeping his acorn-brown eyes on me as if issuing a challenge. I did not feel quite comfortable in the role of
the winner either. Not in a life and death struggle.
The wily intruder had been
taunting my wife and me holding us hostages in our own house for the past three days and taunting us with our helplessness.
The stakes were high; on his part it was his life and on our part it was our sanity. There was a third alternative that my
active resistance to the occupation made amply clear, he could just walk away from the battlefield and melt back into the
world out there, whether it was through a sewer or a friendly forest. I would not pursued him to either place.
It was a different story on
his part though. He was not going to quit. Even now, he was coldly calculating my intentions and his chances of survival.
All that time he was still testing the trap, still trying to defeat it and me. In fact, he frightened me for a minute; what
if he succeeds in freeing himself before I step closer to him to finish the duel with a coup de grace?
His eyes telegraphed his ferocious
intentions; if he could kill with them I’d have dropped dead, and more, the whole house would have collapsed. My eyes were certainly
not capable of such a feat but still looked back at him steadily with determination that may have been fueled more by panic
than courage, but in the end it was him who blinked. There was no way out for him, and the rest was up to me. He cast his
eyes down and stopped wiggling in a sign of giving up. He realized there was no point in resisting my will any longer, nor
the will of the gods who had made their decision plain. The only way out for him was to beg for mercy in unconditional surrender.
I must say, he performed the ancient rite of paying obeisance to the victor in style and without reservation. I was quite
impressed by the dignity with which he was awaiting his fate; although downcast in accordance with the rules of war, his eyes
were still bright and lively, full of intelligence and the will to live. Under different circumstances we could have become
good friends, but now our roles in the denouement of our drama had already been written for us, and in order to be in harmony
with Nature, in accordance with the traditions of the world in which we live, we had to follow the script. In any case, convivial
companionship was not part of our makeup, not our fate. We were both in the hands of a higher power, obeying a higher authority,
the authority of justice. The immutable laws of ancient justice. Justice must be rendered.
As history has taught us,
there’s no peace without justice. And justice for the ancient Greeks meant revenge. I’m no historian, but I can imagine the same thinking prevailed in other ancient cultures,
too. The victim who didn’t strive to render justice by taking revenge was
just as craven as the perpetrator of the original offence. That is now called the law of the jungle in our politically correct
world and is practiced under the guise of legal procedures and other subterfuges, but the ancients made no bones about it:
if you want peace, kill your defeated enemy –lest he come back to render
his own justice in his own way. Vae victis, woe to the defeated, but the saying should be supplemented with another:
Vae victoris, woe to the winner if he doesn’t complete the job. There
was no other way out of this conundrum, not after the protracted battle between us.
Those few minutes of staring
at each other in silence was the culmination of several skirmishes between us in the last three days which meant two nights
without sleep for me. It was easier for him; hiding in his safe and secret lair, he could rest up during the day while I was
at work. He showed no sign of fatigue, and no wonder: from the time he invaded our house he had the run of the place while
we cowered without a weapon against him.
He preyed on us especially
at night, starting about an hour after lights out, just when we had fallen asleep with our defenses lowered. He always began
by scraping the sheetrock ceiling right above the bed until our initial panic turned into battle fatigue when we usually returned
to bed after a futile chase in the attic.
There was a short pause which
gave us hope for some rest, but as soon as we turned off the light and closed our eyes, he started up again. We were so tired
by then that we just listened helplessly as he scraped a hole in the ceiling, jumped down into our bed and started scraping
our skulls with his implacable burglary tools. He scraped and chiseled until he worked his way into our brains, the true target
of his takeover. We just lay there, helpless and paralyzed by fear, unable to think with brains mangled, but still holding
hands to keep our spirits up. The more desperately my wife squeezed my hand, the more my courage came back, and with the last
tatters of my mind I turned on the light on the night table.
Our persecutor immediately
disappeared under the bed, and I ran down to the basement to grab an ax. The chase was soon underway with Sue looking on with
shrieks shooting out of her twisted mouth and moans oozing from her suffocating throat. This went on for hours. By dawn Sue
was begging me to chop her head off, she couldn’t stand the pain any longer. I was just about
to comply with her wishes when suddenly things got quiet again, our intruder had retreated back into his hiding place, the
sound froze in Sue’s mouth and I fell into bed for an hour’s sleep.
The second night this scenario
repeated itself, except instead of going to sleep at dawn I went around the house setting traps from the basement to the attic.
When I got home from work
that evening I found a note in hysterical hieroglyphs from Sue to the effect that she had been attacked by our intruder who
was now up in the attic driving her out of her mind, and she was taking refuge in the local library and going to stay there
until I got rid of our occupation force. It was either him or her. At least that’s what the note looked like.
To me the incessant noise
in the attic at such an early hour of the evening was good news. It mean that or visitor had got ensnared in one of the traps
I had set for him. I immediately got hold of the ax that now I kept close to hand on the kitchen table and strode up the stairs
with deliberate steps, ready for a showdown in the attic.
With the ax held high in one
hand and the other on the latch I cautiously opened the attic door and quickly turned on the light to make sure my adversary
was safely captured. Doubly he was, and only because there were multiple traps in every area where he might go. It looked
like he was ready to escape with one trap on his back when he ran into a second one, and now he was hopelessly entangled in
both. In his effort to get free – which might have succeeded without the second
trap – he had even chewed off one of his feet, and now during our final confrontation
he was pointing the bloody stump toward me. But neither that, nor the submissive sadness of his eyes could deter me from my
I was surprised by the amount
and the color of the blood that poured out of the cut even though it had not gone clear through. Luckily, the trap contained
it all, but the color still disturbed me; instead of a dark burgundy shade, it was a light variety of red, more like Shiraz
or Beaujolais nouveaux . I almost felt like dipping a fingertip in it to collect a sample for a taste, but then I thought
better of it. Who knew what infection it might have carried; rabies, AIDS, pernicious pneumonia, etc? For that same reason
I lugged the whole mess, the carcass and the traps to the woods in the back and buried them along with the bloody ax. I could
not face cleaning that otherwise useful instrument.
It was only later that night,
just when I was hoping to get some well-deserved rest, that it occurred to me what a big mistake it had been to bury the executed
enemy with the means of his execution in the same grave; it was like putting a weapon in his hands. In spite of my fatigue
I had a rough, restless night with hideous dreams keeping me awake. In them I saw the dead rise from the grave and grow taller
and taller until he was towering over me in bed, standing partly on the bloody stump and holding the ax poised right above
my neck. Sue had the same dream except it was me holding the ax and chopping her head off. The scene kept recurring, or else
it was stretched out into a timeless dimension, with me picking up the head from the floor and reattaching it to her body
until she finally jumped out the window and went running out to the street in her nightie and barefoot. Fortunately it was
getting light outside and I was able to convince her that it was only a dream. But as soon as we got inside she checked her
neck in the mirror, asking me where the axe was. I assured her it had been properly disposed of, but I was never able to overcome
my fear of going back to my enemy’s grave and make sure the ax was indeed buried safely in the ground, whether hallowed or cursed.
Things are back to normal
at our house. At our house? Funny, why I didn’t say in our home. That’s worth exploring. Perhaps
in the incident related here the house itself played a large role. Sometimes with us, sometimes against us. Enough to say,
the two words are no longer synonymous. We feel the house failed to protect our home; maybe it did not aid and abet our enemy,
but it did not sufficiently support our fight either.
Another thing. Ever since
I’ve been living in fear that somebody will notice the change in Sue. The head she wears
is very much like the old one, but not the same. Her face lacks color, her hair has no shape, her eyes are still bluish but
not like the summer sky. And her smile? Impossible to tell; she never smiles like she used to. Her lips are pale and always
slightly open as if she was preparing to make a confession. They’re never closed, nor open wide as in surprise or merriment. I feel other people are beginning to wonder, and someday
they will ask: where is the real Sue?
Copyright © Paul Sohar 2012
Paul Sohar ended his higher education
with a BA in philosophy and took a day job in a research lab while writing in every genre and publishing seven volumes of
translations. Now a volume of his own poetry (“Homing Poems”) is available from Iniquity Press. Latest is “The
Wayward Orchard”, from Wordrunner Press: www.echapbook.com/poems/sohar online. His prose work: "True Tales of a
Fictitious Spy", Synergebooks (2006). Magazine credits include Agni, Kenyon Review, Rattle, Salzburg Poetry Review, Seneca
Review, etc, but also Horrorzine and other genre magazines and anthologies.