Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the pocketknife

Theresa turned it over in her fingertips as she ambled back into the forest, pressing the small piece of pockmarked plastic and rusted metal against her own clammy palm. The rust grated against the soft flesh at the heel of her hand and prompted a flow of questions that she could not staunch, even with her most educated guesses. What had happened in the clearing, the night before? Had she passed out? And when she awoke, why did she have his pocketknife?

It was his pocketknife--she was sure of it. His initials were the first thing she'd noticed about the knife, professionally engraved in the red plastic casing. It looked as though it had a number of useful tools inside, big knife, little knife, scissors, tweezers, corkscrew, screwdriver, nail file, bottle opener, maybe even a toothpick, and a few more that she couldn't identify from the outside. But she didn't dare open it. It looked like it might give her tetanus whether she opened it or not, and she didn't want to fiddle with it any more than she had to until she was somewhere safer, somewhere with tools, somewhere where she wasn't wandering through a forest at dawn, still wondering what had happened the night before.

The trees suddenly began to look familiar again, but Theresa's hopes were dashed as she emerged into the full dawn rays, growing across the open space. It wasn't the road home. It was the clearing. Again. She whirled around on her heel and scrambled through the forest, back the way she came, flying over piles of crushed brown leaves and tripping on tree roots as she ran. Two minutes later, she burst into the sunlight.

"Aaaaaaaaaa!" Theresa shouted up into the sky at everything, at nobody, at herself for letting this happen, for going to the forest with a strange man and dancing around the fire and taking off her clothes and singing, singing, singing until the wine was all gone and then there was blackness. The memories of their midnight bacchanal came flooding back to her in bright, chaotic flashes.

"Are you quite finished with your most excellent show of running and screaming?" A voice seemed to filter in on the early morning sunbeams, through the trees.

"Who said that?" Theresa shouted, her voice tinged with fear and her recently-remembered shame.

"Perhaps you ought to try the knife," said the voice, ringing with authority.

"What? Who said that?"

"Just do it," the voice came again. It was like his, she thought, but deeper and more powerful.

"Look, Mister," Theresa shouted up into the trees. "I realize that I'm not in the best of situations right now, but I really don't think that killing myself is the way out that I'm looking for." She cocked her head, waiting for a response. When it didn't come, she realized that she had probably imagined the entire thing. But then she heard a low rumble, like the voice was conferring with other people that Theresa couldn't see.

"Open the knife," said the voice. The sky became dark, the sun suddenly obscured by heavy stormclouds that had appeared out of nowhere. The wind picked up. "Open the knife or I'll make it rain, and then you'll be stuck AND soaked." The wind blew some leaves away from the center of the clearing. A lightning bolt licked the sky, and Theresa saw the cold glint of metal on the ground as it reflected the light. She kicked the leaves away to reveal a grate. The grate was secured to the ground by means of a hinge and a small metal lock.

"What is this, Return to Zork?" she muttered as she pried at the rusty knife with her fingernails. There was something in here that would work just fine to pick the lock, wasn't there? The first blade she managed to extract from the knife was a tiny metal key.

"I told you so," said the voice. Theresa opened the lock, cast it away, and pulled up the grate. Even after staring down into the dark hole for a solid minute, she was unable to determine its depth.

"If you think I'm going down there," she said to the voice, "You're on some pretty good drugs." Theresa thought she heard a sigh, but it might have been the wind whistling in the trees.

"They told me this wasn't going to be easy," the voice said, as a gust of wind came up behind Theresa and knocked her into the hole. She was too surprised to scream. The grate seemed to snap shut of its own accord, and the pocketknife started to emit a golden glow that was bright enough to let Theresa see her surroundings.

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