The blade pierced the skin deep into his pale flesh.
It was the larger of the tormentors wielding the knife but the smaller one was laughing with demented glee and shouting instructions.
Another slash came, and then another, ripping into his body. Then the torturers began cutting away the meat, one chunk at a time, and tossing it aside. The pain was excruciating but he was too paralyzed with fear to resist.
He tried to recall how he had ended up in front of these maniacal butchers. The last thing he remembered was drifting off to sleep surrounded by his family. They had spent the evening star gazing and telling stories from the long summer days of their childhoods. Then he woke in this hellish room, staring into these sadistic visages.
The hacking went on for some time. He could feel the life force ebbing away from his once plump and proud body. Occasionally there would be momentary respite as the torturers broke but they would soon be back at their grim task.
At one point he could sense they were slicing into his skull but by that point he had lost all feeling.
Finally it was over. The instrument of terror was downed beside him and his persecutors left, congratulating each other. He sighed but was too weak to do anything else for the time being. At least now, he thought, I can be left to find some peace and respite in my final hours. But his relief was short-lived for moments later they returned in possession of a flame that immediately began to blister and blacken him.
Too numb to care about pain any longer his thoughts turned back to his family outside and he prayed that they weren’t next on the table.
Looking back, the break-up had been inevitable from the moment she handed him the key-ring. Allegedly a blue fluffy bird, it looked more like a malformed marshmallow rolled in a pile of carpet droppings.
It was the first thing she had made with her new found passion for sewing and when it was presented to him one evening there was a mixture of pride and self-deprecation in her voice. For his part he thought it looked ridiculous and when she said “Of course you’ll be taking this to work tomorrow to show off what your wonderful wife can do” he took it with an extremely large pinch of salt.
Come the next morning he had already forgotten about the comment and barely noticed the blob lying purposely on the kitchen bench next to the sandwiches that she had packed for him before heading to work herself.
Later they arrived home in the winter dark at the same time, dumping their coats and bags on the hallway floor and unleashing their scarves. He opened the door to the lounge, turned on the light and walked over to the kitchen to start the ritual of cooking dinner together. But for some reason she didn’t follow him.
When he turned around he saw that she was bent down picking something up from under the couch. She stood, glared at him accusingly and held out her hand. Lying on it were the remains of something that had all the hallmarks of having been savaged by their cat Tomahawk. He smirked sheepishly and started:
“It must have been very realistic for him to have done that.”
The look that followed spoke volumes and that evening he ended up cooking by himself.
Yes thinking about it now, it was then that their troubles really began.
Like all of her friends, she left the island as soon as she was old enough.
Unlike the others she came back, bringing a husband and a daughter with her.
The distant city that in her youth she had worshiped had lost its shine; the thrill of the energy transformed into fear and frustration. In turn the carefree peace of her childhood quickly became mythologised and when Beth was born she longed to have the same for her.
Idle throwaway remarks quickly became forceful arguments with her husband but eventually she won him over with stories of summer skies sparkling with fireflies and bathing in diamond pure lakes.
At first it was largely as she remembered. They even managed to catch a large brown crab with a hunk of bacon in their first few days, and the three of them sat around a small fire on the beach, prising the buttery flesh out of the limbs with their tongues.
Summer rolled in, dry but not oppressive like in the city. Fresh fruit and vegetables were plentiful and the neighbours were only too happy to share with the island daughter who came home. One day Beth picked a basket of peaches and took them down to the beach to share with the other children.
And then, a few days into September there was a knock at their door. It was their neighbour, a greying elderly woman who had run the local store for as long as anyone could remember.
“Good evening Mrs Munro, I’m sorry to call unexpectedly but I need to talk to you regarding something delicate to do with your daughter. You see, some of the people around here have been expressing a few concerns about her clothes.”
From that moment, everything on the island changed.
The heat in Kaori’s tiny room was becoming unbearable; damp, intense and claustrophobic. After a long day of school, followed by the private tutor her father paid for at great expense, the humidity made study impossible.
She folded a tight red paper crane and tossed it on the desk with the others, her standard time-wasting method. Scattering them with the back of her hand she pushed her chair back and headed to the window. Her friend Yuki lived in the apartment opposite and they would often sit there looking at each other across the narrow airspace.
She caught sight of a movement below and recognised the local homeless man scouring the lobby vending machine for forgotten coins.
Instinctively Kaori headed to the cranes on the desk and picked one up. Back at the ledge she leaned out, hesitated and then dropped it. It floated gently through the still air, like a maple shedding its autumn leaves, and landed just behind the machine. Catching sight of it, the man stopped and leaned around to pick it up. At that moment she knocked a pen off the side and out into the air. It plummeted arrow-like for six floors and without any sound hit the man on the crown, crumpling him to the floor from where he was crouched.
Kaori froze, fixed on the shadow of the toppled figure, her breath deserting her lungs.
The only sound was the dull thud of a thousand frustrated housewives beating their dusty futons clean in the early evening sun.
She was brought back to her senses when her thin bedroom door slid back and the tobacco stained smell of her father’s shirt entered.