Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chapter 17. The First Cut

The surgical instruments that he had gathered from the grass were piled up to Max’s side as he leaned back against the shrouded table that held Betty’s mutilated corpse. Several of the instruments were broken from his feeble attempts to pick the lock on the shackles. He had worked his way through them one at a time with no luck. Only some clamps, a heavy pair of scissors, and a bone saw remained intact. Of the three, the bone saw seemed most promising.

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The tiny teeth on the saw were viciously sharp. Max pulled to tighten the chain that bound him, and drew the saw across one of the links. It left only a barely detectable scratch. It was clear that the blade would wear out long before he could do any damage to the heavy chain.

He rested the blade on his ankle. The points of the saw made small white spots where they touched his skin. He took a deep breath, drew the saw back in a quick, light stroke, and grimaced at the sting of the cut. It was a shallow wound, and for a moment, it didn’t even bleed. Soon a crimson line erupted along the blade’s path. A droplet of blood at one end of the cut slid lazily down toward his sock.

Max had once heard of a lone hiker who had gotten his foot trapped in shifting rubble while walking in the desert. Given the choice between life and his limb, the hiker had cut off his leg at the knee with a pocketknife, and somehow traveled miles to safety. He had been forced to amputate at the knee because there was no way he could have cut through his leg bones with a small knife. Max, on the other hand, had the relative luxury of a surgical saw designed precisely for hacking through bone.

He lined up the blade along the bloody cut and winced at the pain that came from even gently touching the steel to the wound.

“Come on,” he said to himself, “you can do it.” The bloody sheet that he could see out of the corner of his eye was a reminder that there were worse fates in store for him if he couldn’t saw off his leg and find some escape route.

This next cut, he thought, has got to be deeper. Max closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as he prepared for a second stroke. He breathed fast in an attempt to hyperventilate, and perhaps ease the impending pain a bit. He clenched the saw handle with his right hand, squeezed his ankle with his left, and pushed the saw teeth into his flesh. He leaned forward, took a final, deep breath, and let out a wail. "Oh please God!”

Just as he started to pull on the saw for a second cut, something snatched his wrist and wrenched the saw from his hand.

“Getting a jump on us are you, Alice?”

Spencer stood grinning down at him and smacking the bone saw against his chubby thigh.

“No fair going out of turn,” said Spencer.

Max made a lunge at the saw in Spencer’s hand, but the laundry monster reached out with a swaddled arm and blocked his way.

Spencer laughed. “So, what’s the good word? Is he being straight with us?”

The question made no sense. “What?” said Max.

He heard the hiss of the sheet sliding off the table behind him.

”He’s telling the truth. I think,” said a voice that sounded almost, but not quite, like Betty3.5.

Max craned his neck to peer over his shoulder at the table. Instead of Betty’s mangled torso, he saw Perske perched on the table edge.

“He doesn’t know anything,” she said.

Perske hopped down to the grass and walked over to stand next to Spencer.

“Sorry, Max. We had to be careful.”

“But what about,” Max stammered. “What happened to . . .”

“Betty,” said Spencer.

“She’s fine,” said Perske. “You can see her later.”

“But why did you do that?”

Perske glanced at one of Spencer’s lackeys and nodded down at Max’s leg. The couch creature unlocked the shackle. Perske bent down, reached for Max’s hand, and helped him to his feet.

“Let’s go for a walk and I’ll explain it all to you. But first,” she said, pointing at the scrape on Max’s ankle. “Let me put something on that.” She took the bone saw from Spencer, lifted a corner of the sheet that had previously covered the table, and used the sharp teeth to start a tear near one corner. She dropped the saw to the grass and ripped off a strip of cloth, then knelt and wrapped it over Max’s cut.

Perske stood up and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. “You deserve an explanation,” she said. “Come with me, and you’ll get one.”

She stepped forward and wrapped her arm around Max’s waist. She led him gently but firmly past Spencer and his lackeys toward the gap in the hedge.

“Everything’s going to be fine,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

“Thank you, Dr. Perske.”

“Call me Elizabeth,” she said with a gentle smile.

“Yes of course," said Max, "sorry. Elizabeth.”

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