The Knife is everything. It saws at the edges of the world, tests and then snaps each stand of consciousness tethering them to reality, and Fern hurts.
They hurt in their hands, tied behind their back, burned palms raw and open to the dirty air. They hurt in their arms, pinched and bruised from being dragged around, shoved and pulled and pinned by Jeremiah’s erratic rage. They hurt in their back, where the Knife dug into them, deep and straight, then deep and straight and curved, then deep and straight and straight and straight. They hurt in their legs, in their right thigh where the Knife stabbed in and in and in, and in their knees and ankles, lashed so tightly they can’t feel their feet.
Most of all, though, they hurt in their stomach, where the Knife still sits, embedded hilt-deep in their abdomen. Every shuddery, labored breath taps the hilt against the floor, sending spasmodic shivers through the flesh around the Knife as it moves minutely.
Fern reads. They’ve been reading the Knife for hours, or maybe days, and they know, intimately, the details of everything it has done. Flickers, random by now, surface atop the well of cruelty and pain embedded in their side.
The Knife, skinning a trapped raccoon. Jeremiah’s hands, smaller, childishly inept.
The Knife, sliding flat across their own tongue, giving them an upside-down, backwards reflection of their own memory and terror.
The Knife, carving Jeremiah’s initials into the first Path he was given as a handler, a stiff, silently dying class-E.
The Knife, sinking into their stomach fast and sharp, punching the air out of them as Jeremiah rants against the pursuit that has made him move them quicker and quicker, take less time than he wanted on his revenge, on all the things he wanted to do to them with the Knife.
The clatter of the Knife against the floor as Jeremiah drops them, head whipping towards a distant sound that Fern can’t decipher. The vibration of its handle as his heavy boots tromp away from them.
The Knife, the Knife, the Knife– it’s everything, the Knife and the pain, the past and the present, and Fern falls.