Palo Alto Weekly 16th Annual Short Story Contest
3rd Place - 12-14 year olds


by Ellen Lathrop

My name is Blade. It wasn't always Blade of course; I think it may have been Grace, or maybe Katherine. I don't know. But it doesn't matter now because I am not that little girl anymore. Now I, at the age of 16, am the most powerful assassin in all the world. And that is how I came upon the name of Blade. Blade for the eight blades that I carry on my person. And I am a master with all of them. Some of them are poisoned with deadly serums that make you want to sleep for a while. A long while. And never wake up. Some of them have poisons where a small cut makes you die, writhing in agony. Those poisons I save for those who deserve to die that way. And I tell them "I'll see you at the Dark Gates, tell them Blade sent you."

Once, when I was about 13, I went to confession and just sat in the small booth, wondering where to begin. I am sure that the priest thought that I was merely a good little girl, who was wondering whether she should tell about how she took two candies from the bowl that said, "take one". He could never be further wrong. In fact, I was just wondering where to begin the sorry tale that had started when I was eight, when I came upon that body, lying in the woods. It was my father, and his throat had been slit. To this day every time I close my eyes, I see that image, branded on the insides of my eyelids. We were playing a game. He would run into the woods, and then I would try to find him. He was lying face down in the dry leaves, the sharp red of his blood blending with the browns and deep russets of the leaves. It was the only time in my life that I remember crying. That was when my innocence was lost forever, sucked down into that hole inside me where the rest of my childhood went.

I ran out of the church that day and never returned. The memories I hold can never be shared with anyone. They are too vivid, too bright even now. I carry eight blades, the number of years I had when I became an assassin. I first started out trying to look for my father's murderers, to make them feel the pain of an eight year old girl, who discovers her dead father, lying in the woods. Then I discovered that it was a good way to make a living. My father was the only one in my life who had ever loved me. Even now I don't let anyone love me because I know that one day, I may have to kill them. That's just how it works.

I have had many offers to join the thieves’ guild, or the assassins’ guild, but I refuse them all. I prefer to be alone. I have clients who boast that they are my friends, but they aren't. They are merely clients. Until they turn on me. Or I turn on them.

The four years between when I found my father and when I killed my first person were spent training and working up the nerve to do what I had to do to keep bread on the table. The first time I killed someone I was 12. I try to make all of my killings clean, like my first one. I'll spare you the details of it. All of my killings were not that clean. Sometimes the fools got some notion into their heads that I was only good at espionage and the swords at my hips were just for show. They would then challenge me to a duel, to which I was only too happy to oblige them. We would take our stances and I would wonder to myself how long this one would last. I would come at him whirling to catch him off guard, perhaps toying with him a bit letting him nick my right arm so that I could switch to my left and give it a bit of practice. After I had my fun however I would move in for the killing blow. I did not enjoy suffering much. I'm not a sadist. I never took joy in killing people, even the ones who deserve it. I would always try to make it quick, especially with the good ones. Sometimes it did not work that way and the man, realizing that he could not win, would beg and plead for his life.

"Please,' he would say," I have a wife and two little girls". That was the hardest part. When they brought in the little girls. They reminded me of, well, me. Then the best way to handle it was to simply kill him quickly then look up his wife, give her a little money, and tell her that her husband put up the best fight I had ever had, and that he died honorably. Their responses were always different.

Sometimes I would get heavy cookery thrown at me, sometimes the ladies would weep, sometimes there would just be silence, still others would try to play the good wife and ask me in for tea while fighting back tears, others would wish poxes on me and swear revenge, and sometimes the wives would act like really didn't care. But one of the wives made the biggest impression on me. When I told her that he died honorably, she looked me in the eyes and said, "Don't lie to me. Tom would have pleaded and begged, and do you know why?"

I had a good idea why, but didn't want to ruin what she had say so I simply said, "Why?"

"Because he loved living. That is why he challenged you to the duel. On the off chance of winning. Plus if he won it would have made a good story to tell around the fire on lonely winter nights." At this she smiled sadly. But abruptly the smile dropped from her face. "But then you had to kill him." she looked at me intently, searching my face," Why? Was it for the money, or do you just enjoy killing?"
I looked at her. "I do not enjoy killing. I do my job and I do it well and although sometimes I don't enjoy it, this is what I do. And the money is good. Maybe someday I'll make enough money to retire from the business. 'Till then," I gestured at my slim figure bristling with knives and weapons." This is me."

The whole time that I was talking she was peering into my face.

"How old are you?" she asked me.

"15", I answered

"Too young to be a hired killer." she said.

"And how old are you?" I countered.

"16," she admitted.

"Too young to be married," I observed.

"Not anymore, thanks to you."

"Hey, I already said I was sorry, but this is my job!"

"Then take me with you."

I thought about this. It might be nice to have someone to commiserate with sometimes, but what did she know about killing and the nasty things that went along with it. I looked at her, with her big blue eyes and dark blonde hair, and smiled sadly. No, she wouldn't last one day on the streets. She was good for marrying a wealthy lord and bearing him many children and that was about it. I had to say no. And I did. And then I walked out. Pretending not to care. But I did.

I left that town and I never went back, but to this day I regret that decision, maybe more than anything I have ever done in my entire life. I remember her looking me in the eyes and saying, "Don't lie to me." And her face will remain burned into my memory looking at me with those pleading eyes, saying, "Then take me with you."

I often wonder what has become of her these long and tiring days. I wonder if she has found someone to grow old with, as I never will.

Judge's Comments:

The strong, self-assured voice is one of the most powerful elements of the story. The psychological aspect of this story absolutely rings true.

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