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A LIFE UNDONE • by Robert J. Santa

“One. Two. Three.”

He watched the stone fall over the cliff. Against the grassy plain below — far, far below, so far it was as if he stood on a cloud — the black, volcanic rock stood out, even as it fell further away.

“Four. Five. Six.”

The stone passed the ledge. Davi almost stopped counting. Like the other stones before this one, he didn’t until he counted to twenty-four and saw it bounce, a near invisible speck.

“Everything else may be wrong in my life,” he muttered, “but there’s nothing wrong about my eyesight.” He snorted. “One thing.”

Mirriam was a beautiful girl. The smith’s daughter, he had been struck by her as if from her father’s hammer. Since they had been children, since the days of splashing in the stream looking for frogs, through the days of schooling, further still to these days of man- and womanhood, he loved her with a passion that hurt.

Now she was gone.

What more was there for him?

Davi toed another black stone to the edge of the cliff and kicked it over.

“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six…” This last he said with emphasis as the latest stone in a very long line dropped past the ledge. Eighteen more counts, a bounce.

The sword her father had taken the entire winter to forge lay in the dewy grass. It would fetch the kind of coin that could keep a man comfortable for a year, maybe more. The naked blade sat on the ground instead of in oiled leathers. Davi cared not for the rust already attacking the exquisite edge, sharp like the ocean’s horizon cutting the sky in half. He cared only for the point: brutal, like a spear that didn’t know it was supposed to be a sword.

The sun crawled higher. It would be a hot day, not that Davi would see much more of it. The cliff beckoned him wordlessly.

Soon.

A huff. A scraping of metal on stone. The animal sounds of impatience. Nearer, louder, less muffled by a tunnel of stone, less amplified by its confinement.

Almost.

Davi bent down and picked up the sword. He gripped it upside down, both hands on the hilt, clutched with an inexpertness obvious to even non-soldiers.

Another huff, echoless.

Davi jumped.

He counted, helpless against the routine of the morning’s rocks.

One.

Two.

Nostrils flaring.

Three.

Four.

The head against the cliff face.

Five.

It came further out on a heavy neck.

Six.

Davi struck the dragon’s head with a falling body more powerful than anything his two arms alone could have delivered. The improbably-pointed sword found the top of the thing’s skull, just above the neck. His hands slipped. He bounced away from the ledge.

Davi fell. Mirriam was there in his thoughts, clutched in the claws of that awful beast. It tore her there in the field, clothing rags, flesh and blood scattered, chewing and gulping.

Men had tried and failed. Scores of men in groups and singly. The monster was too big, too strong, with scales too thick for ordinary swords and ordinary arms.

The grass rushed to him, like a long-departed lover ready to embrace him, enfold him in a clutch that would never release.

Davi saw the scattered black stones, all becoming bigger. He had perhaps a count of three to decide whether he had killed the dragon or not. He tried to twist, to see if the thing’s carcass fell behind him. There simply wasn’t enough time.

He had. He must have.

Mirriam lay in the grass among scattered black stones and embraced him.


Robert J. Santa has been writing speculative fiction for more than twenty years. His work has appeared in Paradox, On Spec and Artemis. When not writing, Robert heads Ricasso Press. He lives in Rhode Island with his beautiful wife and two, equally beautiful daughters.


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Posted on May 12, 2009 in Fantasy, Stories
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  • http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com rumjhum

    I enjoyed this well written story very much; but the title, I felt, didn’t do anything for the story.

  • Bob

    Not a big fan of the “chewing and gulping” line – too explicit for the rest of the piece. Everything else was first rate. Loved the inventiveness of his solution.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Suicide of a man who could not face “the dragon of reality,” the startling surprises, good and bad, which realilty brings. Though it seems like unrequited love,”The grass rushed to him, like a long departed lover ready to embrace him”; “Mirriam” (dead) “lay in the grass … among scattered black stones and embraced him”, it’s probably narrowness and egotism on his part as no other torture was present in the story.

  • http://smsand.wordpress.com Scott M Sandridge

    Pure gold, Rob!

  • Jen

    Not sure I really liked this. At first I thought he was going to kill himself because he couldn’t Have Mirram, not kill the dragon.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I just realized that I may have been too hasty in my comment. It might not be unrequited love that caused his suicide, but the death, earlier, of Mirriam. In that case, he is tortured by her death, not unrequited love.

  • Alan W. Davidson

    I enjoyed this story. Well done, Rob.

  • Sharon

    This was wonderful! As to the chewing and gulping–that’s just what dragons do. I didn’t see that Davi committed suicide at all. Rather, he gave himself for Miriam’s honor, taking the beast-thing with him. Huzzah!

  • http://ufexp.blogspot.com/ Anton Gully

    That was great! I never imagined he was going to try and kill a dragon.

  • JohnOBX

    I got so hung up in the beginning trying to figure out how far the drop was from the cliff based on the 24 second fall of the stone and then trying to figure out if someone could actually see that far…I dunno. Sometimes fewer explicit details may be better.

    Plunging sword first on the dragon’s head was kind of a novel and nobel dispatch of the dread beast. Points for that.

    Then I got hung up in the mechanics again with this line: “Davi struck the dragon’s head with a falling body more powerful than anything his two arms alone could have delivered.” And then thinking, about how he was holding the sword and why did he bounce away from the ledge and not off the dragon’s head or neck…

    Dunno. Thought this one could have used another pass or two to work out some of the bugs but overall I liked it.

    –John

  • http://www.sjhigbee.com sjhigbee

    Now, there’s a different take on falling for a girl…

    Well done – an inventive twist that I didn’t see coming.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/twfiction/ TW

    Rob — sorry for the late arrival.

    Very nice piece from someone who understands flash and story-telling.

    Well done!

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    Poor Davi. I hope he killed it!

  • http://fright-fest.blogspot.com Cate Gardner

    Excellent, Robert. Very well done.

  • Brian Dolton

    Very impressed by the amount of story, as well as emotion, you can pack into a thousand words.

  • Elin B.

    The ending got me. Two nice twists. Romantic but not treacly.

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