It’s dark. The trees are dense. I used to need a torch to navigate the network of roots without tripping, but now I could walk the route blindfolded.
I don’t remember the first trip. After a while, they began to entangle themselves in my memory. Everything has become quite routine. Every week I make this journey to the rock.
Every week, I prick my finger, and let a single drop of blood onto it. Every week, I hear his message etch itself into my mind: a place, and a name. My work to pay towards a long-standing debt.
The requirement is specific. I travel to the place. They are always there, waiting for me. The fear is always there in them, in the racing of their heart and the quiver in their voice.
They don’t resist. They lie down, and I perform the incisions. Two thousand deep cuts, in the form of a thousand crosses, spread across my canvas.
I hear them eke out their last breath long before the last cut. The pain is immense, I can feel it from the desperate clenching, unclenching of their muscles.
But they never scream — never so much as a whimper.
As I walk the final mile, though, the last job weighs heavy on my mind. I’ve thought of little else all week. In the beginning — at least as far back as I remember — I struggled.
Feeling the writhes of agony in my grip as I made each slice hurt something in me, but that those nerves had deadened with time.
The horror from those silent, excruciating stares as I slit into flesh had faded into apathy.
The last job… he was only a boy. No more than ten.
I’d felt his arms shake as I lay him down, tears streaming down his face as I began. Before his squirming finally came to an end, he’d bitten through his bottom lip altogether to hold in his squeals.
His tiny body had scarcely enough space to complete my work.
No. He was the last one. He had to be. I couldn’t do this any more.
I make the final steps, and reach out to touch the rock. This is it. I take out the knife, and let the blood. There is no place, or name. Not this time. He knows I’m losing my will for this.
I hear a new message, in a familiar tone.
Your service here is done. It’s time for us to meet. I will send someone to collect you. You should know the ritual by now.
Do not resist. Do not make a sound. Do not scream.