Of
Claw and Eye
and Tooth

by Vincent W. Sakowski









     “THE EYE SEES ALL. THE CLAW DRAWS US IN. THE TOOTH IS OUR REWARD . . . DO YOU KNOW THIS?”

     No reply. Only the soft humming of the Examiner’s generator broke the silence.

     “DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

     His eyelids removed long ago and his eyes moistened only at the Examiner’s indulgence, the man stared up at the stainless steel Examiner, unseeing. His mouth hung open, lips trembling, drool running, but no intelligible sound was uttered -- like a fish washed up on a beach, screaming on the sand.
     The Examiner leaned in, but not far enough over him to block the sodium arc lights assaulting his eyes. Burning.
     Searing.
     Silent gasping.
     Snap.
     Hiss.
     Whirring.
     One of the Examiner’s many concealed appendages extended from its compartment towards the man. At the end of the multi-jointed arm a small expander was attached. Similar to a pair of scissors, the Examiner squeezed its handle, testing it, opening its ends, as it moved the expander towards the man’s head.

     “PERHAPS YOU ARE HAVING DIFFICULTY HEARING ME."

     And the Examiner worked the expander into the man’s left ear canal, and squeezed once more.
     This time the man had no trouble finding his voice, and he howled and cried, but still he had no answer. There was only agony exploding in his head and  he could do nothing to stop it. The man struggled against the straps binding him to the examination table, even long after the Examiner removed the expander. Blood flowed freely from what remained of his ear, and the man was almost surprised that he still had some tears left to weep.
     The Examiner leaned back, lenses scrutinizing him, while calculations were made, determining the next course.



     It’s been quite some time since I last saw the demon smiling at me from the darkness. Snickering. Teeth shining in the shadows. Glistening. Always seeming sharper than before. Always ready, waiting to snap off any little bit that I leave exposed. Whether  I am slow or careless, it does not mind as long as it receives its reward.
     And always, there’s this strange rush of fear -- simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating -- because the demon is mine. I am the master. What a laugh. Yet I have only heard the demon laughing. I can’t even remember the last time I cracked a grin.
     Where has it gone? 
     Why has it left? 
     When will it return?
     But still I wonder . . . has it really gone at all? Or is it hiding even deeper in the shadows?  Has it found a way to exist in the light? In any case, is it simply waiting for me to let my guard down  while I am consumed with duty and routine?
     I haven’t called it back to me either, for, no matter the reward, I am still better off without it -- until my desires get the better of me, of course.
     Impractical demonkeeping? Now there’s a thought.


     “LET’S TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT.”

     The Examiner’s motor revved, and it wheeled around the table. From a nearby stand it gathered up several filaments, then spun around and stared at the man’s head. Suddenly, with extreme speed and strength it inserted the ends of the filaments into the man’s skull, so that they were directly tapped into his brain.
     As each needle was driven in, the man felt a brief burst of emotion and memory along with the excruciating pain. Each time the emotion/memory was different. The rich smell of freshly brewed coffee. Burning his hand on a stove element when he was five. A blur of protests. Packing his papers for another move. Boxes. Always surrounded by boxes. And books. And music . . . sweet classical music keeping him awake on the highway at night, or locked up in his apartment, studying. Running. The comfort of lilac in a neighbor’s yard. Captured at a convenience store. Milk jug exploding on the tiled floor. And then there was nothing. Only the pain of his body being invaded once more. 
     Completely drained, the man could only whimper, and wonder at what was in store for him now. Countless days gone. Long past. Countless “methods” employed upon him. Yet the Examiner seemed to have no trouble finding new ways to explore and torture him. Just searching for the correct approach. And through all of this, the man still had no understanding; couldn’t answer the Examiner’s questions. There was nothing. 
     The Examiner flicked a switch.

     “PERHAPS THIS WILL HELP YOU UNDERSTAND.”

     Music flooded into his thoughts, but there was no comfort in it at all. Only one verse repeating over and over again: an incessant, banal jingle, only too familiar to him. He wrote it. Years ago. As a joke. Hated every annoying line right from the start. Never thought anyone would take it seriously, but there wasn’t anything that song couldn’t sell. It made millions . . . for someone . . . not for him. The man trembled. He thought he knew fear and pain before . . . The man screamed for it to stop, but it did not. Not for a very, very long time. 


     I know only too well how to let go. I know the question and the answer -- so it does not matter which one comes first, or if they remained unmentioned. I know. But I also know the price of letting go completely, and having that knowledge gives me peace, because I can never think of anything that it would be worth paying so much for in the end. What’s that old saying about gaining the world but losing one’s soul in the process? I don’t remember exactly how it was worded, but I know it’s true, at least for me.
     But still . . . sometimes even I have doubts. Does the demon know something more? Something I don’t? Some bit of inside information? I think that it would know considering where it comes from, but again . . . the price? Perhaps it simply has hope that I will succumb eventually . . . Perhaps soon . . . And what is a demon without hope?
     And what am I? Who am I to be possessed, or to possess another so close to myself?
     And in the meantime . . .
     I have my work.
     In the meantime . . .
     I have my duty.
     The meantime . . .


     “DO YOU FINALLY BELIEVE?”

     The man barely turned his head towards the Examiner, the verse still repeating, even though the switch was turned off long ago. Eyes dried. Itching. Burning constantly. Peeling away like onionskin. But still they held some life. Awareness.
     The Examiner leaned over him. “DO YOU FINALLY UNDERSTAND? OR DO YOU REQUIRE MORE?“
     The man's chin dropped, and slowly -- excruciatingly slowly -- the rest of his head bowed half an inch. His lips cracked and parted into a soft smile under the shadow of the Examiner.

     “NOW TELL ME . . .”


     Am I the rule? Or the exception? Have I been wrong all this time? Perhaps this is only another step . . . as I see the demon’s teeth glistening once more . . . but another step toward . . . toward . . .


     “. . . and the tooth is our reward.”
 
 

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