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The sun has just set, but there is still a weak, fragile paleness in the sky. It’s too dark to see well, but not enough to turn on a light yet.
I hate this time of day.
I twist the huge silver ring on my finger, the one that is actually a secret weapon. Push a tiny button on the side and squirt an attacker in the eyes with pepper-spray.
I glance at my door. I get up and turn the hall light on, then close my door. Lock it.
I’m alone. Alone in this beautiful, historic old mansion that echoes with the voices of those who have lived—and, yes, also died—within its walls.
I reach into my back pocket and take out my double-bladed dagger. It needs cleaning.
I got my first dagger when I was 16. “I’m not afraid,” I’d told some co-workers who were once expressing concern about me walking home after 9 p.m. “I have this.” I produced the little manually operated knife I’d gotten downtown for less than five dollars. They just stared, then burst out laughing.
I got another dagger. Nobody laughs at that one. I sleep with it under my pillow.
Nobody laughs at the one I have in my hands right now, either, the one I carry around everywhere. With both blades open, I grasp the dagger in the middle, and three inches of stainless steel protrude on either side of my fist.
I don’t show them to people like I did the first time, to brag about it. Most of my friends don’t even know I have them. I only pull it out like on camping trips or something when a knife is needed, or, if someone is making me feel uncomfortable, I casually, very casually, get it out and start idly whitling at something.
“Geez, Julie, you could kill someone with that,” a friend of mine gasped once, staring goggle eyed.
I calmly flipped both blades shut again and put it away in my back pocket. “Well,” I said quietly, looking at him straight in the eye, “I guess that’s kind of the idea, isn’t it?”
Ever since I can remember, I’ve transmited a very clear message: Don’t mess with me.
I’m a cool kid, I laugh, I’m fun to be with, I have lots of friends. But the way I walk, talk, keep silence or look you in the eyes, has always made it clear that I’m to be taken seriously. I stride confidently down the streets at night. Men never shout lewd comments at me. I’ve never been mugged.
In summer camp, while the rest of the girls in my cabin were learning to decorate cakes, I was shooting bow-and-arrows. I laugh at ghost stories. I sleep alone in this huge house full of sculptures that my friends, aware of its bloody past, would never dare step foot in if there wasn’t someone else with them. I’m the first to explore a spooky cave or investigate a strange midnight noise, the first to jump off the high dive, climb a mountain full of bears and coyotes, shout down attacking bulls while my friends run for their lives.
I’m not afraid of pain. Just to prove it to myself, I gave myself six deep, long, hideous looking scars on my left arm with the very dagger I hold in my hands now.
I’ve even stared death in the face with cold disinterest, twice.
It is only at times like these, at dusk, at twilight, when I am alone, that I dare admit that I am afraid. That I am weak.
I glance again at my wicked looking double-bladed dagger. With a tender pity I run my finger over the sharp metal. How sad it is, that I am so weak that I must rely on this toy to provide me with the illusion of safety.