We stood in an extremely long line that now lay behind me and seemed to trail off into forever. The line lead into a large open room with high ceilings similar to a gymnasium, or perhaps an airplane hangar, it is hard to say which. The air hung heavy with the smell of heat and sweat, of rubber and metal.
The immense room was sectioned off into different areas; separated only by a consensual social contract upheld by everyone present. The line we were standing in ran along the east wall, while in the center of the room there stood a fairly large open space, and along the west wall sat raised, tiered rows of metallic benches, patiently awaiting an audience to watch some, as of yet, unforeseen event.
On the wall furthest from the entrance stood 8 to 10 metal body cast dummies, shaped like the head and torso of a man. The metal dummies gave off an intense heat, like opening an oven at 400 degrees without first preparing yourself for the sudden change in temperature. A rubber dummy lay outfitted on top of the metal cast dummy. The rubber was thick, like the rubber from a car tire, and seemed completely unaffected by the heat coming from directly beneath it. The heat itself seemed only present to stop onlookers from loitering. It forced one to do their duty and move quickly away from the dummies where prolonged exposure to the heat was unbearable. Not necessarily harmful you see, only highly uncomfortable, which kept the endless line moving with relative speed, serving its purpose to perfection and turning out to be quite ingenious.
My position in line however, had yet to get to the dummies. My position was at the point where we picked up knives. Long sharp knives with dark wooden handles. They reminded me of the cooking knives my mother use to have when I was a child. I took my knife in hand, testing the sharpness of it with the tip of its metal blade versus the end of my fleshy finger. The knife won, pricking my fingertip and drawing a tiny speck of blood.
Placing the blade of the knife under my arm, I put the wounded finger in my mouth and shuffled along maintaining my position in line. As we got closer to the back of the room I could see those that were positioned in front of me stabbing the rubber dummies with the knives we had just received. There seemed to be no mandatory or predetermined number of times we were supposed to stab the dummies, but it looked as if everyone was taking 3 to 4 stabs each. “Enough to show you meant it.” Seemed to be the unwritten rule. I followed suit.
The stabbing of the rubber man felt grotesque. The rubber body felt by no means human, however the feelings it recreated were the same. The stabbings were violent, and the cuts left in the rubber were jagged and distorted. The rubber would grab hold to the metal blade upon each thrust, forcing a participant to use greater strength and effort to pull the blade out of the rubber body. As a result the following thrust was always executed with exponentially more viciousness and ferocity, as if stabbing the dummy harder would make retrieving the blade a bit easier, so by the third and fourth stroke even the most reluctant participant was stabbing like a well-experienced psychopath. Myself included.
My knife slid past the rubber and scraped the metal cast that lay underneath, sending a horrifying chill down my spine. I was struck with the most unbearable feeling, like fingernails on a chalkboard every time the two metals touched. After making my stabs I quickly moved along to the bleacher like seating setup along the west wall. Many others had already taken their seats after their stabbings, knives still in hand.
I spotted my cousin Darryl, who had apparently been in line ahead of me. He was moving toward a set of bleachers not far from the back of the gym. It was not the best angle to see the open floor area in the middle of the room, which now seemed to be the new focus of the event, but it was my cousin and a familiar face so I followed suit. I greeted Darryl, who looked glad to see me as always, and took my place in the stands. From my seat I could see, waiting in line after just getting his knife, Ivan, an old school yard friend of mine that I had always enjoyed talking to and joking with. We played football together in primary school. He was a good guy and had been a good friend who I had not seen in awhile and I can admit I was excited to catch up with him on the time that had passed. I decided to flag him down once he had gotten closer to our seats so that he and his brother James, who was standing near him in line, could join us. As well, I figured I would also watch him stab the dummies. My seating was perfect to watch him go through the same motions that I had, and in all honesty Ivan and I always enjoyed competing with one another when given the opportunity.
Ivan was big, and while he was not taller than me he was much better built. We had begun school together at roughly the same size but his unbelievable work ethic and dedication to sport had forced his body to shoot pass and outweigh mine to be almost twice my size by graduation.
That was some time ago, however, his size and stern demeanor still gave him a very intimidating look. Ivan, though very lighthearted and friendly, wore a permanent scowl on his face, as if he was always on the brink of losing his patience. It was perfect for the aggressive contact sports we played in school, and the stern facial expression seemed to be hereditary as his brother had the exact same look even though he was much smaller.
I watched expecting Ivan to stab the dummies viciously perhaps even cutting through the metal as well, but he never did. He hovered by the rubber dummies, but he never thrust his knife toward them. Instead after everyone else had done their stabbing he moved toward the center of the gym, his brother along with him, as did a few other people. Knives still in hand.
Behind them, a gray curtain dropped hiding the metal and rubber dummies and further emphasizing the open area in the middle of the room.
Ivan and the others stepped into a white lined box that had been taped off in the middle floor. The squared arena looked to be about 25 meters on each side, and Ivan his brother James and some 20 other men stood in a line on the northeastern edge. A female voice spoke clearly over a P.A. System from speakers that I could not see. The voice was warm and sweet, like honey.
“These men have been accused of crimes against the State. Murder, theft and treason, all crimes punishable by death.” The voice rung out like a bell, each word enunciated with precision. “However,” she continued, “because the State is an entity that is both fair and just, each of the Charged will be given the opportunity to be absolved. If they can survive the Cutting Trial, they will earn the right to then be tried individually.”
At this a few people removed themselves from the stands and entered the white square arena with the intentions on stabbing my former classmate… Their faces wore smug smiles as if proud to be the ones dispensing this twisted sense of justice. A whistle blew from the unseen speaker and they began. The men danced around each other swinging the knives wildly. The Charged Men seemed to have no real strategy, only to remain uncut for as long as they could, for the other men , the ones doing the chasing, it was just the opposite. Every time a man was finally cornered and stabbed he screamed out loudly, and every time my heart broke. My mind went back to the rubber dummy that I had stabbed earlier, and my stomach turned.
The Chasers came in a variety sizes and ages, and although they had not really outnumbered the Charged at first, as each of the accused men were stabbed, he seemed to disappear from the fray and by now the Chasers outnumbered the Charged 2 to 1. They were wrangling the accused into corners and then one of the more nimble Chasers would slip past the frantic and panicked swings of a Charged knife and wrestled them down to the ground. They started by simply poking the Charged in an exposed arm or leg, drawing blood and therefore sealing their fate. But as the match progressed the Chasers seemed to grow more vicious and more merciless. They did not need stab the accused men to death, no, only an open wound was necessary, bleeding men were carried away by larger, heavily armed guards, who I had somehow, failed to notice before. The bleeding Charged were carried off, perhaps to their own private executions, to be stabbed as many times as the rubber dummy was stabbed I suppose. Making us all murderers in a sense, at least that’s the feeling of guilt that churned inside me. I leaned over to my cousin who seemed to be watching with no particular interest and spoke words that I knew should not be said.
“This… this isn’t right.”
My cousin hushed me with a slightly raised hand, “This is how things are.” he replied. I could see his eyes dart nervously over to one of the armed guards, as if checking to see if my complaint was over heard. The guard’s eyes met Darryl’s who then quickly looked away, focusing his attention back to the knife wielding men in the arena.
Another man had just been stabbed. A Chaser had him pinned to the ground with his legs wrapped around the criminal’s waist and holding his torso tightly from behind so he had nowhere to move to. A young man with a Mohawk, who looked to be around the age of 18 or 19, stood over them. He stabbed the criminal in the ribs, looking down upon him with a feeling of extreme delight. His smugness irritated me to no end, his look of satisfaction after claiming the life of another in the name of justice made hate swell within me. He reminded me of the State Men, the armed guards and enforcers of our “unnatural law” and my disdain for him grew even more.
By now the only man left was Ivan. The Chasers began to surround him, moving in reluctantly, his intimidation had reached even them. But in my heart I knew it would only last for so long. I quietly wished that he would at least slash open the throat of the young man with the Mohawk before the Chasers could get to him. I hoped for it desperately.
What happened next, I will not say. In truth it is irrelevant. Ivan’s capture or escape, his death or release, none of it really matters. The damage had been done when the first knife had been thrust into the first dummy. When we allowed for the first man to be carried away his fate hanging by only a thread while cruel men anxiously twiddled sharpened knives between their fingers. When we allowed for a system of revenge labeled justice to be the law of our land, but what could be done, like everyone else I sat by, said and did nothing. Perhaps it is as my cousin said, “this is how things are” this is our system for justice.