Sack of Knives

📅 Published on March 27, 2021

“Sack of Knives”

Written by Brandon Faircloth
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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It knows what you hate.  And it hates what you love.

I originally heard about “Sack of Knives” in one of my medieval literature texts—the class had sounded interesting out of my options that quarter, but two weeks in I was already wishing I’d taken another round of poetry or creative writing.  Part of it was the professor, who was chronically dry and boring as he gave a canned lecture he’d obviously regurgitated for the last twenty years.  But most of it was the language itself.  It was so archaic and hard to read, and I already knew I sucked at foreign language.  Some of the books were “modernized,” but most were just littered with footnotes in tiny block paragraphs longer than the text they were explaining.  And of course, when I finally saw something that sounded cool, there were no notes to be found.

It was in the middle of a story fragment about a village that fell under a curse of some kind.  People were going crazy, maybe?  Or their cows were all dying.  Hell if I know.  The accompanying woodcut made it look bad, though.  Still, it was kind of boring and dumb, and I was about to give up when a phrase caught my eye. If I wasn’t wrong, it read as “Sack of Knives.”

Like I said, there was no footnote, and when I went to the index, the term wasn’t listed.  I looked on the internet, but there was nothing about it there either.  My interest was already waning, but then an idea occurred to me.

The professor of the class was always telling people to ask if we had any questions, be it after class or during his student office hours.  No way was I doing that, but maybe if I fired off a quick email asking about it he would think I gave a damn about his stupid class.  I wasn’t a suck-up, but I didn’t mind a little padding in case I tanked on an essay at some point.  So I looked up his faculty email and asked him what the term meant before putting away my books and heading out to Jeff’s party.

I literally didn’t think about it again that night.  The party itself kind of sucked—it was one of those deals where there were too many people for it to be fun, so my little social circle wound up just hanging out together even though it was in my friends Jeff and Madison’s house.  They were both grad students, and Jeff was in a pissy mood about his thesis getting shot down.  This led to me and the others of our group taking turns whining about people that were being a-holes—bosses that were unfair, boyfriends and girlfriends that were unfaithful or controlling, parents and siblings that didn’t understand our individual and collective plights.  We were all drunk and only half-serious as we took turns trying to melodramatically one-up each other’s woes, and by the end of the night, we were all so exhausted from laughing so much that I wound up falling asleep on their floor.  When I got back to my dorm room the next morning, I saw I had an email.

Greetings, Mr. Holden!

So glad to see you taking an interest in the peculiarities of our medieval friends from the distant past!  The phrase you referenced is actually quite interesting!  It refers to an obscure pranking custom that was common in parts of Europe for a time.  It went as follows:

A group of friends or like-minded ne’er-do-wells would gather together and put names or (given the extremely low-rates of literacy) other identifying marks or objects in a sack or satchel.  Either way, the idea was that you were identifying a target for the prank—usually an enemy.  Once everyone had put a person in the sack, you all drew one back out.  Your own excluded, of course.

I say ‘of course’ because the purpose of the sack of knives was to harass or even hurt someone you hated without it being tied to you personally.  These were typically small communities where most everyone knew each other, and the risk of being seen and recognized while journeying to or from breaking someone’s fence or poisoning their feed was significantly higher than it would be today.  If someone saw an enemy lurking around their property and suddenly their cow got out or their chickens died…well, it would immediately be suspicious.  The sack of knives provided a measure of protection from such scrutiny, and generally it was limited to small pranks that wouldn’t raise too much ire, though there were always exceptions.

Once the prankster finished some act against their target, they would go back to the sack (usually hidden in a place everyone in the game knew) and put a stick inside with the name or identifier tied to it.  This symbolized the “knife” they used to “kill” their friend’s enemy.  The game wasn’t over until all the sticks and artifacts were in the sack.  I believe there were variations of the rules over the years, but generally no “winner” was ever specified.  I suppose their indirect revenge against those they hated was reward enough.

I thought about responding back, but decided against it.  It was cool of him to respond so quickly, but there was a difference between getting some brownie points and becoming pen pals with a Lit super-nerd.  Laughing at the idea, I closed my laptop and got ready for work.

* * * * * *

It was a week later when I mentioned the Sack of Knives to Jeff and Madison over dinner.  I’d brought it up as a funny story, but the more I described the email, the more interested they became.  Before I knew it, they’d called up Paul and Alison (two of our other friends who, based on the earlier party conversation, had clear axes to grind with someone).  They brought along their friend Marty who had just been fired from an internship for smoking weed in the parking lot.  I tried to put the brakes on before people came over and we got into some weird party game, but Madison wasn’t hearing it.  She said it was the best idea she’d heard in months.  That it sounded cool, fun, and very satisfying.  But the key, she noted, was having enough participation.

Winking at me, she turned and smirked at Jeff.  “It’s like that Hitchcock movie, right?  Criss-cross!”

* * * * * *

Three days later, I was carving the word “whore” into the hood of a stranger’s car.

We’d used a knock-off purse and index cards, but I supposed it worked well enough.  I’d pulled Alison’s former best friend, who had apparently slept with Alison’s high school boyfriend.  I wanted to ask if Paul (Alison’s current boyfriend) was okay with her still being so hung up on that past relationship, but I felt like it wouldn’t go over well, so I left it alone.  Instead, I dutifully folded up my note and tucked it in my pocket, planning on waiting ‘til later to worry if I was going to go through with a prank or not.

But letting go of the thought wasn’t so easy.  From the time I got the name and address, I was preoccupied with doing something to the woman.  It’s not like I’m a mean-spirited guy or anything, but it was just…dumb as it sounds, it felt like I’d made a promise I had to keep.

I went back to Jeff’s house after I was done and found the purse hanging in the toolshed.  Below it, there were three butter knives with rubber bands around them.  Cute.  I guessed the other three had already filled the sack, and when I put my own in, I saw I was right.  I wondered who had gotten my own special little request, and what they’d done.

I found out soon enough.

* * * * * *

“Jeff…J-Jeff’s dead.”

I squeezed the phone tighter as the ground seemed to sway under me.  “What? What do you mean?”

Madison’s voice was high and brittle when she spoke again.  “I mean he’s dead.  He had your guy…Calvin Egger was your guy, right?”

I slumped down onto the couch, barely able to breathe.  “Yeah.  Yeah, he was my guy.  Just this junkie I roomed with as a freshman.  He bailed first quarter, stole my laptop.  I could never prove it, but I knew it was him.  And he’s a townie, so I still see him around sometimes…” I blinked, coming back to the conversation.  “But how…how is Jeff dead?”

“He apparently tried to run that guy off the road.  Well, he did run him off the road.  The Calvin guy got messed up…they say they’re life-flighting him somewhere.  But Jeff went off the road too.  He hit a tree…”  The last word trailed off into a low moan.  I didn’t know what to say.  Jeff would never do anything like that.  There wasn’t a mean or crazy bone in his body.  It didn’t make any…

The phone clicked and went dead.  I tried calling her back, but there was no answer.  Turns out, there was a good reason for that.

She had shot herself in the head.

* * * * * *

In the past five days, two of the other three people have turned up dead as well.  One by suicide and the other was shot while he was trying to burn down a hardware store.  As for Paul?  Well, the police are still looking for him in connection with an aggravated assault where he allegedly broke an old man’s legs with a metal softball bat.

And me?  I’m currently a “person of interest” in a rape case.  Not because I have any connection to the victim whatsoever or because the woman has been able to give a clear description of anyone, but because my car was seen in the neighborhood the night it happened and a man matching my description was seen by a couple walking their dog.  The man was apparently carving the word “whore” into the victim’s car.  I’m not superstitious, but I’m not stupid either.  This wasn’t all a coincidence, and the thing that connected it all was that stupid game.  A game I’d learned about from my professor.

So I emailed him repeatedly, but I got no response.  After two days of waiting, I called his office and left a voice mail.  To my surprise, I got a call back that afternoon.

“Mr. Browning?”

“Um, yeah.  This Professor Miller?”

“It is, yes.  I got your voice mail.  You sounded very upset, but I couldn’t follow what you were talking about.  You mentioned something in the reading?”

I sucked in a breath and tried to keep my voice calm. “Yes, like I told you before.  It was in the coursework last month.  The story about the cursed village.  The thing that talked about the sack of knives game?”

There was a long pause, and I could hear the flutter of pages as he spoke again.  “I…I’m not sure what you’re talking about.  I know the story you’re referencing, but…just a moment.  Ah, yes.  I think I found the line.  Seax of knaves, right?”

“Um, if you say so.  You called it ‘sack of knives’ in the email just like I did.  But you have to know more than you…”


I frowned.  Was he drunk or something?  I didn’t have time for this.  If he wouldn’t give me straight answers, he could talk to the cops about it.  “Yeah, the email you sent me when I asked about it.”

Another pause.  “Mr. Browning, I haven’t sent you an email.  I don’t use email at all, if I’m honest.  Bit of a Luddite, I know, but old dogs and all that.  The department secretary will print out critical missives from my account, but I haven’t read anything from you or any other students in…well, probably better than a year.”  The man went on hesitantly.  “This is part of what I wanted to address.  You seemed in both the voicemail and this conversation to be under the impression that we’ve talked before, but I can assure you we haven’t—not outside of the times I might have called on you in class.  As for this phrase…well, it is interesting, but given your apparent upset, it’s certainly not a topic you should be focused on at the moment.  Perhaps you should talk to someone if you’re feeling very anxious or confused.”

I stood up and began pacing.  “That’s a load of bull.  I have the email.  I have proof.”

“Son, I don’t doubt you do, but I can tell you it wasn’t from me.  Maybe you got me mixed up with someone else, or maybe my account got…tricked?  Hacked?  I don’t know.”

I wanted to scream at him, but I wasn’t sure he was lying.  Wasn’t it possible someone else had gotten into his account or duped his address somehow?  But why?  And what did it have to do with the stupid sack of knives game?

“I really should be going.”

“No!  Please, professor.  Just…I’ll stay calm.  Just tell me what you know about the sack of knives game.”

I could hear him puff out a long breath on the other end.  “Very well, but if you get upset again, I’m going to let you go.”

“Okay, deal.”

“Okay.  As I said, it’s not ‘sack of knives’.  It’s ‘seax of knaves.’  Seax was an Old English name for a kind of knife, which makes your mistake rather humorous, I suppose.  They were single-edged, fixed-blade tools that were sometimes used as weapons in a pinch, particularly among the Saxons, whose name comes from that very same word.  As for ‘knave,’ that’s an old word for a trickster or a scoundrel.  Sometimes a thief or something worse.”

“Worse like what?  What does it mean in the book?  In that village?”

“I…I don’t know that I feel comfortable delving into old superstitions with a man that is so clearly distressed.”

I stopped pacing.  “Please, sir.  I need to know this.  And then I’ll let you go.”

He began again with shaky breath.  “The Seax of Knaves wasn’t a game.  It was a ritual.  In the region it originated in, “the knave” was a slang term for a demon or devil.  An evil spirit.  In the ritual, you became a “Knife of Demons” essentially—you were doing wrong against one who had not wronged you.  Spreading discord and suffering.  Part of the practical effect is clear—it was a slightly clever way of trying to get revenge on others indirectly.  But the more profound consequence was, supposedly, that you were binding yourself to this Other.  And whether you knew it or not, you were part of the offering to be made.” The man cleared his throat.  “There are stories of this throughout history, of course.  Places where people become strange.  Turn on each other.  Whole villages and towns have been lost to it, even in more modern times.  Today we call it mental illness.  Mass hysteria. And…well, I’m sure that’s the right of it.”  He laughed uncomfortably.  “If I may ask, why are you so fascinated by this?  You haven’t tried it yourself, have you?”

My vision began to swim as I nodded to an empty room.  “We…we did.  We thought it was a joke, and now my friends are dead and…”

He muttered something, and then said more clearly, “Do not contact me again.”

I heard a beep as he hung up.  Staring down at my phone, I replayed in my head what he’d muttered before hanging up, trying to make sense of it.

“It knows what you hate.  And it hates what you love.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Brandon Faircloth
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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3 months ago

This is an amazing tale and about my job, too. I’m a translator and I know how one letter changes the translated word!

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