The Courtesan’s Blade

📅 Published on August 31, 2020

“The Courtesan's Blade”

Written by Wentz Hesselman
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: 9.00/10. From 7 votes.
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I never quite figured out who decides which lost souls have a right to be remembered and which ones don’t. I got a phone call while I was sitting next to my dying wife.

I know that the medical equipment was supposed to be keeping her life from wicking away. But damn it, when you sit next to someone’s hospital bed, and you see the tubes going all kinds of places that make you cringe, all I could see was something I saw when I was a kid. I was outside chasing a moth, trying to catch it with a jar. I accidentally chased it into a spider’s web and the spider got to it before I did.

I didn’t know much about how the world worked. I came back later to see if the moth was ok and if the spider had let it go. The moth’s wings were splayed out every which way and it could have been mistaken for being stone dead if it weren’t for the occasional twitch of a leg or a vibration in one of the wings. The only thing that was truly motionless was the spider, fangs buried into the moth’s body. Eight eyes black as death, eight legs solid as the submerged part of a tomb.

That’s how I felt looking at my wife. Once in a while, a finger might twitch. The chin might wag. The eyelids might roll with REM sleep. But the equipment seemed to be like that spider.

The real killer was cancer. I knew that. The real survivor was my wife. Most people that were treated this long weren’t alive no more. I thought any day that I came in to see her that I’d find a big chemical burn on the sheets instead of a body. Looking at the shallow veins in her bald, transparent skin, I wondered how anyone could be so full of caustic poisons and still be alive.

I sat with sloped shoulders, bent forward. I felt like I was going to enter a chemical-induced stupor of my own, courtesy of nicotine and caffeine.

I also felt like I was going to pee myself when my phone rang.

It was an assignment. Pretty messy crime scene off of Division Street, near downtown. I was so close to telling the chief where to shove his assignments. The dead didn’t need me near as much as the dying. But cancer is expensive so I justified leaving my wife’s side by reasoning that I would be helping her by financing her. An old excuse for a new scenario.

Just as soon as I stepped out of my car, one of our blue uniforms came over to grab me.

“Halden! …I mean, Detective Voyles!”

“Come on, Mike. Nobody cares about protocol at a time like this. Especially me.”

He nodded.

“The vic is over here.”

He guided me through the cop car disco strobe nightmare to a spot where blonde hair, long legs, high heels, and a short black skirt were bulleted by the flashing lights, as if a pole dancer had passed out on the job.

“A hooker was assaulted and left for dead. No identification. Whatever she had in the way of a purse and stuff, it’s all gone.”

Great. Any other kind of woman and it would have been a simple matter of finding the husband or the side dick. With a dead hooker, counting suspects is like cataloging cow farts in Nebraska.

I got some gloves from the coroner and began looking her over. She couldn’t have been plying her trade very long. No lines on her face. No scabs or other souvenirs from the substance abuse required to cope with the reality of being the underworld’s chew toy. She didn’t even have any tattoos. Oh, wait.. there. One on her upper thigh. It looked like a knife and an axe crossing handles, rendered by a five-year-old. Which meant it was probably done in college. But in the detail-blurring light show, she couldn’t have been old enough to be in college.

There were two dark lines around her neck. One was a black choker-style necklace. The other one was a knife wound. The words “PRETTY KILL” was carved into the flesh above her breastbone.

I looked around. I knew this area of town well. When I was done doing my good deeds for the day, I was hitting the bars with the rest of the damned. There wasn’t a decent drinking hole around here for blocks, so she wasn’t dispensing her services in a tavern bathroom.

It was mostly storage sheds and abandoned lots with few places for any real privacy with a John, unless she was banging them in the old church directly behind me. That was actually the building she was closest to. I looked up at the old institution, the stained glass washed in alternating blasts of red and blue. Churches are spooky if you look at them long enough. This kind of lighting drives that home.

I’ve dealt with my share of bad apples, knotheads and bad seeds. But I really didn’t know anyone with enough brass to do their whoring out of a church.

And maybe that’s not what she was even up to. Maybe she was on her way to her hot spot and got mugged. I grimaced at the idea that I had been torn away from my wife’s side just to stare at this nameless and mutilated shell that smelled like a one-way ticket to where all the unsolved cases go.

I photographed the tattoo. And her remarkably unblemished face. I would start asking questions soon.

I checked in with the coroner and tipped my hat to Mike, and went back to my wife’s side, where beeping lights kept track of her pulse, machines did their best to be surrogate organs for the failing originals, and her eyelashes fluttered with whispers of deep, dark dreams. I stood over her for a long while, and eyed the three or four framed pictures that stood on the table next to her bed. I wanted them to be the first thing she saw when she woke up.

My phone rang and tore me out of a dream I was having while snoozing sitting up.

“Halden here.”

Mike was on the other end, breathless.

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Hal. You are not gonna believe this.”

“I’ve always believed you before. Come on, out with it.”

“We found the John that murdered the hooker. Pretty Kill, remember?”

“Of course I remember. Get him ready for questioning.”

“We won’t be able to do that…”

I arrived at the station to find the worst mutilation of a human body I had ever seen in my time on the force. The John was in an alley pinned to the wall. I’m not exaggerating. A railroad spike had been rammed into his mouth and anchored him to the brick wall behind him. He was missing the arms and legs that could help himself out of his situation, and streaks of blood ran straight down the wall to the ground under him. A sign hung around his neck saying PRETTY KILL.

Think all that was bad?

I walked back and forth asking Mike more questions until I noticed that the body’s eyes were open and moving. They were tracking me. I had to pace several more times before I could believe it. But they followed me, never blinking.

“The eyes,” I stated in disbelief.

Mike nodded but wouldn’t look up at the body.

“He probably bled out in the middle of the night.”

“And he’s still alive?”

He wouldn’t answer me. His brain had decided to shut down and deny any and all information that was coming in through his five senses or else he might break.

My sanity should have been splintering like Mike’s but with everything that was happening with my wife, this wasn’t really reaching me. But I did decide that I was going to procure some chemically assisted decompression before the day was over.

I turned to leave when I felt something roll under my shoe too big to be your standard piece of gravel. I stooped to find a gold chain that held a pendant that was like black glass, possibly obsidian. There was a faint cherry red light coming from inside the center and it flickered like an ember that had been suspended and preserved like an insect in amber.

That’s when the polarity of everything that day changed.

I looked around to make sure nobody would miss the dropped bauble before pocketing it and scooting.

I sat with my wife long after the sun sank and I got out my wallet, looked at the wadded up 20’s, and decided it was time.

* * * * * *

Benny’s was jumping that night. You would have thought I walked into a speakeasy out of the 1920s. Some Jazz quartet was blasting away on the cramped stage area. It was time for a nice liquid supper.

I had the bartender line up three shots of something amber and strong.

Come. To. Papa.

That first shot felt so damn good. “Nice ‘n toasty,” I muttered to myself as I reached for another.

My senses were assaulted by something, a cloud of vapor that reeked of cotton candy and was thick enough to be the ghost of a jellyfish. The stool next to me was suddenly occupied. She was the identical twin to the hooker that turned up. My eyes looked her up and down, emboldened by the liquor. The skirt didn’t even try to hide the tattoo on her thigh. Yes, that tattoo.

She wasn’t looking at me. If she was trying to get my attention, she was doing a good job of playing oblivious. I became still as a statue. I listened. I looked. I was as attentive to the seat next to me as a statue could be.

She swiveled around and watched the thickening crowd. Someone nearly collided with her legs and offered a pardon-me.

I didn’t dare touch the rest of my shots. Now that she showed up, I would need my faculties. As she downed her own share of liquor, she began posturing herself on the stool in ways that made it clear what she was there for, puffing clouds of cotton candy vapor in the air. The hours rolled on, the band’s playlist finished, the bodies thinned out, and she didn’t win any business. So she got up.


“So how do you chop off a guy’s arms and legs without killing him?” I said.

She looked like she hit a brick wall.

She turned around as if she doubted what her own ears were hearing. Looked right at me. I looked right back.

The silence told me that I was now in a standoff. Partaking of the liquid courage made me go first.

“I thought he was dead. Really, I did. And you know what? He should be dead. But he isn’t. Just like you.”

Another stretch of staring followed. Then she simply left. I followed her.

“Following people home is a crime,” she said over her shoulder.

“So is killing,” I said, hiding the tremble in my voice under the sedation of the bourbon. “Your legal situation gets ten times more interesting when you compound murder with dismemberment and mutilation.”

Her pace quickened.

“Maybe they’ll let you off easy since you did the deed after you died. Coming back from the dead to deliver payback your own killer has no legal precedent that I’m aware of. Definitely hasn’t been tried in court in my time on the job, so I’d say you’re looking pretty good.”

She was walking as fast as she could without running.

“Also, I guess it isn’t really murder if the victim hasn’t quite died yet.”

“Please leave me alone.”

I reached into my pocket and held the obsidian pendant. She came to a screeching halt. I could imagine the look she was wearing even though all I could see was the back of her head.

“You feel that? You dropped it in your haste to deal out damnation.”

Her tone flipped like a referee’s silver dollar.

“I need that back. Please.”

“Show me how you put the grim reaper on a leash and we’ll call it even.”

She turned to me, flushed.

“Give it back or I’ll take it from you.”

I shook my head. “We both know you can’t do that until I willingly hand it over. Now listen. My wife is being treated for cancer. Anything that can keep a man from bleeding to death out of four gaping wounds can probably help my wife.”

I could see the conflict bouncing around in her eyes.

“I’m just looking out for my wife. You help me out and I’ll not only give you back your little token from your personal Jesus, I’ll see to it nobody in uniform ever comes looking for you again.”

She looked me over for a long time.

“If you’re lying, you’ll have it worse than the man that attacked me.”

“I’m an honest cop,” I said as I held up my hands, deliberately dangling the pendant from my thumb.

She led me right back to where she was killed and approached the dark shape of the church that loomed over the block.

Huh. An undying hooker that camps out in a church.

The place wasn’t completely dark. Trembling rays came from the sanctuary. Candles were lit and they picked out a peculiar scene of pews rearranged in a circle, as if to facilitate a campfire meeting. The candles, dozens of them, were in a smaller circle inside the pews. Just like something out of a pulp horror novel I would have devoured when I was a kid, there was some sort of symbol painted on the floor inside the ring of candles in wide, sloppy strokes. I could feel the air moving, being pulled into the symbol like an airlock.

“I got married in this church,” I said.

She scratched a corner of her lips before picking up a tall candle and lighting it with another.

“Follow me,” she said.

* * * * * *

I’d never been to the catacombs in Rome, but that night I got a pretty good idea of what they looked like. I wasn’t lying about getting married in that church. I just didn’t remember anyone ever saying there was a bone vault underneath the place. We stopped in front of an imposing granite door covered in carvings that were anything but Christian. It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up anything from National Geographic, but I think I could pick out a few things that were Sumerian and Egyptian. There were other things that I don’t think were even hinted at in any history book.

Before the door was an ugly little bowl clutched from beneath from some sort of dog-like dragon demon. A small brass knife lay in the bowl.

“Before I show you inside, you must make a blood oath to the vault.”

“To the vault, yes. To you, no.”

“You know a lot about The Red King for someone that isn’t His thrall.”

“Family tragedy will drive a man to research some very interesting things if he thinks they’ll yield solutions.”

She sliced my thumb with a knife and had me bleed into this ugly little bowl and say a few vows, and then I was led down into the bowels of the church. At first there was the usual basement stuff, coffee cans full of nails and pews that were meant to be repaired but never were. But the air got more dense and dank, and niches appeared on the walls carved from limestone where human skeletons reposed with folded hands.

And then the niches themselves were crafted from bones. Femurs bound together like planks, supporting coffins and exposed corpses in burial shrouds of moss and lichens. The journey terminated at a crude stone altar that supported a jagged mass of rust that may have been a knife at one point in time.

“What’s this?”

“I was stabbed with this when I was nineteen. The men that did it owned this place before it was a church.”

Here her voice became strained.

“They wanted a toy that would stay young forever. They chose me. I outlived them all. I’ve been exactly the same as the day they cut me with it.”

She set her candle down next to the blade and squatted down, resting on her heels.

“I’ve made friends over the centuries. I tried to save some of them in their final hours so I wouldn’t be alone forever, watching people I love die. I found out the hard way that the knife doesn’t heal. It only arrests time for you.”

“What you are when you’re cut is what you get,” I grunted.

She nodded.

“The John that assaulted you is going to be a limbless vegetable until the end of time.”

“He’s no vegetable. I cut him when he was in the worst pain I could give him.”

She stood up and began pacing, all the while her hands unconsciously hooked inward, as if to crush a skull.

“I brought him to the brink of death where his pain should have pushed him over the edge and then froze him there.”

My eyes fell to the terrific, horrific artifact.

“So if my wife receives a cut now, she’ll be a comatose nest of cancer forever.”

She nodded. Then raised her head to me, the candle glinting in her eye on the side of her face catching all the light.

She took the ugly shank of rust and held it out to me.

* * * * * *

The next morning, I wasted no time in finding the next ingredient for my hocus pocus. The doctor came in to tell me that it was just a matter of time before she passed on, so I guessed that I had less than a day to do what I had to do.

I got a mason jar from home and paid a visit to my wife’s peonies in the backyard. They were an open freeway of bug traffic. Yellow jackets as bright as lemonade were the thickest.

I nabbed a big one with the jar. I looked at it as it pawed the glass and seemed to glare back at me. Job done. All I had to do was work some magic.

* * * * * *

The doctor eyed me as he picked up the clipboard off the foot of my wife’s bed.

“So I should just let her die in her sleep without a final talk?”

Both of us cast a sidelong glance to the vial of stimulant on a tray next to her IV drip. Then we looked at each other.

“If you use that to wake her up, she’ll be in agony. You know? Everywhere cancer grows, it’s taking up space that it wasn’t allotted to have. So everything around it is pinched, pressed, pulled…”

“I get it, Doc. I get it. If I wake her up, it had better be to tell her we’ve found a miracle cure or to tell her goodbye.”

He nodded and shuffled out of the room.

I looked at the IV drip, like an hourglass of liquid or fluid. There was the port in the IV tubing that put the question to me. Let her slip away peacefully or pull her across the coals just long enough to say whatever we have to say to each other?

I scanned the pictures I had set up. I glanced down at her. For all I knew, she was in a dream where she was talking to the people in those pictures. Sitting on the porch swing with a tall glass of something cold, the condensation sweating a trickle onto her thigh. Unaware of the departure she was slipping into. Or maybe the avatars of those memories were seeing her off. Do you dream about dying when you’re in a coma and about to die? I didn’t know.

I was wavering. I was lining and re-lining the pictures up to an imaginary line, and reforming them in a semi-circle so that they would be facing her straight on. I tightened my lips and walked over to the port on the IV. I unscrewed the vial and screwed it onto the port. Gave it a couple of flicks. The amber liquid began to enter the line.

IT worked faster than I thought it would. The body on the bed convulsed silently as if there was a cough working its way up but couldn’t quite be released. Her chest rose up as if it tried to get out of bed before the rest of her. The sound of her breath being drawn in came as a bark as the air had to push down through the swollen tissue lining her throat and her bronchial tubes. She labored so, so hard just to breathe. It was a chore to draw air in. It was a chore to push the air out. Her eyes were cloudy like sea-green stained glass. They rolled around until they fell upon me. Her breathing calmed, but it was still an agonizing task. A sparkle of comfort? Relief? Something settled into those eyes. Something was resisting it, but I could tell that she was happy to see me.

With superhuman effort, she tried to talk in a rasping whisper that sounded like demonic death.


The word was both a greeting and a statement.

“Lynn, honey. The doctor told me you’d be hurting pretty bad if I woke you up. But I uh, I just had to say goodbye, ya know?”

Tears put some of the shine back in her eyes. Those irises shone like mermaid scales, the way they did when we were kids in high school.

A wheeze announced that she was starting to cry.

“Halden, thank you. This is what I hoped I could see. Before I’m done.”

“I know there were some others you would have liked to have seen with your own eyes. I brought the best pictures I could find.”

I gestured to the row of propped up and framed pictures beside me. A fat tear rolled down her cheek as she craned her neck to look at them one by one. It was when she came to the last picture that the tear halted in its descent as the weeper’s face iced over with something entirely new.

Her eyes were locked on the photo as if she were making a conscious effort to not look at me. She fell silent, which could only mean she was holding her breath.

“That’s a pretty good picture of him, don’t you think? I can see why you’d bang him behind my back. He looks pretty good even without a smile. Course, when I took that picture, he wasn’t gonna be smiling at anyone ever again. Not you. Not me. Not the coroner. Oh, wait. The coroner don’t know about him yet.”

I chuckled a throaty chuckle when her eyes finally shifted to me.

“What did he offer you? Was all of it beneath the belt? Money? Something money could buy?”

She mouthed my name, but no sound came out.

“You did a pretty good job of never calling out his name. But you didn’t give me enough action to properly have the chance to tell on yourself like that. Nothing like cancer to make a side piece get scarce, huh? He didn’t look the type to be in it for the long haul. It’s okay, babe. I took it a step further and made sure that he wasn’t.”

That’s when the real tears started.

She rocked her head back and forth on the pillow. No, no, no, no…

“I can’t tell if you’re sorry for insulting my intelligence like this, or if you’re sorry that you got caught.”

She made the effort to draw enough breath to spit on me. Well, then.

“You can’t judge me. Only God Almighty can judge me, and soon I’ll be next to Him and a million miles away from you.”

I took out the jar with the yellow jacket and held it up.

“Meet Claire,” I said.

And I gave that jar such  a good enough shake that little Claire ricocheted off the glass like a cartoon bullet and got good and pissed off. I unscrewed the lid and placed the mouth of the jar over my wife’s heart. Or where one would be if she actually had one. Claire didn’t disappoint. My wife let out a scream that sounded more like a painful fart. Her already constricted airways locked up completely. Not another breath was getting in or out.

And she had the nerve to look betrayed.

She hammered the call button. I reached down and held up an unplugged cable. She turned a shade of purple I never saw on her before. I didn’t think people could do that while they were still alive.

That bald head of hers waggling around as the panic set in. I had to cover my mouth.

I reached into the pocket of my jacket and produced a certain little rusty blade and thrust it into my wife’s neck. Blood flowed but wouldn’t drip. The sheets my wife laid on remained untouched. The knife drank deep. I leaned in close to my wife’s ear.

“A little something to remember me by… millennia after I’m dead. You’re going to have time to think about what you’ve done.”

She began a convulsion that looked like headbanging.

I held a smile from the moment I stepped into the hallway to when I walked out onto the traffic-ridden street. Did I feel guilty? Nah. She didn’t. Why should I?

I headed for the church to return the knife. Maybe after this world crumbled into the earth, falling into the mire of its own sewers, the two of them could keep each other company. The hooker telling my wife what a smooth talker I am and Melissa literally nodding in agreement with everything she hears.

Rating: 9.00/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Wentz Hesselman
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Wentz Hesselman

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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