The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

“Gideon!” Miss Edmonds was not amused. “You’re distracting everyone. Wait outside until the rest of us are done with today’s session.”

I picked up an orange seed from the floor as Gidiot left. There were a few more under the table. Esteban had been shooting orange seeds at him through the straw. I could see little red marks on Gidiot’s legs as he left the room. Esteban gave me the thumbs up from his hiding place.

I laughed at the thought of his crooked thumb sticking out of that old wooden cabinet. I was still laughing when I heard the lock turn on the door.

Damian was back. And this time there was no tray.

“It’s time you earned your keep,” he said.

I nodded and followed him out.

I’d spent all my time in the room, but now we were standing in the U-shaped space that functioned as the kitchen. It was done in mahogany and teak, and part of the countertop was cantilevered to accommodate a pair of barstools. There was a sink, a refrigerator, a two-burner cook-top stove and a microwave oven. All the drawers were locked down, but there was a chopping board, some potatoes and a big-ass butcher knife on the counter.

“I need those peeled and cubed,” said Damian.

And he was going to let me use the knife? He had balls.

“Sure.” I was already thinking of which way to slice them.

I started rinsing the potatoes, but had to grip the sink for a second. My head still hurt and my legs felt weak. My eyes were still closed when Damian grabbed my left hand, forced it palm-down on the cutting board and WHAM!

He severed the tip of my pinky finger off, sliced the top third—nail, bone and all—clean off, as if it were a carrot he was chopping for a salad. The pain set in a few seconds later, after the blood started spewing all over the counter.

I screamed from the agony of it, from the horror of seeing the top of my finger sitting there, dull and lifeless, like some plastic Halloween prop. I closed my eyes and screamed louder when Damian applied pressure to stop the bleeding. I backed into something—something solid and firm—and slid down until I was on the floor.

I tried to pull my finger away, but Damian held on to it. He was keeping it elevated, wrapping it up, doing God knows what, and all I could do was scream and scream and scream, because everything he did made it ten times worse. I screamed until the sobs set in, until I was rolled up in a tight ball, until the tears stopped and all I could manage were soft, soundless whimpers.

When I opened my eyes, Damian was holding a phone over me.

“Did you get that?” he said to the person on the other side. “Good.” He walked to the other side of the counter. “Send the recording to Warren Sedgewick. Tell him that’s what she sounded like when I hacked her body to pieces.”

He picked up my dead finger, put it in a zip-lock bag and threw it into the freezer. “And tell him to expect a souvenir in the mail. It’s the only part of her he’ll have because the rest is scattered all over the place.”

I could hear the faint sound of the other person on the line.

“I know I’ve done it before.” Damian sounded agitated. “This was different. I froze, damn it! She started praying right before I pulled the trigger. She fucking prayed.” He slammed his fist down. The knife clanged loudly on the counter.

“I messed up, Rafael,” he continued. “I wanted him in the morgue, identifying his daughter’s dead body on her birthday. I know. I’ll figure something out.” He paused and raked his fingers through his hair. “I don’t give a fuck about that. He can hire every Goddamned bounty hunter in the world. I just want him to feel it. I want him to suffer. As far as Warren Sedgewick is concerned, his daughter is dead.” He turned and fixed his eyes on me. “And who knows? In twenty-one days, she just might be.”

He hung up and wiped the blood off the blade. Then he poured a glass of orange juice, propped me up, and held it to my lips.

I sipped it slowly, because my teeth were chattering. I was hot and cold and sweaty and dizzy, and there was still blood dripping off the counter and splattering onto the floor.

“Why don’t you just kill me?” I asked when I finished the juice. This was not some random kidnapping. This was a murder-turned-into-abduction. This was a screwed-up moment of weakness. This was a personal, targeted attack against my father. “What happens in twenty-one days?”

Damian didn’t respond. He finished cleaning up the bloody mess in the kitchen before examining my finger. Some pink was showing through the bandage and it throbbed like hell, but he seemed satisfied.

He left me on the floor, propped up against the cabinet and started cutting the potatoes. “Cold cuts and potato salad for lunch?”

DAMIAN SENSED SOMETHING HAD BROKEN inside of me, or maybe he felt a vague sense of remorse over what he had done. Whatever the reason, he no longer tied me up at night, although he still locked the door and kept the key on him while we slept. When I woke up, the door was always open. He left me something to eat on the same counter where he’d chopped off my finger, and although the knife was nowhere in sight, the threat of it was lodged deep in my brain.