Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Short Story: The Katana

(Your feedback, critical, favourable or otherwise, is very much appreciated and will help me to further refine and develop this story and those that I write in the future. Thank you in anticipation. J.C.)

Copyright © 2012 by J. C. Phalene



J.C. Phalene
Sergeant Pittman stood looking at the samurai sword behind the glass. To his eye, from where he stood, it looked like one of the cheap replicas he’d seen in Bali. The fact that it had been in the display case for as long as it had, before he or any of his cohort had been assigned to the barracks, meant that like a lot of other old military relics around the place, it was treated with cursory respect but was not given much in the way of special attention. It hadn’t been taken out of the glass cabinet, as far as he was aware, in the time he’d been there.
That’s why when the officer’s bar and adjoining club and recreation rooms were to be repainted and all fixtures and fittings had to be removed, he couldn’t resist taking a closer look. The brass plaque read: ‘Presented to Bromley Military Barracks by Private J. Oldham. Acquired by Captain T. Oldham during service with ADF in Borneo during WWII’.
Presumably, a son had gotten it from his deceased father and given it to the barracks. Some form of sycophancy Sergeant Pittman thought. Trying to win kudos through your old man.  
He found himself peering over each shoulder before he tried the cabinet door, like a child about to do something forbidden, scanning for the adult who might catch him out. At this time on a Monday night, with the rec rooms gutted and drip sheets over the windows, there was not likely to be anyone coming in to the building. He was charged with safely storing the military paraphernalia that had lined the walls for the past half century, until they could be reinstalled in their usual places, after the painting and redecorating.
He saw the solid brass lock on the cabinet and having virtually given up on opening it, was wondering how long it had been since the whereabouts of the key had been known, when he inadvertently tried the latch and was surprised to find it unlocked. The glass door opened with a sound akin to the gentle tapping of a silver teaspoon on the rim of a crystal cognac glass. He looked around again to make sure he was alone.
The smell that rose up from the cabinet was a strange mix of old leather, linseed oil and something else he could not place, something sweet and rich scented and organic. Tentatively he reached into the cabinet. Pausing for a moment he imagined the infrared laser beams and motion sensor technology found in museum and art gallery exhibits, and wondered if this was what it felt like to steal a forbidden piece of history, a valuable relic or artwork.
He studied the scabbard and the handle, the intricate design of each seemingly interconnected, it appeared as though they were a whole. He gripped the handle with his right hand and the scabbard about half way down with his left. Lifting the sword he was surprised by its weight, not so much its heaviness, as the distribution; the weight tapering off toward the end of the blade created a sensation akin to the end of the blade being supported independently of the handle. The handle was designed to be held in two hands and he did this without thinking about it, standing legs akimbo he mimicked the figure eight motions he’d seen in late night samurai movies on SBS.
Almost as an after thought he lowered the sword and removed the blade from the scabbard. Gripping the handle again in his right and the scabbard in his left he applied pressure and with a barely audible pop the blade slid free of the sheath that had held it hidden for decades.
He was struck by the sheen of the silver blade, so much so that he drew back from it and then smiled at his own reaction like he might at a child’s. He looked briefly at his distorted reflection in the polished steel and drew the blade all the way out. The sound a metallic resonance: that of a finger running down the face of a handsaw.
The smell much stronger now, especially the organic odour, he recognised it as the sickly sweet scent of blood. He inspected the blade and could find no trace or stain. Upon examining the handle again he noticed that the end of the bone handle was carved in the shape of a man’s elongated face. Holding the sword he was struck by an odd sensation, that of a chill in the back of his neck. He turned around, sword in hand. Finding the room still empty he smiled to himself and after raising the blade in two hands and practising the figure eight movement again he slid the sword back into the scabbard.


A few nights later, on weekend leave, Sergeant Pittman awoke sweat wet from a nightmare and sat up in bed. His head felt tight and confused. He gasped for breath. One-hundred-and-one hundred-and-two… he concentrated on slowing his breathing. Then he noticed it, the same sickly rich smell from the barracks rec room when handling the sword. Again he felt the sensation of movement behind him.
Sergeant Pittman then became aware of someone in the room with him. ‘Get out! Get the hell out before I call the cops.’ The figure sliced through the angular bars of street light stabbing in through the open vertical blinds, toward his bed. Sergeant Pittman lay back paralysed with what he didn’t recognize as fear and tried to make sense of what he saw.
A young man in a Japanese WWII officer’s uniform. His hands held out in front of him. The Japanese soldier’s face contorted in agony -- the face from the sword handle. It was then Sergeant Pittman’s eyes followed the smell, the sickly sweet smell to its source. He could see the Japanese soldier’s uniform sliced open horizontally across the midriff. The material stained dark and tattered around the ragged opening, out of which hung the soldier’s entrails. The last word Sergeant Pittman heard was the Japanese officer shriek: ‘KATANA’.
The subsequent military, police and coronial investigations delivered no killer to trial, nor did they come up with an obvious cause of death. But they made the following discoveries: Sergeant Pittman’s body in his bed; a cheap replica sword in the glass display case at the barracks; and the WWII katana under Sergeant Pittman’s bed. All of which subsequently led to a lot of talk and speculation at the barracks and in the newly renovated officer’s bar.

Copyright © 2012 by J. C. Phalene


  1. This is an interesting story too. You have quite a variety in subject matter. If I was going to make a comment on this story it would be about vocabulary. Maybe it is an American/Australian thing. Here I don't believe we would ever refer to the handle of a sword. We would refer to that as a hilt. Do you use that word as well? We use handle with other things like on a mug or a pump. Have you published any of your stories yet? I studied literature in college but did nothing with it. Now I paint and sculpt and teach art. However I do still very much enjoy reading.

    1. Thanks Doug. I'm glad you found the story interesting. Your point about vacabulary is a good one. I went with 'handle' because it was the English word used in most translations of 'tsuka' (the Japanese name for this part of a katana). In Australia we also use the term 'hilt' to refer to the grip of a sword. So far I've only self-published my short stories, but I've had poetry and other pieces published. Thanks for commenting.