Drawing Up the Final Dagger

Story inspired by Ilya Repin’s “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” which is a great story in its own right…

Pictonaut short story challenge effort for December 2013.

This is our night, guys. We’ve fought hard for this thing. We’ve earned it and now we gotta take it. It’s ours if we grab it. This is our night…

He sucked his teeth and looked at the towering titans around him, eyes flashing fire.

They ain’t gettin’ this one from us. We’ve fought so hard. This is our night…

He puffed out a heavy breath and jabbed at the board in his sweaty grip. A quick sleight of hand. The crosses of Xs and Os, out of nowhere and then suddenly there, vividly dancing between lines. Fast fingers all over, hands in a frenzy of animated gestures. Same energy he had back in the day when he played himself…

With a clench of the left fist and a violent point to the board he let loose the masterplan. “We only need two. We’re gonna go for three…

Some surprised faces but he cooled sparks of scepticism with a sure gaze. Resolute belief and determination. He glanced at the shot clock. “Nine-point-three seconds. Plenty of time. We’re gonna use that time…

Back down to his board, his Xs and Os of enlightenment. “They expect the two so we surprise ’em with a three. Their bigs have pounded us in the paint all night long. We’re undersized, can’t match up. We beat ’em where they’re weak, where they’re not playing smart. We got their weakness. We hit ’em where they’s slow and where they’re not paying attention. They’re so many old legs. We’ve tired ’em out so make them run on the final play. We’re still fresh. Them? Old guys comin’ off a back-to-back. They’re in overtime. Nothin’ left to give. You seen ’em? They’re done. We got ’em. Stretch them and take advantage…

He smiled and looked up at his team. Sweat-drenched faces mirrored that confidence. They could all feel it. This was their night.

Before we get the ball inbound,” he continued, “we get bodies everywhere. Run ’em ragged all around the inside. They can’t keep up, they can’t concentrate. They are so tired and we got the energy to take this thing. Upper hand is ours. Sweeps, handle their bigs. Get ’em locked down in there. Everyone else active and moving. All over. Unconventional but it’s the shock they don’t anticipate. They ain’t prepared. They’re drained and worn down to hell. Make ’em work. We control this. We are in control and this is the moment where we make it our night. Keep on moving, run all over and distract while we get the ball inbound.

He couldn’t suppress his rising excitement. Words stirred the huddle, speech transmogrifying into pure internalised will and belief. “They can’t keep up! They’ve not got it in the tank! Grind and break those weary bones!

It was going to be glorious and they all shared in that realisation. That is, it’d be glorious if they could execute it. He leaned forward, all focus on the board. He flowed on, throwing out his directions for the triumphant final play.

Inbound to Styles. You’re gonna go isolation. You got time so hold it up. A few fake glances for the inside pass. Crossovers, jab steps, what have ya. Handle that rock. Do your thing but stay outside on the perimeter. Keep the ball, wind time down until they’re looking at you for the shot. Pump fake then kick it to Captain Clutch. You got that?” Darting eyes registered that, yes, he got that.

While they’re all tangled up in the paint, dragged out, caught on the back foot, the rock’s got to your hands, Clutch. And you are clutch. You’ve not been shooting from out there tonight. They ain’t watching you for the three ball. They shoulda been. You’re gonna get the buzzer beater.

The sweetest shot – the sweetest moment in basketball.

Just find the space. Find the space on the outside and get free. Get a good look and nail it. You can make that shot. I know you can, we all know you can and you know you can. Guys, whatever you’ve got to do so that Captain Clutch can make that shot. Drain the buzzer beater and it’s our night. This is our night. Give ’em the dagger…

The horn sounded.

Viktor Plut looked up. Over a dozen sweaty faces returned that look. The faces ran a wide spectrum crossing from amused to bemused and right back the other way to grinning malice.

A few blinks failed to clear his confusion. He looked down at his scroll before him and misty eyes deciphered an exotic array of crosses and circles.

His mind had drifted away from speculative trade agreements. His mind had been wholly elsewhere and there was a considerable amount of discomfort and uncanny uncertainty about this. He had weird sensations and felt sure that only seconds ago he had been in cavernous indoor space surrounded by giants in shiny clothing.

He had been conversing in strange languages, going through an entirely alien experience and what, how or why he had experienced it he had no clue. An out of body experience, perhaps? His entire consciousness shifting from one concrete physical reality to a new plane of existence?

Plut raised his head again and affirmed that the faces he looked into now were those of the traders from the far Steppes. They were, and they were laughing. The laughter was contagious and each of the formidable foreigners creased up in turn. Plut began to feel even more uncomfortable and insecure.

One of the large men chortled aloud and spoke in his mother tongue. Though Plut didn’t know it, what the man said was “The weedy visitor is clearly quite mad!

The warlord beside him concurred and spoke his own piece, “Quite mad! He has lost his wits being so far from home! Perhaps the wilderness has done funny things to his constitution! Poor fellow!

The clamour of the tribesmen grew, each offering his own jibe as Plut grasped around hopelessly for some comprehension of what had just happened to him, what was happening to him now and what would happen next.

Crazy! And shall we trade with this witless fool?!

“‘Twould be madness, brother! This lost creature is pitiful. See him gibber and pale! And there’s only one way to treat a maddened animal…

True, and what need have we of his nation’s trade? No need at all. Ah, by the gods! We have tarried with this foreign oddity long enough. Let us be merciful and put him out of his delirium…

Before Viktor Plut could protest and plead his sanity, a number of oversized hands were roughly manhandling him. He was unceremoniously flipped onto his back, held down hard on the table. The crowd loomed over him and the leading warlord raised a great ornate blade from his sash.

The hopeless Plut’s mind wandered away again, though this time it was to a less lucid place – a muted state where everything was the realisation that his life was over. Dimmed laughter rolled around as a distant war horn sounded and Plut felt it – the dagger at the end.

Halfway around the world, 300 years later, Captain Clutch shot a buzzer-beating three in the final second of a hotly contested game of basketball. He made the shot and won it with the dagger at the end.

Leave a comment


  1. stefan

     /  January 6, 2014

    Keep it up james!!!!

  1. Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Drawing Up the Final Dagger’… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON


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