Agatha Smith had just put on a pot of tea and was ready for the four o’clock news when someone pounded the front door of her farmhouse. “Heavens! Who could that be?”
As a childless widow, Agatha seldom expected company. Aside from the grocery store, the bank, and Sunday church, her excursions were rare and her routines ironclad. When company arrived, they came announced.
Agatha peeked out the living room window. A dreary gray blanket hung over the flat horizon. No cars were parked along the lonely country road.
Three more pounds rattled the walls.
Agatha leaned against the door. “Who’s there?”
A loud, scratchy voice announced, “Knife salesman!”
“A salesman?” She stood on her toes to glance out the peephole, which had been the perfect height for her husband all those years back, but never for her.
“A knife salesman!” the man clarified.
She glimpsed a pinstriped fedora through the peephole, but the man seemed to be looking at his shoes. “Not interested,” she said. “Thank you, and good luck to you.”
The oily voice cut through the door, “I’ve arrived to sell knives!”
“I don’t need any knives. I’m all set.” Agatha checked that the gold chain was secured, the lock turned left. “Have a fine rest of your day.”
She turned away. The salesman pounded again.
“Lordy!” She clutched her heart. “Please, go away. You’re being very rude.”
“I’m not here to be rooood, dude!” He sang. “I’m here to sell knives to people! You’re one of the people! You have to buy a knife!”
“I don’t have to buy anything, it’s a free country,” Agatha snapped. “And if you don’t leave, I’ll call the police.” In truth, stuck between acres of corn, Agatha was far from police. She trembled.
In the kitchen, the teapot whistled. She walked toward the kitchen phone—then ran when he pounded again. Dishes rattled in her China hutch.
“Madam, I’m afraid you can’t call the police!”
“I am calling them! Right now!”
“You can’t!” His voice twanged like a trashcan lid.
Agatha lifted the phone. No dial tone.
“I cut the phone line!” he boasted. “Using a knife! Knives have so many uses! That’s why I sell ‘em, ya see!”
Agatha felt light-headed. The room spun.
The salesman pounded. “Open the door! Or I’ll cut it open with one of my many wonderful knives!”
Agatha rapidly clicked the button on her wall-mounted phone. “Please. Please . . .”
A huge, serrated blade stabbed through the door. It sawed at the deadbolt. A horrible metallic scraping sent shudders down Agatha’s spine.
“Now normally,” said the salesman, “I’d wait until I was inside the customer’s home before creating such a demonstration!” Metal grated against metal. White sparks flicked. “But if the number 5 model Canine-Edge Grinder can do this to deadbolts and hinges, just imagine how it’ll slice through that crusty old loaf of Italian bread your dinner guests bring over!”
Agatha gasped. She hunched against the kitchen doorframe and dropped the phone. The knife clanked through the deadbolt. The knob turned. The door kicked open. It slammed the living room wall, bounced back, and cracked a starry shape in the plaster.
There stood a thin, bald man with waxy skin and an enormous grin. He wore a gray pinstriped suit and hat. He clutched his saw-edged blade in one hand and carried a boxy suitcase in the other.
“Good afternoon, madame!” The whites of his eyes swelled like hardboiled eggs. “My name is Shane Steelman, and as you may have guessed from my dramatic entrance, I am a knife salesman! And may I say that it is very knife to meetchya! Ha! Ha! A little knife humor there!”
He thrust his knife into empty air, twirled and tucked it up his sleeve, then fanned his hand for a handshake.
The teapot whined shriller as Agatha screamed.
“Apologies for the interruption to your afternoon!” Shane Steelman continued. “I promise that my presentation won’t take but 30 minutes of your precious time, but I would be remiss not to inform you of the stunning opportunities housed within this incredible case of cutlery.” He tapped the suitcase.
Agatha dropped her phone and raced for the stove. She twisted off the burner and grabbed the whining teapot with an oven mitt.
“Get out! Or I’ll scald you!”
The salesman chuckled. “Now I can see you’re fairly feisty, a dame not unlike my own beloved Ma, God rest her soul! She died from a knife injury when I was just a small boy, you see. But ever since that moment, I have always admired feistiness. And I’ve always loved knives!”
“Just 30 minutes of your time, I promise!”
Agatha trembled. Water sloshed from the spout and steamed on the kitchen tiles.
The salesman hung his hat on the coatrack. His bald head shone. “I sense you’re apprehensive. I can tell a lot about people. It’s a gift.” From his sleeve, he twirled the knife, then he slammed his salesman case onto the kitchen table.
Agatha shrank against the still-hot stove and aimed the teapot at the intruder.
“Tell you what!” Shane Steelman unclipped the buckles on his briefcase. “Fix yourself a spot of tea, sit at that end of the table, and I sit on this end. You don’t even have to get too close. Just watch and listen as I unfurl the most fabulous slice and dice presentation this side of the Mason-Dixon line!”
In a flash, Shane Steelman whipped the sawed knife he had used to cut the door open. It sailed across the kitchen and skewered the tea kettle. Hot water and steam sprayed from the kettle. Agatha shrieked and tossed it. The kettle clattered on the floor and sprayed scalding water toward her ankles. She stumbled away and clutched the counter.
“Sit! Down! Madam!” Shane Steelman fired a finger at the empty chair across the table.
Agatha sobbed and hobbled toward the chair.
The salesman opened his case. He yanked out knife after knife, tossed them into the air, and started juggling glinting triangular blades. He slammed the lid back down, then—one—two—three—he stabbed a trio of glistening knives into a wooden panel on the side of his case. The blades quivered in a perfect line, a butcher knife, a bread knife, and a smaller paring blade.
“My good lady, feast your eyes on three of the most incredible knives to ever grace the all-American kitchen! These babies are so sharp, so sturdy, you’d mistake them for teeth yanked from God’s gums by a divine dentist!”
Agatha’s tears slowed, her breathing steadied. A bizarre urge to laugh seeped through her terror. “Why are you here?”
The salesman cocked his eyebrow. “Why my good lady? Have I not made myself clear? I’m here to—”
“Don’t say to sell knives, please. Nobody breaks into a home to make a sale.”
Shane Steelman frowned. “I am a knife salesman. I sell knives!”
“Okay.” She tittered at the absurdity. “Okay then. I’ll take them. All of them. Sell me all the knives. I have $800 under my mattress. I can write a check for more. Just sell me the knives and leave. Please.”
On the floor, the impaled tea kettle steamed.
The man waved his fingers over the row of blades like a magician casting a spell. “Don’t you want to know what these babies can do?”
“I know what knives can do; they can kill. I’d rather you take all my money, my TV, whatever you want.”
The salesman glared. “I’m not a criminal, madame. I am a salesperson!”
Despite her terror, Agatha laughed. “What’s the difference?”
“Fetch me your best knife!” he shouted. “The best knife from your kitchen drawer.”
Agatha’s heart pounded. She slunk from her chair, crept across the kitchen, keeping her eye on the man. She opened the drawer, and something small and sharp caught her eye. She pocketed that, then retrieved an enormous curved butcher’s blade from the top drawer. She was already concocting a scheme to stab the man instead of handing it to him, but then he commanded: “Now throw it at me! Try to kill me with that knife.”
The blade trembled.
“I’d tell you to rush up and stab me, but I don’t want to frighten you up close,” Shane Steelman said. “Just throw it from a safe distance. Aim for my eye. Aim for my stomach. Try to hurt me.”
Agatha scowled. She inched halfway to the intruder, gripped the handle of her knife, reared back, and hurled it. Her throw was surprisingly good—adrenaline had fueled her aim perhaps. Her knife somersaulted toward the salesman’s face, but at the last second, he snatched up one of the three knives sticking from his case and swiped.
The salesman’s blade sliced clean through the metal of her ordinary kitchen blade. Two halves of Agatha’s knife—a pointy tip and a dull stub—clattered on either side of the smug salesman.
“You asked what the difference is between a criminal and a salesperson? Showmanship! Pure showmanship! Now if you want to buy a knife because you feel threatened, then I tell you, I am quite frankly insulted. But if you want to buy a knife because I have demonstrated theatrically that these are the most incredible knives known to mankind, I will happily accept payment.”
“I don’t want a knife like that!” Agatha snapped. “It would cut clean through the cutting board. Clean through the counter. What if I cut myself on it? I’d have to go to the emergency room, and you’ve seen how far away we are from anything out here.”
“Your refusal to be amazed is downright impressive.” The salesman flipped the knife he was holding, adjusted his jacket and bowtie, then caught the handle once more. He twirled it in his hand and crossed the kitchen. “Tell you what: I’m willing to cut you a deal—get it? Cut a deal on knives? Hardy-har-har!”
“Take your knives and go away.” She sighed and laughed.
Shane Steelman got close. He waggled the blade in front of her eyes. “You madame, by your own admission, are cut off from the world, sliced apart from society, boarded up in your cozy home. But if you sign up for the Incredible Cutlery of the Month Club—”
“Screw you!” Agatha shoved the wine corkscrew, hidden between the knuckles of her other hand into the knife salesman’s stomach. “A little corkscrew humor,” she snarled.
Shane Steelman’s eyes went wide and wet. Agatha twisted the corkscrew deeper; blood spurted over her fingers. The salesman dropped his knife and the blade impaled clean through his shoe, into his foot. Blood bubbled and pooled.
Agatha yanked the corkscrew free. Coils of blood splattered her kitchen. The knife salesman collapsed. “Well done.” He winked. “Showmanship!” His eyes went glassy.
Agatha dropped the corkscrew into the sink, then hobbled to the cupboard and fetched the brandy she kept buried back there. She stepped over the streams of the dying intruder’s blood and brought the bottle and a glass to the kitchen table.
She sipped brandy, examined the knives in the briefcase, searched for a company, a business card, anything to indicate that Shane Steelman worked for someone else. That anyone might search for him.
She found nothing but knives.
They were incredible knives indeed. They shone like perfect mirrors.
And in those mirrors, Agatha saw steely resolve in her eyes. She could do this. Use these knives to carve the salesman into small pieces, and bury him on her land. Then she would disinfect the blades thoroughly, carefully. She’d scrub everything—the entire kitchen top to bottom—and wait a long while before she called a locksmith about the deadbolt—she’d have to think about how best to explain that.
The knives would come in handy. She wished she’d had one ready when the knife salesman first stepped through her door. It would have been quicker.
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, The Dread Machine, Demain Publishing, Dark Owl Publishing, and more. His recent publications include his horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet, his YA fantasy adventure novel Grayson North: Frost-Keeper of the Windy City, and his 2022 dinosaur adventure novel Carnivore Keepers. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and membership in the La Grange Writers Group.