(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first-person plural narrator, “we,” begins by recounting when the townspeople first learn that the renowned knife thrower, Hensch, would be giving a single performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. The ambiguity of the townspeople’s response to the news is based on the reputation of Hensch, who is a skilled artist but is surrounded by strange rumors. Although the townspeople know that Hensch is a knife thrower, they are not certain exactly what he does. Some say Hensch has crossed the line and has built his reputation from disreputable acts because he has introduced the element of an artistic wound into the simple discipline of knife throwing. Young women particularly have willingly let themselves be wounded by him, and the townspeople acknowledge that without this hint of the forbidden and sadistic, they would not have been drawn to the performance.

Precisely at 8:00 p.m., Hensch walks on stage. He begins with simple knife throwing and the pinning of objects that have been tossed in the air. His beautiful female assistant, wearing a flowing white gown, releases six hoops that his knives catch against the wall in a complicated pattern. Hensch successfully completes a number of throws but he ignores one hoop that she releases. Tension begins to grow in the crowd as the audience wonders why Hensch ignored the hoop. Did he not like the throw? Was he displeased with his assistant? Was he losing his skill? The crowd takes a deep breath as the hoops are tossed again, and suddenly, he fixes three hoops against the wall with a single knife.

Following this act, the assistant brings out a live fluttering butterfly in a bowl. She releases the butterfly, and it ascends. So fast that the audience almost does not see him do it, Hensch throws his knife and perfectly impales the innocent and beautiful butterfly against the boards. The...

(The entire section is 783 words.)