There was a knife embedded in Alex Carlean's bedroom floor.

It was a particularly plain knife; six inches of exposed blade and another four of black plastic handle. Based on the taper of the blade, about half an inch had lodged itself in the thin wood of the apartment floor. It was protruding at a 72 degree angle from the ground and would, on inspection, prove to be shuddering slightly, although this probably had less to do with the knife than with what Alex's neighbors were perpetually doing downstairs.

Alex had tripped over it upon arising that morning to go to work, and it was still there at eleven o'clock at night. She was sorely tempted to ignore it, feeling very strongly that an object that demanded her attention so powerfully should be ignored. She had grudgingly allowed it to stay through breakfast, but now that dinner was well past, there was simply no excuse for its continued presence. If it was a prank, she could just throw it away. If it was a death threat, she should throw it away. If it was something she put there herself in some kind of trance or whatever, she should definitely throw it away. What use did she have for a knife in her floor? The knife was not making her any money. Nor was it chic or modern, except, perhaps, in an extremely dadaist sense. Alex Carlean had (she reminded herself) no use for dada.

Alex eased the knife from the floor with her fingertips and disposed of it in the kitchen, holding it at arm's length as if it were something revolting.

When the alarm went on at six-thirty the next morning, there was a new knife in the floor.