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Shadows and Dust (Of Light and Shadows excerpt)

Does anything surprise you anymore?

            Tyler stood to his feet, his strength returning in a vicious wave of retribution and untold malice as he glared hard at the man he saw now behind the filth-covered window of the strange, unprecedented object now hurtling at them all like some deranged beast with no thought to either its safety or others.  He could see the lumbering trail behind it, the round, rotting logs that swayed back and forth like a child’s toys about to spill from their loose and no doubt frayed bonds as Howard saw him as well.

            He saw those surrounding him, could perceive Marijka Cotrone and Rebecca Adams, two old friends that had been among his staunchest allies in the years he’d fought like a fool against the truth of his existence.  They were here to eliminate him, to silence the words he would speak, to quiet him before he could offer them the true path that they should have all trod upon so long ago. 

            So is there a plan?

            The echoing voice of Sarah Mckenzie filled his mind as Tyler took in the scene fully, turning around just enough that he could see the clan members, he could see Howard and his somehow functional semi-truck, and he turned just enough he could see, for some odd reason, Jillian Poole and Grizzle running towards the group, followed by a hulking thing he had seen before, its muscular, scaled form heaving and rippling as it sought to bring the pair down.  He furrowed his brow only a moment as he took in the scene in its entirety.  The power was already building within him again, without any real reason but still with a presence he could feel and instantly responded to, his skin hardening as the storm high above continued to thrash and tear its way across the sky, threatening to black out the celestial view from one horizon to the next as arcs of lightning continued to play across the dark, billowing folds as they churned and collided with one another.

            First things first.  Turning to gaze upon Howard Woodall he felt the power flare along with his anger as he quickly dismissed the blade in his right hand, clenching it into a hard claw before raising it towards the truck, particularly its grill.

            There were only a few seconds before the onrushing truck would collide with the group and, consequentially, with him, but Tyler stood his ground, noticing as the others backed away, running for safety as the inexplicable came ever closer, Howard’s insane look of glee only heightening the moment as Tyler focused, feeling the connection between himself and the truck as a poignant reminder of who he was, what he was, and what he could do.  He dimly heard someone shouting his name, telling him to run, to get out of there, to find a safe place, but he did not listen.  Where he was standing was just fine, the winds whipping around his form as a bolt of lightning high up in the heavens lit the world for just a brief second, arcing so brightly that it lit Howard’s maniacal features in such a way that for a moment the difference between him and the thing known as Secha’kas was minimal, their alien countenances appearing so similar in a way that Tyler could feel nothing but contempt for the man.

            He flexed his will, and the world around him felt it.  Metal buckled, primary and vital components burst from sockets, stripped bolts, and all at once a grinding, terrible ripping sound came from within the truck as its engine housing snapped and tore, the thick, durable metal twisting and bending as though made of warm putty, causing a maelstrom of chaos within its innards as the entire works fell apart, shuddering and stuttering as metal pieces flew at high speeds into the thick truck tires, shredding them instantly as they continued on, punching holes into the metal rims as the truck shuddered yet again, its entire front end collapsing as smoke and flames billowed forth, obscuring his view of Howard, but not before he could see the man’s absolutely furious look of hatred, his jaw working though no sound came out as Tyler pushed yet again, forcing even more energy into the effect as the truck suddenly halted, crumpling like a tin can as what was left of the engine was forced backward, almost directly into Howard’s lap as its load jackknifed and, hitting the truck at just the right angle, rose into the air, spilling its load entirely as logs the size of a school bus and larger came raining down upon those assembled upon this spot.

            Tyler looked up, his will far from spent as he allowed the truck to settle, focusing his will now upon the descending logs as he could see that no less than fourteen of the long and still very solid wooden pylons were now set to pummel him into the ground, colliding with one another in midair with enough force to shake showers of bark loose as it then rained to the ground.  He raised his right hand again, straining only slightly as he raised his left as well, forming it into a claw just as with his right. The power swelled out and up, threatening to dissipate as the added force of gravity sought to make it collapse. But the Champion was beyond such trivial matters, pouring more and more into his effect as the energy did as he commanded, reaching out towards the falling logs with such speed and intensity that he could see them pause and almost halt in midair, though their own momentum would not allow for a full stop. 

            He could do it, but he did not wish to succumb so fully to the All, to give himself over to the power that would enable him to flout any and all natural laws, to rewrite them if he saw fit.  Tyler did not know why, such power could carry value of such worth that it might erase the need to feel, to regret, to even think upon such things.  But something kept him from that simple step, something he could not define just now.  And so thinking, he pushed, feeling the connection between himself and the logs as they continued to fall, the power that bound man and inanimate wood together as he reached up, and up, and up.  As the wooden rain began to descend closer and closer, Tyler ceased pushing, and instead, positioned his hands so that his palms faced outward from his body. Then, he pulled.

            Let us go.

            It was nearly his undoing, but the voice only strengthened his resolve as Tyler flexed his will once again, forcing the logs to separate in a violent storm of crackling mayhem as bark, sapwood, and heartwood all released their physical bonds at once, the many layers parting in a sudden hailstorm of debris and dust as they entered Tyler’s closer aura of destruction, hammering upon his personal shield like a board upon a wood-chipper, reduced to little more than sawdust and splinters in instants as the Champion weathered it easily, feeling the dry deluge as he looked around to observe his handiwork.

            Others were not so fortunate as he.  Looking upon the ensuing chaos he could see that several of the clan members had been felled by the falling logs, either crushed so horribly and completely that they had perished instantly or would soon enough expire.  Those merely pinned by the logs were howling in pain or quickly going into shock, pushing at the heavy lengths of wood that held them down without much hope of success.  Tyler pitied not a one of them, casting his gaze about still as he saw that the daemon, Secha’kas, had also suffered in such a manner, its upper body lying beneath a heavy log while the other half of its grotesque form was still several yards behind it, the spike of bone that had been its spine jutting from its flesh like a broken spar.  The mere sight made Tyler grin, though it was utterly without humor.

            “Tyler!  Damn it’s good to see you, I-ah!”

            Tyler reacted to Jillian’s sudden presence without any true thought, swiping out more from reflex than any true desire to harm as she and Grizzle took a step back, the great cat snarling at him as he flashed his fangs, his ears flattening against his skull as Tyler did not relent, the dark, blazing sword in his right hand held close enough to his body that he could feel its need to destroy, to undo, to rend apart this woman that thought she could approach so easily. 

            He recognized her, but as with everyone else, he knew now the falsehood that she so firmly believed in.  The master had shown him the truth, and that was all that mattered.

            “What the hell was that for?!” Jillian asked.  Tyler did not respond save to advance, heeding Grizzle not at all until the cat, obviously tired of backing away, sprang forth, protecting his friend in the only manner he knew how.  He was an afterthought only a second later as Tyler ducked low before spinning about, his blow sure and swift as he came behind the cougar, lashing out once as Grizzle’s snarling voice suddenly went silent, the opposite pieces of his body flying apart in a spray of blood as his head landed with a hard thud several feet away, still jetting dark, crimson fluid as his body twitched and pawed at the ground, taking several moments to realize it was dead.

            Jillian’s cry of outrage and shock was to be expected, but as she looked to Tyler it took her a moment to draw her weapon, and it was a moment that would have been her end if the Champion had not been faced with a sudden onslaught of sound that came from directly in front of him.  Appearing from nowhere it seemed, Rebecca Adams struck the ground with her staff as she roared out a single word, a single negative, the force of her attack staggering him for only a moment, which was long enough for her to press the attack as she quickly told Marijka to get Jillian out of there.

            For once Marijka did not waver in her duty, grabbing Jillian as the two of them jumped away, disappearing as Rebecca stayed to face down her friend.  The storm continued to rage around them, and as Tyler listened, he could have sworn he heard the sound of yelling, maniacal howling, and the gnashing of teeth from afar.  Apparently Secha’kas had not been alone this time.

            “Fight this now Tyler,” Rebecca warned, “Don’t make us destroy you!”

            He might have laughed at that had she not attacked again, this time with her staff as she came closer, close enough that he might have been able to counter her blow had his ears not been ringing and his balance not temporarily taken away.  As it was he was only able to move, to defend her attack as it drove hard into his blade, the gleaming white implement she used blackening only slightly as it met the dark flames of his weapon.  Rebecca pulled back for another blow, coming up under his block this time as she stabbed him hard in the ribs with the end of her staff, pushing even harder as he couldn’t help but fold over the weapon, glaring up at her as she pushed again, trying to flip him onto his back as Tyler did his best to resist.

            Try as he might however the momentum was currently on her side, allowing Rebecca to lift and then flip Tyler over onto the ground with an impact harsh enough to drive the wind from his lungs momentarily as she then laid the staff firmly upon his throat, the tip poised to crush his larynx should he even twitch wrong.

            “Surrender Tyler, and we’ll find a way to bring you back.  Don’t make me kill you.”

            Tyler’s rage peaked yet again, and as Rebecca could feel it she moved to place more pressure upon her weapon, but she was too late.

            Had he been anyone else, her threat might have actually carried some weight, might have actually been worth the words that were used to speak it.  But he was the Champion, he was the power behind their former clan, the one that had trained them all in a manner of speaking, and he knew their weaknesses, and how to exploit them.  And more than that, he was just that damned tough, and that quick.

            Before Rebecca could react, Tyler lashed out with one hand, batting the staff away from his throat as she pushed, finding that she had thrust her weapon into hard asphalt only, and nothing else.  Before she could pull back Tyler had pulled his knees in close to his torso, thrusting them out forcefully as he lifted his hips, catapulting himself to a standing position as he flexed his will once again, summoning to his empty left hand another weapon, this one familiar in shape and design with its dark black blade and golden hilt, its twin cutting edges ascending at outward angles until they reached the point where they both angled in towards the tip. 

            Rebecca moved back into a defensive posture, her heart thumping madly in her chest as she faced down her friend, realizing that whatever chance she’d thought she had was now gone.  There was no true defense against this man, not any longer.  All she could do now was hope for a good, clean death.

            But she still had to try.

            Tyler came on in a flurry, his shorter blade leading as he stabbed and thrust, evading and ducking around Rebecca’s best strikes as though she was a mere novice, managing to strike the first blow in this new round of madness as she watched his longer blade roll around her staff, blackening and charring it along its destructive path as it came across the top of her weapon, stabbing out suddenly like striking serpent as the flame dug into her body before the blade did, the darkened steel feeling cold, almost the icy needles of death as it slid into her left shoulder with horrid ease, slipping out just as easily, leaving behind the black, charred mark of ruined flesh and clothing and the painful ache of the Dark as it began to enter her body, and her soul. 

            Rebecca did her best to fight against it, denying the Dark any true hold upon her body as she felt the use of her left arm fading, dwindling down to nothing as she attacked.  Despite being off balance she managed to slip in one last attack as the left end of her staff connected hard with Tyler’s jaw, breaking it in at least one place as the Champion reeled away, spinning to his left as she pressed the attack, only to realize her error in the next second.  He hadn’t been reeling in pain, he’d been reeling her in, and she had fallen for it.

            Tyler pivoted around on the balls of his feet, crouching low for just a split second before rising back up, turning fully as he swept his shorter blade up, keeping her at just enough of a distance as she sought to defend herself by bringing her staff vertical with her body, holding it parallel to her body as she prepared for impact.

            Tyler’s long blade sheared easily through the wooden staff, leaving her holding both halves as she thought quickly, rapping him alongside the jaw yet again with the right piece before she was forced to drop the left, the pain in her shoulder too intense to withstand even the lightest of grips.  Tyler backed away just a step, and then he was on her again, his eyes blazing with fury as Rebecca’s breath came hard and fast, mirroring her heartbeat as he attacked.

            He bashed at her half length of staff with both weapons, the left first followed swiftly by the right, forcing her to stumble a step in that direction as she then quickly raised the half weapon again, determined not to fall to her knees. Just as quickly Tyler battered her weapon to the other side, using his longer blade first this time, followed swiftly by the shorter.  Again Rebecca was battered to the side, stumbling so hard that she felt her teeth clack over her tongue, drawing blood as every joint in her body thrummed with agony.  She couldn’t take much more of this, and as Tyler repeated the gesture again, this time back to the right, she almost fell to a knee, but with grit and determination she held on, taking much more time to right herself this time as Tyler reached back with both blades now, bringing them forward in a motion that nearly cut Rebecca in half as she felt the icy cold flames enter her body, the dark, insubstantial steel cutting flesh, organs, and whatever lay in its way almost in half as she felt the last spark of life leave her in that second, her eyes glassing over even as she fell to the ground. The half piece of staff fell from her nerveless fingers, clattering forlornly to the asphalt, the last breath of air escaping her lungs even as Tyler stood over her, taking only a moment to gaze upon her corpse.

            He stepped over the former leader of the DarkSong Knights, his task was complete, and he had heard the voice of his master yet again.  The hunt would continue.

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Conan the Conqueror (unfinished script)

Conan the Conqueror

 

Prologue- Shadazzar- kingdom is lavish though something is missing.  Dark skies hover over the land as forks of lighting stab jaggedly through the clouds.  The back of a massive figure can be seen as he makes his way towards the throne room.  People scatter as he walks by, recognizing a great presence as he takes no notice.  A massive war sword lies strapped to his back and furs and skins adorn his substantial frame, with glints of metal here and there adding to his fierce appearance.

            Skip to throne room-queen sits alone upon her stone seat, castle is quiet save for murmurs due to the figures appearance.  Her attention is drawn to this mysterious figure as he enters the throne room, stopping only when he has reached the bottom step.  An uneasy look crosses her aged face as the figure does not even raise his gaze to her own. 

 

“Who are-?” she begins, her eyes widening slightly

 

“Where is Conan?” he says in a deep booming voice, still not raising his eyes.  The queen’s eyes widen just a little more.  She glances quickly to the side, a gesture that most people would never catch, though the giant has no problem.  Scene pans to a corner of the throne room where you see a small wizened old man who’s gaze is locked upon the towering being.  This man is obviously nervous and goes slightly rigid as he notices the being’s regard.  The unknown character raises one large arm to point a finger a finger at the wizard.

 

“You know where to find Conan.” It is a statement, not a question.  At that the wizard begins to fumble and fidget even more. 

 

“Conan goes where he may, I know not where he is.”  The larger being seems not to hear, his helm turning back to the queen.

 

“Find the barbarian Conan, tell him he has one month to face me at the site of his woman’s final resting place.”  The man turns to leave as he finishes, as the wizard ascends the steps to stand near his queen, who has risen to her feet. 

 

“Wait!” she shouts to the figure, who does not heed her call.  Within several strides, he is gone.  She looks then to her wizard who is still fumbling and fidgeting, his eyes wide as though in disbelief. 

 

“Who was that?” she asks him.  He looks at her once before going back to his muttering, not answering.

 

“Akiro!” she shouts lightly, “Who was that?” Akiro finally seems to snap out of his reverie, looking at his queen with some trepidation before glancing in back in the direction of the stranger, his muttering resuming.  As she goes to ask again a single word escapes his lips after a momentary pause.

 

“Krom.”  At this both he and the queen look in the direction that the giant took, concern written plain on both of their faces, camera pans to queen. 

 

Beginning-Conan music, monologue by Akiro

 

            In the time before the world was made anew I traveled once more to seek out my lord and tell him of the challenge presented to him by the embodiment of Krom himself.  I feared for my lord, since so many years had passed since I had heard from him.  And so it was that I made the perilous journey north to seek out my lord, the once fierce barbarian whose very name struck fear into those who heard it.  He had become disconnected from the world he knew, a recluse in the kingdom he attained by his own hand. 

            For so long I have told the story of my lord, and so it comes as no surprise that I am the chronicler of his greatest exploits.  Though the years have passed, the legend of my lord has not diminished. 

 

Flyby- music is still playing as a bird’s eye view of the land rolls by.  Prominent among these sights is the great grinding wheel where Conan spent most of his young life.  Pan along the ground until it fades and comes upon a small village outside a sizeable stone keep.  There are plumes of smoke here and there as the people of the village go about their day.  Shot of people of going about their business such as people carrying wood, chopping kindling and banging away at a smithy. 

            Shot runs through village before ascending into keep.  Shows Akiro entering village, people give him a glance and then disregard him, showing that visitors are rare but not unheard of.  Akiro is not surprised to find that his presence is tolerated but not overly noticed.  Nodding and muttering to himself he ascends into the keep. 

 

            Shot cuts to Conan from behind pans to front, with fist supporting chin, a look of contemplation upon his barbarian features, deep in thought.  He does not look sated, nor happy as he sits upon his throne. His weapon is in his other hand, pommel in a firm grip.  There are no guards in this room, the keep is mostly empty but for a few servants and the rats.  A firepit lies in the middle of the throne room, with a pig on spit slowly roasting and attended to by servants.  Conan sits above them on his throne, his troubled gaze peering deep into the flames.  He does not seem to hear the creaking of his front door or the footsteps that follow as Akiro makes his way forward

 

M- And then it was that I saw my lord with a troubled look upon his brow.  So old my lord seemed at that moment as if a great burden sat upon his shoulders.  Even a kingdom gained by his own hand did not satisfy whatever need he felt within his heart. 

 

            Akiro enters the throne room, though at first Conan does not take notice.  As the old wizard grows closer however one of the serving boys comes to greet him while another one runs to Conan. 

“My lord, my lord, a visitor!” says the boy in his young voice.  Conan finally seems to take notice, his eyes the only thing that moves as he takes in Akiro over the flames.  His eyes narrow at first and then widen in recognition.  As Akiro performs his traditional bow of respect to the barbarian, Conan’s head comes off his fist as he gives an almost indistinguishable smirk.

 

“Can you summon demons, wizard?”

Akiro growls, baring his teeth for a moment, “Yes!” he almost roars, “I strike at you! I would summon a demon more ferocious than all in hell!”

Conan smiles, then begins to chuckle, and then laugh. Akiro joins in, both of them ignoring the dumbfound servant as Akiro shakes his finger at Conan and the king invites him to come forward.   

 

New scene- Akiro and Conan are dining and drinking together, laughing at old memories and sharing a moment of camaraderie.  Sharing old tales and catching up on new tales they spend much of the night simply pleased to be in the others company.  Akiro can tell this as happy as Conan has been in some time.

 

M-It seemed as though my coming had stirred a fire within my lord that he had not experienced in far too long.  Possibly since we had last parted so long ago. 

 

“So wizard, what brings you this far north?” Conan asks, lifting his mug to drink as he asks.  The look upon his face is that of pleasure, since this one of his oldest and most trusted friends is a sight that he has long missed.  He has needed companions.  Akiro sets his mug down briefly, his eyes clouding over slightly as he debates how to tell Conan his news.

 

“There is news from Shadazzar. Queen Jenna extends her greeting and bids you to travel   At that Conan seems to smirk just a little more, though Akiro can see that its not all polite humor.  Setting his mug down gently the barbarian grins before replying.

 

“Does she still seek a king?” raising his eyebrows slightly.  At that both men share a glance and then laugh.  Shortly after the laughter dies down Akiro once more looks as though he is about to speak.

 

“A man came to her kingdom not long ago.”

 

“Then she does not need me.”  The two men laugh once more at this, before Akiro grows serious.  Seeing this Conan as well adopts a solemn look, taking a drink before eyeing the wizard. 

 

“This man was a giant, wore furs as a barbarian would, with a great sword upon his back.  I could not see his face.  I had never seen him before, though after only moments I knew who he was.”   Akiro looks straight at the fire for a few moments, as does Conan, both of them seeming lost in thought.

 

“Krom.” With a faraway voice Conan says this, as Akiro turns to him and nods while grunting his assent.  For several moments neither of them speak.  Then, slowly, Conan turns to Akiro, tearing his gaze away from the flames.

“What does Krom want of me?”

“It seems you have fallen from his favor, though I do not know why.  He has challenged you to meet him upon Valeria’s final resting place.” Conan’s eyes flare at the mention of his lost love, as his attention accompanies his customary glare. 

 

“If you do not face him, Valeria will be cast out of Valhalla.”  Conan seems to grow increasingly angry with each word, as the gravity of what will happen to his love sinks in. 

Conan’s eyes grow distant as the memory of his love surfaces in his thoughts, an image of her golden hair framing her warrior’s countenance.  A wry smile crosses her lips as he focuses once more on Akiro, his lips set into a grim line.

Placing his drink down upon the table that sits between the two of them, sitting back for a moment before looking over to his old friend.

 

“What must I do wizard?”  Akiro is silent for several seconds, nodding several times as he closes his eye 

The Halloween Store

The Halloween Store

She told me to try it on, so I did.

It’s funny almost in a way how a young man can be ruled by something other than his brain.  I’ve heard most of the jokes that go on about how a guy loses his mind at a certain age for a while, only to get it back years later when he’s either screwed up too much in life to make much of a difference.  I thankfully don’t have that problem to worry about any longer. If I did I’d get to tell the girl that got me into this what I think about her and her insistence that I act a little less like myself and a little more like a character off of a sitcom or a movie.

I suppose I can’t really blame her for this, but it’s a lot easier than taking the blame for something that wasn’t my fault either.  Really, how does a person find blame for something that seems like it should be happening in a B horror flick and not real life?  It’s a lot more comforting to try and find a scapegoat for such things, and since she told me to try the damned mask on, I’ll focus on her.

Her name was Naomi Rogers, a young woman I met nearly a year ago, and was dating until, well, I’m not sure how long it’s been.  I know my “eyes” have opened onto the light at least twice since it happened, but time doesn’t seem to fit right in my head anymore.  Actually that’s not accurate.  It’s more like time just passes, but I no longer have any idea how much or even when it does.  My sense of time is gone, leaving me only enough of comprehension to know when I’m being taken out into the light again, to be put up on display.

Naomi and I lived on Hayden Island, Jantzen Beach to most people. We’d each been raised here, though we didn’t know of one another really until only a few months before we got together.  Hayden Island isn’t much, mostly shopping centers and restaurants spread as its core and residences further towards its edges.  On the far western side lies a train station that I’ve never seen but always heard growing up, while to the eastern tip are homes, a yacht club for people rich enough to own such floating luxuries, and Tomahawk Island, which is a good deal smaller than Hayden Island and is mostly private homes.  Don’t ask me how it got its name, as it’s not germane to this story.

Sorry about that, I get a little testy sometimes, and it makes my surroundings a little more pungent.  Or maybe it’s because of the odor, I don’t know.  There are so many things nowadays that I can’t really think clearly about that it’s a wonder I can even relate this to anyone anymore.  But where was I?

The two of us were raised here, going to school over in Vancouver until we graduated, whereupon Naomi then went off to PSU, moving into the city.  I attended PSU on an athletic scholarship but washed out after awhile.  Naomi and I managed to meet before I was done at the school though and got along well enough.  Our physical relationship managed to keep us together, though sometimes I had to wonder how long it would last.  I lived in the poorer side of town, the trailer park where I’d been raised with my folks until they hit retirement age and moved on down to California, where I suspect they are now.  I don’t talk about them much, so I’ll just keep moving on.

Naomi came to stay at my place a lot, said it was a relief from the city and she would walk by the water since the Columbia River is just a stone’s throw away from the trailer my parent’s left in my care.  It’s still in their name, but I’m the one paying all the bills, or at least I was.  I guess technically I still am, but I’m not.  I know that sounds crazy, but keep with me and maybe it’ll make sense.

There used to be almost nothing in the mall where so many shops sit now.   The building I’m , and consequently you’re, in right now used to be nothing but a massive parking lot, with a Lamont’s, Montgomery Ward, and a few other stores located further away within the center of the lot, there was  a K-mart too from what  I remember. The store I’m in now, the big, expansive store that was cut in half by the flimsy barriers that the current owners put up to discourage people from traveling too far inward, was at one time a Linens N’ Things, kind of like a Bed Bath and Beyond, with all sorts of stuff for the house, like pots and pans, bed linens, and a variety of other junk.

Linens N’ Things went out of business nearly two years ago, they just up and went under, like a lot of places around the island did.  I heard they filed for chapter eleven bankruptcy and as a result every one of their stores went out of business, no matter if they turned good numbers or not.  It’s the way of the world I guess, you either toe the line or get replaced.  Yikes, that just sent a shiver down my spine, good thing though I don’t have one, otherwise that’d be kind of annoying.

Getting back to what I was saying though, the store went under. Nothing replaced it for awhile until just last year when it became a prime location for an independent couple and their friends to turn a dollar for profit.  As far as I know they only rented the space out, but it made them good enough money I’d guess that it didn’t really matter if the rent was extraordinarily high.  Judging by how much they charged for their products I’m not surprised at all that they’re back, which is accurate enough judging by the view I’ve been  given.

It turned into a Halloween store, a place filled with costumes, masks, implements to make a costume more scary or at least more amusing, and items for the house and front yards of those who like to get into the Halloween spirit.  Everything from fake bloody limbs to life-sized witches and ghouls that run on batteries and feature motion sensors so that they’ll cackle, groan, and even move a little bit to frighten guests and tricker treaters alike.  There used to be a time when I loved Halloween, but now the novelty is kind of wasted on me.  I’ll get to why in just a second.

Naomi fell in love with this store since she’s a Halloween nut too.  She likes to decorate her home, likes to scare the bejeezus out of everyone she can, and she really, really likes to dress up.  The first Halloween we spent together she dressed up as a saucy French maid, and I’ll tell you, the costume barely made it past the party we went to, since I, ah, well, I won’t go into that just now.  Let’s just say I really got into the role of the pirate I was dressed as and found a hidden booty.  No?  Not even a laugh, damn, I thought that was kind of funny.  Oh well.

So when this store came out with its wares, sometime in early September, Naomi was all over it.  We just had to go to the Halloween store, just had to try on costume after costume, just had to look at all the gory and interesting things to buy.  And of course, I just had to try this one damned mask on.  You’ve seen the movie Scream right?  You remember the ghost face that got so popular because of that? Who could have ever known that a piece of molded plastic that seems so simple in design could have gotten so huge?  Anyway, I didn’t want the damned thing, I wanted to dress up as a Jedi knight that year, but Naomi insisted that I try on the mask, and even came into the dressing room to, ah, help me try it on.  Okay, okay, we fooled around in the dressing room, with full knowledge that more than one person saw us go into the same booth.  Who cares?  It was innocent enough, it’s not like we were going to leave the door open and give people a show.  Besides, I never even got to really enjoy myself after the mask went on.

You know that smell you get when you try on a department store mask? It’s kind of musty sometimes, maybe even kind of nasty, like sweat and other people’s odors since so many people try on one mask after another around this season.  There’s also that latex smell that’s inherent with so many of the damned, man I keep using that word, disguises.  This one wasn’t any different, but when I turned around to look in the mirror, something kind of happened.

I can’t really explain it that well, but it was almost like I was looking back at myself.  That sounds kinda dumb I know, a mirror does give you that ability.  But what I mean is that I was looking at myself as though I was looking at someone else, it was my body and all, but I couldn’t shake this feeling that someone else was in there, someone who was looking back at me and liking what they saw.  It happened so fast I’m not even sure how real it was, but I know how real it got.  As soon as I, or me, I mean the person pretending to be me, took the mask off, it was like being directed by something else.  I could see the floor, I could see the saggy blue jeans I liked to wear so much, and I could even see Naomi’s hand grabbing my waistband.  But I couldn’t feel it.

I saw the me but not me as my face grinned down at me, shaking my, his, head as he/I left the dressing stall with Naomi.  He, I, put the mask back on the rack, hanging it kind of askew as I, he, walked off.  Naomi gripped my, his arm on the way out of the store, the two of us, them, laughing about something as I tried  to tell her that it wasn’t me she was walking with, that he was someone else.  But he sounded like me, he looked like me, I even wondered if he was going to act like me.

You ever have the kind of disassociation in a dream?  You can see what’s going on, and you know it’s you, but it carries no meaning to your brain, like it’s you, but not you.  Ah I know this all sounds crazy, but I bet you’re feeling it right now, aren’t you?  After all, you put the mask on, just like so many other people have, just like the rest of us in here.  And you know what?  I forgot to formally introduce you to the club.  Get used to this, cause next year it’ll be your turn to tell us all a story.

What We See

So you walk into a store and see something you don’t agree with. It could be something as innocuous as a brand label that you don’t happen to like, a representation of someone or something that you think is offensive. Does that give you the right to demand that the store remove that item from their shelves?

No it does not.

Your sensibilities are not the concern of the store nor the manufacturer, and your feelings are not on trial or under attack by anyone except your own conscience.  If you should walk into a retail store and see a shirt or sweater that features a slogan you don’t like or agree with you have options.

Look away.

A slogan on a shirt is not always bound to be a call to arms by anyone to act against one faction of humanity or another. Should it be determined that this is so, retailers that cater to the public, such as Target and Walmart, would never consider selling such items. Their goal is to market goods that people will find useful, fun, and even quirky at times.

Don’t shop at that store.

There is a wide variety of retail stores available throughout the United States, and most of them are only a short distance away from one another. If the item offends you this badly then stop frequenting the store. No one is forcing you to shop at one store or another, as there is such a thing as free choice.

What you see as offensive might seem rather childish or even silly to another person once you label it with your own perspective. What you see might not be what they see.  Keep in mind the differing perspectives of others and how your own opinion might affect the response they give. If the main goal in your life is to become offended by everything you see that doesn’t conform to what your idea of “okay” is then perhaps it is time to go off the grid for good. And if this offends you at all, then please take my advice and soak your head.

Pacific Northwest Drinking

by Tom Foster

I work all day on Monday, and stop at the pub before home. I buy a pint and drink ‘er down, and then homeward I do roam. The kids’re screaming dinner’s cold and so’s the wife or so I’m told.

Work again on Tuesday, and the pub after closing up. I get my pint and drink ‘er down before I’m settling up. Kids’re playing dinner’s cooling and for the wife I’m lusting, drooling.

Halfway through on Wednesday and I step up to the bar. I grab that first pint knock it down for me that’s just subpar. Kids are sleeping dinner’s warm and so’s the wife under my arm.

Getting closer on a Thursday and I’m striding in the door. Two pints later and a shot and I’m looking at the floor. Kids are snoozing dinner’s hot and the wife is showing me what she’s got.

Friday’s here so where’s my beer as I step into the room. The kids are good and dinner’s great and then my wife tells me she’s late.

-Inspired by the “Seven Drunken Nights” by the Dubliners

People Being People

I can’t speak for everyone so I won’t try. But here is what I remember growing up. There’s likely a lot I didn’t see and didn’t want to see, but I do recall that people were often kinder to one another when I was growing up. There was still strife, there was hunger, there were problems all around the world, but people were different before the turn of the century, and if you don’t believe that then you’re either too young to remember or have been living with blinders on for most of your life.

The world didn’t worry as much, paranoia wasn’t as strong as it is now, and once again, if you don’t believe that then you need a history lesson. We’ve all been subjected to the realism that occurred during the World War 1 and 2, and the bomb scares that took place during the Cold War, and of course the unending controversy that came with the Vietnam era.  But whether you lived through it or heard about it during class, the struggle of those times was indelibly stamped upon American history and left to sit as the decades rolled on.

People still acted like people. They still went about their daily business, they still tried to do what they could to get by, and they did so without a great deal of the issues we deal with today. Whether those issues were just waiting to boil over is known only to those that were living through them at the time, but the current reality is that those living in this era now have to deal with them. People no longer act like people.  Many are scared, many are paranoid, and many more seem eager to cast blame for how the world is upon someone else while crying out for a change.

You want change? Be a real person. Be you, don’t be someone you’re told to be. Be kind to the person next to you, don’t wonder if they’re plotting to harm you or others. Be accepting of others, don’t always assume that they’re out to get you.  Be a human being, and learn what that means.

Wind and Chain (excerpt)

Chapter One: Enticement

 

 

 

First things first.  A year had passed, the shadows had fallen, and thus far he’d done nothing.  Too much had happened, too many people had died and dammit, the world had ended in a way.  Nothing was the same, nothing remained of what he remembered, well, too little of it did, and even less could be said of the many people he’d thought mattered to him at some point.  He’d been in a coma for nearly thirteenth months, on the verge of dying when he’d been found, before waking to this living nightmare.  His limbs had atrophied some, though not nearly enough to incapacitate him.  Someone had been keeping him healthy at least, for what it was worth.

The last thing he could remember, clearly remember, was the seedy little bar down in Bogota, Colombia. He could remember gunfire, smoke, flames, and blood.  That was fairly usual for his life as a marine though, something he’d specialized in since he was just a wet-behind-the-ears rookie.  He’d always had a knack for wetwork., it had been his niche so to speak.  He might have felt a little more accomplished though if he hadn’t been in his mid-thirties.  From what he’d heard and learned first-hand in his life, even the best of assassins didn’t always live long and fulfilling lives.  It was just plain bad luck, and bad planning to even try.

But he had tried, and he’d done a rather damned good job at it.  He’d found a woman when he was still a fairly young man, and despite the fact that she came with two kids, it had been good.  Despite all his own faults, he’d done his best to form a family, something he could be proud of for once.  Lord knew his own family was no prize.

His parents, or rather his mother and her former, retired green beret husband, were the type to drink themselves to sleep, claiming the need to souse themselves on a constant basis because it was their goddamned right.  They’d worked hard for such a life, and it was theirs by choice and by dint of having earned it.  His sister, a money-grubbing, spoiled little brat of thirty-some years now, if she was alive, wasn’t much better.  His two nephews were good enough kids, but they were fast becoming like their mother, spoiled rotten and fully aware of it.  His own family, his flesh and blood, was no prize, but he had tried to make something better.  And like his stepfather had said, it had somehow imploded.

He didn’t know how really, he’d done every thing he could to make it work, hell he’d even taken the two boys under his wing for a time, whenever he was around.  Though his missions often took him around the world he’d done his best to make sure that he spent enough time with his girlfriend’s kids, teaching them what he could and doing what he could to keep them and their mother secure.  He’d loved his girlfriend, albeit the love was a bit one-sided at time and other times dependent on his ability to keep her well-stocked in cigarettes, booze, and enough money to party her pretty little ass off on the weekends.  More than once he’d had to stay home with the two boys because their mother didn’t feel like watching her own kids, preferring to liquor herself to the gills and dance on the bar.  Far too many times he’d had to retrieve her, leaving the boys with a neighbor or his parents, who simply sent the boys to bed more often than not.

It was no life for a child, but now that wasn’t a concern, of his, the boys, or his girlfriend.  Needless to say it was rather disorienting to pass out from taking a bullet in the lung, but waking up after what amounted to a nightmarish blend of images he’d much rather forget in his hometown of Longview.  Clinton had been born and raised in this town, but he’d never considered it home.  He had always been a free spirit, much like his real father, and just like his real sire, he’d always been a bit unstable.  It was easy to stay away from home when your mother and stepfather were alcoholics, and your real dad was a borderline psychotic bounty hunter.  Clinton had learned a great deal about alcohol, illegal drugs, guns, and knives at a very young age.  When you had to wake up and see your dad holding a gun to your mother’s head it left a big mark on your psyche.

Since that time his parents had divorced, his father moving all the way to Alaska, where he’d apparently forgotten about the fact that he’d helped to give birth to two kids.  Clinton and Natasha, his younger sister, had gone with their mother, a turn of events that was just as bad as if they’d gone with their father.  His dad had tried to make him a killer, his mother and her new husband had tried to make him an alcoholic.  Both of them had succeeded in their silent endeavors.

In light of what he’d been through as a boy Clinton had still sought to find it within himself to become a good person, though he’d obviously failed somewhere.  Otherwise he might have come home thirteen months ago to find his girlfriend watching television, not standing over the bloodied forms of her two sons.  He’d seen a great deal in his life, he’d seen bodies dismembered and simply shrugged it off.  Clinton had even seen children slain before; such was the price of war and combat so close to civilization.  But when he’d seen Andrew and Chandler; the horror that he’d borne witness to had slammed home, causing him to freeze.  And then Terra had struck.

“Finding everything you need?”  The sound of heavy footsteps crunching upon the broken glass and other detritus covering the gun shop’s threadbare carpet was far more audible as his thoughts came back to the fore.  Closing his eyes Clinton shook his head silently, mentally berating himself for his inattentive manner.  As his instructors back in the corps might have told him, he was dead before he’d known it.

The ratcheting sound of a shell being chambered came from behind as Clinton let out a long breath.  This was not what he needed right now.

“Turn around bucko,” said the voice, “Drop whatever little toy you’re playing with, slowly.”  Clinton let his shoulders drop slightly as he listened carefully in that second, hearing only one set of lungs breathing in and out with the man’s words.  Grinning to himself he didn’t hesitate as with his right hand Clinton brought the handgun he’d appropriated across his body, turning a bit quicker than he’d intended.  He still had a little recuperating to do it seemed, but even at half speed he was pretty damned good.

One shot was all he needed as he fired from the hip, his aim nearly as good as the shot took his target just above the left eye instead of in the center of his forehead.  The man, older than Clinton by several years no doubt, didn’t even have time to fire the shotgun in his grip.  Instead the weapon almost flew from his hands as they jerked open, dropping to the ground only a split second before he did.

Clinton took a deep breath, snorting as he looked down at the man.  The fellow was dirty, disheveled, unwashed, and quite ugly.  For his own part Clinton wasn’t in much better shape, but at least he’d taken the time to clean himself up a bit, finding with some surprise that the plumbing within the hospital he’d found himself in still worked.  There was still electricity, still workable plumbing, and there were plenty of firearms around the city.  If the world had experienced the dreaded apocalypse that the religious nuts worldwide had been waiting for, well, it would appear that the good lord had a sense of humor.

Looking around the gun shop he inhaled deeply, taking stock of what was left.  Only about half of what should have been there was gone, with many of the rifles, shotguns, and hand guns remaining.  There was still plenty of ammunition, though much of this had been depleted, which was not too surprising.  Turning back to the glass counter, which was intact surprisingly, Clinton continued to load his weapon, one of many he’d be taking with him.  Narrowing his eyes he kept the safety off, figuring that it would only get in the way if he met anyone like the unfortunate fellow on the ground on his way out of the city.  As he holstered the gun he stopped, looking down at the man again, his features turning thoughtful as he bent down.

The man’s stench was simply unbearable, but as he straightened up again, the shotgun in his left hand, Clinton found that it was better the farther away he got.  Checking the breach of the weapon he found that it was still loaded, perhaps even fully loaded with four or five shells waiting to be discharged.  He allowed himself a smirk as he began to peruse the shelves for the right type of ammo.  Now all he needed was a drink and he’d feel almost normal.

The Fun in My Day

Most of us know what it’s like to go to work, to punch in and settle into a routine. We understand why we work, why it’s a necessity, and what it means if we don’t work.  The hours we put into a job, whether we like it or not, are a few hours that we keep ourselves and our family from being on the street.

Some people are very comfortable, they do minimal work for maximum profit. Others do maximum work for very little profit. I’m not here to talk about the discrepancy in pay since I understand that it exists and by all means should not. Nope, what I’m here ranting about is the simple fact that what we do each day is meant to be fulfilling. It’s meant to do something, to make life a little better, maybe a little easier for someone else.

You ever think about that? Each and every time you go to the market, to the gas station, or anywhere else you happen to work, someone is there to at least try to make your life easier. You will do it for them too when they buy whatever you sell or use whatever service you happen to provide. Many people don’t seem to realize this and go about their day with tunnel vision, seeing only that which pertains to their own life in the here and now.

Open your eyes once in a while. Understand that your contribution is no more or less than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if you dig ditches or run a business that employs thousands of people, what you are doing matters. Even if you can sit and tear your job apart until it makes little to no sense, there’s a reason why you do it. It matters on some level because otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.

Take my life for an example. I write articles and academic papers for students and businesses that either don’t have the time or inclination to write it themselves. In effect I make other people look by producing work that they then pass of as their own. It’s a mind-numbing and very thankless job at times, and it doesn’t always pay what it’s really worth, but I do it because it does pay, and it does allow me to do something I love to do.  I am helping people by providing a service, and I do something that matters.

But that’s not the fun in my day.

I have another job as well, and that’s being a dad.  Sure my kids scream on occasion, throw fits, and even act up just because they can, but overall I feel lucky to have this job, because once again I am doing something that matters. Writing is a way to pay the bills, to enjoy myself, and to keep whatever sanity I still have left. But my kids are the fun within the day that don’t need much more than my attention, and the payback I get is a helluva lot better than any company I’ve ever worked for. The fun in my day is seeing the smiles on my kids’ faces, and knowing that one day, they too will know how to make whatever they do matter.

The fun in my day is knowing that one day, my kids will know what their parents did to keep them safe, and will do the same for their own families.

Family Honor

Family Honor

By Tom Foster

 

 

Summer, 2003

Friday, July 11th

 

            Hit, kick, block, it felt so natural.  Why this was so he couldn’t understand, it just felt right to execute each move with a precision that was borne more of habit than practice.  Since the age of five Simon Roninsay had found that fighting had been as natural to him as hunting was to a wolf.  He wasn’t the greatest fighter, not even after seventeen years of faithful lessons in every available martial art he could find Simon had yet to find a style that truly set him at ease.  In his heart he had always felt that something was missing from his life, despite his parents telling him otherwise. 

            He knew he was adopted, his parents had never told him otherwise when he had asked.  Since age six he had known this, early enough that he would hold no resentment towards them and harbor no confusion.  In the last few years however he’d found himself wondering at times if they’d told him in order to absolve their own feelings instead of his.  He’d never come to them with this however, preferring to keep it within his own mind, one of those few secrets that he allowed himself. 

            They loved him, just as they had for the last twenty-two years of his life.  He loved his parents as well, his loyalty to them was that of a son who was closer than even blood could bring him.  They’d sacrificed much in their lives to keep him safe and happy, he owed them more than he could ever repay.  Hit, block, kick, block, his thoughts were still a jumble, the clear-headed state he often enjoyed during these sessions failing to come easily this time. 

“Is this a bad time young sir?”  Simon felt himself falter as he spun around, the aches and pains in his body all coming due at once as he winced in pain.  The older man he saw standing in the doorway of the dojo clucked his tongue at him, causing a wrinkle to form in his forehead.  Who was this man to be making such noises at him?  He shook his head, banishing that thought immediately as he began walking towards the back of the large room, wiping the sweat from his brow.  Simon ignored the man for the time being, wanting to change before he talked to anyone. 

            His teacher was in the back dusting shelves and rearranging pads and gear for the thousandth time this month.  Simon knew the man’s down time was in no way due to lack of business, this dojo was more than well funded, it was fully paid for save for utilities and property taxes.  Regular class times were held in the afternoons, his teacher liked to schedule his time so that he had plenty of free time to plan his lessons.  In the morning and the evenings he held a few private lessons.  Simon had watched his regular classes at times, he’d only participated a few times however, having advanced beyond the basics of what his instructor taught.  He didn’t even feel the need to take private lessons from the man, though he did pay for the time he was in the dojo. 

            It wasn’t by any means common for an instructor to allow someone they’d never taught to practice this way, though his teacher was nice enough to make an exception.  He couldn’t even rightly call the man his teacher, since in reality he’d shown him very little in the year he’d been coming here.  It was true that the man had indeed helped him polish the rough edges from his person, helping him to hone his skills into what they were now, but aside from that, Simon had come with most of the work already done.  The only stipulation that the old man had given him in fact had been that if he ever heard of Simon using his skills to intentionally harm another or for other immoral purposes, his dojo would no longer be available.  Simon had found no quarrel with this rule, his self-control had long ago been cast in iron, almost as unshakable as a mountain.  There were times when he felt himself in danger of losing this control however, he was only human after all. 

            Aside from that however he’d never really felt the need to harm anyone else.  In his mind he had different ideas, but in his heart, what he really listened to, he knew better than to use his skills to harm.  His teacher’s words hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, though he’d been paying him half of his attention.  All his life his parent’s had taught him to never raise a hand to another unless it was to defend himself.  This alone had tempered the natural fire that burned within his veins, insuring that above all he stayed out of the trouble he was capable of. 

            Simon could count on one hand the number of times he had been forced into a fight.  Each time he had done his best to end it without serious harm to his opponent, and each time he had succeeded.  The only thing he had ever really wounded was the other person’s pride, though that was often remedied later.  Simon was not a violent person, but neither was he a pacifist.  He liked the grace and fluidity of combat, but the end result in any contest often left him wondering at the true wisdom of humanity knowing of such things.  Humans were fragile enough without knowing intimately every soft spot in their already vulnerable bodies.  As a human he at times felt a little uncomfortable around his own race, knowing that despite the average lack of martial skill in the average person it took only the simple knowledge of how to heft a heavy object or squeeze the trigger of a gun to bring harm. 

“Excuse me young sir, but I’m wondering if you can help.  I’m looking for someone named Simon.”  He was halfway into the changing room, pushing past the large curtain that separated the open space from the training area.  Halting in mid stride he paused for a second, listening more to the man’s tone than his words.  From the confidence he seemed to radiate with every syllable this was a man who was used to being listened to.  Simon had learned a few years ago to pay strict attention to the visual and audible displays that most people set out for the benefit of others.  Some people used body language and inflections within their voices to tell others to stay away, some used the same to attract people.  Another group, to which this man no doubt belonged, were those who either believed or knew that they carried with them an authority that others must bow down to. 

            There was no hint of challenge in his voice, just pure self-assurance in himself.  Simon shook his head once, already knowing that he most likely wouldn’t like this man.  He’d never cared for those who felt the need to flaunt their internal sense of power, his belief in courtesy and humility lending him the patience to deal with such people.  This was what enabled him in the next moment to step away from the curtain, grabbing a towel that hung from a peg just inside the opening first, and begin walking towards the man. 

            Simon was tall, standing almost six three and weighing only two hundred and fifteen pounds.  The majority of this was bone and muscle, since after so many years of

faithful exercise and training he carried little body fat.  He kept his mop of dark blond hair fairly short and was blessed by not having to shave all that often.  The facial hair he did get was slow in coming and light enough to barely show.  Though he wasn’t built like a world class weightlifter he was in no way soft.  His body had been through trials that many in the world wouldn’t have been able to achieve if given half the chance. 

            This man was older than he was, and in truth that was about the only difference besides his slightly shorter stature that Simon could see.  If he were asked he might have said that it was not unlike getting a picture of what he might look like in the next twenty to thirty years.  He caught himself staring at this man in the next moment, clearing his throat before speaking.

“My name is Simon.” 

“Simon Roninsay?”  The man arched his brows ever so slightly, his well manicured hands folded neatly in front of his waist.  Simon could tell he at least considered himself well refined, though judging from the cut of his clothing, a light sports jacket with an unbuttoned vest and a dress shirt with the top three buttons undone lending him the air of someone with wealth.  His pants were well ironed and his dress shoes were spotless, leaving Simon to believe that this man rarely went anywhere without this sense of style. 

“I suppose that’d depend on who’s asking.”  This was a weak dodge to the question, he knew this, this man knew this, but Simon still felt the need to offer it up.  He didn’t know this man, so a small level of caution was warranted. 

            The man grinned however, dipping his chin as he scratched lightly at his temple.  Simon was a good enough judge of character however to realize that his words had irritated the man slightly.  The scratching of his temple was obviously just a way to hide the emotion, meaning he must want something with Simon that was important enough to deal with his attitude.  Walking forward two steps the man raised his eyes once more, his icy blue gaze holding none of the patience his face showed and even less mirth. 

“I see that the family attitude has passed down as well.”  Simon felt his brows pull together in confusion.  He’d never met this man, how did he know anything of his family? Tilting his head sideways at the man Simon noticed as he smirked lightly, further confusing him. 

“Look sir I’m just getting ready to head out, so if you’d tell me what this is about it’d be nice.”  Slinging the towel over one shoulder Simon kept his body loose but ready, something he’d picked up over the years with only minimal practice.  Violent or not he enjoyed a state of alertness that he felt was quite healthy, physically if not always mentally. 

“You can relax son, I’m only here to talk.  And you’re right, let’s not waste time.  My name is Tobias Vittoria, and I’m here to see you.”  The two of them stood staring at each other for the next few moments, a short span of time in which Simon didn’t so much think of his words as realize that he and the man had entered a test of wills without his knowledge.  The realization hit only a few seconds later as his teacher’s voice came from

the back, not startling either him or the man in the least but offering a new element to the moment.

“Simon?  Is someone here?”  Mr. Yin was one of the nicest men Simon had ever met, though looking at him one wouldn’t think that he was as powerful as he was.  The little man only stood a hair over five foot four and weighed maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet.  Simon had found out a few times however in sparring matches just how solid he really was.  After being sat on his ass a few times he’d learned not to limit himself to thinking that he was stronger for knowing several styles as opposed to just one.  Mr. Yin had been born and raised in America but had studied the art of Kung Fu since he’d learned to walk.  His parents, as he’d told Simon, had raised him with the traditions of their motherland, immersing him in the American culture while still practicing the beliefs they’d been raised with.  As a result Mr. Yin was one of those unique individuals who saw life not in terms of black and white but in an infinite scope of colors from which to choose. 

            Both Simon and this uninvited guest looked in the direction of the storeroom as Mr. Yin’s light footsteps drew near.  Looking back to one another in the next moment Simon saw him smile again, though there was little warmth in the gesture.  In truth it was as though this man was growing more agitated by the moment, the small space between them seemed to be growing charged with a mix of emotions he could not entirely fathom. 

“Oh!  Hello there sir.  May I help you?”  Simon did not take his eyes off the older man as he graced Mr. Yin with a short smile, his eyes flashing just a bit dangerously as he looked at the smaller man.  He didn’t believe anything would happen, this wasn’t a bad action movie or anything, but being suspicious had at times been known to save people unmeasured amounts of grief. 

“To be honest I was simply looking for this young man.  Is he your student?”  The man, Tobias, gestured towards Simon with one hand, looking at him briefly before leveling his gaze once more at Mr. Yin. 

“My young friend has passed beyond the title of student some time ago.  I consider him more of a kindred spirit to be honest.”  Mr. Yin smiled at the man graciously, to which Tobias responded with a small snort. 

“I see.  Do you think I might have a word with him in private?  Perhaps I can learn a thing or two in our short time.”  Mr. Yin looked to Simon for a moment, his deep brown eyes conveying only the slightest concern as his young friend nodded once.  Shrugging his shoulders the old man smiled once more, spreading both hands out in a gesture that Simon knew meant this matter was now not his concern.

“I’m sure that I saw more in the back that needed doing.  Just tell me when you two are done so I can lock up. Nice meeting you sir, Simon.”  Nodding to both of them Mr. Yin then slowly departed, not sparing a glance back as he once more disappeared into the back room.  Tobias watched him go, a look that bordered on relief passing over his features.  More and more Simon was finding reason not to like this man based on his gut alone, though he was smart enough to keep his emotions from showing. 

“Well, now that we’re alone again, I don’t truly know where to start.”  Simon chose to remain silent for the moment, his instincts telling him that this man was not to be

entirely trusted.  Tobias took another step towards him, making Simon tense inside just a little more, like a young warrior facing off against a battle-hardened veteran. 

“You know my name now, so I suppose I should go from there.  How much do you know about the time of your birth?”  That set alarms ringing slightly within Simon’s mind, his own personal alert riding rather high.  Who was this man?

“I know it was the year nineteen seventy-nine and that I was born in Gig Harbor up north.  Aside from that all I know is that I’m adopted.”  He had no qualms with giving out such information, it was not harmful to him in the least.  Still he kept his teeth close together thanks to his mounting frustration over not understanding this man’s presence.  Tobias nodded mutely, tapping his chin with the index and middle fingers of his left hand.  His other arm he held against his abdomen, wrapping his right hand against his side. 

“You know what you were told then.  I see that your mother at least tried to hide what she did.  She did a rather good job it seems.”  Simon finally did take a step back, holding his towel low at his waist as he narrowed his eyes at this man. 

“What did you say?”  Tobias smiled at him then, whatever warmth he meant to convey with the gesture was lost as Simon looked into his eyes, finding no trace of anything even resembling a friendly manner. 

“Your mother never did like my idea’s concerning you, she thought my way of life was just too, harsh.” 

“How do you know my mother? Who in the world are you?”  He clamped his mouth shut against the flood of questions that threatened to spill out, feeling his ire rise at this man.  Tobias grinned once more, leaning against the glass enclosed counter that sat near the door as he tilted his head back.  He looked to be no older than perhaps his late thirties, though Simon guessed he was really in his forties at least. 

“I don’t mean that fearful shrew of a woman I talked to yesterday.  I mean your real mother, the woman who brought you kicking and screaming into this world.  I mean you birth mother, your blood Simon.” Tobias stood as he spoke, drawing nearer to Simon who did not retreat, the words this man spoke ringing with enough truth that he could say nothing against them.  It was insane really, but he found himself unable to dispute the crazy words of this man despite wanting to laugh in his face.  The mention of his mother as a shrew however kept that laughter well in check. 

“The man who calls himself your father had that same expression when I told him who I was, he didn’t like me much either.”  Tobias waved a hand dismissively as he spoke, not seeming to notice as Simon’s hands clenched slightly.  At least he was observant enough to realize Simon’s mood at that moment. 

“Maybe you should tell me who you are so I can feel justified for feeling this way.”  Simon wasn’t so much glaring at the man as offering a silent challenge.  He’d heard a few others in his life disrespect his parents this blatantly, but words were words, they were easy to ignore.  For some reason however Simon found it difficult to ignore them at this moment. 

“Okay then, I suppose you’re right, no point stretching it out any farther.  I know this will be a lot to take at the moment, but I’m your father, your real father.”  He

emphasized these last three words with raised eyebrows, not seeming to care that Simon’s eyes widened noticeably. 

“I know this is a lot to take at just a moment’s notice, and I know you’ll be in disbelief for at least a short amount of time if not longer.  So in that spirit I will take my leave.  If you feel the need however, here’s my card, it has my cell number which you can get me at anytime.  Call me when you’ve come to terms with this.”  Placing a white card upon the glass counter he turned to leave, reaching into his left pocket to retrieve a pair of sunglasses that he donned as he walked out into the day.  The sunlight that so rarely graced the northwest this time of year highlighted Tobias, making him seem to glow with an otherworldly radiance.  If Simon hadn’t already taken at least part of his measure he might have thought the man was a divine presence.  From his arrogant manner however he was clearly one of the biggest assholes Simon had ever met.

            Unfortunately that wasn’t where his mind was at just now.  The last words the man had spoken still rang in his ears.  When he’d “come to terms with it.”.  If not for Tobias having told him before that of their supposed connection he might have laughed.  Instead he felt little but numb, standing in the exact same spot that he had upon coming to talk to the man who claimed to be his father.  Several minutes passed before he closed his eyes, turning to his right as he started to walk by memory towards the far right corner of the training room.  Simon opened his eyes as he reached out to the wall, feeling about the gathered items there for what he was looking for. 

            Mr. Yin came out into the dojo once more as he selected twin rattan fighting sticks, tools that he’d used a few times in his life during sparring matches.  The small Asian-American looked towards his young friend curiously for a moment before he started walking in his direction.  Simon disregarded him though he knew the man was there, walking towards one of the large punching bags that hung only a few yards from the weapon racks.  Mr. Yin didn’t often teach with weapons, though there were advanced classes that students could take in which he instructed them mostly for show.  The old man had taken students to competitions sporadically over the years, choosing to do so only when a student was interested and skilled enough to compete.  He’d actually asked Simon once if he would be interested in competition, to which Simon had politely declined. 

            Over the seventeen years of his life in various martial arts he had learned many things, but the need to prove himself to others had never arisen.  He knew he was an adequate fighter, he didn’t feel the desire to flaunt his skills in front of anyone.  Many people had told him that such was not the case in competition, but still he had abstained, for personal reasons more than anything. 

“I trust your conversation went alright?”  Mr. Yin’s voice was tinged just barely with concern as he stayed out of Simon’s range.  He had no fear that the young man would hit him, he was simply wise enough to know that accidents could happen.  When Simon didn’t readily answer him however he knew that something was wrong.  In the years he had known this young man he’d only seen him pull out weapons for one of two reasons.  One was that he wished a sparring match, though usually he made his wishes clear.  The other was that he was greatly troubled, in which case he needed to unload a fair amount of aggression. 

“I see.  Then are you interested in a friendly match?”  Simon shook his head slowly, twirling each stick in his hand a few times as he crossed them over, twirled them, crossed them over and then struck the bag in front of him with a resounding slap of wood on leather.  Seeing the indentation that he left in the surface of the bag Mr. Yin raised his eyebrows slightly.  He had learned over the past two years that Simon was not the type to become agitated easily.  The man who’d been here moments ago must have said

something that truly upset the young man in front of him.  Another hard slap hit the bag, denting it at roughly the height of a man’s knees. 

“This isn’t like you Simon, are you sure everything is okay?”  Two quick slaps of the sticks against the bag followed his question, more of an answer than Simon’s words could have given. Mr. Yin lowered his gaze for a moment, breathing deeply as he tried to think of what he might say to his young friend to calm him down.  After several more hard slaps to the bag however Simon lowered them to his sides, breathing heavily as he closed his eyes.  He wanted to at least offer the young man a comforting hand upon his shoulder, though after knowing him for so long he didn’t know how Simon would react.  The young man was as unpredictable as a wild animal at times.  In one moment he was calm, controlled and more than pleasant, while in the next he was still quiet and calm, but his propensity for violence increased exponentially. 

            He’d trained a large number of people in his life, from those who were merely interested in staying healthy to those who were interested on a much deeper level.  Mr. Yin could count on one hand how many he’d ever met like Simon.  The young man was so pleasant most of the time, but there’d been moments when Mr. Yin had seen something within Simon that he did not understand.  He was in his fifty-sixth year of life and he’d seen many things in his quiet career, but Simon was something he had never once been forced to deal with.  He was a good kid, but there was a secret within his soul that not even he knew about. 

            Mr. Yin watched as Simon walked back over to the weapon racks, depositing the rattan sticks in their place as he clapped his hands together under his chin.  He frowned slightly as Simon rocked back and forth for a few moments, his eyes closed in obvious concentration.  Opening his eyes back up Simon began to walk towards the dressing area once more, breezing by Mr. Yin without a word.  He’d almost reached the curtain when he stopped, turning back to look at his older friend with a look of concern upon his face.

“Mr. Yin, what would you do if someone told you that they were your father?  Someone you’d never met in your life, who just showed up all of a sudden.  What would you think?”  His voice was sincere as well as troubled, leading Mr. Yin to believe that whatever the stranger who’d been here only minutes ago had said, it had deeply concerned Simon. 

“Is this what that man said?”  Simon nodded a few times before looking towards the doorway, his eyes haunted as though the man might step through the entrance at any time.  Mr. Yin had known Simon was adopted for some time, though whenever the conversation had ever come up about his biological parents Simon had gone quiet, saying only that he’d never found out who they were.  It had taken Yin nearly six months to learn that Simon didn’t really care if he ever found out their identities, he was just fine with not knowing. 

            Of course the whole truth was that he wasn’t sure whether or not he really wanted to know.  The entire issue of his adoption raised questions about more than just his inner feelings, it raised as well concerns he had about his health and the impending years he still faced.  Heredity was perhaps his greatest concern, though to this date he had found he was as healthy as he could be. 

“I know I should be calm, this shouldn’t bother me this much.  But that was one helluva bombshell.  Whether or not he’s a kook or if he’s telling the truth, it bugs me.”

“Understandable.  You’ve led a good life Simon, maybe you should put that ahead of this trouble.”  Simon nodded his head, keeping his eyes towards the doorway still. 

“Is Tia picking you up today?”  Again the young man nodded his head, running one hand through his short hair.  Yin wanted to reassure the young man, to tell him that this would pass along with everything else.  But that was not his way.  And furthermore Simon would not listen.  He was as stubborn as a bull headed mule at times, though Yin found that this made him a stronger personality.    

“Go on, get ready and cleaned up.  I’ll stay out here and tell her she’s wasting her time on young men and should really try older, more refined gentlemen.”  That got Simon to look at him, a sly smile on his face as he nodded appreciatively at his older friend.  He chuckled slightly as Mr. Yin offered him a smile, shaking his head as he walked into the dressing room. 

“You’re a funny man Mr. Yin.” 

“It’s all part of the charm.”  Simon laughed loud enough for him to hear from behind the curtain, lifting his spirits easily.  He liked this kid.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            As Simon was busy toweling himself off and changing clothes a deep forest green Ford Taurus pulled to a stop next to the walkway that was outside of the dojo.  Inside the sedan the temperature was a moderate sixty degrees, pleasant enough for its sole occupant at the time.  Throwing the car into park and shutting off the engine the lone woman that sat behind the wheel opened the door, stepping out with a grace she’d learned only in the last few years of her life.  Before then she’d been a boot-wearing, beer-drinking, truck-driving tomboy. 

            In truth she still was, though only when she wasn’t going to or getting off from work as she was today.  Instead of hiking boots, blue jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap she was clad in one of her best business suits, dressed for success as the saying went.  From her sensible blue heels to her pastel blue miniskirt and pinstriped vest she was a vision of professional beauty.  With a professional ponytail and authentic Oakley sunglasses the look was neatly rounded out.  The only jewelry she wore were her small gold hoop earrings, a silver chain bearing a small crucifix, and an engagement ring that adorned her left hand.  Every piece she wore had been a gift to her from her betrothed, who made a very comfortable living working for the county. 

            As the sunlight washed over her she felt obliged to shake her head a couple of times, a few loose hairs falling across her face as she brushed them aside.  Looking to the doorway that led into the dojo she was about to enter she saw that one side of the twin

glass doors was opened, the sole proprietor standing there with a large smile on his wizened face.  She returned the smile, her own large enough to light up a room.

“Mr. Yin, how are you today sir?”  She walked past him into the dojo, placing one hand upon his slim shoulder in greeting as he ushered her inside. 

“As well as can be Ms., soon to be Mrs. Roninsay.”  She smiled at him again, her cheeks flushing slightly.  Her maiden name was Ramsey, though she didn’t mind at all when people called her by Simon’s last name.  The two of them had been engaged for almost five months, having planned for a summer wedding shortly after his proposal.  She wore his ring proudly and with complete devotion, needing only to look at it to remind herself that he was worth waiting for.  Her parents, God love them, had wanted to have the wedding as soon as possible, meaning only a few months maximum after he’d proposed.  With much convincing and just as much understanding however they had been made to see that the wait would pay off. 

“Is Simon in the back?”  Mr. Yin nodded, tapping his chin with two fingers as he did. 

“I’ve told him about us you know, how you like the older more sophisticated man.”  He grinned before laughing with her, their mirth an old way of speaking to one another.  They’d had this conversation so many times that it was common to fall into it whenever they talked, though they did tone it down around Simon.  He understood well enough how they thought, so it was with good humor that he listened to their banter.  To them however it was just a measure of the respect they each had for him to quiet down their wit when he was around. 

“Mmm I see, and how did he take it?” 

“The poor boy is back there crying like a baby.”

“I heard that.”  Simon raised his voice slightly to be heard better, the humor in his words easy to determine.  The two of them shared a look before laughing once more. 

“Babe c’mon, we need to get going so we can make dinner with your folks tonight.”  Taking off her sunglasses finally she held them in one hand as she placed the other on the glass counter. 

“Yeah, yeah I’m comin’”  She rolled her eyes before blowing out a breath, fixing her gaze on Mr. Yin once more.  He raised both hands in a helpless gesture, smiling at her once more.  Returning the smile she started suddenly as a strident ringing came from within a pocket on the side of her vest.  Mr. Yin  nodded to her once before heading back to the back store room.  She nodded back as she pulled her phone from her pocket, looking at the LCD display before simply answering it.  The black letters that appeared on the small screen below the time and date read RONINSAY, Simon’s parents.  No doubt they were calling to make sure that the two of them would be on time for dinner.  Pressing the button to receive she held the phone to her ear, hearing the end of a conversation as Simon’s mother Grace said something to his father Aaron. 

“Hello?  Tia?”

“Yes Mrs. R. I’m here.”

“Dear how many times do I need to tell you?”

“Sorry Grace, force of habit.”
”It’s okay.
  Are you two on your way yet?”

“Actually no, I just got to the studio to pick up Simon.  He’s getting ready to go right now and then we’ll go home to clean up.”

“Oh, oh that’s great actually.  We’re caught in traffic and won’t be there for another thirty or forty minutes.”  Grace held the phone away for a moment as Aaron’s voice came from the background, claiming that it wouldn’t be that long.  Tia grinned as she listened, knowing that the two of them had been arguing about being on time amongst several other things during their trip from their home in Woodburn.  The two of them had moved to Oregon only a year before, finding a quiet little retirement community in which to settle.  She, Simon and Aaron’s employees, friends of Simon’s, had repainted, rewired, and done every other renovation to the small home over the past year, helping the two of them move into their new home. 

“So we’ll just meet you at the restaurant then, we should both be there at the same time it sounds like.  See you there okay?”

“Okay Grace, see you there in a bit.”

“Oh, did you get the tickets to the movie?”  They’d all agreed to go see the newest horror movie that had just come out in theaters, some hack and slash film.  Grace wasn’t much for horror movies, neither was Aaron, but they had relented after Simon and Tia had reminded them that they’d picked the last movie they’d all gone to see.  It had been a film concerning the life of Howard Hughes and to be honest, she had almost fallen asleep. 

“Yep, I picked them up on my way here so we’re good to go for that.”

“What time is the movie?”

“It starts at 7:45, so we have plenty of time to eat and get to the theater.”

“Dear you are just a peach, see you in a bit.”  The phone chimed in her ear as Grace hung up abruptly as usual.  This wasn’t an insult, it was just how the older woman was.  She was one of those people who was kind in person but on the phone seemed a little blunt and at times hard to understand.  Tia just grinned as she closed her phone, placing it back in her pocket. 

“Simon c’mon let’s go!”  Her attention was drawn to the dressing room as the curtain was thrust aside, her soon to be husband stepping through in his street clothes with his gym bag hung over one shoulder.  With his sunglasses in his free hand and the strap to his bag in the other he walked up to her, planting a kiss on her lips as she wrapped one arm around the back of his neck, drawing him close.  He smelled of sweat and a deep musky scent that she had to admit she enjoyed.  Even the thin sheen of sweat still upon his skin didn’t repulse her in the least, since it comforted her to know that despite his absolutely phenomenal conditioning he was still capable of growing tired like everyone else. 

“Ready to go?”  Tia looked deep into his eyes as she held him, loving the depths of his deep green orbs. 

“I was just waiting for you.”  She laughed lightly at that, tilting her head back as their hips met.

“I’m sure.  C’mon let’s get going, your parents are on their way.”  She let him go as she walked towards the door, shaking her hips suggestively as she glanced back at him.  Grinning she walked through the door, placing her sunglasses back upon her face as

she stood near the entrance.  He grinned back at her, turning back to the face the doorway into the store room. 

“Mr. Yin I’m leaving now.  I’ll see you on Tuesday.” 

“Lock the door would you?  Oh yes, see you Tuesday Simon, take care.”  Simon grinned as he thumbed the latch on the double doors, truly grateful for men like Mr. Yin.  The old man was a friend that had never expected to find in his life, though in truth he was perhaps one of the people that helped keep him stable.  Walking over to his future bride’s car he slid into the passenger’s side, closing the door as she threw the car into gear. 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

“Simon, is everything okay?”  She took her toothbrush out of her mouth long enough to speak, thrusting it back in as he failed to answer.  Tia knew he could hear her over the noise of the shower, they were only separated by five feet of space.  It had only been a matter of minutes to reach their home, a single story three bedroom house with a spacious backyard and a free standing garage.  They’d moved into the house only shortly after deciding to live with one another, finding it thanks to some very welcome help from his parents and friends of the family who’d owned the house.  The going price had been rather low, only slightly over one hundred thousand, thanks to the condition it had been in. 

            When they had first seen the outside it had been a depressing grayish brown color with red trim.  Since then they’d painted it two different shades of blue, the agreed upon colors a compromise after several nights spent arguing over what would be the best.  Much of the work they and a few of their friends had done, both inside and out, though his parents and hers had contributed much in the way of the inside.  The midnight blue carpet had been paid for by both of their families, while the paint and other materials had been paid for by them. 

“Simon?”

“Yeah, everything’s as good as it can be.”  She looked over at him after that odd statement, wrinkling her brow in concern.  Simon stood with his eyes closed and both hands placed flat against the wall of the shower, his right side facing her.  Water from the showers head struck his lowered head before running down his back and dripping from his face, his naked wet body sending a thrill through her despite her concern.  Something wasn’t right with him.  Of course, something wasn’t right with her either.  She felt the need to tell him of her little escapade at work today, though with their impending date with his parents she didn’t see the point of ruining the night early.  She kept her gaze on the mirror in front of her, brushing side to side and front to back before spitting out her mouthful of toothpaste.

“A man claiming to be my father walked into the dojo today.”  Tia froze.  Staring at herself in the mirror she felt goose flesh rise on her arms at his words, her experience today coming back to her in full force.  She had been in her office, busily sorting out accounts and files when the door had opened unexpectedly, a man who looked so much like Simon that it had been uncanny stepping boldly into the room.  Tia had gazed up at

him with only mild irritation, going back to her papers for just a moment before he had cleared his throat. 

            They’d talked for only a few minutes, but that had been long enough for Tia to know that she simply did not like him.  True, he had looked enough like her betrothed that his claim had held a shred of merit.  But he had been cold, so unlike his supposed son that an hour after he’d left Tia had still felt chills. 

“Yeah, he uh, came to see me too.  Older guy, looks a lot like you?”  She met Simon’s gaze as he opened his eyes, ignoring the water that ran past them.  He nodded a few times as she turned her face down to the sink, closing her eyes for a moment. 

“He could be lying you know.  He could just be some crazy old bastard.”  Simon shook his head as she spoke, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“I’m not even going to think about it right now.  All I want to do is get ready to go and have a good evening with my parents.”  Tia smiled at that, offering him a wry glance that he just managed to return. 

“Of all the reasons I love you Sy, that’s got to be one of my favorites.” 

“And what’s that?”

“You’re undeniable ability to sort through the crap in life and get to the good stuff.”  As Simon turned off the shower and pulled back the curtain she tossed him a towel from the cupboard behind her, sitting on the wide bathroom counter to watch him dry off.  She’d done this so many times that he no longer felt self-conscious in the least about it.  He had such a nice body to look at, not too lean, not loaded down with fat, just right.  Of course if he had been a little chunky she’d still have loved him, his personality was far more important to her than his body, that was just a perk. 

            Since the first day they’d met in college Tia had found that Simon possessed a quality about him that she still had yet to define.  He was kind though he no doubt could be cruel, his manner was that of a gentleman though she’d seen he had the capacity to be rude.  Simon was a constant contradiction, always keeping her on her toes but at the same time never letting her down.  She loved him for so many reasons that at times they were hard to count.  He loved her just as much if not more, she knew this in her heart even he never expressed such in words.  His actions were more than enough for her. 

“Are you ready for a family Simon?  And I mean a family aside from the ones we come  from.  You know what I mean?”  Tia stroked her flat stomach gently, thinking idle thoughts of what they’d talked about so many times in the last two years.  Simon looked over at her as he toweled his hair off, wincing as he hit a sore spot near his forehead. 

“Well, lord knows we aren’t hurting for money.  I just wonder how much our lives would really change though.  A child is a big step.”

            Crossing her legs Tia smiled as she kept her hands on her stomach.  The two of them had talked about this so many times that they’d actually thought up names for their unborn children.  This often brought on bouts of laughter as they explored each and every name they could think of at that given moment, never resorting to any sort of baby book or even outside sources.  They were both agreed that they wanted children eventually, though the date had as of yet escaped them.  This was their decision, no one else’s, and when the time came they felt that they would no doubt know it. 

            As their eyes met Simon was tying his towel about his waist, his body mostly dry though his hair was still wet and mussed.  Her nostrils flared as she tried to pin him with her eyes, her hazel eyes catching his green ones.  Simon raised his eyebrows at her as she allowed her tongue to dart out slowly, licking her lips as she leaned even farther against the counter.  His body tensed slightly as she almost purred at him in her best come hither tone. 

“Um, do we have time?”  Tia nodded her head at him as he asked, answering only with one finger as she beckoned him forward.  As he came close she wrapped her long, shapely legs about his body, pulling him closer as their lips met.  She pulled her mouth away from his long enough to whisper into his ear, her hands firmly entwined in his hair as he began to kiss her neck.

“There’s always time for this babe.” 

*                      *                      *

 

            Mr. Yin always found himself staying here far later than he needed to.  Being a single man with three children who had years ago reached adulthood he had very little to keep him busy.  His dojo was his life anymore.  His kids visited from time to time, they and their kids loved him dearly, just as he loved them, though they’d never embraced the life of martial arts he had lived for so long.  Yin didn’t blame them for this, he believed that in life each person was meant to find their own path.  That his own children didn’t follow his had at times troubled him, but in the end he’d come to realize that their choices had been the best for them. 

            As much as they came around however he felt a little closer to Simon at this point than he did his own blood.  The young man intrigued as well as concerned him at times, though he did his best to understand.  His understanding of the martial arts was uncanny for one his age, though after seeing him in his own training sessions and having sparred with him Yin could easily tell how much heart and soul he’d actually put into his practices. 

            There was something missing in the young man, of that he was almost certain.  What it might have been was in question, since Simon didn’t often talk about his most inner feelings.  Yin didn’t press him, he felt that if Simon was going to reveal anything he would do so in his own good time.  As he sat staring at the figures for the past month Yin found it hard to concentrate on the numbers as he thought of the young man.  Leaning back in his office chair he gently massaged his temples with his fingers, closing his eyes as he allowed his thoughts to drift back to Simon.

            A sharp knock against the front doors gained his attention as he sat up in chair, confusion writ plain upon his face.  As he stood up he pushed the chair back, wondering just who would come calling at this time of the evening.  His kids were each out of town, Simon and Tia were out with his parents as Simon had told him, so that left virtually no one he could think of that might be at the door.  His office was located in the very back of the large space he’d managed to purchase years ago, a small space that had at one time served as little more than storage for whatever had been here before his dojo. 

            He walked slowly towards the door that led out into the main area, caution creeping into his mind for whatever reason.  As he exited his office he had a clear line of

sight towards the front of the studio, the glass panes that looked out on the shared parking lot showing little but the shadows cast by the arc lights that were spread throughout the small strip mall.  A figure, little more than a silhouette really, stood at the double doors, his features little more than shadow.  It was a man, of that he was certain, though as he came closer he began to realize that he’d seen this man before.  He was the same man who had walked into the dojo earlier that day, the gentleman who’d been talking with Simon for a few minutes before he’d left. 

            Yin felt again the need for caution as he approached, this man just did not seem right to him.  Whatever he’d said to Simon had upset the young man enough that Yin had no trouble holding an instant dislike for him.  Walking up to the glass he stood very calmly with both hands behind his back, waiting for just a moment before speaking.

“I’m sorry sir but I’m closed right now.  Tomorrow I’ll be open around eight o’ clock am.”  The courtesy in his voice wasn’t forced; just because he’d decided to dislike this man didn’t excuse bad manners.  His voice carried easily past the glass, to which the man replied first by grinning not unlike a hyena, showing many of his far too white teeth and stretching the few lines around his face.  Yin doubted somehow that the wrinkles were laugh lines, and if they were then he didn’t want to know the sort of things this man found amusing. 

“I’ve actually come to see you sir.  When I was here earlier I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself.”

“I truly apologize sir but I was just about to leave for home.  Perhaps we can speak in the morning?”  It wasn’t a total lie, since he’d been planning to go home for the last hour or so.  The man didn’t seem to accept this however, shaking his head as he lowered his chin. 

“I’m afraid not sir, this is rather urgent.”  Did his eyes seem to flash as Yin watched?  Taking it as little more than a glance from the lampposts outside Yin shook his head in response.

“I’m sorry but it will have to wait until morning, I’m really just about to leave.”  His breath hitched in suddenly as the man scrunched up his face in obvious frustration, pulling from the back of his tailored pants a very mean looking nine millimeter pistol.  He had no love for any sort of firearm, though he did recognize them when he saw them.  His first instinct was to back away, though looking at the man’s face he figured this would not be the wisest move. 

“I know, this is uncivilized, not the proper way to do things at all.  But in the effort to save my hands it needs to be done.”  As he finished the man raised the pistol to the glass, firing off three shots in rapid succession.  The first two were eerily quiet while the third was just a little louder, the glass cracking and then breaking easily as he pushed his way through in the next second.  Yin backed away hurriedly then, knowing he should run but having no desire to be shot in the back.  His only hope was that someone down the way at the bar had heard the glass breaking and would either come to investigate or call the police.

            It was only a little after eight in the evening however and the bar wouldn’t begin getting its heaviest traffic for at least another hour.  Still, he held out hope even as the man walked forward, using his free hand to brush glass slivers from off his clothing.  He

was wearing the same suit he’d been in earlier, still pressed and neat without a stain or wrinkle anywhere.  He was now glaring at Yin, the pistol rock steady in his hand as he aimed it towards him. 

“I gave you a chance to simply let me in, you were foolish enough to deny me.  I need information Mr. Yin Juang, that’s all.  If you choose to give it then I will leave without ever needing to return.”

“And if I don’t answer?”  The man smirked at Yin, not moving so much as an inch as he closed his eyes briefly.  Yin entertained the thought of trying to disarm him only for second, sensing a strength in this man that he did not care for.  This man held himself in such a way that it was impossible to not realize that he was at least moderately skilled in the martial arts, or at least one hell of a good bluffer.  Yin was not foolish enough to think that even with a lifetime of martial arts he was fast enough to disarm this man, at least not with the distance he was keeping.  If he were to even try he had no doubt that the man would fire. 

            Death didn’t frighten or concern him, he knew that eventually it would come, just as it did to all living organisms.  If this was his time then so be it, he just wouldn’t have ever wished to be gunned down by a coward. 

“Believe me when I say, it is in your best interest to answer me.”  He narrowed his eyes at Yin in open challenge, lowering the pistol as his face took on a more calm and serene expression. 

“I’m not going to shoot you old man, if that’s what you’re really worried about.  Such a death for those like us is rather, cheap wouldn’t you say?”  Yin chose not to respond, matching the man’s easy stare with his own. 

“Now, let us begin.”

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Tobias left the dojo nearly two hours later, having obtained all the information he could from the old man.  He had a cut above his left eye and several bruises that were thankfully hidden by his now much rumpled clothes, but other than this he was feeling just fine.  The old man had given him more of a fight than he’d anticipated, landing several good blows before he’d finally put him down.  If he wasn’t dead by now then he soon would be, Tobias had left him in such a state that death was inevitable. 

            He had started the fight shortly after realizing that the old man had given him all he was going to, his misguided sense of loyalty forcing Tobias’s hand.  Loyalty only went so far until it began to rear back on the fool who used it.  He was loyal only to one person, and that was himself.  All others he watched carefully, never giving them his full trust no matter how much they were willing to do.

            His wife had learned this the hard way only five years ago, when he had finally caught up with her in Walla Walla.  She had moved herself all over the state of Washington for the past seventeen years, always staying just out of his reach somehow with false names, new homes and even once a faked death.  Had he really been that bad as a husband?  So what if he’d wanted their firstborn to be raised as a warrior?  He had been and nothing bad had ever happened. 

            She had never approved of his plans for their child, warning him time and again that he didn’t promise to renege on his word and allow their child to grow, then she would take that child and run.  He’d never thought she was serious, always maintaining the thought that her fear would keep her close.  Tobias had found out the hard way however, coming home after a training session one day to find both wife and child gone.  It wasn’t until seventeen years later when he’d found her that he had learned that she had given their child, their son, up for adoption. 

            He’d listened to her break down in tears as she’d told him the story, of how she had made the toughest decision of her life to give away her baby boy.  She’d damned him over and over, beating her fists against his chest in impotent rage as he’d almost laughed at her.  Tobias had been blamed for everything from her incessant need to move every two years to the medication she took to calm her nerves.  He was also responsible for the fact that she had never once found a man she could settle down with, as though he were

some gigantic jinx upon her life.  Tobias had indeed walked away from her laughing, leaving her to wallow in her own misery shortly after obtaining the name of the adoption agency she’d gone to. 

            Tobias knew himself well enough to understand that only one thing in this entire mess that was his fault was that he had allowed his wife to run with their child.  His anger when he’d found out had been so great that his ex wife was lucky to still be counted among the living.  She had cried and carried on, her own rage giving her the courage she’d never before possessed.  They had waged a verbal battle for nearly an hour, ending when he had walked away.  He should have been quit of the woman long ago, before she’d become pregnant.  What had ever brought the two of them together he could no longer fathom, the two of them were as different as light and shadow. 

            He had found his son only two years ago, his surprise at how close he’d already been setting his heart to racing.  Tobias had then watched Simon from afar, learning the boy’s daily routines and how he lived his life.  All in all it was a rather mundane existence that his son had been condemned to, a blue collar job, a beautiful but insipid girlfriend and two parents that were so weak that Tobias had been tempted to simply take them from the equation.  To do this however would have been to play his hand far too soon.  He’d wanted to watch his son, this Simon, more closely in order to figure out just how a child born of his loins could be so, average.

            Only when watching Simon, ye gods what a horrible name, display his martial skills did Tobias feel a spark of hope.  During these few times he had witnessed his boy he’d felt his heart surge as much as it could, the knowledge that all was not lost giving him new faith that the world was not entirely against him.  As he walked to his car he gently massaged his knuckles, looking disdainfully at the bar just across the way with its flashing lights and gaudy displays.  To think that his son might have gone into such a place more than once by choice sickened him. 

            His son would choose better than what he now had.  His son would not knowingly stoop to such an average life.  No, his son would instead rise above those who tried to keep him at an even keel, he would rise over those who were not his equal just as his father had.  Of course, that was what he had thought before having actually met Simon

for the first time.  He had envisioned what he might say to the boy upon their meeting, though it had not gone at all the way he had pictured. 

            It had become apparent after only a few minutes that those who had raised his son had instilled within him their backward, outdated values and mannerisms.  He had seemed genuinely shocked to hear that Tobias was his father.  He’d been sure that his son would be happy to hear that thanks to his unique parentage he was not like everyone else.  Instead all he’d seen in Simon’s eyes had been anger and mistrust, none of the wonder and awe he’d been expecting. 

            Opening the door of his silver Escalade he slipped in with a grace that belied his age, the smoothness of his movements that of a man half his age.  For his entire life Tobias had managed to stay fit by honing his body in any and all ways he could find, from simple workouts in the morning to mountain climbing in his spare time.  His family had always possessed great wealth, and he had inherited much of it upon his parents

death.  After a few careful investments had been made Tobias had found that working for living had not appealed to him, so he had done as he pleased, whenever and wherever. 

            Being independently wealthy had its many perks, among them being the ability to simply go when he wanted and not have to worry over a home or a family.  Starting up his vehicle he began to think of the next day, when he would go to Simon’s home and confront him once more.  The boy had to learn that his father would not brook this kind of behavior from him. 

                                                *                      *                      * 

 

July 12th

 

“I found him.”

            Tia stirred in bed as Simon spoke, stretching languidly as she opened her eyes.  Sitting up in bed she saw her fiancé sitting at the computer at the far end of their room, his face almost pressed to the screen.  Twisting her lips in concern she realized then just how shaken he really was about this man they’d both met. 

            All night they’d both gone without thinking of Tobias, putting him as far to the back of their minds as they could in order to have fun.  Dinner had been great, the movie had been ridiculous, and their time spent with his parents had been fun as always.  Tia loved his parents, they were always nice to her and treated her much like a daughter. 

            When they’d come home the night hadn’t ended, the two of them picking up where they’d already finished before leaving for dinner.  They’d been only a few minutes late, his parents having gotten them a table near the door since his father had always had a strange quirk about wanting to be as close to the entrance as possible. 

“Did you use google?”  She yawned shortly after speaking, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed as she slid off. 

“Yeah, and it’s kind of interesting what came up.  Apparently my biological mother, one Anna-Marie Vittoria, filed two different restraining orders against him around the time they had their first child.  Twenty-two years ago she had a son whom she gave up in the same year of his birth.  Apparently Tobias had a fit, went after her and made the papers for assaulting a few people who’d been friendly towards her.”

“Wow, you got all that off of google?”  Walking up behind him Tia leaned over Simon’s shoulder, placing her chin near the crook of his neck as she nuzzled into him. 

“Yeah, free information is a great thing when you need to know if a psycho decides to show up unexpected.” 

“So what if he tries to see you again?  Are you going to call the cops?”  To be honest the thought had ran through her head since yesterday, the intense dislike she had for the man making it easy for her to entertain such a notion.  Simon shook his head however, rising from his seat as he turned to face her, stepping from the chair to wrap her in his arms.  Tia melted into him, their lips meeting in a brief kiss as they stood there wrapped in each other’s arms.

“If he does show up again I’ll make it as clear as I can that he’s not welcome.  If there’s a problem after that then I’ll deal with it the best I can.”  Tia lowered her eyes for a moment, meeting his again only when he lowered his head to try and catch her gaze.  He smiled at her as she returned the gesture, laying her head against his chest as he placed one hand on the nape of her neck. 

“Hon’, unless he’s coward enough to come at me with a gun, then I’m really not worried.  The man at least thinks he’s my father, so I doubt that he will.  So you don’t worry either.”  Rolling her forehead against his chest she snorted before laughing lightly. 

“Simon if I was worried about you I would have said so.  I’m more worried if you meet him again that he won’t be walking anywhere for awhile.” 

            Kissing her gently on the forehead he began to walk out of the room, reaching the door in only two strides as he entered the hallway.  Reaching in through the bathroom entrance he flicked the light on, walking past the doorway into the living room.  The blinds were still closed on all the windows since he’d just woken up only a short time ago.  Two large windows and one smaller one offered views of the street and one of their neighbors.  In the kitchen area off to the left the window in the door and the one next to it looked out on the back yard. 

            Walking over to his right he opened one set of blinds and then the next, not bothering to look up before walking back into the small dining area to open the other set of blinds.  Again he didn’t look up before walking into the kitchen, pulling up the blinds on both the door and the window.  Running one hand through his hair he walked to the fridge, opening it up to pull out the milk.  He was reaching into the cupboard that hung above the kitchen sink for a glass when he happened to look to his right, out the window towards the back yard.  It took every ounce of will he possessed to not drop the glass into the sink where it would have exploded, his body tensing as he saw someone walking around on his property. 

            Standing at the window he could easily make out the figure of Tobias, though he was dressed differently than yesterday.  Instead of the leisure clothes he had worn he now was garbed in a rather elegant jogging suit that looked as though it might cost more than Simon’s entire wardrobe.  Its rich blue material, maybe suede by the way it caught the sun, fit Tobias’ frame nicely.  Simon could see that the man was indeed fit, the way he stalked about like a giant cat on the prowl was only slightly unnerving.  His anger began to grow as the seconds ticked by, his hatred of this man growing stronger by the moment.

Simon wasted little time, placing the glass and the milk down as calmly as he could on the counter before opening the door. 

He saw Tobias turn about as he heard the door open, the look on his face one of distaste.  Simon could just guess why he affected such a look.  From the cut of his clothing he was obviously a man who was used to the finer things in life.  The home that Simon and Tia had moved into however still needed quite a bit of work, no doubt he didn’t approve.  In all honesty Simon didn’t care what he approved of.  This was their home and he was most unwelcome.

“Good morning Simon.  I trust these accommodations will be temporary at best.  It’s quaint, really, but you should really try-“

“What are you doing here?”  Tobias stepped up so that he was face to face with Simon, his eyes taking on a steely cast in the next second.

“First, don’t ever interrupt me again.  Second, you-“

“I am no longer amused Toby, so unless you have something worthwhile to say then I suggest you leave.”  Tobias reached out with an open-handed slap to Simon’s face as he finished, rocking the younger man back a step.  Simon felt his eyes go wide as Tobias pointed a finger at him, all thoughts of whether his neighbors would see this or not fading quickly from his mind.  The people to his left he knew wouldn’t be venturing outside for at least another hour, while the old couple to his right hardly ever came out save to tend to their flowers. 

“You listen to me boy and listen good, y-ah!”  Tobias was forced to cut off his own words as Simon grabbed his pointing finger viciously, twisting to his left and yanking down.  He tried to counter by grabbing towards Simon’s throat, his hand being batted away easily as the younger man yanked on his finger even harder. 

“You’re going to leave now old man, or I’m going to drag you down my driveway and kick you into the street.  Show up again around me or anyone I care for and you won’t be walking anywhere, anymore.”

“I’m not leaving until you acknowledge that you are my son.  You were born to be more than this.”  Tobias winced as Simon applied more pressure to his hold, almost dropping him to his knees.  His son was strong, there was no doubt, but he was also weak.  From this decrepit dwelling that could only loosely be called a home to his understanding of how to fight, he’d been tainted. 

            Ignoring the pain in his hand Tobias lashed out quickly with his other hand, catching Simon squarely on the nerve that ran along the outside of his left thigh.  Simon stiffened noticeably as Tobias hit it three more times in rapid succession.  He felt his knee begin to buckle from the blows as his own grip lessened.  Tobias rose to his feet, the look of pain he’d worn for only a few moments changing to a triumphant grin as Simon tried to back away.  He managed only to hobble as his left leg threatened to give out, the damage not permanent but still enough trouble him. 

“You are a born warrior my son.  But you’ve been allowed to become weak.  I will be around for some time, I hope that you will come to realize this and will seek me out.  At the moment I’m staying at what passes for a hotel downtown.  Penthouse suite at the top of course if you have the nerve to come see me.”  With that he sauntered off, turning his back on Simon as though he were of little concern.  Simon was too busy massaging the side of his leg to care, wincing as he touched the area that had been struck. 

He heard the door open shortly after Tobias left, Tia’s soft steps treading across the gravel driveway until she stood next to him.  Her light touch upon his shoulder forced him to look up at her, seeing the concern etched across her features. 

“He was here.”  Her eyes went wide with concern as he spoke.  Dropping down to a knee next to him she took his hands away from his leg, taking over gently as he leaned back on the lawn. 

“Why in the world was he here?”  Her gentled rubbing became a hard kneading as she dug into the muscle, trying her best to ease his pain.  Though she’d only been with him two years of his life she knew how deeply into martial arts he was.  As a result she’d had the chance to soothe and massage his body after many a training session.  She knew just how to get rid of his aches and pains, a trait that he was more than grateful for. 

“Oh you know, demean our way of life, tell me I’m a weakling, that kind of stuff.”  Tia furrowed her brows at him as she continued to massage his leg, not appreciating the cavalier way he was dealing with this man who had intruded into their lives. 

“Do you think it’s time to involve the police?”  Simon had to admit that the idea was enticing.  He knew where Tobias was staying now and would have no problem getting the man into trouble.  Simon also realized however that Tobias was not stupid.  No doubt he had calculated the risks involved in such a direct approach and had made amends to where he would be safe enough should Simon involve the authorities.  Or maybe he was just as crazy as a loon.       

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            They found out about Mr. Yin later on that day, catching the newscast while flipping through the channels.  Being a Saturday Tia was off, while Simon had lucked out and traded shifts with one of his coworkers.  As they’d sat on the couch together, enjoying a quiet day together, each of them had bolted straight upright at the mention of the Mill Plain Kung Fu studio.  The report that a single man in his fifties had been found in the back of the studio had gotten both of their attention. 

            Simon had turned the volume up as they’d watched, his blood turning cold as Tia had gripped his arm tightly, her lower lip trembling slightly as the newscast had continued.  After only a few minutes the news crew had gone on to speak of another topic, leaving Mr. Yin behind.  Turning off the television the two of them had then risen from the couch, shaking slightly as they’d gone without a word to the car outside, Simon grabbing the keys while Tia grabbed their jackets. 

            It took only minutes to get to the dojo, though they weren’t optimistic about getting anywhere near the entrance.  Several county officers had cordoned off the area, while one person dressed in plain clothes who might have been a detective walked the scene.  They had felt it best to stay away, knowing that if they were asked any questions they would have to be truthful and give the scant information they had on Tobias.  Tia had tried to talk Simon into doing just this, to allow the cops to deal with the older man, but Simon had refused.  Instead he’d driven the Chevrolet pickup they shared back towards home, though he had kept driving until he came to the end of their road, turning left as he headed towards the waterfront. 

            After a few more minutes of driving they had reached the small section of beach that lay just behind the Red Lion on the Columbia River.  The public area was often empty of any human presence, and today was no exception.  Stopping the truck Simon and Tia had sat in silence for a few minutes before he had exited, walking alone down to the gritty sands of the beachfront.  A few gulls had cried out in flight, though he had ignored them.  The sound of Tia walking up behind him was a comfort at that moment, her strong yet gentle grasp upon the backs of his arms soothing him.  She’d laid her head against his shoulder, her body shaking slightly as he’d turned to embrace her. 

            And there they were, the two of them clasped tight to one another as they had been for several minutes now.  Tia had broken into quiet sobs only a few moments ago, her grief over Mr. Yin finally too much to bear.  The man had been a friend to the both of them, a trusted mentor that each of them had cared for over the last two years.  Worse yet, he had been killed in such a way that death was not instantaneous.  The news report had been thorough enough in their interviews, the coroner on the scene having told what was deemed enough for the general public but not gruesome enough to be censored. 

            There was no question in Simon’s mind who the murderer was.  Police had little to go on they said, but they were busily asking anyone and everyone in the bar if they’d seen anyone strange near the place last night.  Simon and Tia both knew they wouldn’t find anything that would help them, Tobias would have thought of this.  If he were really smart, and they had no reason to believe this was not so, Tobias would be watching the newscast just as they were.  No doubt if he learned the cops were coming for him then he would disappear, using whatever he could to just go away.  Then he would most likely bide his time once more before making further contact, and he would since Simon had no intention of turning his name over to the authorities. 

            Simon had a dislike for police that no one, not even Tia, could truly understand.  Sometimes Simon didn’t even understand his dislike towards those who wore the badge.  He figured it was just one of those things he would never know, much like he had thought his bloodline would remain. 

“Simon, we need to go to the police.”  Tia sniffed as she spoke, her eyes wet with tears as she pulled her head back to look at him.  His gaze was as of stone as he looked at her, his mind already made up as to what he would do.  Tia seemed to read this in his eyes, her own growing wide as she grasped his train of thought and tried to hang on. 

“The police won’t solve this matter T.  Tobias came for me, and it’s me he’s going to get.”

“What the hell does that mean Simon?  Do you really mean to take him on?”  He nodded as she asked this, never once taking his eyes from hers.  Tia lowered her head to his chest, hugging him tightly once more as he returned the embrace.

“Who are you doing this for?”  There was only one answer she would accept, one only person she would be able to stand him fighting for in this case, and it was not her or Mr. Yin.  The old man wouldn’t have wanted Simon fighting for any reason, but even he had stated a few times that there were moments in which a person could only back up so far.  In those moments he had told them it was important to push back instead of simply bowing down. 

“Myself, and no one else.”  There was no apology in his eyes as he said this, making her smile weakly as she caressed one side of his face with her palm.  This was the man that would be her husband, the strength and stability her heart so badly needed at times.  She loved him more at this particular moment than she had ever imagined possible, her blood racing so fast that she felt her face flush a bright red. 

“Then go kick his ass.” 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

“Vancouver Hilton, this is Michael at front desk how may I direct your call?”

“I need to reach a Mr. Vittoria, I believe he’s in the penthouse suite.”

“Just a moment sir, let me check.  Ah yes, Mr. Vittoria is in suite number 23, hold on please.”  The line clicked as the transfer went through, the hold music that most businesses seemed to find so useful playing for a few seconds before the phone began to ring.  After three rings Simon was rewarded for his patience as the receiver on the other end was lifted.

“Hello?”  He wanted to yell so badly at the owner of the hated voice that it was all he could do to keep himself in check, gripping the plastic receiver hard enough to make it crack along its seams.  Tia placed a calming hand upon his shoulder, standing just right next to him at the payphone.  From where they stood outside Key Bank they could see the Hilton easily, making it all that much harder to not simply stride into the place and seek him out.  Tia’s hand squeezed a little harder, helping Simon to focus on speaking evenly.

“Whatever point you’re trying to make I think you’ve made it.”

“Ah my son finally comes to his senses and calls me.  I trust you weren’t childish enough to involve any unneeded and unwanted authorities?”

“The cops have nothing to do with this Tobias.  This matter is solely between you and myself.”

“You will refer to me as father Simon, or this conversation is over.”  Simon ground his teeth together.  Damn the arrogant bastard!  It seemed to make no difference to him that he’d so casually killed a man that Simon had looked up to.  His anger slowly kindled as it began to turn into a white hot rage, the only natural reaction he knew would allow him to stay focused. 

“I have a proposition for you, if you’ll take it.”

“I’m listening.”

“Tonight, in the field just beyond the dojo, you and I will meet.  There will be no one else, just the two of us.  On my word of honor.”

“How amusing, your ‘word of honor’.  But still you sound sincere enough.  What will happen in this field?” 

“You’ll find out once we’re both there.  Ten o’ clock, no one else, just you and I.”  With that he firmly set the phone back in the cradle, his jaw clenched painfully as Tia stepped up next to him. 

“You’re sure about this?”  He nodded as she checked her watch, seeing that it was still only a little past noon. 

“It ends tonight.”  She could only nod in response, holding him tightly as they walked back to their truck.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Simon made Tia promise to stay home and not come to the field, he didn’t want her to see what he planned to do to Tobias.  He knew too well that she hated him just as much, but this fight was Simon’s alone.  It was in this spirit that he arrived at the spot he had designated a good two hours early, awaiting his biological father in the shadows of the evergreens that grew in the back of the lot.  Simon found it hard to even think of the man as a blood relative, he was more like a predator that had shown up out of the blue for reasons only he knew. 

            Tobias Vittoria was not a man, he was a monster given human form.  Simon had met many people in his young life, but few had ever possessed the sickening qualities that this man did.  The two of them had only met the day before but in that time Simon had clearly decided that the man was not in any way a good person.  That he would kill Mr. Yin only made Simon’s assumptions stronger. 

            Waiting in the shadows he did not remain idle, running over each martial art he had ever learned in his life, taking himself through the most basic of stances and techniques.  Kung Fu, Karate, Tai Chi, Taji Chin Na, Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu, Aikido, Judo, Capoeira, and even elements of Muay Thai boxing, all of these styles were pieces of his life from the past seventeen years.  Each art had helped sculpt his body and raise his level of discipline over the years, giving him a better understanding of who he was as a person.  

He did not share the same arrogance or the same foul demeanor that apparently was indicative of his bloodline.  Perhaps his biological mother had been a kind person.  But then why had she fallen for a man like Tobias?  Had he been different then?  Simon shook his head to clear it of such thoughts.  The last thing he needed right now were doubts of any kind. 

Sitting down against a large evergreen he took a few deep, calming breaths, slowing his heartbeat down after several minutes and entering a state of relaxation.  He would rise again within a few minutes, wanting to keep himself loose for when Tobias showed up.  Simon would not think of the man as his father in any way.  His parents were those who had raised him to be the young man he now was, not this stranger who had shown up out of nowhere. 

His true parents had always been honest and up front with him, allowing him to know he was adopted at a young age so there would be no confusion.  They had taught him to be a fair, honorable and reasonably level-headed young man and he thanked them every day of his life.  Punch, kick, block, it was all so natural, each movement seeming as though it originated within his being before being executed. 

Simon had always felt the need to fight, though this had been tempered by both martial arts and his parents.  They had not cultivated his aggressive streak, it had always been this way.  It was a part of Simon that he had never tried to fight but had rather embraced, gaining control over it after many years of patience and hard work.  With the aid of teachers, friends and his mother and father however Simon had grown into the man he was now. 

 

“You said ten o’ clock correct?  I see you enjoy being early just as I do.”  Simon started as Tobias walked forward into the shadows, the jacket of his jogging suit open to reveal a stark white t-shirt beneath.  His skin was tanned all over it seemed, his closely cropped graying blond hair standing out in contrast. 

“So tell me, what was this proposition you had in mind?  I trust it has something to do with you accepting your place as my son.”  The smile he gave Simon sickened him as he stood to his feet, fists clenching and unclenching as he stared hard at the older man.

“Not quite.  It has to do with you leaving town under your own power, or in an ambulance.  Should you choose the second option I’ll make sure to tell the cops about what you did to Mr. Yin.”  Tobias’s smile faltered as Simon spoke, turning into a grimace as he finished.  Clearly he’d thought that this situation was his to control.  Simon had planned for this however and had realized how ridiculously easy the man would be to control.  Arrogance often blinded those who used it extensively to the machinations of those around them. 

“You cannot be serious son.  Do you not remember what happened just this morning?”

“I remember it a little too well.  This is going to be different.”

“Oh, how do you figure that?”

            Simon exploded out of the shadows, launching himself into a front flip that ended with the heel of his right foot almost crashing down on Tobias’s head.  The older man was taken off guard, but still managed to evade the blow just barely as he backed away.  Simon wasn’t done however as he continued to attack from his seated position upon the ground, lifting himself slightly off the ground as he swung his left leg forward, looking for Tobias’s ankles as he then swung his right leg forward in the same manner.  Tobias evaded each attack, sneering in contempt as Simon then spun about, still low to the ground, and thrust his right foot back hard towards his midsection. 

            Still he did not stop moving as Tobias was forced to go on defense, blocking each seemingly wild blow and kick that Simon sent screaming his way.  He recognized the style of fighting his son had chosen to attack with and he was not impressed, knowing that it was only a matter of seconds until he found the proper opening. 

“Capoeira is indeed flashy son, but hardly effective.”  As Simon executed a spinning back kick Tobias stepped forward, looking to plant his right knee into the younger man’s lower back.  As though he sensed this however Simon moved quick as lightning, spinning to his right even as Tobias drove forward.  The result was that his knee just barely clipped Simon’s side, affecting his balance enough to drop him to a knee. 

            Tobias was quick to follow with a cross to Simon’s temple, taking advantage of being above his son as he drove his elbow down.  He was too quick however, evading the blow as he rolled to his feet, closing once more with the older man as he tried to land a straight kick to his knee.  Tobias easily stepped away from this however, gaining enough distance for the two of them to breathe.

“You think you can take me down?  I’m your father son, I helped bring you into this world.  No one knows you better than I do.”  Simon’s eyes went wide at his proclamation, his nostrils flaring with intense hatred. 

“I know who I am.”  Simon attacked again, looking to kick Tobias in the exact same spot the man had kicked him this morning, not caring that he seemed to be just as skilled as he was.  The older man stepped out of the way, launching kicks and punches of his own in return that were easily blocked.  Each time either of them countered it never fell, each of them remaining unmarked until only a moment later when the most telling blow of the fight came from Tobias. 

            Simon was just about to land a kick to Tobias’s head when the older man caught his leg in the crook of his right arm, halting his momentum effectively.  The older man then drove his elbow into Simon’s knee several times, attacking the muscles above the kneecap savagely as his lips pulled back into a snarl.  Simon managed not to cry out in pain but couldn’t help a groan as he finally managed to wrench his leg free, taking both himself and Tobias to the ground, a large cloud of dust exploding around them.  As he tried to stand he found that his leg would no longer support his weight, spilling him back to the ground instantly where he grabbed at his wounded knee.  Tobias was already to his feet, brushing ineffectively at his clothes as he kept his distance. 

“You’re very good my son.  But you haven’t fought as much as I have in life.  Practice only covers so much.  Experience, now there’s where a winner is born.  No matter how natural fighting comes to us, we are nothing until we’ve been tested time and again.  In time you will learn to expect the unexpected, to anticipate your opponent and eventually learn to crush them in the first few moves.”  Was this man serious?  Even as he lay there holding his injured knee Simon couldn’t believe the audacity of the older man.  He wanted nothing more than to silence him for good, though he knew even now, when he was angry enough to do so, that he would not stoop to murder.  It was an odd thought really, he was on the ground and somehow he still believed he could take this man’s life.  Simon felt as sure of this as he did of anything, though his body seemed to feel differently.

“It’s time to come with me son.  This life you’ve been forced to lead these twenty-two years is over.  Your place is now with me.  I am your family, the only one who can show you who you really are.”  Simon felt a white hot rage explode in his gut as Tobias spoke, the words igniting a molten ball of the purest hatred he had ever felt deep within his being. 

“I am not your son, and I know who my true family is.  As far as fighting goes, I’ve seen far better.”  Again Tobias reacted beautifully to his barb, striding forward with a look on his face that could have killed.  His leg was still aching fiercely, but he knew what he was about to do would gain him at least another moment to regain his feet.  His chance came in the next moment as Tobias raised his foot to stomp down, presumably on his knee.  At the very last second he yanked his leg away, watching carefully as the older man’s foot hit the ground in a puff of dust.  In the next heartbeat Simon sprang forward, groaning mightily as he wrapped his injured leg around Tobias’s, pushing with all his weight against the older man’s body.  This resulted in Tobias falling backward, his weight not centered enough to resist Simon’s attack as they both spilled to the ground. 

            The air left Tobias’s lungs as Simon fell on him back first, the back of his head striking Tobias in the mouth hard enough to draw blood.  Rolling off quickly Simon

continued to move about, keeping his injured leg behind him as he kept away.  Tobias gained his feet once more, spitting blood upon the ground as he glared at Simon.

“Street fighting is not honorable son.”  Tobias now looked less like the cocky, self-assured man he’d appeared to be only a short time ago.  Now he looked dirty, disheveled and extremely unbalanced, just as Simon had planned. 

“Who ever said this was anything but a street fight.  I see no referee’s or rule books, just you, and me.”  With a savage growl Tobias attacked, looking to grapple Simon as he rushed forward. 

            Simon was ready however, knocking the older man’s arms out wide as he threw his body into the older man.  Tobias went tumbling to the ground again as he was unprepared for this unorthodox attack, sputtering madly as he rose again, shaking himself free of a very large cloud of dust.  He was more cautious this time, moving in with a steady and determined pace as he raised both hands to protect his face.  Simon did not defend himself, keeping his arms ready but not raised as he waited for Tobias to come in on him.  He even went so far as to keep his head sticking out so as to offer a tempting target. 

            Again, no doubt thinking himself the better fighter, Tobias attacked, taking the bait as he swung for Simon’s head.  The blow came close to landing, though Simon had

the advantage of being quicker, moving aside just in time as he snaked his own arm out, catching hold of his opponent’s wrist in a vice-like grip before moving closer.  Twisting to the left Simon could hear as bones began to give in the man’s arm, the popping of joints alerting him to just how far he had to go.  Tobias fought him tooth and nail, trying to use his other arm to block the move as Simon pressed on. 

            He didn’t care about this man, there was no shame in harming him at all.  As the crunching noise of the bones in his forearm reached his ears Simon kept going, not stopping until he’d twisted far enough and long enough to dislocate Tobias’s shoulder.  The older man howled in agony, his screams high pitched like a woman’s.  Still Simon could not bring himself to feel sorry, wondering if Mr. Yin had been afforded a chance to even defend himself before being brutalized. 

            Letting go of the man’s now useless arm Simon stood as best he could, knowing that tomorrow his knee would all but worthless but for now not caring.  On the ground before him Tobias writhed in pain, struggling to rise to his feet as Simon watched.  He wouldn’t kill him, but he would make sure that this man who had claimed to be his father would think twice for the rest of his life whenever he thought of him.

            Surprisingly Tobias found the nerve to force his thoughts past the pain, offering Simon yet another glare that spoke of a deep and resounding hatred for the way he was.  Some might have pitied this man at that point, though Simon found that he could do nothing but return that burning hatred that he saw in Tobias’s eyes. 

“You are more like me than I thought son.  Whatever happens now, I am content in knowing that you will grow to be like me, no matter how misguided you’ve become.  This is natural to each of us, as easy as breathing”  Simon’s only response to this was a grim smile that he did not truly feel, knowing that it would further incense this man.

“I am nothing like you.  I imagine I’m more like Anna-Marie was.”  It was like someone had just slapped him, Tobias’s eyes went from narrow to wide in less than a heartbeat. 

“Don’t you ever speak that name!”  Lurching forward Tobias howled as he swung his good arm towards Simon, not caring that his attack was so horribly off balance. 

            It was child’s play for Simon to catch his arm, pushing against the man’s elbow with all his strength until it emitted a loud, and very wet pop as Tobias howled once more.  Striking up into the man’s armpit he sought to even this arm out with the other as he yanked down on his arm while thrusting upward with his other arm.  The pop that had come from Tobias’s elbow only a second before was no comparison to the one that sounded as his other shoulder dislocated.  The older man’s eyes rolled up to their whites as only a thin gurgle came from his mouth this time.  Simon realized he was close to passing out from the pain, though he didn’t care.

“After tonight you would do well to remember what will happen if you try and contact me again.  If I see you, hear you or even think you’re in the vicinity there is no measure to how hard and how fast I will do this to you again.”  Yanking on the older man’s hair he brought his face square to his own, glaring into the almost closed eyes with an intensity that was beginning to fade.  “And I will not hesitate.”  With that said he allowed the man’s head to flop back to the ground, rising to his feet to look down with contempt upon his broken form.  Before walking away he lifted one leg to waist height, stomping down hard upon the man’s left knee.  The sound of cartilage popping wasn’t pleasant, but the reaction to the blow was at least comforting.  Checking the man’s pulse he found it deep and slow, he was still alive, just badly beaten.  That suited him just fine.

            As he turned towards the direction of the dojo and the bar he saw as a few curious smokers who’d stepped outside began to walk in his direction.  There was no way they could see him or Tobias, which meant that he still had a chance to get away.  No doubt someone would be good enough to call the police, and then it would be someone else’s problem.  Before he turned to walk way Simon bowed one final time in respect to his friend, the darkened dojo seeming a sad testament to a man as great as Mr. Yin.  Turning to leave Simon melted easily into the shadows, disappearing amongst the trees as he went on his way. 

            Tia would no doubt be glad to find that he hadn’t sustained any serious injury, though the temporary damage to his knee would keep him moving slowly for at least a few days to come.  Still, there had been one thing that Tobias had said that Simon couldn’t discount, the words ringing over and over in his head as he made his way along as fast as he could.  Each kick, each punch, even the grapples he had eventually used to lay the old man low, it had all come so natural. 

Wizard World Comic Con ’17

If you’ve ever been to the Oregon Convention Center before you know what to expect. A big building, elegant in ways that seem to befit its stature, the Convention Center is still a young fixture to Portland relatively speaking. It was finished in 1989 and opened in 1990 as one of the premier locations for conventions, meetings, and any other type of gathering that one can imagine.

Just recently my wife and I had the chance to attend the Wizard World Comic Con at the Convention Center, and were simply blown away.  Now it’s not the same type of venue as you might expect in San Diego, CA, but the spectacle was still impressive. In truth the event held more to the classic Oregon style, appearing more like a swap meet for those that are into cosplay, comic books, and the mental wanderings of the freak and geek culture that has become so prominent within the past decade or so. In other words, it was rather impressive.

Walking in my first thought was that we would walk around, see what was there, maybe purchase a couple of things, and leave. But we managed to stay for several hours, walking the same circuitous route, and never once did we get bored or see too much of the same thing. Every time we went around we found new people entering in full costume, vendors pulling out new items to replenish what had already sold, and new sights that were more than a little impressive.

I will admit that the prices seem a little over the top, but in some cases I simply couldn’t resist the wonders that we saw, finding that the price was just right.  It would have been uniquely awesome to get an autograph and a picture with a few of the celebrities on hand, but just to see them in person seemed more than adequate. I can honestly state that I had a blast at the comic con, and would recommend it to anyone. me-and-deadpool