Short Story: ‘Bloodsport’

One of my older pieces, ‘Bloodsport’, has found a home in ReadFinReadFin is the final journal to come out of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Writing and Publishing degree, from which I graduated in 2014.

I wrote this piece a few years ago but still vividly remember agonising over the sword fighting choreography. I sought out feedback about it and even watched a few shogun samurai movies on YouTube for reference. It was a fun exercise.

ReadFin received a limited print run, but a digital copy can be found here. Note that the editor has incorrectly credited me as ‘Tim O’Connell’, which is pretty disappointing. I’d hoped they would bring more care and attention to their final issue, but what can you do?

Issuu doesn’t like web browsers very much, so I’m also reproducing the story in text here. I hope you enjoy it.


 

Bloodsport

 

I’m at the meeting point: a narrow cliff-edge. Waves crash onto rocks that jut from the ocean like jagged teeth. Countless samurais have died here coveting clan honour. A wrong step preludes a 300-foot drop. I hear a squawk that seems to echo my name. A lone opportunistic gull rides an updraft, a late-afternoon snack its only concern.

Sensing a presence, I turn. Miguel appears across the way, bathed in the light of the setting sun.

‘Fifteen minutes I’ve waited.’

‘Impatience,’ Miguel says, ‘is the folly of youth.’

I smirk. ‘Is that what this is? A lesson in patience?’

Miguel advances until we stand a sword-length apart at the cliff’s edge. Death, like the gull, is opportunistic, and could wing its way from any direction.

Miguel warns that my insolence will cost me. Unperturbed, I grin, disarming him with false confidence. I’m less experienced, but Miguel’s victory is anything but assured.

White-knuckled, we draw our swords. Our robes ripple in the wind. Miguel adopts our clan’s traditional stance; I fall into my variation of it.

Right legs leading, we lock eyes, each daring the other to strike first.

Miguel takes a quarter-step back. His weight shifts to his back foot. I follow his cue, my heel digging into the soft earth. My flesh is goose-pimpled, my muscles taut. Miguel, expressionless, wholly inhabits this moment.

The distant seabird screeches, her cry puncturing the silence.

I lunge forward.

Miguel guards high; I feint and strike low. We clash violently until my blade slips down the length of his. He shunts me off balance and leads me in a quarter-circle, his position a counterweight to my heavy blow. I hang on, enduring the hideous scraping of steel.

We separate explosively. My arm is nicked. I hiss and force it from my mind. Miguel lunges, hoping to capitalise on his modest blow. He is uncannily quick, but I deflect, taking his wrist and forcing him to relent. He leaps back.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘There’s still plenty of fight in me.’

Miguel mocks me with laughter.

The reprieve is short-lived. Our swords collide a dozen more times. We circle continuously. Alternately, we dominate, losing then wresting back control, overpowering and pushing back in increments. But our reserves are low. Miguel knows this. It’s in his eyes. For all our discipline, we are but flesh constructs.

We separate, pirouetting in sync. I toss my robe, my legs shifting free. Then I thrust forward in pre-emptive strike. Miguel is waiting. He always is. He parries then ripostes my blow. Sparks fly. Our clashing blades are deafening.

‘Gyaaaaah!’ My voice scrapes in my throat.

Our swords clash repeatedly. Dusk looms. I grit my teeth, my eyes fixed on my opponent. I lust for an opening. My strength is flagging, my mind clouding. Tiny mistakes accumulate. Miguel’s focus sharpens; his cuts come too close.

I take one last stand. With a two-handed grip, I draw back, enveloped by primal fury. I drive my blade with such ferocity. Miguel defends – barely. His face whitens. I strike again, thrashing and thrashing. He can’t match my intensity. This is the virtue of youth.

Miguel panics. He evades my blows, but the near misses spur me on. Relentless parrying exhausts him. Enraged, I draw back and swing again, but miscalculate and deal a heavy blow to nothing. Miguel creates distance and I feel, overwhelmingly, that a vital opportunity is wasted.

We recover our breath over two long seconds. Then, as if of one mind, we surge forward with declarative war cries. Miguel catches my blade in his. We lock in, our poised body language belying our struggle. We each hope to unnerve the other. Muscles quake. Our composure slips. Sheens of sweat form above our brows.

Miguel swiftly sidesteps and I stagger off-kilter. My balance is again misplaced; I strike a knee into my opponent, but the move is crude and proves my undoing. It happens so fast: I lurch sideways, my feet flirting with the cliff-edge, and—

I feel it before seeing it. It’s a clean hit. Miguel has saved me from a 300-foot drop, only to finish me himself. His blade protrudes from between my shoulders. We remain like this, outside time: Miguel savouring victory, perhaps contemplating the complexities of our relationship, while I am caught in the throes of death.

Miguel is static a long while, his form effortlessly arranged for the execution of his final blow. The light is changing. Dusk is becoming night and I am where I deserve to be: skewered on my brother’s blade.

I’m fading fast, my vision waning. But all’s right: this is the natural order of things. I focus, as if to immortalise the moment, find beauty in death. But the gull’s incessant screeches return and now the sound is frenzied. With the last of my strength, I look to the source, expecting the sky to be blotted with seagulls.

Instead, I see a barmaid from a neighbouring establishment. Her stride is long, her expression unamused. She proceeds to her announcement, a cross-armed harbinger.

‘Daniel! Cody! I’ve been calling for ten minutes! Dinner’s on the table!’

I stand tall, exhaling frustration. The illusion’s ruined: she’s no barmaid. My brother Cody releases his hair from its authentic samurai bun and steps down from the wooden stage-cum-cliff edge.

‘Sorry, Mum.’

His face broadcasts disappointment. I pat between his shoulder blades, in the spot where his character slew mine, and assure him that our rehearsals have not been in vain, that our depiction of cartoon samurais Jack and Miguel are eerie in their accuracy, and that our scheduled display will be the highlight of FantasyCon.

Cody, looking serious, Miguel-esque, casts me a sidelong glance.

Flawless.

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Vignette: ‘The Matador and the Bull’

IMG_3628Brittany shoves him once, twice, spits in his direction.

Her boyfriend, Glen, leaps back, stumbles on the lip of the kerb. His arms make sad little windmills. A passerby sidesteps the spectacle and Brittany laughs, first at the passing stranger, then at Glen. She thinks long and hard about ways to hurt him. She compares him to his father, but the words falter against him; he has heard this one too many times. She brings up that fat sheila again, the one he ‘rooted last month’.

Glen’s frustration finally bests him. He bites back, lists – for the fourth time that week – his reasons for the indiscretion. It was, he explains, a knee-jerk reaction, the unfortunate consequence of months of compounding stress. He reminds her that she is far from innocent herself. Her list of follies is lengthy: there was the handjob she gave Marcus, their mutual friend, at the football; the phone abuse she inflicted on Glen’s family (over an innocuous remark Glen’s father had made over dinner); the gross mismanagement of their welfare money; her endless stream of criticisms; the broken taillight she never replaced; the way she refused to find work, despite dire financial straits; and the … the …

He is shaking, has made a scene. The reasons why they shouldn’t stay together cascade over him. The Bundoora-bound 86 pulls up behind them.

Brittany – red-faced and full of piss and vinegar – boards via the front entrance. On the second stair, she stops, turns, a tear trickling down her cheek, and says: ‘Well, you’re a fuckin’ dud root, you are! Stay away from this piece of shit, girls! Never once made me come in two years!’

IMG_3616The doors close and the tram pulls away. From the middle of Smith Street, Glen watches Brittany exit his life. When at last she’s gone, he turns, walks the five paces to Woolworths and relays his story to anyone who’ll listen.

He misses her already.

* Published in INfusion 47.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2–18 Story – ‘A Missed Deadline’

ImageThis is my response to Flash! Friday‘s eighteeth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit, with a ten-word leeway. The secondary theme (which informed my story so strongly it became my title) was ‘A Missed Deadline’. Enjoy!

* * *

‘A Missed Deadline’ (159 words)

Molly was worried. It was twelve past six and still no sign of Julian. She raised her binoculars and crouched low.

‘How much longer can we wait?’

Stephen’s hands found his pockets. He stepped gingerly from one foot to the other. ‘Long as it takes.’

The wind pelted them with fresh snow. They withdrew into their coats, but it was futile; they were completely exposed.

Molly hugged her knees and said, weakly: ‘I think we should go.’

‘You’re kidding.’

Stephen’s head was bowed. Molly saw a frost cloud rising from the brim of his hat.

‘He’s your boyfriend,’ Stephen went on, his voice deepening. ‘We’re not leaving him.’ He had hoped to sound resolute, but a shiver passed through him like electricity.

Molly’s gaze fell. ‘I’m going, Stephen. I can’t chance them finding us.’

‘But—’

‘I won’t go back there. Stay or join me; choice is yours.’

Stephen held his breath and looked out across the icy abyss.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2–17 Story – ‘Miko Island’

fire-breathers-singaporeThis is my response to Flash! Friday‘s seventeeth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). The secondary theme which had to be incorporated was ‘Friendship’. I wanted a break from fantasy this week, so have opted for something a little more grounded.

* * *

‘Miko Island’ (160 words)

On Saturday night, Kyle brought me to Miko Island to see the fire breathers. I remember pushing through a sea of half-naked teenagers, wondering if I was the only divorcee in attendance. Could they smell it on me?

We drank in the moonlight, trading non sequiturs with Kyle’s stoner friends. My discomfort metre was peaking.

Kyle led me across the dunes towards a distant bonfire.

‘I don’t know about this …’

My words scattered on the wind, lost in the dissonance of club beats and bongo drumming.

‘I know!’ Kyle shouted. ‘Isn’t it great?’

We emerged, centre stage, and were absorbed by the throbbing mass of skin, sweat and glow sticks. The air was charged. David had never brought me anywhere like this.

The fire breathers, on a raised mound, moved like flowing water. They were the beating heart. Their flames surged, like beacons opening the night.

We cheered, lost in the majesty.

Hands linked, Kyle and I began to dance.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.7 Story – ‘No Regrets’

court_of_honor_and_grand_basinFlash! Friday is in its second year! This is my response to the seventh prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). We were also required to incorporate ‘Destiny’ as a theme.

* * *

‘No Regrets’ (158 words)

His sixtieth had arrived, but Charlie was alone, thinking of 1935, of Pearl. He withdrew the framed picture, hidden in a study drawer, and placed it on the mantel. Looking at it, he felt ill. Estranged daughters, three divorces, and a career spent manufacturing soap, yet this regret eclipsed them all.

The statue stood in all its monochromatic glory. Not an especially romantic spot, but it was where Charlie and Pearl had promised to meet following his tour of duty. His reasons for not showing were trivial at best.

Depleted, Charlie touched a hand to the photo. The image rippled at his touch and he flinched. What was this?

Drawing on reserves of courage, he offered a finger, then a hand, then his entire arm. The portal received him like a body of water.

* * *

This world was colourless. Beneath the statue, an incredulous Charlie surveyed his twenty-something body. Pearl was smiling and waiting for him across the way.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.6 Story – ‘Möbius Strip’

ImageFlash! Friday is in its second year! This is my response to the sixth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). We were also required to incorporate either a tiger or turtle into the story, literally or otherwise. To me, flash fiction is an opportunity to experiment, so this week I let my fantasy freak flag fly.

This piece received a positive mention from this week’s judge, Whitney Healy.

* * *

‘Möbius Strip’ (159 words)

Kurt knew of the legends. Valhalla was the home of the damned, a prison, a footbridge to nowhere. Spurred by heartache, the Goddess had created it. Its twisted design represented her pain, tightly coiled and circling back endlessly.

Approaching, Kurt saw lost souls loitering against handrails, resigned to fate. The portal he’d travelled through deposited him in Valhalla’s centre.

‘Goddess,’ he called. ‘Do you hear me?’

Seeing that the voice belonged to a mortal, the Goddess appeared, pet tiger in tow.

‘Why have you come?’

Kurt looked at the tiger and squared his shoulders. ‘I know of your pain – I’ve heard the legends.’

‘And what of it?’

‘I offer consolation, companionship. You need not go on this way, torturing souls to quell your heartache.’

The Goddess scratched behind the tiger’s ear.

In her toothed grin, Kurt saw he’d been wrong. Valhalla’s twisted design did not represent the Goddess’s pain. It represented her fury, tightly coiled and circling back endlessly.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.5 Story – ‘The Mission’

ImageFlash! Friday is in its second year! This is my response to the fifth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). We were also required to incorporate ‘Time Travel’ into the story, whether literally or otherwise. This week I played with form and voice.

* * *

‘The Mission’ (152 words)

Voice log activated. Time and distance travelled: eleven years, 62,000 miles. Strange. The jumps are getting smaller. Of late, my travel has become almost linear. Fewer extreme shifts; the realities I emerge in seem more and more alike.

Personal note: my vessel appears to match the era. I can visually trace this society’s advancement. Very queer. Perhaps too soon to say, but I sense a pattern emerging. The parameters of my travel don’t seem as random.

I’m passing beneath a tree now — or should that be through it? The trunk is hollow and serves as a tunnel. Oh, the universe and her comedy.

Driven forty-five miles now: can conclude that this period is one of peace. One would be lucky to settle here, to carve out a life and grow old with dignity.

Alas, the key to preventing the universe’s destruction is not here, and so, with haste, we must move on.