One of my older pieces, ‘Bloodsport’, has found a home in ReadFin. ReadFin 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.
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.
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.