“This is supposed to be fun?” asked my young student from the concrete floor in the basement under the club. She rubbed at the back of her head and neck.
“It was fun for me. You made a perfectly adequate first attempt at a Van Damme jumping spin kick. Anyone ever tell you it takes a lot longer to do one of those than to punch, and most of the time a proper punch will do more damage? That’s if you know what you’re doing, too.” I leaned back against the work table that held my armor and gave her a golf clap.
Leah stood up in what she called her “gym clothes.” She’d bought some for the montage-worthy workout she felt sure she’d get.
“That kind of stuff works in the movies,” she said, a little more quietly than when she was less removed from the pain.
“Okay, take everything you know about fighting from movies and television, now imagine that it was all wrapped up into one person. Say a Caucasian man, 5’10”, born in 1940, kinda light brown, almost reddish hair, with a beard, wearing cowboy boots, maybe performing the occasional roundhouse kick.”
“You sound like you have someone specific in mind,” mumbled Leah.
“That’s not important right now. What’s important is that you take this personification of all the popular beliefs about fighting and smack it in the face with a cow fetus until it dies. The personification, I mean. I don’t care if the cow fetus lives or dies.”
“Do you go out of your way to say weird things?”
“Of course not. I’m just an ardent supporter of the right to bear cow fetuses in battle. In fact, the Hindus would say that’s a holy weapon. You’re no more evil while wielding that than the mightiest and bravest of Hindu paladins.”
“This is just one big joke to you.”
I stepped away from the worktable again and stood in front of her. “It’s all a big joke. Now, let’s work on your punchline.”
Now confirming that she was completely untrained except for the habits ingrained into any movie-going audience, I spent a few hours going over some basics with her in a way that turned into many hands-on demonstrations. My goal wasn’t to teach her how to be a martial arts master, or even to go into any style. Nope, this was a crash course. Punching, choke holds, basic locks, elbowing, and kneeing. A proper punch shouldn’t just use your arms, unless you have enhanced strength. Even then, you get more out of it by using the rest of your body. You know, put some turn into that love tap. Know when to have more snap in your punch or more power. I taught her to avoid punching someone in the head or risk getting a broken or bitten fist. I meant to show her the juiciest spots to attack on a human body, but we didn’t get around to it that day.
Chokes were meant to help her take down stronger opponents and render them unconscious. Locks were to help her control fights and her opponents. I got her striking with knees and elbows as well. These alternative strikes would give her something besides just punching to use against her opponents, and they hit pretty well too. It wasn’t meant to be the most comprehensive stuff out there. Just things to get her semi-competent because, as I told her, “Most other people you’ll fight don’t have any damn idea what they’re doing either, and that goes double for people who think they don’t need to know how to fight because they can fart explosive rainbows at you.”
Over the course of the entire mess, I kept getting shorter with her. I knew, you know, that she couldn’t be expected to get it all. I couldn’t make her figure it out quicker by holding a gun to her head. Never thought I’d be trying to train someone myself, and the comparisons to my own training kept coming to mind. I think she could tell right about the time I drove my knee a little harder into her gut than she’d have liked. I’d been trying to take it easy on her, but she needed half a minute to get some air back in her lungs.
When it was her chance to demonstrate what she learned, I started out grabbing for her hair. She grabbed my wrist, twisted it in a lock, and held me away from her, forcing me to bend over somewhat. Then she jumped and drove her knee into my face with a cracking noise coming from the bridge of my nose. For just a moment as I stood up, I couldn’t recognize the girl in front of me and clenched my fist in preparation of breaking her face.
Then I remembered that was Leah jumping around all excitedly, at least until she saw my face and went back to standing around with her arms close to her sides. Me, I just pushed around my sore fucked-up nose and grabbed a syringe. I hocked a blood loogie on the ground as nanites went to work repairing my sniffer and otherwise fitting my body to the current phenotype.
“That’s a lot of blood,” she said, then shut her mouth quickly. She had to open it as she worked to calm her breathing, but she looked almost apologetic for making noise. I busied myself with wiping the blood out of my face and fighting down the instinctive desire to pop her open and take just as much out of her.
“The head holds a lot of blood. Don’t have to do a lot to it to get some blood, especially if you’ve got a blade on you. Looks good without necessarily hurting you. The human body is basically life support for the brain and a way to make babies. All kinds of ways to exploit that that we’ll go over after lunch, along with a lesson on unusual weapon use. Now, what are you feeling? Meatloaf maybe? I’m more in the mood for some veal myself, but I’d settle for a burger.”
“Ugh, no. Do you have any chicken here?”
“Ooh, chicken’s da bomb!”
Sadly, this did not turn into a lecture on my fowl explosive ordinance. It turned into me, Leah, Moai, Carl, and Holly all crowding the kitchen fixing ourselves a bunch of food.
I leaned over Holly to see what she was doing while waiting on my frying, popping chunks of ground up bovine to turn an edible shade of brownish-grey. “Salads, Holly? With tofu? I don’t think I’ve ever seen poisons affect Max, but I’m sure there’s got to be a limit.”
She scrunched up her nose and stuck her tongue out at me. “Some people believe in eating healthy, you know.”
“Yes, I do know, but I don’t know any firefighters more concerned over having a salad when the next time they’re called out they may end up fricasseed.”
“Sam and I care if he takes care of himself at least.”
“Sure, sure, I understand that. How much crack does he smoke these days?”
Holly poked me in the shoulder with a fork and walked into the main floor carrying some bowls of salad.
“Some people think it’s immoral to eat animals, you know?” Leah suggested.
“Boss doesn’t care a whole bunch of it’s moral,” Carl said from where he was building himself a sandwich.
“Besides,” I said, “plants can communicate via sound and smell to provide information to each other. Lack of a face is a horrible basis for discrimination. Somebody’s got to think of the helpless little plants.”
I pulled my burger out, slapped some cheese on it, set it on a bun, and squirted out some ketchup.
Leah borrowed the ketchup for her chicken sandwich. “Buns and ketchup are made from plants.”
“Yeah, somebody’s got to care for the plants, just not me. Sister Moonflower maybe.”
“What’s that about Sister Moonflower?” asked Max from the next room.
“Nothing! Just some reverse hippie talk. Go back to using salad dressing that turns plants into meat!” I yelled to him.
“Max! That’s cheating!” I heard Holly yell at him.
“How did you know that?” asked Leah.
“I knew nothing. Luckily, a basic understanding of the world’s inherent madness is oftentimes just as good as any guess.”
“Why do you know big words all of a sudden?”
“That, little Leah, shall remain a spooky, spooky mystery. OoooOOooOOooh! You head on out there. I gotta discuss something with Carl.”
She left me in the kitchen there with Moai and Carl, who were building a magnificently phallic sub sandwich full of meat and thick white mayo. I yoinked a piece of Genoa salami out of it and nommed it.
“You coulda asked, boss,” said Carl.
“I got other things to ask for instead when you’re done eating.” That’s when I gave him a list of materials to go pick up. I’d had a flash of inspiration. I think the blood helps those along, actually.
By the time we’d finished going over everything, I had finished masticating. That’s right, I’m not afraid to eat my meat in front of other guys. Anyway, I headed out to the rest of the party. Leah had been relaxing but sat up and watched my face.
“Ah, here he is now,” said Max, “What’s the next round of abuse for your young padawan?”
“I figure it’d be healthier for everyone involved if we take the night off to go enjoy ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean you guys, too. Field trip time! What do you guys feel like? Movie? Theater? Random sightseeing?”
Holly spoke up first. “Oooh, I heard the Statue of Liberty is much more accessible now. We could go see that.”
“Maybe we can check out Waiting for Godot on Broadway?” suggested Sam.
Max and I shared a glance before pointing at one another and speaking at the same time, “Wicked!”
“Figures they’d decide it all for us.” Sam stretched her arms up past her purple hair. Max rolled his eyes.
“If it’s that big a deal, we can all go to different shows. Hell, we can all meet up afterward and rob one of them.”
“Um, am I coming?”
Everyone looked over at Leah.
“That was the plan, but do you want to?” I said and crouched down to balance on the balls of my feet. I was a lot more level with her then. Maybe a little lower.
“I’d like to visit a friend of mine. Um. They might be watching my mom’s place maybe so I thought I could stop by and see my friend Nicky instead?” She phrased it like a question.
“I’m ok with it. How about you guys?” I turned toward Sam, Max, and Holly. I got a chorus of agreement accompanied by nodding.
“Alright, a trip by to go visit Leah’s buddy, then we go find some hot thespian action.”
After a very awkward shower in which I joined Leah and scrubbed down while she shrank in a corner, we all got dressed for a night on the town, save for me leaving the armor behind, and packed into my car. First stop, Leah’s friend’s house. It was a small place in a decent neighborhood far removed from where the gangs usually stalk.
Also, when I got bored waiting for Leah out in the car, I got to crawl inside a high school girl’s window. That was fun. Granted, neither Leah or Nicky were expecting me when I finally poked my head in the window. I got hit over the head with a lamp for my trouble. Then someone, probably Leah, got me in a headlock. I pushed myself in, knocking her on the bed and flipping over onto my back in the process. Nicky attempted to bash my head in with an orange and yellow pony plushie before Leah stopped her.
“Wait, he’s a friend!”
“Do it,” I spat at her, “Slay me with your plushie, if you got the balls. Give in to the blood lust.”
“He’s a friend?” Nicky asked, hesitating and looking to Leah for confirmation. She was no true plushie warrior. By now, Conan would have sliced me eight different ways with nothing but a stein of mead in his belly and a Beanie Baby in his hands. Quite possibly while making a crack about killing me with his bear hands.
“Yes,” Leah assured her. Then she turned, scared, at the sound of a female voice asking from afar if Nicky was alright.
“Shit, my mom. You two have to hide.”
“I call dibs on under the bed.” I said.
Leah shook her head. “You’ll never fit, but I will.”
“Right…Nicky, nice to meet you, but it’s high time I toss this comforter off your bed and put it to some good use.”
“Then first thing’s first,” said Leah in a rush. She shoved the pony plushie into my mouth to shut me up as Nicky’s mom approached.
Just like that, when Nicky’s mom poked her head in the door, she found Nicky having piled her comforter, sheets, pillow, with pony plushie at the top of the pile on the floor at the foot of her bed. There was no sign of Leah or me anywhere. The broken lamp threatened to sodomize me where I hid under the bed stuff.
“Everything alright in here? I thought I heard voices.” Don’t we all, random woman I don’t know? Don’t we all? Wait, who asked that?
“No, just talking to a friend on the phone while I get ready to wash my sheets.”
There was some hesitation as the mother considered that informative sentence through the lens of a parent. “Oh, alright. That’s proactive, dear. I’ll let you get back to it then.”
When she was gone, Nicky muttered to herself. “I got no problem with you here, Leah, but I don’t know why I’m putting up with your guy friend. I don’t know how we pulled that off.”
I spat out the rump of the pony plushie, with its three apples, and suggested, “Because friendship is magic?”
Nicky sighed. “I think you two should go now.”