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LOST AND FOUND
My files are filled with short stories inspired by small experiences and observations. The slightest oddness can strike a spark that sends me rushing to the word processor (unless there's something good on TV at the time). Usually, I take that oddness and create a fantasy or horror tale. But when I sat down to write a story for this collection, something interesting happened. I intended to play by the rules and start with one small experience. But as I dug into the murky depths of my high school memories, lifting chunks of experience the way the police raise abandoned cars from a river, two long-lost incidents broke the surface. Between them lay a season of other memories.
So, excuse me for going overboard, but this story contains more personal experiences than anything I've ever written. Sadly, the opening incident is true. Amazingly, so is the final incident. At least, most of it. As for the portion in the middle, much of it is based on experience. But I didn't hesitate to change the things that needed to be changed. Fiction isn't about telling what happened. It's about telling what is true. Enjoy.
I committed my first act of self-destruction less than five minutes into third period. We were sitting in the bleachers while Mr. Cadutto spelled out the basic facts of gym class to us brand spanking new freshmen. After explaining how many points we got for taking a shower and how many points we lost for forgetting our gym clothes, Mr. Cadutto said, "Okay. We're gonna pick fourteam leaders. You'll help set things up, so you won't get to do no calisthenics."
Whoa. That caught my attention. Miss calisthenics. My heart leaped at the opportunity to avoid having my heart leap. I joined the hand wavers, though I noticed that none of my fellow overachievers from first period honors English had entered this particular lottery. I'd already figured out that honor was an odd word around here. From the varsity jackets of the crowds in the hallway to the huge trophy case that faced the main entrance, it was obvious that honor was paid more to the body than the mind at Kennedy High.
Mr. Cadutto scanned us like a rancher at a beef auction. "You can't be no leader unless you go out for at least two sports."
Half the hands dropped. Mine remained airborne. Despite an inherited lack of bulk or speed or power, I did have two sports in my extracurricular plans. One just for the heck of it, but the other because it had entered my dreams in the hazy days of childhood, and remained there ever since.
Mr. Cadutto pointed to Bruno Haskins, up at the top of the bleachers, "Football and wrestling, right, Haskins?" he growled.
Mr. Cadutto waved Bruno down. I sensed a rigged election. The gym teacher obviously already knew the star athletes in our class.
Bruno jogged to the bottom of the bleachers, making each row bounce under his weight. Mr. Cadutto selected Kyle Barrister next, and then Mookie Lahasca, two other champion jocks. Three down, one to go. He scanned us again, then frowned. I guess the jock gene pool had dried up too fast. He stared right at me. His brow creased with a puzzled expression.
"You," he barked, pointing one large sausage of a finger in my direction. He ran his eyes over my imposing seventy-eight-pound frame. "Wrestling?"
No way. There was zero appeal in the thought of having my body tied in knots like a rawhide dog chew. I shook my head.
"Track?" he asked, with a touch of disdain.
"So what's your two sports?"
I uttered three innocent words. "Fencing and tennis."
There was dead silence for about nine-millionths of a second. Then the dam burst. Laughter splashed over me like acid rain, spewing from the mouth of every classmate, followed by waves of comments.
"Wow, tough guy!"
"Freakin' retard ..."
"You forgot ballet."
Bruno cackled so hard he started choking. "Fencing," he sputtered between coughs.
"Coach said sports," Mookie shouted up at me, "not farts."
I knew exactly how the Wicked Witch of the West felt as she melted into a puddle of green ooze.
Mr. Cadutto, who should have been the adult in all of this, snorted like an ox that had just heard a really great joke. After he'd had a good chuckle, I guess he realized he should respond to my request. He regarded me with the sort of combined pity and loathing generally reserved for humans who've somehow managed to cover themselves with their own dung. He opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he opened it again. Finally, he shook his head and scanned the bleachers for other options.
My classmates continued to share their thoughts with me.
"Cool sports, Tarbell."
"Hey, if you add hopscotch, you can be a three-letter man."
"You scared to play a real sport?"
"Maybe he's afraid he'll break a nail."
"What a dork."
Apparently, there's a hierarchy of respect among sports. I should have known. I should have kept my mouth shut. I'm such an idiot.
After the fourth leader was selected, our new captains chose teams for volleyball. I was picked dead last. That had never happened in junior high. Even Hippo Schwartz got called before me. So did Billy Esterbridge, who by my estimate had failed in eight thousand consecutive attempts to serve the ball over the net. At least my humiliation had allowed others to climb briefly out of the muck engulfing the lowest of the low.
As the game started, I realized the full extent of my mistake.
"Fencing sucks," one of my teammates said as I walked past him.
"En garde," another said, jabbing me in the back with a finger.
Everyone who got within range took a poke. By the end of the period, I felt like an acupuncture practice dummy.
"Well, you're screwed," Danny Horvath said to me as we trudged into the locker room.
I could always count on Danny for moral support. That's what best friends are for. But he was right. For the next four years, or the rest of my lifewhichever came firstI'd be known as the fencing dork. After a quick showerfar be it from me to miss a chance to improve my gradeI got dressed and slunk off through the locker room door.
"Fencing?" The mocking squawk echoed in the corridor.
Oh, no. I knew that voice. I kept walking.
"Fencing?" Louder this time.
"Ouch!" I spun around as I felt a sharp poke in the back. Trent Muldoonhe of the single eyebrow and single-celled brainsneered at me.
"Yeah, fencing," I said. "It's a sport."
"For girls." Trent knocked my books from my hand, then sprinted down the hallway.
I thought about racing after him, leaping on his back, dragging him to the ground, and pounding him into a mass of quivering jelly. It might, just barely, have been possible. We were close to the same height. On the other hand, he was a wrestlerwhich meant he knew a lot more about fighting than I did.
Freshman survival rule #1: Never take someone on at his own game. But adrenaline can do wonders. Mothers have lifted cars off of trapped infants. Men have chewed their way out of steel cages. Teenage boys have eaten liver and onions. Well, maybe nothing that extreme. Still, with enough adrenaline behind my attack, I figured I could get in a punch or two. After which, he'd probably toss me on the ground and wrap me up in a wrestling hold so tight it would give me a firsthand chance to view my lower intestines from the inside. Besides, Trent had a lot of buddies. Large, stupid, mean buddies. I'd save revenge for another day.
I gathered my books.
"Scott, you sure about this fencing thing?" Danny asked as he came out of the locker room.
I'd thought I wasbefore learning the results of the fencing popularity poll. Now, I wasn't so sure. But the damage had already been done. If I didn't go out, I'd be more than just a wimpy dork. I'd be a wimpy dork quitter. "Yeah," I told Danny. "I'm gonna fence."
"The only ones who go out for fencing are kids who want a varsity letter and can't make any other team. Too weak to wrestle, too short for basketball, too dense for swimming ..."
"I don't care," I told him. Scenes flashed through my head; musketeers with flashing rapiers, Jedi Knights with light sabers, Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, John Steed and Emma Peelthank goodness for Avengers videosAntonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Despitethe opinion of the general population, fencing was way beyond cool. I just wished I wasn't the only one on the planet who felt that way.
"And it's a lot more than a sport," I added. "There's centuries of tradition. There's honor. There's spirit."
Danny yawned. "Yeah, sure. Whatever. Fencing is wonderful. Whoopee. I'm happy for you. Come on. Let's get out of here."
I followed him down the hall.
Life dragged on. Football season came and went. Finally, it was time for winter sports. After school, on the first day of sign-ups, I rushed to the gym.
I pushed my way through a thick, noisy mob clustered around Mr. Cadutto at the wrestling table. Other crowds buzzed around basketball and swimming sign-ups.
Across the gym, I spotted the fencing table. It was as uncrowded as a hot dog stand at a vegetarian convention. I walked over.
"Mr. Sinclair?" I asked, recognizing the physics teacher.
He nodded and smiled. "Yes. I'm the new fencing coach."
"What happened to Mr. Billings?" From what I'd heard, he'd always been the coach.
"He got married during the summer. His wife wants him to spend more time at home. So, like that, no fencing coach." Mr. Sinclair shrugged.
I realized a new coach wouldn't be bad, since he wouldn't have any favorites from last season. I picked up a pen and started filling out the sign-up form.
An older kid, a senior, I think, walked up. "Hey, Mr. Sinclair. I heard you were coaching us this year. Have you fenced much?"
"To tell the truth, I've never fenced," he said.
My hand stopped halfway through writing my last name.
"However, if I may boast, I'm quite a competent chess player." Mr. Sinclair grinned modestly. "If you can playchess, you can play any sport. Besides, nobody else wanted to coach. They were going to cancel the team. So I volunteered."
A couple more kids joined us at the table, including Billy Esterbridge from my gym class. I glanced over at the wrestlers. They looked like a magazine ad for a health club. So did the swimmers. Not the fencers. We looked like a poster for some unpleasant childhood disease that caused the body to either shrivel or bloat.
Much to my surprise, I saw Danny weaving his way through the crowd.
"Aren't you afraid of being seen with us dorks?" I asked.
Danny shrugged and picked up a pen. "Hey, you made it sound like too much fun to miss."
"Yeah. It'll do wonders for your status," I told him. "I've heard the junior and senior girls love fencers almost as much as they love the AV geeks."
"Hey," Billy said. "Cut it out. I like the audio-visual club. Without us, there'd be no intraschool dissemination of information."
"Relax," Danny said. "Scott was just kidding."
"Yeah, I was kidding." I actually admired Billy's ability to hook things up. I just didn't share his enthusiasm for the activity. I turned back to Mr. Sinclair. "When does practice start?"
Well, whether or not he had any experience as a coach, at least we'd have a team. And I'd get my chance to fence.
The rest of the week and through the weekend, I did all I could to help speed the passage of time toward Monday afternoon. Finally, on Monday, as the school day ended, I hurried to the locker room.
"Holy crap!" I stepped into my worst nightmaretimes ten. Every wrestler and basketball player in the school was there, shouting, laughing, snapping towels,torturing small animals. Okay, maybe they weren't all bad guys. There were some casual friends and nodding acquaintances scattered through the mob. But there were also some of the nastiest creatures this side of a Wes Craven film.
I slipped along the side wall and snuck over to my locker, hoping to avoid setting off the victim detectors. If I was quiet enough, the wrestlers would leave me alone.
"Time to fence!"
Billy, grinning like a game-show contestant who'd just won a lifetime supply of matching luggage, rushed over and waved something white up and down in one hand.
"Look, Scott, I got fencing pants. Cool, huh? My mom bought them for me. She's real happy. I'm the first one in our family to go out for a sport." He flapped the white pants in my face like a matador trying to goad a bull.
"Ssshhhh ..." I said. "This isn't the best time for show-and-tell."
Too late. A passing hand shot between us and snatched Billy's fencing pants. "Check this out," Trent said. "A fag costume."
Billy reached for the pants.
Trent danced backwards. "You know what? You don't need to wear these. You already look like a fag." He glanced around the locker room. I could see his weaselly little brain working out the best way to humiliate Billy. He settled for tossing the pants into the shower where they landed in the middle of the wet, soapy floor.
Billy ran off to retrieve his pants. By the time he returned, Danny had shown up, carrying a pair of sneakers and a sweatsuit. "I don't know about this," he said.
"I don't either." I sighed and tried to hold on to the image I'd started withme as a cool guy with mask and sword, fencing away while the clash of steel against steel rang through the air. It wasn't easy.
We left the locker room and headed for the girl's gym. Yupone more indignity. The basketball players got theboy's gym, the swimmers got the pool at the YMCA, the wrestlers got the exercise room, and we got stuck sharing the floor with the clog dancing club.
"Okay, team, line up," Mr. Sinclair called.
"Where are the swords?" Danny whispered as he took a spot to my left.
"Beats me." I looked around for equipment. Not a sword or mask in sight. If the Huns attacked right now, we'd be doomed.
"Hey, Mr. Sinclair! Mr. Sinclair!" Billy shouted, waving his hand.
"Yes?" Mr. Sinclair asked.
"What about our swords? When do we get our swords? Can we get them now? They're the electronic ones, right? When do we get them?"
"After we get in shape," he said. "First, we exercise the body. All together, now. Let's start with jumping jacks." He leaped and clapped. "One, two ..."
" ... ninety-nine, one hundred."
Oh, man. For the next hour, we exercised. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Throw-ups. Okay, just one of those. But at least it wasn't me rushing off to do a shallow dive into the garbage can.
"Great sport," Danny said as we collapsed on the floor after practice. "I feel so dashing. So honorable. Just kill me now, all right? I don't want to live to see how much my muscles are going to hurt tomorrow."
"I'd kill you if I could lift my hand," I told him. "Maybe next week." I was wiped out. Around me, a quivering assortment of fencers lay in various degrees of trauma.
Through lenses of sweat drops, I watched Mr. Sinclair leave the gym. A moment later, he came rushing back. "I almost forgotwe must jog. It builds stamina." He clapped his hands together. "Everyone up. Come on. Just two laps around the halls. Hurry. All together. Run like a team."
With grunts and groans, the dead rose. Somehow, wehuffed through the empty hallways, completing two circuits around the outer corridor. As we ran, Danny glared at me and muttered, "Yeah, definitely a great sport."
I didn't have enough air in me for a reply. The slap of my sneaker bottoms echoed from the floor to the walls, then took up residence in my head as a mocking chant: you fool, you fool, you fool ... I remember a Stephen King story where kids were forced to keep walking. The ones who stopped got shot. This was worse. We did pretty much the same workout on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And the rest of the first week. There was one advantage to the grueling training. By the middle of the second week, I noticed that gym class didn't seem all that rough. Compared to Mr. Sinclair's routine, Mr. Cadutto's warm-up calisthenics were a joke.
Danny was getting into shape, too. Even Billy and the rest of the team were actually starting to look less like cast members for a low-budget zombie movie. All we now needed was cold steel.
Finally, a week and a half before our first meet, we entered the girl's gym to a lovely sightstacks of equipment. There was a frenzied rush to the table while Mr. Sinclair pleaded for restraint. I knew what I wanted. I grabbed a saber, the only sword where you could score with the edge of the blade. Sure, the purest fencing was done with the foil, and the épée was challenging, but those swords just used the tip.
The saber I picked was pretty well beaten up. The hand guard was all scratched. That didn't matter. I was happy to have a sword of my own. I stepped away from the mob and sliced the air.
Danny took a saber, too. So did Mike Gottlieb, one of the older kids. "Good choice," he said. "I fenced saber last year."
"Line up," Mr. Sinclair called.
We formed a line, swords in hand. Finally, a chance to cross steel with a worthy opponent. I couldn't wait.
"Swords down," Mr. Sinclair called. "Time for calisthenics."
We put our swords down and exercised. But, halfway through the practice, we got our chance.
"Swords up," Mr. Sinclair called.
"At last," Billy said.
I picked up my saber, eager to cross steel with anyone who dared face me.
"Advance!" Mr. Sinclair called.
We stepped forward.
"Retreat!" he said.
We stepped back.
For the rest of the period, that's what we did. Step forward. Step back. Step forward. Step back. Again and again. Occasionally, for variety, we'd move two steps forward, then two steps back. It's less exciting than it sounds. Far less.
When I got home, I dug through the boxes in the garage until I found Dad's chrome polish. I shined up my sword, then fenced imaginary enemies up and down the hall until Mom yelled at me to stop all that thumping and shouting.
Mr. Sinclair did his best to teach us. He brought in some fencing books from the library. And he talked a coach over at the college into coming by a couple times. The guys who'd fenced last year helped us out, too. Even so, we were pretty bad.
I found out how bad at our opening match. It was an away game against Mercer High. Nine kids fence for a teamthree each at foil, saber, and épée. In a match, you get to fence three bouts, going against the guys on the other team with the same weapon as yours.
The meet was in their cafeteria. The tables and chairs had been pushed back to make room for the long mat we fenced on. Wires ran from the scoring machine to reels at each end of the mat.
My first bout, the moment I plugged the cord fromthe reel into my saber's handle and slipped on my mask, I forgot absolutely everything I'd learned.
"Fence!" the referee shouted.
Flick. My opponent extended his arm.
Snap. Something hit the side of my mask. Crap. It was the other guy's sword.
One to nothing.
I got smart. I raised my sword, blocking the cut. I blocked air. Tap. He'd switched to a thrust. I looked down at the point where it rested against my chest. Crap.
And so it went. Flick, snap, crap. Flick, tap, crap. I lost five, zip.
"Try moving a bit more," Mike said when I walked back to our bench.
My second bout went better. I lost five nothing again, but it took the other guy longer to win.
"It's okay to use your sword," Danny said.
My third bout, down two, nothing, I started to see the attacks coming. As my opponent made a cut toward my left side, I blocked and counterattackeda parry and riposte. I think I was as startled as he was when the light went on showing I'd scored.
He scored twice more. But at four to one, I made a fast lunge, catching him as he was coming in and scoring my second point.
I lost the bout. And we lost the match twenty-five to two. It almost didn't matter. I'd fenced. And I'd scored a couple points. That was good enough for now.
As we headed to the parking lot after the match, Inoticed that Mike was grinning like we'd won. "What's so funny?" I asked, following him to the back of the bus.
He opened his coat. A stack of sword blades clattered to the seat.
"Where'd those come from?" I asked.
"Where do you think?" Mike asked.
"You stole them?"
"Sure. It's traditional. The other teams try to steal from us, so we have to steal back. Don't blame me. It's their fault for not keeping an eye on their equipment table."
Ed Drake, the team captain, joined us and added a couple fencing gloves to the pile. Someone else pulled a mask out of his bag.
I couldn't believe it. This was so wrong. Fencing was supposed to be all about rules and honor. I wanted to say something, but I knew it wouldn't make a difference. I took a seat and kept my mouth shut.
We lost our next match, too. This time it was twenty-two to five. It was a home game. Not that it mattered. Nobody came to watch. I lost all three bouts again, but I scored points in each of them.
"Look on the bright side," Danny said as the other team left the gym.
"What's that?" I asked.
"You don't have to use that crappy old scratched-up saber any longer." He pulled a brand-new shiny hand guard from his bag. "Put your blade in this."
"Not you, too," I said.
Danny shrugged. "It all works out. We steal from them. They steal from us."
"Not me." I turned away from him.
"Come on. Lighten up." Danny chased after me. "You aren't angry, are you?"
"No." I was disappointed. But he wouldn't understand. I didn't think anybody understood.
Everyone laughed whenever they heard the fencingresults over morning announcements. The whole school knew I was on the teamthanks to my first day of gym class. I felt like the poster boy for chronic losers. It got even worse when they started reading the individual records.
"And Scott Tarbell now has eighteen losses for the season."
Angelica Carter, who sat to my right, glanced at me and said "They didn't tell us your wins. Shouldn't they mention them, too?"
I just shrugged and tried to look puzzled. After months of searching for a way to impress her, this didn't seem like my best opening.
Halfway through the season, our luck changed. All three of our foil fencers started winning most of their bouts. It wasn't enough to win any of the meets, but it made the team feel better. Then, on our next to last meet, we pulled ahead early. The three guys fencing foils were doing an excellent job. I lost my first bout but won the second. It was only my fifth win for the season. The épées were doing well, too.
But I noticed Ed and Mike exchanging that same grin I'd seen on the bus. Something was up. The other team's coach complained to the referee. They all came over and started to examine the foils.
I knew what they were looking for. When you score a point, it completes a circuit and lights a bulb on the scoring machine. I'd heard rumors of kids trying to rig their swords. I'd even heard a story about a kid who'd tried to short out his foil with a penny. They say it fell out of his hand during the match.
"Nobody'll find anything," Mike whispered to Ed.
"Bridge is a genius," Ed whispered back.
"Is there anything to find?" I asked.
Mike grinned and shrugged. I knew something was going on. But he was rightthe referee didn't find anythingin the sword. Just to be sure, he made our fencer switch swords. Our guy lost.
The match continued. The score was tied when I came up for the final bout. The moment the match started, I shot out a cut to the head, just to see how my opponent reacted. Much to my surprise, my saber whacked his mask with a satisfying smack. I had an easy point.
I tried it again. Bad move. He lunged under my strike and scored. I faked another head strike. As he lifted his blade to block, I brought my sword around and scored against his right side.
Two to one.
He scored again. Then I scored twice. Four to two. I was almost there.
I stood, ready. I had the advantage. I had the momentum. But we'd cheated. That must have been what Mike and Ed were talking about. I thought about who'd been winning. Ed at first foil, Walter at second foil, and Billy. Oh, manBilly Esterbridge. Ed had said, "Bridge is a genius." Billy was a hardware geek. If anyone could rig the swords, it was him.
My opponent attacked, jerking me out of my thoughts as his blade smacked my left shoulder.
Four to three.
He came in hard and fast this time. I parried, but I didn't return the attack. I knew I could score, winning the match and the meet. Just like that, I could be the hero. He attacked twice more with the point, and then with a cut. Another attack with the point. I noticed that he always twisted his wrist slightly just before lunging.
No matter how good you are, you can't block forever. On his next attack, his blade nicked my arm just beneath my guard.
We faced each other for the final point. I realized I had to make a quick decision. Which was worsewinning a match when my teammates had cheated or letting myself lose a match I was sure I could win?
He turned his wrist slightly. I knew what was coming. He lunged.
I parried the thrust and flicked my blade across the side of his mask.
The team went crazy.
Feeling nothing at all like a hero, I walked through a sea of congratulations and gathered up my stuff. Most of my stuff, that is. Someone had stolen my spare blade from my bag.
As we headed to the locker room, Danny said, "You almost looked like you didn't want to win."
I told him what happened.
"So why'd you score that last point?"
"If I let myself lose, that would be like cheating. Right? Besides, for all I knew, the other team was cheating, too. Maybe every team we ever faced cheated."
"Get over it," Danny said. "There's no honor in the world. This is just a high school sport. It's only cheating if they catch you."
There was no point arguing. I showered and got dressed. Billy came over while I waited for Danny.
"That was great match," he said. "Really great. I'm glad we finally won one."
"Yeah," I said. "Really great."
From behind me came a jeering mocking taunt. "Hey, it's the girls."
Oh, crap. Not now. Trent strutted up on his way out of the shower, a towel around his waist and a mocking leer on his face. "I'll bet you guys play with each others swords in the dark." He reached out, grabbing Billy's foil from the bench.
"That's mine," Billy said. "Give it back."
"I'll give it," Trent said. He poked Billy. "You like that? I'll bet you do."
Other wrestlers crowded around, laughing. "Stick him, Trent," someone shouted.
"Shish kebab time."
"Bend over, Billy."
"Cut a Z on him, man."
"No, make it a T for Trent."
I backed away.
Goaded by the laughs., Trent poked Billy again. Harder this time.
"Cut it out," Billy said.
Bad choice of words.
"Cut? Sure, if you want me to." Trent slashed the sword, leaving a long red mark across Billy's chest. He slashed a second time, downward, making a crude T. One small drop of blood oozed from the welt.
"Stop it, shithead!"
Trent snapped around to face me. I don't know which of us was more surprised by my shout.
"What was that?" he asked. "You defending your lover boy?"
Why did it always come to that? I didn't even like Billy. But I had to try to keep him from getting hurt any worse. "Heyit's not even fair. You have a sword. He doesn't."
"Yeah, he doesn't. But you do," Trent said. He poked me with the foil. I barely felt it through my winter jacket.
"Just stop it, okay?"
"No. I want to sword fight with you," Trent said. "Come on." He poked me again. I looked at him, standing there in nothing but a towel. I had a heavy jacket. And gloves. It was about as unfair as it could get. I glanced back over at Billy as he sniffled.
"Let's go," Trent said, giving me a third poke.
I reached down to the bench next to me and grabbed my fencing mask. "Okay," I said as I slipped the mask over my head, "let's fence." I pulled my saber from my bag.
Trent laughed as I got into position. To the untrained eye, the fencing stance probably looks wimpy. Actually, it looks pretty wimpy to the trained eye, too. But it works.
Trent let out a yell and slashed at me like some sortof malfunctioning Audioanimatronic from a Disney ride.
I parried his attack effortlessly. After a match where I'd faced three experienced fencers, this was a joke. He slashed again. This time, I followed my parry with a move of my own, flicking the blade across Trent's shoulder.
"Ouch," he yelped, taking a step backwards.
I pressed forward, easily blocking each of his clumsy slashes, and easily picking away at him. Even with the blunted tip and dulled blade, a saber can hurtespecially against bare flesh.
It wasn't fair. Not at all. I was heavily protected, and heavily skilled compared to my opponent. Trent had a sword he didn't know how to use and a towel. He had no more chance of beating me at fencing than I did of beating him at wrestling. It wasn't fair at all. It violated everything I'd ever believed about fair play and honor.
But it sure felt right.
With each thrust, I forced him farther back. The crowd of wrestlers moved with us, keeping clear of our blades, but following right behind as we passed the last row of lockers and reached the end of the corridor.
I halfway expected one of Trent's friends to clobber me from behind. But nobody interfered.
As Trent put his back against the locker room door, I charged, giving him a stinging assault on both arms. Then I thrust my point toward his face. I was only flaking, but Trent didn't know that.
He howled and stumbled backwardsright into the hall. I followed, leaping through the doorway. I had him moving now. Halfway down the hall, I did something I never could have done to a real fencer.
I disarmed him.
It was so slick. I caught the middle of his blade with my tip, spun my wrist, and sent his sword into the air. If only Angelica Carter had been there to see that move. Without a doubt, it was the coolest thing I'd ever done.
I even caught the falling sword in my left hand. As Istood holding both swords, a dozen movies flashed through my mind. All my heroes would do the same thing now. They'd bow and return the weapon, rearming their opponent. Then they'd smile and say, "Shall we continue?" That was the honorable thing. That was fair play.
"The hell with that," I said.
This wasn't a movie. This was high school. I lunged with both swords and buried the tips in the towel. With a yank, I pulled the towel from Trent and flicked it over my shoulder.
Weaponless and naked, Trent turned and ran, vanishing around the corner. I didn't follow.
I pivoted and found myself facing the rest of the wrestling team. Even with two swords, I felt badly unequipped.
Bruno Haskins smacked me on the shoulder. "Pretty cool," he said. "You're good with that sword, man."
"Did you see that jerk go running?" another wrestler said.
Bruno laughed and shook his head. "Trent is such an idiot." He walked off with his friends, who trailed their thoughts behind them.
"Freakin' moron ..."
" ... what a loser ..."
"You see him run?"
"Total jerk ..."
The distant sound of female screams told me Trent had been spotted. I found Billy and returned his sword, then grabbed my bag. "Wow. One for all and all for one," Billy said.
"Right." I didn't shatter his illusion that he'd participated. He needed his dreams, too.
"Those guys could have killed you," Danny said as we headed out.
"Yeah. I know."
He shrugged. "I guess they didn't really like Trent, either."
"Maybe there's some hope for them, after all." I took off my mask and looked at my sword. In the dented hand guard, my reflection was oddly contorted. But there was no hiding the smile. I wasn't Zorro. And I wasn't John Steed or Captain Blood. But I was a fencer. That was good enough for me.
We lost our last match. Badly. Mr. Sinclair insisted on inspecting all the swords himself. Whatever way Billy had rigged the electronics, Mr. Sinclair was a good enough physics teacher to figure it out. It didn't matter. Win or lose, I loved fencing. Even if marked me as a dork.
After all that, I wasn't even able to go out for tennis. Someone ratted on me, and I got handed thirty days' detention. I guess that was fair enough. I'd happily have given sixty days in exchange for that one moment. In a perfect world, my victory over Trent would have earned the guys on the fencing team at least a bit of respect. But the glamour didn't last. We went back to being the butt of jokes pretty quickly. On the other hand, nobody ever touched our swords again.
Copyright © 2000 by M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weirs