Kassandra appears

Suddenly, Butch saw Annie talking to Kassandra. They were standing next to the tables and benches rolled up against the wall. He hadn’t seen her walk in, it was as if she had emerged from behind the dusty grime of the tables, like a forest nymph walking into a field from the woods.

It was the first time Butch had seen her since the demonstration.

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Butch responds to Double-J

“What’s there to be embarassed about?” asked Butch, inquisitively rather than defensively. “I have no control over what you think about me, and anyway, I get the feeling you’re a little too — let’s just say, strong-willed — for me to change your mind. Is that fair?”

“I make no apology for being resolute when I’m right,” said Double-J.

“That’s how I feel too. If I’m being honest, truthful, I don’t see any reason to be embarassed.”

Double-J laughed. “OK, let’s get one thing straight — we’re not the same, never will be. But your sincere, I’ll give you that. And I can appreciate sincerity, there’s not enough of that in this world. I believe,” he said, placing his foil in his left hand and extending his right to Butch, “we have a found a basis for the two of us to finally appreciate each other.”

Butch smiled, extended his right hand and clasped Double-J’s. “You are an — odd man, Double-J. But an honest one.”

Aftermath of Miles’ Departure

The metal door swung slowly back into its place and closed with its metallic bang, the vertical lever moving slightly down, then back up as the latch settled into the ceiling.

The team turned silently to Coach Dan like actors following a stage direction. He was visibly uncomfortable, as if suddenly hit with stage fright. A moment later, he cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “None of you should have been subjected to that.”

“Is he going to be all right?” asked Butch, again surprised to hear himself speaking.

Coach Dan shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure he’s heading home tonight, and I know he’ll be returning to State next week when their break ends. He’s OK. But now,” he said, stepping forward, “we need to continue practice. Rex, get everyone lined up.”

Miles’ Parting Shot

“You’re all a bunch of fools, losers,” growled Miles. “You’ll have your fun, messing around in practice, going to tournaments. You’ll win some bouts, some of you may even get a few medals. But it’s not going to do you any good, won’t get you anywhere.

“Because this town — it’s like a disease, growing up here infects your mind,” he said, a hint of a cry in his voice. “It fills you with all kinds of promise, but only if you stay here, only if you confine your dreams to these boundaries. When you get beyond these borders, you’ll realize how ill-prepared you are, realize that the only thing you know how to do is function in this town.

“You’re cursed, living in a town whose greatest times were a century ago, as faded as the inscriptions on the granite tombstones. Our greatest tourist attraction is our graveyards! You live in a tomb, and as soon as you escape, you die.

He turned to Annie. “Your family — they’re the only smart ones in this town. They know the bypass is going to kill this town, but what they see that nobody else can is that this town is doomed. Doomed! The bypass will be the finishing blow, a mercy shot. Your family’s going to make a mint off the bypass, they’ll pack up and leave, and the town will finally be put out of its misery. Your father’s going to win the election in the spring — who’s going to stop him? — and then the deed will be done.

“So go ahead with your stupid fencing team,” Miles said, snarling at Coach Dan. “You’re only doing this to make up for your lost athletic career, you know. You might not admit it to yourself, but we all see through your disingenuous charity.”

Miles’ Departure

“All right,” panted Miles. “You win.”

“No, Miles,” replied Coach Dan, also dropping his foil onto the cafeteria floor. “No winner, no loser. Not this time.”

Miles shook his head in disgust. As he turned to leave, he was met by Rex. “Take it easy — ”

“Don’t you all understand?” said Miles, turning quickly to each team member, visibly not turning towards Coach Dan. “You’re just fooling yourselves, just like I was. This isn’t life, isn’t how the world works. Not even this little lesson that Coach has so neatly arranged. This, all of this,” he yelled, spreading his arms wide, expanding his chest to increase the span of his arms, “it’s all a joke. Best to get yourselves ready, while there’s still time.”

“How?” asked Butch, not realizing he was speaking aloud.

Miles shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, and walked out the cafeteria door.

End of the Duel

Miles tilted his head down and towards Coach Dan again, eyes glaring past the tip of the foil that was pointed directly at his opponent.

“Fight — back,” Miles said, emphasizing each word tersely. Coach Dan offered no reply.

Uttering a noise that sounded like a combination of grunt and battle cry, Miles lunged again. Coach Dan parried. Miles attacked again. And again. And again. Miles was evidently exerting far more energy than he had before, while Coach Dan remained cooly passive, parrying each thrust with assurance.

Miles stepped back, clearly exhausted. He threw his foil down onto the cafeteria floor, making a sound that foils were not supposed to make. He yelled, swore, and glared at Coach Dan.

“This is wrong!” Miles screamed. “The only reason I took up this dumb sport was that there was always a winner or loser. It’s simple, it’s pure. All the other sports, there’s all kinds of stupid rules — football, basketball — baseball’s the worst. But when you fence, it’s straightforward. You either hit, or get hit.

“Oh no, but you,” he said, pointing to Coach Dan — “you’ve got to make a lesson out of this, like you do with everything else. There always has to be a moral, doesn’t there. Always has to be some unwritten rule you have to follow. And when someone comes along and breaks the rules, you have to set them straight. You’re just another member of the morality police, aren’t you?”

Coach Dan, who had lowered his foil, said nothing.

The Duel Begins

Coach Dan crouched down into en garde position. Laughing under his breath, Miles approached swiftly, Coach Dan remaining still.

Miles lunged suddenly to the left side of Coach Dan, who swiftly parried the attack. Miles quickly brought his arm back in anticipation of a riposte — which did not come, Coach Dan merely returning to en garde position.

Miles lunged again, this time swinging his foil under Coach Dan’s arm, the attack now coming to his opponent’s right. Again a parry, no riposte.

Miles smiled, nodded to Coach Dan, whose face remained passive. Miles lunged again to the left, and when his attack was parried lunged again with a disengage to the right, also parried, followed by another lunge, another parry.

The team watched in silence for several minutes, foils clanging as Miles continued to lunge at his former coach, only to be parried each time, Coach Dan showing no interest in initiating his own attack.

Miles stepped back, beginning to breathe hard. Sweat bubbled on Coach Dan’s forehead, yet his expression remained passive.

“Come on, old man,” panted Miles. Coach Dan did not respond. Miles lunged again.

Coach Dan’s Response to Miles’ Challenge

“Or perhaps you’re hesitating because you don’t want to fight one of your former . . . pupils,” said Miles, drawing out the last word. “Accepting my challenge would violate the image you’re trying to convey. Yes, good ol’, avuncular Coach Dan.”

“Rex,” snapped Coach Dan. “Foil, please.” Miles smiled, and stood upright.

Startled at first, Rex walked quickly to the sack of foils, asked Coach Dan which one. “Any,” was the curt response.

Miles swept his arm across the cafeteria. “Where shall we line up?”

“Right here is good,” said Coach Dan, taking the foil that Rex had found for him, and squatting down into en garde position.

“Mask? Tunic?” said Miles, chuckling.

“Not needed,” said Coach Dan. The team looked at each other in confusion, and even Miles seemed surprised. Coach Dan was clearly violating safety rules he had ingrained in them over the years.

Miles’ Challenge

“Enough?” said Miles, turning to Coach Dan and smiling. “Oh no, I don’t think it’s hardly been enough at all.”

He crouched down into en garde position, and extended his foil at Coach Dan. “Let’s have a contest,” Miles said, “you and I. If I win, I stay. You win, I leave.” The tip of his foil hung in the air between them.

Coach Dan remained still, his face expressionless.

“This means he’s thinking, my friends,” Miles said, a cruel smile seeping onto his face. “He’s calculating the odds, weighing my months of inactivity against his years of inactivity. And then there’s the injury — the left knee, correct? Makes it hard to push off against the back leg, to lunge, no?”

Coach Dan’s eyes began betraying his concern.

“Oh, we have sparred in the past, but only in practice, never keeping a score, never competing against each other.” Miles tilted his head down, towards Coach Dan, his eyes now level with the Coach’s chest, glaring at him from behind arched eyebrows.

Double-J on the Christmas Miracle

“Only thing that’s miraculous about Christmas is the fact that it’s been around so long in its current format. Anyone who’s got any brains knows that the holiday started without any influence from the sky-god religions, it all started as a pagan holiday in the Roman Empire, and by the time the Christians took over Rome it was too popular to abolish, so they changed the holiday to be about Jesus’ birth. And you know why that works? Because everyone identifies with the myth of humble origins. We think that no matter who we are, if we just stay innocent, like a baby in a manger, then good things will come to us like three wise kings bringing frankincense and myrrh. If we just follow the rules, don’t rock the boat, then a miracle will come to us.”