Return of Myles 3A

Myles raised his foil in salute, grinning eagerly at Coach Dan. He completed the salute, then suddenly brightened in surprise. “A referee!” Myles turned to the members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team. “Which one of you cares to direct our bout?”

Rex raised his hand, his tall thin body looking like a flagpole planted in the middle of the cafeteria floor. Coach Dan lifted his mask from the bib, exposing his face, uttered a quick thanks before swiping a salute in the tall teen’s direction. He then shoved the mask down, his face disappearing behind its gray metal, and turned to face Myles, also masked and ready.

Rex got into position outside the center of the makeshift strip. Butch waddled up behind him. “So this is the first bout between you two?”

Myles turned to Butch quickly. “You must be new here.”

“Yes!” Butch’s voice was filled with excited curiosity. “It’s only my third practice!”

Myles turned his gray metal face back towards Coach Dan. “Well, if you stick around long enough, you’ll find out that coach here doesn’t actually like to fence. He’s a teacher, not a fencer. Which makes sense, if you think about it. What’s that they say — those who can, can — ”

“Rex, start this bout before I change my mind.” Coach Dan’s interruption was spoken with the roughness of a curse.

Return of Myles 2Z

“No jacket?” The tip of his foil pointed at Coach Dan, Myles tilted his head down, eyes staring out from behind a veil of eyebrows, and uttered a loud tsk-tsk. “Not being very safety conscious, are we? Not exactly your style.”

Coach Dan raised his foil, offered a perfunctory salute, quickly closed his mask over his head. Myles remained staring, his mask still at his feet. “No, not like you at all, coach. You seem threatened, like you need to prove something. Not your style at all. You usually try to be much more — avuncular, I think’s the word.”

Coach Dan crouched down into en garde position. The Bark Bay High School fencing team had seen him demonstrate this position before, but none of them had seen him display such coiled energy, such aggression. He was no longer interested in instruction. Coach Dan was now in position to compete, to fence against his former student.

Return of Myles 2Y

Myles smiled appreciatively, as Double-J called to Butch, who was closest to long canvas sack that contained the Bark Bay High School fencing team’s foils. “Give coach a foil.”

Butch bent over the sack, then stood upright, turning towards Coach Dan. “Which one?”

“Any one.” Coach Dan maintained his cold stare at Myles. “It doesn’t matter, just give me a foil.” Blades klacked as Butch searched, then came the sound of one rustling against the canvas as Butch retrieved it. Coach Dan turned, smiled at Butch as he accepted the foil.

“You’ll need this.” Annie stepped in front of Coach Dan, mask in hand. Behind her was Butch, carrying the thick black coaching jacket, worn and brown at the chest from hundreds of practice touches. Coach Dan took the mask from Annie, then pointed with his foil at the jacket. “I won’t need that.”

Annie and Bernie looked back silenly at their coach, their eyes widening. There were times he would conduct drills without his jacket, even times he would let himself be touched. But those were isolated incidents, occurring for the sake of convenience only, to complete an instruction (keep your arm out, turn the wrist, now extend — good — and lunge without interruption. But this challenge from Myles was not one of those times.

Coach Dan smiled quickly. “It’s OK.” He turned towards Myles, with a determination that made unnecessary any request for Annie and Bernie to clear the space between the coach and his former student.

Return of Myles 2X

“Tell me, coach.” Myles was crouched down into en garde position again, fencing mask removed but foil aimed in Coach Dan’s direction. “How goes your ongoing request for electronics?”

“Look around, Myles.” Coach Dan waved his right arm in front of him. “You don’t see any machines, any reels, lames even.”

Myles uttered a contemptuous short laugh. “You know, there was a time last year I actually thought old Stu Higgins would open up his budget for you.”

Coach Dan’s right hand transformed into a traffic cop’s, flat palm commanding Myles to stop. “We get by, Myles. Like we always have.”

“Of course, of course! Still, it must be difficult to face yet another year of being ignored, not having the equipment you need. Especially difficult because, back when I was on the team, we nearly came into our own? Stories in the paper, nearly two dozen team members, hosting our own tournament. But that’s all gone now, isn’t it? And you do know why, yes?”

For the first time that anyone on the Bark Bay High School fencing team could remember, their coach looked flusterated. “This isn’t — “

“The problem, coach, is that you keep thinking of fencing as a team sport. You want the team to be successful, you’re always looking out for your team. But the reality is that all people care about is individuals, personalities. Back when I was around to be your golden boy, we had all the attention we needed. But now — ” he came out of his crouch, looked around quickly at the half-dozen team members — “sorry folks, but you really do look a bit sorry — “

Give me a foil.” Coach Dan had thrust his right arm towards the team’s equipment bag, without taking his gaze off from Myles.

Return of Myles 2W

Coach Dan voice was soft yet direct, a voice his team would hear during an unfocused practice session, a voice that said he was no longer asking for their cooperation, he was now telling them what they must do next. “Coaches shouldn’t compete against their team, Myles. I’ve seen it happen, seen how it disrupts, ruins the relationship.” He smiled, the edge in his tone disappearing. “Anyway, I’m not in high school anymore — ”

And neither am I!” Myles remained in en garde position, his smile venomous. “I’ve graduated, coach. Whoops, that’s right — you’re not my coach, no more. You’re just — ” Myles lowered his foil, straightened his knees, stared up thoughtfully as he came out of en garde. “Ah, yes.” He aimed his poisonous stare at Coach Dan. “You’re a middle-aged schoolteacher, from the big city of Chicago, who’s starting to feel uncomfortable in this sleepy little town of Bark Bay.”

Myles!

Myles’ face dropped into a scowl as he thrust his left arm in the direction of Annie. “Oh, I see it all the time, young professionals coming here. Doctors, lawyers, teachers — they get tired of city life. The stress, the congestion, the crime. They come here hoping to get away from it all, and at first it’s everything they were looking for. Quiet. Peaceful. Safe.”

Myles turned from Coach Dan, scanned the room and made eye contact with each current member of the Bark Bay High School fencing team as he spoke. “For some the romance ends the first time they order Chinese food.” A nervous laugh rippled through the cafeteria. “Others adjust, but after five years, maybe ten, they start getting — ” he turned back to Coach Dan — “restless.”

Return of Myles 2V

Rex emerged from behind Coach Dan. He had been silent, his tall thin body seeming to disappear during the game of Castle, but as he spoke his presence filled the empty cafeteria. “Come on, Myles. You’ve beaten everyone here, there’s nothing left for you to prove.”

With eyes closed, Myles shifted his head left, then right. Not quick, not wide, but with just enough movement to signify that he did not agree. He opened his eyes, darted his eyes to his right — finding Coach Dan (talking with Annie) with his gaze, he turned. “There’s one person I haven’t faced yet.”

“And when — ” Coach Dan stopped in mid-sentence. Blinked. Frowned, then after shifting to an accepting smile, turned towards Myles. “I don’t think — ”

“You were regional champion in foil for, what, northern Illinois?” Grinning, Myles walked in Coach Dan’s direction. “And had entered a few tournaments in college before your — ” his face dropped in comic hyperbolic sorrow — “poor, unfortunate accident.”

“Myles — ” Annie was stopped from speaking further by a quick hand signal from Coach Dan, now staring intently back at Myles.

The freshman student at State and former captain of Bark Bay High School’s fencing team turned slightly, placing his right foot forward, left foot perpendicular. Bent his knees, and extended his right arm forward, holding a foil that he now aimed towards Coach Dan’s head. “But that was — twenty years ago? I’ve seen you leading drills, coach, I know you must be healed. So why — why is it that you don’t compete?”

Return of Myles 2U

[Author’s Note: I’ve decided on a different spelling for this character. I’ll keep the category title the same.]

“Done.” Myles grabbed the bib of his fencing mask, pulled forward and up to reveal his face, which looked less tired than it had when the game had started mere moments before. He waved a salute at Butch without looking at him. “Another game, anyone? Or a one-on-one bout?” Myles pointed his foil at Rex, raised his eyebrows.

Coach Dan stepped towards the young man who had come within three touches of winning last year’s State fencing tournament. “Think we’re about done for today, sorry.”

Myles turned to his former coach, looking perplexed and annoyed. He then glanced up at the large clock in the Bark Bay High School cafeteria. The thin red second hand ticked loudly as it moved from 3 to the next hash. “It’s 4:30, coach. Don’t you still have the cafeteria until 5?”

Coach Dan closed his eyes, nodded with a smile. He turned at the sound of Butch’s voice. “Coach, didn’t we stay until 5 the last two weeks?” Coach Dan held out his right hand, like a traffic cop commanding a vehicle to stop. “Yes, we usually stay until 5.” He turned to Myles, locking his gaze onto the young man’s eyes before continuing. “But today, I think we need to end now.”

Kassie said they needed to stay, that they should let happen what needed to happen. Myles pointed his foil in her direction. “What she said, I guess.”

Return of Miles 2T

“OK then!” Miles followed his mocking cry by extending his arms wide and down, opening his torso invitingly towards Butch. “Let’s finish this round.” Seeing Butch pause, Miles continued. “Tell you what — I’ll give you an advantage.” He looked down. “I won’t move my feet — if I do, you win. I also promise not to parry any of your attacks.” Miles twirled the grip of his foil in his right hand, the tip circling in the direction of Butch’s mask. “All you have to do is keep your eye on my blade.”

Annie had walked next to Bernie. He nudged her, whispered. “Butch doesn’t have a chance, does he?” Annie shook her head, her lips drawn taught.

Butch took a slow step towards Miles, who waved him forward with his left hand. “That’s it, come closer.” Another step — “closer — ” — the tip of his foil continued its teasing circle.

Bernie barely heard Annie’s terse whisper. “Never do what your opponent wants you to do.”

Another step forward from Butch, and Miles launched his attack. Instead of bringing the tip of his foil forward, as Butch had expected, Miles swung his right arm and the weapon it held up, and back, the tip now pointing behind him, and before Butch knew what was happening Miles completed his action, bringing his arm behind his head, the hand flashing forward from behind his left ear.

Annie nodded. When Miles had scored against her in the same fasion earlier that afternoon, she was too surprised and frustrated to appreciate the skill he had displayed. But this time, having anticipated his move, Annie couldn’t help but admire Miles, how his arm now seem coiled like a scorpion’s tail, as the red tip of his blade stung Butch on the shoulder.

Return of Miles 2S

Bernie groaned his frustration as he left the game area, leaving Butch alone to face Miles. Sheepish eyes widened behind the gray metal of Butch’s fencing mask. Making eye contact with Coach Dan, the son of Rev. Nathaniel Goodman of the First Baptist Church of Bark Bay asked what he should do next.

Coach Dan smiled. “Now would be a good time to start fencing.”

“Or not.” Coach Dan and his students, the members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, turned to see Miles pulling his fencing mask up and off his head. The face of last year’s fencing team captain and current freshman at State looked tired, covered in sweat, but satisfied. “There’s no real point to continuing.” He raised his foil to salute Butch.

“Not so fast.” The command came from Annie, who rushed to the area between Miles and Butch, her pony-tail bouncing behind her head. She turned to Miles. “Finish the game.”

Miles smiled, but his tsk was filled with annoyance and displeasure. “What’s the point, little girl?” He darted his eyes behind her, at Butch. “He doesn’t look like he wants any part of me.”

Her pony-tail nearly hit Miles as she turned to face Butch. “The point is that you, all of us, are going to face a lot of opponents this year who will be far better than us, some almost as good as Miles used to be.” Miles voice whispered curtly in protest, Used to be?, but Annie continued. “Butch, finish the game. Get a touch, or not — but finish.” Off the corner of her vision she saw Coach Dan, standing behind Butch, and raising his right thumb with a slow nod of appreciation.

Return of Miles 2R

The game resumed, Butch and Bernie positioning themselves several feet from each other, on either side of their opponent. Miles made a few probing attacks, quickly retreating when seeing his exposed flank being threatened. “You’re working together,” he said with evident sincerity. “That’s good.”

Coach Dan agreed. “That’s how you win in Castle, not by thinking of winning glory for yourself, but about how you can help your team.”

Miles advanced on Butch, retreated when he saw Bernie close in from the side, called to Coach Dan. “Is that why I was never much good at Castle?” Butch advanced, immediately retreated even before Miles reacted. The older teen’s voice heaved with exertion. “Think I can — count the number of times — I won — on one hand.”

Coach Dan laughed. “You always seemed to have the weaker team, Miles, even when I let you do the choosing.”

Bernie advanced, lunged, the thin metal of his foil singing as it kissed Miles’ blade. Instead of riposting, Miles retreated, followed by both Bernie and Butch, closing in on their opponent from opposite ends. Miles stopped suddenly, front foot slamming onto the tiled floor of the cafeteria. His opponents stopped, and Miles let out a comic cry for help, retreating again. His opponents followed, Bernie charging ahead of Butch — and then Miles stood straight, held out his left hand for Bernie to stop, pointing down at Bernie’s feet with his foil.

“You crossed his Castle line,” Coach Dan explained. “You’re out until the next round.”