Heaven Help Him

[The challenge today from The Daily Post is to write a story where each sentence begins with the same letter. So here’s what I’m gonna do — close my eyes, spin the keyboard, stop when the TV above me switches to a commerical, and press a key without looking. And the winner is  . . . ]

He pulled the gray metal fencing mask over his ears. Head seeming far too large, the mask stuck at Butch’s ears.

“How’s this supposed to go on?” Heavy breathing accompanied Butch’s futile pulling.

“Hold on,” Butch’s hearing and vision too obstructed to know who was coming to his aid. Hands grabbed the heavy cloth bib at the front of the mask, pulled it forward then down, the gray metal descending like a curtain, returning him to the world of sight and sound.

“Hello!” Half a foot in front of Butch, Rune smiled in response.

“Have to pull out, as well as down. Has to fit tight on your head.” He tapped the top of Butch’s mask.

“He said the bottom fits under my chin,” Butch pointing to the Asian teen who had handed him the mask earlier.

“His name’s Juan.” How Joo-Won’s name was transformed by his Bark Bay teachers despite his efforts didn’t seem important to Rune at the momment. “However weird it may feel, that’s right, the bottom’s supposed to fit right under your chin, like a strap.”

“Huh.” He tugged hard on the mask, swallowed. “Heavens, it’s hard to see out of this thing!”

Haven struggled with masks for a year, Rune nodded. “Help is always a call away.”

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Choices and Routes

[The topic for today’s Daily Post prompt response: travel style.]

Turn left at Conover Street. In the passenger’s seat, Butch yelped as if he had been bitten.

“What?” OK slammed on the car’s brakes, the long curls of her red hair brushing against her cheeks.

“That thing!” Butch pointed a fat finger at the phone mounted on the dashboard. “Why do you use it?”

OK stared at her phone a moment, making sure she was looking at the same “thing” which had Butch so terrified. “It’s a GPS. I use it, ‘cuz its useful.”

“But doesn’t it bother you that it tells you where to go?”

OK blinked. “Butch, we’re in the city. I don’t get up here much, and I’m trying to get us home, to Bark Bay.”

“Why don’t we get a map?”

Because — ” she ripped the phone from its mount, thrust its surface up into Butch’s face — “this IS a map, you nimrod!”

“But it only tells you one way to go.” Butch touched OK’s hand, lowered it to the seat. “What if you want to go a different route? Or you don’t like where it’s sending you? It’s just a machine, all it knows is where the roads are, but not what they are. If you use a map — paper one, that is — you can see what all your options are, and you can decide which one you like best. But when you use a machine, you let it make all the decisions for you. I don’t know, I just find that kinda — creepy.”

OK sunk back into her seat, considered calling Double-J and arranging for a passenger swap. She shook her head, waved at the glove compartment. “Old man was getting rid of stuff he didn’t want a while back. Gave me a bunch of old maps, and I was like why don’t we just throw ’em away, but for some reason he insisted I keep ’em.”

Butch opened the glove compartment with the excitement of a toddler at Christmas. “Awesome!”

Loony

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post is to describe the “new you” that appears when the moon is full]

“Butch?” Coach Dan had not known the rotund, tow-headed teen long (this being only the third practice of the fencing season), but was certain that ignoring commands was not in Butch’s nature. And standing no more than five feet away when he asked Butch to get in line with the other memebers of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, he was certain he could have, should have, been heard. Yet even after his coach’s reminder question, Butch continued staring out the large glass windows of the cafeteria.

Rune, who continued to guide his friend through practice like a nervous parent, walked over and laid a hand on Butch’s shoulder. The touch seemed to waken him.

“Oh! Sorry.” He pointed in the direction of the window. “I was just — looking, is all.”

The greasy-haired teen followed the line of Butch’s arm out through the window. Above the tree line of the horizon, the moon shown, fully round and palely white. Rune responded reflexively — “Awooooo!

“I take it you have a fascination with the moon, my friend?” Coach Dan had been drilling the team all afternoon, and instinctively realized a momentary distraction might give his students the energy required to end this practice strongly.

“It’s so powerful.” There was a look of wonder and appreciation on Butch’s face that Coach Dan had not seen before. “You know, the tides, and how it affects people.”

“That’s how we got the legends of werewolves.” Rune sounded like he was giving a lecture. “And words like lunatic and looney, it’s from the Latin — ”

“I hate the moon.” Annie had joined the irregular line in front of the window. “I never sleep well when its full, and — ” she scanned the faces of her coach and the only two other fencers who had been at today’s practice — “well, there’s other stuff.”

“You do know — ” Coach Dan’s voice sounding a little rushed — “that there’s no scientific evidence supporting your beliefs?”

Annie frowned, as she had constantly at practice, her pony-tail lying limp down her back. “For this at least, I don’t friggin’ care what science says.”

“That’s what the moon is, to me.” Eyes fixed on the celestial orb, Rune seemed oblivious to having everyone’s full attention. “It’s got this power, this truth to it, which is stronger and wiser than anything here on Earth. It’s like, God put the moon in the sky, to remind us of how little we know.”

“Wow.” Rune waved greasy locks from his acne-scarred forehead. “That’s pretty deep.”

Butch blinked, stared back at Rune. “Oh! Really?”

A Late Greeting

[Back to Daily Post prompt responses. Going to use these as an opportunity to develop Butch, the character from my novel I’ve done the least with. Today’s topic — animals.]

Butch nearly jumped back when he placed his left foot on the bottom stair up to his family’s front door, the sudden loud barking from inside the house jarring him. Regaining his composure, Butch ascended the remaining two steps of the wooden stairway (creaking audibly under his weight), the barking growing louder with each step, then finally disolving into guttural simpering as Butch opened the door.

“Hey boy.” The enormous Saint Bernard padded across the linoleum floor, thick streams of drool dripping from his drooping jowls as he pounced into the teen’s arms. Butch was the only member of the Goodman family who still gladly accepted the dog’s slobbering embraces.

Butch held the beast by its front legs, let its tongue paintbrush his chin. “You normally don’t bark when I come home!”

“You’re normally not home this late.” Standing at the kitchen sink and rinsing a metal pot, Faith Hutchinson spoke in a tone that commanded attention, even with her back turned. “Ezekiel is smarter than he looks.”

Butch released his left hand, rubbed Ezekiel’s head, the dog picking up the cue to come down from his pounce. Faith shut off the water at the sink, her back still turned towards her son. “And how was your fencing practice today?”

“Oh!” Butch heard something in his mother’s voice that told him she was requesting something more meaningful than a polite response. “It was — good. There’s a lot I need to learn.” Ezekiel whimpered loudly, looking up at Butch, who looked down in confusion.

“How many nights a week do you have practice?” Faith’s voice lifted slightly with each syllable.

“Oh!” Ezekiel whimpered again. “Just Tuesday. Has Ezekiel eaten yet?”

Faith turned on her heels, her arms crossing beneath her chest, a grim smile on her face. “Of course not.”

“Oh!” The dog’s whimper sounded desperate. “I — guess I forgot to tell Asher to feed him before I left today.”

“I don’t care about you’re forgetting.” Faith’s face was cold, like it had never been warmed with a smile. “What bothers me, is you not making sure your chores are completed. Every member of this family has responsibilites, Benjamin, and you’re being on this fencing team does not mean you get to ignore them.” Ezekiel was no longer whimpering. “Do you understand?”

Butch looked down at floor. “Yes, mother.” He walked silently toward the cupboard containing the dog food, Ezekiel padding excitedly behind him. And while he did think of asking if he would be punished for his over failure, he knew it would be wise to not ask a question whose answer was so obvious.

Josef

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post is to describe a mentoring relationship]

“How do you know so much about fencing?” Coach Dan normally dismissed probling questions about his background from his students, but there was an earnestness to Butch’s doe-eyed query which moved him to stop the parry drill. The middle-aged English instructor and volunteer fencing coach at Bark Bay High School stood up from his fencing crouch, and lifted his gray metal mask off his bearded face.

“I was fortunate enough to have an excellent college coach.”

“Oh! What was his name?” Coming from anybody except Butch, it would have seemed an odd question.

“Josef. Josef Hadik.” Coach Dan grinned. “He was Hungarian, emmigrated to the states in his thirties. Got a job coaching at my college, been there ever since.”

“Oh! Did he speak English?”

Zom, zom! No leg first, zom. Zom! “Well enough.”

“Oh! He must have been a good teacher.”

No teach, no show how. Coach, I coach, is coach only. Tell you what do, what you know. You not know, I no help. “I learned a lot from him.”

“Oh! You must have really liked him.”

STUPID! Lose because you STUPID! Coach Dan swallowed, sweat glistening off the short curls of his dark hair. “Let’s just say, ol’ Josef isn’t the touchy-feely type.”

“Oh!” For once, Butch seemed able to read between the lines.

“Josef and I were — are — very different people. His way of coaching worked. For him. He was very successful, still is. And there’s no way I’d be coaching you guys now if it wasn’t for him.” When you start the fence at you school? You quit, shame me. You must start the fence! “But his way — let’s just say I couldn’t make it work for me.” Girls, no saber. Foil, is all safe. No girl saber, too fast, get hurt. Off to their right, Annie’s brown pony-tail slashed behind her head as she launched her attack on Rex. “Some of the lessons we learn from our mentors, are things they don’t intend to teach.”

“Oh!” The clatter of steel blades, Rex’s cry of mock frustration. “So — I guess the two of you don’t talk much about coaching, huh?”

Coach Dan placed his hand on top of his mask. “Some lessons are best learned privately, my friend,” and then pulled his mask over his smiling face. 

Quadrants

Coach Dan’s right arm thrust forward from the right of The Bird’s head. “So what you have, are four different areas you can attack” — his index finger pointed to the areas of Rune’s body as he spoke — “high right, high left, low left, low right. And for each of those areas, there are two different defenses, two parries.”

“And that’s why there’s eight parries.” Rune stood up from his crouch, but when Coach Dan widened his eyes and pursed his lips, the greasy-haired teen obeyed the silent command to resume his stance.

The Bird asked why he only taught them two of the eight parries, and the arm thrust forward at Rune again. “Look at his low line. You remember the target area in foil?” The petite teen nodded. “Not much to hit down there, is there? I don’t teach the low-line parries in beginner foil, because you’re not likely to get attacked down there. You start rising, get to face stronger opponents, then we can start taking low-line.”

The Bird said she understood, but that only eliminated four parries. He felt her coach’s hand on the back of her neck. “You need a little more experience, blade control before learning the other two high-line parries. Rune, show me four!”

Startled, Rune swung his right arm across his body, turning his wrist over. “Elbow in, don’t bend your wrist!” Rune looked down at his arm, corrected his parry. “Now six!” Rune swung his arm back across his body, dipped his wrist down, then back up. “Fingers! And get your arm out, and up!” Looking desperate, Rune complied.

The arm shot forward again. “My friend, if you can perfect just those two parries, you can do a lot of damage in beginner foil.”

The Reason for Eight

Having finished with his instructions to Annie and Rex, Coach Dan intruded himself on the conversation between Rune and The Bird.

“Sandy here was asking about the eight parries.” Rune hadn’t become familiar with the petite teen’s new nickname.

“And I saw you demonstrate the four and six.” Coach Dan sounded pleased. “And five, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Only to show how four got to six. Didn’t you say there was like, a progression?”

Coach Dan’s bearded face lit with enthusiasm. “Precisely, my friend! Your position at the end of each parry is the start position of the next.”

But why are there eight, asked The Bird. She explained that Rune had told her she only needed to know the four and six, but she wanted to know why there were a total of eight.

“En garde.” It took a moment for Rune to recognize his coach was giving him a command; he then shifted his body a quarter turn, his right foot and arm in front and pointed at his coach. A few more curt commands — get your back foot in line, you can bend those knees more, get that arm back, stop leaning — and the greasy haired teen looked ready, if not quite comfortable. Coach Dan motioned for The Bird to stand in front oof Rune, and stood over her shoulders.

“You see how he has a left side — and a right side.” She nodded. “He also has a high and low side, at the waist. Think of two lines, a vertical going down the length of his body, a horizontal intersecting it at the waist. You with me?”

The Bird said she could see. Rune smiled and nodded, but still looked uncomfortable.

Four and Six

Rex’s arms and legs unfolded like a giant scissors, the foil in his right arm coming forward and up, its blade descending down from his hand until its tip landed on Annie’s front shoulder. Before the action completed, Coach Dan had stepped between them.

“Why’d you parry four?” The volunteer coach of the Bark Bay High School fencing team was typically direct with more experienced fencers like Annie, who lifted her mask swiftly up off her face, her brown pony-tail flapping onto her back.

“He attacked four.” Annie pointing towards Rex with her foil.

“He feinted four — ” the middle-aged man spoke in an almost condescending tone he never used in his classroom — “but attacked in your six. You parried too strong to four, leaving your six open.”

Rune, standing on the other side of the makeshift fencing strip in the middle of the cafeteria floor, felt a tap on his shoulder as soft as a raindrop. The Bird’s inquisitive face greeted him as he turned, and the slender girl asked Rune to explain what their coach meant by four and six.

Rune waved his greasy hair off his pimply forehead. “I dunno the details, but I heard there’s like, eight different parries you can do in fencing, and they all got a number.” He stepped forward with his right foot pointed at The Bird, and bent his knees into en garde position. “Coach says at our level, we only have to learn two of them.” Right arm in front of him, he turned his wrist, brought the forearm across his chest. “This is called a four parry — I don’t know what one two and three are, Coach showed us once but didn’t spend any time on them, said we wouldn’t use them.” He then turned his wrist back, and swung his forearm in the other direction, to the right of his body. “And this is called the six parry.”

The Bird asked if he knew what the five parry was. “Yeah — ” Rune brought his arm in line with his body again, and lifted his wrist up to chin level — “five is a head parry, I remember that ‘cuz I thought it was cool, but since the head’s not part of the target area in foil, Coach says we shouldn’t use it.”

Discovery

[The prompt from The Daily Post is to describe a time when everything turned out as hoped]

“Sorry.” Rex folded his arm back, scratched the side of his face. The Bird asked why he was apologizing.

“I dunno.” His tall, lean body standing over the team’s equipment sacks, Rex waved towards the middle of the Bark Bay High School cafeteria floor. “Didn’t see you fence tonight. Thought you’d be frustrated, is all.”

The slender teen, the top of her head at the same level of Rex’s chest, replied that she wasn’t frustrated at all. She went on to explain how she had learned so much during that afternoon’s practice, just by watching he and Annie fence, and by having Coach Dan stand beside her, guiding her eyes with his words — watch the feet, watch how she gets her arm out before she lungesdid you see the way he used the strong of his blade to wall off her attack.

 

The Bird considered his words carefully, as the tall teen removed his jacket, then stuffed it into one of the canvas sacks. By the time he turned his attention back to her, she had her response ready.

She explained that she truly wasn’t disappointed, because she had no expectations at the start of practice. That was what she liked about fencing, she explained, she had known so little about the sport when she’d started attending practice to know what to expect. And what kept her interested was the awareness that there was a world of undiscovered fascination in this sport.

Rex looked down at her, a puzzled look on his face, as if The Bird had been speaking to him in a foreign language. Today was no different, she explained. She had come knowing what would happen, and had discovered so much while she was there. She smiled, and confidently told Rex she could not have been more pleased.

An Opening at Minitrue

[An intriguing prompt today from The Daily Post — interview your favorite fictional character]

The young man leaned enthusiastically over the metal table, his pants swishing audibly on the long bench. “So tell me, Smith — what’s it like, working in the Ministry of Truth?”

“Minitrue.” Winston Smith drew back from the table reflexively, his face as gray as the table between he and this young man, the new Outer Party member looking for an appointment in one of Oceania’s ministries.

“Sorry, sorry!” The young man’s energy constrasted with the dark tones and unsmiling faces in the Minitrue cafeteria. “You’re in — Recdep, is it?”

“Yes.” Winston’s body seemed to relax upon hearing the Newspeak term for the Records Department.

And then immediately stiffened again as the young man pointed at him. “So it’s your job — to monitor newspapers, and ensure their accuracy?”

Winston opened his mouth to speak, then blinked, sealing his lips. The young man saw his throat swallow, as if constricted by an invisible hand. “Precisely.”

The young man slapped the table, metal utensils jumping and clattering down on metal cafeteria trays around them. “Excellent, excellent! And you like your job, yes? You enjoy working with the written word?”

The middle-aged man across the table blinked, his eyes suddenly filled with impatience. “You must be careful with that word love, young man. One must not use it casually, like some child playing at jacks. At Minitrue, we are to love Oceania, love Ingsoc, and above all else, love Big Brother.”

“And of course, I love — “

“But love is a finite thing.” Winston Smith’s voice was calm, dispassionate. “Man has a limited capacity for love, and if we admit to loving our jobs, or the food we ate, or the woman we’ve married — by law, we limit the love we have for those things that — ” another throat-constricting swallow — “truly matter.”

The young man stared back at Winston, slack-jawed, unspeaking. “I have — ” Winston’s voice grew in strength — “worked diligently at Minitrue. I can confirm that there are appointments available in Recdep. And that is all I can divulge.”

The middle-aged man rose from his bench suddenly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me — I must return to my post.”