Gray Metal Faces – February 7

9:05

The hum of the generator faded as Rune resumed walking along the frozen shore of the lake, but a moment later he heard the mechanical murmur regain its strength, like a giant robot coming online. Wondering whether he had misjudged the location of the generator, Rune stopped, focused on his hearing. A moment later he could make out two sounds, the generator he’d been walking away from and a new sound, similar to the first but distinct, coming from the opposite direction.

His eyes caught a glimpse of the frozen water to his left, and he remembered he was on the shore of an artificial lake, created decades ago when the state built the hydroelectric dam north of Bark Bay. He was walking in the direction of the dam, and this new sound was probably coming from its turbines, churning under the force of the water flowing among and under the ice, generating electricity for the town and its surrounding county.

Rune checked his trailing footsteps again, ensuring they were still distinct, then resumed walking downstream again. He had been to the lake dozens of times, but had never approached the dam like he was doing now. And while he still had no interest in the dam this evening, he was certain that whatever he was seeking lay in that direction.

A flash of light, to his left, above the surface of the frozen lake. Rune stopped, turned. “Whoa.”

Streams of light leapt from the horizon and danced far above the lake’s black water. The streams were of multiple colors, and among the familiar whites and yellows there were shades Rune had never seen before, one goldenly purplish, another rust red yet brilliant instead of dull, and a green that did not look in any way natural, but was still undeniably beautiful.

“Whoa.” The lights ascended further, Rune tilting his head back as they soared above, and the light streams flickered, exchanging colors with each other, as if a cosmic choreographer were deftly flicking switches on a celestial instrument panel. For the first time since he had walked away from the front door of his house that evening, Rune felt at peace, content, and for a moment felt that these dancing streams of lights were the compelling force that had led him here.

Then suddenly, the lights disappeared, and Rune saw only black night above him. He looked back over the lake, saw the light streams receding back towards the horizon. And then, they were gone.

The third Tuesday

Jimmy (who still refused to be called Mr. Saunders) held the epee, the blade resting along the palm of his left hand, his right grasping the handle. Then he asked the same question Rex (standing to Jimmy’s left) had asked last week.

Rune shook his head. “No, my aunt said that was all the fencing equipment the guy had for sale.”

“We have to test weight.” Jimmy twisted the handle, brought the tip of the weapon up close to his eyes, then pursed his lips approvingly. “Coach, he got a test box back at his apartment — ” there was no need to keep it at the school, the team almost never practiced with electronics — “he’ll make any adjustments necessary before Saturday.” He looked up at Rex, widened his eyes. “You are fencing Saturday.”

The tall teen nodded. “Miss Blago, she’s gonna come over, stay with my family at the trailer.”

Jimmy blinked, understanding only enough to be certain Rex would indeed be fencing, then looked over at Rune. “How ’bout you, son?”

Before the teen could answer, he heard Coach Dan’s voice behind him, calling his name. Rune saw him standing, foil in his right hand and mask in his left, wearing his tattered black plastron (purchased, for a nominal fee, from Coach Gabby at the Academy). He tapped the foil’s tip twice on the tiled cafeteria floor, the sound barely audible but the signal unmistakable.

Rune raced over to the team’s equipment sacks, quickly identified his preferred foil and mask, and finally arrived a moment later in front of his coach. The middle aged English teacher at Bark Bay High School raised his foil, the blade extended in a line rising above the teen’s head, his salute matched by Rune; a swift downward swipe of their blades completed the action, and a moment later the teacher and his student, masks secured on their heads, crouched down into en garde position.

“Just keep distance.” Coach Dan followed his command by stepping forward (lift the front toes, push from the back leg, front heel like a plow), Rune responding by stepping back (lift the back leg, push back with the front). Forward, forward, back, forward.

Stop. “Check your distance.” In response, Rune lunged, was swiftly parried by his coach. “No, don’t attack, just check distance.” He tapped his blade on the top of Rune’s mask.

Rune recovered his stance, his eyes glaring behind his mask. “What?”

Coach Dan tapped his blade against Rune’s. “You’re too close. When you see blades cross like this, you either attack, or get the flip out of the way.”

“But I did attack.”

En garde.” Coach Dan had switched to his no more discussion voice. “All I want you to do, is keep distance.”

Back, forward, forward, back, forward, forward, back, back. Stop. “Check distance.”

Rune extended his arm, demonstrating the tip of his foil was several inches from his coach’s. “Good?”

“Do an advance – lunge.” At his coach’s command, Rune took a step forward, then pushed from his left leg as his right arm came forward, propelling his foil towards his coach.

The lunge stopped inches short of its target. “Have to stay in advance-lunge distance, my friend. If you’re too far away, your opponent’s got no reason to be afraid of anything you do.” The coach tapped his right shoulder with his left hand. “Focus on your target, use that as your only gauge of distance. Watch the blade peripherally.” He crouched down, raised his palms and brought them down, Rune crouching in response. “Again.”

Forward, forward, back, back, forward, back, back, forward, forward, forward, back, forward, back, back. Stop. “Check your distance.”

Rune glanced at the tip of his foil, much closer than it had been at the last halt. “Good?”

“Advance – lunge.” Rune stepped forward, pushed with his left leg — a quick parry — “What goes first?”

“Arm.”

Tap-tap on top of the mask. “Again.” Forward, back, back, back, forward, back — “What should you be doing?”

Rune hesitated. Lunged. An impatient parry, Coach Dan’s voice inflected like a cartoon character, “Naow naow naow! Get that arm out, little bit with each step!” tap-tap “Again.”

Forward, back, forward, forward, back — “get that arm out — ” back, back — “good” — forward, forward, back. Stop. “Lunge.”

Rune rushed forward, stopping when his coach grabbed his blade — “What goes first?”

The teen pulled up. “My arm did go first!”

Coach Dan swiped his foil across Rune’s right shin. “No it didn’t. Your front foot was leading your arm.” tap-tap “Again.”

Rune sighed, looked around quickly. The large cafeteria was almost entirely empty, tables and benches folded into the walls, the windows to the kitchen closed, a stale odor of marinara the only evidence of the room’s primary use. To his right, Rex and Annie spared each other, their grunts punctuated with the occasional sharp laugh. Beyond them, the canvas equipment sacks lay in disheveled heaps on the tiled floor, masks and jackets and foils spilling out of the openings like abandoned packing material. He heard Butch talking in excited tones behind and to his left, probably to Little Paul, who’d made a surprise visit to practice this week.

Tap-tap. Rune shook his head, “sorry.” Forward, forward, back, forward, back, back. Stop. “Lunge.”

As he pushed all one hundred and twenty three pounds of his body forward from his back leg, the high-B student heard his coach’s question in his mind before it was spoken. “What goes first?”

“Hey, I get it.” The teen stood straight, pulled his mask up from his chin, lifting it onto the top of his head, exposing his face red with sweat and frustration. “I’m trying.”

Coach Dan pulled off his mask just as swiftly. “I can see you’re trying. And I’d wish you’d knock it off.”

The frustrated voice in Rune’s head hoped this was not one of Coach Dan’s ploys, that the man who’s expanding waistline was testing the elasticity of his fencing jacket was actually suggesting he surrender to the slings and arrows of his outrageous disappointment. But the teen had known his coach long enough to know what to expect. “You’re focusing so much on trying, you’re forgetting what you need to do — scoring a touch, parrying an attack.” tap-tap “I don’t care if you try. Every time I see you do something wrong, I’m going to correct you, because that’s my job, as your coach. All I care about, is your execution, whether your making the right choices, doing the right movements, whenever you’re on strip. Whether it’s a tournament, like this Saturday — ” there was a noticeable inflection in his voice on that last phrase — “or here, during practice.”

Tap-tap “So let’s take this slow, break it down.” Rune crouched into en garde position without further prompting. “Extend.” Rune extended his arm, his coach grabbing the blade of his foil and directing the tip towards his chest. “Lift the front toes — ” Rune almost lost his balance as the front of his right foot lifted, but he held his crouch — “now push, plow with the heel.” Rune felt more like he was falling than lunging, but he kept the line of his foil straight, its tip landing on Coach Dan’s right shoulder. “Very good.” tap tap “See what happens when you stop trying?”

Rune had no idea what his coach was talking about. “Yeah, sure.”

To Rune’s relief, Coach Dan called to O.K., began working with her on disengages, his calls of arm first replaced with fingers not wrist. Wiping his greasy hair off his brow, Rune returned to the equipment sacks, where Butch, his round belly accentuated by his tight fencing jacket, seemed eager to talk.

“You going to the tournament Saturday?”

Rune shrugged. “Not sure.” He laid his mask and foil on the floor.

“Oh! Coach Dan said we should all go.”

Butch’s childhood friend frowned. “Coach Dan says a lot of things.” Then rubbed his temple. “You going to Page Turners this week?”

“Oh! You want to go to Page Turners?”

“Yeah.” The memory of his dismissive words last week pained Rune. “Y’know, the other day, you just caught me at a bad moment. I didn’t mean what I said, I still like comics.”

“Oh!” Butch scratched his chin. “Well, uh . . . I don’t think I can go to Page Turners, no more.”

“What?” Rune looked hard at his friend, but as he prepared to examine his friend, he noticed a mark he hadn’t seen before. A bruise, under Butch’s left eye.

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