The Ballad of Evil Kim

The Ballad of Evil Kim

[A true story, and excerpt from my forthcoming autobiography. #WIP]

…My only real life post-Frenchy was the gym. I eventually worked my way up to assistant manager and I’d taken up bodybuilding, making me more confident about my looks. My sister was getting ready for her wedding to her terrific fiancé in six months, too, so I was feeling good about my family as well. Yes, I was feeling quite good about many things even though none of the many women at the gym were relationship prospects until I met Kim – evil, Evil Kim. Did I mention this girl named Kim was evil?

When I met Evil Kim, the young lady was 10 years my junior and the sound of her voice was enough to turn me into a quivering mess. When she first walked into the gym I was working at, that was the first time I’d ever seen and woman and based on looks alone said, “Wow.” To me, she was the physically perfect dream woman. As I mentioned, her voice was practically angelic (or demonic, in hindsight). And like Leila before her, she had that girl-next-door vibe that shut down any defense mechanism you might have had. But this quality of hers had its downside – every guy wanted to be with her.

I knew I couldn’t just go for it with Evil Kim; I’d be just another number and I didn’t want to be that. She was special so I wanted to be special for her. I began talking to her gradually then more and more so that with each visit of hers to the gym it certainly seemed like we were beginning to become friends. Some of my coworkers knew I had other intentions, though, I remarked that I stood no chance. One of my female colleagues even had the nerve to tell me that I had no game! Although I know my coworker wasn’t trying to be mean it really got under my skin and I told her in response, “I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But some day I’m going to get that girl.” I knew though that if I was going to land Evil Kim, I was going to need a miracle.

That miracle came in the form of two other women who were interested in me. One was a coworker, Sandra, and the other was Andrea, who was even younger than Evil Kim and almost equally beautiful. Sandra I had no interest in but the attention she gave me rose my stock enough to pique the curiosity of another gym member Andrea, whom I’d always been friendly with. Being Hispanic (assuming there was a cultural thing going on to my benefit), Andrea liked that I 1) was an older man and 2) was a gentleman who was courteous, holding the door open for her and not cussing in front of her, for example. Andrea and I eventually found ourselves on some late night coffee dates after I closed up the gym which never wound up going back to either of our places, honestly because I was too hung up on Evil Kim to pull the trigger. Fortunately, Evil Kim did catch the two of us out one night getting coffee which I know alarmed the woman of my dreams.

How do I know? The very next day Evil Kim wouldn’t leave me alone at the gym. Every few minutes she looped around from whatever she was doing to check on me, or maybe to see who I was with. By hook or by crook – or by jealousy – I now had Evil Kim’s attention. A week later I asked her out proper and she accepted without hesitation.

We went to go see a movie, The Princess Diaries, which is not something I would ever see on my own. My cousin from New York who had moved in with me for the summer remarked that this woman I was going on a date with must be a goddess for me to agree to do such a thing. I had Evil Kim come to my place before the movie, really so my cousin could see why I had agreed to see the movie. My cousin just laughed that Evil Kim and I had the same spikey black hair and that’s why I was enamored with her, because I was vain. After the movie we came back to my place, after my cousin had cleaned off a whole bottle of wine by herself, which I remembered impressed Evil Kim. (That should have been a red flag.) After a few drinks ourselves, Evil Kim asked if she could stay because she may have had too much to drive.

As I got into bed with her, I thought about being a gentleman and not taking advantage of the situation. The God honest truth is that I didn’t want her to be with me just because she was drunk. But we found ourselves making out anyway which led to clothes flying off, which led touching, which led to disappointing sex. Disappointing because I’d had too much to drink and was psyched out about whether I really wanted this to happen the way it was happening. I actually told Evil Kim all this post-coitus to which she was dumbfounded. We found ourselves awkwardly spooned in that friends-with-benefits kind of way that at least one of us didn’t want. She left early the next morning.

Evil Kim called me the next day to tell me no guy had ever said anything like that to her before, about a guy not wanting to take advantage of a situation like that. Allegedly, this left quite an impression. The cat that was out of the bag, though, was that in no uncertain terms did I want to be with her. My desires appeared to be an inconvenience to Evil Kim, who was still hung up on a felon ex-boyfriend. A felon? Yes, her latest ex had recently gone to jail for grand theft auto (not the video game) and I think to her that he was what she was to me. So I got the same thing that always happens to good guys, I got mostly friend-zoned.

I say mostly friend-zoned because Evil Kim would still call me and want to hang out, or make out without going all the way. I knew she just wanted the adoration and I knew this would only end badly for me but I just couldn’t say no. It would take me months to gather the willpower to weaken her grip on me and I did this by going back to Andrea. This led to one of the most wonderful, fantastically shallow moments of my life.

It was not unusual for Andrea to flirt with me at the front desk at the gym, but Evil Kim walked in one day while Andrea was doing it. Evil Kim immediately turned around and disappeared. She came back twenty minutes later with her adorable cat which she sat on the front desk and wanted us to play with the cat together. Andrea gave Evil Kim a look and I swear I thought there was going to be a cat fight without the actual cat. For about the next five minutes the two of them vied for my attention in front of a score of people. I couldn’t help but feel like a badass even if I had no idea how I came to be the center of this situation. I savored it, to say the least.

But now I had a choice to make. Andrea wanted to see me that night but so did Evil Kim. If I went with Evil Kim, she promised to make it worth my while. If I went with Andrea, who knows, but it’d be the smarter choice. So obviously I told Andrea I had already committed to seeing Evil Kim that night (though I didn’t say in what way). That night Evil Kim came over and I seduced her with some Jedi mind tricks I’d picked up from my sister’s fiancé’s friend, a guy who was nothing short of a scoundrel. We had sex and it was…not what I hoped for. It was kind of like being with a dead fish.

Despite all this disappointment, she was still probably The One in my eyes, though I thought it wise to pursue other women as a potential date for my sister’s wedding in a month. When Evil Kim got wind of this she wanted to be my date of course and insisted I not pencil her in, as I told her (which I should have done), but that I pen her in – she would be my date for the wedding. I thought this would turn the corner on our ‘relationship.’ Maybe the sex was bad because she hadn’t committed to us? Surely a wedding would change that.

The morning of the wedding I couldn’t get a hold of Evil Kim. I called and left two messages and thought about leaving a third but then thought that would be overkill. Had something bad happened to her? That’s what I wanted to believe because I didn’t want to believe she had simply flaked out on me. I went to my little sister’s wedding feeling awful, mostly because of the empty seat next to me. I had told my sister I had a date, to make arrangements for that, and now I felt like a fool when I should have known better. I was so mad at myself I couldn’t even be happy for my sister. I was a sourpuss the entire time. I beat myself up about that to this day.

The next day Evil Kim called to apologize but I didn’t call her back until the day after that. She explained that she (just happened to have) had a chance to visit her ex-boyfriend in jail; it was the first day he was allowed to have visitors. So like any normal person, Evil Kim went to go see him on the wedding day and didn’t tell me so that, I dunno, I might call in a back-up. (Which I tried on the morning of the wedding when I swallowed the bitter pill that Kim had flaked on me. No such luck.) I told Kim how furious I was and that I couldn’t speak to her anymore. After hanging up with her I didn’t see her at the gym for nearly a month.

When she did reappear, she was sheepish but brave enough to say that we should talk. Reluctantly I agreed, you know, as I massaged her since she asked to be stretched out before her workout. (I was such a goddamn idiot.) During our solemn conversation, we concluded that ‘we’ would never be a thing and that she was sorry for that since it was really her fault. BUT we could still be friends and crash at each other’s places from time to time seeing how sleeping alone is often so, so terrible. Would I settle for breadcrumbs? I didn’t love myself enough not to. But this idyllic arrangement wouldn’t last forever.

It wasn’t long after this that Evil Kim told me she was pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s child, who I guess wasn’t ‘ex’ enough to avoid having sex with him in jail. Upset because she was too young for this, she told me through tears that she wished it was my child. This blew me away. The sincerity was misconstrued on my part, though, as she explained a week later while I talked about us being together someday that she said it not because of her undying love for me but merely because I’d be a responsible parent. Goddamn it. I wanted things to be done with her by this point.

Some time had gone by day during which we hadn’t been speaking much. Then out of the blue Evil Kim called to say that she wanted me to come over to her new place so we could hang out, just us, which she seemed to go over the top in making clear since she often had people over. Interesting, I thought. So I go to her place and naturally she’s practically throwing a party. I was really miffed but didn’t let it show. Instead I flirted with some of the other girls with no success and chatted with some of the guys. Eventually it was down to me, another guy, and Evil Kim. Pretty drunk, I didn’t know if she was planning something wild or what, but it was clear she wanted to be with this other guy while unclear she wanted to be with me. I didn’t bother finding out. I made up an excuse and left, infuriated. I went straight home, heart torn asunder, and wrote perhaps the greatest putdown email ever written. I tore her to shreds over what a shitty person she was for lying to me when she knows how I feel about her, why no one treats her with respect, how she’s a fool for loving her felon ‘boyfriend,’ and even why her parents don’t love her half as much as her brother (which was true; she just didn’t understand why, but I did). Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of that email which is still probably the best thing I’d ever written, if not the most cathartic. I’m proud to say we have never seen or spoken to each other since.

As terrible as all of it was, I learned never to let any woman (or person) have that much control over me ever again. My life – my sanity – wasn’t worth the kind of trauma Evil Kim put me through. What made it so bad is that we both knew what she was doing to me and she did it anyway knowing I was vulnerable to her charms, so as much as I still hate her, I know we’re both to blame. I’ll never allow that to happen to me again. And neither should you.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) May 2019 John J Vinacci

Avengers: Endgame Review

It is a best to go into this movie with at least two things: 1) no expectations and 2) a working knowledge of comic book lore. Given everything that has happened in the MCU movies, would this movie be the coda we all needed? Yes and no.
SPOILERS AHEAD: The first 45 minutes of the movie is bogged down by the survivors of The Snap coming to terms with what Thanos did at the end of Infinity War. This stands to reason though it goes on a too long, a sharp departure from Infinity War’s quick pace. (For those of you familiar with Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, you may understand the kind of contrast I’m talking about.) Given the overall scope of what the MCU movies were ultimately trying to accomplish, this emotional ride is necessary and therefore forgivable. It’s hardly the worst part of the movie.
The entire middle of the movie is a muddied mess involving time travel which goes off the rails the more it involves the major characters’ pasts. (You’ll also be sorry if you forget the timelines of everyone’s pasts, otherwise the plot is going to leave you in the dark.) The Avengers travel to the past in an attempt to gather the stones before Thanos does which was probably the worst thing they could have done given Thanos’ intelligence.
Once they do acquire the stones, though, the movie finally gives us the action we’ve been aching for the entire movie. Thanos attacks Avenger’s HQ with our mercy, leading to the absolutely fantastic opening confrontation between, Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. (My favorite moment of the entire movie? When Captain America picks up Thor’s hammer as they battle Thanos. Damn, what a moment. My second favorite was the shot of Tony and Pepper fighting side by side.) As it goes on, the battle swells entirely too much, involving everyone you can possibly imaging since the first Iron Man movie. Even given a running time of three hours, even this amount of time doesn’t seem enough to do the final battle justice to everyone involved. Especially troubling is the lack of any punch out between the Hulk and Thanos, as the Hulk has been reduced to a joke for the entire movie and never gets a rematch from Infinity War. I think it would have been more appropriate of the script to reduce the battle to a few participants and have them outwit Thanos seeing how none of the heroes alone are a match for The Mad Titan. Instead they beat Thanos in a most unexpected way, unexpected because we all should have seen it coming at that moment. (But when it happens, we’re given a really great line.)
The movie doesn’t end there because now we have to deal with the cost of having defeated Thanos and wrapping up some of the major players’ histories. The movies mostly succeeds here, especially on Cap’s behalf, while Iron Man and Black Widow are grieved for. The completion of Thor’s story arch ultimately remains to be seen, strangely enough…
The movie worked on several accounts; following through on the most important Avengers’ histories, utilizing the MCU movies trademark humor, and all the Easter eggs only die hard fans of Marvel comics would understand. On the other hand, no pun intended, the script is not nearly as tight as Infinity War and gives us hardly any action until the climax. There are also some rather large plot holes. (Um, Thor’s two hammers for starters.) Does this mean that Endgame is that satisfying coda I asked about earlier? Sort of, but it could have been so much better. All things considered, Avengers: Endgame gets three and a half infinity stones out of six from this fanboy. Excelsior!
Oh, and for Pete’s sake, pee before the movie starts.

All Possible Worlds

All Possible Worlds

7:00am. Gilliam’s phone vibrated itself off the nightstand while the sound of the phone’s alarm steadily increased. He rolled over towards his side of the bed and reached for his phone with no luck. It was still dark and he could turn on the lamp but he didn’t want to risk anything else waking Celia. They’d been up most of the night talking, a conversation Gilliam kept going at all cost in case The Moment should occur – that awkward pause where the next thing you say isn’t said at all but still required your lips. And The Moment had indeed occurred. Gilliam waited eight years for it, since they were fifteen. So much anticipation, the thunderbolt of The Moment’s arrival had electrified his entire being so thoroughly, he was exhausted after their first kiss.

The young man’s hand eventually found the phone and silenced the ringer before it could wake Celia. Now the choice was whether to go to work and he was thinking he would not. Gilliam rolled himself back towards Celia who was laying on her side and facing the other way. He spooned up behind her and draped an arm over her. As he breathed in the scent of her hair, he thought, This is the best of all possible universes.

7:00am. Gilliam’s phone vibrated itself off the nightstand while the sound of the phone’s alarm steadily increased. He rolled over towards his side of the bed and reached for his phone with no luck. It was still dark and he could turn on the lamp but he didn’t want to risk anything else waking Celia’s friend, Questa. They’d been up most of the night talking about their mutual friend, a conversation Gilliam had tried at all cost to end in case The Moment should occur – that awkward pause where the next thing you say isn’t said at all but still required your lips, just to fill the void. Fortunately, The Moment eluded them, perhaps because Questa knew Gilliam would never truly be hers because of Celia. Gilliam’s been waiting for Celia for eight years for it, since the two were fifteen. With little fanfare, the two had drifted off to sleep in Gilliam’s bed, after Questa solidified a plan for Gilliam to secure Celia’s affections.

The young man’s hand eventually found the phone and silenced the ringer before it could wake Questa. There was no choice but to go to work now. Gilliam rolled himself back towards Questa who was laying on her side and facing the other way. He spooned up behind her, gave her a respectful peck on the cheek, and whispered, Thank you. As he gently rose out of bed, he thought, This will be the best of all possible universes.

7:00am. Gilliam’s phone vibrated itself off the nightstand while the sound of the phone’s alarm steadily increased. He rolled over towards his side of the bed and reached for his phone with no luck. It was still dark and he could turn on the lamp but he didn’t want to risk anything else waking Celia’s friend, Questa. They’d been up most of the night talking about their mutual friend, a conversation Gilliam had tried at all cost to end in case The Moment should occur – that awkward pause where the next thing you say isn’t said at all but still required your lips, just to fill the void. And The Moment had indeed occurred, despite Questa knowing Gilliam would never truly be hers because of Celia. Gilliam’s been waiting for Celia for eight years for it, since the two were fifteen. But Questa couldn’t help herself; it was Celia’s fault after all for speaking about how wonderful Gilliam was despite Celia’s own boyfriend. After much physical affection, the two had drifted off to sleep in Gilliam’s bed, after Questa destroyed a plan for Gilliam to secure Celia’s affections.

The young man’s hand eventually found the phone and silenced the ringer before it could wake Questa. He wanted to rush off to work and figure out a way to excuse what had happened last night. Maybe there was a way to still be with Celia, some day. Gilliam rolled himself away from Questa who was laying on her side and facing the other way. He rose slowly from the bed and cursed himself under his breath. He thought, This can’t be the worst of all possible universes.

7:00am. Gilliam’s phone vibrated itself off the nightstand while the sound of the phone’s alarm steadily increased. He rolled over towards his side of the bed and reached for his phone with no luck. It was still dark and he could turn on the lamp but he didn’t want to risk something blinding the memory of a dream he’d just had. In his dream he’d been up all night talking with Celia, a friend he’d fallen in love with and he’d kept the conversation going at all cost in case The Moment should occur – that awkward pause where the next thing you say isn’t said at all but still required your lips. And The Moment had indeed occurred. Gilliam waited eight years for it, since they were fifteen. So much anticipation, the thunderbolt of The Moment’s arrival had electrified his entire being so thoroughly, he was exhausted after their first kiss. In the dream they fell asleep together shortly thereafter.

The young man’s hand eventually found the phone and silenced the ringer. Now it was time to go to work when all Gilliam wanted to do was linger with the memory of the dream a bit more. Then he thought it didn’t matter; Celia had announced her engagement to her boyfriend of three years last night. The dream faded with his rise out of the bed and the young man couldn’t help but think, I hope there is a universe in which we are together.

 

All Right’s Reserved © April 2019 John J Vinacci

The Desert

The Desert

Welcome to

The desert of the unreal

Stretching for miles

Lands of distant feelings

Where nothing grows

But bitterness and loneliness

Where salvation’s out of reach

For this miscreant

 

The scorched earth

Barren and a wasteland

Nothing like the time before

Castles never made of sand

Welcome to

A world without a blue sky

Just a muted dome

With a specter floating by

 

Bye, bye, into the

Night, night, promises

Die, die, sweet lullabye

Bye, bye, into the fire

 

A conspiracy

Nothing more and nothing less

Against a human soul

Torn apart strewn out a wreck

The sands are spreading out

As far as the horizon

Feeling you get

When you accept what’s denied you

 

On convections

Of heat you think you’re flying

Like Icarus

Of another time before when

You were more than

Abandoned to this toil

Withered in the sun

And nothing more than older.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) March 2019 John J Vinacci

Grimore’s Question

Grimore’s Question

“Why should I let you live?” That’s what he asked everyone at the end of his pistol.

Grimore never thought about what it was like to answer the question under duress. All he knew was that if it were him – beaten, bloodied, on his knees with a gun in his face – his answer to the question would be, “You shouldn’t.” Not because he would avenge the situation; he wouldn’t. His question was philosophical and if you didn’t have a philosophical answer this wasn’t good enough in Grimore’s head.

The question was not his to answer, not today. Today the question fell to another Survivor, someone else scratching out a bare-bones existence on their scorched earth. This man’s name…his name was irrelevant less Grimore was given reason to remember it. So Grimore asked the man again.

“It’s important,” Grimore said, “Tell me why I should let you live.”

The man looked up from his knees down the barrel of the gun through the dirt and blood that marred his existence. He was exhausted having left his shelter a week ago, scavenging for scraps for his family when Grimore caught him off guard. The man had been hit in the face from out of the shadows and kicked mercilessly until he’d been pulled to his knees by his scraggly hair.

Grimore had always waited patiently in places like this, convenience stores, knowing that although everything had been pilfered by now someone would eventually come along hoping that something was still left. Grimore, he was all that was left, a vulture waiting for the scraps of humanity searching for scraps of sustenance.

Fear, hunger, exposure to the elements – the man was quivering as Grimore pressed the gun to his forehead. Though his eyes were fixated on the gun his ear picked up Grimore’s voice softening. Maybe he had reached delusion. Maybe Grimore is what you see when it’s already too late.

“I don’t want to kill you. I need you to answer the question,” Grimore sighed. He sounded bored, the sound of inevitability.

The man tried to wet his tongue with what little water was left in his body. He looked down, then up, then down again. “I…I have a family. I have a wife, a son, and a daughter. They’re counting on me to bring some food back.”

“So they can starve a week from now? A month? A year?” The man could see Grimore squint at his from underneath a weathered flat-brimmed hat. “Tell me where they are and I will help them.”

“No, you’re going to kill me,” the man cried with dirt out of his eyes.

“Not if you give me a better answer,” Grimore rejoined. “Why should I let you live?”

“If I die, my family dies, that’s why,” the man choked out.

“Do better,” Grimore grunted.

“I don’t know what you want!” the man shouted as he pressed forward into the barrel.

A shot from the pistol rang out. The man fell, and fell silent. Grimore lowered the weapon to the side of his ragged, dusted cargo pants and looked upon the fallen. “What I wanted from you was something more than survival. A want for survival is no reason to let you live. Even an insect wants to live. What did you think you were going to do with the life I spared you?”

The disheveled traveler holstered the gun on his hip. Drawing a knife from his boot, he took the tip and etched another fine line into his belt. 213 Survivors, he thought. Grimore never remembered their names – he hardly ever asked – he just remembers how many. How many here on Earth, that is; he didn’t add those 213 to the exactly one-point-three billion he killed when he sabotaged The Womb.

Grimore knelt beside number 213 and patted him down; a few rusty knives and a revolver whose barrel was so dirty it probably would have misfired had the man tried to use it. There was only two rounds in it anyway so unless the man were a good shot… There were four cans of long expired beans in the man’s backpack. He also found a map in the man’s back pocket, a map that carelessly noted the man’s way back home to his family, assuming he hadn’t lied about them. Grimore would check it out. Whomever he found there, Grimore would ask them The Question, too, Why should I let you live? If he didn’t like what he heard, well…

Only two people had ever given him an answer to his satisfaction. Someone recently, upon realizing Grimore was going to kill them, asked what gave Grimore the right; what gave Grimore the right to kill anyone when there were so few people left? His immortality, he’d tell them. He wasn’t really immortal, of course, but his nanobots made him seem that way. They made efficient use of all nutrients, recycled waste in his body, and healed him quickly. It was a long involuntary life, the often overlooked curse of demi-godhood. When the time came, when he’d hunted down the last human, he’d find a way to break the curse. In the meantime, his victims will sometimes accuse him of entertaining himself, of having the nerve to play god.

The rag-tag hunter looked up at the rusted sky. Sand pelted his face went a wind kicked up and wound its way through the store’s broken window.

They brought this upon themselves, went his inner dialogue, They separated themselves from nature and each other, never understanding the necessity to survival of acting as one. They raped and murdered the planet then thought they could throw it away like any other piece of trash with no fear of consequence. Humanity thought they would walk away from their crime scot-free. They do not see, gods do not entertain themselves, they judge.

Grimore took three cans of beans from 213 and put them in his own satchel. The fourth can he opened with an old-school army tool; the smell was off. He slung the beans back down his throat anyway as if he were finishing of a tankard of beer.

“Tastes like shit,” he muttered, “Tastes like consequences.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) February 2019 John J Vinacci

Heavy Weight

Heavy Weight

The air is smoky thick and

The hour’s growing late

The blacksmith’s hand is restless

And beginning to feel the strain

Of the hammer, on the anvil

No reward but outrage

The contract is expiring

Comeuppance doesn’t wait

 

It’s so heavy, it’s so heavy

Observe the circling crows

It’s so heavy, it’s so heavy

The interest on what he borrowed

It’s so heavy, it’s so heavy

The devil takes what is owed

It’s so heavy, it’s so heavy

Is written on his tombstone

 

Cancer in his bones

He is looking for a way

A way to reforge a clock running out on a deal

He shouldn’t have made

He can make no headway

‘Gainst karma, ‘gainst fate

Gravitas will see that he breaks

 

One final smote

He accepts the refrain

He knows it’s all over

When nothing new can be made

Enveloped by the dark

He looks back and he feigns

Returning to the forge

But there isn’t an ember that remains.

 

All Rights Reserved (C) Feb. 2019 John J Vinacci

The Winter War (Part One)

The Winter War (Part One)

He slipped a foot onto the temple’s polished stone floor without a sound. A hundred feet ahead of him lay an inconspicuous blade, a thousand names throughout the ages upon it, on the gold adorned Alter of Kashima-no-kami. Its age was unknown but thought to be ancient enough; the Japanese-styled katana glimmered with the light of hundreds of temple candles. Waxy white, the nightlights radiated from behind a dozen scarlet-robed, yellow-sashed monks. They lined the hall on either side, sitting crossed-legged, arms folded, their heads bowed in prayer. Beside the alter itself, another monk in a yellow robe and scarlet sash stood in deference of the weapon. The monk did not hear the intruder’s footstep but he sensed it nonetheless. As the unwelcome visitor glanced another foot forward, the monks flanking the polished stone floor stirred from prayer and began to draw swords from the scabbards at their waists. Their uninvited guest withdrew his foot and the monks sheathed their weapons in synch.

“What god is so bold as to enter the Temple of Hachiman?” the chief monk asked in a forgotten ancient tongue. He raised the rim of his pointed kasa to see.

“What is a god?” the stranger asked flatly.

“No mortal can step in here and live,” the holy man notified.

“I was mortal once,” flat words came again and trailed off.

“You are something else then, a demi-god perhaps,” the monk smirked. “What do you think you are doing here?”

“I have come to claim the Blade of…whatever name it goes by now,” the stranger clad in earthly, medieval black leather armor said. Two short wakizashi within an overhand’s reach were strapped to the man’s back. Automatic handguns were strapped to either thigh.

“Only two beings lay claim to the blade. Are you Shiro Winter or Noira Winter?” the monk asked.

The man stepped forward anew and again the praying monks began to draw their weapons. Their heads lifted up, flickers of flame now in their eyes.

“I am Shiro Winter, the founder of this temple and your order. You will stand down and let me possess the sword.” These were orders, not a suggestion.

“We are bound by oath to slay whomever comes for the sword, whether they own the sword or not. Or has it been so long you have forgotten your own edict?” The yellow-clothed monk drew an impossibly long broadsword from behind his back, too large to have been concealed by his person. Shiro knew that the weapon had been hidden from view somewhere in time and was now brought into the present.

Shiro lowered his head. A cool breeze passed out over his lips. “I have not forgotten. I was hoping you had,” the founder replied. He tossed his long black hair back and burned a look across the hall. “I don’t want to hurt any of you. You know what I can do. It is probable that I can take the sword and be gone before any of you can strike.”

“Probability does not equal certainty,” the high monk replied. “We have had much time to study you and your sister and have prepared accordingly. The zealot tilted his head. “We have already begun our defense. Did you not notice?” the holy man broke across the still air.

A trio of red-robed monks clashed their swords together in front of Shiro’s face as he whipped his head back. One of the monks had come uncomfortably close, shaving a few atoms off their intruder’s nose.

After a momentary blur, Shiro drew a hasty breath and leapt towards the alter with a speed invisible to mortals but not the monks. They were fast, already in midflight, in mid-fight, blocking his path to the alter. The demi-god spiraled, contorted, and crooked his body like a flickering bat to avoid eight sharpened edges of death. A ninth monk, in position high above the alter, could not be avoided. The defender’s sword pierced Shiro’s heart and exited his back. He grunted in pain as his body slammed into the monk and the pair landed on top of the high monk’s sword. The sect’s leader wrapped a hand around the back of Shiro’s neck and pulled him and his fellow monk towards himself; the tip thrust through the two entwined combatants entirely.

His eyes wet, the temple’s founder drew a handgun and pressed it against the high monk’s head. “You’ve fulfilled the task I’ve required of you. Thank you. Now stand down before you force me to kill you.” The highest of the temple order, three-thousand years old himself, opened his mouth to speak but took a bullet to the head instead.

“I saw you refuse,” Reyson mumbled as he shoved the two monks away from him, their swords with them.

The demi-god turned towards a score of charging monks with a grimace as blood poured out of his body. They were too fast. He could use his ability to manipulate time and cut them down or slow down the damage to his organs, but he wouldn’t be able to do both simultaneously. He opened his arms wide and motioned for the temple’s defenders to attack. Shiro was run through with nearly a dozen swords. The monks pressed their gnarled faces against the intruder’s, intent on watching him die.

Shiro’s lips rimmed with red life. “Do you have it?” he asked weakly.

“I’m here, brother,” Shiro answered solemnly from the alter. Shiro, pin-cushioned, could only nod in response. “Yes, I have it,” Shiro at the alter confirmed.

A few moments passed as the monks that impaled him with their swords slowly withdrew. Their task was not to be surprised but to kill anyone, everyone, who came for the sword no matter how many of them there were.

“It…hurts,” Shiro, falling to his knees dying, managed.

“Without the sword, the Order of Time will cease to exist,” the high monk, a quarter of his skull missing, mumbled looking up from the floor. The chief clutched the demi-god’s leg as Shiro reached for the long, slim sword sitting on the alter top. “If you take that you know what you must do,” the priest, failing, murmured.

“It is the only thing that will kill Noira,” Shiro shook his head but acknowledged. He clutched the hilt but could not pick the blade up; it was infused with collapsed star matter and therefore too heavy to wield without his full powers. He displaced it in time to recall later, just as the high monk had done with his weapon.

“Noira…” the highest echoed, though it sounded more like a question. “You know what you must do. First you must kill Rayu Nomura,” the monk said at his last.

Reyson lowered his head again and said nothing. His ‘brother,’ his doppelganger created just a minute ago when he jumped back in time so fast all of his atoms split into two, laid in a heap on the ground. The demi-god’s eyes twitched at his slain self. Watching yourself die. I hope this is not a sign of things to come, Shiro thought.

He rerolled the dice, casting his eyes at the remaining members of the order charging him. They were barely moving, though. Slow, much too slow now, even at their fastest. Eleven swords minced thin air. Shiro was already gone.

In possession of a terrible sword, the sullen, wired-haired warrior took a seat on a crop of rocks overlooking the Temple of Hachiman in the dark green valley below. The sky was royal blue with a faint red glow that sailed like a stream though the middle. Countless stars penetrated the darkening cloth. He frowned; he hadn’t wanted any of the monks to die but their job was to ensure no imposter got their hands on the ultimate weapon. They knew the risk. They took the vow. Still…

Shiro slumped a bit, quivering down to the bone, weary from pulling that stunt back in the temple. It’d cost him half his energy and half his life, figuratively and possibly literally. He was going to need to sleep soon, a few centuries perhaps, to recover. Whether it was worth it wasn’t relevant. It had to be done. Noira had to be stopped, even if it meant enduring the nightmarish vision of himself dying over and over again while he slept.

He slipped a handgun from its holster and unlocked the clip. Still twelve rounds in it. He hadn’t used a bullet himself. Alone for an epoch, he’d resolved long ago to die for what needed to be done though he hadn’t needed to do so until now. But he would die again and again and again if it meant getting the arrow of time right, right until the absolute, very end.

 

All Rights Reserved © January 2019 John J Vinacci