Hunter Goes to School
This hadn’t gone so well. Nothing since Tabula Rasa had. Hunter and the others had followed Cheryl around for months as she fixated on this ridiculous Go Fish gang and their bank heists only to be humiliated every time. Humiliated by people in fish masks. Hunter sat on the curb of their latest defeat, staring down at his flip-flops as he wiggled his toes. He had started doing this a lot. After the others had scrambled, he just sat on the curb, looking at his feet.
“You’re going to lose those if you don’t get better footwear,” he said aloud to himself.
He failed to notice the press forming around him like a growth, jabbing recording devices at his head. He leaned back and his head lolled as his eyes stared at them, hidden behind his mirrored aviators. He gave a delayed flinch in recognition.
“Psamurai,” one reported shouted, “How do you…”
“Mr. Psamurai,” another barked, “Would you like to….”
“Psamurai? Sir?,” another chirped, “Could we get a…”
“No questions today,” Hunter growled with a cigarette clinched in his teeth.
“Mr. Psamurai,” the one barked again, “Would you like…”
“Nothing. I’d like nothing,” Hunter teetered to his feet and smoothed out his flannel robe, “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he swayed between the reporters and trotted down the sidewalk.
Once he was confident the press was far enough behind, his trot slowed to a rubbery, swaying stride. A kind of an accidental swagger, more town drunk than John Wayne.
“Eh, Psamurai,” said a voice that sounded like it was spitting out poison.
“What, now?” Hunter turned.
“I just wanted to take a good look at the dumb ass, caucasian stoner that swings his Bud-K katana like a baseball bat, puts on a bathrobe and calls himself a samurai,” said a tall, older asian man, scowling. He was wearing a suit, but no tie and carrying a briefcase. His hair was black and graying at the temples and it was slicked back with some sort of product.
“Great. Aren’t you late for the office?”
“You want to learn to really use that sword or just continue flailing it around like an electrocuted monkey?”
“I’m doing fine, old man.”
“Sure, getting your ass repeatedly kicked by goons in fish masks is a-okay.”
“Call this number when you’re done being an arrogant imbecile.” he handed Hunter a slip of paper.
Hunter balled it up and pitched it over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Ass,” the man called.
Hunter sat cross legged on a top floor fire escape looking down at the street below. His elbow was on his knee and his his head in his hand. He jerked his head up when he heard the sound of sirens, but decided they were ambulances and returned to his lazy position. Hunter had taken to going out on his own at night the last few months, patrolling, prowling. He would break up burglaries and robberies and assaults, the easy stuff. He found out, not long into his new endeavor, that dozens of small, private victories couldn’t erase the humiliation of a handful of crushing, public defeats, but it took the edge off. And, besides that, he liked it. It was mostly peaceful meditation on the edge of a high up rooftop, punctuated by the brief flurries of action. Tonight his meditation was interrupted by a shriek in the alley a block over.
He hopped the rooftops and scanned the alley below. A tall man with long, greasy hair that covered his face was menacing a slight woman. His denim jacket had the sleeves cut off exposing his tattooed arms and studded, leather wrist bands. He stepped toward the woman with heavy leather boots. Hunter jumped down and struck his sword against an empty trashcan.
“Hello?” Hunter sang.
The long haired man turned and grinned with a mouthful of ratty teeth, “I knew you would come if I mugged some old ladies,” his voice had an effect and an accent that made him sound like a cartoon school bully from Baltimore, “Only took about four of ‘em.”
“Who says your generation is lazy?”
“You put my dad in the hospital.”
“Who’s your dad?”
“He’s in the Go Fish gang. He might be a mean old cus, but he’s still my dad and I’m gonna make you pay, Psamurai.”
“Can I get your name so I can say something menacing back?”
“It’s Dethmetl. With no a’s.”
“That’s great. I don’t fight kids. How old are you?”
“Old enough to kick your ass, old man,” he ran toward Hunter.
“Look, I really don’t feel I should…” Dethmetl stuck Hunter on the jaw. It felt like he was hit by a fire hydrant. He regained his senses in time to see another blow incoming. Dethmetl’s fist looked like it was cast from iron. Hunter dropped to the ground and rolled clear of the shot, which fractured the pavement.
Dethmetl winced and shook out his hand. It looked like flesh again. Hunter took a swing with his sword and struck Dethmetl on the shoulder. As the blow landed, his shoulder harded and the katana glanced off with a clank. Hunter took another wild swipe and Dethmetl grabbed the blade with metal hands and tied it in a ludicrous knot. He grabbed Hunter by the neck with a iron hand and began to squeeze.
“This is the metal,” he said holding up his fist, “And here’s the death,” he pulled his fist back to strike just as quick glint of light severed the fleshy part of his forearm. His fist hit ground with a dull clang. Dethmetl shrieked and dropped to his knees, clutching his arm. Hunter saw the asian man from earlier with katana in his hand. Dethmetl scrambled to recover his lost appendage, but the man kicked him in the face.
“That is my trophy,” he hissed at Dethmetl.
The bloody end of Dethmetl’s arm began to stretch and narrow into one long, iron spike. He howled and rushed at the man. The man parried Dethmetl’s spike with his sword, dropped to one knee and stabbed him in the belly with a dagger concealed in his other hand. Dethmetl staggered backward and began loping away in attempt to run.
“This isn’t over, Psamurai,” he sputtered as he ran.
The man turned to Hunter, “You ready to stop being stupid yet?”
Hunter head wagged in a dumb nod and he collapsed toward the man.
Hunter woke in a small, spartan room. The bedroll he was laying on and a thick pillow were the only things in it. The only light was from the window and a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The asian man opened the door a crack and saw Hunter awake.
“Here,” he said setting handing a mug to Hunter, “Drink this.”
“What is it?”
“Green tea and honey.”
“What’s this supposed to do?”
“Taste good,” he barked. “Just drink it. Come out here when you’re ready.”
Hunter and the man sat across from each other, on the floor, at a low wooden table. Hunter’s eyes darted around the room in a kind of nervous defense against the man just sitting there glowering at him.
“I am Kazekiri,” he began. “You are not here to learn how to wield a katana in battle. You are here to be apprenticed in an art instead of wiping your ass with it. The rest is a side effect. First; no tripping face in my dojo. I don’t care what you do when you’re out chasing fish people with your friends, but when we’re training. No psychedelics. You’ve been relying on your special little trick too long and just getting lucky. Last night you ran into someone for whom it just didn’t matter and you were done. A child almost did you in. I have no special reflexes, or reaction time. I can’t spot hundreds of imperceptible quirks in a single moment that betray what a person is thinking, feeling, or about to do. But I sent him away bleeding. You almost got your head caved in.
Second; you’re not only going to train in the proper handling of a katana, you will learn to forge one as well. Carefully select the material for use in its construction. In the meantime you can use any of the ones lined up on the wall over there. They’re complete garbage, but still better than that tin foil sword you were swinging around. You should continue running around with your goofy friends. Take that time to employ what you learn here.
Third; and this is not a rule. I would just seriously reconsider your look.”
“I already know what I want to make the blade from,” Hunter slid Dethmetl’s hand onto the table.
“Oh, man, you kept that? I was just trash talking him about the trophy.” The fingers wiggled a bit. “Could you move that? I eat off this table.”
Over the next several months Hunter crafted numerous practice blades under Kazekiri’s supervision. This gave Hunter a copious supply of replacement katanas in reserve for when one got a bit too dinged from swatting bullets or another got bent in half by rock monsters. Dethmetl’s hand sat in a place of honor on a pedestal in the center of the room, waiting its turn to be melted and beaten into a blade. From time to time, it would twitch its fingers as if to wave ‘hello’. After awhile, Hunter began waving back.
The biggest challenge in forging the final blade was getting the forge hot enough to melt down the hand. But once molten it was easy enough to work with. The finished blade, however, exhibited strange properties. Once cooled, it retained its shape regardless of how it was disfigured. Bent, dented, or twisted, the blade would returned to its forged shape.
Ian and Cheryl designed and built a hilt to take advantage of its unique conductive properties, like running a current through it, heating it up, or making it vibrate. An appliance worn on the hand would allow the sword, if within a few meters, to return to its user hand. Also a GPS, for when Hunter leaves it in restaurants.
Hunter squatted on a fire escape with his eyes closed. It was cold and smelled like snow, but none had fallen yet. That was fine with Hunter. He didn’t like snow. Least of all a February snow. November and December snow was fine because the holidays kept your spirit up, by January it was intolerable. But in February it was pure divine hatred. He didn’t like the way the world sounded after it snowed, either. It was too dead, too anechoic to know where any sound is coming from. However, for the time being, it was good old, reliable concrete. He saw a silhouette holding a cane cut into the sodium yellow light on the street, but could not make out the features.
“Come down from there, Psamurai,” the silhouette said in a voice familiar only after consideration. The silhouette dragged its cane along the ground and it made a grinding, metallic noise. “Let’s finish this.”
“Dethmetl?” Hunter called down.
“Get down here so I can end you.”
Hunter sighed and scaled down the fire escape, “What do you want, kid?”
“It’s time, once and for all, for you to pay for putting my dad in the hospital.”
“Kid, he went to the emergency room with a dislodged patella. And it wasn’t me, it was The Piper.”
“Enough talk,” he lunged at Hunter.
Hunter stepped aside.
“I would have had you the last time if your grandpa didn’t show up,” Dethmetl scoffed.
“You should be mad at him. Denied you your revenge, stabbed you in the gut, took your hand. Which by the way,” Hunter tapped on his blade.
“You made a sword out of my hand?” Dethmetl shrieked. “You piece of shit, I’ll kill you and shove that sword up your ass.”
Dethmetl pulled back his spike and stabbed at Hunter. Hunter parried the spike, dropped to one knee and jabbed him in the belly with a syringe concealed in his other hand. Dethmetl’s spike retracted and returned to a fleshy stump. He took a swing at Hunter, but what landed was a small fist at the end of a skinny arm.
“What was that stuff,” Dethmetl screamed.
“It will temporarily stop your ability. Long enough to figure out what to do with you.”
Hunter wasn’t sure where they took Dethmetl. He wasn’t sure where you could take a person with such an innate ability coupled with criminal tendencies. He wasn’t ready to think about it. Now was the time for tranquil contemplation. So few and far between the tranquil moments were getting, since December when the world plunged into peak weirdness. After angels, people from the future, a kid who turns himself metal and a one hundred and fifteen year old voodoo detective, it’s essential to spend the evening contented with muggers and thieves.