Thursday, February 19, 2015

2-19-15 Writing Warm-up
11:36 AM

2-19-15 Writing Warm-up

2-19-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Derek Burns, All Rights Reserved -
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

You always remember the day you die.

I had been on a special assignment for my college, helping at the city's civic center. "Fun for the Feudal fanatic" had been the HR rep's spin. She thought she was funny with her backhand compliment. I smiled, nodded, and imagined her taking part in ritual sepukku. It made us both part with warm feelings. I would enjoy having a chance to put my hands on real artifacts. This traveling exhibit touted itself as the largest demonstration of Edo era Samurai and Shinobi crafts. Having once studied abroad in Japan, my university's human resources department thought I was a perfect match. Archeology intern. Martial artist. Edo enthusiast. More likely, it was because I was one of three interns and had a pretty face. I again imagined the vain-minded lot sacked by dragon-masked warriors. I sighed.

It would be good to get away from the rat warren and have fun.

The exhibition hall beckoned with flanking rows of silk nobori, beautiful characters stitched onto their vibrant fields. I walked between them and entered a world outside space and time. Pagodas stood as islands amid a sea of reeds, craftsman stalls, and cultural displays. Bamboo mats carpeted the floor like light brown rivers flowing between workshops and artifacts. The dull concrete room had been transformed into Edo Japan in miniature. When a woman in an crane-embossed kimono walked up to me, I expected her to speak fluent Japanese. I almost missed that she hadn't as I admired her jade hairpin.

"Welcome. You're Alice? I am Jasmine Brown, the lead curator for the exhibit."

"Jasmine..." My brain struggled to associate a European name with her period ambiance.

"Yes. Like the tea." She smiled warmly.

I smiled back, snapping back into reality. "A real pleasure to meet you! I'm so thrilled to be here, working with you."

"We're glad to have you!" She beamed back. "Did you bring your own kimono?"

"Kimono?" I cursed in my mind. Damn HR. Details. "No, I wasn't informed that I would need anything other than business attire."

"Not a problem. We have a wardrobe for our workers. You can choose from one of ours."

"Thanks." I condemned HR to a thousand cubicle hells. No, wait. They might like it there.

Jasmine escorted me past ornate panels, smiths in original garb setting out their tools, even a few men in samurai armor. The entire operation stood in elaborate contrast to textbook lessons. When she pointed to a secluded area, where racks brimmed in a rainbow of materials, my jaw dropped. Even this wardrobe possessed the Edo charm. I was in heaven.

The curator emphasized each word as she spoke,"You can choose whatever you like. Just be sure to write down the numbers and your name in the checkout log. Most are reproductions, but a few have some historical significance."

That is to say, more expensive that a lifetime of college loans.

"I will. Thanks."

She disappeared, leaving me to inspect the wardrobe. A thoughtful organizer had separate the racks by gender and role. I thought it would be fun to try the ornate Geisha kimono, and then remembered the makeup aspect...not a fan of a hundred-pound cake job, no matter how elegant and pretty. What would be my one-weekend fantasy role in Edo Japan? I mused. Then I noticed my hand idly thumbed a beautiful, simple kimono. Gold tracery flowed over its black border, lining the ultramarine-dyed silk. I found the soft cover fit comfortably, like a gentle waterfall wrapped against my skin. I would only need to find geta that were my shoe size to wear. Though I hated posting pictures, this was portrait worthy. I could stomach a mirror shot this once.

As I looked for the best angle with their floor-length mirror, a crimson shadow hung at the corner of my vision. I glanced over and saw the most curious piece: An O-yoroi lamellar armor augmented with kusari chain-mail. I had only seen a full rokugu in display cases. The woven fusion spoke of the glory of Samurai warlords, epic conflict, and violent intrigue. I had to try it on. So I did.

Little did I know that I was putting on my burial clothes.

Seeing my pale skin, blond locks, and slate blue eyes float above the plate-and-chain armor seemed surreal. I looked like an Americanized Mulan. Of course, in Japanese, not Chinese, armor. This would make a killer photo. I found my phone awkward to manuever in the greaves. A gratifying snap told me I had succeeded. Epic photo of the day goes to me, I thought.

A shuffling outside the paper screens told me that I was about to have an intruder. I turned to see Jasmine's shadow stain the pale divider. Crap. I must have taken too long. She'll want me to take off this suit. The debatable tradition of onna-bugeisha would not be the way to start out our weekend together. The curator mumbled something as she brushed into the divider.

"Sorry for the delay. I got carried away with all these beautiful pieces you have. I'll be right out."

She grumbled something in response that I didn't make out. Instead of waiting for me to come out, she came into the room. Through the paper. She stumbled over the bamboo braces, and then I saw her face. Eyes bloodshot, her beautiful smile twisted into a snarl, and her chin dripped foam. She growled and charged, arms clawing wildly through the air. I found my instincts kick in. I spread my feet into a battle stance, bringing my arms up, greaves facing out. Her nails scraped at the stained armor, spilling her own blood from fractured nail beds. My dream world had become a nightmare.

I pushed her back and cried out, "Jasmine! What's wrong?"

She howled and dove back at me. I focused on her wrists, capturing her left and hurling her into mirror. I didn't have to be a medical student to know she was batshit crazy. Damn rabid, more like. The glass fixture fell and shattered over her thin body. I winced, thinking I had used too much force. Amazingly, she rose from the ground, a twisted spine of shards in her back. She hobble-hopped back at me, snapping her perfect teeth as she dove for my throat. I marveled at her stamina. I also realized this was mortal combat. I had to finish this before she hurt anyone else.

So much for a fun-filled weekend.

I wrestled the blood-slick woman, seeking to keep space between her fangs and my face. Too bad the room didn't have an armory. I glanced past her fevered eyes to her amazingly well-kept hair. The jade hairpin remained firmly lodged in her traditional bun. I reached past her bleeding left claw, careful not to get my exposed fingers bit, and pulled the jewelry out of her bun. She scraped uselessly at my side, the authentic chain-mail showing its worth. I gulped and did what seemed my only choice. I plunged the jade sliver into her eye, and then punched it through with the greave. The feral woman collapsed in a ruin of blood and tattered robe.

My stomach felt like I drank acid. I glanced at the shattered mirror, noting the flecks of blood on my face and armor. I found rubbing alcohol on the counter, used to help with makeup removal. I grabbed a cloth, doused it, and quickly, viciously wiped the stains away. I didn't want whatever she had infecting me. I checked for wounds. The armor and training did their job.

Reality sunk in again. I just killed a woman. A crazy woman, but a woman nonetheless. Shit. How was I going to explain this? As if in answer, more growls and moans echoed in the spacious arena. Whatever she had, she was not alone. But I was. I grabbed the helmet and dragon mask from their stand, and found some armored gloves. I'd rather not risk another exposure.

I needed to get my hands on a weapon. Fast.

I kicked down the wall, half-expecting to find another demon-possessed reenactor on the other side. The wall slapped concrete. A couple growls answered. Then I thought I should go for the more silent route. Crouching low, I followed the bamboo path in the opposite direction of the noise. A weaponsmith workshop had been around here somewhere. Thankfully, the place would have just been opening, so the only people in the room would be staff and volunteers. The thought of crazed colleagues wasn't as comforting as I hoped. Especially if some of them happened to go crazy with weapons on hand.

The weapon's shop stood as pleasant hut amid dry reed sheaves. I glanced around and didn't see the worker who had been laying out tools. A few display weapons hung on the back wall. I scanned around once more, hating how the yelps and growls echoed in an all-around way. I darted for the hut. I didn't have time to weigh and balance each piece. A wrong-sized katana would be dangerous to wield. I went for the obvious solution for keeping crazies out of arms reach. A naginata.

Just when I pulled the polearm from the wall, I heard his heavy breathing. Damn it. He was close. I spun, hands working the thick oak pole in a protective arc. The smith had been hiding in the bushes like a lion in the wild. He veered away from the blade in his charge, but I felt his hungry gaze tear into me.

"Stand back!" I called out.

He roared and charged, foam breaking against his beard. I slashed downward, striking him from shoulder to hip. He fell and howled, still trying to grab at me. I drove the sword tip through his chin and he stilled. My stomach was in full revolt now. I had no time to vomit. The others would pick up on his death throes. I gave the shelf a once over, and decided I needed some spare weapons. I hastily added a katana and wakizashi to the armor's belts. Well, fighting as a samurai in the apocalypse was certainly near the top of "Most interesting ways to die." I tried to keep the being clawed to death part out of my mind.

I had to get out of here. Screw going for my phone, i.d., anything that belonged to my life 15 minutes ago. That was deeper into the house of horrors. I had to find security, somebody, anybody still sane. Then the lights went out. Perfect timing. Murphy's a bitch. A grey dimness settled over one side of the spacious cavern. 

That must be sunlight.

I had to give it a shot.

The crazies must have noticed the change in lighting, too, because their screeches took on a wolflike tone. My skin crawled. The hunt was on. I rounded one of the exterior corners when I heard the clop of clog-wearing feet. Six pairs galloped behind me. Two pairs before me. Five audible enemies. I was surrounded. Better face death head-on than run from it. The "Bushi Way," I mused bitterly. The strange image of the HR lady sitting somewhere sipping coffee, watching this little "Hunger Games" with a smile, leaped into my mind. In the heat of the moment, I really hoped she had been eaten.

"Focus!" I hissed to myself.

Five v. One. Time for tactics.

Two armored shadows crawled into view. One had a sword sticking from his side. Apparently a duel had occurred before the other joined the madness. They passed a ronin statue in pursuit of their prey. Then the ronin did the strangest thing. It came to life, cutting off their heads. The two died without a whimper. With the two front guards down, I ran headlong for the exit. The others would hopefully pause to check their own. Or eat them. I shuddered.

The grey light beaconed hope as I mounted the stairs. No security or savages could be seen. I ran straight through the vestibule and toward the glass doors. I had made it. I was free. Then reality impaled me. I looked beyond the gateway of freedom and realized I was dead.

The world was dead.

I stood reflected on the window, a pane stained with blood. Bodies and burning cars littered the sunny streets. I had fought only a small scale battle in a greater war for survival. My mind rebelled against the truth. But there it was, a world gone mad.

I died that day, and the warrior-survivalist took my place.


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