So, as part of my ongoing writing exchange with Stripes, I was given the prompt of ‘Fencing – any style, but must be at least 1000 words’. This prompt immediately burrowed into my brain and demanded to be incorporated into my current ongoing poetry project ’50 Shades of Webster’. Thusly, the story below is a prose extract of that incredibly self-indulgent show. Thoughts appreciated.
Let me tell you a story about me and myself. About time and travel. About being your own worse enemy and the futility of fighting your future …
The thunder broke overhead with the savagery of a cracked skull, the sound resonating down me, rattling my bones and eardrums. I tried to concentrate, to filter out the storm and let my past-sight see things as they were a week ago, the air still chill with winter’s bite, but dry and dressed in cold sunshine instead of dark and downpour. For a second the phantoms of last week’s tourists flitted before my eyes, their anoraks pulled tight around them, but smiling and snapping pictures on their phones, then a drop of rain spiked me in the eye and those ghosts dissolved. Sensible people were at home in this mess of furious sound and water – the rain lancing down in spikes of sharp and cold – but sensible had been left by the wayside a few years back, when we’d first begun this dance.
The steps were rocky and uneven beneath my feet and I clambered through the wind’s cold strikes, buffeting against me like backhanding slaps designed to sting instead of injure. The castle-walls stretched on before me, a slick path of stone that stretched ever-on promising slipping and painful landings. I mean, it was probably only a couple of hundred feet, but it felt like forever. I tried checking googlemaps to make sure I was on the right track, but I could barely see the screen and I think I’d already left signal behind me. Fuck this, I thought, and began to trudge back down towards the warm and dry.
“Not giving up already, are you?”
Suddenly, he was there, flicking into life in front of me, blocking my path. My future self. His bald head shining and beard glistening in the rain, both seeming like they were taunting me (as I was neither bald nor bearded yet). It was beginning to get old that he could jump through time that easily. While I could open my eyes and time let me look through the truth of past and manifold futures, for him time opened its legs and let him jump in. Bastard.
I remember thinking he looked gaunt. Then I remember thinking I’ve always wanted to use the word ‘gaunt’. But the actuality was not nearly as cool as I had imagined, rather than looking kind of edgy and dangerous he just looked nervy, wired and like he could use a good meal.
“How did you even pick this spot?” I asked, reaching out to take his arm and steady him, but he flinched away just as another spear of lightning lit up the wall. And as the light glinted off them I saw he was holding two thin swords in his other hand.
“Sorry, WHAT?” He shouted. “You’ll have to speak up! I can’t hear you over the storm.”
“How did you pick this spot?” I yelled over the wind.
“Oh, I just googled the places that’d have the most badass storms this weekend and went from there.” A smile lit up his face at this ridiculosity, a mask of confidence snapping into place over the sharp edges of him and he seemed, once more, the same absurd guy who’d be flicking in and out of my life for so long.
“Isn’t it a little … much?”
“You should be thanking me. The first time we did this, it was in our bedroom. Totes underwhelming. Like, seriously lacking in badass-ery. Plus, we broke a bunch of our stuff. Now come on” he threw one of the swords to me, and sniggered as I fumbled my catch and it nearly fell, “like, en guarde and stuff.”
He smiled as he raised his sword in a salute and the lightning struck again, flashing off his blade so brightly it seemed like he was snatching electricity from the sky. I seriously have no idea when his dramatic timing got so much better than mine …
“Dude, like, fuck’s sake, you cannot mess with the timeline just to make our arguments more awesome. And I’m not duelling you atop a castle during a storm!”
“Why not?” His grin was a mix of challenge and confidence, with just a hint of spikes underneath.
“Because one of us will bloody die.”
“Don’t be a baby, they’re just fencing foils, they’re not sharp! And surely my very presence here is proof that you survive.”
“But you might die! And that’d be a shitty headstone: ‘He broke his neck while fighting his past self atop a castle in a storm.’” It actually sounded way better out loud than it did my my head.
“Look, we both know you want to do this. It’s really cool. And it’ll be a good way for us to work out this aggression between us.”
“Dude … are you actually trying to get me to forgive you for sleeping with my girlfriend by staging an epic duel on a castle rampart?” I could still see that shit-eating grin on his face when I walked in on him. Like, I didn’t even have to imagine and remember it, when you can literally see into the past it gets so much easier to dwell on the unpleasant stuff.
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“We are such a dick.”
“I think you mean we have such a dick, that’s why she-” And that was it. As the thunder broke overhead, something inside me broke too. It felt like my brain was a mesh of wires, that had been growing ever more taut since the day he had popped into my life and called me a douchebag; every barb we’d exchanged, every witty riposte and ugly truth had wound the mess of cable that much tighter and now one had snapped and was whipping loose and razor sharp across my head.
“Fine, whatever, en fucking guarde you douche-canoe.”
He lunged then, a flash of metal that sprayed a shower of water droplets in my eyes as his blade cut through raindrops and time alike. I moved to parry, but I was sluggish and clumsy compared to him and only barely caught his sword in time, nearly slipping on the wet stone as I retreated backwards. I recovered my balance and wiped the rain from my eyes. I raised my sword and fixed my eyes on him, determined not to be caught off-guard again.
The words I’m about to say next, I must admit, make up a sentence I have always wanted to say: our steel clashed atop the castle ramparts, the ring of blades blending with the peals of thunder in the sky. It was pretty epic. He attacked with a series of split-second thrusts, a quick succession of one-two strikes, the tip of his blade reaching for my for my chest, then shoulder, then chest once more. I didn’t bother to parry, but simply retreated backwards, my feet a blur of splashes back across the soaked walkway.
He was faster than me; his footwork fancier, his sword blurring in and out time, near-impossible to predict. I opened my eyes to the futures and still could only just see his sword snake forwards in time to block and dodge, let alone launch an attack of my own.
I took another step back and my foot hovered over a chasm of empty air. I teetered on the edge of the wet rock and still he came forward.
“What the fuck?” I cried as his sword’s tip drove forward like an angry wasp’s sting and I knew if I didn’t do something I was going to fall and my body crack and bones would splinter on the ground below and we’d both die.
What happened next is a bit of a blur. What I like to think happened is that leapt like a graceful bird, like maybe a falcon or, wait, no, like an owl and swooped over his head, somersaulting behind him. He caught a lucky blow across my face with the foil, which (even with a blunted point) cut a dashing scar across my cheek, before I ripped the sword from his grasp with one hand and knocked him to the floor with the other, my fist meeting his chin with the most satisfactory of crunches. He begged for mercy and I stayed my hand just for a second, which was enough time for him to sweep my legs, bringing me crashing down to the floor with him.
I think what actually happened is that I dived forwards and tackled him, his foil snapping against my chest, bruising me pretty badly, before the broken pieces sprung back and scored a cut across my face that dripped copper-blood down into my mouth. My weight bore us both down to the floor in a heap of undignified pain. I have to admit the evidence supports this version of events.
As we lay tangled on the floor, I looked down at his face and saw the veneer of a smile wiped away, all confidence gone. For a moment his face seemed beyond gaunt, it was skeletal, his skin stretched across it in patchwork scraps of flesh. Less man than motley. A mere scarecrow of myself.
“What happened to you?” I asked, reaching down with my hand to stroke the mess of our face, but he only bit and snarled at me through the sad wreck of skin. Who was this man of patches and anger, spitting his hatred at me through mismatched teeth, wearing a parody of my flesh?