Year 2, Month 1, Day 25: Tom’s sword

Posted: September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

“Four ninety-six.” The sword glides through the air easily and quickly, the skill of its bearer evident in the stroke.

“Four ninety-seven.” Each slice of the sword is as perfect and clean as the last. There is no wasted motion in the action. While the exercise is practiced daily, the actions don’t reflect the usual absent-mindedness that would be found in a typical habit. There is never a slash made in which the swordsman questions if he made it. Never a lost count. Each has a purpose, a target in mind. Some are made for revenge. Some are made in preparation for the future. His mind’s eye often sees the faces of the ones he has killed, as his success is replayed in his mind as a reference for correct technique. Often, he sees his mother’s face, as a reminder of his errant judgment.

“Four ninety-eight.” As the sharp edge of the katana slices through the air, Tom imagines that each cut divides individual molecules into their separate atoms, each atom dividing into its individual components, severing electron shell from nucleus, proton from neutron. He practically wills that time itself be cut into pieces, that he might step through the self-made chasm and change history or select the singular piece of time that changed his life forever and toss it away as if it were a piece of refuse that would be so easily forgotten.

“Four ninety-nine.” Tom’s mind hovers between the active and passive monitoring of each stroke, his subconscious controlling the fine muscular action of each motion. But his conscious mind controls his thoughts, not allowing them to stray, keeping them focused on the precision of each stroke, his motivation for each session remaining the same throughout.

“Five. Zero. Zero.” Today’s last cut. As Tom deftly slides his sword back into its scabbard, sweat drips down his face and neck, forming droplets on his nose which spray forward upon his strained exhalation. The swordsman practices this routine every day without fail, his skill with the ancient weapon incrementally increasing with each repetition. One could criticize him for failing to develop his dueling proficiency, as he has never prepared to match his skill with another practitioner of the art. But, in this world, the only opponents that would ever feel the sharpness of his blade are the undead. His goal is a quick, disciplined kill. He practices as he imagines he would fight: cleanly, with no squandered action. The heat of battle is no place for second-guessing; there is no time for wasted effort. On that field, where each warrior balances on that fine cord separating life and death, it is the decisive that live and the tentative that die.

Tom’s first opportunity to use his weapon resulted in his own salvation, but at the expense of his own future. His partiality to a blade versus any other type of weapon was a passing interest. His skill was amateurish at best. The days and weeks following allowed him to consider his relative lack of skill, his obvious deficit in conflict. His personal reflection brought him to the conclusion that he needed more than just that passing interest. He needed to be able to save his own life, and the lives of others, should the need arise.

Several months ago, he made one of the most important decisions of his life in joining with his new friends. Their camaraderie has been the most valuable he has ever known. His life and theirs are inextricably intertwined and he vowed that his mistakes would never again carry such a high cost. His extraordinary intellect is one of his greatest gifts, but it is his and his alone, something that could not be shared or transferred to another. His swordsmanship is something that he could share with others, a skill that he could confer on those around him, a benefit to those that might depend on him during their time of immense need.

“I would have never thought that swinging that sword around would get you so hot and sweaty. It just doesn’t seem like that much work.” Jennifer’s sarcastic incredulity is never hidden.

Tom turns in alarm, obviously not aware that Jennifer was watching him, though surprising himself that he didn’t know she was there. “How long have you been watching me?” Tom had long stopped trying to figure her out, realizing that some will always be a mystery, purposely remaining enigmatic.

“Long enough.” She pushes away from the doorjamb she was leaning against and walks toward him, her red ponytail swaying hypnotically like a pendulum on an old clock, swishing back and forth over each of her shoulders as she walks.

Tom regains his composure, “I have an extra sword. I’d love for you to get all ‘hot and sweaty’ with me. You might even like it.” He had been trying to get many of his friends to practice with him for weeks now. But the relative calmness around them since they took up residency at the apartment complex, combined with the very few encounters they have had recently, had obviously increased their complacency. Since John, a cop, joined the group, guns were the preferred weapons and the success they had using those weapons was undeniable. However, Tom considered them loud and ultimately undependable, especially in the hands of the unskilled. Those two flaws, combined together, could mean the difference between living and dying, considering the lethality of their adversaries. Tom always hoped that he would be wrong, but he knows that no one can be completely wrong all the time.

Jennifer stops and gives him a wry smile which Tom cannot decipher. Ignoring his obvious double entendre, she returns to her original intention as the bearer of news. “Maybe some other time, Tom… when I run out of bullets and my biting wit stops working.” She rolls her eyes, but the smile remains. “Anyway, Damon wants you and me to go with John and his guys to the school in Somerville. It looks like we’re attempting to push out a little bit, take back some of the area, since the undead activity has been low lately. John thinks we might be able to get into the area pretty easily, maybe board it up to be used as a survivor camp for later on.” Survivor camp. That they even needed one was a mixed blessing. That they were finding survivors from the massive incursion several months ago was simply unbelievable. The idea that in Twenty-First century America, a survivor camp being necessary was something that one could not have imagined just less than a year ago.

“I’ll go see him.” And with that, Tom walks away, navigating around Jennifer, and out the door of the small cardio room ordinarily reserved for members of the long-abandoned apartment community. He often thought she was simply playing hard to get with him, that maybe she actually did like him for more than just a companion who also happened to survive a zombie attack. His innate sense of how women reacted to him considered another likelihood, however. He was almost positive that not only was she playing hard-to-get, but that she was actually impossible to get, and that even if by some planet-aligning miracle he was able to win her affection, she would be like a venomous pet snake: ready and willing to bite him without a second thought, injecting her bitter poison into him, rendering him completely incapable of recovery and seizing his insides so that no woman would ever want him after Jennifer was through with him. But something within Tom would never stop his casual pursuit of her, even knowing the eventual outcome. His intellect and rational mind have been completely overcome by his desire for her approval.

 

A common katana sword.

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  1. […] Year 2, Month 1, Day 25: Tom’s sword […]

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