Absent 11-Vignette


The First One Clean.

Two years ago, or thereabouts.

The blow spun Flint to the ground, a spray of blood splattering on the plastic sheeting. He grimaced, blood dripping down from his noise, and pushed himself up off his hands and knees.

“Hold.” The voice caught him as he was about to launch into a spinning blow, and he froze. “Are you okay, Flint?”

He sighed, and relaxed his stance, turning to face his opponent. “Dad, I’m fine. If I wasn’t, I’d still be lying there.”

Marco Perez frowned at his son. “Flint, you’re bleeding.” Taller than his son by at least half a head, he looked like he belonged on the cover of a dollar-store romance novel, with thick, glossy black hair bound back in a ponytail, and an impressive mustache combined with a few days’ worth of stubble. His long face had hard lines etched in, but right now they were softened as concern filled his eyes.

“Yeah, because you hit me on the nose; that’s usually what happens.” He wiped at the blood with the back of his hand, and flicked it down onto the plastic, earning a grimace from his father. “If we stop every time I take a hit, I'm not going to learn anything.”

“For the last time, Flint, it’s self-defense, not Fight Club. If someone can land a hit on you like that, you’re down for the count.”

“If it’s self-defense,” Flint shot back, “then why do I know twenty ways to disable someone by breaking their bones?”

Marco sighed. “First, I only taught you one. Please tell me you haven’t been watching ‘martial arts' videos on the internet again.” Flint coughed awkwardly, and said nothing.  “Of course you have. And second, often the best form of self-defense is making sure the other guy can’t hurt you anymore. If you have to break a few bones to ensure that, then so be it. But your first priority should always be ensuring your own safety: if someone was dangerous enough to land a hit on you, and you couldn’t stop them uninjured, what hope do you have of doing it when you’re hurt?”

“Yeah, and they’ll be thinking that too, so when I spring up and punch them in the balls they won’t be expecting it,” Flint replied with a grin. With the blood staining his teeth, it looked vaguely unnerving.

Marco shook his head. “If you actually end up in this situation, you get up and you run. That, they won’t be expecting.”

Pfeh, whatever,” Flint replied dismissively. He raised his fists and spread his stance into a ready position. “Again?”

“No, that’s enough. Go clean yourself up, and we’ll do weapon drills.”

“Oh come on! I can g-”

“Flint.” His tone brooked no argument. “Go.”

He went, grumbling all the way.

The sink was on the opposite side of the gym, next to the stairs that led up to the main level. A few towels hung from a rack next to it, and a small fridge sat slightly off to the side. Flint was pretty sure there was nothing in it, because there was never anything in it, but he still opened the door and gave it a quick once-over. Yep, nothing. What a surprise.

Flicking on the tap, he leant over the basin and cupped his hands under the stream, gathering a small pool of cool water. He splashed it onto his face, rubbing at the dried blood until it came off and stained the water pink as it spun around the drain, then gathered another handful and poured it over the top of his head. Theoretically, it was for the sweat, but it was really more of an excuse to run his hands over his newly-shaven skull. After… whatever the hell had happened at the café, he hadn’t spoken to Edith once. He’d seen her around, they still did go to the same school, but every time he tried to talk to her, she disappeared. It hadn’t been quite intentional, but he’d found himself in front of a mirror with a razor right there, and it had just sort of happened. He knew his hair had nothing to do with her breaking up with him, of course he did, but there was a tiny, nagging, stupid, part of his brain that wouldn’t stop whispering about it. So the dreads were gone, and maybe now she’d talk to him again. Yeah, and maybe he’d be abducted by aliens from Mars.

When he trudged back over to Marco, he found him holding a wooden knife in one hand, flipping and spinning it casually around. He flicked it up out of his hand, and then swiped it out of the air into a backhanded grip. “You took a while. Alright, let’s get started.” He settled into a loose posture, weapon held at the ready. “What do you do?”

Flint narrowed his eyes, then lunged forward, but his father held a hand up and stopped him. “I know you can do it. Talk me through it.”

He groaned. “Do I have to?”

Marco raised a thin eyebrow. “I think you already know the answer to that.”

Flint blew a raspberry at him, spraying spittle everywhere, but obligingly took a step back to his starting point. “…okay, fine. So the first thing I do is identify the weapon. How are they holding it, how long is it, is it bladed or blunt, all that stuff.”

“No it’s not,” Marco chided.

“Yes it is, what else- ugh, right, fine. First, I look at the person. Is he scared, is he relaxed, does he know how to hold a weapon?”
“Good. What do you do if he or she looks like this?” His posture tensed and he held the knife out like it was more of a danger to Flint than to him.

“You obviously don’t know what you're doing, so I take it off you and disable.”

“Mm-hmm. This?” Now his posture was more relaxed, and the knife pointed threateningly at Flint.

“Same answer. You’re more confident, but that doesn’t make you more skilled.”

“Right. And now?” He shifted again, but this time it was subtle changes that set off alarm bells in Flint’s brain.

“Run,” he said instantly. “There’s no way I win this one?”

“Really? What if-” his free hand flicked over to the rack and tossed another fake knife at him, “you have one too?”

Flint caught the wooden weapon by the blade and flipped the grip into his palm. “Answer doesn’t change. Because-”

“-you don’t win a knife fight, you just get to bleed out second,” they said together, and then grinned at each other.

“Alright, that’s good. You feel the need to prove it?” The question was asked with a smile.

“I think I’m good. Next?”

“Next,” he placed the knives down and pulled a handgun off the rack, “we're doing this.”

At the sight of the gun, Flint flinched; he couldn’t help it. “Could we… maybe not?”

“What? Why? Normally, you… oh, right. The café.”

He shrugged awkwardly. “…yeah. It’s just… all it would have taken was one slipup, and I could have died. Someone else could’ve died, Edith could’ve died, and it would be been my fault and-”
A hand fell on his shoulder, warm and comforting, and he looked up to see his dad standing in front of him, face soft. “Yes,” he said softly, “yes, you could’ve. Yes, they could’ve. And yes, it’d have been partially tour fault. But they didn’t, Flint. And that’s why we do this, so that it doesn’t ever happen. Now that you’ve actually been in a real life scenario, it’s even more important that we keep doing it. Otherwise, you’ll lose the instincts that saved you in the first place. I know it’s scary, and I know it’s stark, but you have to face up to this stuff sooner or later if you want to- do something with your life. Okay, sport?”

Flint took a deep breath. Oddly enough, that did make him feel better about it. “Okay,” he replied.

Marco’s face broke out into a grin, and he took a step back, leveling the gun. “That’s the spirit. Now, I’m a scary person with a scary gun. How are you going to stop me?”

Flint’s eyes swept over him, taking in everything, and he grinned. “Like this,” he said. And then he threw the knife.

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