“Shit,” Larry said, staring into the Refrigerator. No milk.

A long evening of medication, another bad night of images and now no milk.

He looked back at the counter. Amid the dirty dishes and empty beer cans was a lonely bowl of dry cheerios.

He turned back to the open Frig. Hell with it, only a few minutes till noon. He pulled out a beer and popped the top.

Clearing a space at the table, he poured the beer over the cheerios. Damn, no spoon. He got up.

Vader’s Imperial March interrupted the spoon search.

“Hey Larry,” a voice said after Larry got the cell open, “ we’re on the way to a SCA fair. You with?”

“What’s a what?” Larry asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” the voice said. “It’s got a beer garden.”

* * *

“All right, don’t get a weekend off together much,” Mike said, swerving around a slow moving sedan.

“Might even live through the whole weekend, if you’d stop driving like we’re still in our ambulance,” Fred said from the front passenger seat. “Remember, we ain’t got a siren.”

“Shit, good thing you weren’t with me and Larry last week,” Mike said. “Now that was a ride. And Larry, you were awesome gettin’ that kid outta that car. Christ, thought we were back in the Army with all that fire and smoke.”

“So what’s this SAC thing?” Larry asked from the back. Gotta get off this shit.

“SCA. Society for Creative something or the other,” Mike said. “A bunch of freaks wearing Middle Age costumes.”

“Creative Anachronisms,” Fred said. “Think low cut medieval dresses, leaning over our table serving beer.”

* * *

 It was as Fred said. It was also a sunny cool June day. Perfect for beer and beauties.

And brawn. Larry was distracted by the guys in the field next to the beer garden, wearing armor and whacking each other with padded swords. Maybe it was the beer or maybe just the bad night, but he envied the fun they seem to be having.

About halfway through the third pitcher, someone in robes and hood started making announcements. One caught Larry’s attention.

“If you’re interested in tournament fights,” the hooded man said through a portable PA system, “stick around after the individual matches and try it out. We got beginners’ armor and weapons.”

The man finally finished and the next match started. Larry watched. Could he do that?

“Hey guys, how about moving on?” Mike said, breaking Larry’s concentration on parries and blocks.

“I’m ready for a new serving wench,” Fred said. “This one don’t flirt.”

“You guys go on. I’m gonna stick around,” Larry heard himself saying. “I’ll bum a ride back.”

* * *

“Hope I don’t look as silly as I feel,” Larry mumbled. He was on the field with several other newbies, holding a heavily padded sword and a shield, and squeezed into the largest set of padded armor that the tournament organizers could find. Some guy in clerical robes was finishing up an explanation of the honor system.

“So basically,” he said, “if you successfully block, you live. If you get hit, you must simulate injury. Or flop around on the ground dying.”

Larry wasn’t sure he liked his guy.

“But as beginners,” the robed man added, “we let you have several lives. And to get things rolling, let’s run you through some preliminary exercise.”

Larry found himself in a line, and, as a group, they worked through basic attacks, parries and shield blocks. After a few minutes, Larry was panting and sweating. Way too much beer and way too little exercise.

Then the newbies were paired up with experienced fighters. Larry found himself facing a knight dressed in black.

At the starting horn blast, Larry rushed him, hoping for surprise. He swung his wooden sword and the ground smashed into his side. Through blurred eyes Larry stared at cobblestones. Screams and rifle shots reverberated through the narrow alleyway. His eyes cleared and he was looking at grass. Christ, it was last night all over again.

Larry staggered to his feet. A heavy bass drum thudded through his body. As he stood, the thuds quieted to something like a normal heartbeat.

“You ok, bud?”  the black knight asked, lifting his visor for a better look. “Keep you weight centered. I was able to just kick your feet out from under you. Let’s just try some practice exchanges to get your balance.”

They squared off again and exchanged blows and blocks. Larry started to get the hang of moving with the weight of the armor and how to stay upright when the heavy sword and shield clashed. Sweat soaked his clothing.

“Let’s do it,” the black Knight said.

Larry moved in. An overhand fake, than a thrust to the belly. The black Knight moved his shield and Larry’s sword went flying. A flash and the side of Larry’s helmet exploded. Once again, the ground rose up and knocked the breath out of his lungs. Blurred vision of a narrow street. Shouts. Running. Carrying George over one shoulder. George’s blood dripping on his arm and leg. Oh shit, not again. Larry rose, his body trembling from memory and fatigue.

“You telegraphed the fake with your body movement,” the black Knight said. “Wait till the last second before bracing your body for the real move.”

Larry glanced around. There was now a large crowd watching. Can’t stop now. Frickin’ male ego shit.

The black Knight lunged forward, sword sweeping down. Larry blocked, the descending sword flying away. Then the black Knight’s shield flared in his vision and he felt himself propelled backward. “Move out,” the Sergeant screamed, “move it, move it.” Larry ran, George’s weight numbing his left side. A flash of color. Larry fired. A kid’s head exploded. A goddamned neighborhood kid walking out the wrong door at the wrong time. Larry screamed.  Blue sky, faint clouds moving slow. Then the black Knight’s face above him.

“Good move,” he said. “You disarmed me. Hope I didn’t whack you too hard with my shield.”

Larry got up on one knee. Then stood.

“No, I’m ok,” Larry said. Christ, the kid. What a fuckup. George had died anyway. Gotta stop thinking.

“Hey man, how’d you do that,” Larry asked. Keep moving.

“Call me Allen,” the black Knight said. “Here, let me show you.”

Allen spent the next few minutes going over his shield thrust. Then the robed man announced the start of the General Melee.

“The rules are simple, be the only one left,” the announcer finished up.

“This gets pretty crazy,” Allen said. “You may want to sit this out.”

“No, I’ll try it,” Larry said. Anything rather than thinking of the kid.

It started with all the armored fighters in the field. Then the starting horns. Within seconds it was chaos. Larry stood, perplexed. He and another obvious newbie were ignored, at least for the present, the more experienced fighters trying to eliminate their top adversaries. Then a blue and white-attired Knight ran at Larry, sword swing. Without thinking, Larry thrust his shield. The blue and white Knight fell.

“Damn,” he said. “Nice move.” Then the blue and white figure began crawling towards the perimeter of spectators.

Larry was stunned. He just beat someone. And not a newbie. Holy shit.

Then a flash from a figure in red. The kid lay there, head shattered. A hand grabbed his arm. “Move it,” a voice said, “can’t help him. We gotta get out of here.” …Larry shook off the hand, “No, I’ll get him”. Flames were appearing from the engine compartment. The seat belt was stuck. He slipped his emergency knife between the kid and the belt and ripped. Smoke stung his eyes. No time to check for injuries. He pulled and they both fell out of the car. Hands grabbed him, dragging him back away from a flash of heat. The kid in his hands started coughing. His eyes cleared. Staring at grass again. The red figure had moved on.

Guess I’m dead. Larry propped himself on his elbows, actually relieved to be forced to rest. About half of the fighters were down. Some like Larry, just watching from where they fell. Others were crawling off the field.

But not dead like that kid in Baghdad. There was hollowness with that thought. But he was surprised to realize that it was now bearable.

Within minutes it was over. And it was his black Knight who remained. Allen came over, and helped Larry up.

“You did good for a newbie,” Allen said. “Heard you took out a Knight before biting it. Up for a beer?”

“Ah… How about water for now,” Larry heard himself say. “Tell me more about this SCA thing.”


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