Aphelion Issue 218, Volume 21
June 2017
 
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Beyond the Blade

by Jarrett Mazza




Ryan Masterson refrained from looking back as he sprinted down the narrow hallway and hurried through the forum located outside the school’s dilapidated auditorium. The doorway to which the nervous adolescent was currently fleeing to could only be accessed with a key, something that Ryan did not have at this intense moment in time. And yet, even without a method for gaining entry, Ryan still reached for the room’s doors, grasped the wooden handles, and squeezed them as tightly as he could.

“Damn.”

Ryan said this as he felt the brace of immovable steel. He nervously glared over his shoulder and looked back at Reggie Samson and Bryce Thomas, two ninth graders who were both swiftly approaching from the other end of the hallway.

“Get the fuck back here!” shouted Reggie while Bryce ran alongside him.

Ryan was near the entrance, his hand trembling as he pulled the handles again. His eyes were twinkling with fearful tears and he was uncertain as to whether he would get to safety or whether he would be laying on the floor, getting his face pummelled by two assholes who chose to torment him for no reason other than the fact that he was too small and too weak to defend himself.

“Open up. Open up.”

Ryan’s fist lambasted the door but there was still no sign that anyone was hearing his cries for help or that he would make it before the boys reached him. He turned back, looked over his shoulder, and then stepped to the side, around the theater, and to a door that opened near the side, a door that he didn’t see until now.

He waited for Reggie and Bryce to come forward and as soon as their arms opened, he ducked, cut through the space between them, and listened to their bodies as they clashed against the surface of the varnished wood.

“Shit!” shouted Reggie while Bryce was lying on the floor.

Ryan then raced in the other direction, cut around a tight corner, and snuck in through one of the side doors. He hoped the boys would be finished with him, so he peeked in through the window to be sure they weren’t.

The hallway outside was quiet.

Ryan exhaled and touched his arm and looked around at the rows of chairs and the stage that appeared in the distance. He rubbed his hand and crept along the front of the theater, to the other side where the exit was located. He was still trying to catch his breath and fortunately for him there was no one in the room other than himself.

He raised his hand and scratched the back of his neck. He felt a few droplets of sweat lingering around his forehead before he saw something else hidden in the shadows. It was small but large enough to capture his focus as he walked. It was also shining, like a silver coin or other glistening metal that caught what little light had found its way underneath the stage.

Ryan sidestepped in the direction of the bright object and hunched forward to look underneath. He could see the metal more clearly now, though it was still relatively small. He looked back to make sure no one was close, despite knowing already.

Ryan coughed harshly into his hand, for the space below was filled with dusty air that seeped into his nostrils and forced him to cough and then inhale. It was also black and he could see neither his feet nor his hands as he crept inside. With each careful step, he nudged and nicked the equipment that was being stored there. He continued to step through the shadows and as he scoured the blackness, he spotted a pile of old stage equipment and a sword lying in the center of the heap.

Ryan stared intently at the weapon.

Its blade was thick and short; a Gladius wielded by knights and gladiators alike. As Ryan gazed at the item, he eased his hand carefully towards the handle, which felt warm to the touch. It was banded in leather and had a golden cross-guard and symbol at the base of the handle that was formed in the shape of a diamond.

“Whoa.”

Ryan was surprised by how light the weapon was, and when he lifted it from its place, he tightly gripped the handle and swayed it gently through the air. His reflection glimmered in the side of the blade. He thought such a thing could only happen in cartoons and comic books. He was ready to crawl from underneath the stage and surrender the weapon to one of the teachers, but that’s when he felt a jolt of energy zap his tiny hand.

“Ahh,” he said.

His hand shuddered and the blade fell, clashing into the floor but not disappearing completely into the shadows. Instead, it was glowing, emitting an energy that lifted the darkness and illuminated the entire room. Ryan moved to recover the weapon but stopped when he heard a vibration rumble from beneath his feet.

“Wha…wha…”

He tried to finish his thoughts but was left reeling in search of someone- anyone -who could help him. Then, in the midst of preparing to exit the darkly space, he saw tendrils of smoke rising from beneath the stage followed by a wave of heat that shook the blade and caused the entire space to tremble.

“Hel…hel…”

Ryan’s lips were moving and he tried to say the only word that he felt he needed to, but the power to understand was fleeing, and whatever force was lurking below, all of it was beginning to assimilate- attaining power that he could neither comprehend nor prevent.

“Ryan, you in here?!”

Ryan’s knees bent and stood in a partial squat and he held the pose that he thought would keep him stable during the rupture.

“I’m in here,” Ryan uttered.

He gripped the sword handle and listened to the shuffling footsteps inching through the dark. There was a boy Ryan’s age stepping inwards. He was shaking and struggling to stay balanced the same as his friend.

“Matthew,” said Ryan, “what…what…”

“I saw you running from Reggie and Bryce, then I saw them hit the door before you took off. I was wondering where you went. Didn’t know it was here.”

Matthew’s head turned and he saw the shimmering sword.

“What’s that?”

Ryan was breathless and weary.

“Don’t know,” he said. “I found it hidden here.”

Matthew stared at the weapon, then stepped forward to help Ryan to his feet.

“Wait,” he said, quietly. “Don’t go just yet.”

“Why, what are you doing?”

“Just wait,” said Ryan.

He headed back to where he was once standing and bent over while Matthew turned and looked past the opening at the bottom of the stage.

“Dude, someone’s coming. You have to hurry.”

Ryan in his dreary and weakened state slumped forward and retrieved the sword from the ground and then shuffled up to Matthew.

“Okay,” he said, “let’s move.”

Matthew and Ryan rushed out of the theater as the quake began to settle and diminish.

* * *

“What was that?” said Matthew as he and Ryan stood in the obscure hallway outside the auditorium,

Matthew was exhaling loudly while Ryan sat straight and held the sword.

“Yeah,” he said, breathlessly, “you can definitely say that again.”

“So,” said Matthew, still leaning forward as he breathed, “what is that?”

Ryan’s head tilted and he looked down at the weapon.

“I found it…under the stage.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Well is it like a prop from the drama club or something?”

Ryan shook his head.

“I don’t think so.”

“Here, let me look at it.”

Matthew stepped towards Ryan and reached for the sword.

“No,” said Ryan, and he pulled the weapon away.

Matthew raised his hands and eased back with meek surrender.

“Whoa,” he said, “it’s all right. Take it easy.”

Ryan lifted the blade, which was now grey and stripped of its glowing light.

“You don’t understand,” he said, “when I touched it…”

His gaze deepened as he spoke and Matthew’s expression turned curious.

“What?”

“When I touched it,” Ryan continued, “something happened to me. There was like this…this energy that I felt. It jolted me, like I was being electrocuted, before I heard this quake from underneath. Did you see that, did you feel that?”

“No.”

Matthew’s expression turned curious.

“Did it hurt?” he asked Ryan.

“No,” he said, “but it did knock me down. That’s why I was weak when you came and found me, because of this…this thing, whatever it is.”

Ryan raised the sword up to his face.

“I don’t think it’s…just a sword. I think it’s something else.”

“What?” asked Matthew.

Ryan was still examining the object, and when his mouth opened to respond to his friend’s question, the boys turned and saw two teachers approaching.

“Shit,” said Matthew.

“We have to go.”

Ryan and Matthew exited the school; Ryan bringing the sword with him.

* * *

The following day, Ryan was sitting in the cafeteria with three girls who were eating French Fries off a paper plate. Matthew was sitting in front of Ryan, eating the sandwich that his mother had made for him.

“So, are we going to talk about what happened yesterday?”

“I already told you what happened,” Ryan answered.

“Well, where is it then?”

“Where’s what?”

“The sword,” said Matthew.

Ryan dropped his sandwich and glared at his friend.

“Do you still have it?”

Ryan turned and leaned in to whisper.

“I do.”

“Why?!” Matthew snapped, raising his voice, and forcing the girls to look over. “You can’t keep that. It’s too dangerous.”

“What do you mean?”

“Man,” said Matthew, “didn’t you read any sci-fi? You don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you. You have to get rid of it.”

“Yeah, but how?”

“I don’t know, but-”

“Hey, shitheads.”

A new voice intruded into the conversation and it caused Ryan and Matthew to turn.

“What are you two nerds doing here?”

Ryan and Matthew turned and saw Reggie and Bryce standing by their table, looking down in the leather jacket and torn blue jeans.

“Bryce, Reggie,” said Matthew. “Nice to see you two again.”

“Stop sweet talkin’,” said Reggie, “we know you two pricks tried to run from us yesterday and now…” he grinned, “there’s just no place left to go.”

Bryce chuckled manically and Reggie placed his knuckle on the table and leaned forward.

“No place left to run,” Bryce sang in off tune melody designed to tease and taunt.

Matthew shot a look at Ryan, who was timidly looking down at his half-eaten sandwich.

“Guys, come on, just leave us alone and let us finish our lunch, okay?”

“Leave you alone? Bullshit. I don’t think so. You tried to run from us once, and you ain’t runnin’ from us again,” said Reggie.

Ryan looked sternly at Matthew and upon receiving this look, both boys could read each other’s intentions quite clearly. Matthew cupped an apple underneath the table and held it as if it were a pool ball.

“Ready to play?” said Reggie.

He cocked his fist back and Matthew leapt forward.

“Shit,” said Bryce.

He could read Matthew’s movements clear as day and the second he saw him move, he lifted his hand and slugged Matthew in the side of his jaw.

“Aw!”

He stumbled into the table and Ryan was immediately up from his chair.

“Back off!”

Ryan resentfully moved to the trio of bullies and listened to them as they hissed.

“Pussy.”

Ryan raised his hand and the blow he was hoping to land was one that would cause his opponent to cease and desist; an act that was not quite so different than those committed by teachers whenever students were about to fight. Yet, the moment Ryan’s fist clashed into Reggie’s chest, the bully was sent flying across the room and into the school vending machine positioned six meters from where they were standing.

The students rose from their chairs and gazed with awe. Matthew was standing in front of Bryce, who was turned to look across the room, toward the machine. The machine cratered and several soda cans from the dispenser bopped onto Reggie’s head.

“Holy shit,” said a chubby boy with big glasses.

The students were still, as were some of the teachers, but before either one could comment on what happened, Ryan and Matthew were missing from the school cafeteria, leaving two empty chairs in their place.

“Holy shit,” said Matthew and hurried along the sidewalk. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.”

Ryan was steady alongside him, peering over and watching as his friend leaned forward and looked down at his trembling feet.

“What…” Matthew said, breathlessly, “how did you do that?”

Matthew was exhaling loudly.

“It was the…it was…the sword.”

He couldn’t catch his breath and he was struggling to process what he was saying and the sense it was making.

“Come on,” said Matthew, nudging his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.”

Both boys hurried down another street and raced to Ryan’s home, which was only a few blocks from the school.

* * *

They snuck in through the garage, knowing quite well that neither boy was expected to be home at this hour as it was still the middle of a school day. Ryan’s home was big, smelled of rich air freshener, and was as quiet as a library. Nonetheless, both boys rushed to the stairs and moved into Ryan’s bedroom, which was decorated with dinosaurs and superhero posters, and where the sword rested in the middle of his flushed bed.

“Time out,” said Matthew, “what the hell are we doing here?”

Ryan slipped off his shoes and looked down at the blade.

“There it is,” said Matthew. “There it…”

He marched to the weapon and extended his hand.

“No,” Ryan said before pulling Matthew’s hand away. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” asked Matthew.

“Don’t touch it. Don’t touch the sword.”

Matthew’s hands moved to his hips.

“Why not?”

“Because…we still don’t know what it does.”

Matthew looked at the sword, now glowing like a freshly installed lightbulb.

“Well, we need to find out,” said Matthew. “We need to find out what it is.”

“How?”

Matthew looked at Ryan with an empty expression and then moved to the desk with a laptop computer sitting on a stand and with a mouse resting on a Star Wars trackpad.

“What should we search for?” asked Matthew.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I think that’s a good place to start.”

“What?”

Ryan pointed to the cross-guard and to the swirling symbol that appeared above the handle. Matthew nodded and pulled out a chair and sat next to his friend as they searched. The first result they explored was less about the sword and more about what Ryan had pointed to earlier. There was the symbol and it matched what was found in medieval culture; the knights that Ryan studied while he was in school.

“Whoa,” said Matthew, upon seeing the first image of one flash in front of the screen. “Are you seeing this?”

Ryan nodded.

“Yep.”

“Knights.”

Ryan nodded again.

“Looks to be,” he said.

He moved the mouse to the bottom of the screen and opened another page. The one that he selected enlarged the image of the sword handle so that it almost filled the entire frame. Matthew’s eyes opened and Ryan’s were fixed on the article in front of them.

“It says here that the sword once belonged to a great warrior, Cendril the Slayer. It says here that he got his name because he specialized in slaying dragons.”

“What?”

“Yeah, and according to this page, he was supposedly the best dragon slayer in his kingdom, using a magical sword that he got from an old wizard.”

Ryan clicked on the picture of the wizard and maximized it in front of the screen.

“Till one day,” said Matthew, “he became trapped inside a cave that he couldn’t escape.”

Ryan turned and looked at his bed.

“So…you think he used the sword to break free from that cave?”

Matthew shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I think that sword might be…all that’s left.”

Ryan motioned towards his mattress, leaned forward, and brought the sword to his face.

“I think that whoever this knight was,” he said, “the magic that he was given, it’s still here, inside this…this weapon.”

Ryan looked down and gradually closed his hands into a pair of tight fists.

“Well…should we use it?”

Ryan’s head turned sharply.

“No.”

Matthew folded his arms and leaned forward.

“No?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean?”

“This thing could be dangerous,” Matthew declared, carving this last word with vehemence and venom.

We still don’t know that.”

“Yes we do,” replied Matthew.

And he looked at the sword, which Ryan was gripping tightly.

“At the end of the day,” said Matthew, “it’s still a weapon and now that it has some kind of magic in it, think of what else it might do. It could be worse, much worse, and after seeing what you did to Reggie and Bryce back in the cafeteria, it’s not smart to hold on to. Who knows? More bad stuff could happen and I don’t want that happening, not to me, and not to you.”

“You really think that?”

Matthew nodded.

“I do.”

Ryan nodded also.

“You’re right. Tomorrow, I’ll put it back where I found it.”

“No, you can’t do that either,” said Matthew.

Ryan eased back when he saw his friend approaching.

“Someone else could find it.”

Ryan gazed at the sword.

“Well where should we put it if not there?”

Matthew glanced at the sword and then turned back to Ryan.

“We’ll throw it, where no one will find it.”

“Where?”

Matthew turned to the window.

“I know a place,” he said. “Come on.”

The boys exited the house and hiked to a creek located behind a ravine that the boys would to venture to whenever they wanted to explore.

“Here,” said Matthew, “throw it in there.”

“Into the pond?”

“Yeah,” said Matthew, “no one will find it there, except for us. We’ll keep it secret.”

Ryan was holding the sword so its tip came within inches of several flakes of grass.

“Okay,” said Ryan.

He treaded slowly towards the water, dragging the sword behind him. When he came to the edge of the water, Ryan imagined he would raise the blade and chuck it into the air like a dishonored knight who tossed his weapon as a way of venting his frustration during battle. However, he did no such thing. Instead, he slid it along and brought it to the edge of the water while Matthew trailed closely behind him.

“Do you need help?” he asked.

Ryan nodded.

Matthew stepped up beside him, leaned forward, and wrapped his hands around Ryan’s.

“Come on,” he said, “on three.”

Ryan’s hold on the weapon became firmer and together they swayed their arms back and forth, working the weight, and taking long, easy strokes to gain the momentum needed to throw the weapon into the quarry.

“One,” said Matthew.

“Two,” Ryan joined in.

“Three!”

Together the boys hurled the sword into the air and watched as it created a faint whooshing sound as it cut through the space.

“Wow,” said Matthew, leaning forward and exhaling, “that was tough.”

Ryan was silent.

“Hey,” Matthew said after seeing the dreary, disappointed look on his friend’s face. “You did the right thing.”

“Yeah,” said Ryan. “I hope so.”

* * *

After the boys disposed of the sword, Ryan and Matthew were walking through the school foyer, and along the way, passed by a statue that served as the center point and symbolic representation of the school’s namesake and history.

“Hey,” Ryan said as he and Matthew began to approach the other hallway.

“What?” said Matthew.

He was close when he heard his friend calling.

“Come look at this.”

Matthew approached Ryan as he stood before the statue.

“What is it?”

“Look,” said Ryan. He gesticulated with his chin and Matthew turned.

The statue in the school was one the boys had seen but never took the time to examine, what it represented, or why it was selected to be in this school. However, now as the both glanced at this man, they could see, in full view, that it was a man who was once a knight standing over them, looking down. Matthew and Ryan’s heads were tilted. Never had they looked this closely before and never did it dawn that this was the statue of the same man whom they had seen while they were researching.

It was Cendril the Slayer, the name of the school’s mascot.

“Is that the…” said Matthew.

“Yes,” said Ryan.

“The same one from the…”

“Yes.”

“Well how come we didn’t notice?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does this mean?”

Ryan’s mouth was opened and he was about to answer but stopped when he heard the wheels of a mop and bin screeching along the floor. The boys turned and looked at the school’s custodian, an elderly and grey-haired man, the custodian named Mr. Povos.

“Why you boys gawking at that statue?” he said.

Ryan and Matthew turned.

“We were just looking at this,” said Ryan. “Never actually done that since we’ve been students here.”

Ryan’s lips coiled as soon as he finished speaking.

“You know anything about’em?” said Mr. Povos.

“Yeah,” said Matthew, “found out he was a knight who got trapped inside a cave.”

“Is that what ya’ heard?” asked the custodian. “Or is that what y’know?”

Ryan and Matthew were immediately perplexed by the janitor’s response.

“Yes,” Ryan dubiously answered.

“Yeah, that’s what everyone says,” said Mr. Povos.

His head cocked back and he guffawed. He then pushed the mop and bucket across the floor and laughed derisively as he moved.

“What,” said Matthew, “have you heard something different?”

Mr. Povos turned and grinned.

“He got trapped inside the cave because he was trying to kill a three-headed dragon, or so the legend goes. Was fighting it for a while too, until…well…until the cave collapsed before the fight could finish.”

“What happened?” said Ryan. “Did he win?”

“No one knows,” said Mr. Povos. “In fact, legend also says that he lost his sword and, well…you can’t slay a dragon without a sword.”

Silence fell over the boys, for suddenly, the situation that they had both experienced was beginning to dawn on them, especially when they looked at the statue and saw that the sword was missing, just as Mr. Povos said it would be.

“How did the story end, the one you were telling us about?”

“You mean…did the trapped knight ever get his sword back and slay the dragon?”

Ryan nodded.

“Yeah.”

Mr. Povos smiled.

“Nah,” he said, “never found his sword, never found the dragon either, but then again it is just a story, an old town folk tale told around town--and one that we stole and used to make our school’s mascot. Isn’t it?”

Mr. Povos slid his hand along the top of his mop and moved on.

“You have yourselves a nice day, boys,” he said as he walked.

And as Mr. Povos parted from the statue, Matthew stared at Ryan, who was still mesmerized with what he was seeing.

“When you found the sword, was that all you found?”

Ryan’s gaze was focused on the statue’s vacant hand.

“No,” he said, “I told you that I felt a quake too.”

“You mean like…a…a…”

But before Matthew could finish speaking, the ground beneath him shifted and Ryan held out his hand and looked for something to hold onto.

“Do you think we can get that sword back?” said Matthew.

The quake strengthened and Ryan looked at the auditorium door.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve always been a really good swimmer.”


THE END


2017 Jarrett Mazza

Bio: Jarrett Mazza is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program in Plainfield, Vermont. Before completing his terminal degree, Jarrett studied writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, and completed the Novel Writing class at Sheridan College under award-winning writer, Melodie Campbell. He has received extensive training in fiction in all mediums, including screenwriting, comic book writing, poetry, academic writing, and craft. He has also taught in a Writer’s Craft classroom at his former high school, has had stories published in the GNU Journal, Bewildering Stories, and Aphelion. He currently writes for the website Sequart that specializes in academic writings on comic books, fandom, and films.

He lives outside of Toronto, Ontario.

You can follow him on Twitter @JarrettMazza

http://jarrettmazzawriter.com/

E-mail: Jarrett Mazza

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