“No.” Charlie spat.
“I said, again, Charles.”
Charlie looked up from his bent over position with a deep breath. Strands of hair fell into his sweat-soaked face, and he rubbed at his mouth haphazardly, wincing soon after. Feeling powerless, he once again straightened up and walked forward.
Charlie and his father were not the only two people in the dusty little clearing behind the woods that surrounded his house. As usual, men whose faces were not visible stood silently on, waiting their chance. This was usually a weekly occurrence for both Offdensens. Charlie hated every moment of it. He had never understood it, but knew that using his power to choose would invariably land him in more trouble than was worth. By the time he was old enough to decide for himself, it had become so much a ritualistic part of him that he didn’t bother to try to stop, anymore. He just loathed it from a carefully detached distance. However, he never could tell what level of enjoyment his father got out of the deal. He sincerely hoped it wasn’t much.
As if on cue, Charles Cornelius Offdensen waved his hand in the air, a signal to stop for a moment, and approached his son, who tried to hide the flinch. Eyes crinkled at him from behind a carefully constructed high-class curtain. The elder Offdensen laid his hands on his son’s shoulders, taking a firm grip.
Charles felt his joints being crushed. His father had incredibly strong hands. As he had nowhere else to look, he looked up, meeting a gaze that gave nothing away about his own feelings.
“Where are you today, son? You’ve got to learn to focus through this, no matter what, or who, is on your mind. Try it again. Don’t think. Focus. Act.” With that, he released his inadvertent vice grip and stepped back from the circle. Charles-Cornelius clapped his hands together twice. Charlie immediately kicked up some dust by grinding his feet into the earth. He closed his eyes.
For a few moments, he didn’t have to open them. He had been doing this long enough to know what was about to happen. When his skin prickled in that particular way, he knew to duck and grab, sending one of the masked men flying over his shoulder and back into the dirt.
Charlie had lived a lifetime of Sunday’s in a tag-team torture ring at the behest of his father. Nineteen or not, now was no time to stop. Not with several masked men coming at him all at once.
Taking his elder’s advice, Charlie lost himself to the fight. He didn’t think or feel anything. He calculated. He strategized. And that didn’t require much thought or effort, anymore.
It was when he felt the swing and subsequent “zzhing” of the knife that he opened his eyes again. Nonchalantly feinting left and then effectively removing the weapon of his opponent, who did nothing more than grunt when the young musician dislocated (as opposed to breaking) his elbow, he glanced over at his father.
“The knives are new.”
“Yes, well, ‘expect the unexpected’ is a good mantra to live by, Charles. We’ve trained you with everything from swords to machine guns in every conceivable location. Sometimes the more mundane, smaller weapons are the most deadly, because you’re not considering them a threat. By the way, your 3 o’ clock.”
Offdensen-the-Younger hissed when his skin split under the blade. The black mask, which bore only eyeholes by which to see that his opponent was indeed human, cocked slightly to the right, like a dog wondering why his master didn’t look pleased to have the great gift of a dead squirrel on his front stoop. Charlie skittered back, almost into another enemy, but was able to duck and dodge behind him at the last minute. He threw his human shield forward into the man with the knife as hard as he could, sending him stumbling away and bowling the two of them over. Distantly, he heard hard earned words of praise from his father. Charlie dove out of the way and somersaulted through the dust, rolling up into a crouch and quickly circling the ring. Most of the masks were attacking, now. He was completely surrounded. Nowhere to run.
But why would he run, when he could simply win?
By the time the dust settled once more, Charlie stood tall amongst a mass of rolling, recoiling bodies. Two would need knee surgery, three would need stitches, and he would need to find a way to explain the extremely sharp tactical combat knives he would be bringing home as souvenirs. Charlie gathered himself and his prizes, contentedly dusting them off and wiping the blood off on the bottom of his shirt. A bird chirped musically overhead, and the sun shone down on him. It was over, for the day. Or, so he thought.
He both heard and felt the attack before it even happened. Sprinting footsteps in his direction and a growing prickle at the base of his neck that intrinsically meant danger. By the time he realized that he had to do something, he was already being tackled to the ground, face first.
Spitting out a mouthful of dust, Charlie blinked in shock and pain.
“Dad! What the hell!” He yelled. All he got in response was his right arm being wrenched up and immobilized behind him, accompanied by a wordless growl. That’s when he realized this was not a game. And that was when he lost it.
Charlie wriggled a bit, feeling out the situation. His father had almost completed the hold when the young musician realized he had an opening. He wrapped his hand backwards around his father’s wrist, reassuming control of his arm. He pulled his father down while rolling to the side diagonally, and then grabbed his leg in a reverse hold and heaved himself over. Cornelius recovered quickly, however, and wrapped himself around Charlie from all directions, locking him into a rear pin. He sneered behind his son’s head.
“Well, well. When did we take up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”
Charlie huffed, having had enough.
“We didn’t. I did.”
With that, he threw his head backwards, effectively headbutting his father in the nose. Blood began to pour everywhere. Cornelius was dazed for just long enough that Charlie was able to crab himself out of the rear hold and, once again, reverse the situation. He sunk tightly and quickly into a choke hold, all hooks in, and waited. Cornelius flailed, trying to get his hands up behind his head to disentangle the mess he’d ended up in, but Charlie was playing dirty. He kept biting any hand that came up to break his hold. Finally, after what seemed like eons of struggle and having his legs and stomach pelted with elbows and fists whenever they could move, he felt two short, sharp taps on his ankle. Wary but willing to obey, he let go, immediately backing up and getting to his feet.
Cornelius spluttered and gasped from the ground, sitting up and rubbing at his neck. Charlie circled him with a wide berth, picking up his discarded knives again, one eye always on his elder. Suddenly, Cornelius began to chuckle hoarsely.
“Good, good! Excellent, Charles. I’m surprised at you. I certainly wasn’t expecting you to break my nose, but all’s fair, I suppose.” He laughed, picking himself up and nonchalantly setting his nose with a sickening crunch. Charlie glared at his father in response, who looked at him quizzically.
“What? Don’t be upset, my boy! It was all in good fun!” He scoffed, wiping away the blood on his chin with his suit sleeve.
Charlie rolled his eyes and stalked by his father, brushing into him while thrusting all the sheathed and closed knives into his arms.
“Right. This was fun, Dad. Let’s do it again sometime real soon.” He muttered, heading for the house.
Charles Cornelius stood, in a dust-riddled dirt ring in the bright California sunshine, blood smeared everywhere and surrounded by a ring of disoriented and unconscious bodies, holding a collection of knives that had been used to attempt to kill his only son.
Yet, somehow, he felt like he was the one who had the knives stuck in him.