Drea looked up at the sky, the kind of blue that you only see on cars and decided that this was all John’s fault.
They had just come off another win, by a rear naked choke in the second round against Jodie Innson, a scrappy Australian who threw a left hand from god and never went much beyond it. Her strategy had been to counter punch, but Drea kept moving at ankles, taking her left leg with good hard kicks and then spending the second round, keeping her on the ground until Drea got on her back and sunk her right bicep in and shut off the blood to her brain with a few pounds of pressure. She had cried when they held her hands up, and John had already started to talk about a title shot for her. So the next few days had been spent eating all the foods she couldn’t in training and recovering from the training camp and the fight.
‘I can’t believe you’ve never seen Akira.’
His english accent made everything sound deeply ironic, except when he would talk dirty to her, ordering her around in a low, deep voice that made her ache with want. She had pulled herself up on her elbow, taking her head from his lap and giving him a challenging stare.
‘Hey, I don’t get time to watch movies.’
His chuckle disarmed her, and so he found it. She liked cartoons, but her tastes went more towards Looney Tunes and Adventure Time than speed lines and body horror, plus she had seen how some of the fans dressed and those were reasons enough to have avoided it, without any real skin in the game.
The animation captured the youthful nihilism of the gangs, the grey shrunken apple faces of the other experimental subjects and the gum bubble delicate explosions that raze Neo Tokyo into rubble at the film’s climax. She babbled excitedly about it until the conversation turned to kissing and the kissing turned into an impromptu wrestling match, using the kind of moves that meant they both won in the doing. His hands moved over her with a focused care and when they made it to the bed, she fell into a deep and instant sleep.
She felt the wind on her face, tasted the smell of burning plastic on her tongue.The chanting carried over to her, riding the boisterous thump of drums and she began to shudder with the cold that bit into her skin.
John had spoken about lucid dreaming before. It was one of those things that she would mock him about, but he maintained a patience that came from experience and told her that it was possible to be awake in a dream. It took technique, determination and ritual, but those were things that applied to her world however, she liked that her dreams were inconsistent and illogical so she listened without taking it in.
Apparently, she had taken in more than she thought. Which was a big part of her relationship with John, anyway. The take away from that is that she was stood, awake and aware, in what appeared to be a neon stained and smoke stinking place that she had never been before. To her credit, Drea did not lose her shit completely.
She looked up at the sky, saw the twinkling of strange shapes in the sky, ovoid and shifting as they undulated through the air, the way that a caterpillar moved across a leaf. Her thoughts grew light and thin, a balloon being slowly deflated by the passage of time. She remembered to breathe and decided not to cry in disbelief and awe.
Music started behind her, close enough that she heard the moist intake of breath before the first, perfect note slicing through the air. She turned and looked at the woman. Her long hair, the white of bone that fell to her waist in easy, glossy waves, the black robe with the grey belt, worn from endless bouts of tying and retying and the sandalled feet. She held a bamboo flute and closed her eyes as she played. Drea noted the cupids bow lips, pale against the instrument and the lean corded muscles in her forearms, the yellowing callluses on her palms and how she sat without a fear in the world.
She looked at Drea with eyes of purest jade, animal in their purity and lack of consciousness and guile.
‘Sob carefully, the headwinds will cost you tears.’
Drea frowned, adopting a fighting stance, fuelled by pure muscle memory but the woman did not flinch.
‘Sob carefully, the headwinds will cost you tears.’
Drea fought the prickling unease, wondering when she would wake up. The ground beneath her feet held the rough ugly utility of truth and she decided that if this took a deeper turn into the strange than it had already, she would make herself wake up.
The woman stood, placed the flute on the ground without breaking eye contact.
‘I heard you the first time, now what the fuck is going on?’
The woman stretched with the guile of a child trying to stay up past their bedtime, eyes closed as she arched her back and extended her arms to the sky, fingers splayed before she began to move towards Drea, arms down by her sides.
Drea brought her hands up, threw a teep kick that should have delivered a solid blow to the white haired woman’s solar plexus hard enough to make her fold like laundry but hit nothing but air as the woman had thrown herself into the air, knees tucked tight against her chest and already half way over Drea before she realised.
Drea spun her upper body, whipping the point of her right elbow around, aiming for where she thought the woman might land. Drea had fought girls who put together sweet little routines when they got into the ring, thinking of the hits on social media rather than the fight itself. She had taken great pleasure in knocking them out when the opportunity arose. Here, though it had been reduced to something surreal and primal.
The woman whipped her head back and Drea felt her breath on the skin of her elbow, already stepping around and using the momentum to launch herself into the woman’s space. Drea registered that the white hair appeared to float independent of gravity and velocity, but she figured that this was a dream and reminded herself that she should be angry with John when she woke up.
The hair surged forward, knotting itself into ropes as it swung hammer blows at Drea’s shoulders and face. Drea dipped forward, threw a right cross that caught the woman on the bridge of her nose and registered the impact travelling down her arm. A good punch made it’s own statement and Drea marvelled at how real it all felt.
The ropes smacked down between her shoulders with enough force to knock the breath from her lungs and she wheezed as her legs started to give out. She grabbed the woman’s shoulders and pulled her into her arms as they both fell. The woman greeted the ground with a lover’s enthusiasm, and Drea felt the woman groan with the impact. Drea had years of admonitions to breathe ground into her through training and she sucked in what air she could as she forced her arms to keep wrapped around the woman.
The hair struck again and Drea used her hips to roll the woman with her, onto her side, and lifted her left arm to punch her in the orbital bone. Without a referee, Drea was capable of damage and this woman had pissed her off without a reason. Between those two poles, Drea registered the sensation of the bone breaking with a grim pleasure. Like punching an egg set on a kitchen counter under a towel, the horrible push of skin and bone moving in ways that a face would not.
The woman with the white hair cried out and Drea was grappling with air. Drea looked up and saw her, hair wavering like white hydra and without a mark on her. She bowed deeply at Drea and skipped forward, extending a thin, pale hand to help her up.
Drea registered her injuries as a spectrum of different textures and sensations. The muscles in her back pinched with each movement, her shoulders stung with a tingling malevolence that went deep into her tissues. She got to her feet, wishing there was someone in her corner as she got to her feet.
‘The hair thing was pretty cool.’
The woman giggled, the sound of broken glass and skipped backwards.
‘You fought well, Drea.’
Drea rubbed her arms and looked around.
‘Yay, my subconscious is cheer leading for me. Now tell me what the fuck is going on?’
The woman’s hair slid back behind her ears and down her back with the delicious economy of a sword being sheathed. She bowed again.
‘They sent me to judge if you were a worthy fighter. I will be pleased to report that your skills are more than adequate.’
Drea managed to raise a weary smile. She had been privy to a carnival of images when she slept but this was far too concise and focused for her tastes.
‘Adequate for what?’
The woman lowered her eyes and gave a thin smile.
‘Saving the world.’
TO BE CONTINUED