The Gymnasium Duel
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Mike had his eyes fixed on the clock. It was past five and the golden hour had started, casting its warm glow over the gymnasium’s wooden floor. The janitor was just making his way out, warily eyeing the tall, dark-haired boy. He had wished to remove him, but a teacher’s note was still the most powerful law in this place.
After the door was shut, all Mike could hear was the faint clanging of the janitor’s key chain. When that was gone, the true silence before the storm set in. The teenager felt the sweat form in his palms and the dryness settle in his throat. He closed his eyes in preparation for what was to come.
Minutes passed. Now and then, an engine outside started up and vanished soon after. When the sunset’s glow was strongest, the doors once more opened. Mike looked up, swallowing the courage he had mustered, ready.
The figure of Mister Alden, Mike’s English teacher, looked impressive in the light. His greying beard shone, his growing gut looked muscular and his eyes reflected a fearlessness they did not have in the classroom. His hands were holding two polished wooden swords, one of which he passed to Mike.
“Do you still wish to continue?” Mister Alden said.
Mike was not sure. He had seen sword fighting in countless films. His favorite video games involved characters who made combat look like the easiest thing in the world. But now that he held an actual blade, he did not feel the least bit proficient with it. It was too late to back out, though.
“Bring it on,” he answered, his voice only shaking slightly.
Mister Alden smiled, assumed a battle position and charged at the boy. To Mike, it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye, and he barely had time to throw up his sword in defense. The first blow threw him backwards, and the second followed almost straight away. In the flurry of attacks, Mike was amazed he could ward off his opponent’s strikes, but he was almost up against the wall and had to come up with a plan.
From the corner of his eye he saw the gym’s side climber and reacted instantly, ducking out of the way of an incoming thrust and jumping on the ladder, climbing out of reach of his assailant.
“Well played!” Mister Alden shouted up at him, grinning. “And now?”
Mike had no idea, but he had given himself some time to think. He looked down at where his teacher was patiently waiting, anticipating the boy’s next move. He scanned the gymnasium, searching for anything he could use to his advantage. A plan came, but it would take some luck. And speed.
Before Mister Alden realized what was going on, Mike was already on the ropes, launching himself against the wall, setting the ropes to slide on their rail, putting a safe distance between the two duelers.
“What is this?” the teacher said. “Stand and fight, you coward!”
Mike had no intention of taking his pursuer on directly, grabbing an end of a rope and flinging it into the older man’s direction. Mister Alden fended it off, then had to dodge a next one, unsettling his balance. Mike kept moving backwards to the other side of the gym, sending rope after rope in the man’s direction until he felt the cool steel of the ball cart in his back. It was his last chance.
Opening the cart, he sent it rolling in his pursuer’s direction, spilling various balls along its track. Mister Alden was red with fury, sweat gushing down his forehead. He deftly dodged the cart. Making another running start, he shouted in rage, sword raised, closing the gap in a mere couple seconds. Mike threw basketballs at him, but they deflected off the man as if he were a solid wall. In an act of final, desperate defense he ducked and closed his eyes, waiting for the beating of his life.
A loud yelp came before the thud. The clack of wood on wood and a pained groan followed. Mike peeked through his hands and saw his salvation, in the shape of a hockey ball, roll away. On seeing his opponent reach for his sword he leaped up, towering over him, sword pointing at his chest.
“Yield,” Mike said.
“This is no honorable victory,” Mister Alden groaned.
“Fine. Fine! I yield.”
Mike smiled in triumph. “My reward?”
“Done. I’ll process the new grade in the morning.”
The boy dropped the sword on the ground and walked proudly out of the gym. It looked like he would pass the school year after all.