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They say it’s not the destination but the journey in getting there. Linus believed he had proven this old adage wrong as he walked alongside the traffic of Jimmy Carter Blvd., his footsteps feeling as one with the earth, his lungs at one with the open air, his once driven desire from being on the journey of ambition now peacefully settled in perfect contentment upon reaching his destination.
The goal Linus had set for himself to train amongst the most divine of modern-day warriors. Not an easy task given the distance of a couple of thousand miles and only a few years out of high school. Not long enough for significant savings, not simple enough since he knew no one in the general area let alone that side of the country, not easy by any stretch of the imagination. And so patience had become a good friend of Linus’s as his journey consisted of frugality and discipline.
With such devotion on keeping one’s eye on the prize elation was all but guaranteed when the train of determination finally arrived at its destination. Life was no longer about wanting, hoping, planning for a better day. This was it. The training. The knowledge to be absorbed. The conditioning of mind and body. Living in the moment, growing as a result, blossoming in the garden of universal truth. This was it.
Linus walked with an enlightening step, having not a care in the world that those driving beside him would reach wherever they were going much faster than his serene stroll.
Forty-five minutes later and he arrived at the dojo for his late morning class, as usual being the first one there so as to take advantage of the quiet time between he and the training hall as he stretched both limbs and mind.
Thirty minutes later and students began to drizzle in until all fifteen on this particular day were spread out across the mats waiting to take their traditional bow-in before starting the lesson. But as Robin, the instructor for the day entered he directed all to remain where they were. To simply take a seat where they stood and wait in silence as he went from one to the other having them each take a dark strip of fabric from the plastic bag in his hand.
Once all had been supplied with a strip of cloth Robin turned off the lights.
“Tie it around your head like a blindfold. Be honest. Make sure your eyes are completely covered. Then lie down where you sit. Make sure you’re comfortable, because once we start you can’t move.”
When all had found their positioning silence filled the air before it was abruptly cut into by the sound of duct tape being ripped off its roll, cut and stuck to something. From the sound of it it was the mats, but Linus wasn’t sure, just as he was uncertain of why Robin was telling each of them to open their mouths as he once again made the rounds.
That is until the instructor got to him, the yanking and cutting of the duct tape sounding even more aggressive now that it was right above his face, and quite jarring when it came down atop his neck, the ends pushed into the mat so as to leave Linus taped by the neck to the blue cushion he lay upon.
“Open your mouth.”
Immediately he identified through touch and pictured in his mind the bullet now between his teeth.
What kind of training exercise is this?
The unmistakable sound of a gun was cocked.
“You move, you die,” Robin said.
Ohhkay, things just got a little more realistic.
I guess we’re supposed to be learning about hostage situations.
Good trick with the tape. So he can hear if someone’s trying to get up.
Linus realized that’s all he really had now, the sense of hearing while trying to keep his tongue away from the copper taste of the bullet in his mouth.
Hearing that immediately focused in on the dojo’s landline as it began to ring, as well as the brief conversation that followed.
“So you got my message?
“No Jimmy, it’s not a joke. I’m tired of it. I’ve been here for almost 12 years now and you guys still won’t make me a senior instructor. Still won’t pay me nothing but peanuts.”
Is Jimmy in on this?
Was Robin talking to himself?
But how did he call himself, he was on the other side of the room. And he doesn’t own a cell phone. He hates them.
“Police? Go ahead and call them and see what happens. Besides, you’re the supposedly enlightened head instructor asshole. Why don’t you come down here yourself so I can feed you a bullet.”
Robin slammed the phone down, Linus sure he was not the only one in the room jolted in echo.
“I’ll kill every last one of you if I have to, you fucking wannabe ninjas.”
What if this isn’t a joke?
Jimmy is usually a serious person. He wouldn’t really go along with this, would he?
What if this really isn’t a training exercise?
The sound of someone being yanked up, the sound of heaving simultaneous with duct tape being ripped off the mat.
“Please, don’t hurt me-“
It was Kyle’s voice, his words being cut off from the anguish of pain as something solid, something metal hit something of flesh and bone. The butt of a gun to the round skull of a forehead?
More gasps from Kyle…
Slamming of the door leading from the training space to the small office in front.
The sound of more strikes, more objects coming in contact with violent energy, more agony as Kyle cried out.
It’s too real.
They wouldn’t go this far for a training exercise.
He’s always acted different from the others. Maybe he really did lose it.
This is why you started training here to begin with. So you would never be a victim. Now you’re just gonna lie here and become a statistic?
As Linus talked to himself the other side of his brain was already taking action, slowly lifting the duct tape which held his neck in place off the mat, timing his movements to the disturbing sounds so as to keep his escape unheard.
Blindfold was the next to go.
With stealth steps he had learned from within these walls Linus walked over to one and withdrew from it the displayed ancient katana which served as the dojo’s centerpiece. He had always wondered what it would feel like to hold such a ‘live’ blade. A sword which had tasted blood who knows how many a times during ancient times.
Am I really doing this?
Am I really…
But he was, the dominant side of Linus guiding him to the closed door and instructing him to wait there, poised in one of the many combat stances he had been trained in.
From the other side came a sudden clash against the door, no doubt Kyle’s body being thrown into it. But this time no crying out as a result.
Is he unconscious?
He is dea-?
The door flew open, Linus’s laser-focused eyes targeting Robin’s throat, the ancient blade simultaneously slicing through the air for a horizontal slash.
With no thought, only muscle memory now taking over Linus’s body directed the sword in his hands to immediately follow up with a hard and heavy downward diagonal cut.
Robin’s head now hanging from its neck like a limp flag on a pole, his eyes bulged out in shock, Kyle standing behind him with eyes just as wide.
Voice trying to ride one of the rapidly panicked exhaled breaths pumping out of his lungs. “It- It-
“It wa-wa-wasn’t real.
“This can’t be-
As Robin’s decapitated body fell to the floor, as Kyle lead the others in a cry of disbelief Linus couldn’t help but think…
If this is still the journey, what is the destination?
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