. . .
The din of the crowd reverberated through Hunter Coliseum.
Kim Gardner stood high upon the podium, locking eyes with her competition. She absentmindedly fiddled with her spear. Jan Gardner stood opposite her, red fedora flapping in the wind, glaring back unnerved. Her black plate armor refracted light all around her. She flashed a crooked smile.
A challenge, thought Kim.
The roars of the seniors and faculty slowly died down, and in their absence a new voice entered the fold.
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.”
After a few reverent moments of prayer, Brother Ray resumed, “Welcome to the 105th Deadliest Teacher tournament.” In his linen toga and golden laurels, Brother Ray was an imposing sight. He stood before the other Christian Brothers in their private box overseeing the battlements. In this arena their word was law. There were always winners and losers, but they were the true scales of judgement. They choose the victors… and the less fortunate.
The crowd began again, but one soul-piercing glance from Brother Ray silenced them.
Brother Ray resumed his regal posture. “As I was saying… this year’s rules will be marginally altered.”
Seeing a few puzzled faces, he added, “And for those of you who did NOT have my class, that means slightly changed. Now, while these two changes are minor, that does not mean they are irrelevant.”
“First of all, the fighting will be restricted to Hunter Coliseum. The school really can’t afford all of the… well, collateral damage brought on by the previous tournaments. Acting on this notion, we had Mike Holmes install a computerized barrier around the entire dueling area. No one comes in and no one goes out until the fight has been completed.”
The silence was broken only by Mike Holmes screaming in hysteria about finally being recognized. There is an audible thud and the arena falls silent once more. Only the unconscious hum of the Legend of Zelda theme remains.
Brother Ray coughs, “The other change is that combatants will fight in a tournament bracket, not in a free-for-all like common plebeians.” More blank stares.
He sighs, lamenting the obvious vocabulary deficiency of the seniors. A task for another day.
“The entire event will be broadcasted live by the Guerrilla Wolves, and reported on by none other than our own Mrs. Simoneaux of The Paper Wolf. The soundtrack will be my personal collection of Yo-Yo Ma and Baroque composers.”
This brought a collective groan from the audience.
Brother Ray frowned, but continued. The William Tell Overture is perfection, he thought. “Now on to the combatants.”
“In the blue corner, we have the defender of liberty and justice for all: KIM GARDNER.”
Kim simply waved as the crowd erupted into ecstatic applause. Brother Ray continued, “A crowd favorite, Kim delivered a truly shocking upset in the preliminary round where she defeated Coach Moore with a surprise bolt of Liberty Lighting.”
“Now in the red corner, we have the Chem-is-try-Chem-is-die, the gingerbread distributor, and the GPA smasher: JAN GARDNER.”
Jan gave a mild tilt of the fedora. The crowd again went ecstatic, with the notable absence of a few seniors. It was the previous honors class, the haunting flashbacks of equations too overwhelming for them.
“Jan stunned the audience in an exciting preliminary round where she obliterated every chemistry problem known to humanity in under .87 seconds.”
More cheers echoed. Brother Ray reclined back into his gold throne; his grape bearers stood at attention. Both contestants stared intently, waiting for their cue to begin the slaughter. With a casual flick of the wrist, he gave the command.
Spear in hand, Kim leapt from the podium and hit the sand arena floor running. She glanced up at the Brothers in their lavish box. When I win the cash prize, I’ll be the one with the private box… and not the one inside the arena. I’ll even bring my daughter, Paige, when she’s not in school.
Something dashed at the edge of her vision. Kim rolled, the ground behind her becoming scorched with wisps of smoke rising into the air. Coughing, she lifted her head. Jan stood only ten paces away, small tongues of flame emitting from her palms. The reflection of her metallic armor drowned out all except her velvet fedora, which she casually tossed to the wind. Quicker than I would have thought, especially with that armor, Kim thought.
Jan grinned, “Now, gentlemen.” She turned and faced the crowd, indifferent to her opponent. “You all know that you must keep vigilant around combustion reactions; you wouldn’t want a deduction from your lab grades.”
Kim smiled. She grasped her spear and lunged at Jan. The sound of wood cracking echoed throughout the coliseum. Kim stood holding the decapitated butt of the spear, her face one of complete shock. Jan wasted no time and quickly spun and grabbed a hold of Kim, lifting her into the air.
“You can’t get through tungsten, Kim,” Jan said. “Not only is it the hardest element known to humanity, it also has the highest boiling point. Not even the fires of democracy or Carnegie’s forges could destroy it.”
Jan’s arguments brought Kim to the brink of forfeiting, but she recalled the concept of a growth mindset. She was pursuing her dream. She could win.
She slammed her feet into the armor’s breastplate, escaping her deadly grip and briefly knocking her off balance. Landing in a heap, Kim scrambled to her feet; barely dodging a fire bolt. The armor may be indestructible, but it is also her biggest hindrance.
Jan went more offensive against Kim, but Kim twisted and spun, always getting just out of the way of the attacks. One stray bolt struck a pillar and a slight crack began to form. An idea dawned on Kim.
Seeing an opening, Kim rushed Jan and slammed the butt of her spear into the armor’s helm. While it didn’t do any real damage, it infuriated Jan, causing her to act reckless. Which is exactly what Kim wanted. Kim pulled back and, through a series of dodges and slight misses, led Jan closer to the center of the arena.
Kim came to a sudden stop under the shade of the pillar. She glanced back to the Brothers. She saw her American Dream right in front of her. Now all she had to do was earn it.
A visibly exacerbated Jan meandered toward her, angrily whispering the word “gentlemen” under her breath. When she reached Kim, her face was scarlet from anger and exertion. Kim placed her back against the pillar.
Without speaking, Jan shot a salvo of acid from her palms. Kim evaded with ease and sprinted toward the outskirts of the ring. The hiss of acid filled the air.
Jan stomped, “When are you going to attack, Kim? You can’t avoid me forever.”
Kim responded bluntly, “I don’t have to.”
The cracking of stone filled the air as the column began to fall. Jan attempted to dodge, but wasn’t fast enough. She disappeared under the weight of the stones.
The crowd roared in approval, and even the Brothers looked slightly astounded. Brother Ray rose from his throne to show the Brothers’ consensus. A thumbs up or a thumbs down decided the victor.
Just as his hand was extended for the crowd, a loud noise filled Kim with dread. She turned to see Jan holding the pillar on her shoulder. Her shoulder guard was cracked, but besides that, she looked unharmed. Lowering the pillar away from her, she strode toward Kim.
She grinned, “You can’t win, Kim; metal is the perfect defense. It is strong, malleable, and intimidating. You can’t stop an unbeatable enemy.”
Kim thought for a moment and smiled back. “You seem to have forgotten one of the properties of metal Jan.”
Jan frowned. Kim continued, “While metal is all of those things, it had one other important quality.” Sparks crackled up Kim’s arm and her palm. Jan turned pale.
“Metal is an excellent conductor of electricity.” Kim struck Jan with a bolt of Liberty Lighting. This was too much for Jan, who simply collapsed. Her body disappeared from her armor and a visibly frustrated Jan appeared in the stands with the other non-combatants.
The Brothers quickly gave their approval of the bout with the traditional thumbs up. Kim smiled and left the arena to drive Paige home from campus.
The Brothers addressed the crowd. “So as the champion of the Gardeners, Kim will move on to the next round,” said Brother Ray.
“You know what I call that victory?” said Brother Jeffery.
“Shocking,” offered Brother Ken.
“No, well-earned” said Brother Jeffery. “What you said was juvenile.”
(Images by Parker Layman and Kyle Hladky)