by Martin Maenza
Charles Brewer carried a large parcel under his arm as he walked up the Manhattan sidewalk toward the brownstone where he lived. The man whistled as he walked with a pleasant look on his face and a friendly greeting for those he encountered. The man was heavyset, but the walk from the subway station to his home when the winter air had a bit of a chill was invigorating. A few flakes of snow started to fall from the sky, and that made him smile. He truly loved the holiday seasons.
After climbing the six steps to his stoop, he noticed a small, brown-papered package waiting for him. “Oh,” he said with some surprise, “I wonder what that can be.” He placed the large parcel down while he unlocked his front door. Then he picked up both packages and carried them inside.
Once inside, he put the larger box down on the couch with the mystery package next to it. He then fetched a letter opener from the desk and began to cut into the taped top of the newly arrived box. “Perhaps someone sent me a holiday present,” he mused, looking for some kind of familiar return address. None was evident. Once a large slit was made, Charles put down the opener and peeled back the two ends of cardboard.
There was packing material on top, the Styrofoam popcorn kind. He reached between the material, rummaged around for a few seconds, and then found the item inside. Charles lifted it out, spilling the Styrofoam to the floor, to reveal a porcelain ballerina atop a small ornate box. “Oh, my,” he said with a smile, “how pretty.” He gave the little brass key in the back a few turns, then set the item down on a flat surface and bent over it to get a better view.
A little musical tone played I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas while the ballerina spun slowly on the platform. As she performed her dance, her arms raised and lowered in a mechanical way. Charles smiled even more so. “Very nice. I wonder who…?”
Before he could finish his words, a stream of gas shot out from the sculpted girl’s fingertips, enveloping Charles’ face in a cloud of noxious fumes. The man clutched his throat, but for naught. He fell back on the hardwood floor with a loud thud.
After a moment, the front door latch clicked, and a stocky man with long brown hair slipped into the home. He turned and entered the front room where Charles lay unmoving on the floor. The music box finished the last of its tune and stopped. The newcomer smiled, picked up the music box, and said, “A wonderful job, my dear.”
He then turned to the couch where the other package was. Lifting the lid, a red suit with white trim was visible. There was also a floppy hat that matched, dark boots and a belt, and a fake white beard and wig. “Excellent,” the man said, closing the box again. “Just what I need.” He reached down and fished the wallet out of Charles’ pants pocket. It included about thirty dollars in assorted bills, a driver’s license, and a store identification card. “Excellent.”
The man tossed the wallet and the music box into the box with the suit, then closed the box and picked it up. “Don’t worry about a thing, Charlie, my boy,” the man said as he stood over the fallen body. “I’ll make sure your commitments are kept. After all, we can’t disappoint all those kids who want things from Santa, can we? Ha-ha-ha-ha!” The man with the brown hair and glasses locked the door to the brownstone behind him as he left. If things worked out right, it would be after the New Year before anyone found the late Charles Brewer. That would give him ample time to enact his plan.
With less than a week before Christmas, the Big Apple was feeling very chilled. Some snow accumulations were visible between the sidewalks and the street. Despite the weather, a young man with wavy brown hair and broad shoulders walked along the west side of the city without so much as a coat, hat, gloves, or scarf. He was dressed in black pants and a white short-sleeved shirt with a high yellow collar and a black T-shirt underneath. A black belt and brown wristbands completed the outfit.
Folks he passed by gave him second glances, more so wondering why he wasn’t bothered by the icy cold chill than why he was dressed so oddly. He didn’t concern himself with the looks he was receiving, because he was focused on the building numbers as he moved up the block.
“Twenty-one thirty-three should be near here,” he said to himself. Finally, he noticed the number 2133 beneath a hanging sign with the image of a sun peering over the horizon. It hung before a stairwell leading to a second-floor business. Karate Kid climbed the stairs two at a time with a quick step of his white boots.
At the top, he found a glass door and opened it slowly. Inside was a large room with mirrors on two sets of the walls and a large series of mats that covered a good portion of the floor. On the mats, an oriental man stood in front of a group of men and women of varying ages; he was dressed in a red top and black pants, while they wore white. All were barefoot.
Val Armorr bowed his head slightly, mostly out of habit, as he entered and then quietly found a seat along the wall. He noticed the trophies along the shelf near the back, along with a folding screen with an ornately painted design that separated the office area from the main instructional area. Kwai Chang’s, he thought to himself. Why didn’t she tell me?
Leaning back, Val watched quietly as the teacher went through his instruction. The man was teaching the group a series of kicks: front, side, and round, with more complex combinations for the higher-ranking students.
Inevitably, Val’s mind wandered back to his own youth, growing up in Japan. But, in fact, his past was not back but actually forward in the future: the thirtieth century, to be exact.
Val Armorr, born the son of Valentina Armorr and Kirau Nezumi, a master criminal known as the Black Dragon, was raised by another man when his mother died. The man who raised him, a man he knew only as Sensei, was more than just his teacher in the martial arts. Val learned from Sensei to appreciate peaceful pastimes such as sculpting and painting, and how to draw upon his own inner strength through cleansing meditation and spiritual enlightenment. Val was an eager student but eventually grew restless.
In his late teens, Val left Japan and headed to sprawling city of Metropolis to join the famed Legion of Super-Heroes. Unlike those hopefuls who came from other planets with the unique abilities of their races, Val viewed the whole thing as a challenge. How could he make himself, a non-powered Earth human, into a Legionnaire? With a proficiency in all forms of hand-to-hand combat and hand weaponry and his own specially designed form of super-karate, Val tried out for the team on the eve of the Khund invasion and was accepted alongside three others: Ferro Lad, Nemesis Kid, and Princess Projectra.
The fates would take their turns with his three fellow inductees.
One would die in the ultimate sacrifice to save the universe from the deadly threat of the Sun-Eater. Another would become Val’s bitter rival and part of the reason he now was spending time in the twentieth century, nearly a thousand years before his birth. And the third… ah, the third, she would become the true love of Val’s life and the other reason he was here in the ancient past, proving his worth as a suitor to a daughter of royalty.
It had taken a little while for Val to adjust to the ancient ways of the twentieth century, but he did so with the help of some newfound friends, one of whom was the red-haired woman with freckles and glasses who was taking classes here.
The teacher had commanded the students to line up like the beginning of class. When all were in place, he said, “Chareyut!” Immediately, the men and women stood tall, feet together and arms at their sides.
Next, the teacher said, “Rei!” They all bowed to him, and he bowed back. “Kneel down.” The students again followed his command.
Placing his hands on the mats before him in a triangle-like pattern, he said, “Meditation begin. Mokuso hajime!” They all bowed their heads silently, eyes closed.
After a moment, he said, “Mokuso yame!” They all raised their heads and opened their eyes, for meditation was over. “Good class, everyone. Remember, the dojo will be closed over the next two weeks for holiday. Do make sure you practice your katas. Sayonara.”
With that, the students were dismissed and began to move about the room to gather their things. Some went immediately to the changing rooms.
Iris Jacobs crossed the room to where her friend was sitting. “Val, thank you for coming,” the redhead said. “How long have you been here?”
“Just a little bit,” Val replied. “I didn’t know you were interested in taking karate lessons.”
“You inspire me,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “You like my gi?” She did a little turn so he could see her white uniform, tied at the waist with a white belt.
“Very nice,” he said. “You know, I would have been more than happy to have given you lessons myself.”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Iris said.
A number of students had been watching as Iris talked to the handsome young man. There was then the sound of a voice, a sort of gentle clearing of one’s throat. “Ahem.”
Iris turned around to see Kwai Chang standing behind her. “Oh, Sensei,” she said, slightly startled. “May I introduce my, uh, friend, Val Armorr?”
“Welcome to my dojo,” the instructor in red and black said. He had shiny, long black hair, tied back in a ponytail. He looked to be about thirty years old or so.
Val gave a slight bow. “You have a very disciplined group of students here,” he said.
Kwai Chang half smiled. “Thank you. Did I overhear that you also teach karate?”
“I practice, mostly,” Val said. “Though I have given some lessons to my friends on occasion in the, uh, past.”
“Excuse me for a moment, Val, Sensei,” Iris said as she grabbed her bag and headed to the changing room to put on her regular clothes.
Kwai noticed the belt about Val’s waist. “You are a black belt,” he stated, though it had some questioning tone to it. “Are you versed in the traditional forms of karate and tae kwon do?”
“Of course,” he replied proudly.
“Perhaps you would be interested in some sparring,” the oriental man offered. “Since you have no gear, we would go with light contact only.”
Val considered. He noticed the conversation between the two men had drawn some interest by the students as well. He had to weigh the option very carefully. “I certainly do not want to interfere with your class schedule,” he said.
“Not a problem at all,” Kwai replied. “I have forty minutes before my next group comes in. It would just take a few moments. You seem interested.”
“Well,” Val said hesitantly. Iris was still in the changing room, so he could not use her as an excuse. “All right.” He gave in, sat down and removed his boots and socks. He then joined Kwai Chang on the mats.
“We will use the blue-colored squares for our ring,” the instructor said. “The red mats for out of bounds.” The two men moved to the center of the blue square. “Shall we begin?”
“Sure,” Val said. They both bowed to one another, then immediately moved into fighting stances, one hand raised in an upper block while the other was down low, feet apart with one foot before the other.
“Kiii-ah!” Kwai yelled as he lunged forward with a right punch. Val immediately countered with a upper block with his left hand, stopping the blow from connecting. Val then countered with a front kick that moved at lightning speed, but he pulled it back just as his toes barely grazed the fabric of Kwai’s uniform.
The oriental man moved back in surprise by the kick. The students watching had been impressed as well. “Very good,” he said, taking measure of his sparring partner. He knew now that the belt about Val’s waist was hardly decorative. “Let us continue.” He then countered with a series of spin side-kicks.
Val dodged them easy enough. While physically countering Kwai Chang’s moves with his own, in his mind he wrestled with how to handle the situation. How could he honorably spar and at the same time not cause the sensei to lose face in front of his students, in his own dojo?