Zen Dragon

Bryon Severns

Zen Dragon

Copyright © 2007 by Bryon Severns ISBN 978-1-4357-4318-2

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In a world without roads to hell One can hear the spirits tell A legend of how I fell My greatest task was dying well

Ch 1

Even in death I had much to learn. Usually the dead were reincarnated, but I became a spirit bound to the realm of earth, while a lucky few ascended to heaven. To understand my death you must first know how I lived. The path I chose was set early in life because it was in my spirit to be a fighter. When I try to recall what I looked like in my human life I remember seeing scars on the back of my hands. Life was a constant battle and I joined the fray as a kid. The name I chose for myself was Rad. It was supposed to mean ‘light,’ but it became more appropriately short for ‘radical.’ I won’t tell you about my years of martial arts training, but one thing that always bothered me was the way Rex competed against me and tried to

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be superior. I refused to allow his skills surpass mine, so I studied under many masters and learned many styles. When I started my own martial arts school I stayed away from Rex. Rather than act like a master I tried to act like a friend to the students. I would teach them even if they didn’t have money to pay me. My school was like a big family. All the students learned to be friends with each other and that was more important than learning how to fight. Kids joined to learn martial arts, but they kept coming every day because they liked the fun and friendship. What troubled me lately was that Rex started a martial arts school too close to mine. He seemed to be intentionally infringing on my territory. Soon I lost most of my paying students to him. Rex must have planned it this way. If he wouldn’t stay away from me, then I would have to do something. The scars on the back of my hands were there to remind me: Sometimes there is a price to pay for taking a stand.

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Ch 2

My Dragon School had an inner circle. As students advanced and earned trust they had a chance to join the inner circle. If they joined, then there was no turning back and no leaving the school. They were in for life. Then they learned secrets and earned privileges, but in return they served the teacher as the most dedicated servants. They helped teach classes and ran the school’s business. They also performed secret missions which gave them opportunities to gain experience and learn things that couldn’t be taught in class. Seth had recently joined my inner circle. Other students went by a nickname, but he hadn’t decided on one yet. He liked the way “Seth” rhymed with “death” and it sounded cool when he called himself “Seth the Samurai.” Some of us called him Samurai, but that name hasn’t stuck. He wanted to be a samurai since he was little, but one night I had to give him a

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mission that required him to be a ninja. I knew he wouldn’t like wearing a mask. Whip was the nickname of a boy in one of my beginner classes who told me that he was under a lot of pressure to join his older brother’s gang. According to the rules he couldn’t join a gang if he wanted to stay in Dragon School. Lately, he was getting harassed with death threats. He told me about his problems, so I assured him, “Don’t worry. You joined Dragon School and we will protect you.” All he had to do was give me the names of the boys who that threatened him. Seth would neutralize the threat. When it was late at night and everyone else had gone home after the last class, I locked the doors and I gave Seth his pre-mission briefing. “Gangs only respect people they fear. You have to find the boys who threatened Whip and make them so scared they leave Whip alone. You don’t have to kill anyone. Just make them afraid of our Dragon School. Whatever you do, don’t insult them. According to gang pride they have to kill anyone who insults them to maintain their own respect. They may be a bunch of kids, but there is a reason they call themselves the K-town Killers. Understand?” “Yes, sir.” He bowed with his right fist against the palm of his left hand.

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“Wear this under your shirt.” I handed a bulky vest to Seth. “It’s not totally bullet proof. Kevlar will stop a pistol bullet, but not a riffle bullet. You understand?” “Whatever.” Seth acted like he didn’t want body armor. Nevertheless, he took off his shirt, put on the vest and then covered it with his oversized, baggy Korn T-shirt. He was like most of my students in his choice of Metal and Alternative Rock bands. He preferred to wear black T-shirts displaying his favorite bands. I didn’t require the students to wear martial arts outfits because the kids said that gi uniforms were gay looking Of course, there were some students who emulated their favorite anime characters by wearing various Asian style costumes. Seth was arrogant, acted carefree and fearless. Still, he was a fast learner and it was my job to teach him. “Don’t let anyone see who you are.” I held out a black knit ski mask. Seth just stood there. I knew he didn’t want the mask. “You have to wear it,” I said and held it closer to him. “You want to be an honorable samurai, but this is a secret mission. You don’t get credit from anybody except the inner circle.” Seth was stubbornly silent and refused the mask. I explained, “If they see your face then they can drive by your house and shoot everybody. The mask is for your family’s protection.”

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Seth resisted for a few seconds and then he snatched the mask. “Fine. I don’t care if I die, but I don’t want anything to happen to my mother and sister.” His extra large black T-shirt covered the body armor and matched his black Vans and baggy black jeans. His pants had holes in random places and dangling strands at the bottom of the dragging hems. He would blend in with the mass of teenagers who dignified their anti-fashion with the latest jeans that require dragging on the ground to achieve the look of a skate boarder who earned skill the hard way, with many scrapes on the concrete. Even his socks were black, but you wouldn’t get to see his socks unless he was kicking you in the face. His usual style looked like a ninja, but he said it was the Goth look. I suppose ninja’s don’t paint their fingernails black. His shoulder length straight hair was dark brown and he let it hang free, sometimes obscuring his face. I gave him a pair of thin black leather gloves. “Wear these so you don’t leave any finger prints.” The new gloves didn’t match his ragged look, but I didn’t have any gloves with holes. Besides, that would defeat the purpose. He took a long sword from the wall collection. His first choice was a katana with a three-handed black handle grip. It had a black tsuba guard with a dragon flying in a circle to protect the hand. The sheath was black plastic with a black shoulder sling. He pulled the sword out and admired the black

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blade. This sword was tough, light, and stiff enough to ring a metallic song when he tapped it with his fingernail. Seth sheathed the sword, put his arm through the sling and let the sword hang across his back. “Too long. You need a short sword to hide under your clothes.” I pointed to a shorter sword, “Try a wakizashi.” “But I like this one.” He reached up over his shoulder with his right hand and drew the sword. In one motion he cut the air in a fast arc, and I imagined a head falling from a severed body. His hand returned to the ready position above his right shoulder with the blade held high and back. “Good, but a concealed weapon is more deadly than a long sword showing off for the world to see.” He argued silently with his dark attitude. I thought he would be stubborn, but after a second he traded the katana for a black wakizashi with shoulder strap. He asked, “Can I keep it?” “Yes,” I said. “But you aren’t going to take it to school, are you?” “No,” He said. “But it would be cool for show and tell.” “Oh, that’s a good idea.” Then I frowned. “Not!” Seth laughed. He usually tried not to laugh at other people’s jokes, but this time he laughed to relieve anxiety. This would be his first secret mission and he should be nervous.

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He put on the ski mask and said, “At least if I’m wearing a mask I don’t have to be nervous…like in a demo.” He laughed again. “Yeah,” I said. “Most people would rather die than give a presentation in public.” Seth grinned. “Well, after this then maybe I’ll be ready to show off my skills in public.” “Okay, anytime you’re ready.” I patted his shoulder. He complained, “It seems kinda stupid to take a sword when gangs have guns.” “Guns make people overconfident, and a gun has vulnerabilities in close range. His dark attitude returned. I said, “Make sure you figure out where you can ditch your weapons before you see cops. Once they’re after you it’s hard to think rationally.” “Don’t worry,” he said. “I know lots of good spots for stashing things.” I frowned and wondered what kinds of things he might have stashed away, but I decided not to ask. I had more lecturing to give him, “I’ve never had a gun shot at me, but I’ve been told that it seems like slow motion while it happens. When it’s over you’ll be shaking with adrenalin…if you’re still alive. It will be hard to think rationally, but try to control your emotions, or they’ll control you.”.

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He looked me hard in the eyes. “It’s like a video game with no extra lives.” I knew he wasn’t fully prepared, but experience would be his next teacher. “Go get ‘em.” “Yes, sir,” Seth bowed. “See you tomorrow Mister Rad.” He adjusted the ski mask to look like a regular knit hat, turned, and walked quietly to the door. After the door closed behind him, I changed my clothes, put on baggy jeans, an extra large black T-shirt with a picture of the band Drowning Pool, and a black knit cap. Then I grabbed a cheap ninjaken from the wall and slung it over my back. The reason I chose a ten dollar sword was because I had already ditched weapons in the past to avoid getting busted by the cops. A samurai may carry a jewel studded katana, but a ninja prefers to carry a disposable blade. To hide the sword I put on a dark blue jean jacket. In the dark, blue clothing would be harder to see than black. Then I went outside to follow Seth. I stayed back so he wouldn’t know I was watching him on his first mission.

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Ch 3

The street lights made it hard to see the stars. I headed west toward the trailer parks and junk yards. After a while I found Seth riding his skateboard. His ski mask was rolled up to look like a regular knit hat. He looked like a normal teenager except he was out by himself. That was the part that made him look suspicious. Of course, cops think all teenagers are suspicious. I was riding a skate board and trying not to appear to be following him. I may be old enough to drive a car, but I can still ride a board. Seth went into a little corner store, so I waited behind a tree. It seemed like a long time until he came out again. Then I followed at a distance. It didn’t make sense that he was headed back east into the better part of town. As I thought about it, I began to think that Seth wasn’t acting like himself. He seemed to be popping ollies better and adding board-flips as he

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jumped curbs. When he stopped at a corner to wait for cars I used my mini binoculars. He had Seth’s black jacket and black knit hat, but his face was not Seth’s. I picked up my skateboard and jogged back to the corner store. I looked around and then went inside. No Seth. He must have known he was being followed and gotten another teenager to trade jackets. The rest of the night I worried about Seth. I couldn’t find him, so I went home. He was on a dangerous mission and he was truly on his own. I imagined all kinds of horrible scenarios that tortured me with insomnia. I couldn’t sleep that night. All I could do was meditate and try to calm my mind. When I got tired of sitting ,I had to lay down and practice calm breathing. I’m not religious, but I prayed for Seth…just in case there’s a God who cares. Please, let Seth be okay.

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Ch 4

Night was for the serious martial arts classes, but my teenage students usually couldn’t afford to pay. It was the grade school kids that had parents willing and able to pay for martial arts classes. So, day classes were absolutely unavoidable. I had to teach every morning during the weekdays if I wanted to pay my own bills. So, I spent half the day playing tricks on the little kids. Today I dressed as an emergency medical technician. My face was disguised with a medical face mask, glasses, and a cap. I walked through the front door of the Dragon School and approached a little boy who was playing alone. “Hey, kid.” The little boy with short brown hair looked up at me with his pale blue eyes. “What?”

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“Your mother was in an accident and you need to come with me to the hospital.” “What? Is my mom okay?” He must not have paid attention in class because he was supposed to take two steps back as soon as he saw a strange man. It didn’t matter if it was a ski mask or a medical face mask. If he didn’t recognize me as a trusted adult, he needed to get away. “We must go right now!” I reached out my hand to his shoulder and pulled him toward the door. A girl saw me and yelled, “Stranger Danger!” All the kids stopped their play and looked at me. Then the boy knocked my hand off of his shoulder and jumped back. He looked at me and said, “Sorry, I have to go check it out.” Then he ran to a woman who was sitting in the waiting area. He acted sincerely afraid. “Help me! I don’t know that man and he tried to take me outside.” The woman looked at me like she wasn’t sure what to do. Then I walked to another kid and said, “Little boy, your mom is hurt really bad and you need to come in the ambulance right now.” I reached for the boy and grabbed his shirt sleeve. That boy squirmed out of my hand and ran across the room yelling, “Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!” All the kids ran to the few moms who were in the waiting area. The moms just stared at me with unknowing concern. The moms seemed like

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they trusted me more than the kids. I walked toward the moms, and the kids excitedly insisted that their moms call 911 about the Stranger Danger. One of the kids said, “Mom, that man isn’t a real ambulance man. You need to call 911 and check it out.” One kid said, “Mom, I think that man is a kidnapper.” When I saw a mom take out her cell phone and flip it open, I decided to end the test. I took off my medical mask and said, “It’s me, Mister Rad. I was testing you to see if you would let yourself get kidnapped.” The kids were still jumpy from the adrenaline. One girl said, “We were going to call the cops on you.” The boy with pale blue eyes said, “I didn’t recognize you Mister Rad. I was going to punch you in the balls if you came after me.” Then I said, “You all did a good job.” I smiled proudly. “None of you were going to let yourselves get kidnapped.” Then I asked, “What kind of lure did I use?” A bunch of kids answered at the same time, “authority lure.” “Good job.” I clapped in approval. These classes were important for little kids because I taught them how to escape from strangers and kidnappers. The first half hour I taught them to bite, elbow, scream, and run. Then I pretended to be a bad man and chased them around the room. They thought that was the greatest game ever. It was something I learned from one of my favorite teachers, an American ninjutsu

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teacher named Mister Ray. He also taught me the use of deception as a critical part of strategy. It enabled one to defeat a much more powerful enemy, and the awareness of deception made me wary of trusting people too easily. Occasionally, I tested the students to see if they would fall for tricks used by kidnappers. Their parents were sometimes freaked out when I dressed up in a suit and pretended to be an authority figure. But kids needed to be suspicious of strangers who pretended to be a teacher, priest, fire fighter, FBI agent or other trusted figure. The authority lure was one of the ways kids could get kidnapped. Some little kids were so trusting of strangers they willingly walked away with a person who pretended to be good. I considered it my job to test my students and make sure they don’t fall for the deadly lures. I was naturally a sneaky person, so I think I was made to be a ninja. Don’t make the mistake of thinking ninjas always dressed in black. Black clothes were the normal uniform for students at my school because it seemed to be the favorite color of the youth counter culture. It also seemed to be the color of rebels in general. Bikers had black leather jackets. Teens had black tee shirts and painted their nails black. The original ninjas were part of the lower class in ancient Japan, and you could say they were rebels against the ruling samurai class. Ninjas wore disguises and pretended to be servants in order to enter samurai castles. It was all part of the deception. Teaching these lessons to little kids meant turning frightening reality into fun games.

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“Now I’m gonna GET you!!!!” I pretended to be scary and charged at the kids. They squealed and ran away full speed. Some giggled loudly when they escaped and taunted me with, “You can’t catch me.” I chased the kids all around the gym. We all had plenty of exercise and when I grabbed kids, I got elbowed, kicked, bit, and head-butted until I let go. Then I chased them again and again to give each one a chance to practice escape techniques on me. After I was too tired to chase the kids, I yelled, “Break! Time for Tiny Dragons class.” Then we all stood at attention so I could teach them specific techniques. A basic requirement was knowing how to escape from a bully who grabbed them by the shirt. I said, “Fire, grab Undertaker’s shirt.” Then I realized there was a new girl in class that would be puzzled by the names. I looked at the new girl and explained, “We all have fake names, so think of a cool nickname or we will make up one for you.” She asked, “Can I be ‘Princess?’” I scoffed, “If you want to be a cheerleader, you should go to Cheernastics. Think of a tough name.” Then I told Undertaker to try to get away. Undertaker struggled but Fire held very hard and pulled Undertaker into a bear hug. “Gotcha!” She said.

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“Break!” I ordered loudly. “Yes, sir.” The students replied. Fire let go of Undertaker. It looked more like she pushed him down. She was part Native American and part black. She had previously told me that she spent the summers with her uncle on the reservation in Oklahoma. She was wild, rowdy, and strong. When she played, the other kids usually ended up crying and running away from her. Martial arts class was the one place she could play rough and not be hated. It was the only place she had friends. She smiled and reached her hand out to help Undertaker stand up again. He didn’t take her hand. Instead he did a back roll and stood up in ready stance with his feet apart, knees bent, and hands up near his chest. I gave them a command, “Fire, just hold Undertaker’s shirt and don’t do anything else. Let him do an escape technique.” Fire stepped toward Undertaker and grabbed his shirt with her right hand. Undertaker used his right hand to fake punch her face and then reach over and grab the top of her right hand which was clenching his shirt. With both hands he twisted her hand and dropped his weight by bending his knees. As he swung his right leg back and spun around clockwise, Fire was pulled face first in a clockwise spiral. Undertaker pulled her close to his left side with his left armpit leaning on her right shoulder to force her lower. Since she couldn’t step over his left leg, she tripped and fell to the ground.

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Then Undertaker released her arm and ran across the gym yelling, “Help, I’m being attacked.” “Very good, Undertaker.” I commended. “What was that technique called?” He answered, “Shirt grab, pinky takedown.” Fire chimed in, “With Escape.” “Good.” I clapped. “Of course, you can always escape by just running away, but if a bully is grabbing you at school, you don’t want people to think you are a chicken, do you?” “No, Sir.” The kids answered. They all stood around me in alert attention. This kind of discipline was rare. Usually they act hyper and seem to have attention deficit disorder at the beginning of classes. I thought to myself…maybe I need to change my normal routine and tire them out with the chasing game at the start of the class. That way they will be huffing, puffing, and sweating instead of goofing off with sugar powered energy. “If a bully is messing with you and you know he doesn’t intend to kill you or kidnap you, then your best reaction might be to put him a restraining lock and hold him until he gives up. Ask the bully if he wants to be friends. When he agrees to be friends then you can let him go. Now everybody stand in a line. I’m going to pair you up and let you all practice using restraint techniques.”

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After the techniques training I grabbed a green and brown camouflage net from an equipment shelf. I grinned wide as I yelled, “Evasion time!” All the little kids screamed with excitement and began running wild in the gym. I chased them and swung the net above my head like a ninja cowboy. Then I cast the net through the air and narrowly missed Fire. She squealed with glee and taunted, “Ha, ha, missed me!” We continued the game until the end of the hour. I think I was more exhausted than the kids. I was huffing for air while the kids happily trotted out the door with their mothers. I loved teaching kids, but I got worn out before the end of the day, yet I still had more classes ahead of me. I don’t know what kept me going all day every day. While the grade school kids were showing up, I wondered about Whip. He hadn’t shown up yet. It had been a week since I sent Seth out on a protection mission and I haven’t seen him. I had called Seth’s cell phone a bunch of times, but he never returned my calls. Time for another class, so my worries had to be shelved. Life goes on. “Okay Junior Dragons, line up for rolls.” These kids were aged six through twelve. They lined up by rank with the white belts last. This gave the less experienced students a chance to see the moves before they took their turns. “Ready, sir,” said Dagger.

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He had a brown belt, short sandy hair and green eyes. His thin body stood four foot tall in the ready stance with his feet apart and his knees bent slightly. It made me happy to see the eagerness in his face. He lived for martial arts, and he enjoyed leading the lower belts and showing the best possible form. The friendliness radiating from his face was like sunshine, so I couldn’t imagine him ever getting in fights for any reason other than just for the fun of it. I asked, “Why do we roll?” Most of the students responded, “To keep from getting hurt if we fall.” One student said, “In case we get pushed by surprise.” I said, “Let’s pretend you are at school and someone pushes you from behind. Do front rolls with a push from behind.” The students all replied, “Yes, sir.” “Go!” I commanded. The girl behind Dagger pushed him forward and he fell head first. His hands hit the mat and he rolled and popped up in a ready stance, feet apart, knees bent and hands up in front of his chest. He then continued rolls without being pushed. After he finished his circuit around the gym, he lined up behind the last white belt student. Then the one who pushed him, a girl called Mace, stepped forward and assumed the ready stance. Her face carried a dead serious look. Her

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body was almost relaxed yet poised like a cat focused on its prey. Her lightly tanned skin had a few freckles and her straight shoulder length hair was dyed black with white tips and natural-brown roots. The color of her eyes were disguised by cat-eye contacts that showed yellow-green irises with vertical slit pupils. A boy pushed her from behind, and she fell forward with a roll just like Dagger had demonstrated. After the last white belt student finished rolls, Dagger stepped forward and said, “Ready, sir.” I said, “Back rolls, also with a push.” Dagger turned and faced Mace. When he nodded, she raised her hands and shoved against his chest very hard. He fell back and rolled so that he quickly popped up in a ready stance facing her again. I interrupted the class. “Break! You don’t need to push so hard if the person doesn’t have a brown belt. Okay? Be easy on the lower belts when you push them. Continue!” Then Dagger continued back rolls, and Mace turned around so that she could get pushed for her turn. Back rolls were practiced by the entire class, and then I told them to do side rolls without a push. I could tell that some of them were getting dizzy. I reminded them, “Don’t hold your breath. Keep breathing as naturally as you can while you roll. Otherwise you will get dizzy.”

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After they finished side rolls, I told them to do dive rolls. The students became excited when I stood in the middle of the floor and held a long staff out like a horizontal obstacle for them to jump over. They leaped over the challenge. After one round I held the staff higher and they had to make greater effort to jump over the staff. The skinny students seemed to have no trouble jumping over the stick, but the heavy students asked me to lower it a bit. For the long dive rolls, I placed kick pads on the floor with a spacing of about five feet. I said, “Try to jump over both of these pads. If everyone makes it, I will lengthen the jump even more.” Dagger jumped over the first pad, cleared the second pad easily and landed a couple feet further. He rolled as he landed and popped up into a ready stance. Mace was also an excellent jumper. She was about four and a half feet tall and wore a red belt. I think she was about ready to promote to a brown belt since her skills were very good. I was happy to have girls in the advanced ranks since there were not enough females in martial arts. Some day Mace could be a champion fighter and I wondered if she might compete professionally. I was even hoping she would try out for movies. I wanted to tell her there was a shortage of action females in Hollywood. I knew Mace could show them how to kick butt on the big screen or maybe on TV. However, I didn’t want to tempt her with this idea until she finished her

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training. It wouldn’t be good for her to run off prematurely and get famous. Then she might regret being a martial arts star without having completed a black belt. That would be a hollow feeling lacking closure, dignity, and a sense of accomplishment. After the dive rolls were finished, I said, “Okay Junior Dragons. Line up for techniques. Dagger, demonstrate a defense against a knife attack and end with a restraint.” I took a rubber practice knife from the shelf and pretended to stab him. He stepped sideways as he grabbed my knife arm. Then he threw his elbow over my shoulder and landed an elbow strike against the side of my head. “Pain is my friend,” I said. “It tells me you are doing a good job.” As I was saying this, he bent my knife arm at the elbow and locked my arm into a figure four hold. Then he raised my knife arm up and over until I was arched backward, totally off balance and under his control. Then Dagger commanded, “Drop the knife!” I dropped the fake knife, but he didn’t let my arm out of the lock. I ordered, “Break!” He teased, “You want me to break your arm?” The other students laughed. “Duh, I meant take a break, not break my arm.”

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It was stupid humor, but we all laughed as Dagger pretended to break my arm and I groaned in fake pain. Then I dangled my arm and said, “It’s okay, I’ll just shake it off.” Mace giggled. I enjoyed making the kids laugh. Maybe I clowned around too much in class, but it was fun for me and I figured the kids were entertained. I said, “If that defense was a bit too complicated, you can use a different technique. Mace, can you show us a simple defense against a knife attack?” “Yes, sir!” she replied. With my right hand I picked up the rubber knife and lunged at her belly with the fake blade. Mace stepped to her right and grabbed my wrist with her left hand and pretended to jab her right index finger into my throat. She continued her sideways motion to redirect my forward momentum into a spiral, with me off balance. This caused me to trip over her feet and fall on my back. She kept my knife arm trapped in her hands. Then she pretended to kick my head as she stepped over me. When she laid on the ground and crossed her legs, my right arm became trapped in her grasp. Then she arched her back and I felt the pressure hyper extending my right elbow. “Drop the knife!” She commanded. She gave a slight tug on my wrist to make it clear I was helpless in the arm bar lock. “Okay. I give up.” I let go of the knife.

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She grabbed the knife and did a back roll to get away from me. When she popped up, she was in a ready stance, holding the knife down and behind her. I stood up and asked, “Why do we keep the weapon back instead of holding it out in front?” Mace answered, “So the attacker can’t grab your weapon.” “Right.” I took some rubber knives from the shelf and handed them out. “Okay, partner up and practice defense against the knife. Be careful and use self control. We don’t want to hurt our partners.” I watched as they practiced. After a while I had an idea. “Break!” I took some writing pens from the desk and handed them to the students who didn’t have rubber knives. “Everyone put your knife or pen in your pocket and imagine you are at a deserted park or some place where nobody is around to save you from an attacker.” I put a pen in my pocket and said, “If you have a pen, you have a weapon.” I whipped out the pen and took off its cap. I held the pen out and waived it menacingly. “It may be just a ball point pen, but it’s sharp enough to stab through a leather jacket leaving an eight millimeter hole.” I asked, “What do you do if a stranger comes up to you at the park?” Dagger replied, “Take two steps back.”

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I continued, “What if he keeps coming closer?” Mace answered, “Run away.” I elaborated the scenario, “What if he’s catching up and you know you can’t get away?” Mace said, “When he gets close, then give him a back kick and keep running.” Dagger said, “Pull out your pen and face him. Shout, ‘STAY BACK!’ and show him some moves so he knows he could get hurt if he tries to get close to you.” I said, “I like the back kick idea, but I have actually done the face off thing. Bullies like to chase, but if you stand up to them, they usually back off.” I put the pen in my pocket. “One time a big dog chased me. I ran for a while and realized I couldn’t out run the dog. So, I turned and faced the dog with my pen drawn. The dog stopped. It barked and growled ferociously, but it didn’t bite me.” Then I growled like a ferocious dog and chased the students so they could practice defense against an attacking dog. However, I stopped short of throwing myself on their sharp pens. I frequently exhausted myself and had to stop to catch my breath. A person could only go full throttle for two minutes or less. Pacing myself was something I still had not mastered. I remembered the times when Sifu Zi instructed me to go less than seventy percent of maximum power. He said,

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“Use skill, not strength.” But I still used my speed and strength too much because I got into the role playing and went all out. The kids thought it was funny, but I know I was showing them a bad example. On the other hand, they had to use all their ability to keep away from me. At least we all got plenty of exercise. After class I went into my back office, which was also the room where I lived. I wondered why there were so few students in my Dragon School. Before the next class I had time to heat some teriyaki chicken in the microwave. I ate alone and tried to figure out how to keep from going out of business. I thought about the fancy Red Dragon gym that Rex had in the nice neighborhood a few miles east of here. He must have gone into debt to build that gym, but at least he had paying students. Maybe parents didn’t like the looks of my shabby building or the location near junk yards, used car lots, liquor stores and topless bars. It was not the sort of place I would prefer, but it was all I could afford. Well, actually, I couldn’t afford it here either. The mortgage was not too bad, but I still had to pay a lot for taxes, insurance, electricity, cable internet, phone, water, and garbage. I desperately needed to cut expenses, but that really meant I had to stop paying one of the bills. If I canceled the phone then I couldn’t tell people how to find the gym, and I would miss too many opportunities to sign up new students. If I canceled the cable internet, then I couldn’t keep up the myspace page for my martial arts school. That would also mean fewer new students. If I could stop paying

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taxes and insurance, that would help a lot, but how could I get away with that? People who don’t pay taxes go to jail. Businesses that don’t have insurance go bankrupt if they get sued. It was no wonder that Rex went into debt. He knew he needed to spend a lot of money to make money. But I didn’t care about making money. I just wanted to keep my Dragon School going. When teenagers began showing up for Senior Dragons class, they changed the music. In the day the stereo played a soft Asian-sounding music to calm the little children, but the teenagers put in their own CDs and played death metal, alternative rock, and anything except soft music. They like to get in an active mood after sitting in chairs all day at public school. I dropped my paper plate and plastic fork into the garbage basket, wiped my mouth on my sleeve and went into the gym to socialize a few minutes before class. A teenage girl with short brown hair and an oversized black tee shirt bowed to me. “Hi, Mister Rad.” I bowed to her and returned the greeting, “Hi Tansao.” Her nickname came from wing chun kung fu. It was a kind of block using minimal force to deflect a punch by pushing the wrist forward and turning the palm up. This protected oneself and gave one the “upper hand” since the defender’s hand finished above the attackers arm. If one trapped an opponent’s punch with a tansao, then the opponent’s face was open to a return strike. However, in my classes, I usually didn’t use Chinese or

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Japanese words to describe blocks and strikes. I just called the move a wrist block. She must have gotten the idea from reading Black Belt Magazine or the internet. “Are ya feelin’ okay?” she asked. “I’m fine.” “You don’t look so happy. What’s the matter?” “I’m just worried about how to pay the bills.” “We could have a fund raiser.” She offered. A smile grew on her face. “We could throw a party in the gym and charge cover at the door.” “That’s a good idea.” I felt gratitude tingling in my chest. “Can you handle all the arrangements and host a fundraising party?” “Sure. I’ll go talk to the guys and get it started.” Tansao bowed and eagerly walked to join a group of teenage boys who were standing near the door. All the boys were taller than Tansao and they stood with folded arms, but her presence was immediately noticed and they all bowed to her with the respectful fist against palm. Everybody wore baggy jeans and oversized black T-shirts. Some of their shirts had bright colored pictures of dragons. One shirt had a white Chinese character that I recognized to mean ‘dragon.’ All of these were acceptable here, but I did sell black T-shirts with school symbols and an image of a black dragon surrounded by spiraling fire. If everybody bought these school shirts, it would raise a little money, but not enough to pay all the bills.

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I noticed a newcomer. She had a pretty face, but she dressed in loose fitting athletic clothes that hid her figure. Her clothes probably were intended to avoid drawing attention to herself. Maybe she was shy. I walked to her with a warm smile and I greeted her with a firm hand shake. “Hi, I’m Mister Rad. I’m the teacher here.” “I’m Jennifer.” “Are you here to check out the martial arts?” “Yeah.” She smiled. “I’m just curious. What kind do you teach here?” “It’s a globalized form of martial arts,” I answered. “Globalized?” I explained. “I teach everything in English, of course. Maybe a few words are from the original languages, but not too many. The techniques come from all the martial arts in the world, especially the effective moves, the ones that aren’t too hard to learn. Practical techniques are taught as simple as possible. That way you can learn self defense quickly and easily. But it’s globalized because the skills learned are from all the martial arts.” “Oh, what if someone just wants to learn kung fu?” She asked. “What kind of kung fu? There’s wing chun, mantis style, tiger style, crane style, five animal style, tai chi chuan, qi gong, drunken monk style, and many more.” I grinned knowing she would be bewildered. “Oh.” She came out with a question that she must have had from the beginning. “Which one is the best?”

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“That depends on what you intend to use it for.” I answered. “If you want to learn self defense against teenagers that bother you, then this school is probably the best. If you want to learn how to defend against a rapist or a jealous ex-boyfriend, then this school would be good for you. However, if you want to learn a traditional art form so that you can call yourself a wing chun master, then you should go to a kung fu school that specializes in that art.” “Oh.” She glanced around the gym. “How do I know if your martial arts are any good?” “Well…” I smiled. “My advanced students go to Dallas and compete in muay tai fighting matches. That is like kick boxing, but with elbow and knee strikes allowed. My students also compete in jujitsu wrestling tournaments. Some have competed in reality based fighting tournaments like vale tudo. The idea is to learn skills effective in the real world. If my advanced students want to teach the fighting arts and open their own Dragon School, then they need a black belt. To get a black belt they have to prove their skills in sport fights like the UFC. Of course, there are other fighting arts that exist for special reasons. Ninjutsu was used by assassins who relied on deception to kill their targets. They acted like humble servants, gained entry into a samurai castle, worked to earn the trust of the staff until they were in the presence of the boss samurai, and then used trickery to kill him. Sometimes they used poison or explosives. Sometimes they entertained the

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samurai with a play or a dance and then attacked him when he felt safe and relaxed. Then the ninja had to evade the guards to escape the castle. So, the essence of ninjutsu is all about deception and evasion. If a bad guy tries to rob you, would you jump into a karate stance and hope he doesn’t shoot you? Or would you pretend to give him your wallet and then grab his gun? Tricking the bad guy isn’t cheating, it’s ninjutsu. Judo evolved from old and brutal jujutsu as a more humane self defense. Aikido is even more gentle. Kung fu has many styles and they each have qualities of artistic form and spiritual communion with nature. That is why they call their arts things like crane style, tiger style, mantis style, and other animal styles. Tai chi is a form of standing meditation that makes you feel like you are using invisible energy, collecting it into a ball and moving it around and finally using it to connect yourself spiritually between the earth and the sky. Tai chi also looks like fighting in slow motion, so it makes a person feel strong and that empowering emotion improves overall health.” “Oh.” She smiled nervously. “How much does it cost here?” I glanced at the senior students who were now in my front office. I figured they were trying to find a way to raise money to support the gym. Now I was tempted to give this girl free lessons. “Well…” I said tentatively. “Most of my students don’t pay the full amount every month. Some don’t pay anything. I try to accommodate youths who might otherwise have nothing to do but get into trouble with

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gangs, drugs, and other problems. Can you afford a hundred dollars a month?” “I have to pay my own car insurance and gas,” she said with a hint of embarrassment. “I might be able to pay that much if I work every weekend.” “I’ll tell you what. Since there aren’t enough girls in the teenage classes, you probably should get a discount. You need to talk to the senior students.” I pointed to the front office full of teenagers. “Tansao is in charge of running the school finances.” “Okay.” She said, but she just stood and looked shyly at the office. “Come on.” I gestured to the front office. “I’ll introduce you.” “Thanks,” she said as she began walking with me. “Your name is Jennifer?” “Right.” I told her about the nicknames here, “In this school we all go by an alias. Do you have a favorite nickname? It would be best if it was related to martial arts or sounded tough.” “You mean I need a nickname besides Jenny or Jen?” “Right,” I said. “You need a name like Jet, or maybe a ferocious animal like Jaguar.” “I could be Jag! That sounds cool.” She perked up with pride over her new identity.

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I addressed the group of teens in the front office as they came out and bowed to me. “Hi everybody, this is Jag.” The teens all bowed to Jag and then they took turns shaking hands with her and giving her their individual nicknames. I could tell she was happy to be welcomed by unusually well-mannered and friendly teenagers. These days most kids were rude to each other as if it were cool to act like they didn’t need friends. It was wrong to trade insults, form small cliques, and alienate the ones who might otherwise want to be friends. For teenagers friendship is one of the most important things in life. That was why I taught my students to be courteous and make friends with everybody. One of my favorite sayings was, “The best defense is to make friends.” It made me happy to see old students making friends with the new students. It showed they were compassionate and practicing their social skills. At seven o’clock Musashi put in a CD by Drowning Pool. The gym was filled with the repeated lyrics, “Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor…” Everybody heard the music and stopped chatting. They lined up in the middle of the gym floor with arm’s length spacing and then they bowed to Musashi as he bowed to the Senior Dragons. I thought about his nickname and why he borrowed his name from a famous Japanese sword fighter. In ancient Japan Miyamoto Musashi was so highly skilled that he sometimes used a wooden sword to defeat other fighters armed with steel

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swords. As I drifted off in day dreams of samurai duels, Musashi sat down and led the class in leg stretches. When they were finished with the stretches, sit ups, and push ups, I told them to line up for rolls. After that I paired the advanced students with beginners. The advanced students gained practice teaching and the newer students learned new techniques with the benefit of one-on-one instruction. After half an hour I told the class to line up and then I taught them knife, gun, and stick disarm techniques. I told them to practice each technique with escape, restrain, and finish. “Break!” I waited a couple seconds for everybody to stand up and face me. “Finish means pretend to kill or injure!” I advised loudly. “Don’t just go through the motions quietly with no enthusiasm. Make it seem as real as possible…like you are acting in a movie, but use self control and don’t actually hurt your partner. If you were in a life-threatening attack, you would know it’s okay to smash the bad guy, but in here you just growl, yell, and pretend to do serious damage. For example, if you throw your partner on the floor, then stomp next to his head and yell, ‘STAY DOWN!’ Just be careful not to stomp on your partner’s face for real. Understand?” “Yes, sir!” The class replied as they bowed to me. “Good,” I said, “Continue.” The class became much louder with yells and growls from some of the students. Soon, all the students got used to the idea of making a lot of noise.

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They looked like they were viciously hurting each other, but they were just acting out the techniques. When it was after eight o’clock, I yelled, “Break!” I waited for them to come to attention and then said, “Good job.” I bowed to them and they bowed in return. “You all showed lots of dragon spirit. I’m proud of you. Let’s circle up for academy tenets. Afterwards you can stay later if anyone wants to spar.”

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Ch 5

Saturday morning I went outside to eat a bowl of granola. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to enjoy the morning peace. Instead there was a bustling commotion with teenagers tearing down the school sign above the entrance. “We’re putting up a new sign,” announced Longsword, a proud young man with long bleach blonde hair that clashed with his brown eyebrows and dark goatee. As I munched on cereal I muttered, “What is it?” “You’ll see.” He smiled at me in a way that made me wonder if they were working so hard for the sake of a practical joke on me. It wouldn’t be the first time. The best thing I could do would be to play it cool. If I overreacted, they would have too many laughs and be encouraged to get more carried away next time. The best defense against practical jokes was to act like I didn’t care and then punish them with sit ups, lots and lots of sit

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ups…until it hurt too much to keep laughing…and then make them fix the mess. I calmly replied, “Okay, I hope it’s worth it.” “Oh, it’s gonna be great!” he assured me enthusiastically. I could tell by his eyes that he was having a hard time not telling me. They must have conspired last night and now they were putting their secret plan into action. Long was unable to hold back his laughter. He began to chuckle, but soon he sounded like a mad scientist laughing with amazement over his own wicked brilliance. He was slender and about six feet tall. His voice was deep and he looked like he could be in his late twenties since he had so much facial hair, but his immaturity showed that he was only seventeen--too cocky and not enough emotional control. “We’ll see.” I played it cool and continued to eat my cereal. One thing I cannot afford to do as a teacher is lose my temper. Showing anger, screaming in rage, cussing and throwing a fit would make the students lose all respect for me, so I restrained myself and tried to focus on the sound of birds singing in the morning and pretended not to hear the sound of breaking glass as teenagers tore the sign apart. An old red truck pulled into the parking lot and the teenagers crowded around the bed of the truck, pointing and whispering.

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A girl, or one might say young lady, with shoulder length brown hair and a cute face in spite of a few teen pimples walked away from the truck and came towards me. She said, “Mister Rad, you have to go inside now.” “Okay, Sabre. I was about finished with my cereal anyway. Let me know when the masterpiece is finished.” “Sure. Boy are you gonna be surprised!” She left me to help the other teens in their big project. When she got to the truck, Longsword put his arm around her. They were a cute couple. I was happy for them, but somehow it bothered me that love came so easily for teenagers...and not for me. I went back to my room and cleaned my bowl in the little sink. It wasn’t as nice as a house, but I liked having lots of young people around all the time, so living in a tiny room in the back of a martial arts gym was a perfect home for me. If I had a job that was respectable according to society’s standards, then women might take interest in me as an eligible bachelor. Instead they dismissed me as a martial arts freak with no money. I hadn’t had a girlfriend in years. I wasn’t lonely, but I felt like I was incomplete. Somehow, the hole in my heart was sucking the goodness out of life. It didn’t help for me to see teenagers falling in love and beaming with joy. Okay, I decided, someday I will find myself a woman…when I’m ready. So far I didn’t even know how to keep what I had from falling apart. I hoped

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the senior students could raise enough money to keep the gym from closing. Of course, they could go to a different martial arts school, like Rex’s Red Dragon School, and I could get a real job, but I didn’t want to slave away my life doing something I didn’t enjoy. The dangerous risks of martial arts were acceptable, but I didn’t like trying to make people pay their monthly bill. When I tried working as a truck driver one time, I had plenty of money but no friends. Now that I taught martial arts I had plenty of friends, but no money. I liked working with people. Maybe I should have been a doctor or somebody who takes care of people. It would have been nice, but somehow my life didn’t follow that path. Maybe I should have planned my future instead of letting circumstances decide my fate. After daydreaming for a long time of alternate possibilities in which I was rich and famous, the group of excited teens knocked on my door and snapped me back to their reality. I followed them to the entrance. Long said, “When you see the new sign, don’t jump to conclusions. Let us explain, okay?” “All right. Let’s check it out.” I stepped outside and turned to look up at the new sign. The words ‘Dragon Temple’ were painted in large black letters on a rectangular piece of white plastic. It looked nice, but the word ‘Temple’ raised an immediate flag in my head. “But…”

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Sabre stopped me from finishing my objection. “Just wait. We can explain.” Tansao put a hand on my left shoulder and spoke with an eager voice. “You know how we are always having trouble paying the bills? We figured out that it can save a lot of money if the school didn’t pay taxes. Income tax and property tax, it’s too much. The school never even makes a profit. Most of the students don’t pay their membership dues anyway. It’s like people just pay whatever they feel like giving.” Long joined in, “Yeah, so we decided to make it into a nonprofit organization.” Sabre said, “As a church the school won’t have to pay taxes. Just think how much that will save.” Tansao was proud, “You won’t have to close the gym! We just changed the name to Dragon Temple and BANG all your problems are solved.” I was shocked. I heard myself mutter, “It’s a joke, right?” They all assured me it was not a joke, but they were laughing. “If it’s not a joke, then why are you all laughing.” Tansao stifled her laughs enough to explain, “It’s not a joke on you, Mister Rad. We’re laughing at the world.” “Why?” I asked.

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“Because the world is going to be shocked by our new religion,” Long boasted. “What religion?” “Martial arts!” answered Sabre. “That’s not a religion,” I argued. “It is NOW!” insisted Tansao. “Yeah,” said Long, “It’s the coolest religion ever!” I complained, “But the parents aren’t going to bring their kids to a place called Dragon Temple. They’re going to think we’re a bunch of satanic freaks.” “Don’t worry,” Tansao said, “We’ll keep the gym going. Have faith in us.” “Okay guys,” I surrendered. I figured I was going to go bankrupt anyways. “We’ll see what happens.” Long said, “It’s about time we got started with Muay Thai practice. Come on, let’s get this stuff put away.” He picked up the ladder. Sabre picked up the battery-powered drill. Musashi picked up two hammers and put them into a tool bag. Tansao said, “Just a minute.” She jogged to the truck and talked to somebody inside. A little while later the truck door opened and I saw the worlds largest leg swing out. A monster of a young man stepped onto the pavement and his truck raised up a

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few inches. Tansao looked like a kid standing next to him. His body was thick like a bear and he was tall as a grisly. She led him by the arm toward me. I felt a tingling up my spine and a twisting in my gut. This guy looked scary. His face was not right. His eyes were not the same size. His nose was bent to one side. His ears were not the same size and they were mangled. I could tell he was a wrestler from his “cauliflower” ears. One of his eyebrows raised higher than the other. Even his hairline was uneven with one side higher like slanted bangs. He seemed shy, but when Tansao introduced him to me, I cringed at the sight of his crooked teeth. She said, “This is Ted.” I acted like I was happy to meet him even though my instincts told me to run and hide. I bowed, “Hi Ted. Nice to meet you.” He greeted me in a deep rumbling voice, “Hi Mister Rad.” was glad that he didn’t crush my hand when we shook. He treated me like I was fragile and I wasn’t insulted. Then Tansao winked at Ted and she bowed to me. Ted also bowed to me as I bowed to them. He was a titan, but he followed her lead as if she were a goddess in his eyes. She said excitedly, “He is going to check us out today. Maybe he will join.”

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I asked, “What’s his nickname going to be?” I let my thought slip out, “Godzilla?” Then I covered my mouth with one hand. “Oops, did I say that out loud?” Tansao didn’t give me a bad look. Instead she grinned, at him. “How about Boomba? I think it’s a great name.” He smiled back at her and rumbled, “Sure.” I could tell he would agree with anything she said to him as long as she was smiling. “Let’s go inside.” I gestured to the door. As we entered the doorway, we each bowed to the center of the gym to show our respect. Tansao explained the gym to Boomba. She said, “We cross train on the weekends. Kong just came back from Thailand and he’s been teaching us muay thai. That way we know what we are doing when we go to Dallas and enter the ‘smokers’. That’s what they call thai fighting matches, ‘smokers’. Later we’ll get some training from Max in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He’s been going to b-j-j classes during the week and teaches us on the weekend.” I motioned for Tansao to come talk with me in private. I took her into the back office and said, “He scares me.” She gave me the look I didn’t want, “You don’t think we should teach him martial arts, do you?” I explained myself. “He’s asymmetrical. Guys like that are prone to violence. Teaching him would be like giving a loaded gun to someone with a bad temper.”

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Tansao was indignant. “He is NICE! He helped us carry the sign from the store in his truck. I think he deserves a chance. If we don’t give him a chance, then who will? Without us he might turn bitter and dangerous. With us he’ll be happy and like part of the family.” “I don’t want to argue. I’m just telling you how it is. If you’re friends with a guy like that, then you’re responsible for him. You can’t just tell him to go away if you change your mind later. He won’t handle rejection very well.” “He’s my friend,” She said stubbornly. “I like him and if you give him a chance, then you’ll like him, too.” “You may think of him as a friend, but he is a boy and he likes you. I can tell, so don’t be surprised if he keeps other guys away from you. Since you’re the one he likes, it’s up to you to decide what to do, but if you want to keep him as a friend and make him one of us, then he’s your responsibility.” “Fine.” She turned abruptly and left in a huff. Her angry stomping seemed to get smoother as she approached Boomba. She was smiling by the time she led him to join the rest of the students who were practicing muay thai in the middle of the gym.

Part of their muay thai practice included clinch drills in which the students tried to grab each other’s head and pull it down for a knee strike. Nobody

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was tall enough to grab Boomba’s head. In order to practice with him Tansao stood on a chair so that she could reach up to his head with her hands. I think he was enjoying the attention from her. Everybody was very respectful to him, but she treated him like her new best friend. I wondered how long she could keep that up. She had a history of finding stray boys and bringing them into her world, only to reject them later when they talked to other girls.

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Ch 6

Early Sunday morning I had a visitor in dire need. Boomba wanted something so much that it tortured him. His want was more important than any of his actual needs. He would give up breathing air or even gravity if it could get him what he wanted. Of course, without gravity he would fly off of the earth and into space and be without air or anything else, but he wouldn’t think of that until it was too late because his desire was beyond logic. How deep and wide was a person’s well of desire? Needs were limited. A person could eat only so much food until satisfied. Wants seemed to come in endless supply. A person could have everything and still want more. Boomba wanted one thing: He wanted a certain girl to love him.

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If three billion women wanted him, it would be too bad for them. He would not care about them. He wanted one particular girl and no other would ever satisfy his desire. Boomba wanted Tansao. He explained his feelings to me and I knew he wanted me to say something encouraging. He wanted to hear that his love would be important to her. He said that women were always complaining about men that don’t love enough. He believed that his love was the greatest love ever and wanted my advice about how to tell her his feelings. I said, “Don’t.” “Why?” His body began shaking. It was not easy saying “Don’t” to a giant that had me cornered in a small room when he was in a desperate emotional state. I felt like telling him what he wanted to hear. Instead I told him the truth. My survival instinct must have been defective, or maybe I was addicted to the challenge of convincing people to think my way and do as I say. It must be a teacher thing. I switched to the logic of positive questions. “You want her to want you, right?” “Yes.”

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Boomba fidgeted. His massive hands clutched each other and tucked into his chest. His body language was clearly showing his insecurity. He stooped his head and bit his nails. “Then you have to learn how to make women want you.” I declared. He objected, “But I don’t care about other women. If I tell her that, won’t she understand?” I sat back in my chair and firmly said, “NO!” I may not be a giant, but I know how to act like an alpha. Boomba stooped even lower. His self esteem was shrinking and his body was collapsing around it. His meek and shaking voice asked, “What do I do?” I took a sheet of paper and a pen and began making a list of things for him to do as I explained his situation. “You don’t need to learn to defend yourself physically, do you?” I knew the answer. “No.” He said. “Nobody every picks a fight with me.” “But you know they talk about you behind your back and make fun of you, right?” “Yeah.” “So, you need to learn to defend yourself psychologically.” I wrote on the paper the word ATTITUDE. He muttered, “Will that help me get Tansao?”

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“Yes.” “Okay.” I explained, “People are attracted to a someone with a positive attitude. You must practice smiling and acting like everything will work out with a happy ending. If things go terribly wrong you must act like there is always a way to get through it and think of ways to encourage others to have hope. You must pretend to believe in yourself until you actually do believe in yourself. Never express self-doubt. Your motto should be, “I can do ANYTHING!” “But…” he began to object. “Say it.” I commanded. “I can do anything!” He stood there with his hands up to his chin for a moment. As he spoke, he stood a little taller. “I can do anything.” “Say it again.” I said calmly as I leaned back in my chair. He stood a little taller. “I can do anything.” “Again,” I ordered. I crossed my legs and got comfortable. It was alpha behavior, but not enough to intimidate him. He lowered his hands to his side. “I can do anything.” “This time…” I leaned forward and raised my right hand up palm open. “I can do ANYTHING!” As I said the last word I clenched my hand and pumped my fist down and up.

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He copied my hand gesture and acted victoriously confident as he boomed, “I can do ANYTHING!” “Good.” I clapped. “You tell yourself that every time you wake up. Before you go to class. Before you do homework. Before you work out. And especially before you go to bed. Make sure you use the hand gesture. It looks like you are pulling the chain to sound a horn on a semi-truck. You let the world see you doing that as you say, ‘I can do anything’ and people will believe it is true. After you say it enough time,s then it really will be true.” He stood silent and lost. “How many times do I say it.” “Every morning a few times and every night a few times before bed. Keep doing that for at least a year. Even after you get Tansao, you must continue saying it, or your spirit will weaken and you will lose her.” His eyes brightened. “You really think she likes me?” “She will,” I lied. It may have been risky to encourage false hope, but I expected his personality would improve enough to attract some other girl. He stooped forward in insecurity again. “You mean she doesn’t like me now?” I gestured like I was pulling a semi-truck air horn. “Say it.” He made his fist pull the imaginary horn and said, “I can do anything.” His body was fully upright again. I explained my prophecy. “You are a giant. If you have confidence, the world will respect you. If you lose confidence, then you must give

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yourself a positive boost and remind yourself that you can do anything. If you do that with conviction and persevere in your self improvement then eventually you will have the skill to reach any goal you set.” It seemed his eagerness for her made him cling to the tiniest hope and try for the heavenly goal. “What else do I have to do?” I looked around and found a head band. I said, “Lean over so I can put this on you.” He complied. I put the band around his head so that it covered his left ear, but not his right ear. “Your ears grow all the time, but your right ear is smaller. Wear this head band on your left ear. The pressure from the head band will slow its growth and let your right ear catch up in size. Maybe then your right ear will grow to be the same size as your left ear.” “Okay.” He muttered. “Why?” I explained, “Women won’t admit it, but the truth is…they like guys who have symmetry. You will look better if both sides of your face are the same.” “Oh.” I found a band aid in my desk. “Lean down again.” He complied and I taped his nose in such a way that it was pulled towards the center. “There. After a while your nose will stay straight.”

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I picked up a small mirror and held it up to his face. “Look at your eyes.” “What?” He mumbled. “See the way my eyelids are?” After he stared at my eyes a couple seconds, I slowly closed my left eye. “Notice how weird it looks if one of my eyes is closed more than the other? Try to make both of your eyes open the same amount.” He studied my eyes while I slowly opened and closed my left eye. Then I opened my left eye wide and let my right eyelid droop so that I would look weird. “Ha.” He laughed. “You look stupid!” “Right,” I replied. “That’s why you need to practice everyday in front of a mirror to make sure your eyes are both opening the same amount.” “I don’t want anyone to think I’m stupid.” He squinted into the mirror and wiggled his eyebrows. “This is hard.” “You can do anything.” I reminded him. “Most people don’t think about what their eyes do. Just keep practicing and you will get better and better. Soon you’ll have total control over your eyes and you’ll appear bright-eyed and smart.” I handed him the mirror. “Okay.” He struggled for voluntary control of his eyelids. I handed him the paper with three lines of instruction. As I gently guided him out the door I told him, “Practice a positive attitude everyday by

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telling your self you can do anything. Wear the head band on your left ear. And keep practicing to make your eyes look the same.” He stopped in the door way. “Is that all I have to do to get Tansao?” I tried to assure him with a steady gaze back into his eyes. “Do what I said. After you have mastered this much, I will teach you some more. In the mean time don’t tell Tansao how you feel about her. Okay?” “Okay.” He seemed to be relieved to have something to do to help him get what he wanted without having to risk rejection, which is every man’s greatest fear. He walked across the gym squinting into my mirror. I suppose he forgot it was mine. Oh well. I’ll get it back after he masters control of his eyes. I went back into my room and poured myself a bowl of raisin bran, added milk, and walked outside. It was pleasant to watch the cars drive by as I enjoyed the cool morning air. An old car with a black spray can paint job parked at the side of the gym. Longsword and Saber got out and walked hand in hand towards me. Saber smiled charmingly and said, “Mister Rad, guess what?” I continued munching cereal, “What?” Longsword gave me the news, “We made up a new bow.” They both demonstrated by bowing and crossing wrists with one palm and one fist. Saber explained, “Instead of putting your fist against your palm, you put your fist behind your palm hand.”

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Longsword continued, “That symbolizes that you have your right hand open ready for a hand shake, but you have a fist in case friendship doesn’t work.” “What do you think?” Saber showed me the bow again. “Hmmm.” I pondered. “Makes sense to me. But why make up a new bow?” Saber answered, “Because we need a new greeting ritual at Dragon Temple.” Longsword added, “Yeah. A new religion needs new rituals. We have to differentiate ourselves.” “Okay.” I dipped my spoon for another bite of cereal. “Seems like you’re really getting into this new religion thing.” “Oh yeah, it’s cool.” Longsword and Saber bowed to each other. I couldn’t do the new hand gesture since I was holding a bowl and spoon, but I bowed to them as they showed their respect at the door of the gym. More students arrived while I washed my bowl and spoon in the back room. When I came out, I saw them practicing Tai Chi as was customary for Sunday mornings. I joined them and enjoyed the serene feeling of slow motion. Focusing my attention on Max, the Tai Chi leader, helped clear my mind of distracting thoughts. I imagined holding an invisible ball of energy and moving it with my hands as I carefully stepped and turned in unison

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with the group. Practicing balance and grace made the art beautiful. Focusing the mind on the present made it a feel-good experience. Losing oneself in the flow of the moment gave one happiness. After we took a break from Tai Chi I noticed a new person, a slender woman, not a teenager. She had curly brown hair that hung down to her shoulders and a knowing look in her smile. I began to walk towards her and felt my heart starting to race. When she caught my eye I looked away out of shy reflex. But my mind told me I try another look and to hold her gaze. It felt strange to lock eyes with her, frightening yet rewarding. I wondered if I was smiling normally. My face flushed and my ears felt strangely hot. Some of my instincts told me to run away. How could I be afraid of her? She looked friendly, but I saw her as attractive and that made me nervous Some of the teenage girls in the class were attractive, but I knew they were not for me so they didn’t affect me. This woman was closer to my age. She could be a potential mate and somehow that made me extremely self aware. Walking up to her for the first time was a memory I could never forget. I glanced at her body. She had a sexy form, slender, with her waist narrower than her hips, and I already knew that I wanted her. I knew it from the first instant that I had seen her. At the same time that my desires fired up, there was a crushing feeling as my tension clamped down. Restraint and inhibition stifled my casual boldness, yet I continued to walk toward her.

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Every step was increasingly difficult. My arm was both heavy yet overly eager to jump out as I reached toward her for a hand shake. This must be how Boomba felt about Tansao. Desire was a powerful emotion. It took control of the mind and body. I had to make a big effort to think about what to do and how to act. It was painful, yet I dared not turn away and escape this woman I wanted. She took my hand and squeezed gently. I felt a rush of tingling from the warmth of her hand. It radiated up my arm and filled my body with pleasurable vibrations. I looked into her eyes and almost melted to the floor. Feelings of gratitude weakened my entire body…merely from the power of her gaze. It was the most wonderful experience in my life up to that point, and then I let go of her hand. Pleasure faded quickly and I began to wonder if she would ever think of me as more than a friend. Did she like me? Insecurities and negatives swirled in my clouded mind. I stood back at a normal conversation distance and held her gaze as well as I could. “I’m Mister Rad.” She tilted her head a little to the side. It was so cute. “I’m Lotus.” At the same time we both said, “Nice to meet you.” Then I was puzzled, “Lotus…is that your real name?” She grinned, “Yeah, my mom was into transcendental meditation when she was pregnant. She said she met me before I was born and I gave her a Lotus, so that’s what she named me.”

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“Okay,” I tilted my head like her. “Pretty name. I like it.” I felt like telling her whatever she wanted to hear, but I didn’t know her well enough to know what that was yet. She glanced around. “It seems everyone has cool names here.” “Oh…yeah.” I glanced around. “Well, we all use nicknames. I suppose you could use one, too.” She put her right index finger on her lips and looked up. I stared at her lips. I wished it was my finger touching her tender lips. Then she looked back at me and I jerked my eyes away from her lips. I felt embarrassed and my face burned with embarrassment. Her warm brown eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, “Since I like tai chi, meditation, yoga and stuff like that, then maybe I need a name that conveys my spiritual nature.” She talked so intelligently and with so much self confidence. I looked forward to finding more reasons to adore her. “Spiritual…” I pondered aloud. “Like ether or something ethereal…” I normally would tell a student to pick a tough name, but I was so enchanted by her that I gave in to her ways and supported her ideas…her will became my will. How about Etherea?” She beamed. “I like it.” She moved her head side to side evaluating her new identity. “Wow! I never thought to give myself a name. It is so empowering.”

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While she savored the glory of her new found identity, I felt small, inhibited, and captivated by a desire that could not find fulfillment. The only thing I could do was absorb the attention she gave me, and I relished her attention as if she were a radiant angel with the power to grant my greatest wish. But she was not inclined to grant me any wishes. She was just a woman and she could not turn me into the man of her dreams. I didn’t even know if she dreamed of a man, but if she did, then I wanted it to be me. She asked, “What do you think?” I realized that she had just given me the power to judge her new name. I suddenly felt somewhat stronger. If I gave her approval, it could win her heart a little bit at a time and now was an opportunity not to be missed. It was amazing how many thoughts raced through my mind when love began to bloom. I said, “Yeah, I like it, too. Etherea is a good name for you. It sounds spiritual, and pretty, and like you are made of a spiritual substance that is difficult to get a hold of.” “Hmmm.” She gleamed at me with a sly smile. “I am difficult to get a hold of.” Then she winked at me. Because of her wink I felt like we shared an important secret. I knew it was her way of telling me that men wanted her, but she was single and

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waiting for someone special. By this wink she was letting me know that I might have a chance with her. If only I could figure out how to impress her. I so desperately wanted to win her heart. The rest of my life depended on it.

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Ch 7

Etherea. She was all I could think about. Why didn’t I ask for her phone number? I should have gotten her email. Monday I had trouble keeping my mind on teaching kids because I was thinking about her. Too bad I had no idea when or if she would come back. What if she didn’t come back to the gym? Could I find her? Maybe if I checked out the various yoga classes around town I might find her. Maybe she was practicing Tai Chi with a different group. Maybe I could search for “Lotus” on myspace and find her….unless she used a different name there. The only way to keep from going crazy while waiting for her was to keep busy with the kids. It was torture. Every moment dragged on forever.

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Eventually daylight retreated from the windows at the end of the day. In the morning time seemed to pass to slowly, now I wanted to delay the passing of night. I wanted her to come tonight. But instead I had to continue with the teaching routine. Now was time for teen classes. I distracted myself with a change of pace. “Hey guys, tonight we’re going to have air-soft combat.” This was a fun game to get my mind lost in the moment. We each took a plastic gun from the weapon shelf. We loaded the pistols with plastic yellow BBs. The air-soft guns looked exactly like real pistols. They cocked like real guns. Pulling the trigger made them shoot plastic BBs that only hurt a little. I gave a serious look around at the students. “Everybody put on safety glasses. Sunglasses are okay if they wrap around your face and protect your eyes from all angles.” A red headed boy, named Laser, objected, “But I have to wear my prescription glasses. Things will look blurry if I wear safety glasses.” “Good.” I said firmly. “Now you can simulate combat in low visibility conditions. You have to wear safety glasses if you want to play air-soft games.” “But…” He complained. “How will I know who is on my team and who is the enemy?”

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“You can be a rogue.” I smiled. “Since you won’t have safety in numbers you can use a pad and we will pretend that you are using a bullet proof shield.” “Cool!” Laser grabbed a black kick-pad with his left hand and carried it like a shield. Longsword and Tansao picked teams. I was chosen to be on Longsword’s team. Then we started on opposite sides of the gym. We tried hiding behind chairs to evade the yellow BBs that we fired at each other. I was ducking to avoid a lot of attacks from Tansao’s team whennoticed that she was picking on me in particular. So I ran, jumped, landed in a dive roll and as I was upside down I tried to shoot her. I don’t know if I got her, but I took a lot of hits and they her team busted up laughing victoriously. Since I was ‘out’ I went outside to cool off and waited for the next game. It was a refreshingly cool evening. There weas barely enough cloudy haze to give the full moon a halo. The ring around the moon shined in a cold white glow. I gazed at the moon and let my body cool down in the delightful night air. “Beautify isn’t it?” Her voice was what I had been waiting for since yesterday. “Etherea!” I tried to control my emotions from showing too much enthusiasm, but I couldn’t help being thrilled to see her. “Hi Rad.” She grinned at me and held her arms out for a hug.

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I love you, I thought to myself as I hugged her in a warm greeting. “How have you been?” I asked. “I was wondering if you would come back.” “Of course, I had to come back. I wanted to meditate with you guys.” She winked at me. I couldn’t help thinking she was adorable! Then I wondered if she winked at everybody. Maybe I was imagining her flirtations. What if she acted this way all the time? Still I enjoyed the attention and it made me feel special. “Well, lots of people say things they don’t mean. I’m glad you came back.” I said. “Me too.” She raised a finger to brush some curly brown locks away from her right eye and tucked the hair behind her ear. There was a gentle breeze that caused her hair to waive ever so slightly, beckoning me closer, tempting me to touch her hair. But I didn’t dare. I kept going with small talk and did not reveal my true feelings, “So, what took you so long?” That was supposed to be a kind of teasing comment that might get her to open up. She tilted her head and kept eye contact with me. “I usually don’t go outside in the day.”

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“Oh……” I wondered if this woman was not so compatible with me after all. “So, you’re a night owl, huh?” I was starting to feel disappointed. “Oh, no,” She objected. “I love getting up before the sunrise and I usually go to bed soon after the sun sets.” Her eyes sparkled from the light of the sign above the gym that shined bright with the words Dragon Temple. “Me too!” I grinned. “Every morning I go outside to eat cereal.” “That sounds nice,” She said sincerely in a soft feminine voice. It seemed to me that she was purposely making her voice sound sexy just to flirt with me. Of course, I wanted to think that. Then I remembered to stand upright and lean back a little to make myself more attractive to her. I felt akward changing my posture, but she didn’t give me a strange look or any sign of disapproval. “So why don’t you go outside in the daytime?” I was curious, but actually it seemed to be the only thought I had that wouldn’t sound embarrassing when spoken. It was too soon to tell her that I loved the sound of her voice. “It’s a medical thing,” She said dismissively. “So, when is group meditation?” “Meditation is after the last class….except tonight we are playing airsoft games instead of having class.”

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“Oh, I was hoping to join you guys for meditation.” She raised her hands palm up and touched her index fingers to their respective thumbs in a classic meditation pose. “It would be great if we could meditate outside under the full moon tonight.” I couldn’t disagree with her. If she wanted to meditate under the moon then I was eager to join her. “That’s a great idea. Let’s see if anybody else wants to come out here and join us under the full moon.” “Okay.” She moved toward the entrance. I opened the door for her and I bowed to give respect to the gym. She copied me. Then I told the students about the plan to meditate outside under the full moon. When a bunch of the teenagers came to join the meditation outside I suddenly realized that I would no longer be alone with Etherea. For a moment I became frustrated. How could I flirt with her while others were around? It was early spring in Texas and the fire ants were not yet crawling on the ground, so we found a spot on the sidewalk to sit. I noticed that everybody was pairing up into couples….at least it looked that way. Maybe it was the romantic power of the full moon. I sat next to Etherea and when she smiled at me it was magical. My chest filled with vibrations that melted my insides with warm helplessness. For me it was a happy paralysis. I think

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I was grinning like an idiot when I saw her eyes close as she began meditation. She initiated a low hum, “Ommmmm….” We all joined in and hummed to focus our minds on the moment. Well, maybe they focused their minds. My mind was swirling with thoughts about Etherea, but at least I was happy. I was humming in harmony with her and it seemed to me that the group was humming in approval. Of course, that was all in my mind. Maybe she was just enjoying the group meditation. After a minute she fell silent and the group stopped humming. She seemed to be a natural leader. She didn’t tell us what to do. We just followed her example. It was one more thing to admire about her. Very slightly I opened my eyes a tiny bit to peak at her. Her eyes were closed. Her eye lashes were barely visible in the moonlight, but what I could see looked like delicate curves. She looked serenely relaxed….until her lips curled in a smile and she opened her eyes. She knew I was watching her and she told me so with a cute wink. I opened my eyes, but quickly she shut her eyes all the way. I was embarrassed about watching her so I pretended to meditate. A bump on my knee made me open my eyes. She winked at me with a smile. I smiled back. With her eyes she motioned to the others who were deep in meditation. I turned my head to look at them. They were good kids. Instead of doing drugs or getting drunk they were meditating under the full

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moon. I was proud of them. I turned back to Etherea and I nodded knowingly at her. Silently we agreed that we were happy these kids chose to meditate rather than participate in the many bad things that other kids did for entertainment. Then she closed her eyes, so I closed mine and we continued our silence for a long while. I could feel her warm presence. With my eyes closed I could see her aura radiating warm feelings to the universe. I could see many colors coming from her, but only briefly while shimmering in various places. If I had to say her aura had a color I would say it was silver, but not metallic. Hers was a radiant silver that was white in the center as if she had a flaming core that burned very hot. Yet at the edges there were rainbows of colors that were not overpowered by the shining white rays. I didn’t turn my physical head, but I imagined looking behind. Then I saw the auras of the students. Their auras were not brilliant, but instead they were dim glows. Also, I noticed that they only had one color. One was blue, one was green, one was brown and so on. They were interesting, but I wanted to gaze into the dazzling spirit again, so I let my mind turn away from the students and back to Etherea. Her spirit was so beautiful. It seemed like ten minutes or more before she ended the meditation session by asking what everybody was experiencing. I said, “I saw your aura. It was beautiful and warm.” “Thanks,” she said. “I think it is wonderful that you have such nice students who are into spiritual arts like Tai Chi and meditation.

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Tansao said, “I saw auras too. Mister Rad had an orange colored aura. Etherea had a silvery white aura. Longsword had a blue aura and Saber had a green aura. Did anybody see my aura?” Saber said, “You had a brown aura, Tansao.” “Brown?!” complained Tansao. “Are you kidding?” I said, “Maybe that’s a good thing…..like having a brown belt for advanced spiritual development, right?”

“Well, maybe,” agreed Tansao with much uncertainty. “So, Etherea….” I asked, “What is it that keeps you indoors during the day?” “I have Lupus.” She said. Saber asked, “You have the same disease like Anna Nicole Smith had?” “Yeah.” Etherea answered. “It makes me tired; makes my joints hurt and makes my skin extremely sensitive to sunlight.” Longsword teased her, “So, you’re like a vampire. You sleep all day and go out at night.” “No.” She tilted her head and winked at him. “I don’t stay out late at night….and I don’t drink blood.” “Sure,” I teased. “You’re a vegan vampire.”

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She bared her teeth playfully. “But I do bite occasionally.” Then she snapped her teeth at me and growled. It was cute and flirty. But I had seen her wink at Long, so I wondered how much she liked me if she acted like she was flirting so casually with him. The teenagers asked her a lot of questions and her answers seemed to quench their worries about her. She said she took medicine that kept her alive, but she still felt tired frequently and sometimes she felt ill. After a while the teenagers walked to their cars and drove home. Etherea and I talked about how they must have coupled up because of the influence of the full moon. The unspoken part was the question of whether she and I would couple up. I didn’t feel bold enough to make a romantic move. I didn’t even ask for her phone number or email. Eventually she said, “Well, it’s getting late. I’ll see you later.” “Tomorrow?” I asked eagerly. “No. I have a doctor’s appointment. I’ll see you Wednesday night.” Then she gave me a quick hug and said, “Good night.” “Good night.” I said. Then I watched her walk to her car. As she drove away I Suddenly I realized I was freezing cold. Shivers ran up my back and goose bumps broke out on my arms. I quickly went inside and locked the front door.

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It never seemed so empty in the gym before. I turned off most of the lights, but kept one light on so the gym would not seem too spooky. Then I went to the back room. When I got into my bed the sheets felt cold. I used to be cozy in my bachelor life. Now it seemed desolate and lifeless. I needed Etherea. The next day would have been torture, but I got through it by thinking about her. She said she would come back Wednesday night and that gave me enough hope to smile all day. When the night came and the students went home it was cold and lonely again. I slept in my clothes to keep warm. Wednesday I woke up bouncing with energy. I had trouble waiting until the daylight faded so that Etherea would come again. But I was severely disappointed because she didn’t come that night. I had trouble sleeping. I worried that she might have died mysteriously like Anna Nichole Smith. Thursday night she didn’t come. I was becoming distressed and grouchy from lack of sleep and too many worries. Friday night she didn’t come. I didn’t want to be alone, so I was relieved that the students had a fundraising party. They kept me company until three o’clock in the morning. Some of them stayed the night and slept on mats in the gym, but it didn’t help me. I was dying for Etherea. Where was she? Why didn’t she come back?

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Saturday morning I woke up hearing a knocking sound. I was groggy because I was finally sleeping well. Then I realized that Etherea was standing in the doorway of my room. “I thought you said you were a morning person,” She teased cheerfully. “Etherea!” I sat up suddenly and then laid down because I nearly blacked out. “Ohhhhh….” I groaned. “I stayed up too late last night. We had party.” “So, you’re a big time a party animal, huh?” She teased. “And to think I complimented you for teaching your students to live healthy with meditation and tai chi instead of wild parties.” “Well,” I defended, “It was a fundraising party.” It felt like my chest was heavy and my eyes were dry. “You look perky.” “Thanks,” She bounced lightly from foot to foot and pumped her hands like she was jogging. “I feel great.” “You feel better than normal?” I asked. “Yeah.” She grinned. “I have lots of energy. It’s morning and my joints don’t hurt at all. Even my skin rash is gone.” “That’s good.” I stood up cautiously. She was obviously healthier than me. I bet she wasn’t loosing sleep worrying about me. “Did the doctor give you new Lupus medication?”

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“No.” She looked around my undecorated room as she pondered for a moment. “But I did take antibiotics for a week.” I felt embarrassed that I had no paintings on the walls of my room. Only the bare essentials were here. My bed was just a couple mattresses stacked on the floor with old green blankets and white sheets. I never needed to show off before. Now I wished I had made the effort to make my room look comfortable and inviting. But she didn’t show disapproval. Instead her good mood was filling the room with positivity. Somehow an idea came to mind. “Maybe the antibiotics made your Lupus better.” “You think so?” She said. She looked at her forearms and then touched her face. “I thought it was the cloudy weather. It helps if I stay out of the sun, you know.” “Well,” I said, “All drugs have side effects. Maybe your antibiotics had side effects that help Lupus symptoms.” She agreed with me, “Maybe you’re right.” Overly analytical logic came out of my mouth when instead I should have been encouraging. “Of course, that means when you stop taking the antibiotics you’ll probably start having Lupus symptoms again.” “Well, then I’ll just tell the doctor to give me some more Biaxin.” She smiled happily.

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I was amazed that she could be so optimistic. “You mean the doctor will just give it to you if you tell him to?” “I think so.” She frowned. “I’ll explain what happened. I think he’ll prescribe it to me it if I want it.” “Hmmmm….” I put my right thumb nail to my lips and considered her situation. “I think doctors are taught to be very sparing about prescribing antibiotics. Otherwise, germs would become immune to them and turn into super germs that can’t be killed.” She acted stubbornly clever, “Then I’ll tell the doctor that I have a cold and ask for Biaxin. If he doesn’t prescribe it for me then I’ll go to a different doctor.” “Okay….” I agreed. “That’ll work.” “And I’m going to tell my friend to try Biaxin.” She added enthusiastically. “She has Lupus and her hair is falling out. Maybe it’ll help her, too.” She gave me a fast hug and then let me go before I had a chance to hug her back. She said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we discovered a cure?” I got a piece of paper and pen. “I have an idea. Let’s email some medical experts and tell them. I think this might be a big discovery.” I looked up from the paper and asked, “What’s your email?” I was happy to have such an innocent excuse for getting her personal contact info. Even

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more important, I was glad to have a mission to share with her. We would spread the news together. How often does a person have a chance to help millions of people? I logged onto the internet and we sent some emails and posted on some medical bulletin boards. It made me feel like a hero. I hoped she would see me as one, if that’s what it took to win her heart.

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Ch 8

The inner circle met tonight. There were only four of us, so it was more like a square than a circle. We lit some candles and placed them on the floor in the center of the gym. We turned off the lights and sat cross-legged on the floor facing each other in a circle with the candles in the center like a campfire. Saber sat on my left and Tansao sat on my right. Longsword sat across from me. The candle light illuminated his face from below and created a sinister look on his face with shadows cast upwards from his chin, cheeks, nose and eyebrows. The mood was gloomy because there were only four of us. Seth had been missing for a month since he disappeared on the night of his secret mission against the gang that called themselves the K-town Killers. Since the news was full of stories about six deaths and the search for their killer we were afraid to go to the police asking about Seth. Gang kids were dead and Seth was missing, so we figured he was hiding out somewhere.

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This was the first time that this kind of trouble had happened to us. I didn’t know what to do. Tansao took a photo out of her wallet and placed it among the candles. I saw that it was a picture of Seth and I felt the burden of guilt. I should have been there to help him. A lump formed in my throat and I felt sad for a terrible loss as if this were his funeral. We all joined hands and closed our eyes. I think that we all meditated about Seth and wished him well. Perhaps he escaped to a safe place where he could live his life in peace. But I wanted to see him and know for certain that he was okay. When Tansao squeezed my hand I squeezed back and also squeezed Saber’s hand. That was the signal to open our eyes and begin our important business of the inner circle. When I opened my eyes I tried not to show that I saw tears in Tansao’s eyes. I knew that she used to date Seth, but I thought she rejected him after he flirted with other girls. Obviously, she still cared about him. Longsword announced that the party raised enough money to pay the outstanding bills this month. Saber said that we needed more students to join. She added that we could sell bottled water, sports drinks and energy drinks to make more money. Long commented that we “ask for donations” instead of sell stuff…..since we are a kind of church now. Saber argued that we can still post a sign saying “$1.00” on the collection can next to the

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sports drinks. They seemed to be talking themselves deeper and deeper into the finances of the Dragon Temple. Tansao interrupted, “What about Boomba?” Long and Saber gave her blank looks, but I knew he liked her. I didn’t think she liked him yet, so I was unsure about giving an opinion on that. I said, “He seems to be a nice guy.” Long agreed, “Yeah, he’s a gentle giant.” Saber added, “He’s sweet. He has been nothing but nice since we first met him at the hardware store.” I said, “You seem to have claimed him as your new best friend. Is he growing on you?” Saber offered her feminine intuition, “I think Tansao is falling for Boomba.” Tansao refused to confirm the idea. “What I mean is…..should we invite him into the inner circle?” I objected, “We haven’t known him long enough. He doesn’t even have advanced martial arts training.” Long agreed with me, “Yeah, we don’t know him that well. He’s still a newbee.” Tansao dissented, “Boomba is the kindest person and we can trust him. He’s a state champion wrestler in high school and he doesn’t need any

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training to kick your butt, Long. If he picked you up with one hand you’d be so scared you’d wet your pants.” Long teased her back, “I’ll wet my pants if you wet yours.” Saber slapped his thigh, “Don’t flirt with her!” Then she said, “Boomba has been coming every day and he learned a lot in the last month. Maybe we could promote him up a few belt levels.” I gave partial approval, “We can promote him up a belt this month and if he keeps learning then we can promote him again next month. As for including him in the inner circle, I think we need to take our time and get to know him for at least a year before we trust him with our secrets.” Tansao pouted, “Fine.” Obviously, she wasn’t happy about it but she joined us as we bowed in agreement on the subject. I noticed that I was the only one not using the new hand gesture. I felt out of place and promised myself I would fit in next time. I changed the subject, “You know what? …… Etherea needs our help.” “What’s the matter?” Saber asked with sincere concern. I explained, “Etherea and I figured out there is a drug that makes her feel healthy, but the doctors won’t listen to her. If this drug helps her then other people with Lupus should have a chance to try it.”

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“Yeah,” Tasao agreed. “People need to know about this. It might be important.” Long added, “We could get all the students to send emails to everyone they know. That should get people talking about it.” Saber tendered a an idea, “Hmmmmmm……if we are a church type organization then can’t we help people like a hospital? You know, instead of Methodist Hospital we could have a Dragon Health Center.” “What?” I was doubtful. Long supported his girlfriend, “Yeah, we have First Amendment protection. In the name of our Dragon Spirit religion we can give people medicine.” “What Dragon Spirit religion?” I rolled my eyes, but they probably didn’t see that in the candle light. Saber said, “We are martial artists and what makes us so interested in martial arts is the presence of the Dragon Spirit inside us.” It made sense to me, but I didn’t say anything. Tansao asked, “If it’s a religion then what’s it called? Dragonism?” Long latched on to that word, “Dragonism…..I like it!” Saber pondered, “I don’t know. Dragonism sounds like a philosophy.”

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I got them back on track, “It’s not important what religion we have. The point is that people with Lupus are suffering and we know how to help. I think we should do something.” Long insisted, “But it does matter what religion we have. We are Dragons. It’s what brought us together and it’s what keeps us together. It’s important to know who we are. Our religion is part of our identity.” argued, “We teach people to protect themselves from abuse and crime. If we can help people protect themselves from disease that’s good, too.” Tansao crossed her wrists with one palm and one fist, “I agree. We should help people like Etherea.” We all copied her gesture by crossing our wrists with one palm and one fist and we bowed in unison. Sabre changed the subject, “As long as we are on the subject of Etherea……Mister Rad……it seems you have a crush on her.” My face flushed and I hoped my embarrassment would not be noticeable in the dim candle light. Long advised, “Yeah, you need to ask her out.” Tansao agreed, “You can’t wait too long or she will start thinking of you as just a friend.” Saber added, “Etherea is the yin to your yang. She’s perfect for you. What are you waiting for?”

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Long insisted, “You can’t leave your fate to chance any more. You have to make your own destiny for a change. Take action! Ask her out the next time you see her.” I was embarrassed and humbled, “But how do I know if she likes me?” “Don’t worry about it.” They all replied. How could they all be perfectly in synch like that? All of them tried to give me advice and they forgot to take turns. I couldn’t listen to all of them at the same time while they were saying different things. I raised my hands in frustration and shrugged. “You can’t worry about whether she likes you.” Long said firmly. “Just invite her out. I’ll help you plan a romantic date.” “You have to kiss her.” Saber said. “She’s going to get frustrated with you if you keep her waiting too long.” “You guys are making me nervous,” I complained. Actually I liked the attention, but the pressure to make a romantic move was terrifying. “What if I screw up? What if she rejects me?” Tansao said, “Don’t worry about helping the Lupus people. We’ll figure out how to deal with that. You just focus on dating Etherea. Okay?” After a few seconds of high pressure silence I caved, “Okay.” “Tomorrow,” Insisted Longsword.

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“Okay,” I said, “Tomorrow…..but you have to help me figure out what to say and what to do.” “Don’t worry Mister Rad.” Saber patted my knee. “We’ll help you, but you have to take a chance and go for it!”

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Ch 9

I wondered if we were compatible. I was into martial arts for the action, while she was interested in spiritual enrichment. Etherea had a soft and peaceful nature, like a flower. She showed no interest in learning to fight. She didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in self defense. I think her life depended more on her ability to relax. That made sense after she explained that Lupus made her vulnerable to stress so much that it triggered episodes of illness. So, for her, meditation was a form of self defense for her health. What if martial arts was no longer important to me anymore? It seemed unimportant when all I could think about was her. Maybe what I really needed was a calming flower in my life. That was what I told myself because I wanted Etherea more than anything. I began to wonder what would happen to me if I didn’t win her heart. That was painful and scary. I decided to do as the inner circle had advised. I would make my move.

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I sent an email to Etherea and suggested we go out for dinner Friday night. I said I knew of a nice restaurant on a lake. Notice that I did not ask her out. I felt desperate, but I tried to act alpha. Soon she replied, “Good idea!” I was thrilled! She didn’t come to the gym during the week, but we kept in touch by email. Writing emails back and forth helped the time go by. Longsword helped me plan a date. Friday evening I drove my car to the lake. I parked my black Miata, raised the convertible top and walked over a bridge to a dock with a floating restaurant. While I was waiting for her I watched children feeding fish under the bridge. There were so many fish at the surface that they made the water appear to boil. Wide open mouths of carp rose out of the water with sucking sounds as they tried to slurp crumbs of bread. These fish were not at all picky eaters. They happily vacuumed everything the kids tossed at them. One girl threw handfuls of fruit loops. Two boys threw handfuls of cat food. An elderly woman dropped French fries. A man laid on his belly, reached into the water and stuck his right index finger into an open mouth of a fish. When it sucked his finger the man jerked his hand back and all the kids laughed. A woman said, “Ewwwwww.” I saw the man smile because he was happy to get so much attention. I laughed, knowing that he was a lot

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like me. However, tonight I had a date and I did not want to risk getting my hands smelly by touching fish. So, I just watched. I thought about Etherea and a phrase came to minde, the eyes are the windows to the soul. I wanted her to see my eyes when she first arrived, but when I took off my shades the sun light reflected off the water in bright sparkles that burned my eyes like white-hot lasers. So, I put my sun glasses back on and hoped that I would appear cool looking. I ran my fingers through my hair for a second, but suddenly stopped. I didn’t need to act preppie…..that would make me look desperate for approval. Instead I shook my head and let my hair fly wild in the breeze. It was hard to act cool when I was thinking about everything I did and wondered how I would look in her eyes. Okay, what did I tell Boomba? Right. Don’t slouch, stand tall. Relax, lean back. Shoulders back, feet apart, but not too wide. This was like a martial arts stance….only the goal was to look confident, yet friendly. Ooops, I had to uncross my arms. Folding my arms would make me look like I was stubborn and defiant instead of inviting and easy going. Now my hands hung down at my sides. What should I do with my hands? Instinctively I put my hands in my pockets. No, that would look bad. They say a man with his hands in his pockets is uncommunicative and passive. I put my hands on my hips. NO! That would look authoritative and bossy. Okay, I pulled out my cell phone and looked at the time. This was good. It made me look like I had a purpose. I was waiting for a call and that meant I

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was expecting a guest. Okay, I thought, I looked cool now. I checked the time again. Hmmmm, maybe I looked nervous. Gotta act patient. The phone rang. “Hi Etherea!” I was very glad to talk to her on the phone. “Hi Rad. I just arrived. Where are you?” “I’m on the dock by the bridge.” “Okay, see you in a minute.” “Okay. Bye.” “Bye, see you soon.” I saw a silver Mustang drive into the parking lot. I couldn’t see through the dark tinted windows, but I figured it must be her. The rumbling engine of the car sounded like a tiger purring as it eased into a parking space. When she stepped out I was surprised to see her wearing a light green T-shirt and jean shorts. For a girl who was supposed to avoid sun light she revealed a lot of skin. Her white complexion showed the world that she rarely went into the daylight. Doing so now made it obvious that she was trying to make a good impression on me. It felt good to think that she wanted me to find her attractive. Now I could stop worrying about how I appeared to her since I was good enough for her to want me. That was why she was looking so hot right now. Ooops, now I was getting nervous thinking she was too hot. Must relax. Be cool. Smile, but not too much. My heart was racing, but I tried to breathe slow and easy. That helped calm

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my nerves. I had the feeling I was about to face the most critical challenge of my life. I watched her slender body walk gracefully across the bridge towards me. She wore no sun glasses so I saw her brown eyes as she stopped a few feet away and said, “Rad?” I guess she never saw me in shorts and a T-shirt with shades before. “Hi Etherea,” I said. She opened her arms to me and we hugged for a moment. I could tell she was a little nervous since she acted somewhat awkward. During the hug we both said at the same time, “Good to see you.” Then we pulled apart and stood face to face. The greeting was over. Small talk was next on the agenda. “Did you have any trouble getting here?” I asked. “Yeah, I had to back track a little,” She said. “Did you wait a long time?” “About ten minutes. It’s okay.” I was enjoying a long gaze into her warm brown eyes….so beautiful. She looked serious. “I hate to be late. Next time I will definitely be on time.” I smiled wider. I could have waited longer for her, but I said, “I’m glad you’re not a flaky girl that shows up an hour late or not at all.”

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I watched the rich brown curls of her hair riding in the breeze. She had the look that artists portrayed in their renditions of greek goddesses, but it was infinitely better to gaze at her than a carved stone. “That’s right.” She grinned. “I’m glad you recognize that I’m not flaky.” “Let’s go inside.” I motioned with my hand as I turned away from her towards the restaurant. We walked along the dock until we reached the door. I wanted to open the door like a gentleman for her. I reached for the handle. It was a wooden oar that was bolted across the door. I pulled the oar and held the door open for her. “Thanks.” She said as she entered. “You’re such a gentleman.” “Thanks.” I said. “I like your good manners, too.” Instead of letting a host give us a table I led her through the restaurant and out onto the patio. She may have thought this unconventional, but I wanted to show her that I was a leader. I found a table with a large umbrella and pulled out a chair. “Here you go,” I said. “A shady spot for you.” “Thanks.” She sat down. I didn’t want to sit across the table, so I took a seat next to her, on her right. How could I flirt with her if I sat too far away? I wanted to be within touching distance. She didn’t object.

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She was looking around as she talked. “This is nice. We can see boats on the lake…and the trees and grass on the shore...” “Yeah,” I agreed. “Blue sky, blue water, birds flying and ducks swimming….why eat inside when it’s beautiful out here?” I had the impression that she liked my choice for the location of our date. I felt proud of myself. If everything worked out she would soon be bragging to her friends about me. “I’m glad we got here so early,” She said. “Can we see the sunset from here?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “We’re facing south right now and the trees on the shore are blocking our view to the west. Maybe we’ll have to rent a jet ski and go on the lake to see the sunset.” “Ohhhh,” She gave me twinkling eyes with her smile. “That would be great.” I realized that she could not see my eyes. I took off my shades and put them into my right pocket. Then I gazed into her eyes. I felt her gazing into my soul. I hoped she felt the power of the connection as much as I did. It was frightening and reassuring at the same time. My heart pounded and I heard my pulse thundering in my ears. I knew I was about to blush, so I took action. I reached with my right hand and took her right hand from the spot where it rested on the white plastic table. Then I put my left hand on the back of her hand and pressed firmly like a two handed hand shake,

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without any shaking. I held her hand still and gazed into her eyes. This was something I told Boomba to use with Tansao. Now I was the one who was risking embarrassment and potential rejection. It was much scarier to do it myself than it was to tell him to try it. Lucky for me there was no rejection. But the moment would turn awkward if I didn’t say something soon. “Can you feel the energy?” I said. “Yes,” She answered. “I can feel your warmth radiating up my arm.” She winced a little. “Are you okay?” I loosened my grip. “It’s okay,” She said. “Just be careful not to squeeze my knuckles.” I was glad she was still smiling and that she didn’t pull her hand away from me. “I can feel your energy going up my arms, too,” I said. “You are so gentle with me.” She said. “I like that.” “Good.” I let go of her hand as the waiter walked up to the table. She ordered water and I copied her order. Then the waiter left us alone. “Good news,” I said. “My students are using the internet to supply free Biaxin to people with Lupus. They are getting enough donations to supply a dozen or so. People have been emailing us that they are getting amazing results. It’s really starting to get around. Emails are flooding us with requests from people who want to try the new medicine.”

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I was proud to deliver this news and I expected she would be so appreciative that I cared about her and people in her situation. She stopped smiling. “You can’t do that.” “What?” I was shocked to be rebuked by her. “You can’t give people medicine without a prescription,” She said. I felt defensive, but I tried to win her over with reason. “How else do we get people to try a new medicine if their doctors won’t prescribe it for them?” She frowned. “I know you’re trying to help, but there are laws. Doctors have to test the medicine to make sure it’s safe and prove that it works for that purpose.” “But……you used it and it worked for you.” I felt like I was losing her. If she didn’t like what I was doing how could I win her heart. “Besides, if the drug wasn’t safe it wouldn’t be used for fighting colds. Right?” She relented, “I suppose so.” I was relieved that her frown relaxed. “So, if they only get enough Biaxin for a week, like you did, then they won’t have much risk, right?” She was coming around. Her face softened more. “Well, I guess the doctors usually give people a week’s worth of Biaxin for colds.”

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“Right,” I said. “So, if it helps people in one week, then they will tell everybody about the new drug for Lupus. Soon doctors will decide to give it to their patients and we won’t have to.” “But…..” A vertical line formed between her eyebrows in a worried look. “You could go to jail for illegally distributing prescription drugs.” “I don’t care.” I leaned back in my chair. “They won’t keep me in jail for long…. It’s not like I’m giving them dangerous drugs. Nobody’s going to die of an overdose.” She put her hand on my left arm. “But some people could have an allergic reaction! It could be fatal.” Her mouth hung open a moment. “That’s why only doctors are supposed to give people medicine.” She was right. All my common sense had vanished in my mission to save people. I forgot that it might kill somebody. That would get me locked in jail for a long time and I would be disgraced for the rest of my life. Then I would never be with Etherea. My stomach lifted and my heart skipped a couple beats. Then my heart pounded back into rhythm in emergency mode. I stood up. “I guess I better get back to the gym and stop this whole thing before something really bad happens.” “Okay,” She said. “Sorry.” “Why?” I looked at her hand on my left wrist. She seemed to be trying to comfort me. She seemed to care.

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“It’s because of me that you did all this.” She leaned closer to me. “I know you really care about me. I just don’t want you to go to jail.” Maybe the tension of being on a first date combined with the risk of getting caught by the law. Maybe her hand on my arm paralyzed me. I sat there starring into her eyes…..wanting to hug her. Instead I said, “I better go now.” She said, “I’m not really hungry. I’ll go to.” “I’ll walk you to your car then.” We walked in silence to her car. She opened the driver’s side door of her silver grey mustang. I didn’t want her to leave like this, not without a hug. I needed reassurance that she still liked me even though I screwed up. I said, “I’ll just give you a good bye hug.” She turned and stepped into me for a hug. As her arms wrapped around me I flexed the muscles of my back. I felt her hands on my lats and I hoped she noticed the strength of my body. I wrapped my arms around her waist and held my hands together. It started as a quick hug, but when she pulled her head away from the right side of my mine I didn’t let go of her. I held my arms around her waist. We gazed eye to eye for a couple seconds. I wanted to kiss her. I thought about what to say or do. Then I was surprised when she reached up and kissed my lips…..only for a second. Then I reached my head to the left side of her head for a more intimate hug,

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but only for a moment. I breathed in a deep breath of air and felt intoxicated from the wonderful smell of her. Then I let her go and stepped back. “Good night.” She replied, “Good night.” “Bye.” I turned and walked away as she said, “Bye.” I continued walking to my car and tried to act very calm until I got into my car. Inside my car I pumped my fist in victory just like I had taught Boomba to do. “Yihaaaa!” I felt victorious and lucky to get a kiss from her. All the way back to the gym I grinned like a maniac and sang along with the radio. I was elated. Even though I had screwed up and was in danger of going to jail…..I knew she liked me because she made the first move. She KISSED me!

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Zen Dragon

Ch 10

When I arrived at the gym I was stunned to see Rex. In my shock I stood at the door staring. His clan was interacting with my students like they were all good friends. How could my whole school betray me like this? It looked like Rex was telling them what to do and how to run things. Some of his clan were in my front office using my work computer. Were they taking over my business? Rex saw me and he started walking towards me with a big smile on his face. I fumed, remembing what he did when we were kids. When we first met he had tried to force me to join his street gang. Later he tried to dominate me in Sifu Zi’s Dragon School. He had always tried to be superior to me and now he was trying to steal my students. I shouldn’t have been away from the gym so long. I should have been paying attention better. How could I let this happen? I must have been so obsessed with Etherea that I lost control of the rest of my life.

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Rex walked up to me and offered me his hand for a shake, “Hi Sifu Rad. How ya doin’?” I bowed to him using the special wrist cross with my left fist behind my right palm. “Sifu Rex.” I paused to control my temper and keep an even voice. “Call me Mister Rad. I don’t go by ‘Sifu.” Rex mirrored my bow. “That’s cool. I like the signature bow you guys invented.” He was acting too nice. I couldn’t let his fake charms win me over. “What are you doing here?” Rex motioned up at the entrance. “I saw your sign, Dragon Temple. With a name like that I had to find out what you were up to……and I like it.” His grin was trying to soften me and his friendly conversation was trying to make me feel like we were old buddies instead of enemies. I didn’t trust him. Deception like this was the worst kind. I was not giving in to his charms. “Good. You came, you saw, now you can leave.” I did not smile, but I held solid eye contact. But it was hard to challenge eyes that insisted on being friendly. He patted my left shoulder and said, “Hey! I heard you got a girlfriend. Way to go, Stud!” “It was just a first date.” I couldn’t help softening up a little. He called me ‘Studly’ and it felt good to get a compliment.

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Wait a second. If he gave me approval then he was trying to lure me into seeking more approval. That cycle would soon make me his servant. I was too stubborn for that. I didn’t need his approval. I said defiantly, “My dating life is none of your business.” I tried to keep a steely look on my face. He stepped beside me and put his left arm around the back of my shoulders. “Of course!” He leaned to my right ear and said quietly, “I’m just glad a stud like you isn’t after my girlfriend.” He used a little pressure on my shoulders to guide me forward. “Hey, you know there’s someone here to see you? He’s hiding in your bedroom.” I turned my head to Rex and forgot my stubborn attitude. “Seth?” “Yeah.” He motioned forward. “Let’s go see him. He’s got a great story for you.” “Really?” I quickened my pace. I had been worried about him for over a month. The hardest part was not knowing what had happened to Seth. Now I was about to find out. “He’s okay, right?” “Are you kidding?” Rex chuckled. “You don’t have to worry about Seth. He can take care of himself. Know what I mean?” “Yeah,” I stopped at the door to my bedroom. “I read the news. They found six bodies in the park.”

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I turned the knob and opened the door. A sudden movement inside made me tense up. He was looking hard at me as if expecting trouble. It was shocking to see him sitting at the computer in my room. He wore a heavy duty black jean jacket that covered him from the neck down. His dark hair was long and messy. There was a light brown line in his part where the roots showed his natural hair color. I guess he was hiding from the hair dresser as well as the cops. I think I would feel paranoid, too, if I was him. I bowed and opened my arms for a hug. “Seth, I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried about you. Why didn’t you answer your cell phone?” Seth stood up and bowed, but he stayed behind the computer, out of view from the main gym. He waited for Rex to close the door. Then he came to me for a brief hug. When he stepped back he smiled nervously and said, “I’m glad to see you, too, Mister Rad. The reason I didn’t use my cell phone was because I didn’t want the cops to trace it to me.” “That’s okay. I figured it was better if you laid low.” I paused. “So, what happened? The news said there were six boys found dead in the park. They said they were looking for the Samurai Slasher.” Seth’s face turned red. I felt like he was going to punch me as his anger boiled defensively. “Did the news mention those boys all had guns? Did they say how many bullets they shot at me? How would those reporters feel if they were

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the ones surrounded by kids who think it’s funny to pop a cap in them? I can’t believe they made me look like the bad guy. I just tried to talk to those punks. They shot me for no reason. If it wasn’t for the Kevlar vest I’d be dead. I had to fight back ……before they started shooting at my head. It was self defense.” I tried to lighten him up, “Hey,” I smiled. “At least you finally have a tough nick name, Samurai Slasher.” I patted him on his left shoulder. “That name has some serious street cred.” Rex grinned. “Yeah, nobody wants to go to the park any more. They’re all afraid of the Samurai Slasher.” Seth smiled. “Well…..if it keeps the punks off the streets at night….” Rex finished the thought, “That’s right! Every once in a while ya gotta put some fear into ‘em.” “So,” I said. “What happened that night? I followed you, but you ditched me at the corner store.” Seth looked at me surprised, “That was you?!” I was proud that he hadn’t recognized me. “Yeah.” He stepped back into the center of the room and acted out the story. “I was skating along and I noticed I was being followed. I thought it was strange for a kid to wear his jeans up around his waist, so I went into the store and watched him from a window. I thought it was some weirdo following me because he was lurking behind a tree. That’s why I traded

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jackets with another skater. He was happy to get a nice leather jacket for this old jean jacket. Actually, I kinda like this jacket. It gives me the Matrix look. Anyway, after that other guy left the store I watched to make sure the weirdo followed him out of sight. Then I went to the park where I heard the K-town Killers liked to hang out. It was dark when I got there, but I could tell they were getting high and sitting on the swings at the play ground. I didn’t wear the ski mask. I just walked up to them and tried to talk reasonable. I said, ‘Hey, you guys are the ones messing with Carlos Lopez. Right?’ One of them replied in a Mexican accent, ‘Ohhhh, you mean that skinny little kid, the one that calls himself the Whip?’ That made the other boys laugh, Seth said, then he continued the story. Another one said, ‘Yeah man, he’s a cholo like us. So he don’t need you defending him.’” Rex laughed so hard that Seth stopped telling his story. “Sorry, Seth. I can’t help laughing. You’re a good story teller. Go on. Tell Rad what happened.” “Okay,” Seth said. “No more interruptions.” He extended his arms and turned around to show how the boys were coming to surround him. “They came up close and boxed me in.” He reached his left hand to his belly and lifted up his shirt a little. “I showed them I had a gun, but it didn’t intimidate them. They all pulled out guns and pointed them at me. I told them they need to leave Carlos alone because he belongs to Dragon School. They said, ‘Dragon School’s for white boys. Carlos is Mexican, so he

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belongs in a gang.’ I said it didn’t matter if he was Mexican because Dragon school wasn’t just for whites. One of them said I had a lot of nerve trespassing on their turf and he pushed his gun against my forehead. I noticed it was an automatic, so I pushed my forehead hard against the barrel of his gun. When he pulled the trigger his gun didn’t fire because the slide was pushed back. Then the other guys shot me. It felt like I was getting punched on my back and my stomach, but I knew I was getting hit with bullets because I heard the gun shots. After that it was like I was watching myself from a distance. I could see what happened, but I couldn’t control it. You know what I mean?” Rex shook his head. “Yeah, I know….the same thing happened to me once.” I asked, “So what happened next?” Seth ducked as he reached his right hand up and over the back of his right shoulder. In a split second he pulled a black sword from under his jacket collar and sliced the air in a horizontal circle. His body made a graceful twisting turn as he showed us his deadly move…the one that gave him the name, the Samurai Slasher. “That was all it took. They dropped their guns and grabbed their throats……I never heard so much disgusting gurgling and gasping. I couldn’t take it, so I ran. After a while I realized that I might have that image in my mind for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be haunted by endless visions of them choking on their own blood and

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gurgling to death. I had to go back and see them again. It was easy to lash out in self defense. It wasn’t so easy to look at them dead….knowing I did it….but it helped to see they weren’t suffering anymore.” “That’s when I showed up,” Rex said. “I was riding past the park on my motorcycle and I saw the fight from a distance. I turned back, but by the time I got there it was over. I found Seth just standing frozen like a statue….staring at the dead bodies.” “Yeah, I didn’t even notice him,” Seth said in a faraway voice. “Guess I’m lucky it wasn’t the cops.” His eyes were not focused on the floor. It seemed like he was back at the park staring at the victims of his sword. “So, the cops never saw you?” I asked. He shrugged. “I don’t think so.” “Then why have you been in hiding all this time?” I asked. “Did you drop something with your fingerprints at the park?” “Maybe,” He gave me an apologetic sulk. “I lost the tsuba, but I don’t know where. I think it might have fallen off when I was fighting in the park.” I gasped. “I hope that didn’t have my prints on it. I don’t remember if I was wearing gloves when I put the wakizashi on the wall.” Seth considered this fact for a while. “Does that mean that the cops won’t be looking for me?”

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“That’s right,” Rex said. “The cops would let you go if they tried to match up your prints and find they don’t match the ones on the guard. Rad on the other hand…..” “I can’t believe this!” I felt panic building in me. “I can’t believe I let you have a sword with my prints on it.” “Well, that’s too bad.” Rex turned away from me and patted Seth on the shoulder. “Slasher, you got lucky this time. Now that you’re off the hook, you can come out of hiding.” “I can’t believe it.” I was still in denial about the trouble I was in. Rex turned back to face me. He gave me a hard look, “Well, you were responsible for whatever he did when you sent him out. If the cops arrest you then we expect you to protect the rest of our secrets. If you blab we’ll know.” “Nobody’s squealing on anybody.” I plopped onto my bed, mind racing. I needed to figure out how to deal with this situation. What would I say to Etherea if I got arrested? Rex and Seth started to the door. They were about to leave when I remembered why I ended the date with Etherea and rushed back to the gym. “Hey,” I said. “We need to stop giving people Biaxin.” Seth turned back to me. “Why?” “I don’t want anyone to blame us if they have an allergic reaction, I said.

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“Fine.” Seth opened the door. “We didn’t want to mess with that stuff anyway. We’re Dragons. We’d rather be fighting than playing medic.” “So, what was going on when I showed up?” I asked as I laid back on my bed. Rex grinned. “We figured if we could get away with breaking the law in the name of religious freedom then we might as well do what we like. So, we’re planning a tournament….using Dragon rules.” I bolted upright. “What do you mean, Dragon rules?” Rex laughed, “What do you think it means?” “To the death?” I asked. He nodded. I stood up and spoke loud and firm, “You can’t do that. That’s dueling. It’s illegal.” “Don’t worry, nobody’s going to blame you….unless you try to take credit for my idea.” He gave me a taunting look. I knew he was trying to draw me into a fight. He had always been trying to beat me, but I never gave up, no matter what. “Besides, why should we care what’s legal anymore.” Rex waived both his hands to the side like he was brushing away the law. “Anything we do in the Temple is protected by the First Amendment, freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof.” He abruptly turned and walked into the gym. “Hey everybody, look who’s here. It’s the Samurai Slasher.” He led Seth

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by the arm out of my room to greet old friends who hadn’t seen Seth for over a month. I followed them with a furious pace. “Hey Rex, this is my gym! You can’t have your way here. I’m the boss here.” As I got close to him I didn’t expect him to hit me. It was my automatic reaction from years of training that saved me. As his body turned and his right hand came up I bent my knees and swiveled on the balls of my feet. My body pivoted and turned with the blow. His right palm struck the left side of my face and spun my head horizontally to my right. This was his favorite finishing move, the right cross palm. He called it the XP-KO, but it was more deadly than a KO. In boxing a cross punch spins the opponent’s head and the sudden twisting action causes trauma to the brain stem. Since the brain stem is what makes a person conscious, trauma to the brain stem results in unconsciousness. That is how the knock-out punch works. However, Rex’s cross palm strike was worse because his palm griped the face better than a fist and he delivered more twisting action to the opponent’s head. I knew how deadly that move was because I saw him use it on a man who tried to rob us with a knife. The robber never knew what hit him. He just dropped dead with a broken neck. I was dazed as I turned back to face Rex. “You tried to kill me!” He grinned, “What?..... you can’t take a little hit?” “That wasn’t a little hit!” I yelled. “That was a finishing move!”

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He acted like it was no big deal. “If you’re a master of martial arts it shouldn’t hurt you.” How could he be so smug like that? He SHOULD NOT care so little about human life that he would try to kill me. He SHOULDN’T treat me with disrespect in my own gym. He should NOT act like the boss of my gym! I felt the anger boiling up inside me and I couldn’t hold back the pressure. I flew into a rage. “If you want to kill me then why don’t we fight it out with swords?!” I ran to the wall and grabbed a katana. “Come on, let’s do it right now!” I screamed. I ran at him full speed and slashed the air with the sword, but I stopped with the blade inches away from his neck. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled. You wanna kill me? Let’s fight! I’m ready!” He stood calm and steady. I was out of my mind. I screamed at him so loud that my voice broke, “I HATE YOU! I WISH YOU WERE DEAD!!!!” Then I waited for him to react. I expected him to grab my arms and try to fight for control of the sword. Instead he flatly stated, “If you can’t control your temper then you can’t be a leader.” I was stunned. Suddenly I realized that this was all a setup. He knew I would fly off the handle and wouldn’t kill him. He knew I would embarrass myself like this.

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He said, “These kids need someone they can respect.” I screamed, “This is my gym. Get out, NOW!” I pointed to the door, but I knew he wouldn’t leave. “It’s not yours anymore,” He said firmly. “You were going broke and couldn’t pay the bills. That’s why the students turned the gym into a temple. Now it belongs to everybody. You don’t own it anymore.” My face turned red. I knew I was loosing, but I couldn’t give up. “I bought this place. I’m the boss.” Rex argued, “This Temple is for them, not you,” He waived his hand around pointing at the teenagers. “They need a true leader. They don’t need you. So, you should leave.” I looked around and saw no sympathy from my students. They didn’t stand up for me. I thought my students were my friends. They were my whole world and now I was rejected and alone. It gave me a hurt feeling that emptied out my core like a giant needle draining the blood from my heart. Suddenly the hurting was replaced by anger until I burst out in violent rage. I threw the sword at the wall. The point chipped a piece of concrete loose and the sword fell to the mat. I screamed ferrociously, “Fine! If nobody wants me then I’m outta here!” I stood silent for a few moments, but nobody asked me to stay. Nobody tried to consol me. The fight was over and I hadn’t been physically beaten. He didn’t need to hit me any more because the real battle was for

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the control of the students. I lost my temper and I lost their respect. Rex won. I felt like a loser and I couldn’t stand the shame, so I ran outside and raced off in my car.

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Ch 11

The black Miata screamed through the rpms every time I shifted gears. I didn’t pay attention to the red line. I was too angry to care if I ruined the engine. I wanted to call Etherea, but I was afraid to talk to her in this mental state. Instead I drove to the lake and listened to the radio with the convertible top down. I sat there in the night wondering how long would it take to get over the bad feelings that made me want to break everything I owned. In this bitter state of mind I couldn’t stand the party music or the hip hop. They made me feel like I was the only looser not having a good time that night. But I found a station on the radio playing a song that validated my emotions. The singer said, “I hate everything about you….so why do I still love you?” It made me think about Rex. If I hated him so much then why didn’t I kill him? We trained so many years together that I felt some kind of responsibility for him. So many times I tried to be his friend and so many times he betrayed me like today. Why was he always trying to

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undermine me? How could he care so little about me? That’s what made me furious. Another song came on, “I walk these lonely streets….” It made me feel like walking, so I got out of the car and followed the sidewalk next to the lake. The further I got away from the parking lot the darker it became. I found a bench shaded from the street lights and I sat in the darkness. Reflections of distant lights rose and fell on the black surface of the lake. Tiny breakers sloshed on the shore, but it would take more than white noise to calm the monster inside me. I wanted to fight Rex, but it wouldn’t be a fair fight because I lacked the will to kill him. If I was holding back and he wasn’t…. Memories of Sifu Zi came back to me. I remembered the time that his school was diminishing and he said it was because the Gracies dominated the UFC. All the kids wanted to learn Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Kung Fu was losing popularity. Sifu Zi decided to challenge the Gracies to a duel. The Brazillians said they accepted any challenger of any style in unarmed combat. They were used to fighting no-holds barred and they called it Vale Tudo. The Gracies themselves didn’t want to fight old Master Zi, but one of their students was willing to take the challenge as a representative of their BJJ school. I rode along with them on a boat into international waters so they could duel without being under the jurisdiction of law. I had so much respect for Sifu Zi that I expected him to win easily. He seemed confident in

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his Wing Chun stance and let the opponent get close. However, Sifu Zi didn’t have a chance to punch or kick before his opponent grabbed him. It looked like they were hugging each other for a moment and then Sifu Zi was trapped in a head lock. Later I was told that it was called a “guillotine choke.” Soon there was no more struggling, but Sifu Zi was still held in the choke hold. It must have been two minutes before he was released. The Brazilian guy had a worried look on his face. He put his fingers on Sifu’s neck to check for a pulse. “No pulse,” he said. The realization of death suddenly came over all of us and we crowded around Sifu’s limp body. After doing an excellent job of killing my Sifu, the BJJ guy worked just as hard to revive him. When he was tired of doing CPR then I took over. When I got tired then one of the other Brazilian guys took over. We took turns giving CPR to Sifu until the boat reached port and then Sifu Zi was rushed away by paramedics to an ambulance. When I got to the hospital I was glad to find him alive, but he was different. He told me about the peaceful feeling of floating above the fight and then entering a dark tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel was a bright light. He could hear a voice calling him, but he didn’t see who it was. He wanted to go to the light, but something pulled him back. Then he woke up in the ambulance. He told me that he never wanted to fight again. Instead he spent the rest of his life focusing on the gentle things in life. He wanted to prepare himself for a

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peaceful trip through the dark tunnel ….all the way to the light. “Next time I die,” he said. “Just let me go.” There were a few lessons I learned from that duel. One thing I never forgot was seeing the Brazilian fighter lose his pride as he faced the horror of death. His victory was quickly turned to shame. Another thing I never forgot was how easy it was to lose against unfamiliar skills. That was why I studied BJJ myself as well as other styles and I made my students study every martial art available. But the biggest thing that changed me was that I became afraid of death. I wasn’t afraid of dying myself, but I didn’t want to see it happen to someone I knew….not even an enemy. Maybe that was what Sifu Zi meant when he said, “Your training will never end until you lose your taste for blood or your fear of death.” Hmmmm, I still didn’t understand the part about “taste for blood.” I didn’t have that, did I? I stood up and continued walking around the park. This was not the same park where Seth killed the six gang kids. That was in a bad neighborhood. This park was my favorite place to relax. This was where I spent many evenings watching the sunset dance on the water. Only now it was dark and getting cold. I felt the heavy ache of tiredness sinking into my body. As I walked back to my car I realized that it was too small to for me to sleep. The seats would not recline in a Miata. I had to figure out how to spend the night since I was now homeless.

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Thinking of ways to spend the night helped my mind settle as I drove to Wal-Mart. The tediousness of life helped me forget about my troubles with Rex. I enjoyed picking out a small tent, a sleeping bag and a flash light. Then I drove to Veteran’s park and followed a trail into the woods. This park was like a wilderness. Some teenagers hid at the fringes of the woods. They laughed loudly as they passed around a pipe. I passed them and walked deep into the woods looking for a place to pitch my tent. I didn’t want to be harassed by drugged up kids in the middle of the night. There was nobody around, but I had a haunting feeling like I was being followed by the ghosts and demons. A song began to repeat in my mind, “Such a lonely day….and it’s mine….the loneliest day of my life....” As I pitched my tent I felt truly alone. The only comfort I had was snuggling inside my new sleeping bag with the tent zipped shut and the flash light in my right hand. I listened hard for footsteps because I was afraid some jerks might try to trash my tent with me in it. But I heard only crickets until I fell asleep. The next thing I heard was birds chirping. I opened my eyes to the morning light and felt better. Camping was great. Why haven’t I done this in so many years? I’m hungry. Too bad I forgot to bring food on my campout.

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Ch 12

Saturday morning I felt happy again. I enjoyed rolling up my new sleeping bag. It was a good feeling to be surrounded by nature. Rays of light filtered through the green canopy. Melodies of birds lifted my spirit while I folded up my tent and squeezed it into its tiny nylon bag. My stomach was growling, but it woke me up and got my body moving. I had no need for coffee. Hunger motivated me this morning. The difference between today and any other morning was that I walked through the woods immersed in natural peace, instead of standing outside the gym watching cars drive by. I was alone, but I didn’t feel lonely this morning. My cell phone rang. I reached into my pocket and was thrilled to see who was calling. “Hi Etherea,” I said. “Hi Rad. How are you?” “I’m hungry,” I had an exciting idea. “Let’s go to IHOP for breakfast.”

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“Okay,” She said. “When?” “I’m on my way right now. You know the one on Little Road?” “Sure. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” “Okay. Bye.” “Bye.” I knew I had to keep the phone conversation short. If she wanted to talk with me on the phone it might mean that she liked me, but if she really liked me then she would meet me in person to talk. The danger of letting a phone conversation go on too long would be the mistake of having nothing to say in person. That would make a her think there was no chemistry. Best to keep the phone chat short and get together in person. My hands were shaking by the time I arrived at IHOP because I was so hungry. Yet, the butterflies in my stomach made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to eat. I was anxious about meeting Etherea again. She walked up to me in tight blue jeans and a feminine style blue Tshirt that was form fitting. You might think that I liked to seeing her sexy figure, but it made me more nervous to see her looking so hot. I didn’t want to be nervous. I wanted her to think of me as confident. “Hi Rad.” She opened her arms to me for a hug. As I stepped into her hug I said, “Good to see you again Etherea.” I let her go after a brief hug. But I was planning for another hug later. Later I would walk her to her car after breakfast and give her a longer hug

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……..and a kiss. Ooops, thinking about a kiss made me feel a tinge of fear shooting down my spine to paralyze my legs. “It’s good to see you again, too.” She smiled as she looked directly into my right eye and then into my left eye. I was glad that I was not wearing sun glasses because I felt like she was looking into my soul and I liked the connection we shared. I motioned to the door of IHOP. “Let’s share a breakfast meal. If we each ordered a separate meal it would be too much food.” “That’s a great idea.” She grinned at me. “I’m glad you’re willing to share with me. That way we can sit together.” Her obvious flirtation made me nervous. I had not made any moves on her and I felt pressure to take the relationship to the next level…..holding hands. I just needed to get close to her and get comfortable being close. I put my left hand on her lower back as if to guide her into the restaurant. A hostess led us to a small table with place settings on opposite sides of the table. After Etherea sat down I picked up the silverware from my spot and moved it to her side of the table. “I’ll sit next to you,” I said. “That way we can share a meal.” “Okay.” She seemed to be getting a little uncomfortable. “But I won’t be able to look into your eyes.” I sat next to her on the padded bench seat. “Sure you will.” I turned to face her and looked into her warm brown eyes. “See? No problem.”

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Then I turned to look at the menu. It made me nervous to be this close to her and I didn’t want her to pick up on the jitters I was trying to stifle. Fear was the most contagious emotion and nervousness was a kind of fear, a social fear. In this case, sexual tension was so high that I was on the verge of a full scale anxiety attack. The only thing that steadied me was remembering that she kissed me last night, so I knew she liked me. I pointed to a picture of a strawberry topped item labeled Stuffed French Toast. “That looks good,” I said. “Mmmmmm,” She agreed. “It comes with eggs and bacon or sausage. I want bacon. What do you want?” I read the details. “We can order one slice of bacon for you and one link of sausage for me.” “Okay,” she said. “How do you want your eggs?” “I like scrambled, but I’m not picky about it.” “Good,” she said. “I like scrambled eggs, too.” While we waited for our food we had to make conversation. I wondered what to say. I wished there was a magic line to get her started with the talking. How could I figure out what she liked to talk about? She asked, “What are you thinking?” “I was just wondering how to get a conversation going. Then you said the magic words, “What are you thinking?” Suddenly I regretted saying

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what was actually on my mind. I didn’t want her to think I was lame on social skills. “Women are natural communicators.” She patted my right fore arm with her left hand. She touched me. That was a good sign. “Maybe that is why women don’t usually get into fights.” I offered. “That’s part of it. But boys like to fight and it doesn’t take much to get men to act like boys.” I picked up a red crayon and drew on the kid place mat. “Well, some boys like to give flowers to cute girls.” I drew a flower. “Thanks,” she said. “Did I say the flower was for you?” I was trying to be a challenge. It would be too easy for her to lose respect for me if I put her on a pedestal and worshiped her like the goddess I saw in her. “Are you a good girl?” I asked this qualifier to get her to make an effort to prove that she was good enough for me. That way she wouldn’t be wondering if I was good enough for her. “Of course I’m a good girl!” she slapped my leg. “Okay…..if you say so.” I began do draw a smiley face with a stickarm holding the flower. She made a fake pouty face. “Don’t you think I’m good?” “Yeah, but……” I began do draw another smiley face, one with long curly hair and long girly eye lashes. “There are three billion women on this

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planet. If this boy is going to give you a flower then he needs to know what makes you special.” “I can’t tell you what makes me special. I’m supposed to be an enigma and you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life trying to figure me out.” I liked the idea of spending the rest of my life with her. “I hope that it’s always this fun trying to figure you out.” I drew a smile with girly lips on the girl face and drew a stick-arm from her to the flower. “There you go. Here’s a flower for you.” “Thanks.” She bumper her shoulder against me. “You’re so sweet.” I was very glad she thought I was sweet. It’s ironic that I had to tease her and challenge her to get her to call me sweet. I might keep going like this with more teasing, but I was afraid a tease might too easily twist into an insult. In the beginning stage a tiny misunderstanding could be fatal to our relationship. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough relationship experience to be good at this. I realized that I had been thinking silently for too long and it might be feeling awkward for her. I said, “You’re welcome.” I was running out of ideas to keep the conversation going and that made me nervous again. She filled the silence with questions. “So, what else do you do besides martial arts? Is that your only job?”

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I was afraid she might ask about how I make a living. I didn’t have much money to brag about. “It keeps me busy. You should see how much energy the little kids have. They run around non stop and I can barely teach them self defense. But that’s okay, I guess. The only problem is they have me surrounded all day and I barely have any time alone.” “I like time alone,” She said. “As a teacher I spend all day with children and I love them, but they wear me out. I need time alone to recharge my batteries.” “So, we both teach kids. That’s something we have in common,” I said. “But you spend all day trying to make them sit still and I spend all day getting them riled up.” She winked her right eye slowly. “It’s because you have more yang and I have more yin.” I leaned close until our shoulders touched, “We would make a great team if we could figure out how to combine our teaching styles.” She touched my right forearm with her left hand and said, “We could take turns being in charge.” I thought she was giving me double entendre. Maybe she was trying to get me thinking about her taking charge in the bedroom. Very flirty of her. It seemed she knew what I was thinking as she gazed into my eyes, so I had to look away before I embarrassed myself with premature arousal.

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The server took our order and after a long wait he delivered our stuffed French toast with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and an extra plate. The French toast was filled with crème and it was topped with whipped crème, cut strawberries and red sauce. It was on a small plate separate from the eggs and meat. Etherea used a knive to divide the eggs and scoot them onto an extra plate that she had placed in front of me. “Thank you,” I said. “You’re welcome.” I wondered what would happen next. In Texas most women were Christian, but they usually didn’t say prayers in a restaurant. I liked her so much I would have joined her in any religious ritual. I was glad that her idea of a meal ritual was to take my right hand in her left hand. She faced forward and closed her eyes. So did I. We sat silent for a few seconds. It was enough time for me to imagine an eternity with her holding my hand. I would be happy always. Then she let go of my hand and I opened my eyes. She smiled at me and I smiled back. Then she looked at her plate. With her right hand she picked up her fork and carefully stabbed some scrambled eggs. Etherea didn’t look at me as she cautiously asked, “So, how comfortable do you live?”

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I knew she was trying to find out how qualified I was as a provider. I was afraid to tell her I was almost bankrupt. Even if I went back to Dragon Temple and made amends I suspect that Etherea would not want to live there. She probably was feeling the instinct to nest in a place more suitable, like a house. But I decided to address the issue with honesty. I said, “I get by. But if I wanted a house in a nice neighborhood then I would have to get a different job.” I felt embarrassed, but I acted like I was okay with myself. I took a piece of bacon and ate half of it in one bite. “But you get by?” She smiled and prodded me with her eyes. I realized I would have to tell her my story. She waited for me to chew, so I knew she wanted details about me. I would have preferred to wait until we were intimate before telling too much. The more I talk the more chance I would say something to turn her off. I began, “I quit college because I was tired of studying alone and hated the idea of working at a boring job in some cubicle. For a while I sold cars until I had enough to buy an old commercial building. I lived in a back room in the warehouse to save money and Itried to build up a martial arts school. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much money. Most of my students can’t afford to pay. She picked up a piece of bacon with the finger and thumb of her right hand. Then she looked me directly in my eyes, “What about insurance? If you don’t have a job…”

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“I have insurance,” I answered quickly, but I didn’t tell her that it had a big deductible. She seemed interested, “Does it cover organ replacement?” I remembered that she had Lupus and suddenly realized why this subject was so important to her. “Uh…..I don’t know.” “Mine doesn’t cover it.” She looked ahead as if staring at nothing and said, “I thought I was getting a good job when I went into teaching, but if my Lupus develops into organ damage…..” She stared into the distance-perhaps at her uncertain fate--just beyond the walls of the restaurant. “I would be screwed since my insurance doesn’t cover it.” I wasn’t sure what to say on the matter, but this topic was making her depressed. So, I changed the subject to get back to being flirty. I stabbed a strawberry with my fork and held it a foot away from her face. “How about desert?” She opened her mouth and I carefully placed the treat between her teeth. I saw her eyes sparkle at me as she bit down enough to pull the strawberry off of my fork. I felt victorious. “Thanks,” she said after she finished chewing. “You’re welcome,” I said. At that moment she was stabbing a strawberry and brought it up to my mouth. I ate it. “Mmmmmmmm. Thanks,” I mumbled, barely able to speak without exposing the food in my mouth. It’s amazing how her presence

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made me so keenly aware of my manners. I hope I was behaving appropriately. We continued this for a while, but when I took a long time trying to cut the crème-stuffed waffle with my fork she began feeding herself. I knew I had to find another way to step up the flirting. I said, “After we finish our waffle, let’s go to the park by the lake.” She happily agreed, “Okay!” After breakfast I walked her to my car and unlocked the passenger door. I held her right hand as she climbed into the passenger seat. Then I reached back and pulled the seat belt forward for her to grab more easily. When she was buckled I carefully closed the door. As I walked around to the driver’s side I saw her lean over and unlock my door. I said, “Thanks,” as I got in. Then I unlocked the convertible roof and lowered the top. We drove to the park in style with the wind blowing in our hair. At least it was nice for me. I was riding with an attractive woman in my car. At the traffic light I saw that she was holding her hair down with her hands. I realized the wind might be a problem for her long hair. “Would you like some sun glasses? It will keep your hair from whipping in your eyes. I have short hair. But sometimes I let it grow too long and it stings my eyes, so I know what it is like.”

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“Sure.” I opened the glove box and handed her the sunglasses I kept there. “It should be called a ‘sunglasses box,’” I said. “Who keeps gloves in the glove box?” “I do.” “Oh,” I said. “Well, I keep ‘em behind the seat. My gloves are too big to fit in the glove box.” I scavenged around my car looking for something to tie her hair into a pony tail. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything for your hair.” “It’s okay,” She said. “You’re probably not used to having a girl riding in your car.” I was surprises she thought that. Since I drive a convertible she might have assumed that I was a womanizer, but of course I was too nervous for that. I found a rubber band. “Here.” I held the rubber band out for her. She shook her head. “No. I’m fine…..I’ll just hold my hair with my hand.” I reached behind her seat and pulled out a visor. “This has velcro. It’s adjustable.” She tried it on and made some adjustments. “It’s green,” she said. I stared at her blankly, not understanding. How could she think that the visor was green? Was she joking? “You mean the visor? It’s red.”

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She urged me on, “No! The LIGHT is green.” “Oh, the light.” I had to turn away from her and pay attention to my driving. So much for giving her the impression that I was smart. I hoped that she considered it a compliment that her face made me forget the rest of the world. At the lake we walked around the park on the paved trail next to the water. I wanted to hold her hand and I think she wanted me to reach for her hand, but I didn’t know how to lead into such a move. We walked over a short metal bridge to a small dock. There we sat and faced the same direction looking out over the lake. I had nothing to say, but I watched her hair moving in the gentle breeze. I liked the way the sunlight gave some of her curls an amber glow. Slowly I reached my right hand up to a dazzling lock of her hair and touched it with my finger and thumb. She didn’t move or protest in any way. I caressed more of her hair using all my fingers and still she did not object. Then I slowly leaned toward her face and I saw her lean towards me with her lips ready for a kiss. I closed my eyes and felt our lips touching. This time it was not over too quickly. As we kissed we moved our lips tenderly. In this moment I pushed the fingers of my right hand up her neck and gently clenched a fistful of her hair and she reacted by kissing me harder. Then I let her go and leaned back as I opened my eyes to lock with her happy eyes.

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I think that was the moment we both knew we had achieved togetherness. From then on I felt it was always okay to reach for her hand and hold it in mine. I beamed at her, “I feel happy with you.” She replied with a wide smile, “I feel happy with you, too.” I wanted to stay with her at the lake forever, but I received a frantic call on my cell phone from Tansao.

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Ch 13

I told Etherea, “It’s an emergency!” In one ear I heard Tansao crying and trying to explain what happened. In the other ear I heard Etherea asking ‘what happened.’ I had trouble talking to both at the same time. I held the phone a foot away from my ear to talk, “Tansao said something terrible is happening at the Temple. It’s life or death serious and they need us.” I handed the phone to Etherea. “You talk to her. Maybe you can calm her down enough so she can explain what’s going on.” We rushed to my car and Etherea talked on the phone while I drove. I tried to restrain my driving, but I couldn’t help going extra fast. The old Miata was eager to make a contribution to the urgent situation….by burning rubber and whipping around corners. Miles before we arrived we could see signs of trouble. There was black smoke towering above our destination. Three helicopters were circled the area. Sirens howled from racing fire trucks. Police cars ignored my

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reckless driving as they zoomed past me at suicidal speeds. I stopped holding back the Miata and let the car run free. Etherea reached her left hand for the dash to brace her self. I could tell she was scared, so I slowed down to twice the legal speed limit. Before we reached the Temple we saw a wooden tower in the parking lot. It had four wooden legs that held a wooden platform about thirty feet above the ground. Black smoke was billowing from orange flames under the platform. It looked like petroleum fuel was burning the tower’s supporting structures. I was in awe until I saw two human figures on top of the platform. Then I felt an adrenaline spiked surge of panic. The tires screeched as I slid the car to a stop and ran on foot into the crowd that was pressing towards the excitement. The closer I got to the tower the harder it was to see the figures on top of the wooden tower. So, I climbed on top of an old truck that was parked on the street. When the smoke blew away I saw two people dressed in white standing on the platform. I heard Tansao yelling, “Mister Rad! Mister Rad!” Tansao ran to the truck and began telling me the story. “We were building an altar for the White Dragon,” She said. “When Boomba saw me helping Seth he came unglued. I never saw Boomba get angry before. He acted so fierce. Seth got defensive and told him to get lost. He said that he liked me before Boomba ever met me. Boomba

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grabbed Seth and head butted him to the ground. When Seth stood up he drew his sword. Boomba acted like he was leaving, but then he grabbed a long two-by-four and attacked Seth. They were going to kill each other. Then Rex told them to stop. He said they could fight after the altar was finished. I thought there was going to be a controlled sparring match, so I was okay with that. But then they climbed up the Dragon Altar and started fighting with weapons. You have to stop them before someone gets killed.” I didn’t think before I spoke, “If they’re fighting over you then you’re the only one who can stop it..” My eyes were magically drawn to the action on the burning altar. “What can I do?” She cried. “You can tell them you chose Boomba.” I answered. “What?!” I said, “If you say you like Boomba then Seth will get mad, but he will lose the will to fight. If you say you like Seth then Boomba will continue his rampage until he kills everyone keeping him from you.” She wailed louder, “But I can’t choose either one of them.” She broke down in a full body attack of sobbing I watched the combat taking place on top of the tower. The giant repeatedly thrusted a sharp pole at the little guy who reacted by jumping sideways while spinning and swinging sword. Sometimes it seemed that sword was slicing too close. Instinctively I yelled, “Boomba, watch out!

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Use X-motion!” Then I heard others in the crowd yelling advice and cheering the fighters. Eventually, it seemed that Boomba was hurt or tired because he backed off. Then he turned the pole broadside and threw it. Seth hesitated. He couldn’t evade left or right because the pole came at him sideways. Instead he blocked with his forearms. While Seth was reeling from the blow Boomba began climbing down the rope. It was tied to a wooden beam rising above one corner of the platform. The other end of the rope was tied to the Dragon Temple building. Seth picked up his sword and scrambled to the edge of the platform. He watched Boomba climbing across the rope with his massive body bending the rope halfway to the ground. Seth slashed the rope with his long curved sword. Boomba fell about fifteen feet and landed face down with his arms and legs spread out—not the right way to fall. It looked like Boomba was dead. I yelled, “Somebody help him!” To my surprise Boomba rolled over and sat up. I felt incredible relief that he was okay. Then movement drew my eyes back to Seth. He backed away from the edge of the platform and pointed his sword to the sky, holding the handle with both hands over his head. He looked like a Samurai preparing to strike. Flames engulfed most of the ladder on the side of the burning altar. I wondered how he would get down. The fire trucks finally began spraying water on the fire, but the water made the smoke much worse. I could barely see Seth on the tower. Then the crowd gasped when Seth ran and leaped into the air. He made a suicide dive with his sword….straight

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towards Boomba! Just before impact Boomba looked up and saw the danger coming at him from the sky. I never saw such a big guy move so fast as when he rolled to avoid the sword. There was a horrible thud when Seth hit the ground. He didn’t get up. In shock I stared as a crowd of police and emergency medical technicians swarmed over Seth. After a few minutes I saw fingers pointing at me. That’s when the cops came after me. The police held me face down on the street and told me they had loaded guns pointed at my head. I wasn’t resisting, but they were forceful and rough. They must have been pumped up with adrenaline from watching the deadly fight. Now they were using their adrenaline on me and everyone else. All the pointing and arresting looked like a witch hunt. I wondered if they were arresting all the members of the Temple. I figured they were going to blame this whole thing on me. When I tried to explain that I didn’t have anything to do with it they told me that I had the right to remain silent. They recited the Miranda rights so I shut up. From the back of a cop car I saw tears running down Etherea’s face. A lump formed in my throat. I was choking on self pity and shame even though I was innocent. I should have felt bad for Seth, but all I could think about was how I needed to be with Etherea. Would they lock me up in jail for a long time? Would they send me to prison? It seemed my life was over when I had just tasted the sweet love I had always wanted. Now I was a prisoner with a view of the pain that

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I was causing her by leaving in the back of a cop car. Was my life ruined? Would they let me out before she forgets her feelings for me? Would they ever let me out? The cop car took me away, but suddenly I couldn’t help laughing when I saw Rex sitting in the back of a cop car. I hope they lock him up for life. At the jail they took away my clothes and all my personal things including the keys to my car, my wallet with my driver’s license, bank card and credit cards. They took away my identity and gave me an orange jumpsuit. I felt like a criminal in the outfit they made me wear. I felt dirty when they rolled my fingers in ink and took my prints. I felt hopeless and guilty when they photographed me in a mug shot. The system processed and filed me away in a cell. They left me alone without telling me what to expect or how to get an attorney. My energy was gone and I had nothing to do, so I laid on the narrow bed on the bottom bunk and cried into the cold pillow. My world was nothing but disgraceful self pity. The tears dried up, but I still felt sorry for myself. I missed Etherea and I thought she wouldn’t want me. Since I couldn’t cry any more I just rested on my back and let thoughts swirl in my head. The conspiracy began to make sense. Rex had planned it to happen this way. He knew the cops would come and arrest everybody. That’s why he had the students build a big wooden altar and set

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it on fire. He wanted the smoke to draw a crowd and get the whole scene in the news. I stood up and walked to the bars of my cell. I reached through the bars and turned on a tiny TV. Every news channel showed scenes of the flaming tower. They showed clips of the duel over and over with various commentaries as reporters added small bits of information to the growing mystery. They offered theories about how the duel started and why there was a tower and why it was on fire. Then I saw Rex on TV. He explained the burning tower was a Dragon Shrine. It was set on fire on purpose to honor the “White Dragon Spirit.” He said that most fighters like all kinds of culture, but that Seth prefered Japanese culture and considered himself a Samurai. Seth was the Dragon Temple’s first “Kami” which means “Spirit” in Japanese. He said that in the Dragon religion the warriors who died in sacrificial combat would become Kami and would be worshiped as powerful hero spirits. In honor of Kami Seth he said that anyone who claimed to be a Dragon must wear a Kami sword everywhere they go, even in public, even if it meant getting arrested for possession of a weapon. He said that every Dragon must risk getting arrested because the Dragon High Cleric was arrested and still in jail for practicing the Dragon religion. He said that Dragons will continue burning Dragon Shrines with sacrificial combat every week and he demanded the government to release High Cleric Rad. I was shocked. High Cleric Rad-----Me?!

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He told the world I was the High Cleric of Dragon Temple. I figured Rex was happy to get his face on TV, but why would he say I was in charge? He was the one obsessed with dominating everybody. Maybe he figured it was better to let me take the blame while he ran the show. Jail guards led me out of my cell and gave me back my clothes. They told me that there were no charges against me so I was free to go. I was bewildered. I realized that I was stranded at the police station and had to walk across town to my car. What kind of justice was this? I started walking. Maybe I should have been angry, but I was happy to be free and outside. I loved the air even though it was tainted by the smell of car exhaust. A minute here on the street was much more enjoyable after a few hours in a jail cell. An old red truck pulled over on the side of the road in front of me. I couldn’t see through the dark tinted windows, but when the doors opened I saw who stepped out. I stopped dead in my tracks because it was Rex. He walked up to me carrying a sheathed sword. I wondered what he was up to, but he didn’t act like he would attack. He stopped in front of me and with both hands and held up the sword horizontally as he bowed to me. At first I thought it was a peace offering, so I bowed and accepted the sword. Then I noticed that he also wore a sword and I remembered that he said all Dragons must wear a Kami sword. As I looped the strap over my head and

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shoulder I realized that I was complying with his command, but wearing a sword in public made me feel powerful. It was a much better feeling than the helplessness I felt in jail. Then he gave me a hug. I don’t know why I hugged him back. He said, “I’m so glad your out, man.” I felt his hands patting my back. My resistance broke down and I felt tears streaming down my face. It was good to have Rex treat me like a friend. He said, “Come on, Boomba’s giving you a ride back to the Temple.” “Okay.” I climbed into the old truck and sat between Boomba and Rex. We asked Boomba about the fight and we talked about what happened to Seth. We all agreed that women were trouble, but they were worth it. Boomba was happy to have Tansao all to himself now, but he was still bothered by the fact that she cried over Seth. Funny how life works out this way. After hitting rock bottom it was easy to accept change. We were rivals for most of our lives. Now Rex and I were friends.

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Ch 14

At the Temple there was a charred tower still standing in the parking lot. Rex said that we would tear it down tomorrow, but tonight we would have a ceremony in honor of Kami Seth. He said I was in charge of the service since I was the High Cleric. Everyone stopped chatting when I entered the building. They bowed and I bowed in return. I walked solemnly to the mirrored wall and turned to face everyone. They were the combined teens from both schools and they all watched me, expecting my wisdom to provide meaning for death. “We all die.” I waited a few seconds for that truth to sink in. “Most people are in denial of this fact…..until they see death coming and they become terribly afraid.” A few more seconds of reflection seemed appropriate. “Does anyone admire an old man who begged the doctor for something to keep him alive a few more months?” Nobody spoke up.

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“Does anyone praise the soldier who survived by running away?” No one answered so I said, “No. Never. We don’t blame Boomba for running away, but we were amazed by Seth because he charged boldly into death.” I looked at Tansao. She had tears streaming down her face. “Tansao, please bring me a photo of Seth.” She pulled a thin wallet out of a back pocket of her jeans. As she walked to me she removed a small photo from her wallet. She bowed as she handed the photo to me. I bowed as I accepted the picture. Then she walked back to stand by Boomba and face me. I walked slowly along the mirrored wall to the back corner. There was a white painted statue in the form of a serpentine dragon. Its open mouth was shoulder high and facing the center of the room. I set the picture upright in the dragon’s mouth and it was held in place by the wooden fangs. I said, “This represents Kami Seth who is now a hero spirit giving power to the White Dragon.” I bowed to the photo and said, “Life is short, but your hero spirit is forever.” I turned and said, “Let’s all show our respects for Kami Seth. Repeat after me.” Then I faced the dragon and bowed. I said, “Life is short.” The teens repeated in unison, “Life is short.”

“But Kami Seth is forever.” The teens echoed, “But Kami Seth is forever.”

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I told the teenagers to place candles on the floor all around the dragon statue. Quietly they bowed to the statue and then set candles on the lit floor. They each bowed before walking away. I said, “When a cloud is at ground level we call it fog. And the fog outside is so thick it makes chaos on the roads. Open the door and let the fog come in because the White Dragon comes with it. Think about the chaotic nature of the White Dragon. Think about Kami Seth and how unpredictable he was. Nobody could be sure of his expressions because his mind was always swirling and rarely focused. Although his fighting skill was advanced his spiritual level was like a white belt. He was ambitious, yet his goals were not clearly defined or prioritized. All he knew for sure was that he wanted to be a fearless warrior. But as a Samurai, he struggled with discipline. He was hard to control and could not be contained. Tonight he does not become reincarnated to live again in the flesh. Instead he joins the Dragon Spirits and becomes a white dragon himself. Let us meditate and focus on this to help him in his transformation. I saw Etherea sitting on the floor next to Tansao and Boomba. I sat next to Etherea. She leaned over to me and gave me a long hug. I hugged her back. I felt her warm wet tears on my neck. We said nothing. When she let me go I saw that all the teens were sitting cross legged and facing the white dragon statue which was illuminated in candle light.

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Etherea stood up and walked to the dragon statue. She bowed and placed something on the floor. Then she bowed and came back to me and sat down. I asked Etherea what she put at the feet of the dragon. She said, “Every Saturday and Wednesday I buy a lottery ticket. I gave my ticket as an offering.” Tears ran down her cheeks. We all sat in silence and meditated until it was late at night. Etherea was the first to get up. I knew she couldn’t stay up late, so I was not surprised she had to go. I stood up, gave her a hug and said, “Good night.” “I’m not leaving yet,” She said. “I just have to check the lottery numbers.” “What?” “You know, for the ticket.” She pointed towards the foot of the dragon where a small receipt lay curled on the floor in the midst of many burning candles. “Oh.” I walked with her to the front office computer. She checked the internet and wrote down six numbers on a piece of scrap paper. Some teens followed us back to the dragon statue and watched Etherea pick up the Lotto receipt. We all saw her eyes get big as she read the numbers.

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She handed it to me and said, “I think it’s a winning ticket.” I looked at it and looked at the numbers on the scrap paper. “Let’s check the website again,” I said. We walked briskly to the computer. Etherea read one number at a time from the official Lotto site. I repeated each number back from the receipt. When she said the last number, “six” and I repeated “six” she bounced excitedly and asked, “Did we really win?” I answered, “Yes…..I can’t believe it, but it looks like we really won.” She hugged me and then jumped gleefully shouting, “We WON! We WON! We WON!!!” Everybody was excited. Rex came over and looked at the Lotto receipt and checked the computer screen. He was shocked, but soon he joined the excitement and hugged Etherea and me. Soon everyone was hugging and fantasizing about the future. Tansao said we should build a memorial for Kami Seth. Rex agreed, but he said we should buy a big mansion with enough rooms for everybody to live together in a new Dragon Temple. We ordered pizza and had a party. Wild music blasted and Etherea stayed up late dancing with me until she was exhausted. At eleven PM I drove her home because she was too tired to keep her eyes open. I hugged her at her apartment door and we kissed on the lips. Then we said, “Good night” and I left.

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I was happy. Very happy. Life was good.

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Ch 15

Flashing lights behind me! I checked my speedometer. I was going 40 in a 30 zone. Doesn’t everybody? I remembered that it was Saturday night, so maybe the cops were trying to catch drunk drivers. I slowed down and stopped at the curb. When I went for my wallet my hand bumped into a sword scabbard. Oh no! I didn’t want to get arrested again. I unbuckled my seat belt and leaned to the right to pull the sword out. The convertible top was down so I reached over the windshield and set the sword on the front hood of my car. I heard a man’s voice from a loudspeaker on the cop car. “Step out of the car.” I complied. “Put your hands on your head.” I did. “Turn around.”

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Okay. Was all this because the cop saw me pull out a sword? I put it on the front of the car out of reach. I thought it was the right thing to do. “Walk backwards.” I stepped backwards slowly. “Get on the ground. Face down.” This was ridiculous. I was being treated like a criminal and I had to lay on the dirty street. It was Saturday night! A drunk driver might run over me. “Get down, NOW!” “Fine,” I muttered to myself. I kneeled, but it was hard to lay down with my hands on my head. I reached for the ground to ease myself onto my belly. “KEEP YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” I reached for the top of my head again. I had to do a belly flop to get on the ground without my hands. I felt ashamed and degraded. “Don’t move. If you move or you’ll get shot.” I heard car doors open and footsteps approached me. “Don’t move.” My left wrist was grabbed and pulled behind my back as a knee pushed on the back of my head and the left side of my face ground into the pavement. Then my right wrist was pulled to my back and I was handcuffed. “Stay down. Don’t move unless I tell you.”

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Two cops lifted me up and pushed me over the back of my car. “Do you have any weapons?” I answered, “I put the sword on the front of the car.” “Do you have any more weapons on your body?” “No.” “Any needles or anything that might poke me if I reach in your pockets?” “No.” They frisked me and then shoved me to the ground and said, “Stay there! Don’t move!” One officer went to the front of my car and picked up the sword. “Why do you have a sword?” “It’s a Kami sword. Everyone in Dragon Temple has to wear one.” “Carrying a sword on your person or within reach of the driver’s seat is illegal possession of a deadly weapon. That’s a Class C Misdemeanor.” “But I was told I had to wear it everywhere, even in public, as a tribute to Kami Seth.” “You can’t take a sword in public. It’s against the law.” “Sorry.” “You’re under arrest for illegal possession of a deadly weapon.”

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It was the second time in one day that I was arrested. When they drove away with me in the back of the cop car I asked, “What about my car?” “It’ll be impounded.” “What?!” “Your car will be towed to the impound lot.” I felt helpless again. “Can I call someone?” “You can make a call after we process you at the station.” After I was fingerprinted and photographed for the second time that day I was sat down by a phone. An officer held the receiver up to my right ear and said, “What number do you want me to dial?” “I don’t know the number,” I said. “It’s in my cell phone. Can I use my cell phone?” “Okay, I’ll get it for you.” He left me sitting with my hands cuffed behind my back. I didn’t like being deprived of the use of my hands. When the officer brought my cell phone I told him how to look up Rex’s number. I was relieved when Rex answered and he assured me that he would be here right away to bail me out of jail. Then Rex chuckled and said, “Sit tight.” I replied flatly, “I am, the handcuffs are so tight they’re cutting into my wrists.” Rex laughed harder, “I’ll be right over.”

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They put me into a cell and I expected Rex to bail me out any minute. As time dragged by I still had hope, but I laid on the cot because I was tired. It must have been after midnight. I thought they would let me out soon, but I closed my eyes. They felt so dry and heavy. Lights came on and woke me up. A food tray was slid under the bars of my cell. Breakfast?! I was here all night?! I thought Rex was going to bail me out. I realized it was Sunday. Maybe the judge was off today. Maybe I had to sit in jail until Monday. I still had hope that I would get out, but it would have been better if someone would tell me what was going on. Nobody told me anything. Waiting was the only thing to do, except eat breakfast. So I picked up the food tray and ate. What else could I do? I thought about Etherea. Yesterday we shared breakfast together and it was the happiest time of my life. Now I was in jail eating alone. I wondered if she knew I was in jail. Rex must have told her. What about her car? I gave her a ride home. I hope somebody picked her up and took her to her car. A day in jail was a long time to think. Maybe it was a bad idea to wear a Kami sword. Maybe it was a bad idea to listen to Rex. Maybe I should go away with Etherea and forget about

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martial arts. We could settle down and live quiet happy lives together. I wondered if Rex is flirting with her. Maybe that was why I was still sitting in jail. What if they decided to live it up by spending the Lotto winnings. He did say he wanted to spend the money on a mansion. Whatever was going on there was nothing I could do about it. I was stuck in jail and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Here I was……still sitting here. Guess I’ll just have to wait a while longer. It would help if I knew how much longer I had to wait. And wait. And think. Another food tray slid under the bars. I ate it. Then I went back to patiently waiting. Another food tray. This one had hot dinner. I ate it….and waited. Jail sucked. There was absolutely nothing to do. I laid down and tried to sleep. Among the thoughts in my head an image formed of Giligan’s Island. At least they had each other on the island. I might go crazy on an island by myself, but it would be better than being in a cell without fresh air, maybe a little breeze, the sounds of birds or anything interesting. Locked up…..like in an old rap song. “Locked up. They won’t let me out. I’m locked up…..” The song played in my head on continuous repeat.

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Until the lights came on and woke me up. Monday! I hope the judge starts work early. I want to get out of here. A food tray came. I ate and waited. After what seemed like hours a guard came and cuffed me. He led me to a court room. A judge told me I needed an attorney and then dismissed me. The guard led me back to my cell and removed the cuffs. Nobody gave me an attorney. They didn’t explain what was going on. They didn’t help me. I was frustrated and angry, but helpless. I felt like crying, but I was determined to resist. Instead I hardened my heart. The guard came and cuffed me again. He led me to a room and sat me in a chair. An officer came in and asked me how I was doing. “Fine,” I said. Not really, I thought. He offered me some coffee. “No thanks,” I said. “Donut?” He lifted a donut from the desk and took a bite. “No thanks,” I said flatly. “When do get out of here?” “Oh, your friend posted bail for you. You can go as soon as we finish talking here.” I became suspicious of him. “What are we talking for?” “I want to ask you a few questions. Do you mind if I turn on this recorder?”

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I became nervous and worried. “Why?” “I just want to ask you a few questions.” He leaned back in his chair. “If you have nothing to hide it should not be a problem, right?” I squirmed in my hand cuffs. “I don’t have anything to hide.” “Okay then, lets turn on the recorder. Okay?” “Fine.” I sat forward and watched him press the buttons. He stated his name, rank, the date and my name. From now on my voice would be on police records. Everything I say could be used against me He leaned back, stroked his dark mustache and acted superior. “Do you know what you were arrested for?” “Yes,” I gave the shortest answer possible. “You were arrested for illegal possession of a deadly weapon.” He leaned forward. “Did you know you could’ve legally kept a loaded gun in your car and not get arrested?” “No.” I wondered why the law was so unfair. “A gun is okay, but a sword is illegal?” “That’s right,” He finished his donut and took a sip of coffee. “In Texas you can have a loaded pistol, rifle or shotgun in your car, but not a sword.” “But aren’t most crimes commited with a gun?” I asked. He leaned back. “Yeah. Most criminals use guns. But not you. You used a sword.”

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Sweat trickled into my right eye. I couldn’t wipe my face with my hands because they were cuffed behind my back. I squirmed. “What are you talking about?” “You know what I’m talking about.” I was afraid he was accusing me of the six boys Seth killed in the park. I said, “No…..” He leaned forward, took off his glasses and stared me down. “You like to take your sword to the park late at night don’t you?” I objected, “No. I only started wearing a sword just yesterday. I never took a sword to any park.” Immediately I realized it wasn’t completely honest. For martial arts demos we all brought our weapons to the park, but that was daytime. “If you want to kill someone a gun makes a lot of noise. Is that why you used a sword?” “No.” I heard my voice shaking. “Master Rex told us we had to wear a Kami sword.” The officer stood up and stretched his arms wide—something I couldn’t do in hand cuffs. Then he tucked in his uniform shirt and slowly walked around the desk. He stood behind me. “Who is Rex? Is that the guy who told you to do the killings?” That was a trick question. “No. And I didn’t do any killings.” “Does Rex know you killed six children in the park last month?”

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I objected to his tricks. “How can you ask those kinds of questions? I never killed anybody.” “Did Rex help you with the killings?” I tried to argue my way out of this presumed guilt. “No. We didn’t kill anyone.” “You had to have some help with the murders.” He leaned over my face. “How could you kill six kids all by yourself? Didn’t they try to run away after you killed the first one? You must have had a whole gang with you.” His theory was way off base. I pictured six gang kids with guns surrounding Seth, but I couldn’t tell the officer what I knew or it would be used against me. He put his hand on my shoulder and spoke in a soothing voice. “As soon as you tell me what happened, I’ll be satisfied. I just want to know what happened. Then you can relax. Trust me…..you’ll feel much better after you get it off your chest.” I didn’t answer. I knew that I would not feel better after betraying a friend, even a dead one. I felt like Kami Seth was watching me from somewhere in this room. If I said anything against him he might strike me dead on the spot. I imagined my head rolling on the floor and saw my face trying to talk, my eyes blinking, not believing the sight of my own

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decapitated body. An imaginary sword dripped blood onto the officer’s donut. Finally I had something to say. “Didn’t those kids have guns?” “How did you know that?” Then I spoke boldly, “I read it in the news. Those kids were gang bangers. They had guns and they shot bullets all over park. The news said there were lots of shell casings from a shoot out.” He slammed his coffee mug on the desk and jabbed a finger at me. “You think those kids deserved to die, don’t you?!” “They were gangsters.” “They were just kids.” His finger pointed at my face and closed in menacingly. I felt very accused. So much for being presumed innocent. I defied him. ‘They were part of a Mexican gang, the K-town Killers.” “You don’t like Mexican’s, do you?” His finger came closer to my face and pointed right between my eyes. I felt like he wanted to shoot me with his finger if I didn’t admit guilt. “I don’t have anything against Mexicans. Some of my friends are Mexican. I just don’t like gangs.” He stared at me for a while. I knew he was trying to think of a way to implicate me. “You don’t like gangs. So, that’s why you killed those boys.

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Because they were pretending to be a gang. They were just a bunch of little boys and you killed them!” “I didn’t kill them.” I raised my voice. “I NEVER killed anyone!” The officer returned to his seat. “Fine. Since you’re so sure of your innocence then you won’t mind participating in a line up.” “A line up?” I wondered if the cops actually had a witness? “No. I don’t want to do that.” “Why not,” He picked up a donut. He had no idea that in my imagination there were blood drops on his donut. I grimaced as I watched him bite the donut with the imaginary blood. “Because I didn’t kill anyone, so why should I be in a line up?” He chewed a while and stopped. “If you’re innocent then you should participate in the line up. It’s your civic duty.” “I don’t want to.” “You don’t want to do your duty? I thought you said you were innocent.” I spoke firmly, “I’m not going to be in any line up.” He leaned back. “Why not?” I explained my paranoia. “Because everyone in the line up will be cops except me. If someone points at one of them they won’t get in trouble. But if someone points at me then I’m screwed. It won’t matter if I’m innocent. I’ll get blamed and everyone will assume that I’m guilty.”

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The officer picked up his coffee mug. “That’s ridiculous. If you’re innocent then you have nothing to worry about.” His attitude was making me angry. “You don’t care about justice. You just want to pin the crime on somebody and close the case. Listen to me. I DIDN’T DO IT!” “Well, then you won’t mind taking a polygraph test.” I asked, “You mean a lie detector test?” He nodded, “Right.” I objected, “But a lie detector test isn’t admissible as evidence in a court.” He leaned forward. “Look, I know you want to go home, so take a polygraph test. If it says you’re innocent I’ll believe you and you’ll be free to go.” I felt very stubborn after resisting so much interrogation. “No. I don’t want a polygraph test.” The officer stood up and said, “How long do want this to go on? I’m taking a break. When I get back I hope you’ll be ready to cooperate.” He walked behind me and said, “If you’re innocent then you’ve got nothing to hide.” Then I heard the door open and close. I looked at the recorder. I knew it was still working. I kept my thoughts to myself, silently. I wondered if the police had found any of my prints on the gun I gave Seth. No, if they had my prints at the crime scene

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then I would have been charged already. Maybe the cops wanted me to worry like this. I did worry, but I was determined to resist their attempts to get me to confess. After about an hour the officer came back and unlocked the cuffs. He said my friend Rex was here to pick me up. “I’d still like you to participate in a line up and take a polygraph.” “No thanks.” I stood up from the chair. I still felt like I was not yet free. He motioned to the door. “This way.” Rex met me with a fake smile that didn’t linger. He seemed nervous. We walked outside and then he hugged me. He said, “I thought they were never going to let you out. They asked me all kinds of questions about you.” I hugged him back. “I was afraid they weren’t going to let me out. They accused me of killing those gang kids in the park.” Rex let me go and looked me in the eyes. “You didn’t say anything did you?” “No,” I looked him square in the eyes. “I didn’t tell them anything.” “Good.” He gave me a hug and patted me on the back. “The only reason they let you out was because a couple of cop friends of ours said that you would never kill anyone.” He walked me to his SUV. He saw me staring blankly at his side. “What?”

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“You’re not wearing a Kami sword.” He replied, “So, I was bailing you out of jail.” “I spent a lot of time in jail for wearing a sword.” He patted me on the back. “Fine. You don’t have to wear a Kami sword except in the Temple. Okay?” “Okay.” Once inside the SUV he said, “If the cops find out you sent Kami Seth on a mission to intimidate gang kids they will charge you with murder. The prosecutor will say you made Seth do it.” “I know.” I sat silent in the leather seat. As I reached for the seat belt I said, “But I told him to just scare them, not to kill anyone.” Rex turned the key and gave me a serious look, “Nobody respects you unless you’re willing to kill.” He grinned, “The trick is getting away with it.” The tension broke and I laughed. “Yeah, you’re right.”

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Ch 16

Rex drove out of the way to show me a street lined with mansions. Each was surrounded by steel fences that looked like rows of sharp spears pointed up. I said, “Those fences look like the kind you don’t want to climb over.” He laughed, “I think that’s the idea. If a thief tries to climb the fence he gets impaled on top.” He stopped at one mansion to look at a ‘For Sale’ sign. “You’re serious about buying a mansion with the Lotto winnings, aren’t you?” He said, “Absolutely.” He pushed a button to roll down his window. He stretched his left arm out to grab a page from the tube. I saw the price and was shocked. “That’s expensive!” “We can afford it now that we won the Lotto.” He rolled up the window and drove back to the Temple.

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I was surprised to see the blackened tower gone and a new wooden tower standing in the parking lot. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Why is there another wooden tower?” He steered into the parking lot. “The first tower fight gave us enough mana to win the Lotto. If we make the next one more spectacular then we should get even more mana.” I didn’t say anything. I realized I was sitting in a car with a crazy man. Just because a lottery ticket happened by chance to win Rex thought that it was the magical result of burning a tower with fighters on top. And he was prepared to repeat the insane ritual with the expectation of more miracle rewards. He parked the SUV and turned off the engine. “Come on. I’ll show you who’s ready to fight next.” He grinned and got out of the vehicle. I opened the door and hopped out. I disapproved of the idea of my students fighting each other and I had to find out who was volunteering for the next duel. I followed Rex into the gym. In spite of my inner panic I still bowed at the door to show respect for the gym. Inside there was a swirling of blue satin uniform as a teenage boy spun and jumped while swinging two Chinese sabers, one in each hand. His graceful agility and smooth arced motions looked beautiful. I noticed that all the teens watched him closely. The girls seemed to be trying to get his

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attention. I looked at Saber. She seemed to be especially interested. I looked at Longsword. He didn’t seem to notice that his girlfriend was watching Dao. He must be a fan himself. When the sword form ended the teenage boy stopped and stood perfectly straight with his hands down at his sides and his sabers tucked up against his arms. Then he bowed. Rex declared, “Excellent! Dao has volunteered for the Blue Dragon shrine fight on Wednesday. Now all we need is another volunteer.” Nobody stepped forward. Rex said, “That’s okay. We’ll have plenty more new people joining the Temple soon. They saw us on the news all over the world. I bet the fight was very popular on YouTube. The next one will really draw a crowd.” All was quiet. If nobody dared to challenge Dao then I didn’t need to worry about how to stop the fight. Rex broke the silence, “Maybe Dao was too good in his demo. Pool sharks start out playing lame in order to lure in a sucker.” He walked to the back wall of weapons and picked two wooden practice sabers. “Okay, Dao, lets see how good you are.”

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Dao went to the back wall and traded metal sabers for wooden practice sabers. He walked to the center of the gym and faced Rex. They bowed to each other. Rex took a pose with one sword high and one back and low. He talked as he moved in small steps sideways like he was circling his opponent. “Wind dragon and river dragon cannot be stopped. They always overcome.” It seemed he was using Chinese philosophy to psyche up his own confidence and make the opponent feel despair. Dao responded by stepping in the opposite direction while facing Rex and saying, “Double dao dancing in Tao.” Then he spun with his blades out in a whirlwind attack. Rex pushed his swords forward and began spinning with the flow of Dao’s weapons. They looked like meshed gears turning together in high speed. Wooden swords clunked with fast rhythm. In a second it was over and Dao was wringing his hands, his swords dropped on the floor. “Good!” Rex announced. “Now he doesn’t look so intimidating.” Rex bowed to Dao who bowed in return. “Anybody want to challenge Dao with steel instead of wood? The big show is day after tomorrow.” When Dao picked up the dropped sabers and carried them to the back wall I followed him. After he hung up the practice swords he turned and saw me. He bowed and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Dao.” “I know.” I bowed and said, “I’m Mister Rad.”

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He shook my hand and smiled, “Oh, you’re that guy Rex was talking about on TV. Man those cops sure tackled you.” “Yeah, I jumped down off the top of a car and Wham!” I clapped my hands together. “They flattened me to the ground, HARD. I wasn’t even resisting.” He laughed, “I guess excessive force doesn’t bother you though. You must be pretty tough to be the High Cleric in a place like this.” “I don’t know.” I chuckled. “It still hurts when you let people beat you up and grind your head into the pavement.” I pointed to the sores on my face. He leaned closer for a better look at my wounds. “Ouch. I bet those cops felt pretty good about doing that to you.” “For a while, there, I thought they were going to shoot me.” He grinned, “Guess you were lucky, then.” “Yep.” He started to look away. I got the impression he wanted to go talk with the other teens. “Hey,” I grabbed his arm to keep him talking with me. “Why did you volunteer to fight with real swords?” He stared at me like I was an alien. “Are you kidding? I’ve been training all my life and now’s the chance to prove myself.” “You could get killed.”

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He shook his head. “I thought you were all for this, but you act like you don’t you want me to fight.” I took a special Tai Chi sword from the wall. “This is the last thing you’re ever going to see.” I thrust it at Dao’s chest. The telescoping blade collapsed into the handle making it look as if the blade were piercing his chest. The hilt stopped hard against his sternum. Dao looked down and frowned at the illusion of his own death. He pushed the trick sword away from his chest. “You can’t psyche me out. I’m not afraid of death. After my brother died in Iraq my heart was ripped out. I don’t care anymore.” He tromped away and I didn’t want to bother him again. Rex came to me and held up his hands like he wanted high fives. “We got the money! Etherea is on her way back from Austin right now.” I felt compelled to go along with him. I reached up and slapped his hands. “Wow! That’s great.” He seemed genuinely happy. “I know, right?! To celebrate the occasion I have a gift for you.” He walked quickly to the front desk and brought back a long box. He held out the box and I accepted it. I laid the cardboard box on the floor and opened it. Inside was a straight sword. Rex grinned. “I remembered your favorite sword was a jian.”

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“The king of swords,” I said as I picked it up. I admired the smooth black handle and it felt warm to the touch. “What kind of wood is this?” Rex boasted. “The grip is Iron wood. The sheath is hickory. It was designed so that you can use the scabbard as a club or you can use it for defense against sword attacks.” I drew the sword from its scabbard and admired its symmetry. “A perfect jian.” The straight slender blade was double edged with a sharp point at the end. “I know, it is perfect,” He bragged. It was hand made in China by the original Shen family of sword makers. I flicked the sword to test its balance and weight. “It’s amazingly light. Ridgid, yet flexible.” I tapped my left fingers on the middle of the blade. A metallic ‘ting’ sound vibrated to the handle. “Responsive. Very nice.” Rex pulled his sword and held its handle out to me. Try them both together and feel the difference. I held both swords up in front of me. The katana’s blade was curved while the jian was straight. I swung them towards the ground and barely missed, so I knew the blades were both about 29 inches. I made flick and parry motions and remarked, “Wow, this jian is so quick. It feels light as aluminum. I can almost control it with just my fingers.”

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He agreed, “It’s like a foil, but it has razor sharp edges. They made it out of special alloys layered for a perfect combination of speed and control.” I asked, “What kind of alloys?” “Chinese secret.” He winked at me. I smiled at him like I understood. Actually, I wondered if this gift was a trick. I wanted to trust him, but why should I? What if this sword was designed to shatter when struck a certain way? I might not find out until my life was at stake. “The scabbard has a belt clip.” He pointed at the clip. “It’s perfectly balanced to put the grip in the sweet spot for either hand draw. I picked up the wood scabbard. “It’s soooo heavy compared to the sword.” I clipped it to my belt on my left side. Without the sword it was heavy enough to pull the left side of my pants down a little. “I don’t think I can wear this heavy thing.” Rex acted disappointed, but he kneeled to the box and pulled out the styrofoam packing. “There is also a bamboo scabbard.” He lifted a tan colored bamboo tube and handed it to me. When I felt the light bamboo in my hand I was pleased. “Now this is much better!” I unclipped the heavy wood scabbard and set it on a couple of wooden dowels on the weapon wall. Then I clipped the bamboo scabbard on my left side and sheathed my new sword. “It’s so light I can hardly feel the weight.”

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Rex said, “But you can’t fight with a bamboo scabbard. A katana would slice right through it.” “That’s okay,” I said. “The jian is the king of swords. I don’t need to block with a scabbard.” With both hands Rex patted the swords he wore on each side. “I like double willow leaf sabers. The dao is the general of all weapons. It replaced the jian in the ancient Chinese military.” I must have stared at him with a blank expression for a few seconds while thoughts went through my head. In my mind I was arguing that the dao replaced the jian only because it took more skill to make a good jian and it required more skill to use a jian. Comparing a jian to a dao was like comparing an Olympic fencer to a bushwhacker with a machete. Rex raised his shoulders and his eye brows at the same time, “What?!” “Oh…..” I reached my right hand out. “Thanks.” We shook hands and acted like old friends. I believed he was trying to make a fresh start with this peace offering. Then I thought about the irony of a sword as a peace offering.

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Ch 17

In the corner of my eye I saw some commotion that caught my attention. I turned to see a fight in progress. Dao fell on the ground, but quickly jumped to his feet. His face was red with anger as he rushed at Longsword. Getting angry was a big mistake. Longsword threw Dao on his back, hard. An instant later Dao was up again and raging with fury. He cussed. Such language was rarely heard in this gym. “Hey!” I shouted. “Curb your tongue and show respect.” Dao was still red-faced with anger when he apologized to me and Rex with a bow. Then he turned to Long. He raised his palms to the center of his chest, one in front of the other, Wing Chun style, but as he stepped forward he seemed too tense, which was wrong for a style that required a loose and responsive body structure. Long stood relaxed and showed no emotion. When Dao approached within striking distance he fired straight

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punches at the center of Long’s chest. He paused to look Long in the face, but saw no sign of pain. Longsword smiled and laughed, “What…..you serious?” He looked at the fist menacing in front of his chest. It was clenched so tight that is was quivering. Dao straight punched Long on the nose. Then he grinned victoriously. Longsword stared at Dao for a few seconds until Dao lost his smile. Then Long clapped his hands together and raised them upwards like a two handed hook punch with both hands still clapped together. They didn’t hit Dao on the face or body, but they cleared the centerline. Then he grabbed Dao’s head and pulled close into a Thai clinch. A flurry of knee strikes to Dao’s gut lifted him off the ground a few times. Dao retaliated with useless flailing while trying to hit Long on the sides, but the centerline was out of reach while he was trapped in the clinch. Then Long pulled Dao’s head down for a knee strike to the face. Dao fell to the ground, limp. The fight was over. Long said, “That’ll teach you not to flirt with my girlfriend.” He bowed to Dao, then to me and then to Rex. Long turned and walked to his girlfriend. Saber gave him a tight hug. When Dao struggled to get up his confidence was gone. His ears turned red with embarrassment. He drew his shining sabers and crossed

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them in the air to make a threatening clang that filled the gym. “At least I can beat you with swords.” Long didn’t answer. He stared in disbelief at Dao and then looked to me for guidance. I shook my head. Dao taunted Long. “You’re too chicken. You know you’d lose..…..and with swords you can’t afford to lose.” Then Dao sheathed his twin sabers and strutted out of the gym, only stopping to bow at the door. I was proud of Long for three reasons. He didn’t lose his temper. He used appropriate force against an attacker. And he refused to accept a challenge to duel with swords. Unfortunately, Long looked very indignant. I guessed he was upset about being called a chicken. Suddenly, I lost track of those thoughts when Etherea opened the door and bowed to the gym. Everyone went to her immediately, so I had to squeeze between teens to get close to her for a hug. After the hug she told everybody what they were waiting to hear. “I just got back from Austin and I have the money!” So much excited jumping and hugging followed her announcement. Saber asked, “What’re you going to do with all those millions?” Etherea replied, “Well, first I’m going to give a million dollars to the family of that boy who died.” “Seth’s mom and sister will be grateful,” Tansao said.

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Etherea continued, “Then I’ll buy the best health insurance I can get. It’s going to be very expensive because of my pre-existing condition……but with the rest….” The crowd hovered in suspense. Etherea prolonged the pause for dramatic effect, “…..one thing we’ll get is a really big mansion for all of us to live in together.” The crowd of teens cheered. “We’ll be one big family!” Etherea promised. After much hugging with all the teens Etherea walked outside with me alone. She explained why she had been playing the lottery. She needed a lot of money to get the insurance that would pay for organ replacement, which she would need to stay alive as her Lupus continued to get worse. I was relieved she would be okay with insurance to pay her medical and surgical expenses. I was thrilled to be walking side by side with her and holding hands. I had to be careful not to squeeze her hand because she said her knuckles were sore. She explained that arthritis was part of her symptoms of Lupus. She said that normally her hands were loosened up later in the day, but now they were stiff from driving to Austin and back. To explain it she held her palms together, like in a prayer, except her hands were bent so that only the finger tips touched.

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“I can’t flatten my hands together,” She said. “Usually, it’s just like this in the morning.” She looked at me as if she felt ashamed of herself. “Are you sure you still want me?” I cautiously reached for her hands and gently caressed them. Her skin was soft and warm. I looked deep into her eyes and slowly leaned to her for a kiss. I closed my eyes and felt her tender lips on mine. Then I leaned back and grinned like the happiest guy in the world. It was wonderful to see the joy in her eyes. Her perfectly straight teeth gleamed bright in the eerie light of the mercury street lamp that made her lips appear deep purple. “It’s getting late,” I said. “I’d better walk you to your car.” At her car we hugged and kissed good bye. I couldn’t help kissing her with passion like I wanted much more than a kiss. I smelled her hair and kissed the left side of her neck. Into her left ear I spoke in a low masculine voice, trying to be sexier than the other three billion men on earth, “See you tomorrow.” Her soft feminine voice came into my left ear and conquered my mind, “Okay, see you tomorrow.” I felt warm tingles fill my chest as she slowly released me. While she got into her car and buckled herself in I felt my body melting. It took all my strength to keep standing strong and masculine with my chin up and my shoulders back. The wind played in her hair as she drove away waiving with her hand out the window.

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I stood alone in the dark, but I did not feel alone. My heart was pumping bliss through every artery to each cell of my body. Billions of cells rejoiced in one glorious emotion. I had tasted love and realized that I had been starving for it my whole life. Nobody had ever made me feel good the way she did. The only comparison I could think of was of a starving man who crawled from the desert into a free buffet. He would be saved from the brink of death and feel incredible joy at the sight, smell and taste of wonderful food. My desert was the lonely life before I met Etherea. She was my oasis. Knowing that I would see her again tomorrow was like the lost man being told that he was welcome to stay in the restaurant and not be forced to perish in the desert.

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Ch 18

Tuesday morning I woke up early. How could I sleep any later while I was filled with the expectation of being with Etherea again today? She was all I could think about. I stood outside to eat my cereal. A friendly black and white cat rubbed its body on my leg, speaking to me in feline. The spring air was clean and cool. I watched people driving in a hurry to their boring jobs. I couldn’t worry about a job. Maybe I should get one, but I couldn’t focus my mind on anything except Etherea. Soon I would be living in a mansion with her, the biggest Lotto winner in the history of Texas. I hoped she knew that I didn’t want her for the money. I wanted her before she won the lottery. It was unusual to see Longsword so early on a weekday. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” He mumbled, “I guess, but I need to practice.” “Practice what?”

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He stopped and bowed to me. I bowed back. He said flatly, “I’m going to accept his challenge.” I spilled milk out of the bowl. “You mean you’re going to fight Dao? With swords?” Longsword averted his eyes to avoid my disapproval and he nodded before walking quickly to the entrance of the temple. After a quick bow in the doorway he disappeared. I set my cereal bowl on the pavement for the cat and went inside. “Hey Long….” He was stubbornly ignoring me as he began to practice his double saber routine. After a while of watching I picked up a punching pad and threw it at him. He stopped and glared at me, “What?!” I pretended I didn’t see him, “Humm dee dum dee dum….” I teased playfully in a sing song voice as I looked the other way. He resumed his sword routine, so I threw another small pad at him. He stopped abruptly, “Hey!” “What?” I asked innocently. “Stop breaking my concentration.” I picked up another pad. “I bet you can’t avoid a direct hit while you’re doing a routine.”

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He cocked his right sword back like he was ready for a baseball pitch. “Oh yeah?” I said, “That’s not how you do your routine.” “Fine.” He began swinging both wooden swords in circular motions, but his eyes were fixed on me. I curled my right hand back like I was about to throw a Frisbee. I faked twice and watched him react spastically each time. When he was back into his routine I threw the pad and hit his chest. Longsword stopped swinging and took a batter’s stance. “Throw another one.” I faked three times and each time he over reacted. On the fourth time I threw the pad and he under reacted. The pad hit his left shoulder. He hung the wooden sabers on the weapon wall and took a bokken, a wooden Samurai practice sword. He held it with both hands like it was a base ball bat. In a batter’s stance he said, “Try ‘n’ hit me now.” I aimed behind his back. It would miss, but I anticipated his left elbow to lead his swing. He swung fast and his left elbow hit the pad hit. “Gotcha!” I bragged. “Again!” he challenged. I picked up another pad.

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He faced me and held the sword with both hands over his head, Samurai style. He was prepared for a downward chop. I threw the pad without any fakes. He hit the pad with the bokken. The impact made a loud SLAP! “Yeah!” He pumped his right fist victoriously in the air. I countered, “It’s a good thing you had practice at that.” Then I took a spear from the wall. “Hey!!” Longsword objected. “That’s not fair.” “Are you training for a fair fight?” He lowered his bokken. “It’s going to be a sword fight. Nothing else.” “Well, then it’s a good thing you’re not fighting me.” I put the spear on the wall and took two katana, one in each hand. “Cause if I was in a sword fight and I had two swords….” I turned and threw a sword from my right hand. It flew handle over blade over handle as it made its way to the archery target and stuck a few inches above the center. I turned to see the look on his face, but he wasn’t impressed. “I can throw one sword and still have a sword to fight with.” The sword in my left hand sliced through the air from left to right. “Okay,” He ceded. “I get your point.” His shoulders slumped like he was losing hope. “Have you ever been stung by a wasp?” I asked.

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“Yeah.” I needed more than a one word answer from him. “What happened?” He elaborated, “I was walking around the back of the apartments last Summer when it nailed me. I got really mad because I tried to swat it, but it got away. It was too fast.” “That’s good.” He gave me an indignant look, “Why is that good?” “Because that’s how you know the effectiveness of a fast attack.” I put the katana back on the wall and took two wooden Chinese broad swords known as ox tail sabers. These were practice versions of the broad swords most commonly associated with kung fu. I said, “I’m going to pretend I’m Dao. I’ll spin around like him. You pretend you’re a wasp. Stay out of reach and try to sting me with a foil without getting swatted.” “Okay.” He put the bokken on the wall and took a blunt-tipped foil in his right hand. He seemed awkward as he tried to use a fencing stance that was not well practiced by him. “What’s the matter?” I teased. “You don’t like fencing?” “Fencing is to sissified to be a martial art,” He replied. “Don’t you know the Europeans perfected the art of dueling with swords?” I made a lunge towards Max, but stopped short of hitting his chest

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with the hard wooden dao. Then I jumped back quick as a blink. “It’s all about the point. Thrust, lunge and retreat.” Long ran his left index finger along the foil. “It seems flimsy and has no edge.” I said, “The European duelers proved that a rapier without any edge can beat a razor sharp broad sword. If the other guy attacks first you can use the side of your blade to deflect his attack away from the centerline…..like when you defend with a tansao in wing chun.” He flicked the foil and made a swish in the air. I said, “Of course, you have to attack with speed and jump back before you get nailed yourself.” “Okay. On guard!” He stood with the foil pointed at me for a moment and then he lunged at me. I swiped his foil away as I spun with both wooden swords. This wasn’t how I would fight. I was just pretending to fight like Dao. One of my hickory blades blocked Longsword’s foil and one smacked across his right arm. “Ow!!!” He dropped the foil and clasped his left hand over the stripe on his right forearm. He glared at me like I had betrayed him. “Just helping you practice.” I said apologetically.

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Long tried to flick back his long bleached hair, but some remained stuck to his sweaty face. “I need a hair band.” He walked away from me and dug in his back pack. “Hmmmm.” I thought out loud. “I suppose you could put on a bogu for protection.” He donned some kendo body armor and a helmet. “I feel weird wearing kendo gear and holding a sissy foil.” “It’s only for a little while. Next, you get to wear chain mail.” I put on a fencing jacket, mask and bib. “Okay, well….you attack me the same way as before. Thrusting only. No slapping.” “Okay,” He agreed. “On guard.” He gave me a one second warning before he lunged at me. I spun in an imitation of Dao swinging two swords that banged loud on Long’s armor. “It’s too weird!” he complained. “Keep trying,” I urged. “You’ll get it.” We were sweating inside the outfits, but it must have been better than not having padding because Long didn’t quit when he got tagged by the hickory blades. After a little while his speed attacks defeated my defense that consisted of swinging double broad swords side to side. I couldn’t spin around like Dao because I didn’t want the foil to penetrate the back of my mask. I praised him, “Your skill has improved.”

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I nodded at the weapon wall. “Now you need to practice with live blades.” “What?!” He objected. “We better wear chain mail.” I took off the fencing mask. “Sure.” We put away the fencing gear and bogu and then we picked out chain mail jackets. He had to wear foot ball pads under his chain mail for protection from heavy saber blows. I insisted he wore a hockey helmet with a polycarbonate face shield. I put on a full face motorcycle helmet. To protect our necks we had to wear chain mail hoods under out helmets. Finally we put on heavy leather gloves to protect our hands. He picked his favorite weapon, a Longsword sword. Now you know where he got his name. It was a long double edged straight sword with a big hilt and handle. It was heavy enough to require double handed use, but Long was strong enough to wield it with one hand. The tip was rounded for practice. I lifted the visor of my motorcycle helmet. “Try not to poke me too hard.” He inspected the metal sabers I would use. He thought their tips were too dangerous. “I’ll fix that.” I took the sabers outside and ground the tips on the concrete sidewalk. I handed the swords to him for inspection.

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He said, “That’s better. You don’t think they’ll penetrate through the chain mail do you?” “I hope not.” I walked back inside because it was getting too warm in my heavy outfit. I said, “Just try to sting my chest. And I don’t have to tell you what will happen if you don’t time your attack just right.” He said, “On Guard!” After a short pause he lunged at the center of my chest. I failed to block his attack. “Owwwwww!” I complained. He laughed. He enjoyed the next hour poking me until I couldn’t stand it any more. When I took off the protective gear and showed him the bruises on my torso he seemed very pleased with himself. “Okay, Long. Hang up the mail and pads. Its time for you to just use the collapsible tai chi sword.” He asked, “After all that? You want me to use tai chi? I thought you wanted me to fight like a French fencer.” “I want you to use the element of surprise.” To exemplify my words I moved in slow tai chi form and suddenly jabbed my arm forward. “Before the fight you must give a demo of your slow tai chi routine with a jian. When he tries to psyche you out with his fast demo and mysterious sayings I want you to hold up your tai chi sword and say, ‘The jian is the king of swords.’ He will think you’re over confident and he might even laugh. This

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will make him under estimate you and give you a chance to surprise him with a speed attack.” Longsword practiced using that trick on me with a slow demo followed by a speedy attack. At first I had to tell him to make his demo slower. I explained that before real combat he would be pumped full of adrenaline and the hardest thing would be to go slow. I told him to go home, and meditate. “Visualize your strategy giving you victory……and don’t tell anyone your strategy. Your life may depend on it.” After he left I went to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Some naproxen should help reduce the inflammation of my bruises. A little pain was worth the price if it allowed Longsword keep his life.

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Ch 19

Tansao was in charge of teaching the classes today, so I had the entire day off. I planned to spend the evening with Etherea and it was very hard to wait for her to get off work. Now that I didn’t have Longsword to distract me I watched the clock and waited eagerly for every second to pass. It seemed like I would have to wait forever until four o’clock. At two o’clock Tansao asked me, “Where are all the Tiny Dragons?” “Maybe they got spring fever,” I said. “Sometimes nobody shows up for class.” “But I took the day off from work so I could teach,” she complained. “Don’t worry, some students will show up as the day gets later.” She was not reassured, “What if nobody comes to class anymore?” A spike of fear rammed down my spine. “What do you mean?” “What if nobody wants to come anymore because of what happened to Seth?”

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My guts churned in agony. “You think?” “Well, yeah!!” Sarcasm was her defense mechanism, but it didn’t make me feel better. “If I was a mom, I wouldn’t bring a kid here. Not after someone got killed here….in a fight no less.” I couldn’t help filling with panic. What if she was right. “If parents don’t bring their little kids I’ll be in serious trouble. They were my only paying students. Without them I can’t pay the bills anymore.” Tansao put her hand on my right arm. “At least Etherea has money. She promised she would make a big donation.” “I don’t want to depend on her.” I felt embarrassed, but it wasn’t my fault what happened. It was Rex who created this mess. Tansao looked past me. “Hello!” She walked toward the door. She bowed to some ragged looking young men that had just entered the building. She raised her voice with authority, “We always bow at the door and to each other to show respect.” They walked back to the door and bowed awkwardly. Tansao went to the door and pretended to open the door and bow the proper way. She was a wonderful teacher. They paid attention to her and followed her around. I assumed they were attracted to her good looks and liked her for her cool personality, but I suspected that martial arts was the thing they craved most. They must have asked what they would learn here because she began giving a demo. It looked like a well practiced routine, but the advanced students

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never did the same demo twice. Memorized routines made a fighter predictable and that was a weakness. Yet she danced easily with grace and power. Speed variance made her demo irresistible to the eye. She transitioned smoothly from fast to slow while spinning, kicking, diving, rolling, posing and back flipping. The young men fanned her performance with “Cool!” “Wicked!” and “No Way!” until one of them said a cuss word to emphasize his amazement. Tansao stopped her demo and glared at the offender. “We don’t cuss,” She scolded. “If you want to join us then you must show respect at all times.” She bowed to him and he bowed in return. Then she smiled and asked if they wanted to learn some self defense moves. I was glad to see newbies interested in joining, but from the ragged clothes I figured they didn’t have money. We already had fifty teens here since Rex’s clan joined mine. It seemed that Texas was filling up with unemployed youth. So many energetic and ambitious young people without money or jobs had to be a ticking time bomb for society. How many times in history did it end in revolution? Somehow I felt like I was on the verge of a mind expanding new idea, but I lost it when I noticed Tasao waiving at me to get my attention. She called to me, “Mister Rad.” She bowed. “Let’s show them some self defense techniques.”

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I bowed to her, “Okay.” Whatever I was thinking was gone, but a nagging sensation remained in the back of my mind. I knew it would come back a while later. So, I casually walked around Tansao like I was ignoring her. They all watched me. Occasionally I pretended to sneak a peak and then turn away. I acted like a stalking weirdo coming up behind her. The guys chuckled. Then I grabbed her around her waist. She yelled, “Help! I’m being attacked!” At the same time she swung her left elbow into my head and stomped on my right foot. Then she swung her right elbow at my head. I began to feel a little pain, but I tried to grab her arms and pin them against her sides. She lowered her weight by bending her knees and dropping a few inches while she grabbed my right hand and pulled it to her chest. Then she raised her hips lifting me off the ground. A moment later I was landing on my back in front of her. She yelled, “Stay Down!” as she pretended to punch my face. Then she threw a violent kick that missed my face and she growled as she jumped over me and stomped the ground near my head. “STAY DOWN!” She yelled as she backed away in a ready stance with her hands out at chest level. I stood up and charged her with a football tackle. She caught my head and rolled backwards. I was on top, but she choked my throat in a head lock. I couldn’t speak, so I tapped my left hand on the mat. She loosened her grip and said, “I can choke him out or…...” She rolled me onto my back and put her weight on my chest. “This is a figure four lock.” She lifted my

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right elbow until I said, “Okay, Okay,” and I tapped out with my left hand. Then she raised her body a few inches, surged into a roll and escaped at a full run shouting, “Help I’m being attacked.” She faced the young men, “Any questions?” One guy asked, “Why did you yell for help when you were winning?” She said, “Voice commands are important in self defense. If a stranger attacks you can’t assume that you won’t get hurt. Sometimes when you defend yourself, you might get sued or arrested. In the past when witnesses were questioned they had trouble remembering all the action because it happened so fast. If they remember you beating up the attacker then you might be accused as the bad guy. On the other hand if you cry out for help they will say, “I remember she said, ‘Help, I’m being attacked.’ That will save you from jail if the cops question witnesses. It also helps if you leave the scene immediately before people get a good look at your face. If you don’t kill the attacker then most likely the fight will just be forgotten. The cops don’t make headline news for arresting brawlers. So, as long as you don’t kill the guy who attacks you then there’s a lot you can do to him before you run away.” “Awesome!” Exclaimed one guy. “Can we spar with you?” “Sure,” Tansao answered. “I’ll get the forms and after you guys sign waivers then we can spar as much as you want.”

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These guys didn’t even read the waivers. They just signed as fast as they could, took off their shoes, emptied their pockets and started wrestling on the mat with Tansao. “One on one!” I ordered. “You better take it easy with Tansao or she might hurt one of you.” One young man was especially aggressive. He got her on her back, but he couldn’t get past her guard. She had her legs locked around his waist. “You’re pretty good,” She complimented. “Thanks,” he said. “I wrestled in High School. He was holding her down and seemed to be proud of himself. “In a real fight it’s okay to be on your back,” She grinned. “I’m not wasting any energy this way and you’re running out of wind.” She held his left hand against her chest and pivoted to her right while holding him back with her left knee. Then she raised her right leg over his head and brought her shin under his neck. As she straightened her right leg her shin pushed against his neck and rolled him onto his back. She scissored her legs together across his chest and leaned back holding his left arm in an arm bar. “Now you have to tap out or your arm will break.” He didn’t tap. Instead he struggled to get loose. She arched her back. “Doesn’t this hurt your arm? You should tap out when it hurts.”

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He argued, “In a real fight I would NEVER tap out!” He used his other arm to try to push her legs off of his chest. “Maybe I should bite your leg.” He growled fiercely. She laughed. “In a real fight I could smash your face with my foot.” Tansao uncrossed her legs and pretended to stomp his face, but stopped just before contact. Clapping made me look away from the sparring match. Rex walked up and said, “Well, this one is so stubborn he reminds me of Kami Seth.” Tansao released the boy, stood up and bowed to Rex. We all bowed. Rex shook the boy’s hand. “I’m Master Rex. Do you have a name?” “I’m Nick.” “No, I mean …..a name. Something that tells people who you are.” “Like what?” Rex looked at the ragged young men and thought for a moment. “Well, Seth took too long to come up with a name, so we just called him Seth the Samurai. Now we call him Kami Seth. Kami means ‘divine spirit.’” “Why do you call him ‘Kami Seth?’” “Because he died fighting with ferocious spirit.” Rex looked hard at the young men. “After a fighter dies we put the word Kami in front of their name to show reverence and in return it brings us bravery and good luck.”

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The aggressive one spoke up. “Call me Kazi. That way, when I die I’ll be Kami Kazi.” Rex and I laughed. He shared high five slaps with the other young guys. He was obviously proud of himself for that wittiness. “Well, Kazi. If you guys want to join us then you’ll have to wear Kami swords.” Rex motioned to the front door. “Come on. I just bought a whole bunch of katanas. You guys can help me carry them from my SUV.” I was surprised that Rex gave them swords for free. He seemed so different….other than the fact that he was still acting like the supreme boss of everybody. Yet, now he was generous. While they were admiring their new swords Rex told them that they had to wear their Kami swords all the time, even in public. Kazi objected, “But won’t we get arrested for that?” “Yeah, but that’s the price you pay for being one of us.” Rex patted Kazi on the back. “Don’t worry. I’ll bail you out of jail. I’ve been bailing people out of jail for the last few days. I even hired a lawyer to keep us from getting convicted.” “Cool!” Kazi held his sword high and seemed to worship it. “I’ll definitely wear my sword all the time. It’s the ultimate fashion statement.” I asked, “How can lawyer keep us from getting convicted for possession of an illegal weapon?”

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Rex said, “Texas Constitution has exemptions for ceremonial swords. All we have to do is say that wearing Kami swords is required for our ceremonial tribute to Kami Seth.” “Interesting.” I gave Rex a suspicious look. “I suppose you intend to use this loophole to arm all the young people in Texas.” “That’s the idea.” Rex grinned. “And….” I mused. “You want me to train this army for you.” He put his arm around me. “I’m so glad you’re thinking like me, now. It’ll make things go so much smoother.” I didn’t argue or say he was crazy. Actually, this was the same idea that had been lurking in the back of my mind all morning. This idea must have been waiting for an opportunity to solidify and take its place in the world. Or, more likely, there was an unseen spirit whispering in people’s ears to spread this idea around. And it didn’t take long to spread because soon there were more young strangers coming into the temple and it seemed Rex was already building an army. I watched the way he charmed them. Such a natural leader…..and so ambitious. I imagined the streets filled with young people dressed in blue jeans and black T-shirts. I saw them raising their swords high in the air. They began to chant: Rex. Rex. REX. REX. REX!! R…. “Rad?”

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Her sweet voice pulled me out of the daydream. “Oh, Hi Etherea!” I gave her a big hug.

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Ch 20

She didn’t hug me back. In an unpleasant tone Etherea asked, “What’s going on?” “What?” I had no idea what could make her upset enough to pull away from a hug with me. She pulled me by the arm to the front door and pointed outside. “What’s that?” I was shocked to see a crowd of youths busy with wood in the parking lot. “What’s going on?” I asked. She peered into my eyes. “You expect me to believe that? Like…it’s your parking lot….and you don’t know what’s going on?” She glared at me. “Don’t lie to me.” “I’ll check it out.” I pushed open the door and strode outside. I saw them laying wooden beams on the pavement. Some of them were setting up saw-horses and some were drawing on the black top with chalk. There was

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a large square outline. “What’s going on here?” But it was obvious what they were doing. “Don’t worry,” answered a young man with short spiky black hair and shiny metal spikes in his eyebrows. “We’ll have the tower finished by tomorrow.” Another young man with short spiky hair and body piercings had large round circles in his ear lobes. It looked grotesque to me, but he must have thought it was cool. “Yeah! And this one will be way bigger than the last tower.” The first youth continued with great enthusiasm. “And we’re gonna make napalm using gasoline and soap.” “Awesome!” The second youth slapped hands with the first one and exclaimed, “Let’s see if the fire department can put it out this time!” “Not with water!” One said. The other laughed, “Ha Ha, no, that’ll just make it splatter flames everywhere!” They went away laughing as they walked to an old black truck and pulled more wood out of the cargo bed. Etherea came up beside me and complained, “I gave a million dollars to the mother of that boy who died Saturday and now you’re building another tower of death. I don’t want anything to do with this.” She stormed away. “But…..” I yelled after her. “Etherea…..It’s not me doing all this!”

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She got into her silver Mustang, but before she closed the door she yelled at me, “I don’t know why I ever thought you were against violence. But I’m not ignoring the red flags anymore. If fighting is what you’re all about then we can’t be together.” She slammed the door and drove off with tires screeching in anger. After I watched her car disappear the two youths returned with a wooden beam and dropped it on the pavement. One said, “Fierce!” The other added, “What’s her drama?” I didn’t feel like talking. Instead I felt like sulking alone because Ehtherea was angry at me. I walked to the curb next to the gym and sat down. When young people came to talk to me I ignored them. So, after a while they left me alone. I stared at a pebble in front of my right shoe. At least an hour of despair kept me in a miserable trance until a familiar presence arrived and sat beside me on my left. “What’s up, Mister Rad?” Her voice was bold and cheerful. Schiavona put her arm around my shoulders. “Hey, are you okay?” “I’m not good company right now.” I didn’t want to say anything that I would later regret, but it was hard for me to give fake smiles and make happy chit chat. “That’s okay.” She patted my right shoulder and leaned close to my left ear. “I don’t feel too good either. But I just got back from my first year of college and I need to be around people I can trust.”

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“What happened?” I asked, my eyes still focused on the little grey rock between my feet. “On the last day of finals my boyfriend dumped me for a fat Barbie.” Her arm left my shoulder and she leaned against my left side. I barely reacted, “He chose a fat white girl over your hot body?” Of course, I was still focused on my own pathetic loss, but I had to be considerate to her if I wanted her to sympathize for my suffering. “Yeah. Doesn’t make sense, does it?” She stretched out her right leg. Dark brown skin covered her well defined muscles. “Is there something wrong with being fit?” I said, “You need to get over it. You don’t deserve to be down in the dumps like me. What you deserve is someone who’s loyal to you.” “That’s right!” She exlcaimed. “I deserve a good man! I’m sick of black men! They’re always goin’ for Barbies. Next time I’m gettin’ someone like you.” “Well, I don’t think you want someone like me, but….” She interrupted, “Not old like you, but white. Know what I mean?” “Uh…” She went on, “If black men prefer white chicks then who is a black woman supposed to date?” I didn’t answer. She answered for me. “White men, of course.”

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“What about Asain guys?” She sing-songed, “Asian, Caucasian, I don’t care …….as long as they’re loyal. So, I’m gonna find me one.” One of the youths must have heard her talking because he have her a look. She shook her head and spoke louder, “I said I’m gonna find a white man, not a Mexican.” His smile turned into a frown and he dropped his lumber. “What?” She laughed. “I can’t help it if you ain’t white.” I was shocked to hear that from her. Usually, she blended in with everyone and we forgot that she was black. He and his buddy acted offended and slowly approached with threatening posture. “Hey man, you better control your girlfriend ‘cause she’s antagonizing us with racist comments.” She stood up and confronted them. “I ain’t his girlfriend and you must not know who you’re talkin’ to.” “So, who are you?” They both put their hands on their hips and slouched as if they thought it made them look tough. “Who am I? --I’m Schiavona and that’s Mister Rad.” She saw the blank looks in their faces. “You don’t know who he is? He’s the boss around here.” “No he’s not.” One of them pointed. “That’s the boss.”

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He was pointing at Rex. Schiavona looked at me for the truth. I didn’t feel like fighting against Rex anymore. I nodded, “Yeah, Rex is running the show now.” She frowned in disappointment. “But I thought you were a better fighter than him?” “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “He makes all kinds of plans that everyone likes to follow. That makes him the boss.” “But it’s your school?” She argued. “Not anymore.” I shrugged. “Now it’s not even a school.” Musashi walked up. “These guys bothering you, Mister Rad?” His left hand rested on the handle of a katana belted to his left side. “No.” Musashi said, “Come on boys. Let’s go inside and spar. If Schiavona doesn’t make you cry too much then we might let you join us.” As they walked towards the entrance Schiavona winked at me and pointed at Musashi when he wasn’t looking. I knew what she was telling me. She was planning to flirt with Musashi and I gave her a nod to indicate that he was a good choice. It seemed like everyone had their heads full of romantic ideas and didn’t care that they were building a tower of death. I was sick of this craziness, so I stood up and walked away.

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200

Zen Dragon

With my mind out of my head I walked and walked. It was like therapy that brought my mind and body back together. After my legs and feet were tired and my mouth was dry I found myself miles away. At least I wasn’t anyplace that I wanted to be. So, I began walking back and I started thinking of ways to get back everything that Rex had taken away from me. I figured that it would help my plans if Longsword defeated Dao in the tower fight. Then I would be seen as the superior teacher since Long was my student and Dao was Rex’s student. That might make everyone inclined to follow me. Then I could tell Rex to go away. I also figured that Rex was planning for Dao to win and thus make himself appear the superior teacher. I wondered what Rex was doing to make his pupil win. Would he cheat? If he was caught cheating that would destroy his reputation. I pondered these things until I was distracted by the sight of a wooden tower. It was amazing what an army of young people could accomplish when they were motivated. There were so many youths swarming around that it was like a crowd at Six Flags. Of course, the attraction here would be fire, combat and death.

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201

Zen Dragon

Ch 21

The fate of my world was riding on this fight. I would have felt better if I was doing the fighting myself. It was hard to stand still and watch Longsword climb the ladder up the tower. If it was me up there then I knew I could win, but instead my reputation depended on his skill with a sword. Was he good enough? A giant TV screen displayed both of them climbing the tower. So many camera angles and close-ups enlarged the sweat on their faces and showed every expression as the young men ascended. Rex must have spent a fortune to make a spectacle of this. Loudspeakers boomed heavy rhythm as a DJ described the scene and introduced Master Rex, the King of Martial Arts. Then Rex took the stand and announced that the whole world was watching on TV and the internet. I saw hands above the crowd holding their cell phones up to video the action. News helicopters circled close and pounded us with wind and noise. Police were ready with riot gear and waiting for an excuse to begin making arrests. At opposite sides of the

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tower were tall poles. Each pole held a rope with one end snagged at the edge of the platform. Rex explained that the two escape ropes would ensure a quick getaway in case either of the fighters wanted to chicken out. He told the police that this was a peaceful assembly on private property and that this congregation had every right to practice the free exercise of its religion. Rex reminded us of the last event in which the White Dragon of the clouds was honored by the burning shrine fight on Saturday and he told the world about the riches granted to the faithful. When Ethera won the Mega Millions lottery. Then he dedicated this tower to the Blue Dragon of the waters and promised winning lotto tickets to everyone who had been arrested for faithfully wearing Kami swords in honor of Kami Seth. Rex drew his katana and held it high in the air. Hundreds of youth drew katanas and held them high. Rex shouted, “Ka-mi, Ka-mi, Ka-mi…” The crowd echoed him, “Kami, Ka-mi, Ka-mi.” It was humbling and awesome to see him mold the crowd to his will. The police anxiously put their hands on their guns. The crowd appeared threatening and intimidating, but swords would be no match for guns. When the fighters reached the top of the tower Rex sheathed his katana and the crowd copied his example. I couldn’t blink as I stared at the sacrificial fighters dressed in blue. They faced each other and bowed. I tried to watch them on the tower, but since they were both wearing blue it was hard to tell them apart, so instead I watched them on the big screen.

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Dao was eager to show his skills. His right hand crossed his body to draw twin swords from a single curved scabbard on his left side. In an instant he became a blue tornado of spinning blades. His body whirled and I wondered how he didn’t get disoriented and fall off the platform. Then he stopped and bowed. After a couple seconds Long took his time to bow and then he took a graceful pose. It was painful watching his slow movements gradually draw a straight sword and pose again. Eternity grudgingly dragged away as he demonstrated perfectly balanced transitions from foot to foot. Wide hand motions and circular gestures gave the impression he was conjuring chi and carefully shaping it into a ball of energy. Then he released the invisible power and bowed. Fire raced half way up the legs of the tower. The crowd cheered. When the fighters took ready stances the crowd silenced. On the big screen Long’s face showed no fear. Dao’s face was fiercely aggressive looking with his eyebrows pushed together and his eyes glaring. Close-up views showed the muscles of Dao’s neck and arms. He was too tense. The shaking of his hands vibrated his blades. Long stood balanced and relaxed. As smoke began to curl over the top of the platform Dao stepped forward and began to spin slowly. I could see his blades alternating from high to low circles and then his speed increased as he drew closer to the center of the platform.

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Long posed with his left arm straight forward and the first two fingers of his left hand pointed up. It was stylish, but his bare hand would be useless against Dao’s sharp blades. Or maybe the bare hand was held out as a target meant to bait a strike. Long had most of his weight on his right leg with his left leg extended slightly forward and bent at the knee. His sword was held back with the blade crossing at chest level and the point aimed at Dao. When Dao came within striking distance his fast spin slowed as he extended his arms and created maximum range of attack. His left blade swiped at Dao’s outreached hand, but it missed as the hand retracted. At that moment Long pivoted on the balls of his feet and twisted his body to thrust his sword at Dao’s chest. Then Long threw his left hand forward again and hollowed-out to move his hips back. He was just in time to avoid Dao’s right blade as it swiped at waist level. There was a loud “Clang!” sound as Dao’s left blade came around again and struck Long’s sword. Long jumped back with his eyes wide in horror. He yelled, “You’re CHEATING!” Dao stopped spinning and yelled back. “So, you pretended to be slow and then turned fast.” Long’s face turned red. He yelled, “That’s my strategy! What’s your strategy? Sneaking armor under your clothes?” Dao argued back. “I heard you’re wearing armor, so it’s fair.”

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Long was exasperated, “That was just for practice. I’m not wearing armor now!” Dao growled, “Prove it. Take off your shirt.” As they both took off their blue T-shirts I noticed comotion in the crowd. Police were arresting the spectators. Even if they arrested all the people on the ground how would they stop the fight? The tower ladders were on fire. They burned with the fury of home made napalm smeared on the lower half of the tower beams. I wondered how long it would take for the entire tower to collapse or lean over and fall on the crowd. The two fighters stood on the tower with their shirts off. Helicopters circled to capture the news. Dao threw his chain mail off the tower. Then the fighters approached each other cautiously. As cops grabbed me and held my head to the ground I struggled to see the fight on the big screen. I saw Dao spinning and Long lunging. Then a cop kneeled on my head and pinned my face on the pavement. I didn’t get to see the end of the tower combat. From the back of the police car I looked at the big screen TV, but it went dark. I looked at the tower, but all I saw was thick smoke. Fire trucks had begun spraying water on the fire and the resulting smoke blackened the sky. I was eager to get to the jail cell so I could watch the news from the TV there. The news played the fight scene over and over because the action was too quick to believe it was over in just a split second. Dao spun, Long

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lunged and Dao slumped. The long blade went through Dao’s chest just as I had predicted days ago when I warned him about the last thing he would ever see. Then I turned off the TV and wondered what would happen to Long. Who would be surprised if he was charged with murder? Rex’s attorney bailed me out of jail and Rex drove me back to the temple. For the next couple hours people were very quiet as the young people returned to the temple and milled around from group to group chatting in subdued voices. Rex told me that it was my duty to lead a ceremony honoring Kami Dao and he emphasized, “Make sure it’s exactly the same as last time….the way we honored Kami Seth.” I interpreted the look on Rex’s face as a solemn reverence. I felt empowered. He put his trust in me and he depended on me to make things go his way. But I had a different idea. Since my student won the duel it proved that I was the superior teacher. Now I had justification to denounce Rex. I crossed my arms in defiance, “Why should I? The whole dueling thing was your idea.” Rex glared at me. “Don’t you know how important this is to everybody?” I was shocked. He didn’t have a right to be angry at me.

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Rex stepped too close to me and his eyes burned into mine. “Everyone here has a lotto ticket with the same numbers as the one that won last time.” “Not me.” I looked around. All eyes were watching me. Rex tried to hand me his lotto ticket. “You can have my ticket. I don’t need it. I have a big bet in the stock market.” I refused to accept the ticket. “I don’t want to be a part of this. Etherea wanted the lotto winnings to help people. You turned it into a reason for people to get killed.” Rex leaned into me and I stumbled back. He growled, “Long is depending on you. I already spent all the donation money bailing people out of jail. Now we need money to keep Long from getting convicted of murder. Good attorneys ain’t cheap, you know.” He stepped into me and I stumbled back again. “Long’s depending on you. Are you going to help? He’s your responsibility.” The crowd pressed in around me and I felt their will pressuring me to yield. My body was trapped, but my spirit still wanted to escape. It seemed like I was standing far away and watching myself cooperate. I saw myself lead the ceremony, but I looked more like an unwilling servant than a leader. In my detached state I heard an idea whispered into my mind. It told me to shine a spot light on the Blue Dragon statue and it told me things to say. While I had everyone’s attention the words came out so convincingly that I

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myself believed it when I said, “The essence of Kami Dao will not be reincarnated to live again in the flesh. Instead he will be offered to the spirits. Some of his mana will be used to make our wishes come true and the rest will join powers with the Blue Dragon.” I looked at Rex and saw a look of shock and panic. However, the crowd of youth nodded in agreement with me. They believed in my words and I felt the power of their faith. Boldly I said, “Then Kami Dao himself will be ……….a blue dragon.” The fire-sprinklers burst a shower of water on us, yet the candles did not go out. I saw a circular rainbow as I stared at the statue of the Blue Dragon. Never before have I seen a rainbow indoors. The spraying water soaked us yet the candles burned bright. I pointed at the statue. “It’s a sign. The Blue Dragon is with us.” I sat down cross legged and everyone copied my example. I thought, if there’s a spirit with the power to grant my wish then I wish for Etherea to come back to me. Upon this I meditated with all my heart. When the spotlight was turned off the rainbow disappeared. I told Saber to get the spot light turned on again and soon the rainbow returned. It didn’t matter if the rainbow was the product of the spot light and the sprinklers. It only mattered that the crowd believed in it as a sign. They looked up to Rex as the leader, but if they saw me as the one with magical powers, then soon I would win them over to me.

Bryon Severns

209

Zen Dragon

Ch 22

Just after ten o’clock that night the sprinklers turned off. Immediately it began raining outside. A few great drops fell on the warm pavement making steam for a while and then came a million tons of water. We all went to the front door and watched as the parking lot became a lake and the streets turned into rivers. I couldn’t help thinking that the water dragon was throwing a big celebration. Rex checked his i-phone and declared the news. He stood on a chair and shouted above the crowd saying that the numbers picked were the same as last time. “We WON! We WON!” Cheers filled the room. There may have been only sixty five winning tickets, but there were at least twice as many people celebrating and more young people were coming through the door all the time. It was like a concert with standing room only and Rex was the entertainer. He tried to calm the crowd and reminded them that the six million dollar jackpot would get divided among all the winners, so they would only get about ninety two thousand dollars each. Rather than

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calming down they screamed louder, whistled, jumped and hugged each other. Rex went back to checking his i-phone. A smile grew on his face. I assumed that his stocks must have gone up. Pizza arrived in several carloads and everyone was hungry. I enjoyed the party for a while, but I was tired and sick of wearing wet clothes. I wondered how long it would take for my wish to come true. I wanted Etherea to come back right now. I needed her to give me a long hug. Then I would explain to her that Rex was the one behind all of this and …..and then I realized that I couldn’t tell her that I made a wish on Kami Dao’s mana. She wouldn’t like that. After an hour the front door opened and Etherea stood there with a terrible expression. I went to her and gave her a hug. “What’s the matter?” She was trembling and her voice cracked as she tried to speak, “They….They….” “They what?” I asked. “They took all my money.” Her tears warmed my neck as she sobbed. “What do you mean ‘they took all your money?’” I tried to look into her face, but she was trying to tuck her face into my shoulder. “What happened?” I asked as I gently lifted her chin with my left hand.

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Tears welled up in her eyes and she melted onto me. “They accused me of rigging the lotto and they froze my bank account. They said I have to give back all the money or I’ll go to jail.” Rex was standing next to us. “They can’t do that. You won that money fair and square.” She answered, “But the same number that was on my ticket came up again tonight and there were sixty five winners.” “So?!” Rex crossed his arms and acted angry. “We won the lotto using the same numbers as you. They still have to pay us.” “No, they said they’re not paying!” She wiped her eyes. “They said it was impossible for the same number to win twice and they’ll investigate to find out how we cheated.” Rex stomped his right foot and punched the concrete wall. He turned and faced me as his face flushed red in rage. I put Etherea behind me stood between her and Rex in case he might blame her for the lottery fiasco. If he was angry enough he might attack her. But he didn’t. Instead he stomped his way to the center of the room and drew his sword. Rex declared with loud authority, “The people in charge of the lottery will pay us or they will be struck by lightning five times.” Everyone was quiet. I wondered if the same power that granted wishes for winning the lotto could also make lightning. That same thought must have been going through the heads of everyone else.

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Then Rex turned to Etherea. Go talk to the lottery people again and see if they changed their minds. I bet they will. Etherea hugged me and left. I realized that my wish had been granted, but this wasn’t how I imagined it would be when she came back to me. I wanted her to be happy. I felt a lump in my throat and the sorrow choked me as tears welled in my eyes. I knew that this was my fault as a result of my wish. I had wished for her to come back, but I had failed to specify how. Then Rex made another announcement, “Anyone who defies me will be struck by lightning five times.” The threat of being struck by lightning five times would seem empty coming from anyone else, but from Rex it seemed real. Rex declared, “Anyone who arrests a Dragon will be struck by lightning five times.” “Anyone…..” Rex sounded angry…. “who betrays my trust…..will be struck by lightning five times.” Hmmm, I wondered how a person could hide from lightning. I suppose one could stay indoors all the time. Then Rex smiled. “I trust you all to be my loyal Dragons…for the rest of your lives.” Loud thunder shook the building. That was when I noticed an electric blue glow in the eyes of the statue of the Blue Dragon.

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Someone behind me said, “The storm is a sign. The Blue Dragon is with us.”

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214

Zen Dragon

Ch 23

The temple was overflowing with too many people, so the parking lot grew crowded with teenagers soaking in the rain. The tower was glowing with still-burning embers that had been reignited in spite of the pouring rain. There were many strange things drawing a mob to the supernatural presence. But what was truly bizarre was the way the crowd continued to grow. By morning there were about a thousand young people standing in the rainflooded parking lot. Suddenly the rain stopped and a few rays of light touched the Temple. Rex pushed his way outside and climbed on top of his SUV. He announced that we would be making a road trip to Austin to protest until they paid us our lotto winnings. The cheers were deafening. Rex raised his sword and the crowd hushed. He said that anyone who wanted to be a Dragon must wear a Kami Dao saber in honor of Kami Dao, who gave his life to grant our wishes and gain us favor with the Blue Dragon.

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Someone in the crowd asked where he could get such a saber. Rex told them that the temple did not have enough for everybody, so they needed to order from the internet. In the mean time they must wear any kind of sword they could get until they had a Kami Dao saber. Then they must wear it all the time and everywhere they go for the whole world to see. Rex held his sword high, “When we wear a sword, they know who we are. WE ARE DRAGONS!” The mob shouted, cheered and whistled in chaos until Rex crossed his lips with a finger in a shush sign. Then he raised his sword again and shouted, “DRA-GONS, DRA-GONS, DRA-GONS….” The mob copied his chant in loudly. I wondered if this how the roman orators drew power from the chaotic masses. Or maybe it was like the rise of Hitler. When Etherea arrived Rex motioned her to him. The crowd lifted her up onto Rex’s SUV and he told the crowd how the government took away her Mega Millions jackpot. He said that now was the time for everyone to drive in a caravan to Austin for a protest. After the shouting subsided he said that it must be a peaceable protest. “If any cops come you must not draw your weapons. We will only show the power of our numbers….and our numbers will grow and grow…and GROW!” Then he sheathed his sword and jumped off his SUV. When I saw Etherea getting into his vehicle I pushed my way there to get in with them.

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As the crowd parted for us we slowly drove out of the parking lot to the street. The mob was scattering to their many cars, trucks and SUVs. Behind us formed a caravan that trailed on for miles. I stared in amazement and realized that Rex truly was a powerful leader. Of course, I also realized that I was just along for the ride. Storm clouds followed us south to Austin. In all the shapes I saw in the clouds there were eyes looking back. The vague, puffy shapes always morphed from one creature into another. Sometimes they looked like horses racing across the sky…..then they stretched and curled into serpents, but only for a minute until they tangled into thick giants wrestling for domination of the heavens. So much shape changing didn’t fool me. I knew it was the White Dragon trying to blot out the sun. Etherea smiled at me. “I like the shady clouds this morning. It means I won’t get too much sun exposure.” “What happens if you get too much sun?” I asked. “My skin breaks out with itchy rashes, my joints get achy and I could go into a relapse and maybe suffer organ damage.” I touched her fore arm with my hand. “Your skin is so soft. I’m glad the clouds are protecting you from the sun.” I looked out the window. “Do you think the clouds are purposely crossing the sky for your benefit?” She looked out side for a moment. “No.” She turned to me, “Do you?”

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I looked into her eyes. “I’m starting to believe in the supernatural.” I looked outside again and stared at the clouds boiling as they rushed to keep up with us as we drove south on the freeway. “I never believed in magic or ghosts or anything like that before.” She turned to gaze out the window. “When I was a kid I saw eyes in the night…and I heard sounds outside my window. My dad left my door open and there was a light on in the hallway, but I knew there were spirits waiting in the darkness trying to talk to me.” “Are you still afraid of the dark?” “A little.” She shrugged and made a cute grimace. I leaned back in the back seat. “I stopped being afraid of the dark when I was four, but now I’m wondering if it was just ignorance instead of bravery.” “So, now what do think is going on?” Her eyes lsearched for understanding in my eyes. I thought hard for a moment, “I think that some old magic was awakened by the things we did.” “I think you’re right!” Rex added. “How?” She asked. “Faith,” blurted Rex. I thought about miracle healers. “I never used to believe in the power of faith before. If people were miraculously healed then I thought it was just

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the result of positive thinking or the power of suggestion. When people made their predictions come true I figured it was just self fulfillment of their own prophesies.” “Well, I was always spiritual...” She said slowly. “Even when I was angry at God for giving me Lupus….I still believed He existed.” “I don’t know about God,” I said. “But I’m beginning to believe in spirits.” She lowered her head and nearly whispered, “Do you think it was dragon spirits that made me win the lottery?” She seemed worried. I wanted to give her assurance, but I had to say what I thought was the truth. “Yes. I think so.” I put my right hand on her shoulder. “But I think they’re good spirits. Why else would they be nice to you?” “I hope so.” She said anxiously. “Don’t worry.” Rex said with authority. “The dragon spirits like us.” “Why?” She asked. I shared one of my ideas, “Because we gave power to the spirits when we believed in them. For them our faith was a kind of mana. They fed on it somehow and were revived from a long hybernation. Human sacrifices haven’t been performed in hundreds of years. But the tower fights were a spectacular kind of sacrifice which gave the spirits enough mana to perform miracles.”

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Rex added, “It’s either that or the same lottery numbers won twice in a row by pure chance. What’re the odds of that happening?” “Almost impossible, so I don’t think it happened by chance,” She said. “But I don’t…..” I guessed what bothered her. “But you don’t like the idea that people died to make it happen.” “No.” She frowned. “No, I don’t like it at all.” Rex said, “But everybody dies. It’s not bad to die.” I considered her affinity for meditation and figured she might understand it in this way, “Buddhists say that death isn’t the end. They say that people get reincarnated over and over again. They believe that we are trapped this way and keep suffering for endless lifetimes. They say we need to escape the cycle of death and reincarnation by using meditation to achieve enlightenment. But what if that isn’t the only way. Maybe self sacrifice is a way out of the cycle. If you offer yourself to the spirits then how can you be reborn in the flesh? Instead you become part of the spirit realm, right? At least that’s what I think happened. Of course, we don’t really know for sure……at least not while we’re living in the flesh.” Rex said sternly, “Don’t go talking to anyone else like that. You can’t talk like you don’t know for sure or you’ll destroy their faith. They need to hear you talk like it’s the absolute truth. You have to believe in the power of the dragon spirits. I know I do!”

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Ch 24

We strolled through the Texas Capitol and then went outside to take photos of each other. We took group pictures of the senior dragons including Rex and me posing in front of the Capitol. My favorite was a picture of Etherea and I leaning against a canon. I liked it best because I had my arm around her and she had her head leaned against my shoulder. For a while the weather was just right for Etherea since the clouds gave us shade from the summer sun. But as Rex’s attitude became increasingly biter the clouds grew darker and more menacing. Somehow he channeled his emotions to the dragons that controlled the weather. At first we didn’t make a scene because we only had about a thousand young people, but the crowds grew rapidly and by noon the police began to act uneasy. More cops showed up, but they were always outnumbered as the crowd grew into a mob. The park lawns surrounding the Capitol filled with college students and other youth. Police used loudspeakers to advise us to go home. They said it was not legal for us to assemble here. Then the mood

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turned ugly as the young people reacted with anger at the injustice of being told to leave a public place. TV news crews arrived and talked to people. Rex shoved his way through the crowd and bullied his way in front of the cameras. I told Etherea to stay out of trouble before I followed him to find out what he was doing. Rex grabbed a microphone from a reporter and said, “I’m in charge here!” The tall, dark haired male reporter asked, “Who are you?” Rex answered, “I’m Master Rex. I teach martial arts at the Dragon Temple. My friends and I have winning Lotto tickets and we’re here to protest the government’s refusal to pay us. We won the Lotto and they have to pay.” A tall blonde female reporter asked, “If you have winning Lotto tickets, then why didn’t they pay you?” Rex leaned his head forward to the camera and acted very serious, “I think it’s a conspiracy.” The reporters got excited and Rex was crowded with microphones, “Tell us about the conspiracy. What’s going on? Are you accusing the governor?”

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Rex put his hand to his chin and mused to draw out the mystery and make the viewers wait. “Well, I’m afraid to tell you because the police have us surrounded. They might arrest us if I reveal their plots.” “Tell us!” A female reporter demanded. “The people have a right to know!” said a handsome male reporter. The crowd of reporters pressured Rex until he pretended to give in. Rex said slowly, “The government only paid Lotto winners if they were Christian. Everybody else disappeared and nobody even realized the missing people had winning tickets. But this time my friends and I had sixty five winning tickets and we promised to share with all our friends. There were too many of us, so the government couldn’t get rid of us.” A female reporter balked, “That sounds like a far fetched story to me. Do you have any proof?” Rex nodded, “Of course.” He pulled out his winning Lotto ticket and held it up for the cameras. “And my friend over there…..” Rex pointed over the crowd to Etherea. “She had a winning ticket for Mega Millions. The government paid her, but then they took the money back when my ticket won the next drawing with the same numbers.” A male reporter asked, “The same numbers won on two different Lotto drawings?” Rex said, “Yes.” The reporters all remarked how impossible that was.

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Rex explained, “She won because she prayed at the Dragon Temple immediately after we had a sacrificial combat. I won with the same numbers because I prayed immediately after the next fight ceremony.” Then the reporters asked a lot of questions about the fight ceremony and sacrificial combat and they asked if the Dragon Temple was demonic and wanted to know whdy they were doing human sacrifices. Rex explained that the fighters volunteered, so it wasn’t evil. He said, “Honoring dragons is completely unrelated to Satan worship.” I imagined that Rex might soon see himself on TV with most of his words cut out and only the most controversial of his words might be aired, ‘Satan worship.’ That would make him associated with evil in the minds of the public. Since this looked like Rex was digging himself deep into a hole of bad publicity I pushed my way back through the crowd to Etherea. But I didn’t make it to her before a bunch of cops tackled me and held me face down on the ground. One cop had his knee on my back between my shoulder blades and it hurt. He asked, “Do you have any weapons?” “No,” I said. I was hoping they would let me up, but instead they pulled my wrists around to my back. I heard metallic clicking and I knew it was handcuffs intended for me. “Not again,” I complained to myself.

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My hair stood out and I felt static charges cracking and sparking between me and the cops that touched me. With my face sideways on the ground I saw out of the corner of my eye when a cop had his hand raised with cuffs held in the air. He said, “This is one of the protest leaders. I’m gonna cuff ‘im, Okay Sarge?” As the Seargent said, ‘Okay,’ I saw his mouth move, but I didn’t hear it. Instead I heard the explosion of lightning striking the handcuffs. My eyes were blinded for a while, but the imprint of lightning lasted while the ringing in my ears continued. It was hard to see, but the crowd around me seemed to have been knocked to the ground. TV cameras came to watch as a reporter asked, “Anybody hurt?” The cop with the cuffs groaned and rolled over before sitting up, “Oh my God! I thought I was dead!” The Seargeant touched him on the back and received a static jolt, “You just got hit by lightning! Are you sure you’re okay?” The downed cop said, “My fingers got burned when the lightning struck the metal cuffs.” The Seargent said, “You better go to the hospital and get checked by a doctor. But I’m glad you’re alive. You’re one tough…..” He glanced at the TV cameras and restrained his language. The Seargent then asked me, “You okay?”

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“I’m fine.” He said, “If you want we can put you in an ambulance and get you checked by a doctor. You never know….” “No thanks. I’m fine….except for the ringing in my ears.” He kneeled beside me, “Okay then, roll over and stay face down. Put your hands on your head.” I cooperated. The sound of metal jingling handcuffs made me tense up and I felt my hair stand up again. This time I knew what was happening as the static charge built up. I closed my eyes to avoid the blinding flash, but my ears were deafened by the crack of thunder. It sounded like the Seargent had exploded, but when I opened my eyes I saw him lying on his back ten feet away. Rex stepped in front of the TV cameras and declared, “Anyone who tries to arrest a Dragon will be struck by lightning.” The Seargent was still alive. Stubbornly he struggled to his feet and came back to finish the job of cuffing me. I heard him quietly cussing through his teeth as he picked up the cuffs with his left hand. He blew on his right hand trying to cool the burns on his fingers. The Seargent yelled, “Get me some ice.” Then he put a knee on my back and pulled my right arm behind my back.

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Someone said, “Look! His hair is standing up like last time….when lightning struck.” The Seargent didn’t get away fast enough. As I was closing my eyes I caught a glimpse of him getting blasted into the air. After that he didn’t get up again. The crowd stayed well away from me as if I was the source of the lightning danger. People repeated Rex’s warning, so it spread through the crowd. They talked about how stupid the cops were to try to arrest a dragon when that would make them get struck by lightning. Two cops attended the downed Seargent. The Seargent objected, “Don’t worry about me! Arrest that…..that….Whatever he is I want him in cuffs.” “No Sarge,” One cop said. “That guy is cursed. We can’t cuff him.” After all the times I had been arrested I suddenly felt a little victorious after hearing that the cops were afraid of me. I asked, “You’re not going to arrest me?” The Seargent pulled his gun and pointed it at me. Slowly he groaned and sat up. “If I can’t arrest you…….” The other two cops jumped back in alarm when sparks flew at them from the Seargent. “Sarge, don’t!” one cop yelled.

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The Seargent stood up and aimed his gun at me as if he was seriously considering pulling the trigger. I saw his hair bristle with static charge building. Suddenly he put his gun in his holster. The Seargent said, “Tell your protestors to clear out of here.” “Okay,” I said as I stood up. ‘NO!” shouted Rex. “We’re not leaving until we get paid for our Lotto winnings!” I walked towards Etherea and the crowd parted to make way for me. Maybe they feared being to close a human lightning magnet. My nerves were extremely on edge and my body was shaky, but I felt a proud thrill when so many people were eager to get out of my way. They feared me. Etherea broke through the crowd and ran to me. She had a worried look and asked, “Rad, are you okay?” “I’m fine.” She hugged me and said, “I was so worried about you, but I couldn’t get through this crowd to get to you. We need to get inside.” She pulled me towards the Capitol. “Why?” “Because of the lightning.” She pulled my arm so hard I had to walk with her. “But it’s not regular lightning.” “What?!” She looked at me with a panic in her eyes.

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I said, “A Blue dragon struck the cops….. not us, so we don’t have to worry.” She didn’t stop pulling me to the Capitol. “It’s too dangerous to be outside when there’s a storm like this.” She jumped when thunder boomed and I realized she was scared and wanted me to make her feel safe. “It’s okay,” I said. “The lightning just went from cloud to cloud. That time. Besides, it can’t get us as long as we’re inside.” We stood just inside the doorway and watched a parade of police cars slowly make its way up the street. Motorcycle cops cleared a path from the street to the steps of the capitol. Then a dark grey Hummer-limo drove up to the capitol. TV news crews surrounded the limo and reporters crowded the windows with their microphones. Cops waived them back and let Rex approach the rear window that was half open. I saw a man’s face, but I couldn’t tell who it was. “I need to see what’s happening,” I said as I left Etherea to walk outside. “Rad. Don’t go out there,” she ordered. I kept walking. “Rad. It’s not safe. You need to get back in here.” I kept going towards the limo. “Rad…..” she gave up.

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229

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I was too stubborn to let fear stop me from finding out what was going on. Somehow Rex knew I was approaching from behind because he turned to me. “Rad, this is the Govorner.” Then he turned to the govornor and said, “Rad is the high cleric at our Temple.” “Hi Govornor,” I waived with a smile as I walked up to the half open window. Now I could see that the window glass was about two inches thick. “You don’t have to worry about getting shot, sir, none of us believe in guns.” “That’s not much comfort,” the governor said without a smile, “I’m worried about the bewitched lightning.” “We’re not witches,” Rex said. “Devil lightning?” the govorner asked. “Blue Dragon lightning,” I said. “Whatever…” the governor said, “I don’t like the idea of negotiating with devil worshipers.” “We’re Dragons!” insisted Rex, “we don’t worship devils.” The governor argued loudly, “If you’re not the Antichrist then why do you have sixty six Lotto tickets…..all with the same six numbers? Did you really think no one would notice the numbers 6-6-6?” Rex was silent.

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I spoke up, “Maybe you’re just paranoid. You probably look for those numbers and whenever you find them you think it’s the devil.” But as soon as I said it I had a strong feeling that there was some evil force at work. Why else would people have to die to get wishes granted? What if dragons weren’t meant to be used that way? But who was in the wrong……the dragon spirits…..or the people asking foolish wishes? The governor glared at me with deep hatred. “You can’t fool me with clever talk. I know who you are. The police are terrified of your black magic. If they can’t arrest you then they will have no choice but to start shooting…..unless you clear out of here. ” Rex demanded, “All we want is to get paid our fair Lotto winnings. Then we’ll leave.” The governor pounded his fist on the bullet proof window. “FINE! But there will be no more lottery thanks to you!” Rex grinned, “Thanks.” The governor went into a rage as his window went up, “And if you ever mess with the government again you will be shot without warning.” We couldn’t see the governor anymore after his window was shut tight. Rex turned to me with his right hand up expecting a high five. I slapped his hand as the governor’s limo screeched its tires and drove away. “We won!” Rex shouted. “Let’s go get our money!”

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The crowd went wild with celebratory body slams, excessively forceful back slapping and over exuberant cheers. I pushed my way through the crowd to give Etherea the good news.

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232

Zen Dragon

Ch 25

When Etherea had her checking account unlocked she was happy……..for a short while. When she became quiet I wondered how she could change moods so dramatically. I asked, “What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy?” After a long pause she replied, “You need a new car.” “No,” I said as polite as I could, “you don’t need to buy me a car.” “Rex,” she said, “Can you find a Porsche dealer?” He laughed, “What.... you sick of Rad’s old Miata?” “Well…..” I said, “I don’t want you to waste your money on me.” She said, “I know what it’s like be rich one minute and then have it all taken away the next. If I don’t spend it right now then who knows what could happen?” “But….” “You stare every time you see a Porsche and I want buy you one.”

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“Etherea….” Rex cut me off, “Rad, don’t argue with a woman.” He turned and winked at Etherea. Then he faced the road again and appeared to be changing course. “I know a place over by the Highland Mall.” I sat quietly feeling a strange mix of gratitude and emasculation. I liked the idea that she wanted to be so nice to me, yet I felt like a child that was being spoiled. After all the years of struggling in poverty I was proud to survive on so little. I was proud of that old Miata. It hurt my feelings that my car was not good enough for her. Did that mean that I was not good enough for her? But when Rex pulled into the Porsche dealership my eyes jumped at the thrilling sight of so many shiny new Boxsters, so many Caymans, Carreras and Cayennes. Every car here was my dream car. These were the things I had wanted for as long as I could remember. Some of my favorite memories were the times I was a little kid playing with toy cars in the store. That feeling of wanting something was so powerful that it made an unforgettable imprint in my soul and the only thing more powerful was the feeling that I discovered when I met Etherea. Now I was at a store were the dream cars were real. The kid in me wanted to run around excitedly and try them all. The restrained adult in me looked at the prices and balked. “These cars are way to expensive,” I said to Etherea. “If I had one of these cars I would worry all the time about it getting dinged or scratched.”

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234

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“And don’t forget about the Texas hail,” reminded Rex. “Yeah, and rocks falling out of dump trucks making cracks on the windshield and…..” I lost my train of thought as my eyes drew me to a black Boxster with a shiny silver letter ‘S.’ “Oh, I read about this one.” A black suited young salesman piped up, “That one does zero to sixty in five seconds.” He opened the driver’s side door and waived me in. “Have a seat.” I couldn’t resist. “Okay, but I’m just looking.” Rex grinned at the salesman, “No he’s not. I’m leaving now, so if he doesn’t buy a car then he has to walk……and it’s a long way back to Dallas.” He shook hands with the salesman and walked to his SUV. “Bye Rex,” Etherea waived as she got into the passenger seat. “Uh…..” I waived feebly, “Bye.” “Well,” she said as Rex drove away. “Do you like this one?” I looked at the dashboard and touched the steering wheel like there was a DO NOT TOUCH sign on the priceless sculpture. In awe I said, “Every detail in this car is a masterpiece work of art.” She said, “It’s cute.” I said, “Thousands of technical perfections are combined into this one thesis on the science of convertible sports car-ology.” “You sound smart when you talk about cars.” She winked at me. “That turns me on.”

Bryon Severns

235

Zen Dragon

The salesman dangled the keys in front of me and said, “If you think that’s exciting, listen to the engine.” I savored the key for a couple seconds before I inserted it in the ignition. Then I put my left foot down on the clutch. “Oh, nice….” Then I turned the key and heard the thrill of two hundred ninety five horses flaming into life. The salesman grinned knowingly, “Take it for a test drive.” “Oh, I don’t know….” I resisted. He pointed west, “There’s a wonderful road out to Lake Travis. If that doesn’t make up your mind to buy a Porsche then I’ll give you a lift to a place where you can buy a boring minivan.” “Let’s go!” said Etherea. The salesman said, “Take a right on Airport Boulevard, left on Lamar, right on Koenig and keep going until you see the lake.” “Really?” I gazed at the salesman’s kind face and felt the numbing drug of gratitude melting my insides and weakening my resolve to remain spartan. He smiled at me with a happy look…as if he knew he was on the verge of victory…..or another trip to the bank. He said, “Enjoy the ride.”

Bryon Severns

236

Zen Dragon

Soon we were zooming through the countryside with the wind in our hair and nothing to hold back our freedom. The sun tried to peak through the clouds and I refused to let it bother Etherea. “White Dragon, more clouds please!” My request was immediately granted with clouds filling in the blue holes of the grey blanket across the sky until the sun’s rays were stifled. “Thank you,” Etherea said to the clouds. The grey sky and the cool air made it feel more like fall, but the grass and trees were luxurious green….unlike any summer I had ever seen in Texas. Thanks to the Blue Dragon for all the rain. I was especially thankful for the beautiful woman sitting beside me because she wanted to be with me. I reached my right hand to hold her left hand. Her eyes met mine. We shared an incredible feeling of being the luckiest people ever. Somehow I knew that this was the best summer of my life on earth. At the lake we stopped. I rushed around the car and opened the door for her. Then we held hands and walked to the water. I wrapped my arms around her and smiled into her eyes. She grinned the brightest I had ever seen. My right hand reached up slowly to hold the back of her head and then I leaned slowly to her lips. Her tenderness softened gently under my touch. The wonder of mutual attraction was the greatest beauty of all…..I could feel its power pulling me closer to her. Wanting. Wanting! MORE!! Before we fused into one being she pulled back and said, “Rad…..?”

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“What?” I said, knowing I would never be able to refuse her for the rest of my life. But I would have to pretend to have a spine….and act like I had a will of my own. I was too close to perfect bliss to lose her respect now. “I’ve been thinking……” I had already swallowed the hook the first time I kissed her and now it was all the way down to my heart. She must have seen it through my eyes because she was gently reeling me in. Her power over me was more than anything ever devised by man. I remembered a bit of wisdom from the old Master Zi, the greatest power is not the ability to kill, but to win their hearts. Without any threat or force she wielded the ‘greatest power’ over me. In her grasp she held my heart……. and she could kill me if she was so inclined. I nodded, “Yeah….?” “It’s not good for you to be hanging around Rex.” I knew where this was going. She wanted me away from him before. “It’s not me hanging around him. He’s the one who invaded my territory and took over my students.” “Then let him have the students.” “What?” I couldn’t believe she expected me to walk away from my life. “Martial arts is what I do. I need them as much as they need me.” “Don’t you want to be with me.” Her pouty lips and drooping eyebrows tried to used puppy dog cuteness to win me over to her way.

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“Of course I do, but……” She turned her head and closed her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks. “Why are you crying?” She sputtered, “It feels like you don’t care what I think.” “I do, but you want me to cut off my identity. Without martial arts who would I be? What would I do?” “You ……..…you could teach peaceful self defense,” she offered quietly. “Okay……but Rex took over my gym,” I complained. She turned her teary eyes to mine and said, “I could buy you a new one.” “You want to buy me a car and a gym?” She smiled, “This money gives us freedom. We don’t have to work. We can do what we think is best for the world. We should do what is right and good. That means you must get your life untangled from Rex and build a new place…….where young people can learn how to be kind and peaceful and exist in harmony, like that night we meditated under the full moon. Remember that?” “Yeah,” I said wistfully, “That was before Rex showed up and ruined my life.” She fake pouted, “Your life is ruined?” “Well….” I said, “No……as long as I have you I’m happy.”

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“Good!” She kissed me quickly. I picked her up and held her to me with her feet were in the air. “Let’s go start our lives together.” “Yes! Let’s do!” she agreed with a pearly smile and sparkles of joy dancing in her eyes. Tears of happiness filled my eyes and the world went blurry, so I closed my eyes as I set her feet back on the ground and kissed her for a long time…..deeply and passionately. This really was the very best summer of my life.

Bryon Severns

240

Zen Dragon

Ch 26

Etherea and I found a palatial mansion next to the lake in Arlington. The yard was extensive with space to fantasize about all the things we could do with so much green grass softly shaded by willow trees…..all the way down the long slope to the water’s edge. I imagined a boat pulled up on the grass and I envisioned students practicing Tai Chi under the willows. Etherea led me to a coy pond bordered with natural stones. She gave me a dreamy smile and said, “Isn’t this wonderful?” I sat on large rounded stone and pulled her onto my lap, “I could sit here and be happy forever.” “Me too.” She reached her right arm around my neck and kissed my cheek. “What if…” I pointed at the house and made a circling motion with my index finger, “we continued this coy pond around the house….like a moat?” She cooed, “Oooooh, and put in a draw bridge for the entrance….”

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“Yeah….” a sudden stab of worry changed my attitude, “but let’s not spend too much money. You need to save enough for your medical treatments.” “Don’t worry,” she assured, “most of the money’s in savings. And this place was cheap compared to what the doctor bills will be.” “Okay.” “Good,” she said. “I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m living life the best I can and I want you to enjoy it with me.” “Me too.” A sly smile widened her lips, “There’s a furniture sale at Ashley’s.” I suppressed a groan, “I suppose the house will need some furniture.” She jumped to her feet. “Yeah! Lets go shopping!” I drove with the top up to shade her on the way to the furniture store. The air conditioner was on full blast to keep out the hot summer that had returned to Texas. Inside the cool store we lounged in every couch and chair and tried to imagine how the furniture would look in the many rooms of our new mansion, but I couldn’t remember how many living rooms there were. “We don’t have to buy it all at once,” I said. She nodded as she snuggled in close to me on a brown leather sofa, “We could do one room at a time.” “Yeah,” I agreed, “That way we can go shopping every once in a while and enjoy it instead of getting worn out by it.”

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“Okay.” She stood up and walked a little way to plunge onto a large bed that was fully decked with a lush comforter and many pillows of rich shades of brown. “But if we’re gonna shop till we drop then it might as well be like this.” I went to the bed and climbed next to her. “Rad…..!” “What?” “We’re in public.” “Okay.” I got off the bed and stood looking at her….restraining my desire to be there with her… but not hiding it. “Can we buy this bed? I like it just the way it is.” I rubbed my hand on the comforter and admired the complex texture. “It must be very expensive.” “It’s not like shopping at Hemispheres.” I tensed up, “Is that where you want to shop?” She curled around a pillow, “They have the classiest furniture.” “And the richest prices,” I objected. “But….” I made a partial concession, “If you still have plenty of money after all your medical expenses then it might be okay, but until then let’s not get in a hurry to spend ten thousand dollars on each piece…..especially when the house is so big that it would take a warehouse of furnishings to fill it up.”

Bryon Severns

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She sat up and put her arms around my waist. “I’m so lucky to find a guy who cares about me. Anyone else would be eager to spend it all and not care about me.” I wrapped my arms around her back, “I’m glad you appreciate me. After all, caring about you is the only thing I have to offer.” We ordered sets for one living room, the master bedroom, and the informal dining room. Cozy was top priority. We agreed to shop for the formal stuff later. Then we went to Target to shop for the kitchen and master bathroom. As we looked at sheets she said, “You know, I promised myself that I wouldn’t live with anyone unless I was married.” It felt like a hammer slammed into my gut and almost knocked me down, but nothing physical had hit me. It was just the emotional impact of what she said. “You don’t want to live with me unless we’re…..” I couldn’t say the next word. “What’s the matter?” Her sharp tone cut to the edge of anger. “You don’t want to marry me?” I couldn’t speak. Panic choked off my air. My heart pounded hard and my legs were shaking with readiness to bolt. Nervous sweat oozed from the chilled pores of my skin. Why did I want to escape? I had to think hard because this was a moment of change. The next instant I would be sliding

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down an icy slope to infinite imprisonment, the death of my freedom. Yet without her I would surely die. So, I made the most important decision of my life. “Let’s go…..” I tried to keep my voice smooth to hide the fear, the terrifying thrill of falling down that slope that seemed more like a cliff, “…….and pick out a ring.” “Okay.” A smile flashed wide across her face as if there never was anything but happiness. I was incredibly relieved to see her smile at me. At least I was sliding to my doom with her. Together we went to a jewelry store in the mall and she found a small round solitaire. “This one’s pretty.” She eyed the little diamond and peered into its many facets under the special jewelry story lights. “I’ll buy it.” I took out my credit card and handed it to the sales lady. “This is something that you can’t spend your money on.” She hugged me and handed the ring to the sales lady who put it into a box for me. After we left the mall I carried the ring in my pocket and thought about where, when and how I would give it to Etherea. It had to be special. Even though I was falling down this impossible slope I would make the best of it. For now, my purpose in life was to create the most romantic moment in the history of romance. Because she deserved it.

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Later that day we installed a park bench behind the house so that we could sit by the water and watch the sunset on the lake. I took her hand and walked with her towards the water where gentle breakers carved an eternally changing boundary. Every wave brought something and then carried something else away. Every wave was unique as it crashed yet the continual succession of waves created a sense of unending rhythm. This was the kind of timelessness I wanted for our romance. Everyday it should be exciting yet soothing and everyday it should be full of life yet keep its mysteries. Then I walked her to the bench and let her sit down, but I did not sit. Instead I knelt and held both of her hands in mine. Her eyes grew wide. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out the little jewelry box. As the box opened before her eyes I saw her surprise and joy. Of course, I knew what the answer would be, but I had to ask the question. “Will you marry me?” Tears filled her eyes as she nodded, “Yes.” I slipped the ring on her finger. We both stood up and she jumped into my arms to hold me as tight as she could squeeze. “You make me so happy!” she whispered into my ear. “I want to make you happy forever!” I whispered back. We hugged for a few seconds and then we kissed. And kissed. And hugged.

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And kissed. And then she began telling me her dreams of the most beautiful wedding. I dreaded all the decisions and planning so I tried to convince her to keep it simple. “Let’s not make too much fuss about it. We need to focus on us and not on entertaining a bunch of wedding guests.” She nodded, “You’re right. Lets just have it here, in our back yard and invite a few people.” “That would be wonderful!” I said enthusiastically. “Let’s get married this weekend!” she said. I guessed she sensed my apprehension and wanted to seal the vows before I chickened out. But I was more afraid of losing her than anything else, including my freedom, so I gave her the only answer that would keep her with me, “Okay, Saturday.” “I can’t wait to show everybody my ring.” She held up her hand and said, “I’m the luckiest girl in the world.” “And I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” I said. “When I met you I won the lottery of love.” “That’s so sweet.” She kissed me in appreciation. I had never learned about kisses from Old Master Zi, but I was beginning to understand that every kiss had a different meaning. Some kisses expressed desire and some said ‘thanks.’ There must be thousands of

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different kinds of kisses and I looked forward to a lifetime of learning them all. ……..starting Saturday. I thought, I can’t believe it’s happening so fast. I’m getting married Saturday!

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Ch 27

I couldn’t live with Etherea until we were married and I couldn’t stay in my old room at the Temple where Rex had taken over. Although I moved most of my things into Etherea’s house, I took some clothes, a toothbrush, and a towel to stay in Longsword’s apartment. Like many of the others he was moving into a room in Etherea’s mansion and he didn’t need the apartment anymore. “How did you get out of jail?” I asked. Long lifted the edge of his mattress and pulled out a shiny dagger. “My lawyer said I’m not off the hook, but as long as they’re afraid to prosecute Dragons……well, let’s just say I’m not wasting my life waiting to get prosecuted. After what I’ve been through I decided to live every day like it’s the last.” He put the dagger into a large cardboard box. Then he reached under the mattress and retrieved more weapons. “Does that mean you’re not playing any more video games?”

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He reached behind an old set of drawers and pulled out a long piece of metal. It had black tape wrapped around one end and it was crudely sharpened at the other end. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “I love gaming. I meant I’m not going to waste my life working at jobs I don’t like.” He put the crude version of a sword into the box of weapons. Then he reached underneath the chest of drawers and scooped out some throwing stars. “So,” I asked. “What kind of jobs will you do?” “Teach martial arts!” He grinned. His right arm strained to reach under the bed and find something hidden in the junk and garbage. “And be a personal trainer.” “I suppose you got famous when your fight was seen all over the world on live TV.” He grunted as he fumbled under the bed. “And the internet.” “Yeah,” I said. “You should have no trouble getting students since you proved yourself like that.” “Yep!” He pulled out a filthy pair of swinging sticks, nunchaku. “Nothing builds cred like a clean kill.” He wiped the sticks and chain on an old towel and put the chucks in the box. I couldn’t help being jealous of him. I had always had trouble attracting students since I didn’t have a bunch of trophies or a legendary reputation. While Long was world famous I was just one of the faces in the

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crowd. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to fight in a duel. Winning could establish my reputation and would be a boost for my self esteem. But then I remembered old Master Zi. He was choked to death in an unarmed duel with a Brazilian. He was lucky to be resuscitated without any brain damage, or at least none that I could tell. However, he was never the same afterward. He quite martial arts and turned completely pacifist. “Well,” I said. “I thought it was a bad idea for you to fight Dao, but I guess it worked out pretty good for you.” “I was scared before the fight,” he admitted. “But now everybody treats me differently. They stare like I’m a celebrity, but they keep their distance like I’m a poisonous snake.” I laughed, “At least you won’t get mobbed for autographs. That’s the good thing about being notorious.” “Yeah,” he chuckled. “It’s probably better not to get bothered by fans every time I go somewhere with my girlfriend.” “Are you two going to be at my wedding?” He brought an armful of weapons out of the closet. “Of course!” He dumped the load of weapons into the box that was almost full. “But I suppose I’ll have to rent a tux, right?” “Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna wear a black tux, so you and the other guys should wear grey.”

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He stood and grinned at me. “So, you’re the only one who gets to dress up like James Bond? That’s not fair!” We both laughed. “That’s okay, I won’t have a gun in my pocket.” Longsword picked up his box, “Well, if you need a weapon to carry in your pocked, you’re welcome to borrow one of mine.” “See you tomorrow.” “See ya.” Long started walking out then stopped in the doorway. “Are you sure you don’t wanna bachelor party? Friday night’s your last chance.” “No thanks,” I said. “I’ve been a bachelor for too long. I just want to get started living with my life with Etherea.” “Okay, but you’re missing out on terrific hangover.” He laughed as he turned and walked out the door. I stared at the messy bed and looked around at the small, dirty apartment. Long had left the old furnishings for me to use, but I didn’t want to touch anything. I couldn’t live like this, but he must have been comfortable in this nest of junk. I wonder if he had forgotten any weapons. Not that I needed any, but I didn’t want to sit on a sharp point. I went to the old chair and lifted the seat cushion. There was plenty of garbage and dried food, but no sharps. I yanked the blanket off of the mattress and checked

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for weapons. Then I shook the garbage and crumbs out of the blanket and laid it straight on the mattress. There were no sheets. I went to the door and closed it. The loneliness was my only companion tonight. I was used to the constant activities of martial arts students practicing late every night. Now the only sounds were the muffled noises from other apartments. I couldn’t wait to get this night over and get on with my new life with Etherea. This night alone and feeling miserable was absolute confirmation that I had made the right choice in deciding to marry her. Only a little while of this and then everything would be good. Tomorrow would be Friday and I planned buy a tux! I could rent one, but I told Etherea I wanted to keep it so I could dress up for Haloween. So, of course, I was nervous and had trouble getting to sleep. I kept wondering if I would screw up the marriage. Would I be able to keep her attracted to me for a lifetime? How could I keep her from getting bored of me? What if she saw me looking at another woman? Would she freak out and leave me? What if I couldn’t make a successful career in martial arts? Would she be ashamed of me? So many doubts swirled in my head, but eventually I must have fallen asleep because I woke up with bright sunlight coming through the window. Friday went by quickly while making preparations for the wedding. I told people that it wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, but it kept getting more elaborate and everybody wanted to bring friends. Even with Tansao and her

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sister in charge of the caterers and wedding plans I was still asked to make a thousand decisions. I was exhausted before the day was over and I wished the whole thing was behind me. But the wedding itself was tomorrow and I needed to get some sleep. Unfortunately, I had even more trouble sleeping Friday night. Maybe a bachelor party would have been a good distraction from this case of nerves and uneasy mind. Yet again I must have drifted off to sleep because I woke up wondering what day it was. I bolted up in the bed and thought, Today’s the wedding! Quickly I showered, shaved and put on my black tux. Then I drove to Etherea’s house….trying not to exceed the speed limit because getting a ticket would make me even later. Cars were lined bumper to bumper along the sides of her street. The gates were wide open and the circular driveway was full. Students were valet parking the cars. It was very hard for me to hand my keys, especially to a teenager that I knew was going to have fun revving the engine and toying with my new Porsche. Longsword saw me and waived me over, so I got out and left my car with a pimple faced boy that looked too young to drive and had black wrist bands studded with silver bullets. I thought my stress level was at a record high, but then I saw a familiar face. He said something to me and I responded with a ‘Hi’ ….and at the same time I wondered why his voice seemed familiar. After I passed him I turned and realization came to me.

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“Long,” I pointed at the familiar stranger. “Isn’t that a Holywood celebrity?” “Yeah,” he stared at the old man for a while, “That’s Ben Stein.” “Ben Stein!” I exclaimed. “I knew I recognized him. What’s he doing here?” “I don’t know, but you better go to the back yard. They’re waiting for you.” He led me off to the side. “The house is too crowded, we’ll go this way.” “Why are there so many people here?” I asked. “I don’t know any of these people.” “You’re famous now,” answered Longsword. “Everybody wants to be your friend.” “Why?” He grabbed my arm and pulled me through a crowd of people at the side of the back of the house. “Because rumor has it that you did magic to make people win the lottery.” “But the governor said the lottery would be cancelled.” Long stopped to face me. “They don’t care about the lottery. Look around.” His eyes darted over the crowd. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through this morning?” “Uhhhh……”

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He was dead serious. “I’ve had tons of people begging me to save their dying relatives, bring back their kids from the war, punish cheating spouses, and even had one couple beg me to bring their daughter back to life.” “Ohhh.” He glanced nervously at people who seemed to be headed towards us. “Hurry, before they find out it’s you.” He pulled me towards the lake. Potted white flowers formed a large circular perimeter on the green grass under a willow tree. A beautiful young woman waited in the shade wearing a long white dress. Her eyes met mine and drew me to her. I hugged my bride-to-be and prepared myself for happily ever after. Hundreds of people watched the most beautiful wedding, but I couldn’t help ignoring them. My eyes were locked with Etherea’s, the most adorable eyes I had ever seen. It was hard to keep the tears of joy from blurring my vision and the constant smiling made my cheeks sore. We held hands while exchanging vows and then posed for photos. Next we were swamped by crowds of desperate people. Everybody had a desperate story of life and death and they needed our magic to save their loved ones. I was overwhelmed. Etherea was very gracious. She suggested they sign the guest book, write down their requests and we would attend to their wishes as soon as possible, in the order found in the guest

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book. That caused a stampede for the guest book, so I sent Tansao, Longsword and Saber to keep peace and order. Soon we were being interviewed by Ben Stein. He looked at her and said, “You look beautiful.” Etherea seemed truly impressed by the compliment, probably because it came from a celebrity, “Thanks,” she said. Ben Stein shook my hand and hers, “That was a beautiful wedding. I’d like to write an article about you two……for the New York Times.” “About our wedding?” Etherea asked incredulously. He continued smiling, “About how you won the lottery using magic.” She answered, “Oh, it wasn’t magic.” He stopped smiling, “But if it wasn’t magic then what was it? Surely it wasn’t a coincidence that the same numbers won twice in a row.” She shook her head at him, “No, it wasn’t a coincidence, either.” She looked at me, “Rad can you explain it for him?” He focused on me for the answer, so I started babbling whatever thoughts came to the surface, “Dragons, after the sacrifice, she was meditating, we didn’t expect anything, it just happened the first time, then we tried to make it happen again….and it worked.” “Excuse me,” Ben said, “could you explain that slowly? I didn’t understand. What did dragons have to do with the lottery?”

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By now the messed up words had rearranged in my mind, “We had a White Dragon ceremony and afterwards she was meditating….but she thought so much of her financial need that it must have been heard by the White Dragon. Next thing we knew she was excited about winning the lottery.” Ben thought for a moment, “So, you tried to duplicate the conditions and ended up winning the lottery a second time? She shook her head, “No, the second time Rex used my winning numbers. I had nothing to do with that.” Ben continued, “But he did repeat the same rituals and got the same result—a winning ticket, I mean sixty five winning tickets….with your same numbers.” “Yes,” she said with a serious nod. Ben nodded slowly, “I see. And it involved a ceremony in which someone was brutally killed.” “Well, actually….” she frowned “I was against that part. I told them it was wrong.” “So,” Ben concluded, “it was black magic.” I argued, “We just explained to you, it wasn’t magic. Dragons made the tickets into winners.”

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He ignored my reasoning, “If you’re using black magic to win so much money, what else are you going to do? Are you planning to ruin our whole economic system?” “No,” Etherea shook her head earnestly. “Isn’t it true…” Ben accused, “that you used black magic to manipulate the stock market?” “That was Rex,” I said sternly, “not us.” Ben’s face was turning red with anger, “Do you realize what happens when people think the markets are being manipulated? People stop trusting stocks and prices tumble, investment bankers hit the brakes, capital dries up, companies stop hiring and then the economy goes into a recession ….or worse. You people are going to ruin the economy of the entire world if you keep using magic to manipulate the markets.” Etherea rose against him in anger, “We told you it wasn’t us doing that! If you have a problem Rex then you go talk to him. Don’t blame us for that stuff. We had nothing to do with it.” I saw the anger take a lot of energy out of her, so I pulled her arm to get her away from him, “Excuse us,” I said as we walked away. I led her to the bench and we sat down. “I feel so tired,” she complained. “It must be the stress. Everything’s been happening all at once. I couldn’t sleep well for the last couple days because there was so much to do to get ready for the wedding. When I laid

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down to sleep my mind was still working on the details. Now I feel so exhausted and stressed out. Everything’s changed………too much……too fast.” “It’s okay,” I said. “Let’s just sit here for a while.” I held her hands and sat with her quietly. In front of us a bunch of students gathered in a line and bowed. Tansao’s voice sounded over a loud speaker. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the students of Dragon Temple would like to entertain you while the caterers bring out the tables and food.” Most of the students moved to the left side and two students bowed together in the open area of grass next to the lake edge. Tansao announced, “Now we will demonstrate some self defense techniques. Long will act as the attacker and Saber will escape from a wrist grab.” She narrated the defense against a one handed grab of the wrist. Then they bowed and the crowd clapped. A second pair of students came out and bowed. They demonstrated defense against a grab from behind and the crowd applauded. A third pair of students demonstrated defense against a knife attack and the crowd reacted loudly. A fourth pair of students demonstrated defense against a gun. One student held a fake orange pistol to the back of Saber. She pretended to pull her wallet out of her pants, but in a split second she spun around and took the fake gun away from the attacker. The crowd rose and clapped for a long time. Then Tansao announced the students’ names as they took turns showing individual routines. It was like

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watching graceful dancers, except they were kicking, punching and some of them used weapons. I liked the show and I noticed a smile on Etherea’s face. She seemed to enjoy the martial arts. She thinks martial arts is okay as long as nobody gets killed, I thought. Soon Tansao announced that dinner was served, so everybody went to the tables and sat down. Tansao led Etherea and I to a special table so we could face the crowd. After we sat down Etherea leaned to my ear and whispered, “I can’t wait to get started on our honeymoon.” I whispered back in her ear, “I can’t wait to walk with you on the beach in the moonlight.” Then we kissed, but we weren’t thinking about the hundreds of people watching until Tansao spoke over the loudspeaker, “Well, we can certainly tell who the newlyweds are!” We didn’t stop kissing until we realized the crowd was clapping for us. When it was time to cut the cake there was no knife. Tansao said, “Saber, can you give them something to cut the cake, please?” Saber handed me her oxtail saber. I held it high and the crowd laughed. Then Etherea and I cut the cake with the sword.

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Tansao came with her sister, “Etherea, this is my sister, Peony.” Peony bowed low enough to see the dark roots of her bleach blonde hair. “Your wedding dress is very prettyful.” Etherea hugged Peony and said, “I’m glad to finally meet you. I heard that you were the one taking care of most of the wedding preparations.” “Yes,” answered Peony. “It was fun.” They chatted happily for a few minutes until Tansao and her sister led us to the limo waiting in the street. They hugged each of us and said ‘congratulations’ over and over while we waited for our luggage to get put into the limo by some students. Etherea said, “Tansao and Peony, thanks for organizing this whole thing….and on such short notice.” “It was an honor,” Tansao replied and hugged Etherea again. “Thanks for letting me help with the wedding,” said Peony as she hugged Etherea. Tansao waived to us as we rode away with the window rolled down and our hands out the window. She shouted, “Enjoy your honeymoon.” I cozied up to Etherea and put my arm around her. I should have been thinking only about us, but I couldn’t help wondering why Tansao and her sister turned out like opposites. They both had it bad as kids, but Tansao was tough and liked to take charge while Peony usually acted cute to get

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attention. Tansao lived for martial arts, but if it wasn’t for the guys, I don’t think Peony would have shown any interest. Peony was all about girly things, so she was perfectly suited for the job of planning the wedding. Etherea yawned, “We had a beautiful wedding, didn’t we?” She smiled dreamily at me. “Yes, we did!” I kissed her forehead as she closed her eyes. I put my arm around her and she leaned her head on my chest for a nap on the way to the airport.

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Ch 28

The ride to the airport was long enough for the excitement of the wedding to give way to the dreariness of traveling. Unfortunately, we had more waiting in the airport because our flight was canceled. While waiting three hours for the next flight Etherea said she was too tired to stand. Since there were no empty seats we sat on our luggage. “Are you okay?” I asked. “I’m tired and achy,” she said. “We can sleep on the plane,” I suggested. “I can’t wait.” She closed her eyes. “I need to rest my eyes….they feel dry.” I scooted my luggage closer to hers and put my arm around her. “You can lean on me.” After a while it seemed that she was too heavy to be just resting her eyes. “Etherea?” No answer. Her head fell forward from my shoulder.

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Gently I shook her, “Etherea?” Her body was limp and she began to slip off her perch on the luggage. I shook her harder, “Etherea?!” She didn’t wake up. I shook her and tried to wake her for a few seconds and soon people were trying to help me. An old man leaned over her, lifted her eyelids and said, “She’s in a coma. Is she a diabetic?” “No,” I replied, “She has Lupus.” “What?” but he didn’t wait for an explanation. “She needs an ambulance.” I used my cell phone to call 911. Until the ambulance came we were surrounded by people eager to help, but there was nothing they could do for her. She didn’t wake up when the EMTs came and checked her, so they put her on a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance. They left me at the airport, so I called Tansao to pick me up. Tansao and I waited in the hospital lobby for three hours before they let us see Etherea. They told us that she had not regained consciousness. In order to visit the patient Tansao had to be family, so she lied and said she was my daughter. I put my arm around her and played along with the lie as we walked to Etherea’s room.

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It looked like Etherea was sleeping. I touched her hand and leaned over to kiss her cheek, but she didn’t wake up. Tansao whispered, “I’ve never seen anybody sleep like that.” “You don’t have to whisper,” I said. “Nothing would make me happier than for her to wake up.” “Why doesn’t she?” I stared at the tube taped to Etherea’s left hand. The tube was connected to a bottle of fluid hanging above the bed. Wires connected her to a machine displaying vital signs. “I don’t know,” I said sadly, “It must be the Lupus.” “She looks so peaceful,” Tansao said. “Wait…” Tansao leaned over and watched Etherea’s face. “I think she’s dreaming.” I leaned in for a closer look. “Her eyes are moving. She must be in REM sleep.” “That means she’s not in a coma, right?” Tansao asked. But as we watched the eye movement stopped and she seemed lifeless. I touched her cheek and it was warm. Then a loud beep came from the vitals machine. There was no more pulse! “Etherea!” I yelled, “No, don’t leave me!” I bent over and hugged her, but nurses rushed in and pulled me away. It was hard to see what they were doing to her because everything was blurry through my tear filled eyes. A lump in my throat was trying to choke

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me to death, but I didn’t care if I suffocated. Tansao put her arm on my back and tried to console me. “Etherea, come back!” I sobbed, “Don’t leave me….” my voice cracked and I couldn’t do anything but break down like a little boy, not old enough to hold back the tears. The machine stopped beeping and the nurses stood back. I looked expectantly and was relieved to see a miracle. Etherea opened her eyes. I pushed my way past the nurses and took Etherea’s hands. “Etherea, are you okay?” She looked into my eyes for a long time. Eventualy she answered, “I was floating on the ceiling and I saw my body below. I saw you and Tansao next to me. Then I heard a wonderful voice calling me. I looked up and saw a long dark tunnel. At the top was a beautiful light. I tried to go up to the light, but I couldn’t. Why did you pull me down?” I kissed her cheek and said through my tears, “Because I need you.” “You have to let me go,” she said calmly. “But it’s our wedding day,” I pleaded. “I’m so tired.” She closed her eyes. “No!” I shook her. “Open your eyes. Don’t go to sleep.” The nurses tried to pull me away, but I fought them off with one hand. “I’m not loosing her again.”

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Etherea’s bleary eyes and groaning objections convinced me to calm myself down. “Sorry,” I said. “Please, try to stay awake.” “I just need to rest my eyes.” “No,” I urged, “that’s what you said last time when you went to sleep and couldn’t wake up. You have to keep your eyes open.” “I can’t,” she complained. I turned to the nurses only long enough to bark a command, “Get her some caffeine!... or something to keep her awake!” She gazed into my eyes. “It felt so nice to float above my body. No more aching in my joints. No more feeling heavy and tired. It was like…..freedom.” “But you promised to be with me,” I objected. “You married me!” “And that voice…..” her eyes glazed as she looked through me. “I think it was God calling me.” “No! Don’t listen to it. Listen to me. I’m your husband.” She closed her eyes and her face relaxed. I shook her, but she didn’t open her eyes. “Etherea…..Etherea…..” Men pulled me away and told me to stay back while the doctor was working. Tansao put her arm around me while I sat and cried. She knew I couldn’t be cheered up, but she kept me company and respected my suffering.

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“At least the machine isn’t beeping,” Tansao said. “That means she’s okay. She’s just sleeping.” But I knew that it wasn’t ‘just sleeping.’ The doctor explained that Etherea was suffering from a Lupus flare. She said she prescribed intravenous prednisone and Plaquenil and told me that I would be notified if Etherea regained consciousness. Stubbornly I sat waiting for her to wake up and Tansao kept me company until late at night. Then we were sent away so we went to the house, the one that Etherea had just bought. Everything reminded me of the happiness that we were supposed to be having, but instead I was miserable. People tried to console me. Even Rex came and offered sympathy. He suggested that we could have a dragon ceremony and ask the dragons to help Etherea, but I told him that she would not want that. There was no sleep for me that night, so I sat outside and watched the lights reflecting on the lake. I called the hospital often to ask if Etherea was awake, but they said she was not. So, I waited. When the sun came up and the noise of traffic grew louder I called and got the same news from the hospital. It was morning and she was still not waking up. Maybe Rex had the right idea, but did somebody have to die to summon a dragon? What if I did everything the same, but only sacrificed some blood instead of a life? I decided that it was worth a try. I drove to the Temple and examined the partly burnt tower. I expected that I needed a fire, but maybe I didn’t need to burn the whole

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tower. I figured a small fire might be enough, so I collected some charred wood and packed it in one hand up the tower. It was dangerous to climb using only one hand. The moment my climbing hand let go of one rung I was at risk of falling until I grabbed the next rung. Some of the rungs were mostly charcoal and they broke. At the top I made a small pile of charred wood and went down the ladder to collect more wood. When I had two loads piled in the center of the platform I went back down to find a lighter. Some students were already practicing in the gym. They were curious about what I was doing, but I didn’t say anything. They must have figured it had something to do with fire when I went outside with a lighter and a newspaper. The mystery drew them outside to watch me climb the tower. I wadded up some newspaper and built a little wooden tee pee on top of the paper. Then I lit the paper and watched the fire rise up. Next, I needed a sacrifice. I drew my sword, the jian from Rex, and held the blade to my right fore arm. It would not hurt as much to cut my forearm as a finger tip since there are fewer nerve endings on my arm. Still, it was hard to make myself cut my own arm. I used the sword tip to poke around for a place where the skin seemed less sensitive and then I pressed the tip against the skin. If I could just force myself into pressing harder it would penetrate and draw blood, but I couldn’t do it. “Mister Rad.”

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I turned to see Kong’s dark eyes peering through his long black hair. I tried to ignore him as he peeked over the top of the platform. “’Tsup?” he asked. I gave up trying to poke my arm with the sword and let out a discouraged groan. “Need some help?” I nodded, “Can you hold the sword for me?” “Okay.” Kong climbed up over the ledge, stood up and bowed to me. I bowed in return even though I didn’t feel like using manners. As he held the sword he asked, “What ‘cha doin’?” I held out my arm and closed my eyes. “Just stab my arm enough to bleed, okay?” “Why?” “I’m trying to summon a dragon.” He admired the sword. “That’s a nicely inscribed dragon above the hilt.” With irritation in my voice I said, “Hurry up, my arm is getting sore holding it out all day.” He said, “Okay, you want me to count to three?” “Fine.”

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There was no counting, he surprised me with a quick jab. My arm pulled to my chest reflexively and I opened my eyes to see a tiny drop of blood forming on my arm. I held my arm out again and closed my eyes. “More.” “Okay…..” Another jab made me jerk my arm to my chest. This time it hurt and I saw blood gather up and pour out. I held the bleeding arm over the fire and watched the drops fall onto the glowing embers. I raised my voice to the sky, “I call any dragon that can help Etherea get well.” Then I waited expectantly. Would this work? How would I know? Was I offering enough blood? It wasn’t exactly a duel, but did that matter? Kong asked, “How do you know if any dragons heard you?” “I don’t know.” He said, “Maybe you need to meditate.” “Maybe.” He said, “Maybe you need a dragon statue.” “Maybe.” After I thought about his suggestion I remembered the times we put photos on dragon statues. “But I can’t carry a big statue up here.” He said, “What if you tried a little statue?”

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I glanced at the dragon symbol on the sword. “Give me that sword.” He looked at me suspiciously. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not going to sacrifice you.” He handed me the sword and stepped back two steps. I stared hard at the dragon etching on the blade. He asked, “You think the drawing on the sword will work instead of a statue?” “That’s what I’m thinking.” I used the blade to catch some blood and make the dragon etching turn red. I waited for a sign, but there was nothing. “What else can I do?” I asked in desperation. “Try putting the sword on the fire,” Kong said. I laid the blade on the pile of burning wood and watched the bloody dragon design turn black. Soon the blood was burned off and the tiny dragon symbol glowed red and then white. “Please!” I called to the sky. “I need a dragon that can wake up Etherea.” I held my arm over the fire and let blood drip…..drip…..drip…..drip. The smoke hurt my eyes. The heat seemed to burn my arm. Kong climbed down the tower and I was alone, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Suddenly a green dragon appeared above me. Unlike the wingless snake-like blue dragon it was wide chested and had large wings that

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pounded the air so that waves of pressure hit me like the wash from a helicopter. Hot ash was blown across my feet. With a roar it dove at me. It caught my bleeding arm in its teeth and lifted me into the air. For a second I thought I would be killed, but soon I was dropped and landed on my back on the fire. I rolled off the fire, but I couldn’t see. The beating wings scattered smoke and ashes in all sideways directions. I could feel the heat and grit on my face, so I had to keep my eyes closed to keep from getting blinded. When the hot dust settled and I could breath again I sat up, wiped my face with my shirt and opened my eyes. I didn’t see the green dragon, but I heard a roar behind me. I thought it said, “More!” The green dragon circled around the tower. I stood up and addressed the dragon, “You want more blood?” “MORE!” it roared voraciously with its sharp teeth bared. “I want Etherea to wake up!” I demanded. “She will,” growled the dragon. I found the sword lying on the platform already cooled because I had knocked it off the fire when I fell on it. Yet the dragon symbol was still glowing white. I didn’t hesitate to cut my right arm and let the blood run across the symbol. Instantly the green dragon swooped at me and snorted at the sword. It looked like he was inhaling the smell of burnt blood. Then he flew high in the air and went east. Soon he was far away and looked small……as he disappeared into the distance.

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“Where’s he going?” I said to myself. .…… “The HOSPITAL!” I ignored the pain when I grabbed the hot handle and sheathed my sword. Then I rushed down the ladder, breaking some rungs as I clambered too fast. The new Porsche was happy to carry me at top speed. Red and blue lights swirled in my rear view mirror. “NO! I do NOT have time for this!” I shouted at the mirror. The cop must not have heard me because he continued following me, so I pulled over. This time when I was approached by a cop I forgot to remove my sword from my person. But it didn’t matter because when he saw my face he lost his confident expression and froze. “Nevermind,” he said timidly as he backed away quickly to his car. I took off in my convertible rocket powered by smoking rubber. Finally I didn’t have to be scared of the cops. They were the ones afraid of me, but I didn’t have time to relish this fact because there was traffic to weave through. Soon I was at the hospital and I left the car illegally parked near the emergency entrance. By the time I made it up the stairs and into her room she was already awake and sitting up. “Hi Rad,” she seemed perky. Without waiting to catch my breath I asked, “Did you…..*huffing breath*…..get enough…..*huff*……beauty sleep?” She giggled, “I still feel groggy.”

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“You must have…..*huff*……because you’re……*huff*……adorable.” She tilted her head and made a cute grin while batting her eyes, “That’s nice. I was wondering when you would notice adorable little me.” When I had regained my composure I sauntered to her bed trying to act masculine. “Oh, you wanted me to notice you?” “I sure did.” She grinned. I took her hands and leaned over to kiss her lips. So tender, so soft….and so warm. Then we gazed silently into each other’s eyes for a long time. Finally, she patted the bed in an invitation for me to sit down next to her. “We have to talk.” I didn’t like the sound of that. Was it ever good when a woman said those words? Nevertheless I sat down as she wished. She glanced at the dried blood on my right forearm. “I’m worried about you.” I couldn’t believe she said that. “But I’m not the one in the hospital.” Her smile faded, “You knew I had Lupus before you ever kissed me. You should have expected this. But you….” I didn’t say anything. There seemed to be something at the tip of her tongue that she knew I wouldn’t like hearing. “Well you….” She began.

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I sat paralyzed and waiting for the verdict, or whatever it was that was coming. She looked away and stared through the walls at something far away. “You haven’t accepted death like I have.” “I’m not afraid of dying.” But as soon as I said that I recalled that I had said the same thing to old master Zi. He advised me that I must let go of my taste for blood and my fear of death. My replies always got him started on a long lecture which I hated because it took away time from learning to fight. After a couple times I learned to nod my head and pretend to understand what he meant. “I didn’t mean you’re afraid of dying. I mean you haven’t accepted death.” She looked into my eyes to watch for a sign of understanding. She shook her head, “Let me explain…..death is loosing everything you have…..so you can truly be…..who you really are.” That sounded too philosophical for me. She waited a couple seconds for me to begin understanding her. “You spend all your time trying to be tough and show no fear of fighting or dying, but you’re terrified of letting go.” I sat beside her giving her a dazed look. She said, “If you can’t let go of me then what else can’t you let go of.” “What?”

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She looked away. “You teach people to fight. You collect weapons and play with them all the time. Look, you’re wearing a weapon right now.” She pointed to the sword at my left side. “In a hospital!” “But it’s what I do.” “You know,” she said, “instead of teaching the weak how to defend themselves……it would be better to teach the strong how to care.” I knew how to argue this line of thinking. “The strong only respect those who can defend themselves. The weak get pushed down and abused.” She was determined to make her point, “If everybody had empathy then nobody would want to hurt others.” “True,” I admitted, “so what do we do with all the people who don’t have empathy?” She thought for a couple seconds, “I don’t know…..but compassion is what the world needs……not improved ways to fight.” “I help young people gain confidence and self esteem. These things have been taken away by abusive people including parents, peers and perverts. They used to live in fear and shame. Now they have control of their lives because I taught them martial arts.” She seemed exasperated, “If only it was just like you said then it would be okay, but you’ve taken it way beyond self defense. I think you’re obsessed with martial arts.” “What’s wrong with that?”

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She looked hard into my eyes. “What else is there inside you? Is violence the only thing that you’re made of?” “No.” She raised her right eyebrow. “I hope not. Because when you die all that negative stuff has to get stripped away.......I’m wondering what will be left of you. Is there anything good inside?” I lowered my chin and gave her big puppy dog eyes, “My love for you…..” She smiled, “I hope that’s enough.” Tear drops spilled from her eyes and she leaned to me for a hug. In my ear she said, “When you get to heaven I’ll be waiting for you.” That was the last thing she said to me on this earth. I couldn’t say how she passed because it was just too painful for me to let go of her. But I didn’t think that it was our love that killed her. I remembered seeing her aura when we were meditating and it seemed she had a powerful spirit that burned brighter than normal. So, I believed that it was the divine fire inside her that required more than her body could maintain for a long life. As pretty as she was, she had and even more beautiful spirit …….and I knew she was in heaven waiting for me.

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Ch 29

People tried to console me, but I was an emotional zombie. Too many feelings and thoughts wrestled for control of my body and mind, so none of them were able to take control or be expressed. This must have been what it felt like to be in shock. Why was my invisible wound so much more painful than any physical damage? For countless hours I sat on the bench where she had accepted my proposal and received the engagement ring about a week ago. I didn’t care exactly what day it was. I lost track of the days of the week sitting on the stone by the coy pond where she convinced me we needed new furniture. At night I wandered the yard because I couldn’t go into the house that was supposed to be our home, our place to grow old together. The mansion was haunted by the absence of her and all the love that was gone. I didn’t want that home anymore, yet I couldn’t leave it either. I couldn’t let go of

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the memories and the dreams of the future that would never be fulfilled in this place. There was only one way for us to be together. But of course, I couldn’t do that. Thoughts of challenging Rex gave me hope….until I remembered what Etherea said. She was afraid that death would take away the bad and maybe there wouldn’t be anything good left of me. I couldn’t be all bad, could I? Wasn’t there any good in me? I didn’t feel good. All I felt was bad inside. Very, very, miserably bad. How long would I selfishly pout over my loss? I knew where she was because she said she would be in heaven waiting for me. I wanted to be with her so much that I stopped wanting to live. But when I decided that my life didn’t matter anymore I felt relief from depression. Instead of mourning for her I felt like doing something to please her. For her I wanted to be a better person and do what she said I was afraid to do. So, I decided to let go of everything and stop being afraid of losing things so that I could be who I really am. I told Tansao the house was hers and I put half a million dollars in an account paying enough interest for her and the senior students to survive. Then I donated most of Etherea’s money to charity, the Lupus Foundation of America. I kept the car because I needed transportation and the old Miata was already given to Longsword. Then I set off on a mission to save the world…..somehow…..I didn’t know

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how, but I would look for people in need and try to help them. It gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel closer to Etherea. At least I was on the right path. I could feel it deep inside. I found a homeless man under an overpass. I offered to help him. He smiled and shook my hand saying, “Bless you.” But when I gave him a sandwich he looked disappointed. “My dog is hungry, too,” he said. “Can you spare a few dollars for dog food?” I gave the man ten dollars and he smiled again. “Bless you. Bless you. You’re so kind.” He shook my hand with great vigor this time. He waived as I drove away, but I drove back around to watch him. He walked to a liquor store a couple blocks away. A few minutes later he came out with a brown paper bag and immediately unscrewed the cap from his new bottle. I guessed he needed something to wash down his sandwich. I realized there must be a lot of homeless people getting thirsty in this summer heat. So I drove to the liquor store to stock up on cold beer, bottled water and a cooler small enough to fit in the passenger seat of my small sports car. The homeless man acted embarrassed to see me. “It’s okay,” I said as I handed him a bottle of water. “This one’s for your dog.”

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“Bless you,” he smiled as he accepted the water. I spent the rest of the day driving through the metroplex looking for homeless people and giving them sandwiches, bottled water and each one got a single can of beer. It was especially gratifying to see their faces when they received a cold beer. To me they all looked the to same with dirty clothes, pathetic eyes, long scraggly hair and unshaved faces. Even the homeless women seemed to have too much hair on their faces. I couldn’t tell which ones were vegetarian, but there were a few who checked the sandwiches to make sure there was no meat inside. Some of them surprised me by refusing a sandwich, but none of them refused the beer. Maybe they couldn’t trust me, but an unopened can, well…..that was different. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but not ready to go home. I wanted to tell Tansao all the funny things that I had learned about homeless people. I knew she would be teaching at the Temple, so I headed there and I ate the last sandwich while driving.

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Ch 30

I found Tansao sitting on the curb just outside of the Temple. She was bent over with her head between her knees and held her face in her hands. As I approached I heard her sobbing. I felt sorry for her and wanted to consol her, so I sat next to her and put my right arm around her shoulders. “What’s the matter?” I asked. She didn’t pull her head out of hiding between her knees. Her muffled voice answered, “Everyone thinks I’m stupid.” Then she sobbed harder. “Why?” “Because…” She had trouble speaking between sobs. “…. it’s…. true.” I leaned over her and kissed the back of her head. Then I patted her right shoulder and said, “You’re not stupid. I trust you more than anybody else. You’re the one I would put in charge of the Dragons if anything happened to me.”

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She leaned against me and stopped sobbing. “Really? But I’m not the best fighter.” With my left hand under her right cheek I gently raised her head. I caught her eyes and said, “You’re the most caring and responsible one. You’re like a big sister to the others and they trust you. They like your style of discipline and structure. Without you in their lives they would feel either lost in chaos or buried under oppressive rules.” She smiled through her wet eyes. “Really?” “Really,” I assured her with a pat on her back. “You’re going to make a good leader someday.” “But….” She stopped smiling as doubt crept back into her. “I was humiliated in front of everyone…..and I ran away crying. Leaders don’t do that.” I squeezed my arm around her a little. “Did you feel like you did something wrong and you didn’t deserve to belong?” “Yes,” she hiccupped. “But you know you didn’t do anything wrong. Actually, you were trying to do the right thing and someone disagreed with your idea.” “Yeah.” “And being told you were wrong made you feel worse than getting beat up physically, didn’t it?” I patted her back. “Yeah.”

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“If someone attacked you physically wouldn’t you defend yourself?” “Yeah.” She seemed to understand what I was leading to. “Then you need to defend yourself verbally when someone attacks your ideas. You can’t let someone beat you up psychologically.” I stroked her back as she wiped her eyes. I saw the sadness fade from her face. “When you’re a senior student and you know you’re right….do you think people should listen to you and respect what you say?” “That’s right!” Anger began to fill her with strength and her body seemed to grow bigger as she sat up. I said, “Then you should stand your ground even if someone tries to humiliate you….even if you think they made you look stupid and you don’t know what to say or do. Just don’t run away. I know that because I made the same mistake myself.” “So, what do I do?” She asked. I thought about what I should have done, but haven’t. “Go and confront the one who offended you. Say, ‘I feel like I’ve been wronged and I’m giving you a chance to make it better.’” “Okay.” She wiped her eyes. “Right now?” “The sooner, the better.” I helped her stand up. “Okay.” She put a stubborn look on her face and marched to the door of the new Temple. She bowed at the door and stormed inside.

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I followed her and I was shocked to see her confront Rex. I never expected he was the one that had upset Tansao. He had been so nice to the students. Maybe he had gotten sick of giving fake compliments. Maybe he had felt threatened by Tansao’s motherly control of the students. Whatever the reason he had done a good job of hurting her feelings and I knew what that was like. The more I thought about it the angrier I became. Tansao stood with her arms folded and glared at Rex. “I felt humiliated and I think you made me look bad on purpose. I should be treated with respect!” Rex gave her a blank look. Tansao began to slump a little. He body showed that her determination was weakening. She said, “I deserve an apology.” Rex didn’t act defensive or aggressive. He just looked at her blankly for a few seconds and then turned away. “As I was saying…..” he spoke to some of the new students. Tansao turned and looked at me. Tears welled up in her eyes. She seemed ready to run away again. It seemed like it was my fault that she was being humiliated again. I felt the anger boil inside me until I wanted to kill him. “Hey!” I shouted. Rex turned and looked at me. “You should at least acknowledge her feelings,” I said.

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Rex glared at me. “Are you telling me what I ….should do?” His tone was threatening. Everyone froze. “Yes.” I slowly walked toward Rex. “I’m telling you what you …..should do.” He folded his arms confidently. “If you think I ….should do something. Then you might get angry about my not doing it.” I continued to slowly walk towards Rex. I felt the anger building inside me. I didn’t care if my face was blushing and my ears were turning red. I felt the heat burning the skin of my neck and face. The blood pumped so hard in my ears I could hear the adrenaline roaring on the wave of my inner tsunami. This time nothing could stop my anger. He deserved to die. Rex smiled, “And if you get angry at me again then you might make a fool of yourself…..like you did the last time.” He leaned his head back and smirked with an air of superiority. My slow approach allowed students to clear a path for me….straight to Rex. When I arrived I didn’t think about what to do. Instinctively my hands jumped out and shoved Rex back. “This time I won’t hesitate to kill you.” He toppled back a moment and caught his balance, but he didn’t change his posture. He kept his arms folded as if he was above fighting with me. “I thought you were afraid of killing.”

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I growled, “I’m not afraid of killing you. Especially since the cops leave me alone.” He said calmly, “You should be thanking me for that. I used my wish to get the Blue Dragon’s protection from the cops.” I snarled with my head lowered, “It’s time you apologized to Tansao or I’ll unleash all my anger on you.” Rex laughed. “Oh, I bet you had a lot of anger in your lifetime of always being humiliated. You might as well get over it. Trust me, It’ll make you feel better.” “Apologize!” I ordered. “NOW!” Rex stopped smiling. “You have no authority over me. I’m the boss of all the Dragons.” “You were the boss.” I admitted with a growl. “But you made the mistake of humiliating a senior student …..and that cannot be …..tolerated.” Rex looked around. “As the Master here it’s my duty to put people in their place.” I kept my eyes burning directly at Rex even though he was pretending I was not threatening him. “And it’s my duty to put you ….in your place.” Rex turned to face me. “I already put you in your place. If you challenge me now I’ll have to kill you.” I laughed like a mad man, “You don’t have what it takes to kill me. I’m stronger, faster and better.”

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Rex pursed his lips for a couple seconds and then said, “I don’t care how good a fighter you are. Nobody can survive a Kami Dragon attack.” Students backed away towards the walls. Fear and anticipation grew stronger in the room. Fear made people want to get away, but anticipation of a fight made them linger. I folded my arms and leaned my head back to imitate Rex. “I can do anything you can do….better. If you summon a Kami Dragon then I’ll summon a stronger one.” Rex glared at me with hatred. “You think so?” “I know so!” I grinned madly in my anger fueled insanity. I tried to ignore the fact that my legs began to feel week and shaky. I was glad to be wearing baggy pants so nobody would know that I was losing my confidence. The thing that scared me was the fact that I was too stubborn to back down. I had gone past the point of a graceful exit and now I had to fight or run away. But my anger wouldn’t let me run….even when I could see the image of the Blue Dragon reflected in his eyes. Rex calmly declared, “Then it will be …a very …bloody ….battle.” “Okay, let’s go outside,” I replied in a fake calm. “Fine!” Rex unfolded his arms and walked towards the front door. I turned to follow him and was not surprised to see the Blue Dragon on the other side of the windows. The dragon was circling in the air as if it were impatiently expecting a meal. How did Rex summon that dragon? Or

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more importantly, how do I summon a dragon? As I walked to the front door I remembered dripping blood on the dragon-emblem on my sword and that summoned the Green Dragon. I would try that again. Wait, I used a fire to heat my sword last time. Maybe that was important. What if I can’t summon a dragon with a cold sword? I stopped at the door and asked Tansao, “Can you get me a lighter?” She nodded. “Now?!” I said urgently. She bowed quickly, rushed to the front desk and came back in a hurry to hand me a lighter. She bowed again as I took it from her hand. “Thanks.” I bowed to her. Then I turned and bowed to the students. “If this is the last time that I see you all then I want you to remember me as dignified as I am right now. Respect and dignity are good reasons to fight. Power and glory are not. Of course, it’s just my opinion, but it’s the difference between me and Rex.” I bowed to them for the last time and turned to walk outside. Storm clouds darkened the sky and the shining Blue Dragon flashed from cloud to cloud….silently…and ready to strike. I pulled my eyes away and stared at Rex who was facing me from about twenty feet away. He bowed to me. I bowed to him. Now the battle was officially begun. I drew my sword, the special one given to me by Rex himself. He smiled and I wondered if this sword was somehow designed to bread if it

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was used against him. That could be part of the “Chinese secret.” But I was prepared for that. I had a ninjaken slung across my back. What I wasn’t prepared for was a dragon battle. I clicked the lighter and a small flame licked the blade of my jian. The dragon-design on the sword didn’t change. Rex laughed loudly. “How can you summon a dragon if you don’t believe?” Normally I don’t sweat, but I felt the heat of my face flushing with embarrassment. Chills ran all over my body and then sweat ran down into my eyes. My left hand began to shake as I held the lighter under the dragoninsignia on the blade. It didn’t seem to make a difference. The dragon insignia refused to glow. A slight breeze extinguished the lighter. I clicked the lighter repeatedly to make flame. “Give it up!” Rex taunted. “Without a dragon you’re nothing.” I didn’t answer, but I stopped using the lighter and felt the blade. It was cold. The heat of the flame wasn’t enough to heat the dragon symbol because it wasn’t enough to heat the entire blade. Energy conducted through the blade too fast and was dissipated into the air. Rex commanded, “Bow to me and beg for mercy!” I felt hopeless. I failed to summon a dragon and there was no way I could win without one. I stabbed the sword into the ground and kneeled beside the hilt. Rex shouted, “BEG!”

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I lowered my head, but I was too stubborn to beg. Instead I shut my eyes hard and said nothing…..as I waited for a quick death. Rex called to the sky, “Blue Dragon: Lightning Strike!” As soon as I heard his words I felt my hair standing up with static charge. Electricity seemed to be flowing up from the ground and through my body. I expected to explode as the lightning flashed so bright I could see intense white light with my eyes closed. The awesome power jolted me into the air. But I was still alive as thunder blasted my ears and I fell on my back. I opened my eyes and saw the great blue eyes of the blue dragon swimming in the air above me. Those eyes were not angry, but they were terrifying…so aggressive….so powerful. Was I really alive? I sat up and saw my sword glowing. The blade was white hot. The wood of the handle was smoking. Steam rose from the charred ground where the sword point was planted. The grass around the sword was blackened and smoking. Then I realized how I had survived. The sword was a kind of lightning rod. When I bowed next to it I was saved from the lightning strike. As the blade of the sword cooled to red hot I saw the glowing dragon symbol and realized this was my only chance. In a burst of action I drew the ninjaken from behind my head and used it to cut my right forearm. I held my arm above the smoking sword and dribbled fresh blood on it. The

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instant blood contacted the hot handle it sizzled and smoked. It failed to run down to the dragon symbol. So, I used the ninjaken to push the red-hot jian to make it lean sideways a little bit. Then I held my cut arm out so that blood fell on the dragon symbol. As the blood sizzled on the inscribed dragon I yelled up to the sky. “I call the Yellow Dragon! Come to me!” Then I looked at Rex and saw that he was not happy. Rays of light streamed through the clouds and lit up the sword. Then more rays parted the clouds and a brilliant golden beam shined like a spot light between us. It pushed away the darkness with radiant heat and so much light that my eyes hurt and I had to squint. I reached into my right front pocket and pulled out my sunglasses. With shades on I could momentarily look into the source of the powerful light and saw the outline of a dragon’s head and a shimering tail that looked like a comet, but I could not stand to gaze directly at it for more than a split second. My hope soared. I looked at Rex and saw him frowning. I called out, “Yellow Dragon, dry up the clouds and repel the Blue Dragon.” Instantly the light and heat increased so much that I had to shut my eyes and turn away with my hands over my face. It was so hot that I wondered if my clothes and hair might burst into flames. A few seconds later the heat wave ended. I turned to see Rex cowered with his hands over

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his face, but then he stopped and looked at his hands and must have realized he was okay. But he was not happy. He raised his right fist angrily. Rex shouted, “Blue Dragon, Lightning Strike.” As soon as I felt my hair standing up again I threw myself on the ground and laid flat near the sword that was still standing like a lightning rod. Again a jolt knocked me through the air and again I survived. I looked at the smoking sword. Only half of the wood remained on the burnt handle and the steel was white hot. That would be me if the Blue Dragon made a direct hit. I picked up the ninjaken and stabbed it into the ground a few feet from the jian. That way I had two lightning rods to protect me. So, I stayed crouched between the swords and looked up to see what was happening. In the sky I saw the Blue Dragon jumping from cloud to cloud, but the Yellow Dragon was burning away the clouds and pushing back the darkness. Soon there was no niding place for the Blue Dragon which seemed to be suffering in pain from the yellow light. The world shook with agonizing thunder as the Blue Dragon squirmed and struggled. Its blue tail tried to lash at me, but the Yellow Dragon caught the tail with a shining golden claw. More thunder pounded my ears with the suffering of the Blue Dragon. The beam of light seemed to be making the Blue Dragon fade away. It was so bright I had to hold a hand in front of my face and peer through my fingers. The roaring thunder diminished to a pathetic shrieking. I looked at Rex and saw that he was holding his arms folded across his chest. He stubbornly

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faced me even though his dragon was dying. He didn’t seem to care that he was loosing. Or maybe he was in denial and just couldn’t believe it. Obviously he didn’t care about the Blue Dragon. The miserable shrieks hurt my feelings and I felt sorry for the dragon that had been trying to kill me. I looked again and saw that it was shriveled and curled on its back with its legs up. I couldn’t stand it’s suffering anymore. “STOP!” I shouted. The dazzling beam of light stopped shining on the Blue Dragon. The Yellow Dragon came to hover above me. I glared at Rex. “How can you just stand there and let your dragon die?” I asked. “If I were you I would bleed to give the dragon mana.” Rex stood stubborn with his arms folded and his head cocked back, “You haven’t got what it takes to kill. Not me, not a dragon.....not even a fly.” Anger boiled up in me and I wanted to kill Rex with my bare hands around his neck. “You don’t care about anything except yourself. You don’t deserve to have anyone care about you. You certainly don’t deserve to have a dragon do your fighting. If you had any empathy you would bleed for your dragon and heal it.” Rex mocked me with sarcasm, “If you had any empathy you would bleed for your dragon.”

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I realized that if anyone was going to help the Blue Dragon it would have to be me. As much as I didn’t want to get struck by lightning the thing that scared me was that I couldn’t stop myself from doing the right thing. I pulled the ninjaken from the ground and cut my right forearm again. Fresh blood oozed from the cut and dripped onto the dragon symbol etched into the jian’s blade. I felt sorry for myself because I knew Rex was right. I didn’t have what it took to kill. Why didn’t I realize that before I challenged him? I remembered Etherea and the words she said on her death bed. How would she feel if she knew I was doing this? She cared about life and she deplored violence. What about a being that lives to fight? Could she care about a dragon? I looked up at the shriveled blue wretch and let the tears fill my eyes. I felt like I was attending my own funeral. A lump swelled up in my throat. I could not let the dragon die even if it meant my own death was sealed. Before my throat closed too much to speak I declared, “This is for you, Blue Dragon. Be HEALED!” The Blue Dragon heaved and its legs fell over, but it wasn’t looking well. I cut my arm deeper and let the blood gush out. A yellow beam of light landed on the dragon symbol and heated it white hot. I looked up at the living comet and said, “Thanks Yellow Dragon.” My blood vaporized as it made contact. Pulse after pulse my life blood gave the Blue Dragon the mana it needed to be healed. After a short

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while it was moving again. I felt woozy from loss of blood. I smiled as the Blue Dragon looked at me with electric blue eyes. They were different. They no longer terrified me. Yet they were awesome with powerful energy. I wondered if it was preparing for a strike, but my hair didn’t stand on end. I dropped the ninjaken and gripped the cut on my right arm to stop the bleeding. I felt dizzy and tired. I had to sit down. I had given too much blood. I was alive, but for how long? Blood escaped between my fingers and onto my legs as I sat cross legged in a daze. Rex laughed, “You gave too much blood. Now you’re too weak to fight. I win.” I said nothing. He was disgusting me with his taunts. He had no right to claim victory after I defeated his dragon and then healed it. Or maybe I was just too groggy to speak. Rex gloated, “Now I’ll sacrifice your life….that might make enough mana to awaken the ultimate dragon.” I looked up as Rex slowly walked towards me. I saw him draw his double sabers. “The ultimate dragon?” I heard my self ask. Rex grinned, “The Zen Dragon is the black belt of dragons. Whoever can awaken him will have the greatest power in the universe.” He cocked back his right sword and paused before the swing.

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I imagined my head rolling on the ground and hated the idea of him laughing over my corpse as his power increased. Instead I grabbed the ninjaken with my right hand and plunged the dirty tip into my own stomach. Rex gasped in surprise and it took a second for his eyes to register the frustration of having his victory was yanked away from him. But it must have hurt me more than it hurt him. Pain pierced my insides as I sliced through my guts from left to right. My last act was a dignified seppuku, but was honor enough to get me into heaven? I remembered Etherea’s words, ‘After every bad thing is stripped away….what will be left of you?’ I hoped there was something good in me because I wanted desperately to be with her. She promised to wait for me in heaven. But my impulsive nature had cost me my life before I had a chance to mature spiritually. It was too late to take back this mistake. What if I couldn’t make it to heaven? Would I spend eternity without her. Warmth fell away and the world grew dark. The only light was at the end of a long tunnel above. I tried to go up to the light, but something was holding me down. It seemed like time was slowing and I might be stuck in this dark tunnel ….forever trying to reach the light above. I strained with all my might, but I fell down…..down…..down. Or maybe the light was rising up away from me. Then I heard a voice. “How do you feel?” I recognized the voice of Dao speaking to me from the other side of death. Or maybe I was on the same side with him.

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When I opened my eyes I saw electric blue eyes looking down on me. They seemed normal sized instead of giant and awesome, but they were unmistakably the eyes of a blue dragon. But what really got my attention was the horrible pain in my guts. “Dao, is it you?” I heard myself ask in a rough voice. “Yes, it’s me, Dao.” “Am I dead?” I asked. “Yes.” The sky above was blue and puffy clouds seemed to be my resting place. “Am I in heaven?” I asked. “No.” “What?” “You died,” he said. “But you can’t get to heaven from here. You’re like me now, except you’re not blue.” “I’m dead?” I raised my arms and saw orange skin and claws with curved orange talons. Light passed through me as if I were transparent. “Not exactly, you’re a Kami…..in the form of a dragon.” “How?” “You killed yourself,” he answered. “If I’m dead, then why do I feel pain in my gut?” I asked. “When you killed yourself you inflicted a wound to your own spirit,” he explained, “If you let me I can seal it for you.”

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I looked into his electric blue eyes. “Why? Why do you………….care?” “Because you saved me.” Somehow I could tell he was smiling with his electric blue jaws. “Thanks,” he said. “Thanks to you, too,” I smiled back weakly. It was hard to act grateful when I was suffering from the slash across my belly. He held his left arm over my torso. With a talon on his right claw he cut his own wrist and let transparent blue drops fall on the wound of my belly. Electric crackling sounded as sparks appeared between the talons tips of his right claw. Then he lowered the crackling electric arc to my wound. Fierce burning pain caused me to grab his arm, “Ouch!” “You have to keep still if you want the wound sealed,” he said. “Otherwise you will spend the rest of eternity with your guts falling out.” I let go of his arm. When he continued I writhed in pain and groaned through my teeth, but I let him weld the wound shut. “Okay,” he said. “How is it now?” I felt my belly tenderly with my claws. It hurt severely, but it was better to have a painful scar than to let my guts fall out. “It hurts,” I said. “But it’s much better.” “You’re welcome,” he said. “Can you fly?” I rose up and spread my wings. The lighter than air feeling was wonderful. I noticed the blue dragon had no wings, yet he floated in the air

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with a slithering of his body like an eel swimming in water….except we were above a cloud in the sky. The blue dragon and I raced over the clouds that shimmered from the swirling of millions of white dragons. I never noticed them before, but I was eager to explore so we didn’t stop. We flew high into the sky where the air was thin and the blue sky faded away to black space and I saw the sparkling of angels. A shooting star came towards us and I stared in amazement at her beauty. “ETHEREA!” I shouted with joy. “Hi Rad!” The angel gave me a hug and she filled me with her love…..which took away the pain in my belly and made me feel happier than ever before. This was as close to heaven as a dragon could get.

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Ch 31

The blue dragon said, “There’s not enough moisture at this altitude. I have to go back.” I pulled back a little from my angel’s warm embrace. I asked Dao, “Where can I find you again?” “Just shout for me and I’ll find you.” He stopped flying and dropped from the edge of space. His serpentine form arched backward. He aimed his head towards the earth and let his slender body and long tail follow in a graceful slithering descent. Flying this high was very difficult and I couldn’t help losing altitude, but as I pulled Etherea down with me she heated up. “I can’t go down too far.” Etherea struggled to lift me back up to higher altitude. “Why?” I asked, but I knew I wouldn’t want to hear an answer. I just wanted her to stay with me.

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“Angels burn when they go down,” she said, desperately lifting me higher. As she pulled me to the edge of space I felt the cold stinging all over. I held tighter to Etherea to soak up her warmth. But when the smile returned to her face I was not well myself. I felt dizzy from lack of air and the cold stabbed all the way to my core. When my wings went numb and stopped working I felt myself slipping away from her. “I can’t hold on,” I said. “Rad…” She let herself fall with me and sparks flew from her hair. “No.” I pushed her away. “Don’t come down with me.” “But…” She hovered where the air molecules gave her an aura of hot sparks. “No,” I said. “I don’t want you to burn.” My cold wings were too numb and sluggish to keep me from falling further down. “But…I love you.” She said. “I love you, too.” I tried to smile at her, but my lips were too frozen. My eyes drank her in the sight of her as I fell away remembering our first kiss. “You need to ascend as soon as you can.” She floated higher into the cool of space where she was safe. “What?” “You need to ascend,” she said, “If you want to be with me.”

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“I do!” I said, “but how??” “You have to ASCEND,” she answered. “What?” I was still falling. It was getting warmer, but I was still too cold to fly. “Meditate….listen…..and He will tell you.” She appeared smaller as I fell further away from her. I shouted, “Who will tell me?” I barely heard her across the growing distance when she answered, “Just close your eyes and listen.” But I couldn’t close my eyes. I didn’t want to lose sight of my shining angel. Even as the sky turned blue and she disappeared I strained to look up. I knew she was still there just out of reach. She was waiting for me, but I was afraid to go to her again. She might decide to let herself fall with me and I didn’t want her to burn. Not for me. I had to figure out how to rise above the air. Was that why she wanted me to…....ascend? Already I missed her and I wanted to be with her again as soon as possible. I needed to think and figure out what to do. The rushing air felt good as it bathed me in delightful warmth. I plunged deeper and deeper into the warmth and felt tingles of life filling my dragon spirit from head to tail. With my wings extended I glided through the turbulent air and wondered if it would be possible for Etherea to become a dragon. But of course, I knew she didn’t have the spirit of a dragon and

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she never would. Now that I was flying over the green hills I saw the true nature of life. There were millions of green dragons. It seemed like there was a green dragon defending each kind of tree. Every plant was fighting to survive and it was protected by a fierce dragon. Flicking tails and snarling teeth kept most of them at uneasy peace, but in some places sporadic fighting erupted. I was keenly interested in watching the fights, but they ended so quickly that I barely saw them before they were over. I landed on a rocky hill and looked out over a clear river winding through a green valley. A blue dragon swam down the river and snapped at green dragons to keep trees from encroaching into the water. Dragons were everywhere, defending life, defending the elements of life, and keeping a delicate balance between tolerance and violence. A gentle breeze blew through me. It went through me. Strange! Am I just a ghost? I clawed at the rocky hill, but I made no scratches. What?! I felt alive yet I wasn’t quite physical. I tried to pick up a stone, but instead I saw my claws go through it. I felt the inside of the stone and then the air. I could feel it, but not move it. That was the moment I was forced to accept the fact that I was a spirit. “I am ……a Kami.” I heard myself whisper. My old life was gone. I had to get used to this new way of being. I closed my eyes and let the warm sun soak through my orange eye lids.

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Warmth felt so good. So what if I couldn’t move things, at least I could still feel. A soft wind blew my emotions and thoughts away. I enjoyed the emptiness of mind and let new bliss come into me. Just knowing that Etherea was waiting for me made me feel happy. A low voice said, “Listen.” I jumped a little as I opened my eyes and looked around. “What? Who said that?” There was no one to be seen. My nerves calmed and I remembered what Etherea told me. She said ‘Listen.’ I was to meditate and listen for instructions on how to ascend. I closed my eyes and let myself relax again. The easy wind blew through me and I felt a tingling deep inside. After a few minutes of meditating I heard the low voice again. “Are you with me?” My thoughts answered, “Yes, I hear you.” “Are you with me?” The low voice was a little stronger, but it seemed to be coming from inside me. “I’m right here.” I felt childishly ignorant. “What do I do?” “You will help Tansao….and I will help you.” I asked, “What can I do? I’m just a spirit.”

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The low voice said, “You have a good heart, so I will give you powers.” The tingling inside bloomed into a vibrating rush that filled me with euphoria. A strong sense of gratitude melted my body and I had to catch my balance to keep from falling sideways. “Thank you,” I said. “Go now.” The low voice said from inside me. “When you are done I will teach you how to ascend.” “Then I can be with Etherea?” I asked. “Yes.” “Okay.” Excitement filled my dragon spirit with energy. My wings lifted me up from the rocky hill as I opened my eyes. I couldn’t wait. Soaring over the land I looked down at the squares and rectangles of farms. Above a long highway I traveled, somehow knowing the way to find Tansao. I couldn’t wait to tell Tansao everything that happened. And I couldn’t wait to discover my new powers.

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Ch 32

I found Tansao at a football stadium. There was no game and the place was deserted. She sat alone on concrete stairs in the shade. Her eyes were closed and her hands rested on her knees palms up with middle fingers touching her thumbs in meditation posture. Short brown hair did not take away the feminine softness of her face, but the horizontal scar on her left cheek and the knotted ridge of her nose were enough to show that her life had not been so soft. She used to blame it on her looks. When she told me that I was the only man that didn’t try to molest her it was the first of many long talks in confidence. I was the first man she ever trusted….and the only one….because I was her friend, nothing more. She went through many boyfriends because they failed her tests. The only one she would respect was one who wanted no other girl, only her. I wondered if Boomba had failed her, too. It looked like she was all alone in the world. Now she must be very lonely without me to hold her trust and share mutual respect.

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In kung fu the move called tansao defended against a strike by using a twisting thrust straight into the line of attack. She never tolerated people trying to touch her, so this technique was a fitting name for her, Tansao. But being defensive all the time made her solitary. If it wasn’t for martial arts she would have no friends in the world. And now she must be mourning the absence of me, her best friend and teacher. If she was suffering it was my fault. I had been so absorbed by the new things I discovered in the afterlife that I had forgotten about the troubles of living people left behind. Seeing Tansao reminded me of responsibilities that I had abandoned by the act of seppuku. I was so selfish. Was this why I did not ascend? A tear rolled from her left cheek and stopped on her scar. Then another tear streamed down her right cheek. Yes, she was sad. I wanted to comfort her, but my right claw when through her shoulder because I was a kami, without physical substance. Yet I could feel through her and feel her emotions as well as the texture of her muscles, tendons and bones. With my claw I felt her aching pain. I leaned into her and put my head into her head, my heart into her heart. The shock overpowered me. Tears welled up in my eyes so I couldn’t see. A lump closed my throat so I couldn’t breath. My body convulsed in agony worse than death….and I knew the pain of death was not this bad because I had already died. My tail squirmed and tried to find something to wrap around, but as a ghost tail it went through things

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instead of catching hold of chairs. All my strength exhausted in spasms until I sat tired and still in her body. Her suffering overwhelmed me. I don’t know how she managed such suffering. Was it like this all the time for her? How could she sit here so calmly? My eyes were swollen shut and I tasted the warm salt of her tears. Heavy sadness crushed my heart. I felt her sorrow and wondered if I could change it. I forced myself to remember holding Etherea in my arms, but it seemed that romantic love was rejected by Tansao because it didn’t help her out of depression. So, I tried other memories. My visions of flying over green valleys began to push away the darkness of her doubts. I remembered landing on a rocky hill and relishing the warm sun on my face. I remembered the wind blowing through me and the fatherly voice speaking inside me. Then I felt a smile on Tansao’s face. She must have experienced my memories and emotions, too. She never had a father in her life, so maybe the fatherly voice was what she needed most. I focused on memories of that deep voice: The feelings of unconditional love that He gave me. The patient and understanding voice made her happy. Tears dried away and her heart felt lighter. I was relieved. She seemed to crave more of these new thoughts and emotions, so I decided to show her my story, to let her know what happened to me after I died. I recalled waking up to discover that Dao was a blue dragon. I remembered our talk and the feeling of flying over shining clouds full of white dragons. I took her flying up to the edge of space where the sky

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would look black if it weren’t for the infinity of sparkling angels. We watched in amazement as Etherea came down like a shooting star. Then I showed her my fall back to earth and let her feel the memory of soaring over the earth. She saw the blue dragons of the waters and the green dragons of the animals and plants. Then we relived my conversation with the inner voice including the mission to help Tansao…and the gift of powers….and the promise of ascension. When I pulled away from her I saw that she was smiling. Her eyes opened and looked through me. “I know you’re here Mister Rad.” “Yes, I’m here,” I said, but I knew she couldn’t hear me. “I felt you inside me,” she said. “Actually, it was more like I was inside you….I know everything that happened to you, like I was there….. it was soooo real.” She stood up and frowned. “It was real. I saw the afterlife.” She crossed her arms and held her shoulders in a self-hug. “I know what it feels like to be hugged by an angel.” She sat down again and closed her eyes. Slowly she whispered, “I know what it sounds like to hear the voice …..of God.” Tansao sat in silence for a while before she was distracted by the noise of people. The look on her face alarmed me. Far below a crowd poured onto the field. I flew down to see what was happening. Rex was

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leading senior students and pointing and smiling as he talked loudly. Hundreds of new students followed his group. The closer I came to him the more I realized how big the troubles were growing. “This is the new Temple.” Rex declared proudly. “We own this?!” Long shook his head incredulously. “I can’t believe it!” Saber turned in two circles surveying the size of the stadium. Rex bragged with a bold grin, “We’ll train hundreds of Dragons here.” “Awesome!” Boomba punched the sky and pumped his fist. Rex added loudly, “And soon we’ll buy more stadiums and train more Dragons.” “Cool!” Shouted Kazi. “Do we get to be on TV?” Rex said, “Now that we have our own channel on cable……we’ll all be stars on TV.” “Wicked!” yelled Musashi. “I can’t wait to see myself on TV….decapitating people’s heads off!” “You idiot,” said a young man with tan skin and long black hair pulled back in a pony tail. “Decapitating means cutting people’s heads off. It’s redundant to say ‘decapitating people’s heads off.” His white T-shirt had a red circle with a white swan hovering above a serpentine black dragon. There were Thai characters in calligraphy above the red circle and below the

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circle were English words saying Swan over Dragon. The most unusual thing about him was the fact that he wore a white shirt in a crowd of black shirts. Musashi jumped into an aggressive stance with both of his hands at his left side gripping the handles of his katana and wakizashi. “You tryin’ to teach somethin’ …..to ME?!” The guy in the white T-shirt said nothing, but he stepped back. Musashi sneered in a raspy deep voice, “I thought so.” Then he growled, “This ain’t grammar school. The only lessons around here ….are how to fight…..or how to die.” Kazi walked up and said cheerfully, “You know this guy?” He pointed a thumb sideways at the young man in the blue shirt. “Kong’s way bad with Thai swords.” Kong started to correct Kazi’s bad grammar, “’Way bad?’ You mean….” He stopped when his eyes met Musashi’s glare and then Kong grumbled, “Never mind.” Kazi tried to egg on the fight, “Go for it Kong, you can take him.” Musashi stepped menacingly closer, but Kong calmly stood his ground. “Hey!” interrupted Rex. “Save it for the Red Dragon festival. You’ll get your chance to kill each other after we build a tower …..right…… THERE.” He pointed to the center of the football field. Then he yelled,

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“Okay Dragons, lets get started. We’re building a tower. it! Move it!”

NOW!

Move

Kazi waited until Rex was out of range before continuing to talk with Kong, “Hey, what’s that mean, ‘Swan over Dragon?’” Kong frowned at him, “If you don’t know then you’re not old enough for me to tell you.” He walked away in disgust. “It’s a sex thing isn’t it?” Kazi grinned with his upper lip curled enough to show his jagged, chipped upper teeth. “You got some when you were in Thailand, didn’t you?” Kong didn’t answer. Kazi teased behind his back, “Yeah, I know what you did in Bangkok.” Kong kept walking like it didn’t bother him, but it did bother me. I felt angry that Kazi was purposely trying to stir up trouble. He had no sensitivity. If Kong was in Thailand maybe he was there to see ancient temples. If he did meet girl there it wasn’t anybody’s business. I decided somebody should teach Kazi a lesson. So, I whipped Kazi with my tail. Instantly I saw the expression on his face change. His evil grin faded and a frown appeared. In a daze he stood there as if he was experiencing something for the first time. His mouth dropped open and he looked around. It seemed he was just now aware of being alone, without friends. Then he jogged to catch up with Kong.

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“Hey man, I was just kidding…..wait up.” Kong turned to give him an angry look and a scolding, “Look, if you wanna hang with me…..you gotta show respect.” Kazi apologized, “Sorry man.” He fake punched Kong’s left shoulder. “If you mean it then you will say it with a bow.” Kazi bowed, “Sorry…….friends?” Kong bowed in return. “We’ll see.” “Thanks, man.” “But you’re on probation, so don’t get too comfortable.” Kazi walked along side of Kong. He said, “If respectin’ is so important then how come you corrected Musashi?” “I guess I forgot what it was like to be criticized.” Kong answered. “I’ve been in Thailand so long …..people were non-confrontational. I forgot how to get along with aggressive jerks.” “Man, you gotta be careful what you say.” Kazi put his arm around his new friend. “Everybody here caries at least one sword. So, where’s yours?” “In my car.” “Well, let’s go get ‘em.” With his right hand Kazi reached to his left side and pulled out a sword. He offered the handle to Kong, “It’s a US Marines saber. Check it out.”

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As Kong admired the gold hilt that curved around the handle and read the markings on the blade he asked, “Is it real?” Kazi bragged, “Looks real, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s a copy. I bought it cheap at a dollar store…..” He continued talking about his sword as they walked out of the stadium.

I flew back to Tansao. Saber and Long were walking up the steps towards her, but I arrived first. I wanted to tell her what just happened when I tail whipped Kazi. I put my head into hers and recalled the memory. I could feel her astonishment. Together we realized that it must be one of my powers…..I could affect people’s emotions. We wondered if it was a power that all dragons had and we wondered what other powers I might have. When Saber and Long bowed in greeting I decided to hover nearby. Excitedly Tansao said with a big smile, “Something wonderful happened!” They acted shocked to see her happy. “What?” they both said at once. “I….” She began. “Yeah…?” Saber prodded. “He….” Tansao seemed to have trouble expressing. “He?” Long asked.

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Tansao held up her hands. “I can’t tell you.” She motioned to the concrete stairs. “Sit down and close your eyes.” “What?” Saber objected. “Why?” Long asked. “You’ll see.” Tansao sat down and they joined her. “Close your eyes.” They all sat with eyes closed. Tansao whispered. “Listen.” “Listen for what?” Asked Saber in an impatient tone. “Shhhhhhhhhh.” Tansao silenced the questions. Then she whispered softly, “I was very sad, so I meditated here and tried to clear my mind. After a while I felt a tingling inside. Warm and happy emotions filled my body and I saw visions.” Saber spoke in a whisper, “That’s nice, but why do we…..” “Shhhhhhhh.” Tansao silenced her again. “He’s still here. ……..listen.” Long opened his eyes and glanced around. Then he closed his eyes and sat still. The two girls sat together and Long sat next to Saber, opposite of Tansao. I flew into the middle of them and wrapped my wings around all three of them. Many feelings came at the same time with curiosity leading four spirits into one shared experience. I felt their hearts beat faster as I took

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them for a ride in my memories of flying. I felt Long’s mixed emotions as he realized that Dao was not gone, but was now a blue dragon. He was sorry to have killed Dao and the wound of guilt reopened, but it was a relief for him to see Dao enjoying the afterlife. He was also reassured to feel Saber’s emotions and know that she had never wanted Dao. Saber was glad to feel Longsword’s true intentions and know that he did not have romantic desire for Tansao. And this fact was very good for Tansao because she had previously withheld her trust from him. Sharing of thoughts and emotions helped her gain him as a new best friend. In this manner we all came to know each other as our true selves. It made me care about them infinitely more and I knew they felt the same way for me and each other. I wondered if this was the way to ascension. I wanted to keep sharing these good feelings and I prayed for ascension. But Tansao asserted her thoughts over mine. She insisted we had an important mission and it wasn’t time for me to go, not yet. She insisted, We have to stop Rex.

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Ch 33

We were deep in meditation when the noise caught my attention to the physical world. The stadium was filled with synchronized shouts, “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!.....” I saw a completed wooden tower in the center of the field. Hundreds of young men filled the field, except for a circular clearing near the tower. In that circle were three guys standing in face to face in a showdown. The crowd encouraged them to “FIGHT!” Quickly, I flew down to see who it was. Musashi had his hands on his sword handles. Kazi stood glaring for a long time letting the crowd’s chants fuel his indignation. Slowly he raised his right arm and wiped his face. All at once the crowd fell silent in anticipation. Musashi growled, “You should have considered yourself honored wear my spit on your face.”

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Kong pushed Kazi back and then he faced Musashi. “Don’t pick on him. He’s a newbie.” Musashi blasted, “He’s a disrespectful jerk. Just like you.” His face reddened with anger. The veins of his neck swelled and pulsed faster with increasing readiness to fight. Kong didn’t react. His breathing stayed easy and his face didn’t flush. “I respect you…..” after a long pause he calmly said, “But I’m not afraid of you.” Musashi tried to show restraint. “Well, then…if you’re not afraid.....why don’t you reach for your swords?” Kong’s hands froze in front of his belly, inches away from the long wooden handles at each side. Schiavona broke into the circle and ordered with a shout, “STOP!” She stepped between them and faced Musashi. “Rex said the TV crew isn’t ready yet.” She turned to Kong, “If you guys wanna fight, that’s fine, but you better wait until you’re on the tower and everything’s ready.” As she began to walk away she warned, “Or else…..” Musashi jeered, “Or else, what?” She turned and winked at him, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Schiavona turned and pushed her way through the crowd of bloodthirsty young men. “Outta my way!” She barked with a contemptuous smile as she punched faces and twisted arms to make them clear a path for her.

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I flew back to Tansao, Long and Saber. They were watching the field from high in the stands. Tansao said, “When they put the fight on live TV that will be the best time to make our move.” Long agreed, “Yeah, if they see us on TV then the whole world will know we defied Rex.” Saber worried, “You really think we can stop him?” Tansao said, “We have to….he’s turning martial arts into a religion of death.” Long added, “It’s almost like the Mayans. Remember that movie, Apocolypto? How long will it be until Rex builds pyramids and forces people to watch their hearts getting cut out?” He held up his right hand to Saber and clutched something imaginary. “How would you like to see your heart….still beating in his hand?” Saber protested, “He wouldn’t do that.” Long argued, “What do you think will happen when nobody volunteers for a duel? After all the preparations….. all the work of building a tower…..with all the people watching on TV expecting to see blood…..all his ambitions of waking the Black Dragon…What do you think he will do when he wants more power and he doesn’t care about you or me or anybody else.” Saber asked, “What does the Black Dragon do?”

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“I don’t know,” Long said. “But I heard Rex say it was the black belt of dragons.” “So…” Tansao mused, “How many dragons does it take to beat a black dragon.” Dao’s voice came from behind me. “You can’t beat the Black Dragon.” I turned to see an electric blue dragon slithering through the air without need of wings. I turned back and realized the teens were not aware of the blue dragon’s presence. In fact, both of us were invisible to them. “What do you know about the Black Dragon?” I asked. Dao answered, “I’ve been asking around. Lots of other dragons have been telling legends about it, but nobody has ever seen it.” “So, what do the legends say?” “In the beginning there was nothing…..no heavens, no earth, no karma, nothing. The Black Dragon was that nothingness and it was perfectly still and quiet. It was Zen. Then the Black Dragon heard a voice inside and the nothingness was disturbed into something. That was how the universe and everything was created out of nothing.” I thought that story sounded interesting, “But what’s so scary about that?” “They say that the Black Dragon can also turn everything into nothing.”

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“What?” I stammered, “You mean he could destroy the entire universe?” “Yes,” Dao said. “The purpose of the Black Dragon is to recycle the universe.” “Are you kidding?” Dao shook his head, “No. Everything dies and is reborn in the cycle….even the universe.” I tossed up my claws and shook my head high, but restrained myself from cursing the heavens. I knew Etherea might be watching me. “That’s ridiculous.” “That’s the legend.” Dao replied. “So, what makes the Black Dragon wake up?” I asked. “They say it takes a lot of mana….enough to substantiate a thousand dragons.” “That’s a lot of blood,” I wondered aloud, “how many people have to die for that?” “A lot.” Dao turned and gazed at the football field full of young people. “You think…?” I was shocked to imagine it suddenly. “Yes, I think that’s what Rex is planning.” “How do we stop it?” I asked. “I thought you would know what to do.”

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I thought for a moment, “If Rex wants to summon the Black Dragon then he needs to make a lot of sacrifices….and we need to stop the killing. Go get as many dragons as you can and bring them back here. If Rex starts spilling a lot of blood we need friends who can absorb the mana so that it doesn’t wake the Black Dragon.” “Okay.” Dao hesitated. “What are you gonna do?” “I’m going to try to communicate with them.” I pointed my right claw-hand at the thee teens next to us. “They need to know what’s about to happen.” “What can they do?” Dao sounded skeptical. “They’re Dragons!” I replied. “They just happen to be trapped in human bodies.” Dao was surprised at me, “You mean you’re gonna kill them?” “No…..” I paused because I felt tingling sensations inside me. Something inside me was trying to guide my thoughts, so I relaxed and let it have it’s way. “I’m going to …..teach them transcendental meditation.”

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Ch 34

As I flew down to the field I passed over Boomba. I wondered why he was carrying a camping stove up the steps, but there was a lot of commotion at the tower so I went on. Musashi climbed the ladder furthest from the escape rope. Kong went up the opposite ladder at the same pace, but from my perspective at the top of the tower I saw that he would soon be at a disadvantage. When they both reached the platform Musashi moved strategically to cast a shadow on Kong’s face. When they bowed a strong spot light shined from behind Musashi. It was excellent strategy, worthy of a real Samurai. However, Kong was closest to the escape rope, so he was free to get away at anytime. After the bow Musashi drew his bokken, a wooden sword, and held the blade pointing straight up with the handle beside his right ear using both hands for a strong grip. Then he stood absolutely still. Kong adjusted his mong kon, a ritual head band, then he drew both of his Krabi swords. They were thin and flexible like long machetes. Their

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wooden handles were long and round with a circular brass hilt on each one. He put the blades together, horizontally at chest level, and held the blades with his hands in the center and bowed again. Musashi remained frozen like a statue dressed in a brown kimono with a black belt holding his swords. A red headband was pulled up high on his forehead and his dark hair was bunched and messy. Kong took the swords by the handles and slowly turned left with an exaggerated step holding his bare foot high in the air. Then he turned his back on Musashi and slow motion sliced the air as he made other exaggerated high steps. For several minutes he continued this dance, always turning counterclockwise. Beads of sweat formed on his bare arms as he faced Musashi and kneeled to the ground. He placed his swords on the platform and bowed, turned left and bowed again. He turned and bowed two more times until he faced Musashi again. Then he picked up his swords and stood up. Fire burst into life on the legs of the wooden tower. Home-made napalm burned orange with sooty black smoke rising up beside the tower. There was no more time for pre-fight rituals. Suddenly Kong charged while chopping the air with his right sword from upper right to lower left and then it circled back and up to the upper right ready position. Then his left sword chopped the air from upper left to lower right and circled back around to the upper left. He continued this

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right, left alternating attack as he closed the distance. Musashi remained still without a flinch or even the blink of an eye. At the last moment Musashi evaded with a swift diagonal move to his left. Kong’s right sword was stuck at an angle deep in middle of the wooden sword. As Musashi reached his right hand across his body to draw his katana Kong’s foot trapped Musashi’s right forearm against his own belly. Musashi was knocked backwards by a push-kick, but he drew his katana as he fell and rolled. He was on his feet before Kong could hack the bokken off of his right sword. Kong swung his swords again in right, left slashing attacks and charged again. This time there was no spot light behind Musashi, but he was holding a steel blade high over his head with both hands gripping the long handle. As Kong came within striking range the steel clanged loud. The echo came back after Musashi had forced his blade in a powerful downstrike through Kong’s weaker single-handed attack. This time Kong stood with the spot light behind his back. Just out of range Musashi grinned as he pointed his katana. Kong looked down at the cut on his own right arm. The opened flesh was a pink slash across a rainbow colored tattoo of an oriental dragon. Blood began to ooze up and run down his arm across the dragon tattoo. Kong fumed, “You cut my tat.” I saw vapors rising from the blood and was drawn to it. The moment I smelled the blood a surge rushed through my body and euphoria vibrated in

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my head. The power of the mana took over my brain and I couldn’t help wanting more bloodshed. But they didn’t continue the fight. Musashi and Kong stared directly at me….as if they could see me. I flew upwards and their eyes followed me. Then I realized I was not invisible anymore. Everyone was staring at me. A thousand faces watched me flap my wings and for the first time I heard the rushing sound of my wings beating the air. Bloodlust overpowered me and caused me to dive at Kong. With my right claw I grabbed his bleeding arm and with my left claw I scratched for more blood. As the wound oozed fresh red liquid I sniffed for the vapors of mana, but there were none. My disappointment turned to anger when I realized that a dragon can’t get mana by taking blood. Mana only comes from sacrificed blood. I pushed the useless boy towards a wide eyed Musashi and roared, “FIGHT!” They did not fight. Instead they stood gaping at me. Seeing the horror in their faces awoke feelings of sympathy. Then shame. “Sorry,” I rumbled in a guilty voice. They just stared with their mouths hanging open. The crackle and echoing sound of stadium loudspeakers carried Rad’s voice over everyone, “Who did that?” Nobody spoke up.

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“Who summoned that dragon?” Rex demanded. Musashi looked at Kong and shrugged. “It wasn’t me.” Kong shook his head slowly, “I didn’t do it.” I tried to whisper, but it must have sounded scary to them, “It’s me, Mister Rad.” Musashi spoke sideways to Kong, “Did the dragon say something?” Kong said, “I think it said ‘meat tasted bad’…..that’s why it didn’t eat me.” “No,” I whispered again, “I’m Mister Rrrrrad.” They didn’t get it. Rex’s voice boomed, “I want to know who summoned that dragon!” I looked out over the crowd below. The platform was about thirty feet above a sea of people. At the same level was a well lit area next to the bleachers. Rex stood on an elevated stage and he was surrounded by cameras and people. Above him was a giant screen displaying his angry face. Again I spoke to the boys, but louder this time, “Listen, ….I’m …Mister …..Rad.” They frowned at me with uncertainty as they tried to comprehend the meaning of words that came from my dragon mouth. Rex also seemed uncertain, “Mister Rad?”

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I looked at Rex. I must be on TV, I thought. Do they have zoom microphones listening to everything I say? “Hey dragon,” Rex said, “Did you say your name was Mister Rad?” Since the fighting had stopped and I had everyone’s attention I began to think that I could influence people ….now that I was a dragon…..and on TV. “Yeah,” I answered. “It’s me.” The crowd gasped. “How…..?” Rex began. “After I died I woke up as a spirit,” I explained, “but I wasn’t human.” Rex mused, “Interesting….is that what happens to everybody who dies?” “No, but I saw a lot of dragon spirits…..so I’m not the only one.” Rex’s attitude changed, “How do we know you’re telling the truth? Tell us something only Rad would say.” I thought for a moment, “Uhhhhhhh…..well……the first time I met you, we started fighting …….and I hit you in the side of the head with a bottle.” “That’s right!” declared Rex. “So…….if you died and became a dragon…….then I don’t have to train kids how to fight.” “Yeah, I was going to say…” my dragon voice was drowned by the loudspeakers.

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Rex continued, “All I gotta do is sacrifice them and they will be real dragons at my command.” To my shock and horror I saw Rex jump from the elevated stage and draw his swords. From the hilts blasted torch flames half way up the blades. Cameramen did their best to catch the action as Rex slashed an innocent bystander. Rex shouted to the heavens, “I call the Red Dragons!” Shaking of the earth made the tower lean. Musashi ran for the escape rope and descended quickly. The crowd panicked as people yelled ‘EARTH QUAKE!’ But when the field split open out came a red monster. It was serpentine with eight legs and large pincers on its face. Two long feelers prodded the ground as it crawled. People ran from it, but it spit on a young man causing him to fall in the slime. His shrieks ended when the pincers cut him in half. Then the vicious thing chased down another victim. It didn’t fly, but it was a fast enough to catch people who were too crowded to escape the stadium. Then I noticed there were two red dragons in the killing spree. As I stared in disbelief I saw a red dragon erupt from below a human corpse. It snipped the body in half and ran after live game. This process repeated so that every dead body brought forth another red dragon. The carnage grew exponentially.

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Lightning struck a red dragon and it fell over. Overhead I saw two blue dragons diving into the stadium. Unfortunately, I saw another red dragon erupt from under the dead one. Rex was also on a rampage. He slashed arms and severed heads as he walked…..and he was making his way towards the tower. I guessed he was after me. The tower leaned and Kong yelped. For a long second he teetered on the edge waiving his arms trying to regain his balance. I lunged and caught his arms as he fell off the platform. I couldn’t set him on the ground with the red dragons, so I carried him across the field and up the bleachers to safety with Tansao, Saber and Long. They were amazed to see me up close. Boomba asked, “Are you really Mister Rad?” “It’s me.” I said. Tansao, Saber and Long were sitting in meditation poses, bodies facing each other in a triangle. Tansao asked me, “Is it time?” “Yes. It was time to get started a while ago.” Tansao gave orders to Boomba, “Light the stove, now! Hurry!” After Boomba clicked his lighter blue flames rose up and licked the sword lying across the gas grill. The three teens closed their eyes and sat still with their hands joined together.

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“What’s going on?” asked Kong. “They’re meditating,” Boomba answered. “What?!” Kong replied. “This place is about to get swarmed with red dragons and they’re meditating?” “Shhhhhhh!” I glared at Kong until he closed his mouth with a frown. It must have been hard for them to focus their minds on emptiness while chaos clamored in the stadium. Tansao began to hum loudly, “Ohmmmmm.” The others joined in, “Ohmmmmm, ohmmmmm.” We all hummed, “Ohmmmmm” as loud as we could and kept going even after the three fell silent. It seemed like forever to me. I worried that red dragons might be crawling up towards us already. I kept humming until I saw the three droop and their faces went slack. Then the edges of their bodies looked fuzzy. Feint colors at the edges became transparent kamis rising up. Tansao was a brown dragon. Saber was a green dragon and Long was a blue dragon. Boomba and Kong were still acting like they didn’t see anything. I said, “Blood!” “What?” asked Kong. “They need blood, NOW!” I pointed at the sword on the fire. “I think the blade is hot now.” Kong went to the stove and cut his right forearm with one of his own swords. Then he dribbled blood onto the hot sword. “Make sure it gets on the dragon symbol,” I said.

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“I know what I’m doing,” said Kong in agitation. I watched the three dragon spirits and was pleased to see them substantiate. Boomba and Kong jumped in alarm when three dragons appeared suddenly before their eyes. “Let’s go!” I said in a hurry. “Wait!” Tansao objected. “We need weapons.” “We have claws and teeth,” I scratched the air and showing my fangs. “That’s good,” She said, “but swords are better.” She took a jian sword from her own sleeping body. Long and Saber grabbed swords from their sleeping forms. I didn’t want a sword, but Tansao insisted I take one of hers. Then we bowed to Kong and Boomba and leaped into the air. I dove for the low ground of the field and saw humans with swords fighting red dragons. Long soared high and blasted lightning. He pointed his sword to direct the lightning, but it didn’t go straight where he aimed. Instead it forked and zigzagged to another blue dragon. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt the blue dragon. I figured that they must be immune to electricity. Tansao smashed directly into a red dragon and cut off its legs. As the mangled beast thrashed wildly she jumped at another red dragon. I realized her strategy was to wound the red dragons so they couldn’t fight, but not to kill them….or else fresh monsters would come out of the ground. My sword cut a pincer off of a red dragon,

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but slime stuck to the blade and made it sag. I realized the slime was melting the end of my sword. A human with a sword came at me. “FRIENDS!” I shouted. He stopped and turned to whack a red dragon in half. “Don’t kill ‘em. Just wound ‘em,’” I yelled. The guy looked at me a moment, “Oh, good idea…..thanks.” “Don’t thank me,” I said. “Thank Tansao. It was her idea.” We bowed to each other and went on fighting red dragons. I only had three quarters of a blade left, but it still worked for hacking red limbs. “RAD! Is that you?” Rex’s voice called to me from a ways off. “Yeah, it’s me!” I yelled back. “Come over here!” He shouted. I hacked my way there and found him fighting humans instead of red dragons. “What are you doing?” I heard myself ask. I still couldn’t believe all this mess was his doing. “I want to be a dragon like you,” Rex yelled. “You’re crazy!” I shouted. “Turn me into a dragon,” He ordered. “No way!” “Make me a dragon, or else!” He insisted. “Or else what?” I said. “You’ll kill me? I’m not afraid of death.” “What’s wrong with you?” he shouted angrily at me.

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“Me?! You’re the one who’s messed up.” I argued. “You’re fighting against your own kind.” He said with great disapproval. “I don’t like red dragons,” I said as I held my sword high preparing for a down-strike on a red enemy. “How about black dragons, then.” He smirked at me as he sliced a young woman’s head off. I was close enough to see the shock in her eyes as her head fell to the grass. The life faded quickly from her eyes and blood soaked her bleach blonde hair at the neck line where her shoulders used to be. Then her body slumped to the ground next to her head. Her left hand was still clutching a sword, but slowly the fingers relaxed and the handle slipped away. I recognized her. “YOU!” I was instantly so angry that I threw the remainder of my sword at Rex. He pivoted and turned his body sideways so that my sword missed him. He laughed and taunted, “So much for the jian being the king of swords!” “You killed Tansao’s sister!” I shouted as I lunged at him with my claws.

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I felt a sting on the left side of my neck as I squeezed his throat in my claws. My left arm went numb and fell limp. With my right claw I continued choking Rex. I wasn’t afraid of dying again. I just wanted to squeeze the life out of Rex. Another sting on the left side of my head. I think my ear was gone, but I didn’t stop fighting. I heard a scream of fury and out of the corner of my eye I saw Tansao holding her sister’s head. I wanted to finish Rex before I faded away, but I was feeling woozy and losing my strength. I tried to bite his face, but instead the tip of his sword stabbed into my mouth. My own blood choked my throat so that I couldn’t breath. Still we struggled to kill each other. As his blade rose high for a down-strike I raised my right claw to block. His sword came down, but I couldn’t stop it. Instead it swished through me like I wasn’t even there. I’m done, I realized. I’m just a kami now. Tansao, in the form of a muscular brown dragon attacked Rex and stabbed his leg. He slashed her arm causing her to drop her sword. She held up her sister’s head in her left claw. “Look!” She showed Rex the bloody head. “She didn’t even become a dragon spirit. What did you do to her?” “Her mana was sacrificed,” he answered. “When enough people are turned into mana the Black Dragon will awaken.” “You wanna destroy the whole universe?!” She shrieked. “No.”

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“That’s what’ll happen if you summon the Black Dragon,” She scolded. “You’re lying.” She pointed a talon at him. “You’re an idiot. You should know that lying is one thing I never do.” “I don’t believe you.” He jabbed his right sword into Tansao’s right shoulder and shouted up to the heavens. “I call the Black Dragon.” “Nooooooo!” She screamed. The sky lit up with continuous lightning for two long seconds. Thunder boomed and pounded the earth. Red spirits rose up from the red dragons leaving their bodies to fall and dissintigrate on the ground. The red spirits swirled into the sky making a counterclockwise vortex of red haze. In the center was pure black, no stars, nothing. As the red storm swirled faster and faster it opened the black hole wider and wider. The look in Tansao’s face was dreadful. For a moment I thought of going into her to take away her agony by giving her my good memories. Then I had an idea. It seemed to be coming from deep inside. It told me to go into Rex instead. So I put my head into his head and my heart into his heart. I felt his power lust and bitter envy. I felt his hatred for everyone who didn’t do what he wanted. I felt his anger because he should have been born a king. His feelings were about to take me over so, I forced myself to look at Tansao’s face and see her pain. I looked at the severed head in her

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clutches. I watched the tears streaming from Tansao’s great brown dragon eyes. Soon I felt a shudder in Rex’s body. His anger was driven away by empathy. Tears welled up in Rex’s eyes. I knew that this was the first time his tears ever came for someone other than himself. His thoughts of remorse overwhelmed my brain and his self pity made me feel like killing myself, again. Nooooo! I told him with my thoughts. Don’t sacrifice yourself. The Black Dragon is about to wake up. I showed him my memories of the kami dragons in the afterlife. He saw my memories of Dao warning about the Zen Dragon recycling the universe. Finally, Rex understood …..and he cared. He pulled the sword out of Tansao’s shoulder and shouted to the heavens, “STOP!!” Then he dropped his weapons and fell to his knees, weeping pitifully. I left his body because his self-blame was too much for me to take. Tansao kneeled beside Rex and gently put her bloody right claw on his back. “If you’re sorry for what you did then you should apologize.” Rex sobbed, “I’m sorry.” “Tell them,” she said. Rex stood up, wiped the wetness from his blood-shot eyes. The people who were still alive turned to look at him.

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He said, “I’m…..” after a couple seconds he finished, “sorry…..I never realized…..” The red vortex in the sky slowed its rotation and began to fade. Rex said louder, “I never knew what it felt like……” He took his eyes off of Tansao’s dead sister and gazed around at the carnage on the field littered with dead and wounded. Tansao asked, “You mean, you never knew what it felt like….when someone else suffered?” Rex hiccupped, “yeah,” he answered weakly. “I’m sorry.” “Now that you have empathy,” Tansao said, “you can take care of the wounded.” Rex nodded and walked like a zombie toward a young man lying on the ground holing his bleeding leg. Rex ripped his shirt off and tied it around the injury and said, “hold this tight to stop the bleeding. You’re gonna be okay.” He stood up and went to help someone else. The bloody head slipped out of Tansao’s claws. As she faded into a spirit she couldn’t pick it up again because she lost physical substance. “Come on,” I said. “Lets get you back to your body.” We flew up to her body and found Long and Saber already awake in their human bodies. They were shaking Tansao’s body, but it was unconscious until her spirit went back in. “Is it over?” asked Boomba.

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“Yeah,” Tansao said when she opened her eyes. “It’s over.” “What happened?” asked Long. “How did you stop Rex?” “I didn’t,” she said. “Rex stopped himself.” “Why?” asked Saber. Tansao answered, “I saw Mister Rad’s spirit go into Rex and suddenly the evil faded from his eyes.” “How?” asked Kong. “I think,” Tansao concluded, “all he needed was to see through someone else’s eyes.” All were silent. She rested her arms on the shoulders of Long and Saber. Kong sat beside them and wrapped his arms around them. “It saved us,” Tansao said. “It saved the universe.” “What saved the universe?” asked Boomba as he walked up to her. He bent over and hugged her from behind. “Empathy.”

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Ch 35 Ascension

There were many spirits in need of guidance. While the living tended to the wounded the spirits wandered lost and confused. The kind of people who had come to see dueling were not the kind of souls ready to ascend. So, there were many kami dragons and they all needed guidance. I gathered them together and explained their precarious existence as spirits, free of their bodies, yet trapped on earth until they learn to ascend. Then I took the kami dragons flying over the world. The thrill and freedom of flying caused most of them to go off on their own, but a few remained with me. Then I led the kami dragons to the rocky hill where I previously landed. We rested our wings and I taught them how to meditate, to let the wind blow away their selfish thoughts and emotions so they could listen for the voice that would guide them on their journey of spiritual improvement. After a long silence one of the green dragons announced that he was leaving. He said his purpose was to protect an endangered sea turtle that was laying eggs on a Texas beach. We congratulated him on his noble mission as he flew away. Then we all closed our eyes and listened. A while

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later a blue dragon told us her job was to help restore the wetlands of the Mississippi river. She didn’t have wings, but she quickly slithered away through the air as if she were swimming rather than flying. There were two of us left and we offered her “good luck” as she left. After another session of meditation my last companion, a green dragon, said he was setting off to help honey bees find new homes away from the chemicals of crop dusters. It felt very lonely to stand alone on the rocky hill. I closed my eyes and waited for the voice that would guide me. Instead I was distracted by my own worries. Did I fulfill my mission well enough? Would I need to do more tasks before I was ready to ascend? Eventually I heard a voice. “I thought I’d find you here,” Tansao said. I opened my eyes to see a brown dragon. “Hi Tansao. How did you find me?” She bowed and I bowed in return. With a dragon smile she said, “When you shared your memories I saw how to get here. I figured you would be trying to meditate…and listen…… just like before. So, I used transcendental meditation to come see you in the spirit. Have you heard the voice again?” “No, but I’ve been trying to,” I said. She acted like she was trying to figure out how best to say something without offending me, “Ummmmmm. I’ve been thinking……”

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“What?” I prodded. After she was silent for a moment I tried to assure her. “I’d like to hear your thoughts. You’re very wise for your age.” She began slowly, “I’ve been thinking ….about that tunnel …….the one you saw the first time ……when you died.” “Yeah…..” I nodded. She continued, “The tunnel was black.” “Yes……” She said, “And you saw light at the end.” “Uh huh.” She added, “And Dao said that the Black Dragon is also called the Zen Dragon.” I nodded, “So…..” She concluded, “So, maybe……the black tunnel and the black dragon are part of the same thing.” “What do you mean?” She explained, “If the black dragon turns everything into nothing then it’s like the ultimate black hole.” “But I saw light at the end of the tunnel.” She went on, “Yeah, but before you can get to the light you have to let go of all the things that get sucked into the blackness.”

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“Oh, yeah,” I nodded vigorously, “I did feel something pulling me so that I couldn’t reach the light.” She went on, “So, if you let go of everything then there will be nothing left to suck you into the blackness.” “Yeah, that makes sense,” I said. “I need to meditate and let go of all my selfish feelings and thoughts.” She chuckled, “You make it sound like it’s supposed to be easy.” “Well, what else can I do?” She grinned, “I thought you might need some help.” She pawed the ground, but made no scratches since her spirit just went through it, “Rex ought to be popping up anytime now.” “What?” I objected. “I don’t want to see him!” She stopped grinning, “Now, when you see him, you might be a little surprised.” “Why?” She said, “Well, he learned how to do transcendental meditation and…..” “Oh,” I said, “When I went into him he got my memories, didn’t he?” She nodded, “Yeah, he knows everything……everything you knew up to the time your spirit was in his body.” “That makes me sick.” I turned a looked away in disgust. “I suppose he knows all my skills now.”

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“Yeah,” She nodded. “He’s way better at martial arts now.” “After all those years!” I complained. “I worked so hard for so long to learn that stuff.” “At least your knowledge and skills were not lost by your death.” She said. “The good news is that I got your skills, too.” “I don’t mind if you did,” I whined. “But it’s not fair for him to get it after all the times he antagonized me.” “See……” Tansao was shaking her head. “What?” “This is what I was I mean by you not letting go,” She said. “But…” She put her right claw on my left shoulder and looked into my eyes. “You have to let go of anger.” “But it’s not right!” She gazed deeply into my eyes and put her left claw on my right shoulder, “You have to let go of what you think is right. That kind of thinking may be another thing holding you back.” “But RIGHT is the same everywhere.” She shook her head yet she kept her eyes on mine. “It’s not up to you to decide right and wrong. Let go of your desire to be the judge.” “Hmmmmmph!” I pulled away and turned my back to her. “Rad…?”

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I didn’t answer. “Mister Rad?” She asked again. No reply. She said, “I know it’s hard to let go of your opinions and your ideas of what should and should not be.” Silence. She continued, “But those are the kind of things that make people angry.” I fumed silently. She went on, “And you don’t want to take anger with you……not to a place of only good things……..you want to be happy, yes?” After a while I agreed, “Yes.” She said, “Then let go of your ideas of what is right….and what is fair……and whatever makes you feel resentment. Just let it all go.” I tried to accept that Rex had all my knowledge and skills of a lifetime of martial arts. I guess it was okay since I gave it to him……although not intentionally. Suddenly I felt better. It did make me happier to let go. Even more sudden was the eruption of a red dragon up from the ground. I jumped back and took a fighting stance. “Hey Rad!” The red dragon said, “What’s up?” He gave me a big dragon smile like we were old friends. “Rex?” I replied as I bowed.

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“What’s the matter?” He asked as his eight legs brought him close enough to tear me in half with his large pincers. “It’s okay,” said Tansao. I looked at Tansao and realized she wanted me to let go of my negative feelings toward Rex. It was much harder when I could see him face to face and his appearance as a red dragon didn’t help. Rex hung his head and clawed at the ground, “I don’t blame you for hating me.” I said nothing. He looked up at me like a cowering dog, “But I’m humbling myself and I’m sorry…..sorry for everything.” Tansao said firmly, “Mister Rad, you need to forgive him.” I glared at her. She said, “Not for his sake, but for yours. You need to let go of ALL your negativity.” After she stared at me for a few seconds I caved, “Okay.” I stepped over to the red dragon and put my right claw on his back. I forced myself to be nice, “Alright, I forgive you.” “Great!” Rex was instantly cheerful again. “Wow!” I said, “You don’t stay depressed too long.” “What for?” He laughed. “Those kind of emotions just hold us back, right?”

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“I know.” I felt strange agreeing with him, but he was right…..and he seemed to be a different person. Absorbing my memories must have changed him. “So…..” Tansao said, “Time to say your goodbyes and make your ascension.” I looked at her and Rex. I looked around at the world and I said, “Okay, I think I’m ready. “Good bye,” Rex bowed to me. I bowed to him. “Good bye Rex.” “Good bye, Mister Rad,” Tasao bowed to me. I bowed to her, “Good bye……I always thought of you as my own daughter.” Tears welled up in her eyes and she lunged me with her arms open wide. We hugged for a while. “How come you never told me?” She asked. “I was afraid you might reject me since you had problems accepting men in your life.” With happy tears streaming down her face she whispered in my ear, “You have to let go of the fear of rejection.” I whispered into her ear, “You accept me as your dad?”

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350

Zen Dragon

“Yes,” She squeezed me harder for a moment. The she spoke louder as we ended the hug, “And you will be accepted when you pass through the zen tunnel into the light. They will accept you, so don’t be afraid.” Rex bowed and said, “Tell Etherea I said ‘Hi.” I bowed, “Okay.” He disappeared into the ground. Tansao held my claws in hers, “Close your eyes.” I did. “Let go of everything,” she said in a soothing voice. “Just let it all go….the fears, the regrets, the injustices that don’t matter anymore, the things you can’t control, the responsibilities, and desires……don’t let anything hold you back. Let go of this world……let go of me.” I felt the wind blow through me again. The feeling of letting go was wonderful. Emptiness itself was a special kind of peace. It was freedom from worries. It was bliss. A tingling deep inside distracted me from my own mind and finally the wind blew away the last of my emotions and thoughts. I heard a low, soft voice….coming from inside of me, “Come to me.” The swirling orange colors of my eyelids under the sun fled away into the emptiness and a light appeared a long way above me. In my mind I looked up and focused on the light. I let go of Tansao with a parting thought to her, I’m almost there.

Bryon Severns

351

Zen Dragon

I heard her thoughts as I floated upwards towards the light. She said, I’ll remember you and teach the lessons you’ve learned. I replied in thought, We’ll be waiting for you in heaven. It felt wonderful to float through the zen tunnel with nothing holding me back. The final victory was letting go and it felt good. My last thought in the realm of earth was, here I go. Then I ascended into the light.

Bryon Severns

352

Zen Dragon

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