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The Narcoleptic Ninja
The ninja steps on light feet through the shadows. A noiseless ghost, she moves across the rooftop in seconds, briefly outlined by the moon. The ninja ducks down as she leaps down to another roof and her face disappears into her mask, so that she is only silhouette. A photo negative of a person, moving impossibly quick.
Though it’s almost 4 a.m. cars pass on the street below, and she times her leap down so that she won’t be lit by the slow passing headlights. The ninja moves against the wall and presses her face briefly to the cold brick.
Once on street level, she doesn’t know what to do next. Her head is still buzzing with the strikes she’d taken from Kenji in the battle. She squeezes her eyes shut and tries to will her head to clear, but when she opens her eyes, all the ninja sees is coloured spots across her vision. Nothing is clearer, her vision or her thoughts.
She stands, perfectly still, encased in the dark, still enjoying the coolness of the building’s brick. Thinks over the last few hours, tries to correct her original plan. But the plan may have spun out of control.
For the first time in seven years, she is tempted to panic; her pulse speeds at the thought that the Plan might be breaking apart, that everything may be unraveling. But the ninja tells herself to calm, that the Plan doesn’t need her to guide it, and considers that maybe it isn’t hers, after all, that maybe her Right Path is, simply, to follow it.
The soft noises of the near-empty street fade, banished as if she’s pushed herself out into the atmosphere, too far from it all. She straightens herself and scans the area for her route of escape.
Her route of escape is a city bus, an alleyway, a group of old men, and a lampost. Her mind connects the dots as she scans the area and she plots her movements form one point to the next almost unconsciously. Her feet follow a few steps behind, the ninja quickly scanning the streets and shadows from each new perspective. She doesn’t think she can handle any more conflict tonight. Her side aches with a new urgency and she presses her hand against the wound. It comes away, she can see even in the half-light, stained red.
She inhales deeply.
When the light changes and the bus starts to pull closer she makes her move, using the vehicle to conceal her as she darts out into traffic and to the safe shadows on the other side.
The ninja slides into the concealment of the alleyway just as the trio of old men pass by, tottering home from a night at the pub, by the scent of their breath. She smiles at this a little, thinking of her grandfather and his cronies, huddled together at the end of the bar, telling stories to anyone who would listen, playing up his old-man-nature.
Her partial smile flowers full across her face as she thinks about how clever and quick he’d been, how he’d had them all fooled. And then the pain comes back, with dizziness now, and she worries about blood-loss, being found unconscious on the street, or not at all.
She leans against the wall until the spinning stops. Tells herself to suck it up and get home, that she can’t let herself get caught just because she’s injured. But the pain is now sharp and stinging, crawling through her as if her veins are on fire or full of tiny knives.
Fully aware of how absurd a cliché she’s being, she slaps herself firmly across the face. She giggles a little as the heat spreads across her face and her eyes come into sharper focus. Gritting her teeth she heads down the alleyway; running at this speed she doesn’t leave a blood trail, but red flicks towards the walls and she paints her track in a series of spatters as her legs propel her forward.
She reaches the lamppost with the burnt out light and grabs it on her way past, changing her angle without slowing down. She can’t slow down.
She’s not sure how she made it home, but she’s here. The click of the deadbolt takes her pulse down a few beats. She’s so tempted to slump to the floor that the carpet looks like a featherbed, impossibly soft and luxurious. The ninja looks longingly at the orange fibres and reminds herself that it’s not soft. She reminds herself, immediately after, that she has supplies and bandages in the next room.
She staggers into the bathroom and pulls her first-aid supply box from under the sink. Rifles through it for the proper supplies and pulls her shirt painfully off.
It feels like she was on the streets for days, trying to find her way home through a haze of blood loss and opium withdrawal. She sits on the edge of her bed and painfully tears the bandage away from her side. She cleans the wound and inspects it for infection, wraps it gingerly back up. she pats the new bandage down gently against the wound and winces.
The ninja carefully packs a pipe of hash and lights it, lays back on her bed among the pillows and exhales great white gouts of smoke. Soon she fades into hashish dreams.
She wakes and it is night now. the ninja carefully raises her eyelids and scans the room. everything is black. she searches out the clock and numbers glow red in the darkness, hovering three feet from the floor. 3:20. so not night, then, but morning.
the sleep and codeine are dragging her down like a winter coat in water, but the city is alive outside her room. it casts neon shadows and carries the hum of tires on pavement, and the noises seem to grow louder as she listens, until they are here in the room, on top of her.
sun peeks over the windowsill and slips into the room, climbing down the wall and glinting off the crystal prism hanging in the corner. dozens of small perfect rainbows stamp themselves on the surfaces of the room, parts of the wall. she hears birds chirping excitedly and curses the fucking care bear perfection of the scene. her head swims. she sprints to the bathroom and throws up nothing but bile and saliva, propped on her elbows on the cool white plastic of the seat. she stares for some time at her shaking hand, and wishes that this limbo would end.
Today is different. The quality of the light is different, she’s sure, but it doesn’t feel like she’s been asleep for long this time. Her body doesn’t ache so much, though, and she wonders if the fever’s finally gone. The ninja tentatively looks around the room, then stands and stretches. She winces when the stretch strains her bandage, but feels clear-headed for the first time in days.
She walks to the kitchen and opens the fridge, squinting into the bright light. She drinks juice from the carton and revels in the act. She knows this will be a good day.
“does it hurt?” his fingers jump from the wound as if it burns him. It draws and repels him, the wide roughly-stitched gash.
She turns over as if she’s underwater and billows out continents of smoke. “not a bit.” Her smirks stretches lazily across her face.
“well, generally. Not *now*” his hand is back, hovering. He brushes lightly down her side, near the wound and away at the last minute. He imagines it is torturously painful. A car’s passing headlight illuminates their shadows against the wall and moves their shapes across the room, distorting the image of them, the bed.
The ninja waits patiently in the alley as the night gathers up the people on the streets, casting them all into shadows or homes. She peers across the intersection towards a tall glassed building. The last rays of sun glint off its surface and paint it copper for a few minutes, so high above the other buildings it deserves more of the precious sunlight.
She’s watched this building several times before. Has tracked the nightwatchman’s flashlight beacon as he does his rounds, has observed the workaholics fondling each other in their parked cars.
She knows how she will get inside.
After all of the surveillance, she can’t believe how easy it is to get into the building. It offends her that it is this easy, getting the sword from him.
Part of her hopes that Kenji will be here, and she can face him again, this time winning. But the rest of her knows he won’t be, that this is why she has planned it this way, while it isn’t with him.
There are times when she worries over honour, whether she has abandoned in it lieu of success, whether playing the game of deception is fair, whether honour exists.
Baldwin shouts into his cell phone, cursing and shaking his head so he looks like an expensively-dressed schizophrenic berating himself, or the world. She smiles at this as she watches him from across the street, checks her watch for the time.
She steps onto the sidewalk just as the rain starts; her foot lands milliseconds before the first fat raindrop and the other millions follow immediately after. It looks like the bottom’s dropped out of the sky and the ocean’s raining in, she thinks. She silently berates herself for throwing metaphors around so absently.
She comes up silently behind him.
This morning the ninja moves like water through the city; she creeps onto curbs and balconies like the sun coming up over her shoulder. She is fearless in what remains of the night.
The night has been eventful. Her pulse still pounds in her ears and at her throat. She’s still riding the adrenalin high of a flawlessly executed plan, spending her commission, already, in her head. She knows what the sword is worth, to her employer and on the common market, and smiles. The ninja laughs quietly as she thinks of the upset the whole thing has caused. Good.
“I want to see you.” His deep gravelly voice pours out of the phone like crumbling shards of chocolate.
“of course you do.” Her flippant reply. A small chuckle.
“so…can I see you tonight?” he stresses the ‘can’ as if begging her to correct him.
“can you? Blindy McBlinderson?” now she finds herself laughing.
“But can it be close-up? My binoculars are in the shop.” An image of his cocked eyebrow, the corner of his mouth, hover alone, Cheshire-style.
She looks at the time and thinks about it. “Yes, if you’ll be up late.”
“I can sleep when I’m dead.”
She dunks her head under the water and stays there, just under the air, until her breath runs out. She resurfaces and swims to the edge of the pool. Hangs off the lip, treading water with her legs.
“Chleirich? Is that you?” a familiar voice drifts down the path. She gets out of the water and is across the flagstones in fifteen seconds, gathering her towel en route. As Danner comes into the circle of light cast by the lamppost he is greeted with a series of wet footprints. And her voice, from behind him somewhere.
“Why are you here?”
She reminds herself that Danner isn’t her boss anymore, repeatedly, as she sits across the table from him. He leans across the table so he can keep his voice low, and so she has to lean in, too. Their heads are almost touching; if you’re standing a way off and squinting as the sun sinks over the horizon, it looks like they overlap.
“So. Are you interested?” his voice is still low and serious, but it turns up at the end of his sentence. She swears there’s the hint of a smile tucked into the left corner of his mouth.
She checks her bank balance online, sees that the money’s been deposited, and revels in the zeroes on the screen. With the greed-induced high, though, comes a small inward groan. Part of her was hoping it’d fall through, that he’d change his mind. The ninja is unsure about their working arrangement, now. He is different to her. She misses the structure of employment, and the rules that came with it.
Her head throbs dully, feeling like the brain has shriveled up inside. She drinks an entire glass of water like her throat doesn’t exist. There had been too much wine.
This is going to be a long-game, she knows, but she’s convinced herself she’s looking forward to it.
She gets out of bed and stretches exorbitantly as she crosses the room, picking up her thread-bare flannel robe on her way. She flings the robe on, checks to make sure the ragged hem covers her ass, and heads over to the window to stare at the city as it wakes.
The ninja is planning. But part of her brain is lost in whimsy. There are warm bakery smells wafting up from the café below. Little brown birds litter the telephone wires.
She comes into the room like fog, rolling in. The room changes as she enters it, he’s sure.
He hears her calling out, now, and turns the speakers down.
“Hey. I didn’t hear you.” He spins his chair around to face her.
“yeah, your game’s pretty loud.” She nods towards the screen, a frame frozen as he is about to transform an enemy into a blood spatter patter. He’s sheepish. “Only when the killing’s particularly energetic.”
There’s not quite enough smile in her voice as she replies once more, drifting into the kitchen. “Gunplay makes me…wary. Bad sounds to imitate.”
Her dreams are whirling some moments. Staccato and strobing white the next, so that everything has a fast vibrating edge to it and the world is panic.
The room is full of dogs in her dream. The dream-ninja knows one or two of the dogs in the pack, and is trying to talk to them, trying to get them to sheperd the other dogs out of the place. She can’t breathe. She can’t find her foe.
In the dream, she walks in slow underwater motion. She expects sounds to drag and blur, but they don’t.
Her dream lasts days. Weeks.
She drifts deeper into the shadows. Cars are passing with less and less regularity and she knows that her time to strike will come soon. She carefully surveys the area, trying to spot anyone suspicious.
Her back is starting to itch, in the one spot she can never reach. The more she thinks abut it the itchier it becomes. She starts to think she’s causing it. Bothering some tiny mites with her attention, panicking them. She thinks that she must be a God to the mites, viruses, and bacteria that populate her form. It amuses her. But she’s still itchy.
It’s three a.m. she’s half-drunk and starving. On her way home the ninja stops at a gas station, drifting happily through the short cramped aisles of snacks. After some small confusion at the cash register, she buys a slurpee, corn chips, and chocolate almonds, bears her treasures out the door in their plastic bag.
“Heyaaaaaaaaa.” Slurred words shouted from the window of a passing car startle her. She finds herself half-crouched in the parking lot, searching the area. Realizes she’s strafing towards the concrete wall.
A second later, she is glancing nervously around, laughing a little. Hurrying on her way.
She can’t believe how silent everything is, this far under the water. All the ninja hears is the darth vader sound of her air regulator and her own heartbeat, hammering occaisionally in her ears. She dives further down, to the colder water, and looks around.
The reef is off to her left…she can see it through the haze of sand she’s stirred up. A school of lazy fish flit in and out of the reef. Sun glints off their scales like coins.
He’d asked her what she wanted, what her wish was. And this is it. Floating. Silent. Water Space.
He darts towards her, taking a swipe with his blade. She dodges over and over, – he attempts the same two or three movements repeatedly. The ninja ducks back a step out of his range.
She looks over at the roof she’s just left and sighs. Thinks that it would be just her luck to encounter hostile security the one time she’s not committing any crimes.
Then she shrugs, turns, and draws her collapsible shock baton. She hits him three times, two on the face and one at the throat. Then she shocks him in the chest and leaves the scene.
She runs across the path and cuts onto the less-used trail. It leads off into a copse birches that glow blindingly white against the sky. Her eyes hurt, looking at their peeling bark.
The ninja slows her pace and glances over her shoulder, then digs her mp3 player out of her hoodie’s pocket. She selects a new album, puts it back in her pocket. Then she plugs an earphone into one ear, and heads into the woods.
Two men come out of a shady patch, behind her. The tall one turns to the other. “god bless whoever invented yoga pants.”
She keeps hitting him, but he won’t stay down.
It’s a kaleidoscope of blood.
As her foot connects with his face his head is jerked violently aside. His body spins a split second after. She wonders if his neck is broken as his body hits the concrete.
The man has stopped moving.
The ninja takes this opportunity to examine the area. She scans the streets, the buildings. A car turns a corner.
She doesn’t know what to do now. The night spins, off-center. She looks at the heap and thinks about checking his pulse and decides to go home, instead.
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