Friday, December 11, 2015

Prose - The Belt Master

The Belt Master

Sorting through grandpa's was never going to be easy. Cory knew that even before he died two days ago. The house was so cluttered that he always suspected his grandpa of having a hoarding problem.

The house was silent, and all Cory could hear was the ringing in his ears. The windows were all locked shut, preserving the olden house from a world of constant change. It had  developed a whole new world of its own, with several books, past editions of Lianhe Zaobao and other paraphernalia lying around in precarious piles that did not need much to topple.

Sighing at the thought of the task ahead of him, Cory plopped into the chair behind grandpa's wooden desk. He had always sat there whenever he came to play years ago. His eyes came to rest on the desk drawer. Grandpa had always told him never to open it, which only served to pique his curiosity even more.

Cory pulled at the corroded ring of the desk drawer, and with considerable effort got it to open. Inside, Cory found several yellowed booklets, frayed at the edges and smelling of suffocating musk. On their covers, calligraphic paintings of men engaging in Martial Arts accompanied a string of Chinese characters that Cory translated as "The Art of Fluid Combat".

These books were not a surprise to Cory. He remembered how he often found his grandpa practicing his art when he came over. He thought nothing of it then, often joining him for the fun of it. Cory reached out for a book and flipped through it, immediately picked out several phrases he remembered from his time with grandpa. The striking serpent. The darting swallow. The reverse mantis. Cory quietly laughed at those childish terms now.

A glint from deep within the drawer caught Cory’s eye and he looked up from the book he was flipping through. Fishing through the drawer, Cory drew out a plastic bag. Its torn body allowed for something silver in it to shine through, grabbing Cory’s attention. Ignoring the double-knot, Cory tore through one of the many holes that riddled the bag. 

 It was a belt, one of the many belts Cory remembered his grandpa wearing. Its once sharp black body was now dotted with mould, ending with a dull silver buckle that bore the letters "BM". Cory remembered asking grandpa what the letters stood for on several occasions, but all he ever got was a chuckle. 

Cory teared as he thought about grandpa. He was in a good part of Cory's childhood, though in recent years Cory hardly had the time to pay him a visit. University assignments and projects were enough to sap anyone of his energy and precious weekends.  Regret stung his heart, for it was only now that he realized his grandpa was far more important to him than any university grade.

Cory pushed aside his sadness and decided that he would start with clearing the desk. It was however so packed that he soon had five bags of stationery, coins and other random junk. The books that Cory had found initially filled up a large box to themselves, with the black mouldy belt on top.

Time passed and Cory was soon done with packing the rest of the room. Cory took a glance at his watch and nearly blenched. Four hours. He had spent four hours clearing a measly room that was barely a quarter of the house. He groaned – this was going to take much longer than expected.

Cory decided that he'd call it a day then. The rest of the house probably needed a whole week to clear, but he at least had another three more weeks of school holidays to spare. Picking up the many bags he had filled with things from grandpa's room, Cory left the house and made his way to his car.

The streetlamps were already on when Cory reached the car park. He had barely reached his car just as a screamed echoed through the neighbourhood.

Heart pounding, Cory listened for more. He could faintly make out the muffled cries of a woman. Laying down his grandpa's possessions quietly, Cory crept to the void deck where the sounds were coming from.

A young woman, probably in her late twenties, was struggling to break free from a man who had her pinned to the wall, one hand cupped around her mouth. The bald man had a nasty grin on his face, and with his burly build and tattooed arms, Cory knew he was bad news.

The next thing Cory knew was his fist connecting with the jaw of the assailant. The man stumbled back, breaking his grip from the woman. The lady waste no time in fleeing.

The man growled as his muscles tensed against his black shirt. "I don't know who you are, boy, but you've just messed with the wrong guy." With a roar, he charged at Cory with balled fists.

The man drove a fist into Cory's stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The next fist threw him back with an uppercut. This man was clearly skilled in fighting. 

Cory winced as he picked himself off the ground. Against the throbbing of his chin and stomach, Cory knew that he had no way out of this. The man was clearly stronger and faster than him, and there was no one around to seek for help.

A yellow light below him caused him to look down, and he was surprised to see that his grandpa's belt had found his way on him. Its once mould-dotted body was now replaced with smooth yet shiny black leather, even as it gave off a warm glow. The buckle was glowing the brightest, even as its letters throbbed with energy. The glow was warm and heartening, and Cory's pain soon faded away. In its place came a reassurance, a knowledge of a time long past. He now knew what must be done.

Cory grabbed the belt’s buckle as he got up to his feet. Stepping forward, Cory swung his arm, uncoiling the belt towards the man. The man hardly had time to react even as the belt hit him square in the face with a sharp 'crack'. The man cried out in pain, clutching his face as he stumbled back from the swift attack. The striking serpent.

The belt had barely recoiled from the man when Cory began to swing his arm in circular broad strokes. The belt responded as an extension of Cory's arm, extending to an impossible length even as it swirled and twirled around the man, too quick for the eye to follow. The assailant stared gaping at the spectacle before him. The darting swallow.

With a final tug, the belt finally wrapped itself around the man's neck, causing him to gag. The other end of the belt firmly in hand, Cory leapt into the air as the belt contracted, drawing him towards the assailant. A side thrust to the man's chest sent him crashing into a far wall. The reverse mantis.

Cory sank to the ground, even as the belt's glow dissipated. He trembled as he tried to make sense of what had happened – the fight, the power, the unconscious man beneath the large crack in the wall– 

The belt. It was gone from Cory's hand. Snapping to his senses, Cory rushed back to his car and tore through the box of books. 

There it was. Cory stared at it in disbelief, awe mixed with fear at the shiny black coil before him. He picked up a book and flipped to its first page, desperate for answers. 

"Fluid Combat is a form that transfers the body's motion to practical attack. Practitioners of this graceful art were feared by many for their relentless attacks and dazzling displays, capable of bringing down even the toughest of warriors. Fluid combat was said to be practiced by those who wielded belts of mystical powers, earning them the title of the legendary Belt Masters."







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