The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Fourteen

The Santa Fe by Terry Dartnall
Butterflies by W.B. Keckler
Tableau by Jake Elliot
The Accordion by Cat Rambo
Watches by Pavel Řezníček
surd person circular by Brian E. Turner
Black Belt Karate Master (1988) by Ethan Bernard
The Room at the End of the World by Brian Biswas
The Mushroom Incident by Olivia V. Ambrogio
A Call to Arms by A.D. MacDonald
Almost Mythological and Duty by James Grinwis
It Works Differently on Writers by Jeremy Tavares
Running by Sarah Bailyn
Of Forests and Trees and Never Met a Fish Taco I Didn't Like by Robert Leach
A Man Of Many Doppelgangers by Jeff Tannen


irreal (re)views


Black Belt Karate Master (1988)
by Ethan Bernard

Black Belt Karate Master eliminates evil. He has vanquished over 10,000 ninjas. Crushed Yamada, the sword-toting nobleman. He has plunged his fist into Giza, Queen Witch of the Long-fisted Warlords. But it just doesn't mean anything to him anymore. What's the point?

And the Princess. Princess Mia. She's so beautiful and mysterious. The sapphires hanging from her ears, blue-sequined top that leaves her navel exposed. That smile, the wide-eyed seductive smile with lips red like a ripe pomegranate. Every time they see each other Black Belt Karate Master feels his life-forcing surging, his energy doubling and tripling until the mere touch of his finger could vaporize an elephant. But then she disappears. Fear of intimacy? Does she have another? Is she even attracted to men? Black Belt Karate Master is unsatisfied with his relationship.

He walks through Sakamoto's Evil Kingdom with the enthusiasm of a child walking to school. Boulders plummet from the ceiling. Dog-sized scorpions threaten his path. It seems as if he's always one step ahead of them. He's got some key to the nearest of futures, an eighth of a second time-delay on reality that keeps danger permanently at bay. And if he missteps? If the boulder should crush his skull, the scorpions sting his vitals? Then he begins again, and again, until he moves on to the next level.

To say nothing of the dullard ninjas who keep trying the same dunce-like approach to the martial arts. Have they not studied? Can they not kick? Their one feeble chopping motion makes Black Belt Karate Master sad. He jumps them and kills them. He blocks and he kills them. He kills them and he kills them and he kills them. They just never learn.

The lower masters at least put up a fight. Yamada expertly wields his long-sword. Yes, it's razor sharp, cuts ming vases perfectly in half. He only wields it three ways, though. The first fight was interesting. Now it's just pitiful. Black Belt Karate Master sometimes imagines himself closing an eye to at least dull his depth perception. Maybe that would make a difference?

Giza, so wicked and wonderfully ugly. Her flowing black cape hides the face of a homely troll. Her spells had the power to turn Black Belt Karate Master to stone. Then he learned to wait until she raised her arms to cast her curses. Then he killed her. Abuca, wasted. Suhara, toast. Tanaka. Otashi. Nakamura. Dead. Dead. Dead.

But what of Sakamoto, the Blind Sensei Master, Grand Malefactor, able to shoot lightning bolts from his raised eyebrow? Upon a throne fashioned from the bones of a thousand heroes has he sat. A problem at first. Now dead.

Black Belt Karate Master promises himself that it will be different.

He tries to build a garden wall with the fragments from the falling boulders. He attempts to pet the scorpions. Asks the ninjas if they've considered a different training regimen.

Boulders smashed. Scorpions crushed. Ninjas killed.

Yamada rebuffs him. Giza won't even consider his plea for her to use a different facial cleanser. She could be so beautiful, he thinks. Yes, both dead.

All along the way it's the same. Until he reaches Blind Sakamoto. Black Belt Karate Master refuses to fight. He pauses. And in that pause Blind Sakamoto's eyebrow is arched. Is that arched eyebrow a recognition, a subtle acknowledgment that things are spinning out of control and he, wisest of warriors, possesses the ability to halt the madness? The pause finishes. The lightning-bolt is loosed from Sakamoto's heedless brow; Black Belt Karate Master evades it and kills him; Sakamoto's fallen soul rises up and congratulates Black Belt Karate Master on his victory.

Then the Princess appears, probably out of some greasy stage magician's trick. Black Belt Karate Master does not wait for the Princess' one embrace. Sure, she feeds him the "let's live happily ever after" nonsense line, the same one he gets every time Sakamoto is felled. "Ever after" never arrives. This time he's not falling for it. He needs a magic healing rice-ball to bolster his self-esteem, an extra-life amulet to give him a sense of hope.

Black Belt Karate Master is tired. He feels like life is passing him by, a toy rocket in an era of interstellar travel. Much time has passed since he's had the strength to play. He knows somehow--vaguely --that he couldn't play again even if he wanted to. The will exists to keep trying, something other than everything done before, but the equipment is weak. Black Belt Karate Master does not know what to do.

Ethan Bernard lives in New York City where he is at work on a collection of short stories. His work has appeared in Word Riot.

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