Dream School: Enter the Fern

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Prelude in black and blue

The brain plays funny tricks on you when you are not really paying attention.

Okay, to be fair, reality play some weird gags on you when you are paying attention.

I had had a stranger day than most, filled with odd people, stupid situations and truly awful service from almost every store and restaurant I entered.

Outside of my cat, I wasn't getting much love from anyone.
As I turned the corner to go to the back door of my brownstone, I thought I saw a truck, like an ice cream truck, with the words "Inuit Revenge" on the side of it. It was playing "The Mighty Quinn", out of tune. I'm afraid to admit that I blinked and did a Spanky rub before I dared look again. By then it was just the usual Pakistani fellow I knew, named Mike, selling his wares from a truck marked "Frozen Joi", and playing "Imagine", still out of tune.
I was not relieved. This was still disturbing, as Mike got deafer the longer he drove that truck and he would turn the tannoy up a notch every time he thought it was too soft to attract the children, who were gradually becoming more deaf, too, I was afraid.

As I went through the side passage along the brick wall of my neighbor's sloppily added garage, I thought I heard one more tinkle of "The Mighty Quinn". I did not look back.
As I kicked aside some dormant leaves and turned to go up my back stairs, I saw three tall men wearing denim and tattoos. One even had a tattoo under his beard. The shortest one, the one with the ring in his nose, asked,"Are you Emil Hartounian?"

I said,"No."

They beat me up and left me for dead. As far as I could tell, there was nothing broken, though, outside of a rib that had punctured my lung. Real professionals. I'd have to heal soon, though, as I'd lifted the wallet off one of them and he'd probably want it back. I crawled into the basement through a window and put myself into a trance.

You might ask yourself a small question right about here.

If I'm so "special" that I can survive a severe beating and then heal myself within, oh, the space of an hour under a trance, then why didn't I kick those guy's butts? Something like that, right? Well, see I don't fight anyone I'm not ready to kill. Just the way I am. Otherwise, you don't do me wrong, I don't do you wrong. Simple, easy to remember, but a little hard on the regenerative powers. Oh, well.

Oddly, it took the fellow two days to look me up again. I had it from a friend later that the fellow had spent the time infiltrating hospitals and police stations trying to see where my body and the evidence had ended up. Poor fellow. I also assumed that he didn't want his buddies to know that he had done those two very stupid things: taken ID along on a job and lost it to the mark.

I had a nice nap, though. Two days. Thank you, buddy. Well, I suppose I should be nice and call him by his name, as we did become very well acquainted during the five minutes I spent interrogating him before I killed him. He was very close to inarticulate to begin with and his diction did not improve with the damage to a couple of kneecaps and a finger, so it was a merciful thing that I kept him from murdering the mum's Englich any further. Just think, if he'd had more facility with the language, he might have gone into another line of work entirely. I found out from him that his mother had been a Doctor and his father a High School Shop teacher. One wonders where they do go wrong. I didn't care enough to ask him.
I did learn who this Emil fellow was, why they were looking for him, and why they beat me up. Apparently they had instructions to make sure no one knew they were looking for him. I asked him how many other people they hurt. He gave me a list of names. Eighteen people. What a crime spree. I also asked him who his buddies were and where they could be found, as well as who had sent them on this quixotic trek. The answer to the last question truly surprised me. It turned out to be an old friend of mine, someone who really should have known better than to send anyone after me.
Well, he'd certainly know better very soon.

I went upstairs and called another friend of mine and told her what she would find in the basement. She said she would make sure that the body found its way to a very embarrassing place... once she thought of one.

Now you may be asking yourself another question: how do I know people who hurt other people and/or know how to get rid of bodies? That's a long story.

The long story

Once upon a time I was a happy child, making my parents attempt to pull out their hair in amazement at my ability to find new ways to irritate them and the planet in general. I didn't lack for much of anything except a sense of responsibility and a lower threshold for pain.

When I was about eleven, I took a self-defence class because I had been getting into fights at school and losing. This state of affairs could not stand, as my mother was running to the store for bandages and merthiolate on a regular basis and I was tired of her putting makeup on my face to cover the bruises.

At the Happy Tiger School of Self-Defence and Spiritual Renewal, I met a small Korean woman who scared the ever-living out of me.
Her name was Fern and she had survived a sad time during the war. I never learned all the details, but it involved some unwanted intimacies from soldiers that were supposed to be on her side and a broken leg that left her with a pronounced limp.

She smiled almost always. She kept her hair pulled back in a couple of pigtails. If she had dipped me in water, she could have mopped the floor with me, the way I got tossed around. I never did learn the exact martial art that she was a master of, but it had apparently been tailored to her tastes. I learned to fall from a standing position, a sitting position, a kneeling position, you name it. If the human body can assume it, I learned to hit the ground from it. She even knocked me around when I was prone!

For some reason, I was her only student. Apparently I had done something to piss off the sensei, an Iranian named Mr. Fong, on the first day. I was immediately separated from the rest of the class and thrown to Fern, who seemed to be slighted by the decision. Maybe they didn't like each other, despite having been married long enough to produce two daughters who were almost through college.

My parents were glad to meet Fern. They were also glad that I had met her. My propensity for mischief declined after I began her classes. The kids at school didn't mess with me much, either, after I skillfully avoided their punches a few times. I didn't hurt them, though. That was forbidden. But frustration was okay, as it was one of the core precepts of Fern's style.

My grades improved, too. Fern had been a college teacher in North Korea at some point in the past and as soon as I became her student she immediately began to supervise my homework with the same level of intensity she put into my unfighting lessons.

I learned whole new levels of loathing and hate for that woman. She seemed to think that was funny.

She had this irritating habit of playing Squeeze songs during our training sessions. She also attempted to sing along with them. She was not a singer. I got so tired of "Slap and Tickle", which was her favorite. Also, whenever I heard a snatch of one of the songs in public or a movie, I had this irristible urge to assume the Toad Stance, which can be awkward if anyone you like is nearby. It's also hard on the trousers if you don't have a good gusset.

So, my grades were improving, my behavior was excellent, I was learning a skill, and I was gaining some muscle in places I didn't think any belonged. I was also picking up some extras, like a heightened sense of smell and the ability to shift visual focus quickly and accurately. Sometime after the first six months, she began training me in a dark room. My hearing became very exemplary. A short lady pointing a camera flash at you when you make the mistake of letting her get too close will tend to do that.

When she was bored, she would send me into Mr. Fong's area to deal with whomever he sent at me. Best I could tell, this was a punishment for his students. They took on the most absurd postures before they attacked. I was forbidden to take any sort of offensive. I was also forbidden to kick, punch, sweep, or block. I had to avoid them until they were too tired to continue. When she was mad at me, she had Mr. Fong send in more than one student. I never really got the hang of more than five. She taught me to play Go and Chess and Backgammon and some other games I've forgotten in an attempt to teach me strategy, but it took years for it to sink in. She was dead by then.

Only once can I remember being allowed to actually fight someone. It was a challenger from another school that Mr. Fong didn't recognize as teaching a useful skill. Fern gave me thirty seconds to dispatch him with no broken bones or blood. Took me twenty. She was mad because I didn't follow orders. Strange woman, that. She made me carry him home. Did I mention how much I hated her?

On my thirteenth birthday, she had me come by the dojo after the party my parents threw for me. It was a very good party, by most standards. Not too much kiddy stuff, a lot of pizza, and some really nice girls. I even took a shine to one of them, a short redhead named Amethyst. We found about a half an hour's worth of things to talk about. Wow. That made my month. Those were the days.

Oh, Fern? Well that was a night to remember. I got my first tattoo, on the back of my neck, where my hair or collar should cover it. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems that it was part of my graduation from the first grade of Fern's instruction. I went home in pain and humiliation. One of the daughters had helped hold me down while Fern did the necessary. I am afraid I did a little whimpering. Fern turned up the Squeeze record. I was never able to listen to "Cool for Cats" thereafter without wincing.
My parents had apparently been told about the tattoo. I don't know how they felt about it or if they did. They pretty much did what Fern told them to. After all, she hadn't charged for my lessons after the first month. Curious, that.

That night, the night of my birthday, the evening after my tattoo, when I was finally able to go to sleep, dreaming about Amethyst, y'know, holding her hand and... it began.

The Dream School

I had a pretty high pain threshold to begin with, which Fern had pushed upward and upward. The tattoo process had not been excruciating, just merely very uncomfortable, combined with my being held over her daughter's knee. At this late date I think Fern pushed something in addition to ink beneath the skin, like some sort of herb or chemical. When I began to dream that night, I was on a different channel than I was accustomed to.

I'm not sure I can describe it to you adequately. It was like I stepped from my bedroom into another building on another planet. Fern was standing across the room, next to a desk. Her leg was better and she seemed taller, younger... prettier. In fact, she was wearing hardly anything at all. Then a door opened and Amethyst walked in, barefoot, wearing a sarong. I looked down and I was wearing a loincloth. I wasn't too happy about that.

Then the class began. A class in, well, thought. No words were spoken that I heard. Everything was in the force of focused thoughts. Since it took me several weeks to get it down, I was essentially mute. Amethyst was very adept and seemed to have been a student of Fern's also, but not in martial arts. It seems to have been a form of calligraphic sorcery.

Now you are asking another question: what kind of horse pucky is this? It ain't. It all happened as I am telling you, leaving out a few very important details that would get me killed if I spilled them. Besides, I'm answering the earlier questions, aren't I?

So, I was attending school during the day, doing not spectacularly, but keeping the parents happy, attending Fern's class in the afternoon, and attending Fern's class at night, in my sleep. During the daylight classes, Fern never mentioned the dream school. I'm not sure she was aware of it. Oddly, I didn't lose any sleep from the dream class. I even began to wake up more energized.

One night, Amethyst wasn't there and the dream Fern was wounded, something I had never seen. She spoke to me for the first time and it wasn't the voice of the day Fern.
"Young man, tonight you will embark on a quest. Our other student is missing or dead and you will find out who has caused this and harm them." Well, it doesn't get much plainer than that. I had only one question. She answered it. "Yes, you will perform this quest day and night. It must be done quickly."

I woke up, got dressed and went to work. I haven't stopped since. I found the person who harmed Amethyst and I managed to salvage her day self, but her dream self never recovered. In the quest I made a few beginner's mistakes and Fern didn't survive them except in my dreams. Mr. Fong escaped, but he never taught again. He took the insurance money from the destruction of the dojo and bought a furniture store. Real high quality stuff. I have some.

I still see Fern in my dreams every once in awhile and I still check up on Amethyst. She's in the office cleaning business now and that's who I called to help me with the body. She remembers some of her former abilities and the lessons from Fern, but she doesn't dream anymore, at least not like that. Sometimes she dreams of me, preminatory dreams. And I listen when she relates them. It was a mistake once not to.

After the first quest, I didn't go back to school during the day. I spent a few months in the hospital and some time in physical therapy, just to make the doctors happy. No real boy should have survived what I did, let alone be able to hop up and run a couple of miles a week after. So, they sedated me and examined me, and I went back to dream school, where Fern and a new girl, Synthya, helped me learn how not to repeat the mistakes that had gotten me hurt.

You wonder if I learned those lessons if I was able to be beaten up by those guys earlier in the story. Well, I give everybody a chance to be nice these days before I kill them. It's not fair for me to kill them before they have their chance. And those three fellows hadn't completely blown their chance until they just walked away. If they'd called 911 or kindly dumped my body near a hospital or a police station, I would have felt more kindly toward them. Then I would have just killed their boss. Nowadays I am six foot, two, of lean muscle and really daunting skill. Then, I was still thirteen and there were people who were faster, stronger and meaner than I. Many of those folks are hard to interrogate or kill, as I learned the hard way.

My parents didn't have a problem with my new job, despite the fact that I seemed to be a walking bruise. The money that began to flow into my bank account on a regular basis didn't hurt, either.

The next question you will be asking is: What kind of organization or group uses a teenage boy as an enforcer and a teenage girl as a, well, sorcerer? It's not an organization, it's more like a force of nature. It functions against Supreme Stupidity and Cruelty. As dream Fern once explained it, "Evil is a real bad thing. It hurts people, and it makes lives miserable, but it has rules. Evil loves rules. It loves compromise. There is one thing worse than Evil and that is Cruel and Supreme Stupidity. Supreme Stupidity is not mean for a purpose, like Evil is. Supreme Stupidity is Cruel because it can be, often for no reason. You are a champion for all creation against Supreme and Cruel Stupidity. You need not feel remorse for the Supremely Stupid and Cruel when you have to harm them, but you should not harm them unless it is absolutely necessary, otherwise you might become one of them."

Nice words for a fourteen-year-old to hear in his sleep, eh?

So, I became an avenger of sorts. Running around the world trying to get Supremely Stupid and Cruel people to see the error of their ways and killing a few that wouldn't see reason. I've never learned where all the money and resources come from and I don't really care.

The rest of the story, for now.

So, I knew the guy who had sent the three tall guys in the denim and tattoos looking for Emil and kicking butt to avoid witnesses. Eighteen people. And I don't think my old friend had intended those boneheads to hurt or kill that many people. It was apparently a communication problem. Anyway, all three would have to die. Then I would find this Emil fellow myself.

I tracked down the first fellow sitting at a bar. It was a Saturday night and the place was full and I think he only got a glimpse of me before I slipped past him in the crowd and removed an essential part of his spine just between the shoulder blades. I don't have any idea how long he remained propped between those two drunk blondes before they noticed he wasn't buying any more drinks.

I went to the men's room, washed my hands and then went out the back.

The second fellow took a couple more days. He seemed to have a bit more street smarts than the others because when I found him he had shaved, put makeup on his tattoos and was sincerely trying to hide. I shook his hand before I gently inserted three pencils into his heart. His wife wasn't too unhappy about that and offered to have me stay for dinner. I gave her $8,000 cash and told her she wouldn't be staying for dinner. She got the message real quick.
Amethyst cleaned that house so thoroughly there was nothing left but an empty pool and a basement the next day. The upper structure was in the back of a truck in itty-bitties, on it's way to Jersey.

That left the big boy, my old friend. Irving. Irving Oicnelis. One of the less stupid of the marginally evil people I knew. We had even done each other favors a time or two in the past, when it was to our mutual benefit. Apparently, I had run out of markers with Irving. As far as I was concerned, so had he.

He must have known somebody, maybe me, was looking for him. He went in deep. Took me and my friends almost a month to find him. And he was pretty secure. Took over a half million dollars in bribes to get even close to him. He was sitting on a bench in a train station in Kazakhstan. Don't ask, I don't understand it either. He must have achieved true Supreme Stupidity if he didn't understand the international usefulness of bribery. Or, maybe he did and I had just outbid him.

I sat down beside him. He didn't even look at me. "It's over, isn't it?"

"What is over?"

He looked at me. "Huh? What are you doing here?"

"You sent some boys looking for Emil."

"So? I wondered what happened to them. You?"


"Why? All I did was send them to ask some questions and to keep it as quiet as possible."

"Well, they asked their question and then they quieted the people they asked. Eighteen at last count. Four dead, the rest not likely to have a quality life anytime soon. They tried to beat me to death."

"Well, that's not my fault. I plainly told them..."

"Your fault or not, you're gonna die sometime within the next five minutes. Make a choice. It's either me or that black lady with the umbrella over there wishing I would leave so she can do her job and get out of this godforsaken place."

He looked startled, "No, you have to help me. Help me and, even if you want to kill me, I'll make it worth your while..."

I stabbed him with a sharpened soda straw in an odd place and got up and walked over to the lady. "He's only half dead," I said, as I took her pistol from her, unloaded it, and gave it back while pouring the cartridges into the top of her left boot. "You want the honors for the other half?"

She hesitated then smiled and said in a Kansas City accent, "Ah, let him suffer. Anyplace decent to eat around here? I feel like going to lunch."

I smiled back and said, "There's a little place about four blocks from the station, with an orange rooster in neon in the window. I'll meet you there." I walked back past Irving and finished him off with a blunt fingernail in the right place, then turned and went to see what kind of person this lady was. I was a bit peckish meself.

Oh, and when I finally found Emil, it turned out he was pretty stupid, too. Not supremely so, but bad enough that he will have nightmares about me for years without ever having seen me. And he'll be a much better behaved person, too. Trust me.

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