When the Forum moved more and more toward talk
of the Movie, and a single posting was lucky to stay in place for a day,
Leah announced that the MWC would be temporarily suspended. I was terrified;
a writer like me needs ideas the way a junkie needs his next hit! How could
I survive? To my relief, Leah gave us one last Challenge before the Movie
opened, and lo and behold, it was mine. So here it is, a story that proves
that if you're open to the public, you never know who's going to walk through
The stranger was small, but he made a big impression; a low murmur followed in his wake as he stalked into the dojo. The owner sensed the difference in the room immediately. Looking up, he noticed the compact, stocky frame; muscles built more by hard work than by workouts. Age was hard to determine, but there was something about the man that suggested long experience, not all of it pleasant. He moved with a wary confidence, as though he were scouting the place. The man resembled a seasoned Immortal in all ways but one: MacLeod couldnít *feel* him at all.
"Iím lookiní for the owner oí the place." There was a bit of a growl in his voice, as though he didnít use it often. Mac gave the man a long appraising lookónoting the rough features; the gravity-defying hair, formed by either too much mousse or not enough combing; the cigar that hung there as if heíd been born with it.
He stepped forward; "Youíve found him."
MacLeod received a measuring look of his own; "You sure donít look much like a DeSalvo."
"Iím Duncan MacLeod. I promised Iíd keep the original name when I bought the place." It was still hard for him to think that Charlie was gone; he hoped the stranger didnít see the tiny twinge of guilt.
The small man chewed a bit more on his cigar; a puff of smoke joined his next words: "Well thatís right nice of you, Scotty."
Duncan closed his eyes for a moment as he rubbed his temples, feeling the start of a headache that had nothing to do with Immortals. He muttered, half to himself: "Donít call me that."
The stranger made almost a full circuit of the room before he spoke again; "Man down at the bar said I could get a good workout here; somethiníÖ personal."
Duncanís eyes narrowed slightly. "Which bar?" he asked, cautiously.
"Joeís" he spat out the single word as if he resented stating the obvious. Almost an afterthought, he added: "Nameís Logan."
Dawson sent him? MacLeod looked at the man in an entirely new light. "LoganÖ?"
The manís lips twitched in what might have been a smile, "Just Logan. People donít need moreín that to remember me."
Joeís good judgement or not, Mac wasnít sure if he liked this guy. "If you want to work with me, Logan; first off youíre going to have to get rid of that"; he pointed to the cigar. "We respect our bodies here, we donít pollute them."
Another maybe-smile and a cloud of blue smoke: "You wanna make me, Scotty?" The room grew silent as everyone stopped to see what would happen. All the regulars had seen Mac give lessons in manners; a few had been on the receiving end themselves. It was always entertaining; at least for those not directly involved.
Duncan grabbed the man one-handed, tossing him in the direction of the nearest practice matóat least that was his intention. The man was heavier than he lookedÖ a lot heavier; he hadnít budged an inch. The touch of a sneer was in no way lessened by the fact that he had to look up. "I hope that werenít the best you got, Pretty Boy."
Logan took the last stub of his cigar and dropped it; Duncan cringed as he ground it into the hardwood floor. "Iíll come back later, when we can talk. Private-like." He turned on his heel and stalked out. One by one, reluctantly, patrons returned to their previous activities.
It was a couple of hours before MacLeod could make a phone call from his office. Enough time for his curiosity to outpace his temper, but not by much. He still barely kept himself civil with the bartender who answered at Joeís. Unconsciously, he imitated the strangerís words; "I want to talk to the owner." A pause, then "Just say itís MacÖ Oh, heíll know who it isÖ" Finally he heard muffled background noise as the phone was passed over.
"Whoís this guy Logan who came here this morning? He disrupted one of my classes; said that you sent him."
"What, no ĎHi Joe, howís business?í "
Duncan hissed an impatient breath, "No games Dawson; Iíve duelled against men with better personality than this guy. You sending me your problems now, or do you just think Iím bored?"
Joe was quick to reassure. "Loganís no trouble; heís a friend of a friend. Heís worked with Xavier beforeÖ"
"Xavier?" Duncanís voice never rose; the tone was deceptively calm. But to someone who knew the manís every move and breath he sounded ready to come straight through the phone.
Joe back-pedalled swiftly. "Charles Xavier. You know, the man who runs that big private school?" He could almost hear Macís cautious nod. "Like I said, Loganís OK. Heís just a littleÖ different."
"DifferentóThatís all you can say about a man who creeps me out? Is there anything else you can tell me?"
"Just two things. He never does anything halfway; and
heís not nearly as mean as he wants people to think."
Time had not changed his first impressions; "What do you want?"
"Just lookiní for a sparring partner; someone who wonít hold back on me. Itís real simple, no questions asked; we have some fun, sweat a little, then go our separate ways."
Duncan nodded, secretly eager to make up for that Pretty Boy comment earlier. "I could give you armed combat," he gestured to the racks of practice weapons, "or unarmed," a nod toward the mat.
"Hand tí hand works just fine, Scotty." Duncan noted his opponent had enough respect to return the formal bow; after that his mind focused solely on the moment.
Duncan fought with an unconscious grace, letting his body move for him while he concentrated on his opponentís next action. Logan was all power, relying on the anything that works strategy of a born street fighter. He should have been outclassed in seconds but somehow Duncan couldnít get passed him. After he got past that odd size/weight problem, Mac tossed him a couple of times; the man shook it off easily and each time was on his feet in seconds. Duncanís every strike was like hitting a steel bar, while the other man could hit like a sledgehammer.
He grunted as he felt ribs breaking: make that a jackhammer. If this is what Logan called having a little fun, he sure didnít want to this man fight in earnest. There was no way he could stop now, if they slowed down long enough for the stranger to notice the healingó for an instant Duncan wondered if an Immortal could learn to hide his true nature; and in that crucial instant he was distracted. He heard an attack coming from behind; felt a sudden crushing pain in his spine; then, for a moment, he didnít feel anything at allÖ
Old Joe hadnít been kidding about this man, this MacLeod: he could take almost anything and gave as good as he got. The stubborn Scotsman just wouldnít back down, though he was obviously hurting badly. His conscience told him he had an unfair advantage; but the longer he fought, the more his wild side took over. Unthinking, he aimed a bone-crushing blow at the manís spine; watched in horror as MacLeod crumpled like a doll.
"Ah, hell" he whispered helplessly, "I broke him." He rushed forward, carefully turning the bigger man onto his back. As he leaned close to check for a pulse, Logan heard a sharp sound like the gasp of a drowning man; adrenaline took over. A hand fisted, the claws slid out for battleó
Duncan had long since lost count of his deaths, but he still hated coming back: the peculiar pain of the death wound reversing itself, that instant of disorientation. This time, his first awareness was of a sound, half-metallic, half-organic. He had to suppress a wave of nausea as he opened his eyes; no matter how often youíve seen a keen blade cut into flesh, the idea of something coming out of a body was something else entirely. He froze as he watched three blades quivering dangerously close to his neck. A harsh voice cut through the silence; "What are you? Even for a Mutie deadís dead." The words shocked him back to reality; heíd heard rumoursÖ
"I never said I was a mutant," he paused; now he had even more reason to be nervous. So, Mr. Loganís a little bit different; Dawson was developing a real sick sense of humour. "The Wolverine: a small but dangerous animal. I should have guessed."
"Smart man; maybe a little too smart. Now talk." Logan could smell the fear-sweat pouring off the man, and another scent, like steel and old blood.
MacLeod let out a slow, calming breath; to his credit,
his voice didnít quaver. "First maybe you could get rid of those, before
someone twitches and things get real messy around here." He watched with
peculiar fascination as claws retreated back into flesh. An empty, and
undamaged, hand offered to bring him to his feet.
Duncan just smiled, "Now, now, you were the one who said no questions."
"So I did." A long silence, then "Iím betting though thereís a reason you can fight like that."
"Thatís a pretty safe bet; what about you?"
The ghost of a smile; "Iíve seen some fighting in my day." Logan has been growing restless, either that or he feared turning sentimental. Putting down his drink, he rose from the low couch. He covered half the distance to the elevator before making one last comment, "Same time next week, Scotty?"
MacLeod sputtered in absolute amazement, "Are you crazy? In case you forgot, I just died!"
The mutant simply gave a shrug and a feral grin as he
pulled down the cage-like gate. At the last moment he heard a defiant "Two
weeks and Iíll be ready for you!" The sound of old machinery masked his
By the time Sparring Match got posted, I was worried that it wouldn't be considered a MWC entry anymore. The reaction, though, was a definite "better late than never" and several readers agreed that it was worth the wait.