by Rachel Thomas
Ninjaboy's mother fixes him macaroni and cheese when they get home that day of the field trip. The house is much like the car, although it has wood floors not carpet, so the fur settles in drifts. The kitchen is clearest of hair for hygienic purposes, and meals often take place there. Ninjaboy sits on one side of the blue and green Formica table with his macaroni while his mother braids pink leather bracelets across from him.
Ninjaboy looks up from his bowl and at his mother. She is shorter than Ninjaboy now, but she will always be wider. She is wearing a t-shirt with a wolf howling at the moon. Many of her t-shirts have wolves on them, because they are connected to her Cherokee heritage. Her pancake-shaped face, the little features lost in plains of flesh, is very similar to Ninjaboy's. When she smiles the oceans of flesh are pushed up towards her glasses and lift them a little off her nose. The glasses are pressed against her face now as she frowns at the hot pink leather strips before her.
Ninjaboy looks at his mother but inside he is thinking. He is thinking about what Brad said about the tower. Normally he does not think about any of the stupid things Brad says, but normally Brad does not challenge him so directly.
"Mom," Ninjaboy says. His mother looks up from her work, her hip-length gray braid flopping off her shoulder.
"I'm very busy today. I'll take you to Gamestop later."
"I don't need to go to Gamestop mom. I went two days ago and the next Halo doesn't come out till next Wednesday. I want to ask you a question." Ninjaboy says.
"You know that I'm actually really a ninja, right?" As his mother she should know that she has created a supreme stealth assassin. She can dispel the thoughts of Brad, and the tower.
She puts down the half-braided bracelet and looks at him, her glasses settling into her nose as she frowns.
"Honey, you're almost an adult now. I've always encouraged you to be what you want because you know how grandma and grandpa never let me be what I wanted, but it might be time to start thinking about what you really want to be. Maybe you should become a game programmer. If you became a game programmer, you could set up your office in the basement and live here. You wouldn't have to pay rent."
Ninjaboy does not respond to this suggestion. He thinks for a moment that he could leap across the table and strangle his mother with her braid, showing her what he thinks of being a game programmer, but that would be disrespectful. He picks up his microwave-safe plate of macaroni and cheese and goes to scrape it into the trashcan. Ninjaboy's mother watches him with her mouth twisted into a wrinkled upside-down U, but she does not say anything. When he has finished dumping his macaroni, he puts the plate in the paint-spattered kitchen sink and goes to his room, which is up the stairs and at the end of the windowless hall. He is careful to latch the door. He has learned not to trust his mother with an unlocked door. Boys need space. Particularly when they are ninjas.
Ninjaboy sits down on his black bedspread and begins his meditation breathing. He hopes that by breathing he can clear his mind of the thoughts of Brad and the tower, and the memory of what his mother just said. Or rather, what she did not just say. She did not say "You are a ninja."
Ninjaboy looks at the room, staying in the "now" as the Wikipedia page instructed.
His eyes drift to his bureau. It is particularly wide and tall but only the two top drawers are filled with clothes. The remaining three drawers contain his weapons. He keeps his shuriken, throwing stars, knives and darts in several plastic Pokemon deck cases, one type of Pokemon for each type of shuriken. His katana he keeps sheathed and wrapped up in a bleach-stained towel in the bottom drawer, next to his swordstick, which is useless now because Brad broke the cane that concealed the blade. He slammed it against the vinyl siding of the house while attempting a spinning, over-the-head "Viking" strike, as he called it.
Brad flashes into Ninjaboy's freshly cleared mind like blood across a paper screen. He sees Brad again, Brad pointing to the tower, Brad leaning forward in the bus with the others behind him like an acne-masked army. His classmates believe Brad, not Ninjaboy. He has heard their whispers in the classrooms, on the bus rides;
"I just kinda worry about him, ya know? He's just so quiet all the time, like he's not really there. Like, what if we come back for a reunion and he's still here in thirty years, what if he's one of those guys that's trapped?"
"It's not like he does pot or meth or anything. If he gets stuck here it'll be because his mom's keeping him in a birdcage, or he's locked up in an insane asylum."
"That's not funny."
"Well, he could always cut his way out of the straitjacket with his ninja powers." This was usually accompanied by waggling fingers and a dramatic voice.
He has thought of all the terrible things he could do to them, when they say things like that, but he always restrains himself. He has never even used his ninja powers on Brad, although there have been times when he has sorely wanted to. With Brad in his thoughts again, Ninjaboy forces himself to pay attention to the "now".
His eyes pass from the bureau. There is a poster hanging next to his window, a reproduction of an old painting from Feudal Japan. It shows a figure shrouded in black, crouched low on a curling rooftop against the light of the moon. The archetypal, quintessential ninja. The poster is everything Ninjaboy aspires to. Ninjaboy has never crept along rooftops by moonlight.
He looks out the window. The pine trees outside, lit by the afternoon sun, drop away quickly into a ravine behind the house. Ninjaboy goes down there sometimes. It is a good place to practice his super ninja powers, although he only practices the form, even down there where no one can see him.
He has never used his super ninja powers really. He's never needed to; he just needs to know that he could use them, if he wanted.
Something whispers at the back of Ninjaboy's thoughts and he quickly turns his eyes to a new distraction. They land on his bookshelf. Dog-eared back issues of Shonen Jump are piled on one shelf. Part of the pile has shifted and several flopping magazines have slid into a heap on the floor. Above this, the colorful spines of mangas fill three shelves. They are all mangas about ninjas, or they at least have ninjas in them. Many of them have notes in the margins in Ninjaboy's strange, half-capitalized, half-lowercase handwriting.
Ninjaboy has learned many things from careful study of these fictional works. He has never met another ninja to teach him, he has had to teach himself everything he knows.
The whisper comes again, and Ninjaboy gets up and crosses to his bureau. He opens the bottom drawer and reverently pulls out the katana. It is curved and smooth, the round hilt fitting into his right hand and the circular guard resting against the top of his curled forefinger. He wraps his left hand around the sheath and draws the blade free with a hiss. He loves the hiss of the metal coming free. They have to write it in, in the mangas, and that is not the same as the sound. It is like a little song that the blade composes with the sheath, a stealthy song of moonlight and curling rooftops. It sends a shiver down Ninjaboy's spine.
He brings the blade close to his face, eyes following the sheer edge. It is not as sharp as it could be, but it is sharp enough. He could cut Brad's head off with this, show his nemesis that he is a real ninja. That would stop Brad from challenging Ninjaboy to fly from towers.
His eyes alight on a small word near the hilt, stamped into the hand guard. He has never noticed it before because the hand guard is black and so are the faintly raised letters. He reads them.
"Replica" the letters say.