Vern Twister, Champion of the World
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Success"
Originally featured on 05-14-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

People ask me why I got into comp-fighting. They never ask how. The phrasing is always why, like it’s supposed to be linked to something else. Like it’s something I had to do, and not in a romantic sense. They’re looking for an instigator: it’s something I had to do, because. Because of something else. That’s the failure of their thinking.

They can only conceive of any one thing in terms of something else. What I’ll never tell them is, if you want to be a comp-fighter, every question starts with a how.

When I fought Mackenzie for the national title, I had a chunk of his liver in my teeth and in my left fist was something else squishy that I can only presume came from the gaping purple hole in his abdomen when I knew I would lose. The networks all predicted I would lose, not because I’m a woman — although my unlikely successes in a predominantly male sport are creating more media buzz than I ever care to be aware of — but because of my training methods. When you’re fighting at this level, people pay attention to that stuff. The traditional jumping rope up a flight of stairs and then pausing at the top to squat with piles of stones balanced on one’s shoulders while solving Nth Track Polynommial Surface Hatching equations out loud — I find that boring.

Am I rambling? Sure, just keep the tape rolling, you can edit it down later however you will. I don’t remember what you said this was for; a magazine article? A motivational video? Please don’t construe my absence of any fetish for publicity as indifference toward this interview; I am grateful for the opportunity. As I was saying.

For me it’s more musical. The numbers are all in the rhythms. Ten years ago I invented an instrument I call a Slider. It’s made of an alloy I developed during my metallurgy lab-work as a post-doc — to preserve secrecy, I am unable to disclose any further description of the material, for the sake of this article. The Slider functions like the strings of a guitar, except that it vibrates as one continuous strip of metal, much like tin foil in appearance, covering a tonal range of three and seven eights octaves.

A chromatic scale never satisfied me. I knew at the age of nine when I tired of the piano that I needed to find the notes between the notes. All of them.

The slider creates frequencies that defy musical theory. In my mind I rewrite musical theory every time I hear it. To an observer watching me train, I would appear to be dancing. If you continued to spy my routine, you’d see that my movements go on for several hours longer than you would expect. The purple hole in Mackenzie’s torso is not gushing blood anymore, because it is sealed off by my heel that I’ve firmly planted on his appendix. Getting a feel for the gradients of his blood flow against my skin, I can now examine how it is that I am losing this contest.

For those readers who are not familiar with the sport of comp-fighting, I offer this incomplete definition. Before the Olympic sprinter Hans Lakehouse published his treatise on the human body’s ability to heal itself and regenerate damaged tissue via endorphin-focused hyper-cardiovascular exertion (refer to Malzkhauseur’s Theory of Subatomic Anthrokinetics), combat sports had rules.

With today’s nutrition, athletes move their bodies three hundred percent faster than the trendsetters of my parents’ generation. At these speeds, brute force, endurance and technique are meaningless. To reach the level of fitness comp-fighting requires, one must condition their bodies by traditional means in the most extreme. Once you’re in that ring with your opponent, it is no longer about sound, sight and body.

Comp-fighting is a contest of mathematics in its purest form. It is not a spectator sport: an observer would only see a blur of colors. No grunts, yells or exhalations can be heard. Infrared cameras capture the action to be televised in super slow motion, and the action involves a high degree of temporary mutilation. If one were to speak of strategy in comp-fighting, the sport would be better understood by analogy to the game of chess than to wrestling or tournaments of hand-to-hand combat.

It is of no tactical concern that Mackenzie has severed my jaw from my head and is dismantling my teeth in search of some equation. Trauma to my mouth or nose always causes a ringing in my ears, and floods of internal noise render me useless. This tells me that Mackenzie has watched me fight many times, and knows how I use sounds. He allowed me that cheap shot to his liver as a decoy. His weakness is not tied to the functioning of any part of his body in proximity to the purple hole I blazed in his abdomen. The game is one of exhaustion. If he manages to mangle my ear canal and burst my eardrums, I will lose energy and my heart rate will collapse into normal human time. Defeat is when the heart slows to normal. A good fighter can only be defeated if they suffer a blow to their center of power. Everybody’s center of power is different; some fighters come from the stomach, some come from the fingers, some from the eyes.

I usually determine my opponent’s center of power early on by their body language. It’s not something fighters necessarily keep a secret. Guarding it is a lot easier than keeping it secret. I had been certain Mackenzie’s was his liver, but I was misled.

He is grinding away the enamel on my teeth with his fist. I feel the explosions of pain in the center of my head every time his fingernail burrows into my gums. My heart becomes aware of its rapid firing and struggles to keep pace. Then he hits something inside my tooth. Something I not only feel but hear. Beyond the ringing and the pain.

I tap a musical frequency I never before considered in my studies and explorations. A note that has never existed and never will again. It is in this way that I will be victorious.

I hear the vibrations of his body, and my ear pieces the man together one cell at a time. I know where in his body his power flows from. I make my attack.

The other question they always ask me is why I use the stage name Veronica Twester. This question I answer liberally. My first mentor — who will go unnamed, for the sake of this article — used to have a nickname that he would give anybody who annoyed him. If he called you “Vern,” that was how you knew that you’d pissed him off. My second mentor — who will also remain anonymous — had the exact same habit. When she was displeased with someone, she would playfully refer to that someone as “Doctor Twister” usually in the third person. I adopted the name Veronica Twester because when I fight, I am nothing if not a magnification of everything that irked my mentors.

Because there is nothing that pissed them off more than that which they love me for.

Comp-fighting is not something one does because of anything else one has done. Comp-fighting is a measure of what your mind and body dares to do at one time.

The Slider is not a musical instrument in the performance sense, because it does not produce a sound that is pleasant or by any means comprehensible to the ear. I avoid interviews — at least the kind of interviews where someone else does any talking — because my answers to questions do not make me personable.

The only true answers are when I can say it’s simply a matter of dancing.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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