By all appearances it looked to be an ordinary graduation day. The sun was shining. Students, faculty, and parents sat in their assigned places suspiciously glaring at their neighbors and eyeing the exits.
Benjamin imagined his mother sitting in an aisle seat close to the back smirking over at him knowing only half the journey was done. Her dark braid would dangle over her shoulder. Her sharp eyes would be lit with something other than pride. Instead a deflated man with a goat’s beard fiddled with the knives hidden in his sleeves. The calm mask the man was wearing began to sweat at the edges.
Benjamin checked his sleeves for his knives as well. He wasn’t sure why everyone hid things in their sleeves. Everyone had something up his or her sleeves. It might be refreshing to stop pretending that no else did. He scanned the blank faces of the audience. They all scratched their sleeves or their boots, trying to keep their hands on whatever weapon lay there. All eyes twitched back and forth watching their neighbors. There were some families here that had long feuds. That was probably why his mother insisted that he not mention whom his father was. Too many people knew the infamous Black Eyed Barnaby and how he assisted the great Shreb as the Head Villain over the Thief’s Plain.
Benjamin slid his attention to Headmaster Greeley who was mumbling along in a strained way. It was rumored that an assassination attempt on Greely’s life was foiled just this very morning. Ah, well. That would have been exciting. Perhaps Benjamin would have been allowed to conduct the ceremonies himself. If so they’d already be over. He really thought gatherings of villains should be kept short and to the point, to avoid body counts. But no one asked him, the only surviving valedictorian of The Villain’s Academy.
“We would like to honor those students unable to attend these ceremonies due to a truly ill-timed outbreak of influenza.” Greely said with a grave face. “And others who failed to follow the points of the graduation treaty that they all agreed to and signed.”
Got caught you mean. Benjamin smiled at the three empty seats between him and the podium. This sort of things seemed to happen to him all the time. He was a fortunate villain indeed. He breathed in the moment and then slid his knife out and cut through the hair wires and disarmed other booby-traps that had been twined around his chair since the ceremony started. A gentle breeze brushed across his face. Benjamin slipped a tiny wrapper from his pocket and lifted it to his ear as if to scratch. He unleashed a fine powder behind him that would be carried by the breeze to the graduates behind him. He held his breath. Nothing serious just something to cloud their plotting little minds. Everyone would be in a bit of a stupor just long enough for him to make a clean getaway.
“Our original valedictorian was among those unable to attend,” said Headmaster Greely, barely intelligible. “We thank Benjamin Black who has graciously prepared a short last minute address in his place. Benjamin.”
Benjamin stood up and scanned the audience and students behind him for sudden movements or furtive glances. His fellow graduates seemed safely socked away in a fog bank. The parents were too busy looking over their own shoulders to be a threat. Headmaster Greely turned and offered his hand. Benjamin scanned him once again for signs of weapons or discoloration that could indicate a poisoned palm. Nothing. Benjamin shook the man’s hand. Greely threatened Benjamin through a gritted smile. “And by short I mean short. Or there may not be any survivors.”
Point taken. Benjamin beamed and cleared his throat as he scanned the podium noting a dart sticking along the outer edge, most likely poisoned. Looking up he locked eyes or eye with a sad old man wearing a hooded cloak; iron hair drizzled down his shoulders. An eye patch glistened in the shadow of his hood. The hair on the back of Benjamin’s neck stood up. A knot tightened in his chest. He scanned the restless audience. Benjamin skipped over the detail description of his brilliance he had prepared and went straight to the final sentence, which carried a new literal meaning for him, as he stood so exposed at the podium. He glanced at Greely who looked like he was prepared to bolt.
“If we survive today, we can conquer tomorrow!”
This met with general cheers from the audience and a few delirious outbursts from the graduates behind him. Chairs shuffled behind Benjamin and he ducked. One graduate fell over onto her neighbor and was then reflexively shoved to the floor. A sluggish brawl started as daggers were fumbled and chairs and students crashed off the stage. In the midst of the confusion, Benjamin skittered to the back of the stage. He easily sidestepped the slow off-balanced lunges aimed at him. He felt an eye on him. He turned. The grizzled man in a hood smiled at Benjamin before ducking away into the chaos that surged around him.
Benjamin slid from the stage and gathered his pack he’d tucked away under an overturned tub just outside the imposing stonewalls of The Villain’s Academy. He hurried through the dry brush, keeping the Sunrise Mountains to his left. He had one safe place to go. A place only he knew about. His hideout. Home sweet home.
This is a character sketch exercise I wrote in connection with my upcoming novel, The Villain’s Assistant.
Photo Credit: Anne