The training camp turned out to be a forest on the outskirts of Joint Base San Antonio. The Blue Nasties, Marilyn, Billy the Cameraman, and Colonel Ripper gathered before a wooden training course in the middle of it. Everyone was now in costume. To Jack’s surprise, Sam was wearing a red and black plaid pattern flannel jacket, blue overalls, steel toe cap boots, and backpack ensemble similar his own.
‘Hey,’ he said to Marilyn. ‘Why is she wearing that?’
Marilyn smiled. ‘Because that’s her slasher costume, silly! She’s your sidekick now! The boys at the office wanted to dress her up in some skimpy Red Indian princess fiasco and have her throw tomahawks at people, but I was having none of that nonsense!’ She patted herself on the back. ‘It’s a man’s world; we girls have to look out for each other. Tell him your slasher name, Sam!’
Sam sighed, took a pair of hatchets out of her backpack, and held them up in an action pose. Her voice was devoid of emotion. ‘I’m the Lumberjane.’
‘She’s the Lumberjane!’ Marilyn hugged Sam. ‘Isn’t she precious? We’re going to spread a rumour that you two are dating to help out ANN’s ratings. The potential for merchandise is limitless!’
‘But…’ said Jack, ‘we’re supposed to be dating.’
Marilyn scoffed and squeezed his shoulder. ‘Well, of course we are, darling! Bless your heart! But all play and no work make for hungry babies! I’m thinking of our future really!’
Sam tugged at Marilyn’s sleeve. ‘Can I at least have a mask to protect my secret identity?’
‘No, dear. You’re a celebrity now. Your identity belongs to the public.’
Colonel Ripper jumped onto a wooden wall on the training course in front of them. ‘Ten-hut! All eyes on me!’
Marilyn gave Billy the Cameraman the okay hand signal to start recording.
‘Welcome to your first day of slasher boot camp, maggots! We’ll start with introductions and motivations! I am Colonel Richard D Ripper! You will refer to me as Colonel! My hobbies include long walks down the beach, reading American Civil War military memoirs, and stabbing communists with sharp objects! My goal is to rid the world of the Red Menace once and for all! Dumb blonde, you’re up next!’
‘Um, Colonel?’ Jack raised his hand. ‘If you’re a slasher, how are you still allowed in the Army?’
‘Are you kidding me?! The average American of enlisting age is one cheeseburger away from a heart attack! We’d accept Buddhist monks so long as they were fighting fit! Now, name and motivation!’
‘Oh. Okay. My name is Jack, Jack Schretcher, or the Lumberjack if you’re feeling formal. I guess my motivation is to marry my best gal here.’ He gestured to Marilyn, who clicked her fingers and pointed back at him. ‘And that’s me.’
‘That’s it?!’ Colonel Ripper tilted his head to the side. ‘You’re fighting in the Death Game so you can marry a broad?! Surely there has to be something more to it than that! What made you become a slasher in the first place?!’
Images of bodies in a desert flashed through Jack’s mind. He hunched over and held his aching head.
‘Jack?’ said Marilyn. ‘What’s wrong?’
Jack shook his head and straightened up. ‘Nothing…. I served in the military…a military before, Colonel. I’d rather not go into what led me to become a slasher. If you want another motivation…how’s about I’d like to become strong enough to be my own master.’
Colonel Ripper nodded. ‘Fair enough! Midget!’
Puck crossed her arms. ‘The name’s Puck. No one calls me Sidney Gretzky except my mother. I’m the best there is at whatever I do, and I’m going to become the Number One Slasher. Also, screw you, Colonel.’
‘I am called Mezu, but my real name is Kazuo Takenaka. I seek the Dagger of Life and Death on the behalf of the Oyabun of the Udon Family. I would like everyone here to know that though I may not show emotion due to my adherence to bushido, I sincerely hate all of you.’
‘Uh! Hi! I’m Sam Jacinto, and I’—Marilyn scowled at her—'but by night I am the Lumberjane!’ Sam quickly adopted her action pose. Marilyn nodded. ‘My motivation is actually to kill all slashers so protect my little brother Miguel. I’d hate to come to blades with anyone here, though, so if you could all find Jesus that’d be great.’
‘Protestant Jesus?’ said Colonel Ripper.
Colonel Ripper lifted his mask up just so he could split on the ground. ‘Not interested! Prostitute!’
Marilyn turned to Billy the Cameraman with her microphone in hand. ‘This is Marilyn Fox here reporting from a secret location in Texas. I’ve gained exclusive access to a “slasher boot camp” headed up by none other than Colonel Ripper, the Number One Slasher. I’ve just been asked what my motivation is as part of the initiation ceremony.’ She put her hand to her chin. ‘I suppose becoming the CEO of America News Network would hit the spot. Though to be honest, sometimes I wish I could become something like the King in Yellow, y’know? Reality warping powers, putting on battle royals for my amusement, a flashy hooded robe. Very cool, very dangerous, very chic….’ She seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then she winked to the camera. ‘I’m just kidding! I’m not that much of a social climber! Let’s get back to the action!’
Billy the Cameraman opened his mouth to speak.
‘Shut up!’ said Colonel Ripper.
Billy the Cameraman closed his mouth.
Colonel Ripper sighed. ‘And what is the name of this merry band of misfits?’
‘They’re called the Blue Nasties!’ said Marilyn. ‘Look!’ She pointed to the blue of Jack and Sam’s overalls, the blue of the writing on Puck’s Montreal Canucks jersey, and the blue of Mezu’s blue oni mask. ‘They’re blue, and they’re nasty. Clever, no?’
Everyone spoke as one. ‘No.’
‘Well,’ said Colonel Ripper, ‘that’s about half of the introductions done.’
‘Half?’ said Jack.
‘Yup. You didn’t really think that Jackal News would waste a big shot like me training a grand total of four B-list slashers, did you? No, we partnered with Great News too. Here comes the Lonely Hearts now.’
Six slashers emerged from the trees behind them. There was a couple wearing a jade Aztec warrior mask and a totem pole-like Hawaiian warrior mask, a couple wearing a Mantis mask and a Jellyfish mask, and a couple wearing a nurse costume…and a plague doctor costume.’
The Plague Doctor sniggered through his bird mask and spoke with his annoying English accent. ‘It’s been a while…Lumberjack!’