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by Roderick Vincent
“Sure the fight was fixed. I fixed it with a right hand.” -George Foreman
Seee’s chest was scared. Jagged lacerations. Cigarette burns. Near the ribs there were a couple of patchy bullet wounds. Tribal scars were scraped into his biceps, crisscrossing patterns, tic-tac-toe where the scratches seemed to be etched out with a sharp rock or arrowhead. His hands were callused, dirt scratched into his fingernails. Part of his pectoral was cut out, a teaspoon lump of flesh removed. He stuck his finger in the hole and when he removed it, a black ant crawled up his finger before he sucked it off the back of his hand.
“Isse Corvus,” he said. “The SWAT negro. The college graduate ghetto boy. The computer ace. You weren’t just a sneaker were you? You were a black hacker wearing the Black Hat. Why did you quit?”
I laughed at him. “You’ve been fed the wrong information.”
“Does it look like I feed on lies?” He was lank but sculptured, cutout and molded from marble. A Rodin’s Athlete in the flesh. Arms that bore muscles twisting with toil, race-horse sinews in his forearms aching in strain. His jaw pushed outward from his face with Euclidean edges, a geometry that said he was used to a punch. “An officer-involved shooting for every year on the force.” He shuffled his glide foot over his right ankle in a Sugar Ray shuffle as he began circling me. Stomach muscles were bunched hills of flex, tightness born from the labor of twist and pull. He looked steel-wired into my unflinching eyes. “So you like to kill people?”
“I prefer not to, but you know how it goes.”
A shifty grin beamed over his face, as if out of the whole world of everything, I stood there as nothing. A taunt of fate perhaps, or a clear look into the cloudy days of my future. Unlike overblown fear-my-wrath glares I got in the octagon, he gazed right through me as if I were a window. I stood statuesque as his eyes moved over me sculpting me into something worthy of a fight. Then he nodded, and his whole body held the tension of an electrocution, muscles ripping like fissures during an earthquake, a body glittering with droplets of sweat. Yet he circled, calm and composed. “But do you shoot for the right reasons?”
“All of my hearings came out favorably.”
“Even with your father?”
Anger welled up inside me. An astute observer, he read it as easily as a seasoned card shark reads the rookie after the flip of the door card. “Even with my father,” I said finally, taking a moment to claw back an edge.
“You are the man who will not quit.” He said it in a tone more enunciated as a question rather than a statement.
“The word is not in my vocabulary.”
“So you see things clearly?”
“How do you know?”
“You think you’re about to win.”
I was six-foot two and outweighed him by twenty-five pounds. My MMA record would have been better if I had not broken my knee. Still I said, “I’m not so arrogant that I take it for granted, but it seems you are.”
“You’re not much of a shit-talker.”
“It’s never won me any fights.”
“I respect that.” He smiled and his yellow cheetah’s eyes widened inside his skull—pupils dilated to the size of coins, every ray of light bending into them, glowing with the fire of the orange-cindered sky.
Our chests swelled, and there, in the middle of that piss-hot jungle fogging up the ground, we shuffled on the edge of a volcano that wasn’t there. It was the square off, and the screaming of cicadas combusted with the howling of gawking men egging us on.
Kick his fucking ass. Beat the punk.
Each man picked a side. There was a melee of betting. Tune him up, Five-O, Grus taunted me. Bunker, fist pumping the air, yelled, “Don’t listen to him, Isse. Got my green riding on you baby. Fuckin’ knock him out.”
We circled one another until the air burst and hearts thumped against sternums and time compressed into a grain of sand under the muddy clearing.
I throw a quick left. Swift with zip—not a lot of weight behind it, but he evaporates in front of me. I feel a counter-hook sting my temple—a powerful ball-of-the-toes sort of punch. Snappy. Ear ringer. But he’d have to throw a lot of those to bring me down.
He follows with his glittery blood-shot eyes, throwing a flurry of fists and kicks. Triplets launched from rotating hips. I block incoming one and two, but he catches me with an inside leg kick close to the knee. I fake a wobble, but he’s too smart for that.
Raucous bellows bleed from the crowd. Five-O gonna get KO’d! Five-O gonna get KO’d!
Come back with a left jab. That’s it. Use the reach advantage. I hear old Bluetooth yelling at me from my corner from back in the day. I see him with that squint-eye and blue-capped incisor. Hit and run, he yells, 480-484. All the way from Harold’s gym on Figueroa Boulevard, he’s in my head police codes. I hear him repeat 480-484, loosen him up.I obey. I hear him like it was a million years ago. I’m dishing out combos. Leg kicks make his quads go pink. But this guy’s absorbing the shots, loving them, as if each one makes him stronger. Other men would have slowed by now, but he’s dancing around with a cherry leg and toothy smile. He squares off on me and delivers the same low-leg mule-kick to the thigh. I show him nothing. The smile is gleaming on his face, daring me to wipe it off. I push him backward and try a flying knee. He sees it coming—counters with an uppercut as I turn back to face him. Taste of blood in my mouth, hot and metallic. I spit it out with the gaggling of the men pleading for more.
He fakes a leg sweep. Throws a right hook. I block. He counters, catching me in the groin with a front kick. There is an instant where I feel nothing. I lunge forward with my right, but he is backing away, knowing the delayed reaction is a freight train coming. I fall to the ground and roll up into a ball.
“You want to know what his problem is?” he yells. His back is to me, lecturing the riotous men who have fallen silent like children being scolded by a boarding-school teacher. “He thinks this is a fair fight. He’s used to playing by the rules. Fucking MMA style. But there aren’t any rules out here. Look around. If I kill him now, who would care?”
The men look at one another uneasily. They didn’t bargain for this so soon.
Now the cicadas are the only ones answering, and they screech like fingernails grinding chalkboards. I push myself slowly to my feet. Blue pounding on the octagon floor yelling, Now you mad—up and at’em, dog—no mercy yo. I’m bent over, but I’m watching closely. I’m glaring with an intensity that could burn the sun. A whirl of strategies flood my mind. I’m in the game now. A blitzkrieg of rage, bones solidifying into new shapes, ready for a new fight. A different sort of animal awakes, one bitter and full of hate. It’s born inside me, a feeling of primordial madness cracking like splinters through spine and joint. This animal doesn’t feel the tap. Doesn’t loosen the Boa grip of the sleeper. He grits his teeth with eagerness while swallowing the key of the death-lock. He spits on mercy and calls it a four-lettered word.
I fall on him with the wind of a tornado. His back still toward me, he whirls around in time to face a hurling storm of fists and kicks—jabs, hooks, uppercuts, neck grabs, knees—landing here and there before he dashes out of the flurry. His lips curl into the same menacing smile.
Stun a man before a take down, Blue says. You want your opponent’s head ringing, dog—like a clanging bell. And it’s then I catch him with a right hook. Fist on cheekbone. Crack like a baseball. Head snapping. Sweat ripped from his face. Suspended in mid-air. His body not yet gotten the signal to fall. The crowd knows it’s solid. They groan simultaneously, a hint of shock in their moans. But I have the feeling of orgasmic connection. Discombobulating—his smile vanishes—a keen sense of trouble has his eyes shaking. A microsecond of electrical pulse to his brain—fusion with fear, reverting to a spark of instinct. Arms raise, ready for a pounding, a hesitation where I slip below his chin, driving my shoulder into his chest and locking up his legs. Now finish it yo, I hear Blue cry and I roar to his tune.
Lift. Body slam.
Pelletier, dead man for delivery.
As I crush him to the ground, the spray of mud splatters around us wetting the men tight in their circle. He squirms into a guard and latches on tight. I push my arm close to my cheek and pry him away. I feel a sharp pain come from my shoulder. He has bitten a hunk of my flesh and there is fresh blood dripping down my chest. I elbow him once, but he’s wrapped up tight, squirming like a snake under the swash and slither of sweat and blood and inching closer to my throat.This part of it is your game, yo. You gonna fix him up or you gonna date this bitch? I push forward and lock one knee by his hip. I strain for the other and then burst through his guard. The full mount is like a summit I’m raging upon. I rain down a tumult of punches and his only defense is cover-and-prey. The mountain is below me and I have conquered this bitch. I want to feel him fold. I want to straddle a limp body underneath me. And if nobody’s going to drag me off, I’m going to keep punching until there’s nothing but skull and cavity.
But then, something sudden happens. My arms go limp. My chest tightens. A thought whizzes by that there’s no way I could have punched myself out already. What the fuck, Blue? What the fuck is going on? Punch, you son of a bitch. Punch! But nothing’s happening. My arms flop—shoulders twisting to move dead branches. Limp hands dangling in the slop. He loosens his guard, flashes the insidious smile.
“You’re done now, Isse Corvus.”
The paralysis has spread to my legs. He flops me over and I fall like a rootless tree axed at the knees. Then he unloads on me with a right hand as he pins my neck down with the left. I see blood jumping, the splatter of it when he connects, his knuckles bloody, his tawny-brown face speckled and flaming. In the eyes burns a no-mercy meanness. I don’t know how much he’s hurting me ‘cause I can’t feel it. It’s like a knee surgery you’re awake for. The tug of the scalpel and a light brushstroke sensation that is blood they’re wiping away from you. Blood is running over my tongue, which is only just beginning to numb. I ask Blue if I’m going to die, and he says, I don’t know, dog. I don’t know. Ain’t seen anything like this. So in the middle of a ground-and-pound, I give him a smile, the same smile he’s given me, a smile that says I’m ready for whatever you got coming next. I’ve been through worse. A lot fucking worse.
A fog is coming and I’m slipping out of the world, running into a deep, dark rabbit hole, and something’s down in there hollering. It saysrespect, and perhaps it’s him or perhaps it’s Blue. The voice is murky and I’m none too sure. But through the red pool I’m swimming in, the rain of fists stop. Halfway in my vantage point, I see him there by the men. He’s dripping under my eyes, but I can’t tell whose blood is whose. My ears catch what he’s saying, but it’s echoing from the hole and coming in black, fringed at the edges like a burnt piece of paper.Blue, I think he’s done me. Not yet dog, you ain’t done. How do you know? I ask. Too easy, yo. He got somethin’ special planned for you. Too easy to waste you now.
And from down in the hole, he speaks, his voice echoing from a distance a parsec away, a staticky voice coming at me like radio waves in a tunnel. “An asset that fights fair is a liability, a liability that brings you death in the real world.”
He’s in my purview—a red, watercolored, dripping man facing the men. His waving arms blend with the men in their olive camouflaged fatigues and the forest behind them. My swollen tongue hangs out of my mouth and sags in a mud puddle. I’m dying, and I don’t even feel a thing. Look Blue, I really am a dog. You ain’t shittin’ me, son, Blue says. You hang tight. You gonna make it through this. I don’t believe you, I say.
And then I hear Seee speak once more.
“Here, where you are now, we play in the real world. Your training will be real world. Not all of you will come out of it alive, as I’ve said. So lesson number one is to take a fucking good look at this man and understand that, by God, there are no rules. Men are out to kill you, and every fight is a fight for survival.”
The men holding their breaths out there blur with the trees, faces like thumbprints, branches gobbling them up. Jungle’s gonna swallow me, Blue. I’m just the first. I’m the lucky one.
“You will play dirty. You will play to win at all costs, because the cost of your life is a price too high to pay unless you are asked to sacrifice it. And in this camp, you will be prepared for that too. You will prepare for combat in its many forms. As you’ve seen today, size makes little difference. The cunning are the victorious. Small beats large.”
He walks over to me and pokes something tiny and glassy up to my eyes. A miniature syringe that glitters in the light.
“I will seek to stretch you from the two polarities of humanity—from your intelligence to the deeply primordial. These two coexist, albeit in dormant forms. Those that successfully finish the training will learn how to be both animal and sifu. Here we are in the womb of nature, where mercy is interpreted as weakness and weakness is locked in the jaws of death.”
The men stood limply in anticipation as the world went black. The singed forest fringed reality, crackling and then puffing out into darkness. This way it would stay for a period of time that would be difficult to recall.
About the Author:
A good part of his childhood and young-adult years were spent living on the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
His short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in Writer’s Digest, Ploughshares Blog, The Nervous Breakdown, The Baltimore Post Examiner, Straylight, and Offshoots.