Well, this is chapter 3.
Left, left, left, right; one-two; keep the feet moving. Guard up, chin tucked in. Sway, duck, and weave. Circle left, then cut sharply to the right; keep the rhythm up, side-to-side motion.
I open my eyes.
The room was dusty. It smelled of sweat. I knew that smell so well.
Iâ€™ve been boxing since I was ten. I earned my pro license at sixteen. Before all of this got in the way, I was ranked third in the 145-lb division, maybe a fight or two away from a title fight for the national belt. Well, there isnâ€™t going to be a championship fight.
Not anymore. But there will be fighting. Ah, yes, here in the Judgment, thereâ€™s nothing else.
Every year, this cruel contest is held. On the surface, itâ€™s the only guaranteed way to receive amnesty; whoever you are, however evil and heinous your crimes may be, and whatever high court sentenced you to death. Itâ€™s a â€œget out of jail freeâ€ card, but it has never paid off.
The selection for the elimination is simple. Every year, thirty-two eligible criminals selected at random put forth an eligible family member of their choosing -willing or unwilling - to participate; usually one of their children, or in some cases, a younger sibling. The age requirement is eighteen, no more, no less. And thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here.
My father is a waste of a man. Ever since my mother died giving birth to my sister, all he did was beat me and go out with his friends, usually at night. A couple years ago, the whole lot of them got arrested; the charges were grave robbing. Then of all people, he gets selected for the Judgment. I was served my â€œinvitationâ€ at the gym, in the middle of sparring.
The only silver lining is that he got selected now. Another year, and no doubt, it would be my sister here. And she would never survive. Now I have to, not for my father, but for her.
The buzz sounds. My senses on edge - I was in match fitness - I sprang to my feet. The door slid open. I entered the field.
It wasnâ€™t anything like walking into a boxing arena. No cheers, no lights, no crowds. Itâ€™s just me, the other guy, and this field. As the door slid close behind me, I took a look over my shoulder. The grass in front of the entrance was all bloody.
Looks like the winner of the last match savaged the other guy - or girl. Well, I shouldnâ€™t worry about him until later on. It will be the elimination quarterfinals before we even get a chance to meet.
I looked back across the field as the door behind me clicked close. He was a tall, gangling guy. That meant a height and reach advantage. I put on my boxing stance, trying to psyche him out.
â€œThis is the third match in the first round of elimination. Let Judgment begin.â€
Iâ€™ll say this for the other guy: heâ€™s fast. The announcement was barely over, and he was out, running full-tilt toward me. Staying light on the balls of my feet, I moved left, turning my body ever so slightly to extend the reach of my left hand. Iâ€™m a jab first fighter favoring the orthodox stance, so it was natural.
He kept coming, veering slightly so as to compensate for my movement. Is he planning to ram me? I bounced up and down in place, ready to react.
Iâ€™ll say something else about him: he has good brakes. I skipped right, past his headlong tackle attempt, and he stopped well enough away from the wall, avoiding a crash. I turned around, immediately on the attack.
I started off with three jabs, in a small triangle: right cheek, nose, jaw. He blocked the first two with his arms and evaded the third by backing away. I could almost commend him for turning around as fast as I did.
I followed, hot on his heels. I faked a stiff jab high, aimed at his cheek again. He bit the bait and I dove in, deep, with a left hook to the body. He tried to shrink away from it, but too late.
He was backpedaling, his guard lower now. I chased, circling slightly to the right, in order to cut off his escape. It was time to use the right hand and end this.
He caught me by surprise as his left fist shot out toward me. I parried it away, and swayed to avoid the right behind it. Damn reach advantage!
I took half a step back as his punches gained some rhythm. He was headhunting, so I set my guard tight and waded in low. I caught a few glancing blows to my shoulders, and one clipped my left ear, but I got in.
Once inside, I knew I had the advantage. I set to work with a left hook, to the same spot as before. He grunted in pain, and grabbed me in a clinch. His grip was strong, and the position stopped me from using my right hand. I unloaded short, rapid-fire lefts into his side again until he pushed off.
I made to follow, but he started throwing wild punches as he backpedaled. Staying alert, I set my guard, staying just outside the range of his punches as I set to cut off his escape yet again.
He was falling right into a classic boxerâ€™s trap. Concealing my grin behind my fists, I continued to herd him toward the corner of the field.
His back finally hit the wall, and he glanced in that direction. Pure instinct, I guess. He never noticed I was herding him along the wall and into the corner until he hit the adjoining wall.
I took advantage of that small moment of confused panic and dove right in again, this time not ducking down. Opponents with long reach are a pain to deal with at a distance, but close up, itâ€™s easy.
I let loose a barrage of punches. Two jabs, right hook to the side, left hook to the temple, right straight to his face, a left hook to his side. He grunted as each punch landed, but his long arms were shielding his head and body well. I had to change tactics and not punch myself out.
I change into methodically hitting his guard with short, precise, straight punches. I needed space to land even just one hit on his head. I had to be careful when I picked where I hit and how hard. This wasnâ€™t a boxing ring; the walls were concrete, and Iâ€™d shatter my hands easily if I miss. I didnâ€™t even have gloves to wear.
His guard didnâ€™t last long. After half a minute, it was starting to shake loose with each blow, his arms red with welts. Finally, his two hands spread apart, perhaps an inch and a half space between them; at last, an opening.
I sent his right hand flying with a well-placed right hook, and now half his face was open for my left hand. I sent an overhand left toward his chin. I turned to get full extension - thereâ€™s time for power later, when his guard finally cracks - shielding my head with my right hand just in case.
There was no impact. I overbalanced a little bit, staggered after Iâ€™d positioned myself to fully extend the blow. What the hell?
I tried to turn back around; there were too many openings. I took a quick glance down and saw his feet. He was standing on his toes. Withdrawing my left arm as I turned, I looked up at him. He had leaned back his head, his neck fully extended and his chin out of reach. His shoulders couldnâ€™t fit into the corner, but there was enough space for his head to lean back to. Two very simple measures, combined with his natural lofty stature, used to evade my blow.
Damn height advantage!
Suddenly, the left side of my head explodes in pain. I was sent reeling, and my right shoulder rebounded off the wall. Somehow, I kept my footing. I stepped back a bit, trying to shake it off. Iâ€™d forgotten about his right arm, what with focusing on hitting his head.
He looked down on me, crouched down as I was with my guard held shakily in front of me, and smiled. He set his arms in front of him and gave me a â€œcome-hitherâ€ gesture.
What the hell?
I still have him cornered. My head still throbbed, but I had to push my advantage. Knocking my fists together - an old tradition in our gym - I tightened my guard and pushed in again.
His left hand shot out at me, straight and fast. My guard just about shattered as my two hands flew apart.
My trainer would have wept. I was rushing, he was standing. His punch had all his power behind it, and my forward motion to boot. My guard was isolated, my feet unable to take the brunt of the blow since I was moving. Ah, crap.
The right was zooming in. I tried to get my hands back together, get my guard back up.
I tried to stop my forward motion, heels digging down.
I attempted to lean back at the last second. My hands were still ringing, their motion slow. My body was busy expending my forward motion to the part furthest from the ground - my head. Ah, crap.
Iâ€™d taken straight rights before; but never bare-fisted. Iâ€™d been caught rushing in. I almost blacked out as I fell, flat on my back.
I had spots dancing before my eyes. I tried to blink them back and struggle to my feet. My head was now screaming in pain. Holding on to the wall, I stood back up, the way boxers sometimes used the ropes or the corners.
I faced him. He was standing there casually, hands at his side. Was he mocking me? I decided Iâ€™d have to move in again, more cautiously this time around.
Holding a shaky guard in front of me, I started to step toward him. Started, but didnâ€™t finish. The moment my left foot left the ground, I was reeling, all balance lost. It was all I could do to fall backward and land on my butt, somewhat safe.
Ridiculous; I couldnâ€™t have taken this much damage, could I? I held the sides of my head in my hands. The left one came away wet, a bright red liquid smeared all over it.
I am bleeding.
Most people think boxers are used to getting cut. Blood is a part of the sport. But this isnâ€™t boxing. No ten counts, no bells to save you, no corner man to throw in the towel. No rematches.
I shuffled backward, along the grassy field. It was all I could do, what with shaky knees and a shot up sense of balance. I guess his right, the first blow he hit me with, got to my ear or something. It sure busted me wide open.
I looked back up at him. He was leaning against the wall, watching. His expression was of mild interest. Not smug or sneering, just watching me.
The way a kid watches an ant after ripping half its legs out, I guess.
Why didnâ€™t I see him for what he was? And where did he learn how to fight like this? Darn it, give me the strength to stand and Iâ€™ll at least knock half his teeth down his throat before I kick the bucket.
The thought stopped me. I was in mid-motion, and fell; as much as you can fall from half a foot off the ground, anyway.
Had I given up already? Subconsciously, just like that? I wonâ€™t accept it.
Iâ€™m so absorbed by my thoughts I didnâ€™t realize he was moving until he was almost literally on top of me. He looked down on me, and I up to him.
Not yet, I decided. I had to fight; all or nothing. My sister is counting on me.
I pushed myself up. It was slow business, because I didnâ€™t want to lean against the wall this time. He watched me.
I stepped back - staggering a little, but staying up - and distanced myself a bit. The guard I put up was a pathetic shadow of what it should be. I was breathing hard, mouth open.
He watched. I knew I looked pathetic, desperate even. Thereâ€™s a reason a boxerâ€™s fist is a lethal weapon, though.
I sent a jab at him - slow, telegraphed - and he batted it away. The right straight that should have come as soon as the jab did - the one-two - didnâ€™t fare any better.
Even the strongest cannon needs ammunition; I had none left.
His hands clutched the sides of my head. For one bewildering moment, I thought he was clinching. Then the right side of my head collides with the wall.
â€œAAAAAARGH!â€ I shout, trying to hold my head. My fingers scrabbled against the back of his hand, but his grip never wavered.
My head is reintroduced to the wall. My body starts to go limp and my vision fades. I was still mentally apologizing to my sister as my head swings toward the wall again. Darkness...
Yes, it's really, really long.
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