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A brawler in the rough
A bloody Virgin Mary. Solomon remembered Maddox, his father, saying now his stepmother was a bloody Virgin Mary. In a cramped corner, he watched his father fight, and his mother plead with her husband to walk out of the arena with her.
The recently demolished arena, Lions Gate estates, a former gathering location for corporate clones trading with gangs for resources and turf, gave birth to the stench of fluids and open lesions. Combating to curve the educated withdrawal brawling sowed into their body, derived from the passion of gritty bare knuckle fighting, LG’s patrons flocked confidently into a slaughterhouse. But they left with legs and arms convulsing, feet echoing against the concrete.
In the brawling circuit, his stepmother was known as Virgin. He knew her as Mary, but the sadism amalgamated in his fathers voice sounded like he just met her within the ring, created by humans in love with freshly shed blood. In truth, the wedding band around Maddox’s finger was suffocated in its givers skin and fluid. She was nothing to her husband, whose modifications required him to survive on the drug Icde, and the flesh separated by his potent fists, causing pores to weep red tears.
After his father punctuated his opinion by a backhand across the jaw, Solomon knew that crying because of death was not futile. It seemed palpable that the term, ‘father knows best’, would never apply to his own father again. Maddox murdered Mary, and nothing said from his lips—the lips of a liar, drug addict, adulterer, murderer— would change his mind about the border crossed between love and madness.
The loving yellow eyes of his mother as she kissed him goodnight, was branded into his memory branches. The heavy smell of fresh gore strewn out on concrete, and the somewhat diluted Icde produced by adrenaline intoxicated sweat glands—that was Maddox’s madness.
The night before Maddox forced him to Lions Gate, his mothers future murder scene, he knew the initial modifications to his body were Maddox’s idea. Muscle enhancements first, same as his father. The only mods a prepubescent body could handle. Between breakfast conversations of school, he realized his father was methodically preparing him to become a replication of himself. Forcing the gruesome reality of brawling onto a young, frail mind, not equipped to deal with bloody corpses incapable of sustaining life.
In the flashback, arena medics appeared, taking Virgin by the arms and legs—an automatic response to someone who dies in the ring. If Maddox hadn’t grabbed Solomon by the forearm, pulling him towards the exit, he would have indefinitely stayed to mourn over Mary. The only mother he’d known since his own vanished into the prostitution ring, tired of being burdened with a child and his sibling.
Solomon blinked, interrupting the reenactment of his most vivid memories that weren’t destroyed by the contusions he encountered. Screams of an audience lost to the gore of illegal fighting rivaled the sound of police helicopters circling the city. At home a half brother waited for him, instilled with a splinter of hope that he’d come back in one piece, forcing tired eyelids to stay posted at the living room window. Just in case.
Before entering Nirvana, the high-risk brawling arena known for disfiguration, Solomon glared at his reflection. Maddox consumed his every facial feature, mod, habitual response. And for the torture of seeing a murderer everyday looking back at him, he brawled. Aloud, he said it was for credits, which hopefully translated into the bodily modifications needed to beat Maddox dead. Death still wasn’t enough—he had to grind his bones to dust and hope hell continued the torment. Salt the grave, fill the coffin with explosives and oil, and be in another city when it ignited. He wanted to finish the metamorphosis Maddox began. End the pain of knowing he’ll become a man who beats his wife in warm blood and jokes about it minutes after. Mutilate his body to resemble Maddox; obsessing over the day his own scarred hands would exact revenge for the death of Mary, and a stolen childhood now slave to the reoccurring sounds of a brawlers last ragged breaths.
A bell rang, belatedly reaching him in a lucid dream filled with anguish most brawlers only hoped to know. Emotion, something you block out so that it doesn’t interfere with remorse. That’s if you survived the brawling circuit’s initial guilt nullifying effect and actually cared about life, which most didn’t.
Licensed killers. Those whom Solomon congregated with nightly, he despised them like sky-leeches would a bloodless creature. They were the workday, briefcase persona that needed to loosen the varied colored nooses around their neck. They were house wives/husbands boredom that found reason to stop doing what their spouse demanded of them. The teenage rebellion reaching a new alarming stage. Normalcy shredded and the animal within surfacing, brawling the catalyst to a downward spiral of relentless physiological damage. They wanted change.
That was something he couldn’t attain. He was his father’s son; every skin follicle and hair fiber, every callous fist, and day spent in the gutter, forgetting he had a brother to provide for.
A slender claw brought his hatred into focus.
“You never been to Nirvana befo’,” said a scanner-machine. “This ain’t a good place to start brawlin’.”
“Tetra is nirvana, this,” motioning towards the fight, “is humanity stripped. And I’m not here to begin…I’ve been in the mix since the authorities fell down on Lion’s—“ He was interrupted by an uproar. One could only assume the hospital had gained a new occupant; they just didn’t know it yet.
He shifted his physical position, and words around in case they brawled in the future. “I’m not a new brawler.”
An ocean black screen held it’s digitized face. “Well den register, people ‘r waitin’ to fight ya. Befo’ you can brawl, gotta get scanned.” It read Solomon’s body in ones, zeros, and infinity symbols. It’s voice sounded like a recording. “Hand, muscle, nervous system. You will be called, once ya register.” He rolled away with his words lingering like a decaying stench.
Flexing his hand, metallic shards crept through the thin skin on the knuckles. Blood traveled between his fingers, a nuisance to clean once it dried.
Another boisterous cry from the crowd echoed, and a second body dragged off into the arena’s crevices. Allowing time for them to regain consciousness, drunk with the need to stumble back into the fray. Enough midnight, hairline skull fractures can turn any straight A schoolboy into the kid Mother and Father never wanted.
A raw stupor gravitated Solomon closer to the impending public murder.
Sitting on a plank stretched out across the rafters, Gygar watched the entranced brawling version of his brother drift towards the fight. Their nightly routine consisted of little brother following big brother, doing the opposite of what he was told. Sol would say a few words to him about not brawling, before glancing out the window for Android Harry detectives, then walk to a repugnant brawl and dance. Other kids Gygar’s age, ten, eleven, sat beside him, gazing at their futures. He had it within his blood, no matter what Sol said. There were faint sparks of contentment in his eyes, an ecstasy throughout the muscles after he brawled. Sol enjoyed it, and Gygar fell in love with watching blood spill into formless inkblots.
“Hey,” a kid with orange skin said, “you know anyone down there?”
Gygar tasted the acerbic fluids down below in the back of his throat as he talked. “My brother. He’s…I can’t see him right now. But he’s down there.”
“Well, he has a name right?”
“When he brawls, you’ll know it. Everyone will be chanting it.” Gygar changed positions, sitting with his legs dangling over the edge.
“My uncle is a premiere. Golem’s never lost a fight, and he’s being scouted by elite agencies. So…”
Gygar saw his brother now, pressed against a throbbing crowd. “Elite brawler, premiere agency. Not the other way around.” No, it wasn’t him, just another young man with a bald scalp.
“Does it matter?”
He thought about it. “Guess not. I’ve snuck out to see most of my brother’s fights. Only lost two.”
More kids honed in on the conversation. “You gotta sneak out?” The eavesdroppers laughed. “My uncle” said kid orange, “hasn’t lost any, he’s a champion!”
“Champions are guys who have beaten a champion. Doesn’t that mean then your uncle will fall?” Gygar did not expect an answer, but he poised the statement as a question anyway. Save for the clamor of brawlers beneath them, the children were silent. They saw him years older than he appeared to be. Gygar squinted, biting his lower lip, rocking back and forth. Not saying what he wanted too. “Well? You made something out of your uncle being so great, so give me an answer!” The kid’s pompousness was not a bother; it was his proclamation of his uncle over Solomon that drove Gygar to demand a response.
Inner contention furrowed the kid’s brow. “No,” was his final answer. “Golem is gonna become the next Maddox—just you watch!”
Gygar carefully retreated along a steel beam stretching directly above the registration table. He turned to face the others. “My fathers name is Maddox…weird.” He said with an absent look in his eyes, like the simple mention of the name brought forth rabid memories that were better off caged, or put to sleep.
Solomon had drifted away from the fight, finding the registrar tucked away in a corner. Water leaked through cracks in steel, soaking foot wraps, diluting blood so it did not smell like old roses and body sweat. He waited in a long line of walking corpses. Occasionally, his eyes would wander, stealing a glimpse at a woman across the grounds. Amidst the grinding, pulsating flesh she vanished, and his attention was drawn to the person behind the desk, who was neither male nor female.
“Mezkher?” They said. Round knots beneath the skin of their forehead moved as they talked. “Mezkher?!”
“I’ve never been in Labyrinth, so I don’t know how to speak it. I don’t have the necessary hook-ups to interact with the grids.”
“Then you have never been in Nirvana before. There are a lot of Laby-hackers in this sector; people learn to speak it. Mezkher means name and age.”
“Solomon. Is there an age limit here?”
“Well that’s a stupid question. No there’s no an age limit.”
From the rafters, Gygar saw a computer embedded in the table project a holographic image of Sol’s body. Lines pointed to certain areas, giving notation of his modifications. “Your zezkin’ll be stored and transferred to the speaker box.”
Their eyes crawled downward in a black spiral set against white pupils. “Means information and mods. I need one arena you’ve been to in the last few cycles.”
“In the Labyrinth, there isn’t a night or day, is there?” People behind Solomon were getting agitated.
“Only pulse cycles from the circuit waves. Has to pulse to network with the real. Name the arenas.”
Silence circulated around the people in line at the mention of Hellspace. It was a restricted territory belonging to Icde freaks. Outsiders rarely made it out. Heaven-below, its opposite, was Cowboy homeland and openly hosted brawling events. Authorities stopped trying to storm the turf years ago.
“You’ll be called, Solomon, now let the other brawlers register. Next!”
Gygar watched his brother hug the columns wrapped in gray tubing, spraying his body with liquid from the nozzle. Anticipation coiled around his intestines. He wanted to prove kid orange wrong, be able to attend school and proclaim to groups of kids on the playground who his brother was, and fight anyone who doubted his truth…Solomon would become the next Maddox, the next elite brawler.
After sluicing his skin with relaxer fluid, Solomon closed his eyes and tried not to hear the voices communicating his need to crack skulls. Before dropping out, the school psychiatrist told him body modifications were a societal drug. To the son of a brawler, that was stating the obvious. It would end up killing him, the Phd with glasses too small for his eyes, had said. Death, by Solomon’s law, was like an Android Harry detective, always one step behind and another ahead. And shutting out the world was the closest he’d come to it without missing his sole objective for living.
To see Maddox’s brains set against a wall, as a maniacal motif to a nefarious childhood, and his final screams an ode to Virgin.
Both brothers thought their father’s name simultaneously, but in very different ways.
Things that are done can be undone.