Just Another Game
“Good luck, my love” Her lips pressed against his for a moment, soft - but brisk - like that final white capped crest of ocean, set tall upon the highest wake of the tide. He held her for a moment longer - gently in his powerful, battle-worn arms, and smiled. Around them, the musty cavern in which they now stood began to shake and rumble. Dirt and dust fell - each a fragment of lost memory, a glimpse of a man who once stood where he stood now - where he was sure another would soon stand after him, before too long. In the midst of the two lovers, a bright rectangle of light began to evolve. Starting from the floor and reaching its great metallic maw wider, and wider. Like some horrible theological beast, opening its eager gullet, demanding blood sacrifice - and love. Behind its fangs, the screams could be heard, of bloodfury, and of lasciviousness, and of some hateful - wanton desire - for something more. As the great metal jaw widened, so did the frenzied chorus of the cheering crowd. As their screams intensified, so did the bright, white light. Steadily it filled the cavern, the dim red bulbs that had been etched into the dirtied ceiling quickly being overcome in the wake of lights brilliant glow.
Illuminating the two lovers fully now, the scorching, mid-morning sun roared, driving its ephemeral thumb screws deep into their pale, subterranean eyes. Below her pale, sun-starved knees, each with a generous handful of that threadbare brown sack dress she wore, were his children. Eyes squinched unsteadily at the bright sun, each set looking hopefully up towards him. He was their hero - and while he had never wanted them - he found that he could not help but love them, especially now. As he looked upon them, his broad smile was reflected in each one of their shining young faces, each and every one of them sure he would be victorious again. “Good luck, daddy.” whispered out the bashful tinkle that was his eldest son's voice. The boy’s hand reaffirmed its grip on his mothers dress as he spoke. “I know you’ll win.” And then spoken ever softer, “I want to be just like you.” As the child spoke he suddenly lurched forward, launching his body right into his father's arms. For one confused moment, he held him. Every inch of his being screamed in that split second, as he looked down into the face of his young child. Screamed for justice, for peace, for something - anything - more.
“Get a move on!” A brash voice exploded over the intercom system, short bursts of static weaving themselves in and out the cold, metallic words. “There’s a show to be had, enough!” Suddenly a burst of pain shot through the man's body as he stood, his eldest child, now screaming in terror at his father's sudden change still swaddled awkwardly in his outstretched arms. “Oh God, no!” The woman screamed, leaping forward, in case that the child might fall. But the man held on, and after the pain had subsided, knelt to the dirt covered ground below him. “Go on now, boy. It’s time.” He spoke calmly, allowing his mortified, motionless son to slip loosely back towards his brothers, and his mothers waiting arms. He stood, one hand now loosely hung around the collar he wore upon his neck, the skin below it still throbbing where the shock had come. “Through the door, champ.” The voice crackled wickedly out from the loudspeaker again. “Or next time, I’ll pick one of the kids.” The mirth in the metallic, scratched out voice was unmistakable - it made the man sick as he stood, staring hopelessly at his dirt covered hands. Turning now towards his watching family for the last time, he spoke again. His words fell heavy, like those spoken in eulogy - for whom, he was unsure. “This world is wrong.” He spoke gravely, looking between her eyes, and those of his young, confused children. “One day, one of you will have to make it better.” A tear began to well in his woman’s eye as she looked at him. He didn’t notice, he only continued. “And you’ll need to be strong, stronger than I ever was.” Directly into his eldest sons eyes, he stared now, watching as the boy still shook in his slowly waning terror. “Better, than I was.” He reached out, took hold of his woman’s hand one last time, and exited the cavern out, into the brilliant midday sun.
The screams of the gathered crowd erupted upon his arrival. Tens upon thousands of men and women, dressed in their finest suits and gowns, all of the most brilliant colors and hues. Brilliant feathers adorned the heads of many of the women, while above them their delicate fingers spun their gossamer parallels this way and that in their anticipation. Binoculars filled the hands of the men, each of them eager to witness every detail, to the gory and glorious last. They brayed like wild dogs - howling at the moon, each of them aching wildly for just a taste of what it would be like to answer that ancestral call that was now laid out before them.
He stood like a rock, alone for the moment in his mind, drenched in the glorious sunlight - eyes shut tight against its radiant glow. Focus, it was all about focus. He knew that by now. And then they were with him - strapping onto his body one piece of equipment after the next, covering him in heavy, shielding metal. The first time it had been uncomfortable, so many wandering hands, and his eyes - still bare and locked from the world under the bright mid-morning sun. But he had grown used to the discomfort, just as he had done all of his life. Now, it was just another part of what this was.
They worked quickly, fastening on his gear tightly as they went. Soon he could feel the familiar weight - his arms heavy in his metal bracers and their straps, his legs thick with more of the same. Over his body, they pulled a long, densely scaled robe, complete with the hood that would soon adorn his perfectly round and hairless head. His breath heaved under the weight, and the heat. Some men fought with less, he knew. But some men were fools. After what he had seen, he wished they could have given him more. Finally, he felt the familiar hands reaching out towards his face, his eyes. Gently, those cold, metallic frames coalesced themselves to his skin, strapped securely around his head by a thin, rubber strand. The hood was pulled forward, tightly held over his already hot and reddening scalp. And there he stood, a monster of a man, dressed from head to toe in shining, robust robes. Like some great wizard of old, sick of his frailty and dead set on guarding himself against all of the dangers of this world.
At last, his eyes opened. The crowd was tumultuous. They yelled and screamed, bloodlust resonating deeply from within their booming voices, men and woman standing on their feet, shouting wickedly for the game to begin. Slowly, he raised one, heavily protected arm high above his head, far out into the depths of the stadium that raised out before him. His hopeful palm, open and wide.
Nearly 800 feet above, there was a twinkle of gleeful laughter in the air. “So, what do you boys think we ought to give our man tonight?” A massive man spoke, his gargantuan belly heaving too and fro in his reinforced metallic chair. “Can’t make things too easy, now, can we?” Upon the words having left his pasty, elastic lips, the creature began to bellow snort and guffaw at his own remark. A polite tinkling of appreciative laughter followed, parroted by each of the men and women who sat now by side immense side. “Well, I suppose you must be right, Sir!” A long, thin man adorned smartly in a black and purple three-piece suit spoke out at once. “Of course I am!” The massive thing sputtered, slapping the thin fellow harshly on the buttocks as he did. A brief look of horror passed over the thin man’s face, but only for a moment before he spoke again. “Perhaps the charged mallet, then, Sir? That one always seems to keep things interesting.” A smattering of appreciative murmurs met this suggestion. The charged mallet was a crowd favorite, after all. “No!” The gargantuan man shouted at once. “Too easy, too easy. No, we need something else.” Suddenly, a small voice uttered forth a brief admonition. “But if it’s not easy, won’t he die?” The silence that followed was palpable. It’s taste echoed harshly around in the small, metallic room. “Mr. Berlouf, I’m so sorry, I warned him not to speak out of turn.” An insignificant looking fellow was muttering the words from behind the massive mans rolling and dripping back - a look of absolute terror dancing back and forth in his glossy, moist eyes, his body contorting into itself smaller and smaller as if searching for somewhere within to run and hide. “Please, Sir, he’s just a boy.” The words trailed off as the man stood carefully now, hands white as they clasped as if for dear life onto his child's shoulders, fear etched into every aspect of his frail and timid visage. “Just a boy?” The massive man responded, his voice echoing heavily around the tin can room, as he slowly struggled to turn his head around to meet the man and his young son. “Well then, boy, what do you think I ought to award him with, then?” As he spoke, he scoffed heavily into his scraggly, crossed and thatched birds nest beard. “Just hand him the victory?” He shouted the words at last. The frail-looking fellow, his hands still clutching his child to the bone - as if anything he could do would help him now - only gaped at the billowing man, struck dumb by the awfulness of what might happen. Suddenly the boy spoke again. “Sir, I only meant, that it should be fair.” The rolling fat surrounding the massive man seemed to bristle for a moment, then relaxed. “Fair eh? Boy, you’ve got a thing or two to learn about fair.” The man spoke with the tone of a disappointed teacher, harsh but true. “And I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Life. It’s never fair.” With that and a great chuckle that shook the fat rolls from his belly to his Adam's apple, rippling themselves one into the next, he roared to the room at large. “Give him the spear!” A gasp escaped from somewhere behind his metal throne, but he continued, unphased. “He fared so well with it, all those years ago. Why don’t we see just how well our champion does with it again, eh?” He addressed the room with the statement, and at once they agreed.
Hundreds of feet below, a man jogged out to meet the champion, a wooden spear - tipped with a jagged stone - clutched resolutely in his outstretched hands. Behind the dark red lenses of his protective goggles, the man known to so many as the champion of the games began to shake - not out of fear, but out of rage. As the spear passed into his hands, he felt it. Deep within himself, bubbling forth, curdling his good intentions, anger was forming - hot and thick. After all of this time, after all that he had done, the monsters he had slain. This is what they give him, and now? He stared up into the sky, towards where he knew that they sat, laughing at him, ready to watch him die. But he’d show them. He clutched the spear in his hands, its uncharged stone head propped lifelessly at its tip.
“But he’ll die!” The boy shouted again, high above where the champion now stood, spear in hand and fire in his darkly shaded eyes. His father's meek face aghast again, apology and pittance sunken into every aged line. The fat man only laughed again, and addressed the terrified fellow behind his directly, without bothering to meet his eyes. “Harry, have you taught this boy of yours nothing?” He glared at the man suddenly, snapping his great rolling neck to meet me, allowing a moment for the fellows' terror to multiply visibly before continuing. “Son, you must understand it.” The bulbous cretin whispered, directly to the child now. “That man” He gestured towards the massive screen bolted to the stadium wall as he went, the champions face blown up on it one hundred times. “Is nothing.” He finished, vitriol oozing off from each of his words. With a grunt, the obese thing pointed one sausage link finger towards another man, who had sat silently all this time, staring down towards the floor of the stadium, one long, thin binocular lense clasped in his spindly fingers. “Ah, well yes, young man.” The spindly wisp of a man began, taking the cue from his proprietor at once. “You see, this man before you, in all of his splendor…” He broke for a second, looking down again for a moment, something close to love dancing in his eyes. Before continuing again, he let loose a careful, breathy sigh. “Is my finest creation to date, I would say.” He looked to the boy now, full in the face, and then to his father. “Did you not explain at all of the afternoons' festivities? No matter.” And looking to the boy again, he continued. “Once, he was a man, long ago. But he died. And that - that, is not that man, you see? Not any more. Out from the primordial ooze I wrought him afresh, his errors rectified, his strengths only more defined. He is my child, as much as you are…” He looked towards the boys' father again, disgust in his peevish eyes. “His.” He finally continued.
Seeing the look of befuddled curiosity that had replaced the young boy's face, the massive creature bellowed his great laughter again, deep into the small, metallic room. “A clone, lad, he’s a clone!” The man’s jowls quaked and quivered in his excited reverie. “A clone, and one that’s already met his purpose handily, I’d say!” The gathered faces around the massive man nodded their agreement at once. The boy spoke again, an unsure quality to his small and innocent voice. “So, he’s not alive?” The room let loose a collective burst of laughter again, as the gargantuan beast retorted, a smile wide on his face, and a sly look in his ruddy, sandbag eyes. “Well, we wouldn’t say that now, would we?”
Hundreds of feet below the box, one man stood alone, clad in nothing but sheets of metal and fabric, wielding his long, rudimentary wooden spear. Before him, from the other side of the stadium, past the dirt, and the rocks and the cheers of the crowd that emanated sharply through the mid-morning air - a new rectangle of light began to open - wide. Wider even were this beasts jaws than that of his own caves’ creature, and sharper, too, were its fangs.
Gliding smoothly it came to meet him. Whirring and buzzing with electricity and inhuman fervor, the machine carried itself before the man and stood there - waiting. It’s great metallic body, held together by ropes and wires and pulleys and strings, each moving as the sinew and tendons of the horrible monster they worked to support, like some wicked puppet wrought forth from fury and metal and carried by none other than the hand of God himself. From each of its wicked limbs jutted a blade, long and sharp - glistening brilliantly in the delicate rays of the sun. Its face was serene, a visage of pure beauty - a young woman's features playing delicately upon it, taunting his it seemed with its apparent serenity. He knew, that before long those soft eyes would open red, and all of hell would come to unleash itself upon him. The man redoubled his grip on the wooden shaft he still clutched, desperately searching his mind for the answer, for how to stay alive. Crackling over the intercom, that familiar voice rang out loud. The battle was about to begin.
“So… It’s just a clone?” The young boy hundreds of feet above the stadium floor asked, his small voice steadied now with the knowledge. No one answered, their eyes had been transfixed. “And it doesn’t matter if it dies?” The child asked again. “Hush boy.” The meager voice of the child's father wafted slowly to out from his now placid mouth.
Below them, the machine, eyes glowing suddenly wild and red, had begun whirling to and fro. It’s bladed appendages danced through the mid-morning sun, moving great swathes of ground as they plunged themselves towards the man one after the next after the next - the champion moving as they came, looking desperately for an opportunity that he knew may never come. The crowd cheered and roared in its approval, every face painted grotesquely - fully realized in deep shades of hatred and lust. Above the stadium floor, the young boy's face was pressed firmly against the glass window the small, metallic box. His eyes were as wide great pools of still water, and his jaw hung slack and loose in the wake of this awesome sight. And within those eyes, which had been so innocent still, just moments ago - that wicked spark began to grow. “A sight to behold, is it not lad?” The gargantuan beast of a man who sat still in his reinforced metallic throne bellowed, squeezing his words in between great exhilarated gasps, as he gnashed his teeth and arched his neck down towards the stadium below.
Below them, the man still danced and spun, narrowly avoiding the great metallic monster’s outstretched and seeking blades. Dust billowed high into the stadium as the two fought, and the crowd cheered again. “It sure is, Sir.” The young boy’s voice responded, not a hint of the sensitivity and concern that had been such an overwhelming presence in it before. And replacing it? Unmistakable thirst. “It sure is.” The boy spoke again, awe dripping from his tongue, the light from the whirling, deadly, blades dancing behind his greedy young eyes. There was a trickle of appreciative laughter amidst the room, and the boys' father placed one gentle hand upon the small of his back. The obese thing in the center of them all screamed high into the metallic box, ecstatic in his now fully requited glee. The boy only stared down below him, watching as the man spun and danced for his very life, the unmistakable glint of bloodlust now full in his eye. “It sure is.” The child said again, more to himself than to anyone else. “It sure is.”
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The story you just read was written by me, Matthew Munsey @matthewmunseyart