It’s a new year, so in the grand tradition of trying something new, I’ve opted to dive headfirst into one of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges over at Terribleminds. I’ve lurked there before, but this time around I decided to try the random number generator challenge, and the two words I got were “Griefstruck” and “Skull.” I really couldn’t pass up the chance to write something with a title like that, so I dove into an on-the-button thousand word story of a boxer quitting the game, with the reluctant help of his shady promoter.
The dimwit hillock with a lazy smile strolled into Joe’s gym and drawled, “I got your message – Hey, that a new tat? Looks good.” Shawn peeled off a pair of too-narrow aviators to see better in the dimmer-than-outdoors room.
Nicky was leaning against the gym’s centerpiece ring, wrapping his hands, mumbling down into the damp rags. “Thanks, I got it after the Boyeda thing.”
Shawn continued addressing the top of Nicky’s head as he walked further into the room. He chuckled once he could better see the jagged skull just above Nicky’s heart. “That a tear on it? Never took you for sentimental.”
Nicky looked up and sort of grinned, “You think? The hospital had these x-rays up in our room. I couldn’t stop looking at ’em, you know? Didn’t have much to do, so I looked up the parts of the skull; the names of the bones. I knew there’re these tiny ones in the hands – I break ’em enough, how could I not, right? But did you know there were all these different ones in your head? Like in Ray’s; I broke this front part, the zygomatic process? Under the eye socket. Broke a smaller one inside too, the lacrimal bone. Those weren’t the worst cracks I gave him, but on the x-rays the first looked a little like a tear; and I learned the other protects the tear ducts. Couldn’t stop thinking about that.” Nicky wrapped his hands slowly, with almost sacred precision.
Shawn stood agape. “Wait, that’s Ray?”
Nicky nodded, stood, and circled Shawn, wandering slowly, as if in thought. “I wanted to tell you I quit. I messed Ray up a shit-ton worse than he deserved, but I guess you had a reason to want it that way.”
Shawn stared slack-jawed at the black outline on Nicky’s chest, and couldn’t hide his revulsion. “Dude, why’d you ink his fucked-up skull onto your chest? I mean, Jesus…”
Nicky finished the crescent, which now put Shawn between him and the training ring. “I fought Ray before, and I beat him before. I just don’t get why I had to beat him that way…”
“You don’t need to get why. It’s what I wanted and you did it just the way I asked.” The constant throbbing lividity that was Shawn’s neck and face flared redder to emphasize his temper. “Actually? fuck that. You think we’d do half as well with mainstream fights? Boxing’s dead, wrestling’s a fucking soap opera for boys still don’t know why they get hard watching it, and MMA’s locked up way too tight for us to get into. This way, we make good money, and we all get what we want, right? You did your fucking job, now’s the part where you take your money, keep your mouth shut. which is what Ray sucked at. Look; I don’t know if you were drunk or high when you got that; if you want it removed I’ll gladly pay for it. What kind of morbid fuck wears a dead man’s skull on his chest?
“It’s a ‘Memento Mori.’ I killed a man, with my fists. I never did that before, and I shouldn’t have done it then. But Joe listened to you, and soaked my wraps just like you asked, so they’d set heavy. I worked extra weight training to hold my arms up like he told me to, then that night he cast my hands and I went to work. You know how hard it is to hold extra weight in a fight? To keep your arms up and keep swinging? I was burning, and kept hoping I’d put him down in a round or two. We went seven rounds, and the sin of it seared all the way up into my chest. I broke bones in my hands in fights before, but I broke more that night. This was a different kind of pain, like my body knew what I was doing was wrong, and tried to hurt me to stop it. Joe couldn’t take seeing it, said he almost stopped the fight and turned us in.”
“I heard that. I also heard the lush drowned himself in his fucking tub.” Shawn spat the words at Nicky.
“Yeah, well, somethings don’t wash away so easily.” Shawn watched Nicky advance, realizing at the same time not only was his back to the ring, Nicky was now between him and the door. “Hey, You OK?”
“Nope. Not for days.” Nicky close now, raising his arms and curling tight fists. Shawn had another moment to see them come up even with Ray’s broken skull.
“Look, this was all just business-”
Shawn’s head snapped back before he could register the punch. His vision swam and he staggered back, finally colliding with the training ring. Dazed, he offered no resistance as Nicky looped his rag doll arms over the lowest rope.
“In seven rounds I hit Ray Boyeda thirty times in the head, Broke his skull in nearly every place a person can. He stayed on his feet while I hit him in the face with fists cast in plaster, and that’s just business to you? We both have debts we owe the dead. It’s painful, Shawn, but pain is catharsis. I need that, and you might not deserve it, but I want to give you the same chance. Fair is fair. I’m done. I’m done with using my fists, but I’m afraid that’s not going to be enough, so I’m gonna break ’em one last time, with your help, so I don’t forget. When I’m done, I’m walking out of here, and then I’m gone. I’ll leave the door unlocked; I’m sure your cell’s in your pocket. Ray wasn’t a saint, but he had enough heart to hold on for two days after I beat him bloody. I’m betting you don’t have half the heart he did, but I’m not the gambler here. Now strap in, Shawn, ’cause that was one; we’ve got twenty-nine more to go.”