Gail tried to drown out the crowd that cheered from the arena seats that surrounded her. The overwhelming stench of salt and copper that hung in the humid air did nothing to calm her nerves.
Clad in wool and armed with a wooden staff, Gail felt like an overdressed child readying for some imagined sword fight. It was a joke the hosts played; half the fun of this production was watching overdressed fools try to remain standing in the heat of the arena.
Across the field, she spotted her adversary. Unarmed as he was, he was neither a fool nor an imagined threat.
His name rang bitterly in the back of Gail’s mind, bringing a scowl to her lips. Her enemy remained unreadably blank faced. Such was the pattern these days.
He wore a pair of blue jeans and a flannel shirt. They were borrowed clothes, ofcourse, that hung too loosely around the shoulders. Gail couldn’t help but notice that he’d lost weight rapidly since their last encounter. Nonetheless, he had height to his advantage, along with several years of experience within the arena. The lumberjack aesthetic didn’t make him any less intimidating.
All you need is an ax.
As the distance shortened between them, it grew apparent to Gail that she had committed herself to a suicide mission. It wasn’t a novel thought, just one that had the habit of popping up at the worst of moments.
In her stiff grip, her weapon grew to be a deadweight. Avery’s eyes remained calculating, like he’d already formulated six ways to use the staff against Gail.
“Avery.” she greeted, grateful her parched throat roughened her tone.
“Back down.” His reply was an order, one of the many Gail chose to ignore.
The knot in her stomach tightened. “Bite me.”
Her company remained unamused. That should have brought her to her senses and made her listen to the wiser company.
All she could feel was the overwhelming desire to break something, anything in her way would do.
The staff arched towards his mandible. It met obstruction quickly, too quickly. The shock of impact rang through Gail’s knuckles. Her palms burned. The staff was torn out of her grip, then jabbed back at her shoulder. She didn’t know when the ground slapped her skull. The pain radiated through her brain just the same.
“Back.Down.” Avery stood over her, dark eyes stern, accustomed to being obeyed. He held her staff with both hands, whitened knuckles holding it still.
Gail blinked the warm dampness from her eyes before refocusing her gaze on the man that loomed above her with the grandeur of Goliath.
“No,” she groaned though half a breath.
A blunt smack met her jaw. Coppery wetness flooded her mouth. For a moment she was sure he’d torn a muscle in her neck. Running her tongue across her cheek, she felt the slit her teeth sliced into her flesh.
Blood and saliva pooled in the back of her throat. She spat a mouthful onto the orange dirt before pushing herself onto her elbows.
I back down.
But the words failed to slip from her tongue; the latter was busy trapped between her teeth.
The staff jabbed into her ribs.
Pain snapped in her shin.
The ground swayed beneath her and she shut her eyes, but it kept swaying nonetheless. She was on a poorly made raft being thrown about some grand ocean.
“Stop—” The word slurred thickly in her swelling mouth. “Please—” she struggled through bloodied teeth. Though her eyes were shut tightly, she could sense his figure blocking out light and trapping her in his shadow.
I back down.
Someone bothered to put Gail on a stretcher, to drag her to the infirmary. She was infuriatingly conscious through the whole affair. For the most part, her eyes remained squeezed shut in a hopeless attempt of keeping the spinning world still. When she tasted bile kick its way up her throat, she rolled over and let it out. Her attendants were none too pleased. After a string of colorful language, they maintained their course, an act Gail was grateful for.
Loudspeakers blared the name of the next contestant, sending a roar of excitement though the arena. Gail was too disoriented to catch the name. Whatever came next in that pit would be Avery’s problem. She looked forward to their reunion in the infirmary, not from the want of company, simply for the satisfaction of knowing someone painted the dirt with Avery’s guts.
Gail felt her weight sway against the stretcher before it came to a halt. Someone swore. Curiosity got the best of her and she opened her eyes. She now had new reasons to throw up her insides.
“He’s dead meat, that Aberdeen.”
And Avery really was, for the next contestant was no burly man, but a burly bear.
All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil