Excerpt from chapter 1:
The wet sound of a fist colliding with flesh with incredible force rang throughout the room. Cheers followed. A giant metal cage housed two men pounding each other. People in suits screamed at the sides, cheering and jeering in equal measure at those inside. Ladies who wore more on their heads than the rest of their bodies wove through the crowds. Liquor flowed from platters. Scenes like this would jumpstart anyone’s pulse. It was hard to say which vice was more appealing; the violence, women, or drinks.
Why not all three?
I had only been single four weeks. Long enough to realize that life was going to continue on no matter what I felt. Too short to be serious about anything. Not that it stopped me from looking. I had practice in not being a sleaze ball about it. It was impossible to be effective if I became distracted by every rack that jiggled by.
“John!” One of the large suited grunts waved over the heads of patrons and employees. He made his way through the crowd like a steamroller. Anyone in his way got pushed aside. “John, hell, man, been ages!” The grunt greeted me with a handshake. “Hasn’t been the same since you left.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” I smirked. Nothing had been the same since I left.
“My brothers said you’d passed by the front.” He had the same disfigured teeth that the other three bouncers out front had. His words were hard to understand around the lisp. “Didn’t believe it. Thought they were screwing with me. John! Fuck yes.”
“Yeah, here on a job.” We casually made our way to a clear view of the fighting cage. This wasn’t the main stage. Just a warm up. There was a cage, and then there was The Pit. I doubted that I would be around long enough to see those grounds in use.
“Yeah?” The grunt looked me up and down. It was awkward being sized up like that. “Not gonna jump in The Pit?”
“Hadn’t planned on it,” I answered.
“Damn. You want in, you tell me, there’s a whole new crowd of suckers in here who don’t understand how one-sided the match would be. We’ll give you a welcome home brawl, you’ll love it.” He grinned. His name wasn’t coming back to me like Ted and Barnie’s had.
“Maybe later,” I offered.
“Yeah, hey, I gotta continue the rounds. You know how it is. I’ll tell the rest of the family you’re here, we’ll catch up on old times.” He placed a friendly hand on my shoulder. I nodded. He still had that broken smile as he waded through the crowd. “Hey!” he shouted at someone in the distance.
It was nice to know that people remembered me. Better yet, they were willing to bet on me over their own fighters. My reputation was intact down here. Or maybe they just wanted to see me get my face beat in. I vaguely remembered the bouncers being semi-sadistic. They didn’t always care who was on the other end. Their love was for the fight.
Somewhere around here was my target. I didn’t own anything of his. Had no pull to go off. Tracking would have to be done the old-fashioned way. Asking for directions. I stopped a waitress and managed to keep both eyes up top. There should be an award for that.
She made a disgusted face once I mentioned the table I was headed to. Table four was down the middle of the room, not left or right like Ted and Barnie had said. I took a drink from her platter and dropped down a twenty. The waitress, or showpiece, hard to tell which, went about her rounds. I’m not ashamed to admit I peeked as she walked away. A simple glance put a smile on my face.
I sat down quietly with drink in hand. The table was intended to seat three or four people, but everyone had crowded the front lines. There were a blissful few minutes of peace between me and the concoction.
Liquid was swilled down in a blur leaving me fidgety and worried. What if this was the wrong table? The wrong person? I riffled through the jacket that had been left behind. No money. No credit cards.
There was a sector card that confirmed my location as correct. Steven Gates. Twenty-five years old. The face pictured was wearing a sheepish grin. Next to that was an employee badge that identified him as a computer tech who worked for EXI, whatever that meant. The logo wasn’t helpful.
Was he a computer geek who spent all day staring at a monitor or electronic board? No wonder the man spent time somewhere exciting. Too bad he decided to throw down money in the wrong places. I managed to shove his cards back into a pocket when the man himself showed up. His face wrinkled in confusion then smiled like everything was a joke.
“Awesome fight up there! Say you want to help me get closer to the front? I could slide in behind you. You look like a good battering ram.” The man was fit, but just on the goofy side of good looking. Brown hair, brown eyes, looked like he was full of shit half the time.
I didn’t have a quick response.
“No? That’s cool. Hey, keep the seat warm, I’m gonna grab another drink.” Steven rushed off.
He seemed like an excitable idiot.
I scanned the crowd. There was no real hurry to complete our transaction. Steven either had enough to pay Julianne’s back, or didn’t. A few drinks and a good time wouldn’t hurt him.
Besides, I was having fun. Whatever Bottom Pit put into that mixer I grabbed was strong. It brought everything firmly into fuzzy land. There were no news channels on here, there was no one talking about the latest high profile wedding. No, here the cameras were all on the fights.
Betting tickers scrolled along multiple walls. Odds on this fight and the next fight. Minimum bets and expected payouts for wins. None of tonight’s fighters were house sponsored. Another part of the display told me there were twenty minutes until the main event. The current champion would go against an up and coming challenger from a few counties over.
Might be worth a glance. I doubt anyone would begrudge my wading up to the front to look in on the proceedings. I could hassle Steven when he came back then go about my night.
Only Steven didn’t come back. With ten minutes left to the fight, I started getting antsy. Had he ditched me? Unlikely since his stuff was here. I grabbed the jacket and used it as a link.
Dense. Air hard to move in. Heavy with yells. Exciting. Pulse pounds with the cheers. Remember. Yes. Past distracts me.
My head shook to get thoughts back in line. They kept trying to drift toward the cages and waitresses alternately. Attracted by different things for different reasons.
Find the Pink Meat. Cord connects to jacket. Goes somewhere up. Not far. Can wait. Want to watch the Gladiators.
The gathering of people made it extremely hard to focus on the cord that would connect Steven’s jacket to the person. Drunk me tracked horribly. Normally I could follow the ethereal connection through the swirl of other sight and life energy toward my destination. My submerged mind had other desires and vetoed this work assignment.
Getting out of the chair was more challenging than expected. Being two bottles under hit me hard. There was another refill on my table. I didn’t question my fortune and took it.
I staggered the straightest curve I could manage over to The Pit. It felt so familiar. The Pit was a huge hole beneath two layers of metal grating that anyone could walk across. Forty feet down and fifty feet in diameter. The dugout floor was ringed by metal cages. Above that were two layers of alcoves that people could watch from. Spectators could also watch from the cameras. Metal shook as I walked across. There weren’t many gathered and the early birds would grab the alcoves first.
Down below, around the walls of the ring, there were handprints indented into a clay-like surface. Each one a champion. Immortalized, or as close as a fighter could get. There was a yearly tournament held for the true champion. The winner had to impress their hand into the wall without any aid. Only one human had ever won out of the multitude and his handprint was the lightest. The human had survived against intense odds and retired quietly, broken but proud.
By Stephan Morse
Without his memories, Jay’s body holds power that is beyond his understanding. Slowly, as he revisits old haunts, his memory begins to return in vivid flashes, but he can’t make sense of the things he remembers. Each use of his abilities reveals something darker and more primal, building a need for release–a release that remains out of his reach as he can’t tap into this need and what form it should take.
The Hidden could help but they have plans of their own which require Jay to stay clueless.
Without full access to his memories Jay can’t tell friend from foe and flounders in a world he can’t understand.