Book ExcerptCreative Writing

Of Savagery and Empathy

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A lone, glimmering star shone in the void of space, and this was Noah’s target. Within the void, all senses melted together into fluid streams of streaking light. Javelins of lightning blitzed through a tunnel of inertia to impact.

Long-fanged gale winds that had slowly carved a 15-year valley of training carried his fists like flying steel in a hurricane. At peak wind force elevation, Noah’s lightning stabbed through the clouds of his opponent’s faltering defense. The collision point shot a stinging pulse that climbed up through his nerves from each knuckle joint. A clean hit. Success.

A harsh red mist erupted from the fissures in his opponent’s lips like a geyser. A satisfyingly solid hook, but still not enough to seal the knockout. He’d soaked up his share of strikes as well, but just few enough to keep the lights on. Virtual rivers of magma with touch of static slowly dripped down his temples.

Adrenaline swam through the veins of his arms like electric eels, coiling tight and exploding at the carpal bones in a condensed thunderstorm. Time dilated into a series of transparent slides, each one emerging and violently breaking in an instant. No gaps in perception, not a single divider between any individual breath and the next, only an occasional flicker to the light bulb that held his consciousness.

The bitter, metallic tang of blood slowly sidled onto his palette and made itself the dominant flavor. Something just behind his left ear canal crackled with the dull tone of static. Gravity pressured his right knee to buckle with the weight of a bowling ball, coated in needles. Over and over again, in this timeless vortex of endless impact, the marionette of his will pulled his limbs back again for another strike.

A seductive shadow repeatedly beckoned his soul to sleep, and each time, he imagined it banished it to airtight box, buried at the ends of the earth. Nothing could exist but the next step.

Eight rounds, 300 traded connection in less than a tenth as many minutes, no decisive TKO. Even while putting the weight of continents behind every punch to put each other down for good, there was something that he and his opponent could not possibly be more in agreement about on every level.

In both of their brains, ancient mammalian instinct and modern human consciousness alike conspired together to convince their corporal vessel of one undeniable truth: there was no way to see the end of this contest without somebody’s imminent destruction.

In the heat of every physical contest, organized or feral, there comes a certain point that no outside analysis or regulation can possibly reach. Within the pocket dimension made in the heat of vicious point-blank conflict, something incomprehensible and unmistakable lives. It breathes with the rise and fall of oxygen in its chest, bleeds precipitously, and roars louder than life itself.

At the summit of exertion, where warring souls clash for dominance, the psychic struggle saturates the physical one from all directions. Touch, sound, smell and sight all merge into a single layer of the moment. What would be said in 10,000 words is communicated in crude song and rattled bone and pulverized flesh.

In this heated vortex of vicious mindfulness, there is one uncontested pact made between two warriors committed to obliterate one another: its necessity.

Whether the sun shines or rain falls, today many men shall fall to their betters, and one of us will become one of them very shortly.  It will NOT be ME. I will FUCK you UP. In every land, in every native tongue, such is the universal pledge of the fistfight.

Noah’s preparation had been straightforward enough. If taken altogether, his training would be the equivalent of about 25 push-ups and 50 sit-ups done every 30 minutes, for 12 hours a day; that was the off-season routine. In the weeks leading up to the official contest, the most excruciating contest at all had simply been to keep himself from overworking.

Pressure and heat reigned supreme over his senses. The give and take of his attack and defense framed both the entrance and exit to his perception. Darkness and supernova. The impact of another volley. Open air. Light. Returning fire, seeing the world spin before returning to the defensive clutch.

For fuck’s sake kid, knock that asshole off his pivot!

Poetry wrapped in barbed wire came from the coach’s corner and hit his ears like a sobering bucket of gasoline. His moves weren’t getting any duller, but his footing was weaker on the left side. Probably overcompensation for a rolled ankle. Invitation accepted. He braced his core and let gravity give him that precious leverage he needed to put its pull in his favor.

A resounding thud indicated that court of nature had come to a verdict on the one to walk away from this contest. His back was not the one to hit the ground. For the first time in what felt like two thousand years, he remembered the crowd watching the ring.

There was always something haunting about the cheer following the fall.

In the smoldering heap of his opponent’s battered body burned a kernel of undeniable truth: either of them could have been there. He looked on at the crowd that cheered not as much for him as they did the spectacle that he’d wrought. A man taken down at his prime, a wreckage of all things intentional and incidental in the human form.

He could hear their hearts ‘collective cry for more blood than all of the bodies in the stadium could possibly produce combined. It would take longer than the years needed take to chip down an oak tree with a tooth pick.

As the colors and sounds of the civilized word started to re-adopt their meanings for Noah, so did all the physical consequences of what his body had just been through.

His head and torso felt like they’d been massaged by the bumper of a jeep in reverse. The residual adrenaline was still brimming just enough to make the feeling more bracing than unbearable, but many rounds in the ring made him wise to the time limit at hand.

In about 15 minutes or less, that post-jeep crash feeling in his tissue would grow into something closer to a space shuttle crash on bath salts.

A sharp jab of rubbing alcohol on his brow brought him a bit closer back down to Earth. The throng of ringside attendants came over and inspected him with the urgency of a race car crew. No serious lacerations, but there had definitely been one or two bones that had been in fewer, larger pieces at start of the fight.

Once again, Noah trained his focus on the waves of all things tinted with tension and bloodlust emanating from the crowd. He clenched his eyes tighter than they’d been in hours; not out of pain, but for the sake of concentration. His view of the crowd became panoramic. As his field of vision dimmed, every individual soul shone out like lanterns floating on a red ocean.

He visualized a fine needle and threaded it throughout every atom of hostility radiating from the thousands of souls had congregated to watch the destruction of man.

As his mind delved deeper into that murky sea of dimly glimmering souls, something among them suddenly gave off a spark. It crackled and vanished as brightly and briefly as a lightning bolt that only Noah could see.

In a pocket of time small enough not to fill even the blink of an eye, the harsh flare of this soul’s light overtook all the others in the stadium like a flash grenade. It came from a single spectator in the crowd.

Among the thousands roaring at the top of their lungs in the stands, Noah could see the spectator sitting silently as a sharpened steel. A wicked sickle in waiting, sharp enough to bisect hydrogen molecules in the air. This one’s soul was a nettle of live wires, each one bursting with enough electric passion for brutality to blackout a continent.

She’d arrived right on time, but she was seated a bit closer than expected.

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