Search and Destroy
“Your hands! Pick up your hands! You’re leaving your face exposed like a goddamn idiot.”
“Throw harder! What, are you out on a leisurely stroll picking delicate little pansies for your boyfriend?”
“Don’t hold back on me or I’ll make you regret it!” The old man was spitting breathlessly, squinting at the fighter through experienced eyes and a wrinkled old face. “You think your opponent is just gonna stand there and offer himself up to you on a platter?”
Sweat poured down the forehead of Antibody 2648-B, burning and blurring his vision. He was aware of vague sounds and threats swirling around him, but couldn’t decipher their source or meaning. His arms and shoulders became more inflamed with each jab. The stale, musty smell of the gym penetrated his nostrils, stinging his sinuses and scratching the back of this throat every time he inhaled.
He reared back to throw a left hook, but it was never delivered. Before he realized what happened, his knees folded up, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and the cold rubber mat met his right cheek. Short, harsh breaths cut in and out through his lips, giving him the appearance of a beached fish.
The old man nonchalantly pulled out a pencil tucked behind his ear and scribbled some notes onto the clipboard.
“Okay, that’s enough for today son. You need to rest up and prepare for the main event in a couple nights.” While still focused on the clipboard, he let out a sharp whistle. “Boys! Help 2648 back to his quarters.”
A couple of squat, thick men in gray sweatshirts and nylon workout pants crossed the room and stood on each side of Antibody 2648-B. They bent down, reached underneath his arms and slowly brought him to his feet. With each arm wrapped around their shoulders, they proceeded to drag him home.
2648 woke up feeling like he’d kissed the grill of a speeding dump truck. After a couple failed attempts and a thoroughly mashed snooze button, he managed to pull himself out of bed and climb into the shower. A bit more awake, he threw on a faded yellow t-shirt and a pair of jeans that had been piled on the floor and walked out to the kitchen. He cracked open the fridge and searched the shelves. Not that a lot of searching was required since the only items that were there were the only items that had always been there. Multiple copies of the same thing – tiny, round amino acid sub-particles. He grabbed a red one and a couple of greens, closed the refrigerator door and spun the particles through the blender. The thick goop never tasted like anything, but it didn’t matter. Emphasis was placed on nutritional value, not flavor.
After emptying the glass, he looked down at the fridge. A flyer taped to the middle of the door prominently displayed a pair of faces. To the right of 2648’s picture was a steely-eyed man with light blonde hair, cropped short in a crew cut style. He had a gnarly scar running from just above his right eyebrow, down across the bridge of his nose and ending in the middle of his left cheek. A wicked grin stretched across the pretty face. Underneath was a name:
Below the photos was a date and location for the bout, including ticket prices. 2648 let out a sigh and tossed the empty glass into the sink.
He walked into the living room, turned on the radio and tuned into the classical music station. Violins and cellos surged forth from the tiny speakers. Pachelbel. His compositions never failed to put 2648’s mind at ease. He shuffled over to the front door and picked up the newspaper lying halfway underneath.
Saturday’s Main Event – Antibody 2648-B vs. Gastro E.
The headline screamed out at him, forcing his eyes to ingest. So much for relaxing. He tossed the paper onto the floor, rubbed his temples and tried desperately to clear his mind. Focus needed to be elsewhere for the next couple of days. He plopped down on a faded brown recliner, closed his eyes and just listened.
“Laaaaaadies and gentlemen…”
The voice echoed off the arena walls and and energized the gathered crowd. Some generic techno anthem was playing in the background.
“Welcome to this evening’s main event. We have something really special in store for you tonight. In the corner to my right, the challenger, wearing white trunks — weighing in at eight thousand Daltons — ‘The Hometown Hero’ — Annnntiiiiibody 2648-B!”
A torrent of cheers spread throughout the stands, vibrating even within the ring. 2648 looked out to the sea of faces, smiled tentatively and raised a hand.
“In the far corner, wearing black and red trunks — weighing in at just over ten thousand Daltons — undefeated in twenty-nine fights — the Heavyweight Champion of the Body — ‘The Prince of Puke” — ‘The Deliverer of Diarrhea’ — Gastrooooooo Enteritis!”
Cheers quickly transformed into boos and the disgust of the crowd was suffocating. A few tomatoes sailed by Gastro’s head. He didn’t even flinch as he waved enthusiastically to the crowd, grinning ear to ear.
The announcer exited the ring and the referee came forward, pulling the two fighters to the middle. Gastro, bouncing on his feet and maintaining his wide smile, stared intently into 2648’s eyes. 2648 remained stone-faced, staring back. Cocky son-of-a-bitch he thought.
The referee tried to make himself heard over the roar of the crowd. “Alright fellas. I want a clean fight. No biting, no below-the belt-action, no spitting. You know how it’s done. Now touch gloves and let’s have a good fight.”
2648 extended his gloves just as Gastro turned around and walked back toward his corner, laughing.
The bell rang out and the fighters danced toward each other again. 2648 barely blinked and Gastro immediately threw a sharp right jab into his nose, causing him to reel back and lose his balance. He quickly hid his face behind his fists in expectation of a flood of punches. They never came. In the middle of the ring was Gastro, hopping up and down with his gloves in the air, laughing and taunting the crowd.
“Damn it 2648! Get your head in the game!” yelled the old man from the far right corner. “Remember your training!”
“Get that jerk!”, a voice from the crowd screamed.
He shook off the blow and moved cautiously forward again. Gastro turned to meet him, readying his fists. Apparently Gastro thought he was a total fool and attempted a fake stomach jab. Instead of dropping his hands to block, 2648 read Gastro’s shoulder movements and ducked right, missing the ‘surprise’ left hook. He delivered a counter-blow to Gastro’s stomach. Gastro reeled back into the ropes and tried to take in several breaths, each attempt causing him to wince.
For the first time, the cocky smile was replaced by a look of surprise. And then came the anger. He came at 2648 with a set of furious blows — right jab to the face, duck down, left hook to the gut, another jab to the stomach and a vertigo-inducing uppercut to the jaw.
2648’s mouth guard was lying on the mat in front of his face while a mix of sweat and overhead lights poisoned his vision. He couldn’t remember how he wound up horizontal. Images and sounds appeared to twist as time slowed down. Muffled gasps and general commotion from the crowd were mixed in with what sounded like someone reciting numbers.
A muffled, yet familiar voice reached his ears. “Get up 2648! Think about us, your family! Your friends! Your comrades! We’re all counting on you!” It sounded like the sour, crinkly old man, but he couldn’t be sure.
It’s not my time to lay down, he thought to himself. I have a duty to fulfill. A reason to pick myself up, get on my feet and fight with honor.
He felt his faculties beginning to return to him. Fresh endorphins emerged and came to rest on his neuro-receptors, filling his muscles with a sense of renewal and strength.
With what felt like an ungodly amount of effort, 2648 managed to lift his head upward, press his gloves into the mat and propel his body onto its knees.
Though swaying a little, his vision and hearing began to normalize. He could hear the crowd booing loudly. He looked forward and saw the back of Gastro’s head. He was shaking his fists in the air, dancing around the ring, again taunting the crowd.
2648 steadied himself with his gloves on the mat and began the upward push with his legs. The lactic acid in his hamstrings ignited a great burn, but he grimaced through the pain, focusing only on his opponent. Focusing only on what needed to be finished.
He finally found his feet. The ref laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you alright son? Can you continue?”
2648 waited a few seconds, gathering his bearings. He nodded slowly.
Gastro was still prancing around, celebrating certain victory. He paid no attention to the referee’s paused countdown, and only when the crowd began to cheer did he turn around and realize what was taking place. Once again, his smile transformed from surprise to anger within mere seconds. His burning rage took control, clouding his judgement and leaving his body language utterly transparent.
It’s now or never, thought 2648.
Within a flash, Gastro was steamrolling across the ring toward 2648. A few feet away, Gastro pulled back to release a powerful left hook to the head. The punch found nothing but air, causing him to lose his balance as he overextended his body. 2648 had ducked just in time, allowing him to deliver a crushing uppercut to Gastro’s exposed chin. There was a loud crack, seemingly amplified by the suddenly hushed crowd.
2648 stared down at his motionless opponent.
The crowd was still silent and 2648 felt as if he’d have to swim his way through the tense atmosphere.
He glanced up from Gastro’s newly formed friendship with the mat and turned out to face the attendees. Everyone was standing and leaning forward, practically climbing on the shoulders of the fans in front of them, nearly as motionless as Gastro himself.
Gastro released a loud grunt as he stretched his arms out and tried to push his body upward.
A more subtle groan sprung from his lips as he collapsed back down onto the mat.