Stacey's Escape

(February 2003; written for someone else as half of a trade)
Comment on this story | View comments

This fucking city never gets cold enough.

In the cartoons, sneakers always whisper against the ground like silk against flesh, but life is never so subtle, nor so forgiving. She was stumbling badly, weaving from white to yellow to white as she staggered across the rain-spattered pavement, and her footfalls ricocheted off of the craggy, hewn-out rock flanking the road in endless patterns that made her head swim. The heat assailed her from all directions, within and without; the night air hung thick around her, and the glow she had poured into herself had spread throughout her belly, radiating outward and soaking her in sweat. Still she ran, though the landscape twisted and bent before her rolling eyes, straining fitfully toward a horizon that never grew any closer.

In the movies, every champion fighter has that one fight that seems like it must be the last: the hero is pummelled and half-broken, head hanging low and blood pooling on the floor. Yet salvation always comes - a second wind, perhaps, or an intervention of Fate, something to bring rescue and self-revelation. If Fate ever looked at Stacey, however, it was only to laugh. Her fight was a simple exercise in humiliation, and if she had learned anything, it was that getting drunk before a match was only wise if you drink enough to summon utter numbness. Each movement brought a burning reminder of her strained muscles and matted fur, and her claws dug furrows into her palms as she tried to relieve her mind of a much-unwanted reality.

Fucker thought he knew better than I do... I hope he's bleeding all over his precious robes like the idiot he is. I don't care, I don't care. It doesn't hurt that much, it doesn't, it can't...

She thought it'd be all right, at first. She'd been careful, in the only way her mind saw care; she'd stopped the flow of tequila at twenty to six, and the last beer swam into her hand at seven-thirty. That the fight began at eight seemed no matter, particularly by then, as the floor began to wobble disconcertingly and the table edged ever closer to her cheek. Truth be told, she really hadn't seen the problem until she was actually entering the ring: the trick of clambering between the fraying, ancient ropes that held the crowd back from the fighters - normally a moment's effort, made almost too simple by her lithe frame and natural grace - suddenly became an ordeal. The laughter of the malevolent crowd - grating its way into her twirling head in pelting waves, like thrown stones - disarmed her, and she nearly fell. She tightened the linen wraps that coiled about her hands and locked her knees briefly, staring downward at the crimson- and sweat-splashed floorboards before finally shuffling her way onto them.

The room danced about as she swayed, but instead of fleeing as wisdom dictated, she grew angry. Rage blended with the alcohol in her belly, fur rising to stand at attention as her ears flattened, teeth bared in impotent frustration at her ridiculousness, her helplessness. The figure facing her at the other end of the sloppy ring wore an expression of bemusement, seemingly torn between laughter and compassion, and this did nothing to help; pity was as unwanted as cruelty. Maybe even more so. She stared unblinkingly at him, her breath coming in ragged snorts.

She wasn't entirely sure what she did next. The walls blurred out, the ropes to either side of her diving away and stretching out as a burning sensation flowed through her thighs and wound down into her calves - and then she was on him, snapping at his face as screams barely recognizable as her own ricocheted around them both. The world slanted suddenly as her weight toppled him, slamming them side-by-side against the floor, then rotated about as he leapt atop her and forced her onto her back. Memories -

pain and anger and blood and fear and and

- and the raging madness borne of terror boiled up through her. She didn't notice that he wasn't moving until half of her claws were buried deep beneath the fur of his left cheek, the others piercing his right shoulder, with streams of blood pouring over her hands and down her arms. It took several moments for the sight to register in her dazed mind, and several beyond that to realize that the blood was not hers, not that time. He stared downward at her, grey-green eyes already glazed with shock and pain, mouth frozen half-open in utter stupefaction. Someone shouted from the crowd, the voice quickly joined by others until a roar with a life of its own leapt up from the earth and, conspiring with the booze, swallowed her.

Stacey awoke, head reeling and his blood long since congealed in ragged patches, on a cot in the small building's pathetic �recuperation' room, her manager sitting with his back facing her. The discussion was short but angry: accusations hurled, threats made, tears withheld. He had never spoken to her like that before, but her actions had been bizarre and she knew it - the reputation of such dirty fighting, even in such a brutal place as this, would haunt her. Kickboxers accepted most things as appropriate in a fight, but random, premature onslaughts of feminine weakness would get her nowhere but a back alley, dumped upside-down for the birds to enjoy. So she had run, stained and defeated, away from his glaring eyes and into the night.

Dammit! Why can't they just leave me alone? It was only once, I didn't hurt him that bad, not like it was such a big deal.

Unfortunately, it was - and she knows as much, since she'd not still be running otherwise. That damnable heat wouldn't leave, filling her cheeks as well as her gut, her humiliation blending with her anger to form an inky substance that smothered her as much as did the humid breeze. Her fight just never seemed to end, and the path never led anywhere safe or kind.

In the TV dramas, the wronged girl always gets her due - justice, or vengeance, or just the soft caress of love. But for her, justice was a revolver with smoke spiralling from its lips, vengeance was a dead rapist who offered no consolation, and love was the least trustworthy creature known to man. So she ran, tail drooping between her legs and nose bent toward the contorting road in submission, and prayed that her hangover wouldn't be as strong as the one from the night before. For some reason, history in life repeats far more often than it does in fiction.