The first blow reminds him of the Duke. A swift uppercut to the jaw, sent the behemoth reeling into the net. Followed with a left jab and then a right. A left blow to the kidneys. Down goes the Duke. Doesn’t get up. That’s a fight.
But this one’s different. Hurts more than the Duke ever did. A gamey mixture of blood and fur fills his mouth. He spits, but the taste lingers. Another blow comes, claws flash in front of his face as he ducks to the side, panting, wanting to scream.
How did we get here? Harry thinks. Jesus, what led us to this?
The crowd pelts them with cheers. The ref stands outside the ring. The smart one. Harry’s trainer waits in his corner, nonchalant, paid in advance. Trainer-for-hire. That’s the best he can do these days. He curses the man, his indifference. Son of a bitch can’t tell when something is important, when something matters.
The roo comes in again. Feet flash out. Harry dodges, gets in a weak blow on the beast’s left haunch. Fist against fur. Soft. He remembers, as a kid, he had one of these. Plush. Can’t remember its name, or what happened to it. Boxed and tossed, along with the rest of his childhood. Isn’t that what happens to the legends? Cast aside once they’ve fulfilled their usefulness. Even their memory a burden.
Harry tries to land another blow. Listens to the crowd cheering. Sees the ref from the corner of his eye. Man’s grinning. So much for impartiality. Harry’s fist sails over the roo’s back. The animal cranes its neck around. Teeth flash, rip through his cheek. Who said these things were herbivores? Sharp teeth that shred the skin.
The taste of blood surprises the beast. It lets go, backs away, balancing on its tail. Harry cannot take advantage. He feels blood running down the side of his ruined face, his head already numb, his vision quivering like a plucked string. There’s no pain, just dampness and warmth. Coppery warmth fills his mouth, its taste bringing back memories he thought he’d left decades behind him.
So much for Harry the Handsome, he thinks. God rest that son of a bitch.
Who was it? Not Billy the Biter, who never bit. Maybe the Roman? Harry can’t remember. One of them filed their teeth, threatened to bite. Rumors that he had, but Harry never believed it. He’d beaten them all, of course. Beaten them down and gone home with the girls. All the girls. Harry the Handsome raked them in. Could’ve gone to Hollywood instead, if he’d had talent and a lick of sense. Everyone said so.
The roo comes back. Claws flash, break the skin across Harry’s chest. They’ve been known to disembowel, his trainer said, around puffs of a cigarette. As though reporting the weather. Watch yourself around the claws.
Harry is knocked back against the ropes so hard his ears pop. Chest feels like someone hit him with a sledgehammer. He looks down. Nothing leaking out of him but a few trickles of blood. He glances up, dodges another attack, lands another weak blow in return. Almost loses his balance, but manages to hold onto the rope. No rules against it. No rules against anything that he remembers.
The roo hisses, snarls. Harry glances around, looking for a way out. He knows he won’t find one. He can’t leave. He agreed to this. He made his choices, whatever they were, that led to this. He wishes he could remember. He wishes he could blame it all on the bottle, or the pills, or the little glass vials his old trainer used to slip him. But he can’t He can’t even blame himself. There is no blame. There is just him and the roo and the maddening crowd that has sensed blood in the water.
Harry feels the animal watching him. He stares back. Large black eyes gaze upon him dispassionately. The roo huffs, teeth bared. What does it have against him, he wonders. What instinct compels it to act this way? Had it been bred for this, tortured, tempted? Had its entire life led to this moment, as had Harry’s, or had it been plucked from its original destiny and thrust into this new fate?
No matter. Idle thoughts as he bleeds out. Harry closes his eyes, opens them. Then he screams and lunges. The roo meets him. Legs come up, but Harry moves between. Lands a blow against the roo’s neck as teeth sink into his shoulder. A left jab to the back of the head. A right. Teeth tear skin and muscle, quick to the bone, and Harry curses in the animal’s ear, shouts and yells and roars. He lands another blow against its back, then another and another. At some point, the roo lets go, and Harry’s fists still fly. A solid right against the roo’s head. Then a left. More and more, until the animal is on the mat and Harry is on his knees, gravity and momentum keeping his arms in motion. The ref tackling him, pulling back. Harry elbows him in the face, starts to go back to the fight, and stops.
The roo isn’t looking at him. The roo will never look at anything again. But its remaining eye is open, and its depths don’t seem as endless as before. As though, were he to try, Harry might understand what lay behind them. He watches the blood slowly gather, feels the beast’s fur in his teeth, matted to his knuckles.
He pushes himself to his feet in the silence. Squints against the lights, but doesn’t raise his fists. He breathes slowly, each inhalation an effort. Thinks of his final match, what he has considered his final match no matter how many times he’s fought since. How he basked in the glow of the crowd. The girls he took home that night, the excuses he made when he couldn’t meet their expectations. The sense of triumph he felt. The ignorance of what lay ahead.
A bottle breaks to his right, shattering the brilliant quiet. The boos follow. More glass, food, trash. Harry lets it come. He closes his eyes. If he tries hard enough, the bitter taste in his mouth seems something like victory. A faint, ethereal trace, but enough that he can grasp onto. Enough to satisfy him until the next round.
Daniel Davis is the Nonfiction Editor for The Prompt Literary Magazine. His own work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at Facebook.com/DanielDavis05, on Twitter @dan_davis86.