The dye was thick and difficult to work with. After struggling with it, she found a working consistency and added purple streaks to her hair. She cleaned up the mess in the sink and the tips of her ears the best she could. As she inspected her final effort, it wasn’t something to be proud of, but she knew it would identify her.
Leaving the locker room, her steps halted. The only sign of life in the room was the cleaning staff with trash bags and brooms.
She walked to the nearest man and asked, “Where is everyone?”
He stopped sweeping and looked at her with concern on his brow, “They are at the next event. It’s in a building next door.”
He pointed to a door across the massive room near the main stage. “Go through that door and go straight until you get outside; then turn left and go to the brick building across the parking lot.”
“Thank you.” Her feet carried her with a renewed energy.
How long was I sitting there?
She raced across the parking lot and the colossal guard at the door let her through after he scanned her lanyard pass. The familiar thumping of the music greeted her as she opened the door.
The front lobby housed a sign-in table where a staff member checked her in, adding a comment on her being late, and pointed her to the rear of a line.
In the middle of the room, two men sparred on a raised square platform supported by a single column in the middle allowing it to tilt with the contestants weight. The crowd rimmed the room on a level plane with the platform. If someone had a good arm and careful aim, they could hit the fighters with a beer bottle.
The men traded punches and grappled to gain the upper hand. As they neared the edge, the platform tilted with the weight and both men nearly fell over. They scrambled back to the center as the crowd booed them and threw food and trash at them. A bottle landed on the platform and the smaller of the two scooped it up, broke the end off and wielded it as a knife. The larger man was cautious but ended getting stabbed in the ribs by the broken bottle as he took down the smaller man and threw him over the edge. His scream faded in the depth of the pit.
The man raised his hands in victory as a retractable bridge eased out to the platform he stood on. A loud hiss sounded from under the platform and it leveled out and became solid. The man crossed the bridge and was replaced with the next two contestants. After the bridge retracted, another hiss sounded and the platform freely shifted as the men moved around.
Tonya leaned forward and spoke over the music to the man in front of her, “Are there any rules to this event?”
He turned. His left eye was missing and a white, blotchy scar covered the cheekbone. He took a step back, unabashed as he memorized Tonya’s form. She fought the urge to shove her thumb through his remaining eye. “Don’t fall. I’d let you fall for me though. How about after this we hook up and go somewhere? My place is free.”
He closed the distance and his sweaty smell curled Tonya’s nose. “Why not, Honey? Am I too much for you?” He thrust his pelvis towards her.
Her fist flew out, smashing his nose to the side. He dropped to the floor and everyone turned at the commotion. Questions were thrown around as the man got to his feet. Blood trickled from his crooked nose. Tonya allowed herself a smirk, “Was that too much for you?”
The man’s voice was mute as he walked away, pinching his nose. The gap around her grew another foot or two as people turned their attention elsewhere. Cheers from the crowd announced another fight was over.
“Tonya Spartan!” A male official called over the crowd. Tonya raised her hand and he signaled to come forward. A small path opened up speeding her process. “Card? You’re late. You’re fighting Jacqlyn Trojan. Head in. Calvin Savage! You’re next.”
Tonya stepped through a heavy curtain and found herself in a cramped tunnel at the rear of a line. A large ogre of a woman standing a head taller with bright purple hair turned and faced her .
The woman eyed Tonya up and down. “You Spartan?” Tonya nodded. “I thought you would be more of a woman than you are. You able to get a date with hardware that small?”
“When I want one. You must be Jacqlyn.”
“I am.” She leaned in, pressing Tonya’s limits. “Play fair, ya hear?” She winked at Tonya.
“I can’t promise anything.” Jacqlyn took another look at her and turned around.
As the fights continued, Tonya found herself at the front of the line looking down into the black pit. A body tumbled over the platform edge and the darkness swallowed it whole.
The official started the sequence of extending the bridge and spoke the same protocol to the two women. “Walk out to the platform when your name is announced. Staying near the center will keep it level. Start the fight when the buzzer sounds and don’t stop until one or both of you fall. Any questions?”
Jacqlyn fired off, “You got anything to eat?”
“I wish. Step aside, please.”
The man that won the last fight walked by and swore under his breath as he passed Jacqlyn. She piped off a remark, but he kept walking.
A voice over the speakers drew attention to the platform. “And now, we have a special fight for you. Keep your eyes on this one as Tonya Spartan takes on Jacqlyn Trojan. Make some noise for the mighty, Jacqlyn Trojan!” The crowd voiced their support as the muscular woman made her way to the platform, soaking up the energy of the room and flexing along the way. “Her opponent is our fastest female this year, Tonya Spartan!” The noise from the crowd was less than Jacqlyn’s, but still rattled her ears. Tonya stood opposite Jacqlyn as the bridge retracted.
If she isn’t Jimmy’s Trojan horse, I’m screwed.
The buzzer sounded and the platform regained its flexibility, favoring Jacqlyn’s weight. Jacqlyn crouched down and put a hand down for stability. She yelled over the crowd, “Come on, Girl. Show me what ya got.” Tonya closed the distance and launched a kick to Jacqlyn’s face, which she swatted away as a bothersome fly. Tonya unleashed a series of strikes, combining as many kicks as punches. The ones that connected, did nothing to the stout woman as a small chuckle came from her slowing Tonya’s assault. Jacqlyn worked her way forward a step at a time, absorbing and deflecting anything Tonya threw at her. She was now firmly cemented to the center of the platform, leveling the playing field for the first time.
Tonya’s breath came heavy. Jacqlyn had failed to throw a single punch so far, but Tonya kept her distance all the same. She tried to circle around Jacqlyn, but never escaped her cold, tracking stare. Retreating to the outer edge was more than Jacqlyn could resist. Like a beast out of a black-and-white horror movie, Jacqlyn rose to her full height and advanced with slow steps.
As Jacqlyn neared, the platform tilted, putting her on higher ground. She tried to grab Tonya, but Tonya easily ducked away. The crowd was booing the slow pace of the fight. Glass bottles were hitting the platform, shattering and sliding down at the women. Jacqlyn let her attention follow a bottle sliding by her, clearly debating to try and use it. Tonya landed a kick to her head, dropping her to the platform. Falling forward put enough weight to one side that the platform tilted to the limits as Tonya scrambled to keep her footing. Tonya turned Jacqlyn over and the momentum carried her over the edge. The platform returned to level when Tonya worked her way back to center.
“Well…It wasn’t the most exciting fight we’ve seen, but we have a winner…Tonya Spartan.”
After the platform stabilized and the bridge extended, Tonya made her way through the tunnel to a waiting area. All the winners of the previous fights watched the outcomes from there; several gave Tonya a sideways look as she joined their ranks. A woman with purple hair near the back of the group caught her attention and signaled to come to her.
The woman kept her voice low. “Nice fight. I was supposed to be the one you defeat to move on, but when I got here they put me against someone else. Obviously I won.”
“Wait, you were the one Jimmy sent?”
“I don’t know. A janitor woman spoke to me and handed me the money. I was just supposed to take the fall for you.”
“So, that woman I fought…”
The woman shrugged her shoulders. “That was the first time I’ve seen her. Between you and me, I don’t think all the rules are being played by here.” She cupped a hand over her mouth, “Do you want to form a partnership? I could really use someone that I can trust.”
“Same here. My last partner ended up in a locked room during the first event.”
“Really? What way did you go? I fought my way through mobs of people and finished in sixty-eighth place.” She cast a glance around before saying, “Are we in or not?”
Tonya could hear Jimmy’s words in her head, ‘I’m always in your corner.’
She let out her pent up breath and said, “I’m in. My name’s Tonya.”
They watched the remaining fights. The line of contestants dwindled as one by one, the dark pit consumed the losing fighters until the final contestants were determined. At the front of the group watching the action with enthusiasm was the red jersey and a few of his followers.
Tonya pointed at him, “I don’t care if I win; at this point I only care about beating him.”
Beth gave a small nod. “Likewise.”
TO BE CONTINUED…