Fight or Be Fought
Ethan’s almond eyes blinked open as sunlight flooded through the small grate window in the slate concrete wall. He grunted like a wounded dog as he slowly pulled his throbbing six foot three body off the slab that was masquerading as a bed. Ethan didn’t have to ask himself where he was. The concrete walls, urine-soaked fly riddled toilet, and door made of iron bars painted his destination vividly. He was in jail. Not just any jail. Some backwoods country jail where an Elmer Fudd lookalike was probably the sheriff toting a shotgun with one bullet.
Ethan’s long-fingered hand brushed past the layer of dry blood coating his coiled tresses. As his head pounded like a baseball bat smacking a dining room table he ignored the faint question lingering in his mind. The question he’d always been tortured with during moments like these. The question he had since he was thirteen. How did I get here?
August ninth use to be Ethan’s favorite day of the year. Not December twenty-fifth or the Fourth of July. Not even October thirty-first or the fourth Thursday in November. August ninth was his day. His thirteenth birthday was his last great one. Grits, bacon, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes all home made by his mom for breakfast. After he washed it all down with a cup of OJ he went for a joyride on his Thule with Eric, Asia, Denver, and Ollie. With no destination in sight they somehow found themselves at the basketball courts. Rubber bouncing against concrete and swishing passed a net was the soundtrack of his afternoon until it was time to head home to begin the festivities. Gold and silver balloons cloaked his backyard deck. His Uncle Pete manned the pit keeping the cayenne, hickory ribs coming to every empty plate while his mom put her final touches on her mac and cheese. A smile spanned across Ethan’s face as he lay in bed that night with the flicker of thirteen candles still glinting in his bister eyes. As his eyelid’s heeded the call of his languished mind he drifted into the mystifying dimension of dreams.
At thirteen, he smelled their fear. At thirteen, he reveled in their yells. At thirteen, he ignored their pleas for help. The mossy dirt padded his bare feet staining his white pinstriped pajama pants. He inhaled the pine-rich air like it was the one mineral his entire existence depended on. Blood rushed through his veins like rain during a tropical storm. Cloaked by treetops with his eyes closed he heard it all; the ruffle of the owl’s feather, the leaf sinking to the ground, and the fall of the tentative footsteps in front of him. He stalked them all night like the predator he was. He would’ve thought it was all a dream when the sun pulled his eyes open but his fist tight around the handle of the blood stained chef’s knife portrayed a different portrait. For days he watched the news for bodies found in Alabaster Woods or people missing but there was nothing. So, every August tenth he walked home barefooted, climbed in his bedroom window, took a hot shower, and moved on.
Ethan got off the bed and picked up the paper held down by a revolver. The words were thick and bold probably written by someone with a heavy hand. He read the words aloud with a voice that should’ve been shaky but this couldn’t be real, this had to be a prank. A prank by Denver probably, “Your directions are simple. They’re only three. One: Take the gun.” Ethan picked the gun up by his foot. “Two: Kill him. Three: Find Me.” He nervously laughed. “What the fuck is this.” He turned the paper over but there was nothing on the back. He wrecked his mind trying to remember the events prior to him waking up but he was drawing a complete blank. The only image in the mind was his argument he had with Leslee yesterday.
Ethan twisted his finger around the bars to rattle his cage. The door swung open under her grasp, Ethan’s surging heartbeat kicked up a notch. In the jail, with only two cells he found his way to the hallway that led to steps dimmed with darkness that the dingy-bulb light fixture couldn’t cast away. The robust aroma of mothballs and ripe one-year-old cheddar cheese smacked him in the face as he reached the top step.
The rattling ceiling fan did nothing for the musty heat stirring on the top floor. It all looked quite normal. The dust covered desk, the tattered Texas flag, and windows that appeared to be shut by Sam Houston himself. It was all normal, everything apart from the man sitting in the chair in the middle of the room.
Ethan gripped his hand around the wood handle of the Smith and Wesson tighter before asking, “Who are you?”
“I knew that pool’s rim did a number on your cranium.” The massive man stood up from the rickety oak chair. “You don’t remember the explosion.”
“Explosion?” Ethan took a tentative step forward stopping at the desk filthy with folders. He read the first one he saw. It had no words just letters, OXRO. He looked back at the man that could give Goliath a run for his money. “What explosion?”
“The one at the cabin.” The man took off the sweat-stained collared shirt.
“Where are my friends?” He inhaled deeply trying to remove the lump swelling in his throat. “Where’s Leslee.” He rubbed his temples. He didn’t remember anything.
“Probably dead.” The man shrugged. “The normal ones at least. The OXRO…being hunted.”
“OXROs” Confusion dwelled in Ethan’s eyes as he snuck another peek at the vanilla file on the desk. “What’s an—”
Goliath’s twin spoke up, “You’ll find out…once we do step two.” He gestured to the note in Ethan’s other hand.
“Step two,” Ethan spoke remembering that step.
“Kill me.” The black-haired man flexed the mammoth muscles on his shoulders. A daunting smile flashed on his bearded face. “I mean try.”
Time to think wasn’t a luxury Ethan was blessed with. Before the note fell from his hand the man blasted into him like a ram. Ethan’s head collided into the wood panel wall. The revolver slipped from his hands smacking to the ground firing an earsplitting bomb. The bullet burned into the ceiling raining plaster over them. Ethan didn’t fret losing the gun, he didn’t need it anyway; according to his dreams, knives were his weapon of choice. Unfortunately, there weren’t any lying around.
Ethan wrapped his hands as far as he could around the man’s thick, veiny neck trying his best to stop the repeated blows to his ribs. Searing pain took hold of Ethan’s body with every punch the man pummeled into his ribcage. Ethan could take a hit, having spent half his life on the gridiron but this was different. This man wasn’t normal. He had the might of ten men like he’d been sipping on strawberry and steroid smoothies since his mother weaned him off her milk. Ethan squeezed the man’s neck tighter and tighter but all it accomplished was a red rash under Ethan’s cramping hands.
Ethan yelled with every rock-hard punch that was buried into his abdomen. He gave up trying to choke the man and decided to take the low road. The road Ethan’s foot travelled on was short and had one destination; the man’s crouch. It was a low blow, for a man to perform on another man knowing the gut-wrenching pain it entailed but it proved successful. The longhaired stranger released Ethan, toppling over to grab his pulsation gonads. Not wanting to lose his advantage Ethan grabbed the man’s globular head and thrashed it against the edge of the desk. The man’s scream jolted Ethan’s adrenaline up five notches. Before the man could peel Ethan’s hands off his head Ethan slammed his hand into the desk once more. Blood splattered in the air staining Ethan’s hunter green tee.
The man jutted his elbow into the tender side of Ethan’s knee. Ethan crashed to the ground groaning as his head smashed against the dirt-blanketed floor. A steel-toe boot blasted into Ethan’s side. He howled a soul-shaking scream as his smallest rib faltered under pressure.
“Stop!” Ethan begged cradling his body in the fetal position. “Stoppp!”
“Begging.” The man stopped swinging his trunk-like leg. “OXRO’s don’t beg.” A reluctant frown appeared on his flat face. “Damn.” He cracked his scarlet knuckles. “I really thought you were an OXRO.” He stepped over Ethan’s pain wretched body. “Guess I get to live another day.” He bent over and grabbed the gun. He grunted as he rose back up. “This being the last brood for activation. I get to retire a happy man.”
Ethan though quick as the man checked how many bullets remained in the gun. He peered up at the desk for anything that could help bring down the monster that stood with it’s wide back to him. Paper. Folders. Stapler. Those wouldn’t do a damn thing to dismantle the beast. Ethan’s eyes fell to the floor and he saw it. The brass around the eraser glimmered under the desk. Ethan released his body from the tight hold he held it in. Shallow breaths escaped his lips as he slid his arm under the desk. He held in the pain-coated grunt from escaping his mouth as he reached for it. Sweat layered his hand as he dug his nails into the pencil’s wooden body.
“Five mil is enough to live off of.” The man spun the barrel. “I probably get a ranch in the Hill Country. That’s where you kids come from.” He jerked the barrel back into the gun’s body. “How ya’ll like—”
Ethan didn’t know if it was sharp enough so when the non-lead tip slid through the man’s dermis and sliced into his esophagus he exhaled a breathe of relief. Lacking the ability to scream because of the obstruction in his windpipe the man frantically grabbed at his neck. Morality was a thing of the past as Ethan pulled the pencil out the man’s throat that burned like hellfire. Once the writing utensil was free Ethan shoved it straight into the man’s medulla oblongata proving that his eighty-seven in anatomy was well deserved. The man dropped to the floor like a rustic Raggedy Ann doll. Blood pooled around his head.
The pencil snapped in half under the force of Ethan’s grasp. His blood cells turned to spikes as it traveled through the paper thin walls of his veins. He shut his eyes hard as pupils scalded his irises. He dropped the broken pencil to hold his ears as he opened his mouth as wide as the sockets of his jaw allowed him. His scream rivaled the wailing of a labored woman. It wasn’t the torment of his spine quaking but the images slipped out of his unconsciousness into his cognizant mind. The chase. The hunt. Luring all the nameless people to Alabaster woods to feast on their desperation and fear
“I’m a murderer.” A tear slid from Ethan’s face as he realized those things he did on August ninth weren’t mere dreams but real life. His eyes dropped to the man limp on the floor. “I’m a murderer.” His nostrils flared. He drew in short quick breaths. He picked up something familiar yet foreign. A scent he smelled put didn’t have an image to recall to the forefront of his mind. “Step three: Find you.” Ethan inhaled another breath-holding a steady hand on the snapped rib-tickling his lung. “I smell you!” He yelled marching toward the door. He stepped outside into the blazing sun. “I smell the salt in your sweat. I hear the caution in your steps and I’m coming.” He trotted down the decrepit wood steps of the sheriff station. “I’m coming for you.”