‘A KNIFE FIGHT, A LIGHTNING STRIKE, AND A DIRT BIKE’
“One, two, three. One, two, three…”
The gentle percussion of falling raindrops accompanies my mantra.
One radiant red ember bobs up and down in the gloom above the gas pumps. I can discern the silhouette of a single rotten rook as the dirty bird titters away, alone on his perch. The cologne of cannabis accompanies a cold breeze.
The back door bursts open with a bang and now a portly watchdog stomps out. He tears off his plastic football helmet and discards it like a piece of garbage. The helmet awkwardly tumbles across the cracked concrete before it comes to a stop in front of a rumbling, grumbling generator.
Now the watchdog glances over his shoulder as he heads towards the corner of the gas station’s brick main building. As he opens a chain link fence and melds into the night, his silhouette does not escape my gaze, not even when he slides around the corner, confident he’s given his pals the slip.
The muted flash of orange flame announces the birth of a second red ember. This one smells warm and savory: tobacco. My lips involuntarily pucker at the thought of treasure poised for the taking.
Lightning strikes in the distance, offering momentary assistance to the waning crescent moon. White light tinged with violet washes over my hiding place, revealing only a murky shadow among the rocks to the untrained eye. The flash is quickly accompanied by a foreboding thunderclap: the menacing growl of my lonesome, only friend.
“It’s time to begin the show.” My boots barely touch the ground as I glide through the darkness like a shadow dancing in the depths of the ocean. The watch dog on the corner gradually grows discernable. He’s too worried about being caught by his friends to notice me standing just an arm’s length behind him now.
My knife doesn’t make a sound as it is drawn.
The watchdog is midway through sucking in another mouthful when my hand darts past his head. I do not feel the lit end of his cigarette against my gloved palm as it slams down over his pursed lips like an iron portcullis. The smoldering ember falls into the empty abyss of his windpipe, but the watchdog does not get a chance to cry out.
I rip him backwards by his face onto twelve centimeters of sharp, matte black steel: the chosen instrument for this passage. My knife slides through his ribcage like a skeleton key and I can practically hear his heart squealing through the tip of my knife. As I twist my wrist ever so slightly, I can hear its pitch whinny to a crescendo before he goes limp, lost in death’s embrace.
“Another breathtaking performance.” I can feel a smirk creep onto my lips the way a snake might wind its way along a tree’s outstretched limb.
I free my knife from the fresh cadaver and help my appreciative audience member to a seat against the adjacent wall. Tendrils of smoke ooze out of his parted lips while his dead eyes remain wide, permanently stretched into a state of surprise. Before I stand upright, a quick pat down of his pant pockets reveals a pack of cigarettes, which I pick up.
“Treasure for the taking.”
The rook on the roof continues to chuckle away, oblivious, even as I plant my foot on his fallen companion’s shoulder and test my weight. Satisfied, I step away from the wall for a moment, measuring about three paces.
“One, two, three…” My lungs inflate with air once more, as if to help buoy myself into the air. I spring forward with three steps and scale the wall with my new friend’s assistance before pulling myself up and over the edge of the roof.
I can’t really say for certain what that stoned bastard thought he saw when I floated up onto the roof like a phantasm. Judging by the way he dropped that joint in his lap, I’d guess he thought I was a ghost. Not far from the mark.
Unfortunately for him, neither is my throwing knife. He tries to scream but he doesn’t realize my instrument has nestled itself into the soft spot beneath his sternum. His diaphragm pinned by my knife, he clutches at the pommel, wide-eyed in mostly silent agony, as I casually saunter over to the lawn chair where the rook is perched.
I find myself squinting as a break in the clouds allows a ray of moonlight to reveal my face for a moment. The little rook’s terrified slack jaw is immediately replaced by an accusing scowl.
That doesn’t sit well with me.
“You need a new mask.” My baritone voice is barely a whisper beneath the wind. I can tell by his muddled eyes that he doesn’t understand and so I decide to show him my meaning.
With a casual flick of my wrist, I draw another knife and carve an ear-to-ear grin beneath the rook’s chin. Red rivulets of blood stream down towards the ground, leaking profusely from the rook’s freshly painted smile. I wrench my throwing knife from his solar plexus, freeing his pinned diaphragm and allowing his lungs to flood with blood as the rook gasps hungrily for air. His bubbling gurgles remind me of a fish and so my grin becomes a grimace.
“Shh… it’s rude to disturb a performance.” I chide him with another whisper. He bleeds out without further protest while I wipe my instruments clean using his shirt sleeve. As I do so, I notice the red ember of the rook’s joint on the ground and stoop down, pinching the cherry to extinguish it before pocketing it.
“Another rare treasure for the taking…”
Now my eyes flash towards the back door beneath me as I hear it burst open once more. My instincts tell me to get low and I hit the deck, hugging the roof of the gas pumps to avoid being seen.
“Three…” Staggering steps beat out an oddly timed meter that turns itself around with a heavy thud. Retching ensues along with the wet slap of something splashing against the cracked concrete.
“Three will make four…” Now I listen and wait. A minute passes and the retching diminishes to a series of struggling hacks and dry heaves. I briefly wonder if this one’s a free win.
Another minute passes us by. The hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention now. I am a patient hunter though, and I am certain at least one opportunist will wonder where this dumb drunk got the extra booze from.
“… deal me out… be right back.” An older man’s voice, deep and full of gravel, rises to my attentive ears amidst the competing voices from inside. For a third time, the back door swings open with a bang and I hear a much heavier set of footsteps now. Stronger, more confident steps.
A strong wind catches the flat face of the door and slams it shut.
I pause for a few moments before I risk a peek. Less than two meters away, I spot two more animals: the dumb drunk skunk, doubled over in the dirt, and the opportunistic old owl trying to figure out where the dumb drunk is keeping his extra booze.
The old fart with the thick spectacles is too busy poking around his pal’s pockets to hear the subtle flutter of my black poncho as it sails through the air behind me. I can feel my feet and hips rotate behind and above my head as the wind and the wet rain whips me in the face. As I complete the front flip, I slam both of my boots together, driving the full weight of my body into the old owl’s upper back from above.
I can hear and feel the crunch of his ribcage breaking as he is completely flattened beneath my feet. A bloody gasp erupts from his lips as my weight squeezes the air out of his punctured lungs like he was a makeshift trampoline. The old owl writhes on the ground, but his flooded, collapsed lungs cannot muster enough air to cry out.
My momentum carries me forward into a breakfall roll. Turning and standing upright, I now come to regard the drunk skunk with a calculating gaze as he stares up at me, totally, well, dumbfounded. Before his addled brain can make any sense of the scene, I catch him with a vicious kick to the side of his head, knocking him to his side, then follow up with a few well-placed stomps to his head.
“One, two, three, four…” I murmur quietly. The rapidly approaching indigo thunderclouds voice their approval with a resounding roar. I squint instinctively as another wave of light flashes over me not a moment afterwards. I know I’m running out of time. My unblinking eyes come to a rest on the generator near the door as it continues to rumble away.
“A calculated risk.” I creep towards the door and the generator, knife in hand. The wind continues to whip the rain into my face as the downpour intensifies. Dirty rainwater glides down the weatherproof coating of my poncho sleeve as I reach my outstretched hand towards the generator.
I clench my jaw shut as hard as I can and hold my breath. The naked tip of my index finger touches the positive pole of the generator. In a single instant, electricity courses through my entire body. My teeth grind together as my brain struggles to process a single signal on rapid-fire repeat.
Pain! Pain! Pain? Pain! Pain. Pain? Pain. Pain. Pain? Pain…
Now that signal short circuits. Silence.
My right eye grows hot and itchy. I close my left eye and squint to reveal a crackling blue glow enveloping the generator as well as the wires conducting its power. Squinting harder, I can even see it through the walls, like my own private blueprint of the gas station. As I put together the layout of the building, I become aware of four human silhouettes inside, all seated in a circle.
A card game, most likely.
I pinch the jumper cables and disconnect them from the building’s back-up power supply routing. All the noisy white light vanishes without a trace, plunging the gas station into an impermeable din that not even the frequent flashes of lightning would illuminate through its boarded windows.
Dismayed voices echo out from inside.
Now I concentrate and imagine that hot, itchy feeling in my right eye traveling down the side of my neck, running the length of my arm. The scrape of somebody’s chair sliding backwards against the concrete floor increases my sense of urgency.
”One, two. One, two. One, two…”
Blue lightning lances down my arm and wraps its way around my fingertip and into the cable, instantly traveling into the building’s back-up electrical supply input.
The building’s interior once again becomes bright and the voices inside change their tone. A couple seconds tick by…
Then the electricity discharged from my fingertip overwhelms the circuit and causes a violent power surge. The sound of glass shattering echoes from inside the brick building as all the lightbulbs burst simultaneously. This is immediately accompanied by a confused cacophony of pained cries and angry shouts.
Two gunshots roar back at the competing thunder clouds in rapid succession. I instinctively duck down low. Two heavy thuds follow; these must be the sound of two bodies hitting the concrete. I hear the latch of a breach open: a double barrel shotgun.
It doesn’t shut again. Cold, hard smacks echo out inside now: fists on flesh, presumably a struggle over the weapon. The mechanical click of the latch closing shut followed immediately by another blast from the shotgun. A third thud. Quick footsteps towards my location outside the back door.
I press my back to the wall. Before the footsteps can reach the door, a startled cry; the owner of said footsteps seems to tumble to the floor and something thick, presumably his skull, crashes against the metal door with a reverberating clang. The door’s latch prevents it from opening and I presume the crack that follows that he probably broke his neck.
Only the sound of the downpour around me and the steady rhythm of rolling thunder fills my ears. I stand and turn towards the wall, squinting through my right eye once more. They’re fading, but I can still count four motionless blue silhouettes lying on the ground. True to my prediction, the one closest to me lies with its head slumped up against the door, its neck cocked at an unnatural angle.
I’d like to let out a deep sigh of relief, but a pillar of lightning laces the ground across the street from the building. The clap of thunder is immediate and deafening. I know it’s time to go claim my prize inside and get out of here while I still can. Quick, light footsteps carry me around towards the front of the building.
Less than two minutes later, I find myself exploding towards the glaring white light pouring out from the bright LED headlamp of my brand-new treasure: a fully operational dirt bike. An incredibly rare treasure, indeed, and with a full tank of fuel and spare tanks to boot.
As I speed down the cracked pavement of the broken road, I chance a quick glance back there, over my shoulder. Sure enough, I can see that telltale indigo tinge up high in the clouds behind me. As I swing my gaze forward towards the road before me, I swear that I can see a massive dark shadow for a moment, like the sort belonging to some mythical bird of prey hovering high overhead.
“Now, now, Trent… it’s only your imagination.”
The voice I hear inside my head this time does not sound like my own.
I rip the accelerator and speed off into the night.
A KNIFE FIGHT, A LIGHTNING STRIKE, AND A DIRTBIKE.
Written by Jungle.
(C) 2021, all rights reserved.
Special thanks to Sparrow Sensei for coaching me up!!
Click below to keep following TRENT…
I ride. I ride until I can’t feel my tender toes hidden inside my beaten boots – they’re doing little to ward against the unwavering winds whipping my hair around my face. I ride until the huge shock of adrenaline gradually erodes away, like some imaginary cadaver dragged behind me by a sturdy length of chain, grating against the dirt, the rocks, and the broken patches of pavement here and there. I rode until I could see shocks of sunlight streak across the sky, radiating from a single focal point behind distant peaks….