As though on cue, the mechanism beneath the platform I stood upon creaked and whined as it began the ascent into the heart of the World Stadium completely indifferent to whom it carried. It must remember well the emotions of all the past fighters that had stood upon it throughout decades of victories and disappointments. Up and up it went, slow enough to build the moment up appropriately. The far-away lights of the massive arena were starting to fall on me now. Soon I would be bathed in it.
Concentrate. This is it.
I could not. I was as far away from the stadium as an airplane flying above it as all of the things rattling around in my head began to viciously flash through my mind like a stormy window as though I were preparing for my own death. I felt my mother’s arms around me, singing that lovely song as I clung to her neck and played with her hair, having no conception of ever being separated from the warm security of her arms. I felt Bethany’s breath hot against my neck as she cried out with delight and told me that we would always be together. I felt the strain of tired legs as Sophina relentlessly chased me around the house, as I laughed and escaped beneath the couch.
I saw the summer skies drifting like a red desert throughout my mind. I felt the grass beneath me where I lay down as clouds languidly crossed my chest. I smelled the wet, rainy leaves on the days of walking to school late for class. And I could see myself, just a little kid whose hair was messed, jeans too short and shoes too big. All of these visions were chased away by the reality that stood before me like a horizon where nothing was behind. Everything, good or bad, led to this. This was my time. Regardless of the outcome, there was no going back, ever.
I looked up as the edges of the ring were coming down and I could just picture Syrus the Hellman sitting on a ledge, smiling.
“There’s no way you can beat him.” He would taunt. “He’s just too good and I’ve seen him put down a lot better fighters than you, Kid. Trust me, tonight your heart is going to be the last thing to break.”
The roar of the crowd was deafening. I was in full view now and could see little specks of spectator movement all across the stadium that walled my vision. In my mind Hellman still laughed away. He didn’t seem to have a face because he was everyone that I knew, everyone that I had ever met. He was every opponent, every wall -every open pit that I had ever come across. In every place he breathed indifference and pain. He was all of them -the harrowing bullies, the shiny plastic demons, the things that lurked in the night forest, the shadows –and he was here at my final moment before it all came to fists and blood to let me know that he was watching and waiting for me to fall.
I would not be sorry to disappoint him. I bet it happened rarely enough that he might even consider it a pleasure.
I searched the front rows looking for Sophina but I could not find her. My heart began to race at the prospect of her not being here but the idea of it was rather ludicrous considering that she had attended all of my fights and this was the largest and by far most important. Sophina was here. I could feel her if I opened my heart and listened for hers.