The makeshift arena was made from rusted fencing and rope fishermen once used on the docks. The building housing the arena was a warehouse battered by bombs and melted glass had solidified into pools inside the building. Murk filled the air both in and outside the building and the density of pollution blocked out the sun to heighten the gloom. There was no clean patron of the arena. Men and women came with their clothes caked in a layer of filth garnered from exposure to the outside. All the faces, regardless of race were plastered with grey film and only those who wore a mask or otherwise covered sported a clear face.
The audience arranged themselves in neat rows of chairs with different heights and colors and they were seated based on a simple rule: the strong sit in the front and all others rank up behind them. Seats were contended until the day of the fights and the rankings were respected until the arena fights were over. As such burly men and women sat in the first row surrounding the arena. Conversations among the strength-based castes were boisterous and this was amplified by the presence of the facilities home-brewed liquor.
Donna let the uproar wash over her, she had been in this situation many times over and was no stranger to fighting a man. She sat wrapping her hands with a thin layer of bandage and chanted to herself, “I seek refuge in the perfect words of God from the evil that which He has created.” It was a pre-fight mantra her mother passed onto her and she, without know what God was, latched onto it. It had given her mom calm before she died, and, Donna realized, it brought her serenity as well.
A middle aged man came into the bathroom where Donna was sitting. The man sported a mullet with the sides faded and he’d one glass eye that never looked exactly in the right direction. “Donna, it’s time to fight.”
Donna looked at the man square in the eyes and nodded then got up to follow him out of the bathroom and into the uproar. There was an announcer on stage now, a short statured man standing in the middle of the ring gesturing the masses to quiet down. Quiet settled into the warehouse slowly in little factions. The front row went quiet last and anybody still causing a commotion after the front row would be treated as belligerent. The stout man spoke like a conman in their heyday, “Good afternoon, and welcome to Jaxton’s Arena. You all know who I am. Jaxton Davis and it’s because of me that you can see this fight. So remember when the blood spills who financed this leisure for you.” He paused for a moment allowing anticipation to soak up into the drywall. “Now let’s introduce our fighters,” he announced at last. “Tyson Crews, 6’1 with a dynamite haymaker.” Tyson seemed taller than what Jaxton stated his posture was so immaculate that he would have towered over anyone who approached him. The crowd cheered as Tyson entered the ring with such ease and grace that most people missed him even moving. He was simply suddenly on the stage.
“Another veteran out of the area, Donna Dawson. The fastest fighter alive.” And she was. Speed had nothing to do with grace. Speed was pure depletion of energy and grace was withholding that energy. Donna climbed onto the stage and stood in the corner opposite Tyson.
Jaxton rung a bell and escaped the middle. They didn’t wear gloves, they were fighting until someone refused to get up and if one was too stubborn to stay down they would die. Donna moved into Tyson and delivered a few jabs to the gut. Tyson absorbed the hits and countered with a massive right hook that missed Donna by less than an inch. Donna felt the air from the punch and knew caution would serve her best. Dancing around Jaxton and mocking, Donna taunted Tyson hoping to turn the man’s pent up anger against him. She taunted, closed in the distance and delivered a series of jabs to Tyson’s stomach, and escaped out of the reach of the man. Over and over again until he made a mistake which inevitably came.
Tyson with all his power couldn’t land a solid punch because of Donna’s speed. The punches were starting to slow him down. His breath had become more shallow. Concerned, Tyson rushed Donna and swung wide and uncontrolled. The grace he had at the beginning of the fight deteriorated while the speed which Donna had shown from the beginning had not wanned. When Tyson got close to Donna, she launched two hooks and an uppercut which all landed. Tyson collapsed. Donna watched as Tyson bubbled like a drunk trying to get up but hoped the man would stay down but he rose to his feet. Donna wouldn’t let Tyson get reoriented. A jab to the stomach, hook to the face and Tyson was back down. He didn’t move this time.
After the fight, Donna returned to bathroom and changed. “I fucked up bad,” she said to herself as she changed. Donna opened the bathroom door with her bag slowly hoping not to draw attention to herself but the glass-eyed-man was already there waiting.
“What the fuck, Donna?”
“I did what I had to do?”
“Had to do? We had a deal.”
“And you promised me I wouldn’t fake-lose to a shitty fighter. Yet Tyson was there. So I changed plans.”
The man shook his head, “You have no idea what you’ve done Donna, we’re both screwed. You’ll see.” Pouting like a child, the man stormed off. Donna headed home in the thick of the grime. The wind churned about and grew stronger as the day went. Everything was coated in this grey and blackness that nobody cared to get rid. It was in the air, the particles that coated the world and tasted look soot and dust and coal. Donna yawned and got a taste of the air but it didn’t phase her. Donna walked through a demolished apartment building and she had to be careful over the rubble underfoot. Then she went down a long stretch of black and brown colored road where at the end was a battered building with a once lit neon sign that read “General Store”.The building’s innermost room was Donna’s home and with no one else staking claim to the rest of the building, she owned the entire building too.
After bathing Donna laid on her bed and thought. That’s all there was to do for entertainment that didn’t involve raiding other villages or killing passersby. She imagined a place of green, green floors, on the trees, on the plants and on the mountains, and she knew her naivety but imagined the sky blue anyway. As she thought her foot and hands tapped about on the bed or walls. She thought all day without thinking of the consequences of her rebellion at the arena.
Donna pictured Desmond, the man with the glass eye. He held up a wad of dollars and counted it aloud for her. “One-thousand, two-thousand. Three-thousand dollars. We can rig this fight Donna, just lose to whoever you fight next and I’ll bet this here and we’ll split the money.” Something had went awry, if Desmond had known Donna was fighting an easy opponent he would have better for her instead of against her. Someone else must have gotten involved.
Early the next morning the was a knock at the door which startled Donna out of bed. She thought she was still dreaming as she went to open the door. At the door was a tall man in a suit that faded from grey to a greasy black. Behind him four muscular men stood with their arms crossed and smirks on their face. “You must be Donna, pleased to meet you.” Donna couldn’t swift through the sentence for sarcasm or authenticity.
“I am, and you are? Donna said making sure to keep distance from the man.
The man scoffed and the men behind him laughed but the lack of smile lines showcased that the four men were also intimidated. They were forcing smiles. “Me? I’m Marcus. That’s all you need to know. And you, Mrs. Donna, have screwed me out of a grip. You were supposed to lose that fight and we all knew it. Desmond himself promised all the big time better. So why’d you do it Donna? What money did you earn by winning the fight?”
“Money? I’m the poorest fighter around. I don’t have money just laying around. Feel free to check. My pockets are empty and so is my house.” Donna moved to the side allowing Marcus to see all her home. The goons behind Marcus started forward but with a swift gesture, Marcus stopped them. He shrugged and said, “I’ll see you soon.” The group of gangsters plodded along the rubble of the general store and out into the still air.
Donna rushed to grab a backpack and filled it with clothes and she was out the door. She ran more than walked and if there were people outside she would have looked bizarre. Running in the thickness of the grime, Donna could feel her throat and lungs being coated with the fine particles. Most of what she tasted was dust. It was a the minute jog to a small shack on the outskirts of the devastated town. The shack itself seemed it was built from salvage of the town complete with a sign taken from a pharmacy that now only read, “Jack’s Pharma”. The rest of the word had been cut off in the shacks construction. Donna knocked on the door and Tyson Crews opened it.
“Donna what the hell are you doing here?”
“They’re already onto us Ty, we’ve got to go.”
“Go? I’m not going anywhere.”
“You don’t understand the gang is involved this time.”
“Look, I’m staying here, that’s all I know. Venturing into nothingness like you want is crazy. Here’s your cut and good luck.” Tyson handed Donna a wad of money kept together with a few rubber bands. Donna looked a Tyson pleadingly but only said, “Thanks,” and she was on her way.
Desmond always told Donna if she wanted to escape town that she should head north, that there were rumors of another town a few days walk using the roads. Heading north would mean going back to town, heading north would increase the possibility of running into Marcus and his gang before she’d make off. She went north anyway.
The asphalt below her feet was crumbling and decaying and weeds had grown through the cracks. Every now and then under an especially hot sun, the smell of tar would rise from the asphalt which lead many to call the it Tar Road. Heading north back into town, smelling tar and dust, Donna thought about the city. It had forced her to fight since her childhood and she was tired. She hated the city and the people, they were raiders and pillagers. They were barbarians. Even though Desmond had raised her, he too was a barbarian at heart, he just expressed it differently. Desmond was a savage for money.
The town was baking under the sun and the was hazy in a mirage. Donna walked back into the town and hoped it would be her last, and with each step she took she grew more resolute of the thought. Goodbye town, she thought as she continued on the path. She walked past the small crumbled homes, part of which were used to build shacks like Tysons. Donna was distracted in taking final notes of her childhood home, the intown shacks, the shops, and eventually the arena. All places she once frequented without much a thought and now she would be abandoning them and would let them be consumed completely by savages. Good riddance, she thought as the arena was behind her.
Five figures stood on the road just before the city surrendered to desert, and on both sides of those five were a crowd of people. Donna heard the commotion grow before she noticed the men blocking her path. Donna looked for another path around but this was the only path out of the city, the other ways were blocked by toppled skyscrapers. Each step was laborious and yet she had to take them and had to face the men who were certainly Marcus and his crew. She counted her steps to take her mind off the impending fight. Two. Ten. Twenty. Fifty steps. She was face to face with Marcus now and the chatter that rose to an uproar, fell once again to silence.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Away from this shit hole.”
“And taking off with all my money? Didn’t think I’d find out where it went that fast, did you? It wasn’t too hard to figure out. Good lesson for you to learn Donna, always ask the bookie. Knowing that Tyson bet against himself through a third party was all I needed to know that you were involved.”
“So what? You just want the money?” Donna showed the cash bound by rubber bands.
“That’d be a start. Then I’d like a public apology, and we’ll go from there.”
“Fat chance, I’m leaving. Deal with Tyson, he seemed bent on staying here.”
“Tyson will get his, but you’re the one wanting to leave.”
Donna wondered how Marcus had found out her leaving in the first place but the thought wasn’t worth the time. People in the town keep their mouths loose with other people’s business. The rule of the town was to trust no one, after all. Donna squared her shoulders to fight the five men in front of her. There was a commotion on both sides of the road and laughter from Marcus.
“Come on kid, just give me the money and say you’re sorry.”
Donna said nothing. The wind blew sending the fine black particles into Donna’s face, she felt them hit her teeth and tasted coal. The scent of tar rose from the floor and all the while the side chatter grew.
The fight would pass on through drunken night for decades, they would tell it with gleam in their eyes about the gang and the fastest fighter alive. Each time a drunkard told it the wind blew harder, the men grew larger and the odds more frightful. Donna Dawson too grew more extraordinary until it was said she moved like lightning. When Donna Dawson confronted Marcus and his gang crowd was on Marcus’s side. They cheered as his men gained advantage and jeered as Donna made any headway in the fight.
“The wind blew so madly,” one drunkard said “That for a second no one could see Donna or the gang. But just as the dust settled it was only Donna who remained standing. She looked like hell. She was right beaten blacker and bluer than she’d ever been. But she’d beat them.”
The barbarians of the town celebrate the legend of Donna not because she stood up to the gang or because of an morality she might have shown but because her sheer ability. And though no one cheered her on that night, whenever he story is told those in the crowd tell it as if they were cheering. The townspeople had no true alignment to anyone other than to cheer for those who would win. And those townspeople who celebrate her legend, haven’t heard from Donna since.