Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Blood, Bears, and Canvas

by P.F. White


"Annnnd the winnah by knockout in da third round: Mmmmmugzy da Bear!" screams the announcer to the roaring crowd.

Yellow flash-bulbs pop all over the crowded arena. I can't see anythin as the ref raises my blue-taped knuckles to the heavens. My opponent lies in a pool of red that slowly spreads across the ageing white canvas. He was a tough ol Ox with a style as cheap as his iron exoskeleton. I like to say he got what he deserved, but I know it don't work that way. I was better than him tonight, and I suppose that's all that matters.

It was my third K.O. in the evenin, and fifth straight win tonight. I was drippin blood from a dozen scrapes, nursin a coupla broken knuckles, and both eyes was damn near swole shut. More than anything, I needed a drink.

After the announcer was done showin me off, and the crowd was done hollerin, I headed back to my dull grey dressin room where Doc Reb was waitin fer me. No sign o' The Hopper though, probably out gettin supplies fer the next match.

"Yeh did good kid." says Doc. He was chewin on an old piece of leather, and looked like he had been fer some time. I swear, you can take the Goat from the country, but ye can't take the country from the Goat. This particular leather bit looked familiar. Oh great, I thought, the damn Goat got ahold o' one of my sparring gloves!

I snatched the mitt from the Doc with a loud "Gimme dat!" and walloped him over the head with it. He took it in stride and nodded like he was expectin it. That's the problem wit Doc: He's too damn calm! Calm folks really bust my buttons. Always carryin on like the worlds a bit o' smiles an sunshine, an that there's no cause to fight. If I could sock every calm fella I met in this world I would die a happy Bear.

I nearly miss The Hopper bouncin in with an armful o' bottles an things. I probably wouldn't have noticed the small grey Rabbit at all: except he stumbles on the glove and lets out a girly shriek. Lucky fer him he recovers before he drops any of the bottles.

"Watch it yeh dumb bun!" I snap at The Hopper. He just grins his stupid Bunny grin at me and pokes one of his floppy ears up like he's makin a rude gesture. Probably is too, I don't live in the warrens no more so I'm not down with all the new lingo.

"Geeze, Mugzy! Bite my head off why doncha?" says The Hopper. The Hopper knows what I want, and goes fishing in his coat fer a bit of liquid relaxation.

Out pops a bottle of dull yellow liquid, and I take a long satisfying pull. Nothin like Hoppers ol' Whiskey-Plus to take the edge off of a fight high. I'm serious, its one o' the reasons why I keep him around. The Rabbit is somethin of a drug-wizard. Somehow he can mix just the right level of downers to unwind, without lettin me get too sauced to fight. I finish the bottle in another pull an sit my four hundred pound bulk down on one of the blue-steel chairs.

I can feel my tensed and swollen muscles relax as the fight-drugs slip away in a cold sweat. My short black fur suddenly smells like a pharmacy, but it's a small price to pay. The feeling is like heaven. Unconsciously, I begin to unwind my tightly taped paws but the Doc stops me.

"That Ox broke a coupla yer knuckles, didn't he Mugz? Best not to unwrap the sheets er it'll be hell to get em back on later."

I sigh and re-seal the blue smart-tape. My hands ache, there's no getting around it. You don't fight five bare-knuckle bouts in an evening without yer bones complainin. At my age it seems to be all they do. Good thing the whiskey can keep em quiet fer a bit.

"I can take a shower though, right doc? I gotta wash this blood and chem' outa my fur...I'm stinkin like a pup tha's got into th' medicine cabinet here!"

"Yeah tha's fine. Jus don't dawdle cause I gots tah brief yeh on yer next opponent." Says the Doc. His nervous eyes look around fer something more to chew on, and I know that by the time I get outa the shower he's gonna be eatin leather again.

I watch the Hopper pull out his travling chem kit and start to fiddle around with liquids and powders. No one pays attention to the fight screen, locked permanently into the wall with black iron bolts. The next fight is already starting, a red Cock and a black Buffalo. I don't recognize the Rooster, but the buffalo is named Rufous Runagate. Good puncher really, been in the game almost as long as me. I watch him fell the Cock with a trip-hammer right, the crowd howls. I hit the showers.

####

My fight career started about seven years ago when I stopped off'n Island City on my way back to sea. The sailorin life hadn't a treated me well in the short time I was doin it, and I was lookin fer some other way to earn my scratch. While out boozin: I happen to run afoul o' this giant yellow Hippo, who takes a swing at me on account o' some insult that I don't rightly recall. Now I wasn't quite as soused as the Hippo, an I used that to my advantage. I beat that stumblin bum around the bar so hard we damn near leveled the place. By end o' the scrap the only folks still in the joint was me, the sleepin Hippo, and this scrawny ol' Goat in a blue suit.

The ol' Goat looks me in the eye, an tells me that his name is Doc Reb. He gabs that he can set me up makin heaps of money beatin palookas like the Hippo senseless. I say okay. The next thing I know he's got this crazy Rabbit pumpin me full o' fight drugs. Before you can say 'Murderin-Mugzy' I'm poundin skulls in the underground circuit once a week.

It's been a good few years, an we did make our heaps o' cash once or twice, but now I'm gettin old. My body is wearin down, and I can't take the radical chems The Hopper is wantin to shoot in me. Now these other palookas are fixin themselves with harder drugs, and more serious surgeries then I ever had the money fer. The sport is startin to outdistance me. I suppose it's bound to happen an it was good while it lasted. I reckon I can still lick em fer a little longer before its time to find a new racket.

All in all, I would only change one thing: agreeing to take that dive.

Yeah I know, sounds like a heels move don't it? Well it was. I was hard up fer cash, an tryin to live the high life a few more times afore I was forced into retirement when I run into this Snake by the name of Leo Cilantro. Real crooked crook he was, an mean as the devil himself too, but the ol' Snake had a tongue on him an he knew how to use it. Before I knew it I was in his pocket. Then things went sour, the Snake ended up dead, an I decided to lay low.

Problem is, a Bear's gotta eat. That's what I'm doin here tonight, strictly bread money...an hey, If I get a shot at the title: then that ain't no bad thing neither.

####

I hear some unfamiliar sounds when I'm in the shower an' decide to pop out early to see what the rumpus is. There's two Dogs in the dressin room when I do. Dull yellow trench-coats, Matching yellow fedoras and lotsa attitude. Even the breeds match the hackneyed image I got in my head from a thousand late-night picture-shows. A stout white bull-dog, and a dark red blood-hound. Either they was cops, or they was tryin to be.

"Looks like here's the prima-donna now. Hello Mugzy, I'm Bert. This here's my partner, Mike. Were here to ask you a few questions 'afore the next scrap. D'ya mind?" says the Blood-hound. His beady eyes were focused on me without blinkin and I could tell by the way his nose twitched that he was tryin to pick some kinda scent offa me.

Nosy mutts, I decide to play it cool.

"Partner eh? You too engaged er sumpin?" I say. The Hopper laughs nervously and the Bull-dog, Mike, shoots him a murderous glare. The Blood-hound don't even blink at the razzin and shakes his head slow from side to side.

"Private eye, wise-ass. Now if your smart your gonna tell us what we want to know."

The way he talked to yeh was like there was no-one else in the room. It was intense, mean, and not very smart. I kinda liked the guy. Too bad he was a dick, or I coulda seen myself havin a beer with him.

"What you wantin to jaw about?" asks Doc, "My boy heres got another fight in a few, and I'm gonna hav'ta prep him soon."

"Zat so?" says the Bull-dog suddenly. He tips his hat so that he can look me up an down. "It's the semi-finals innit? How'd a piece o' garbage like youse get all the way to the semi's?" He says to my face, but I just ignore him. Nine times outta ten it seems the best way to piss-off a short man is to pretend like yer too tall to see him. It works like a charm.

"Answer me you Bum!" shouts the Bull-dog. He brandishes his fists like he's gonna take a swing at me, and I silently dare him to. My eyes were still locked with the Blood-hound, but I knew without a doubt I could take the tiny slugger without a problem. It takes more than two Dogs to bring down a Bear.

"Mike, cool it. We're here to talk," says Bert. The Bull-dog glares at his partner but lowers his fists.

"That's cute how yeh got em trained like that, is he house-broken too?" I sneer at Bert. Mike lunges at me and I swat him in the jaw with a right hook. The Dog spins like a top and goes to the floor for a nap. Bert pulls a compact blue Zapper on me and points it at my head.

I raise my hands and continue to stare him down.

"Relax dick, I was just teachin yer partner to heel. No harm done," I say, probably pushing my luck more than necessary. With the flick of his thumb the blood-hound sends the Zapper into maximum charge. A high pitched hum fills the room and I shut up. It was his move. I could see Doc lookin anxiously at the fight screen where the Cock was standin over ol' Rufous the Buffalo. Not a good sign.

"Mike, get up. We're leaving now," says Bert. Mike the Bull-dog opens his eyes and groans as he tries to stumble to his feet. Blood and drool poured from his under-bitten jaw and gathered in a little pool beside his head. Poor pooch, I know how it feels to be outfought. Better luck next time. His partner steadies him with a hand so that he don't lose his balance and end back on the floor again.

"I know you were paid to take a dive Mugzy. I know you were at the Cilantro's place when the Ape took his fall, and I know, that you know, that we're not gonna give up until every little detail has been wrung outta that thick head of yours. So play the tough guy all you want palooka. Our client has all the money in the world, and we're getting paid by the hour."

By now Bert had half steadied, half dragged, his partner out the door. Before leaving he aims carefully and blasts a hole in the wall behind my head. The thunderclap of the Zapper sounds amazingly loud in the enclosed area and my ears ring so hard that I almost miss his parting line.

"See you after the fight, palooka," says the Blood-hound closing the door. I let my breath out real slow as The Hopper and Doc explode into action.

"Sufferin sassafrass! Those wanna-bes is worse'n the real cops!" yells Doc Reb. The Goat then proceeds to march up and down the room chewing some book cover while cursing every-one even remotely associated with John-Q-Law. I don't say anything. It's good to see the Doc lose his cool once in awhile.

"Hot diggity, look'it the size o' this here hole! It went plum through teh the alley-way I reckon...through a good half a foot of Ferro-crete too! Tha's some serious firepower boy, why'd you got teh go an' piss them off fer?" says the Doc, moving to admire the hole in the wall.

I can't think of anything to say to that and so I say nothing again. It's a good line really, makes me seem more collected then I'm feeling. Truth is: that I can't wait to get back into the ring and pound somebodies face in. A bit o' violence always sets me right when I'm feeling low. Somehow reading my mind: The Hopper looks at me, and then the clock. "Alright Mugzy, it's shoot-up time."

I glance at the clock, and a smile spreads across my muzzle. In a few minutes I'm gonna be face to face with a juiced up Kitty who wants a shot at the finals. All I have to do is spoil his day. God do I love my job right now.

"All right Hopper, lets juice up an' bust some more knuckles eh? Give me everything you got."

####

My opponent is a mug named Bengal Brutte. He's a big red Kitty with fake black stripes all up an down his fur. He tries to pretend like he's a big shot Tiger, but I knowed him fer awhile and can tell yeh he's nothin more'n a done up alley Cat. Been gone fer a few years out travelin the world, supposed to be a better fighter now...I suppose I aim to find out.

There's no denyin he's tough. Ringside, we call his kind a "Cutter". One o' them rare jobs wit a body that loves augmentative surgery. You could splice in a graft from just about any animal, real or vat grown, and it would take to his meat like gravy on a potato. Yes sir, some would call that lucky.

Not me though. I hate to go under the knife, and I can't imagine the kinda surgeries ol Benny has had to do. A Dolphin buddy a mine named Clipper once told me that after a certain point the brain stops gettin distressed by pain, and you learn to take it wit no problems. You still feel it, it's just not a bad thing anymore. Like an' acquired taste sortta deal. I told ol' Clipper he was full of it. If a mug is gonna be whippin me, I wanna get aggravated enough to do somethin about it!

One thing Clipper got right though: cutters is trouble. Knowin ol' Benny was a cutter, an that he's been gone fer a few, I figured he wouldn't look exactly as I remembered im afore. I was right.

When I climb into the ring I see this gigantic palooka I don't even recognize standin across from me. Most o' his fur is cut so short that you can see the scar-tissues running through his muscles like an old beat up road-map. Then I catch that toothy smile o' his and I know its Benny. Musta added on somethin fierce in the way o' new muscles fer this go around. On a glance I would say thirty or forty pounds easy. I wouldn't be surprised if the kitty outweighed me. Ain't that a lark?

So the ref heads us out to the middle of the ring and I take a good long look to make sure the place is just as I left it an that there's no broken glass an things on the canvas. Sometimes crowds like these like to add their own bit of excitement to the match.

The heavy-chain ropes, blood-stained canvas and roaring crowd look same as always. Dingy, torn, and rusted. Smoke fills the air from hundreds o' cigarettes, cigars, and drugs. Some fighters complain about the smoke. They say its like fightin in a burnin building. I can't say I ever tried that afore...but to me it's no bother. To me it's home.

The announcer yells out our names and weight. "Murderin-Mugzy Malone" fer me and: "Benny 'The Tiger-Tornado' Brutte" fer him. He also says the weights are four twenty three, to three ninety nine with me leadin. I don't know if I belive him, this Cat's a beast!

The ref makes a show o' sayin the rules loud and clear to us both, as if we don't already know the score by now. No kickin, no bitin, no scratchin, no hittin a man in the jollies or while he's down, an no holds barred. There's also no rounds as a tradtionalist would call em. When a mug gets knocked down in the underground he has ten seconds to get up and start swingin. If he don't: he's done. If he do: well, then he's just gotta get knocked down again, or knock the other mug down. It's a simple system, and a lotta fun.

I'm sweatin bullets as we are pushed outta the center and into our corners. The bells gonna ring any second, and It'll be every animal fer himself. I know that Benny's faster than me, and a bit smarter than me, but I used to have him when it came to sheer ferocity. I don't think they made an operation fer that yet, so I think I still have the edge.

Wheres the damn bell? I gotta watch out fer his left, He always was quick to shoot the left, and good at messin up my face with it too. Bell, bell, bell. I can feel the sweat soakin my fur and feel the drugs tightenin my muscles like a giant spring. It's now or never, I'm gonna burst if I have to sit around and think for one more- Is that Martini Blakar? What in tarnation is Cilantro's cousin doing in the crowd? Did he know about the fix? I don't-

The bell rings.

We both roar our lungs out as we launch ourselves across the ring. Crack! With a sound like wood on metal his left catches me on the jaw. I swing a couple o' wild hay-makers in response, but the kitty dances outta the way, swatting me with two more lefts: Biff! Bam!

I'm reeling for a second and he risks a right. Gotcha sucker! My left catches him right above the ear and knocks him halfway across the ring. I'm right on top of him and hookin my paws into a frenzy of lefts and rights. He turtles up and weathers the assault in a tight defensive ball. I slow fer a second to look fer an opening, and catch an uppercut to the jaw that snaps my head back. I feel the Kitty slam his shoulder into my neck, as his arms wrap around me in a tight clinch.

For a moment we're wrasslin like a couple a beef-cakes. I struggle to get a handhold on his short fur as he hits me with every dirty trick in the book. I catch a glimpse of Martini Blakar starin at me like he's expectin somethin.

Oh right: the fix.

I lose focus for a second and Benny uses it. For a moment I'm thrown in the air and the next I hit the canvas hard. The crowd roars all around us. The Kitty's got some serious strength these days, must a used those years well.

I need to get my head back in the game. I get me an idea. I jump to my feet by the count of five and bum rush the Kitty with my arms coverin my face. He staggers backwards as my momentum hits him, and my hands snatch at his guard. Crack! I blast the kitty with a shotgun head-butt that sends him topplin to the floor like a bowlin pin. If this was a legal knuckles match then I would be disqualified fer a move like that. As it is: the crowd goes wild.

The kitty is up at eight and starts back-peddlin while workin the jab. There's blood all over his face where his nose exploded like a water-balloon, and I aim to make good on it.

I eat three jabs in quick succession but pay it no mind. My right sinks straight and low into the Kitty's gut and he doubles over. I come in with a couple o' smashes into the back of his head and he's down again. With any luck he'll stay down. A low hiss robs me of my joy and I can see Martini watchin me. The big-black Snake has the exact same expression on his withered old gob that the private eye wore. Smug, superior, and patient. If I don't fall to the Kitty I'm a goner from the Snake. Helluva choice really.

Bengal makes it easy for me by jumpin up at the count of nine and knocking out one of my teeth with a right-hook. I cover my face from further abuse, but the kitty has other plans. He drops low to slide a perfect elbow into one of my ribs. I can feel the bone shatter and I realize that the Kitty is packin a ringer in his elbow. It's a dirty play, but I heard somethin about nice guys finishing last these days.

I try to suck it up and keep my head covered as he lets loose a lightning barrage of killer lefts and rights into the broken rib. Finally I take the hint, and fall. The crowd is roaring something fierce but behind it all I swear I can hear the tiny hiss of Snake laughter. Nuts to that Yegg!

I leap to my feet at the count of seven and the crowd cheers again. Bengal thinks it fer him and starts to throw a few showboat lefts all over the place. I let em land cause I gots nothin else to do with em and work on herdin the Cat towards the corner. I get stung a dozen times before the Cat catches on. He makes a break towards the left but I catch him with both hands and push him back hard. He sees my opening and knocks me so hard in the face that for a moment all I can see is black. I lash out blind with my right, and catch somethin heavy that falls backwards.

My vision clears and the Kitty is still close to the corner. He stings me twice with the left and I catch him with both hands to the gut. He feints right then makes for the left again, and this time I clock him a smart left to the eye. He repays me with a triple jab to the head that nearly knocks my eye out of its socket. Don't matter though, As long as I can keep him where I want him I can-

I hit the canvas so hard I can't breathe. The lefts were a diversion for the killer right. Damn! Does this Kitty have a metal skeleton? Thats top dollar, where could he get that kinda- Oh right, the count! I lurch to my feet at nine, and a barrage of straights make me stagger back. Okay, now I'm pissed. I roar as loud as I can and charge in. I catch him off guard, and he launches a salvo of stinging straights without the power to put me down. I push him back inch by painful inch.

His back hits the corner post and desperation fills his eyes. Wham! He hits me with a power left hook. Blam! Thats the right uppercut. That all you got Kitty?

In fear he launches himself straight at me with a flurry of straights but I'm too close for it. I just cover up and start jabbin hard with my elbows. I don't yield an inch, and the Cat rocks back on his heels at a loss. Thats when I slam him with everything I got.

I don't sweat the fancy stuff. I just swing the hardest hay-makers I can from every angle, until he's forced to turtle up against the post. The crowd howls for blood as I press tight against him and start maulin him good and proper with a combination of short hammerin hooks and wicked cutting uppercuts.

I got him just where I want him. He goes for the clinch and I elbow him straight in his busted nose. He tries to drop and slide with some fancy eastern hoodoo, but I catch him by his exposed throat with one meaty paw. The fight is mine now. I know it, he knows it. I just gotta finish it. Instead I think about Martini. I think about Bert and Mike. I bust the Kitty once in the face to keep him docile, and then I lift him with both hands. The mug is heavy all right, but I'm mad. You can do stupid things when you're mad. Dangerous things. I throw a four hundred pound Cat at one of the most powerful mobsters in the city. He crashes into the stands like a bomb. Screaming fans scatter in all directions. Not Martini though, he's stuck.

The referee is screaming at me, the fans are screaming at me. I pay em no mind and jump out of the ring. I can see the crowd mobbing around the exits, totally choking them with the press of bodies. That should slow up Bert and Mike fer awhile I hope. A few dozen steps later and I'm in my dressing room. Doc and The Hopper are already packed up.

"Kid, you got a helluva way of throwin a fight." Says the Doc.

"Not my fault if no yegg mob boss ain't clear about his orders. His cousin wanted the fight thrown, well he got it." Says I.

Without a word The Hopper hands me a drink. The crowd is still screaming as we sneak out the back-door. The alley is quiet and hazy, some of the smoke from the underground leaking into it and overpowering the smell of the trash. I won that fight by anybodies reckoning, and there's no way they can call it a forfeit with a finisher like that. It's not exactly nice to run out on yer victory, just like it's not exactly nice to throw a palooka at the crowd...but one of the good things about the underground is that the folks don't have to be nice. It's not a nice world, so it's only fair.

Doc Reb waves down a taxi and the Bot behind the wheel asks us where too. All eyes are on me so I give em the name of a dive bar in the North-side, a place where no one is gonna mind a Bear whats covered in blood and sweatin drugs. As we speed off I see the alley door get kicked open and a coupla yellow trench-coats come pourin out with zappers drawn. Too late suckers.

"Geez Mugz, open a frikkin window, yer smellin teh hell in here!" Says The Hopper. I crank the window open and lean outside, reveling in the cool night air as it dries my fur. The cities black buildings speed by us in a blur. My life may not be swank, but it suits me. I gots good friends, good drugs, and a title fight on my hands. If I have to dodge a gun every once in awhile, or put the hurt on a snoopin dick well...nobody's life is perfect.

THE END


© 2009 P. F. White

Bio: P. F. White is a sailor currently serving in the U.S. Navy. His inspiration for this tale came from noir detective novels and the boxing tales of Conan creator Robert E. Howard. (The ghost of Mr. Howard assures us that the animals were entirely P. F.'s idea.)

E-mail: P. F. White

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