Headliner

The black eye I give him complements his black heart. Colossal Shadow, they call him – also fitting with the beating he was getting.

With a sharp right hook, his face breaks under my fist. A roundhouse kick knocks him off balance, and a strong knee to the chin sends the behemoth down. Newspapers before the big fight headlined the brawl as a battle of David and Goliath, only with an even more intimidating Goliath.

With the beast unconscious in the hot sand – his face glowing red with blisters from the heat – the audience roars and seethes a steam of hatred and relief. The bully has finally fallen.

“Blade or stone?” an official asks, offering me a red dagger or a river-washed rock the size of an apple.

“Stone,” I mutter through my teeth, brandishing the rock around the defeated, deflated monster at my feet. The deal was that only one would exit the coliseum alive, in exchange for the winner’s continued participating in future matches.

Back at home, I am a simple peddler; I support my mother and sister with the few pounds of food I manage to steal each day and the pathetic daily wage of a dirt sweeper at the butchery. It wasn’t until the Shadow raided my little settlement that I decided to defeat the bastard once and for all, and his defeat would be in front of all of his supporters. He had to pay for the lives he destroyed the night he attacked the village.

Drool oozes from my mouth and disappears into my shirt. Bloody knuckles, a dislocated shoulder, and an indomitable thirst for revenge are all that is left of this peasant dirt-sweeper boy. To save my family, I contentedly forfeit my innocence. To defeat a monster, I became one.

As I prepare to pelt the monster with the stone, a weak gurgle emits from the beast. “You’re just a kid…” He wheezes. “You have to escape this before it consumes you.” The colossus spits out a concoction of blood, saliva, and teeth. “I was just like you once; but they make you change. All those invasions, they forced me to do all of that.” Then, before the official places a quietening black strip of tape over the whitewashed brute: “Please, save yourself.”

His warning does not faze me, however. Rather, I am too overwhelmed to consider anything he is saying is true. Instead, I paint the sky with his blood, his cries muzzling the exasperated spectators.

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