Eight in the Evening

He walked in with the lights hot on his face. He strode through the sea of chanting, churning people at almost a skip, eyes rapidly flipping back and forth in the apprehensive version of the steady, slow moving gaze that panned the audience with cool confidence. The subtle discrepancy was unnoticeable. Yet it did not matter who knew, save one person: the person he employed his frenetic technique to locate. The Hornet.

The Grand Champion, also known as the Hornet, was unbeaten. The number eight, having fallen from second slowly and showing no signs of slowing his age-precipitated decline, had challenged the Hornet as a final flail before his career dipped below ten, went into free fall, and spiraled into the vaguely terrifying world of retirement.

The number eight continued his stride, trying a few jabs followed by a powerful cross. That cross used to be his most powerful weapon. But during the smack, as it was widely accepted to be called, the vitality behind the swing was drained. Nothing in the physical punch was wrong, but the audience didn’t seem to care, letting loose a great roar because of his quick training. As the ropes grew bigger, approaching too quickly for the number eight’s taste, he felt the desperate need for the boost of the audience’s cheer once more. He let loose a grand flurry of punches, danced back and forth while the cheer swelled, and drove it to a crescendo with an aggressive uppercut. While it probably lacked in technique, the uppercut had no rival for showmanship. Here was the ring, and now was the time where his natural instincts of fear must be forcibly silenced. He nodded to his trainer, who smiled and opened a gap between the ropes. Number Eight leapt with a huff onto the side of the ring and immediately dove through the ropes with effortless ease, landing in a leopard-like position. The man, with boxer trunks of a leopard glancing predatorily over long tendrils of grass, held the crowd in the palm of his hand. He sprang to his feet and pulled his muscles taut by stretching his arms in a long, nearly complete oval ending below his waist. He roared.

The crowd went wild.

They loved the design. They loved the passion. They loved the persona. They loved the effort. They loved the performance. They would be disappointed to learn how much Number Eight’s shoulder hurt from the leopard pose. It was then that Number Eight saw Number One, The Hornet, known only by his family as Walter Frederickson, hiding in the dark of the tunnel preceding the long walk out to the ring. The Hornet cracked his knuckles unsteadily and blinked hard.

He stared him down, knowing the only chance against the twenty-three-year-old champion was to psych him out, so that he would doubt his superior abilities. Perhaps if he could get the Hornet to crawl wounded back into his hive, his seemingly magical powers would follow.

“The battlefield is where you make it,” his wife had said to him once. It is not always the ring.

Well, it will be his brain this fine evening, thought the man. Early victories will be key to this match. I simply need to make him forget that he could beat me by running away and exhausting my strength through avoidance.

“A victory before the game is as early as they come.” That one was from his first trainer, and it was good advice. Leaping upon the Hornet’s brief hesitation to prepare himself before the match, Number Eight motioned to him with a stuck-out and trembling lower lip to come to the ring. It was a perfect gesture. The crowd roared with laughter, and the Hornet reddened visibly at the barb. But that was not the best part. Number Eight allowed a cruel, crooked bending of the end of his lip in a scarily jagged smile. The Hornet’s eyes widened and then narrowed as he realized it too.

Coming out after that insult would be to do exactly what had been ordered, overtly revealing weakness. Hesitating would confirm the insult that he was scared to come out of the tunnel. Number Eight had been plotting this opening for weeks, and if age came packaged with one thing to desire, it was knowledge. The Hornet took the only acceptable course and charged out with his shoulders thrown back. A slight tremor shook his frame, but while it originated near the peaks of his broad shoulders, it never made it past the compact abdomen. The Hornet, in a somewhat desperate attempt to mimic the showmanship displayed by his adversary, tossed his robe into the audience with a grandiose air, revealing the well-defined muscles hidden underneath. He arrived at his corner hastily, the crowd providing ample applause as befitted the national champion, yet none compared to the raucous cheers issued to the man who now donned a ferocious, black mouthguard decorated with sharp teeth. A simple, black mouthguard was handed to the man in the black and yellow boxing trunks.

Walter Frederickson had a small, chiseled face that might have been a half-moon if it were not so ovalish. He also sported a short crop of auburn hair that was just long enough to give the hairdresser enough hope to aggressively attempt to smooth it back. The Hornet was a strange case, a strange type for a boxer. His short form and subsequently minimal reach, and that his body was just lithe enough that one might have considered him a weight class down from heavyweight, made him quite an unlikely prospect for a boxing champion. He had not been scouted particularly early. He came out of nowhere, relatively, his first major match being against the number twenty-seven in the country. It was an easy victory. So easy that he shot up to challenging twenty, then nineteen. Nineteen, in fact, was a knockout later in the rounds. After that it was fourteen, a very easy victory, and then fending off a few challenges of his own. Sixteenth in the country was nothing to sniff at, but it took a hard-fought, nailbiter victory in the Olympics to really be taken seriously. He took home gold in the light heavyweight after going the whole match just trading blows with some upstart Australian boxer. It came down to the wire, but the Hornet, as he was now known, had won his twentieth professional match right after that victory, challenging the number ten. The Hornet never got too ahead of himself, though. Someone on the internet eventually realized he had only ever challenged someone four places above his own rank, and he earned a reputation for his dogged and modest attitude.

He was also known for his unique fighting style. As previously mentioned, his was not the body type that most naturally befitted a boxer. He had molded his entire style around one thing: reflexes. He had catlike reflexes, could practically anticipate a blow before the thought formed in his opponent’s mind. Based off of that one skill, his coaches had built a machine. It was all in the variety of attack, really. No one could ever land a blow on Walter Frederickson, and whenever they overstepped their bounds, Walter Frederickson would be in and out of their defenses leaving only a cripple. They folded after a strong series of punches, never too long and never was the attack pressed, but just a select few jabs and perhaps a cross. Then, he resumed his stance as if nothing had happened.This was why he was knighted the Hornet.

Number Eight hoped beyond hope that the weeks of rigorous training would pay off. And he needed them to. Boxing was the only thing he knew how to do in life, it being necessary in that craft to dedicate the entirety of one’s time to the endeavor. People do not wonder nearly often enough about the life of an athlete not as successful as Michael Jordan or Arnold Palmer post-career, thought he. And the boxers have the worst of it, perhaps behind football. Retirement is early, so you dither about, unsure of what to do with your money and refusing to allow yourself to take a nostalgic and longing glance into the past, until those years are wasted and you find yourself in the dangerous lands of a midlife crisis. Then your money is gone, your relationship is ruined, and you settle for a mediocrity that is not only depressing in its essence, but also jarringly melancholy as a juxtaposition to your former status. Number Eight’s head spun. He had taken the mental journey into the future that can be as dangerous as a foray into the past. Number Eight also then realized he had been holding his face in a rigid sort of mocking smile for some time. He disguised a brief massaging of his face in the similar but more quotidien gesture of stroking the stubble that was the beginning of a beard that Number Eight sternly refused to allow to come into being.

Walter Frederickson pranced about in his corner, looking a bit nervous, and very childlike as a result. The announcer began the spiel so familiar to boxing fans, announcing the contestants with zest that demanded some sort of accentuation, which ended up scattered arbitrarily.

“And in the BLUE corner, weighing in at TWO hundred and SEVEN pounds, COMING from New YORK, winner of twenty- matches, FIFTEEN by knockout and famous for his FEROCIOUS attack, HEAVYWEIGHT champion of THE world, The HORRRRRRRNET!” The crowd erupted into cacophonous cheers and the energy behind the words. The words were of less importance.

“And IN the red corner, weighing in at two HUNDRED and thirty-two POUNDS, coming ALL THE WAY from AR-I-ZONA, former NUMBER two in the WORLD for Heavyweight…”

The stadium spun violently and Number Eight forcibly stopped the whirlpool that might suck him into the depths of memory.

“…Winner of forty matches…”

He was pulled down into the fathoms of nostalgia to his twenty-first win. That one had been his twenty-first straight. He had felt very proud of it. Then his streak had been abruptly broken by a loss. Out of the four matches following that tenth loss, he had lost two. It was a grand disillusionment for Number Eight. Even though he grew higher and higher in the ranks, nobody believed he would top the lists anymore. And he didn’t.

“…With thirteen by KNOCKOUT and a paltry eight losses…”

But he looked to the side to see his wife, Linda. She was cheering wildly, and when she saw him looking at her for support, she adjusted her expression to flow confidence into him like a tributary. She had always been supportive of his career. He always came home to Linda smiling, a messy bun flopping as she set about making dinner. She held her own job as well, and it was a nice one. She had a Ph.D from Princeton, and had studied for a long while to earn it. As a result, she taught at the University of Phoenix. Number Eight and Linda would relax after a long day, have dinner while discussing the events of that day. Sometimes they would watch a movie. Sometimes they would play a board game. After that, they would go to bed in a beautiful bedroom. It was decorated with polished wood that appeared to be holding up the ceiling. It gave the room a homey ambience.

Linda, thirty-three, and Number Eight, thirty-four, had wanted children for a long time. The duo had learned a few weeks ago of the existence of a baby girl. Linda wanted Melinda. Number Eight disagreed. They would both laugh after each playful altercation. There was no visible bump yet.

Number Eight and Linda were equal breadwinners, at this point. Linda had wanted a job, wanted to do something with her Ph.D. When Number Eight met Linda, he had just lost two out of the last four matches. She took a job at the University of Phoenix soon after.

Walter Frederickson turned to look at the crowd. His glance was intercepted by the coach. Walter looked at the coach hopefully. He received a steely acknowledgement.

“…MI-chael Ca-RU-so!”

Number Eight came to the middle with Walter Frederickson. The referee recited the timeworn list of precepts. “I want a good, clean fight…” Number Eight stared at Walter Fredrickson. Walter Frederickson blinked hard. Then he began blinking very quickly, very copiously. His muscles rippled. His skin looked smooth and young. He blinked again. He checked the audience for any sign of recognition. A nice portion of people cheered. A handful crowed at how few cheered. The heavyweight champion bit his lip. Number Eight smacked the gloves of Walter Frederickson, and the latter’s gloves held firm. Walter Frederickson seemed to find some resolve. Number Eight felt a twang of fear.

Michael Caruso turned back to Linda and Melinda. He beamed at them and dropped his arms.



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