This story is for the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: Write What You Know.

I had to write a story based on personal experience seen through the lens of fiction.

I’ve fought in a few tournaments over the years, so I added a couple twists and here you go.

 

The sounds of the crowd rolled through the walls of the narrow hallway. Rang off the linoleum floor. Vibrated through my chest. My stomach twitched and flipped over again. I swallowed hard.

It was late in the afternoon on Saturday now. The smells of sweat, fear, and blood had thickened in the air over the course of the day. A bit of stained towel lay abandoned against the wall. A wad of bloody tape beside it. The line moved ahead of me and I shuffled forward.

Figures dressed similar to myself in hooded jackets, robes, and sweats stretched out ahead of me. Each a harsh figure beneath the draining fluorescent lights. One of the lights ahead was flickering with a snapping buzz casting the far end of the hallway into bleak oblivion every few seconds before snapping it back into existence.

I took another deep breath. My taped hands were shaking inside the sleeves of my warm up jacket. Soon now, but not soon enough. The line kept shuffling forward. I wished it would move faster.

A loud roar punched through the quiet that filled the hallway like a balloon popping. Warm light lit the far end of the hall as a door swung open. Lit the men at the head of the line. The scale. The test rig. The judges with clipboards, flashlights, and needles. The door closed concealing them again.

We all took another step forward.

We were late. We were supposed to start half an hour ago. I wondered if they were always late. From the silence around me I sensed this was normal.

My stomach danced along with my hands. I took a deep breath and ran my hands across the stubble coating my scalp. Felt the metal nubs at the corners of my skull beneath the skin. This close to the auditorium they were already slightly warm. I didn’t feel it in my hands yet, but I would soon.

The line moved forward.

The implants were only temporary, but at this point of course they were temporary. No one got outfitted until they were sure this was for them. Having enough metal and wire shoved into your body to fill the guts of a half dozen computers was not really a small step. At least not for generally sane people. Not for me.

This was where I made a decision.

I’d talked about it at the gym for months. Casually at first. No one who trained there didn’t wonder what it would be like to move to the amped class. To compete how they did on the TV. My gym was actually run by a former competitor so it had the gear, the rigs, the ring. Seeing the few members of that class going at it during the last session of the night while we were heading home only cranked up our interest.

Casual got serious when one of the trainers said he thought I might do well. That I had that unique makeup that might work on the feed. I’d shrugged it off at the time, but the words kept coming back to me. Why not? I hadn’t sunk any of the big three roots yet. No marriage, no mortgage, no kids. If I was ever going to do it now was the time.

My girlfriend hadn’t been thrilled, not at first. But after she’d found me staring wistfully at the screen for the hundredth time while I flipped through a fan site, she told me I needed to try it. If I didn’t I’d never know.

So I went with the same trainer to a clinic in uptown. The procedure was quick and aside from some itching afterwards I barely felt it.

He’d flipped the switch for the first time at the gym a week later. I still remembered the rushing vibration that had swept through my body as it picked up the signal. It was about as strong as the residuals I was picking up now, but it had felt like lightning in my veins. That first session had been amazing. I’d never felt anything like it. I felt like I could do anything on even that weak feed. I’d been hooked and he’d known it.

But that was the gym. That was with training partners and only friends looking on. This was something entirely different. A dozen men in line with me and I felt completely alone. This was the real deal. This would be a live feed. An equal signal here, but a live feed nonetheless. I didn’t even know what to expect.

I swallowed. I was at the door.

They made me step on the scale, noted my weight. Checked my eyes with the penlight leaving me seeing spots. One of them removed a thin needle from a plastic sleeve. Jabbed me in the hand, watched me wince and watched the readout on a screen beside them. He nodded. I stepped under the circular metal frame of the test rig. The door was right in front of me.

I took a deep breath. Held it. All sensation drained from my body like it had all been put to sleep as the machine came on. I wavered just a bit and then everything snapped back. I felt every hair. The softness of my jacket. The hardness in my knuckles. The tight stickiness of the tape. I took a quick breath as my heart pounded then the man adjusted a setting and I felt like myself again only hyper awake. The air around me practically buzzed.

He nodded to the man beside him and then to me.

He opened the door and I stepped through into warm yellow light.

The roaring of the crowd washed over me. I took it in and then the edges of the signal caught me. I felt my muscles jump on their own. Felt the dry tingle as adrenaline started being released.

The ring lay ahead.

I smiled. I could get used to this.