submitted by dourdan to BarryPepper [link] [comments]
Welcome to my novel, inspired by Barry Pepper's role in Crawl (2019)
Chapter 1: Envy, Wrath
Nobody ever imagines themselves as a victim. I certainly didn't. I admit I was kind of a cocky little shit so maybe I deserved to be here: half-naked in a swamp with a bullet in my chest. I think there was also a bullet in my head, either that or I cracked my skull on something while in the process of crawling out of my makeshift grave. "I am Army Master Sergeant Adam Severgine," I said out loud to no one. I needed to remain conscious, I needed to survive.
This was no different from a deployment. Except instead of fighting for my country, for the chance to prove myself, I was fighting to dig myself out of a shithole of my own creation. "I am Adam Severgine, husband, father...addict." Tears filled my eyes. My wife and daughter were miles away in Biloxi, Mississippi.
I had no fear of death and dying but eventually, they would find out how badly I fucked up. I lost thousands of dollars in gambling, booze, heroin, meth. I should have just gotten out when I had the chance.
Instead, I turned tricks, ran drugs; I became a bitch to avoid becoming a bitch. The idea made me laugh. "Ow..." Fuck, I'm going to die.
"No, you're not." The male voice sounded calm, serene. "Do you even know where you are?"
‘I know I'm imagining you, whatever the fuck you are.’
"Because the mighty Master Sergeant Adam could never be communicating with an angel," the voice said with a laugh. The grass in front of me started to blow in the wind.
\swish* *crunch* *swish* *crunch**
The blades of grass seemed to grow taller, their shadows forming the shape of a man with long wavy hair.
"Is that what you are?" I asked with a chuckle. A sharp pain struck my side; I definitely had broken ribs.
As the angel came closer, he seemed to materialize into a mortal form; olive skin, green eyes, and hair that seemed to be streaked with red, blue, purple and gold. "What do you think I am?"
"You kind of look like the Lord, Jesus Christ," I said, my voice starting to slur into a southern accent as I felt my mind drifting away.
The angel laughed as he ran his fingers through his rainbow hair. "I'll take that as a compliment." He then reached over his shoulder and pulled on a golden cloak out of thin air. "Are you ready to go?"
The angel shrugged. "Does it matter?"
"I guess not." Any place had to be better than dying alone in the swamp.
The angel reached out his hand. "You can call me Leo."
I took his hand, as I did, a series of letters flashed before my eyes; 'E-N-V-Y.' The letters were in thick black font as if someone was throwing them at my face. But why 'envy'?
I jolt awake, in full uniform, outside of a commander's office. I had been here before but where was I?
"Come in," said a female voice.
I knew who it was; Lt General Allyssa Blake. I was back at my station in Alaska. Still afraid of how the hell I managed to travel back in time I took a breath and entered the office giving the appropriate salute.
The much younger woman had blonde hair, light blue eyes, and lips that made me dream of what she looked like out of uniform. "At ease," she said with her soft breathy voice. She returned the salute and motioned for me to take a seat.
Allyssa never sounded like an officer. She gave off ASMR, that tingly feeling down your spine. She was pageant-queen beautiful, brilliant, but more than anything she was kind. Her wonderful heart was the only thing keeping me from bending her over the desk and fucking her brains out.
Sat down, focusing my eyes on the floor. I at least knew what this meeting was about. "Thank you for meeting with me Ma'am."
"Of course, Sergeant. Do you still want the transfer?"
Was this a memory or a test? "The transfer to Mississippi?"
"Yes, unless there was another position you were interested in pursuing."
"Sorry, I'm just a little one edge as of late. I apologize for the nature of my request I-" My daughter was sick, my wife was cheating on me because she was 'lonely.' I needed to be home, to reclaim my family.
"Hey," she stood up and took my hand. "I love you, Adam. You're a good guy. You're going to go home and you're going to fix this. I already have a replacement lined up."
"You do?" This part was new. I never stuck around to learn who she put in my position.
"Lawrence will take over."
"Lawrence Heath?" Lawrence Heath was an Air Force liaison officer. He had more training and education then I did so from a technical standpoint he was a good choice. But he was also Alyssa's ex who transferred to Japan after she miscarried their son.
"He wants to marry me," her voice was so angelic, calm.
Time stood still. I can feel a sharp pain in my chest. "Leo? Please tell me this is a dream."
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. "What do you remember about Lawrence?"
"H-He never actually hurt her."
"Alyssa miscarried in the middle of the office. You drove her to the hospital. You held her hand while she cried. Where was he?"
"He was at work. He came to her as soon as he could. I loved her like a sister, and I know it broke her when he left. But she loved him." I reached my hand to touch Alyssa's frozen cheek. "I hope they found happiness."
"Impressive," Leo said, starting a slow clap. I turned to see my guardian angel sitting on an office chair, his rainbow hair flowing about his face. "I wonder how someone so noble ended up in a place like this."
"What?" With a jolt, I was back in the swamp. My chest felt like it was being crushed and my head was throbbing. In my hands, I felt an unbearable burning sensation. But I knew perfectly well why that was. Shooting up heroin between your broken fingers tends to fuck shit up. I forced myself to scoot backward until I felt myself leaning against a massive tree. The rough bark cut into the skin of my back and neck, but I was still grateful for the opportunity to rest.
Lighting cracked the sky, forming a distinct series of patterns, 'W-R-A-T-H'- Wrath? I couldn't help but smirk. I mean, I had plenty to be angry about. So, I was actually curious as to where the angel was going to take me next. "I'm ready."
I closed my eyes and took a deep, calming, breath.
I could hear the sound of a plane landing. My skin was no longer in pain, but my heart as beating a mile a minute as I stood in the cool airconditioned TSA waiting room. I knew where this was. When I opened my eyes, I was meeting my daughter. My wife and I had tried for years to conceive but it was never meant to be. At the age of thirty, we started the process to adopt from China. After years of waiting, we stood hand in hand at the immigration office of Jackson, Mississippi. China had been our last hope. For whatever reason, we were unable to even get on a waiting list for a European or North American baby. That was another reason I was nervous. The little girl was already six months old. What if she took one look at me and decided, 'Nope, I'm not going to be able to love these military-redneck white folks?' I was scared. Fate had a reason for never blessing us with a biological child.
As the adoption rep put the baby in my arms, I felt only the light of God's love. "Hello, Cece."
My wife scoffed, "I thought we agreed on a name- Annabelle-Rylie?"
"Felicity June Severgine," that's her name, my daughter's name.
The next few moments flew by in a blur, but a painful number of them were of me abandoning my family. As the years passed, I saw myself in uniform leaving for deployment; moments when I truly believed that I might not come back alive. Other times I was just in sweatpants and a t-shirt as I kissed my family goodbye. Before my eyes, Cece transformed from a toddler to a teen. I suddenly felt a wave of nausea. The last time I saw Cece she was no longer the beautiful girl I remembered.
I closed my eyes and fell to my knees. "Oh, God..." I knew what I was going to see; my angel my reason for living, in a medically induced coma.
"She never told you what really happened," said Leo's disembodied voice.
I stood up to see the angel standing over Cece's bed. "My wife told me it was pneumonia." I'd never made it to my daughter's side to see for myself.
"Marni told you that, knowing it would take you at least a month to get home. The wounds healed by then. And what didn't heal could be explained away. Ironically, after a seizure, she did develop a sepsis infection in her lung that mimicked pneumonia." Leo made his way to Cece's side and held her hand. "But you didn't see what she looked like the day of the phone call." Leo kissed Cece's forehead. "I'm so sorry little one, this will only last a moment."
I had a feeling I was not supposed to hear that last part.
Cece had a breathing tube but as time regressed it vanished, replaced with the monstrous number of wounds. She cried, then screamed. Her face covered in bruises, cuts, and clearly broken bones. Her clothing transformed into a short blue dress; one I had never seen before.
Time stood still as my government issue phone rang. I hit my thigh only to feel no pockets. The phone was in the palm of my hand. "Hello?"
I remember this conversation. She said she came home from a dance. Homecoming, Prom?
"I went to a party," Cece's said, her voice cracking with sadness. "It was great."
Leo poked my arm. "Hey, it's your line."
With trembling hands, I moved the phone to my mouth to speak. "That's great, baby."
"Should go," she said as her breathing became labored. It was clear she was trying not to cry. "I-I love you, Daddy."
Marni came in the room just as Cece hung up. "Hi, sweetie, do you feel up to talking to the police officers? They need to get your statement and do a rape kit."
"Yes, Mom," Cece glanced at the phone, giving it a squeeze. "I'll be ok. I just wish Dad was here."
I got to see the rest of the scene. According to her statement, she had been raped, beaten and left for dead. That was how she escaped. When her date (and his three friends) thought she was dead, they locked her in the trunk.
She remembered what her father had told her about how to escape a trunk and managed to not only kick out the tail light but also get the trunk open while the piece-of-shit car was going forty down a backroad. Battered and bloody she ran for her life until she found her way to the main street.
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. "What would you have done if you knew the truth?
"I would have fucking killed the bastards."
"Really?" Leo waved his hand, to focus back on the scene.
Marni took a seat, holding Cece's hand. "What did you tell your Dad?"
"Nothing. I didn't want him to be disappointed in me," she said, burying her face in her pillow.
"I could ever be disappointed with you," I said out loud. I knew she couldn't hear me, that hurt more than anything. But not more than the feeling of my leg getting blown off.
A sharp pain shot through my leg. Suddenly I was back in terrorist occupied Iraq, riding in a supply convoy. A larger truck ran us off the road, into an IED. At least that's what I was told.
The vehicle I was in exploded, and I was pinned under the rubble. Somehow my leg was extracted from the mess and sent along with the rest of my broken body to Landstuhl, Germany where I spent the next few weeks waking up.
At the time, my home station was in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That was where my wife was living with a then eleven-year-old Cece. I remember I’d asked that I be transferred back to my family; if I was going to die, I wanted to die at home. My superiors, the US military; they owed me that much.
My next memory was of Cece staying by my side. I'd suffered burns over twenty-five percent of my body, there were bone shards in my hips and my leg had been put back together with pins and rods. It was a unique sensation, to be a living mass of pain. The local medical team determined that I would never walk again. So, the goal was to make me comfortable.
I was allowed at-home hospice care. This meant that I was placed under the attention of a nurse for administering therapy, and medications, but during the majority of the week my wife was tasked with wound care. At least she was supposed to be. My wife never touched me. To do so would have meant to show some level of compassion.
I remember Cece asked the nurse to teach her how to change the dressing on my leg. I have to assume the nurse thought she was curious and adorably sweet. Because otherwise, it was not the safest practice.
I closed my eyes. When I awoke, I was back in that wonderful moment. "Cece?"
"Hi, Daddy," my little daughter said in a calm whisper as she donned oversized medical gloves.
“Hi, Sweetheart,” I replied in a horse whisper.
“If I hurt you, I’m really sorry.” She changed out the gauze, using a bottle of peroxide to wash the open wounds.
I flinched but tried my best to stay quiet.
"Mom said that I needed to say goodbye," Cece explained as she worked with a gentle touch. "She told me the only reason you came home is because you're too sick to go back. I don't believe her." She finished in silence before getting a clean blanket from the closet. "You're going to walk again." She cuddled by my side, resting her head on my shoulder. "Superheroes don't die."
My heart filled with a sense of faith that I didn't know was possible.
She spent her summer by my side; changing my bandages, helping with physical therapy. I was also working with a therapy nurse who was impressed by my level of strength.
For Cece's twelfth birthday she had a party at the on-base movie theatre. I paid the bills but Marni took on the responsibility of making the day special for our daughter. Cece invited her entire class, she looked so genuinely happy.
I arrived in my wheelchair. As the movie played, it was 'Step Up', some kind of dance movie from the golden age of hip-hop music. The movie was played on the projector as background noise, as the kids ate pizza and talked.
I waited in the back until she noticed me.
"Dad!" She broke off a conversation with several friends to run over to me. "Oh my god! Did you just get here? How was your therapy appointment?"
From my wheelchair, I reached to the cane at my side and I stood up.
Cece cupped her hands over her mouth as tears welled in her eyes.
I took my first (pain-stricken) steps since the accident that should have taken my life. I stood tall, strong, as Cece threw her arms around me.
"I love you, Daddy. You're my hero." she paused to wipe tears from her eyes. "But does this mean you're leaving again?"
I was. I could have taken medical retirement, stayed with my family. But I needed the money. I needed to pay off a mortgage, send my daughter to a good college: I wanted to make my family proud.
So, I took a position in Alaska as a squadron lead. That’s when the addictions started. painkillers lead to heroin. loneliness lead to gambling and prostitution. all because I left behind the one person who truly cared.
The world went dark. I was sitting alone in an empty theatre as Leo appeared on the screen. "Hi, Adam. Wow, this is certainly an interesting view."
"Yeah," I replied in a weak voice.
"Well, I have to ask, what would you have done if you knew the truth about your daughter's assault?"
All I could do was laugh. The situation was clear now: I was dead and this was Hell. "You really want to know?"
Leo shook his head. "Look, I'm not a sadist, I just have a job to do. I was human once, just like you. And no, you're not in hell."
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
The man laughed as he turned towards the theatre and with one swift motion, seemed to jump from the screen. He walked towards me, with the fabric of the curtain attached to his back like wings. "So, what would you have done? Her attackers were never prosecuted. If you had a moment with those boys in a soundproof room with just your revolver, what would you do?"
I thought for a moment. I had no one to blame but myself. "I would eat my gun." Was Cece dead? I needed to know. If she was gone, I truly wanted to die.
Leo approached me, placing a hand upon my shoulder. "Much better, on to the next test."
I gripped his arm. "Why should I trust you?"
Leo rolled his eyes. "Maybe because I'm the one with the magic powers."
"You're my driver," I said in a tone that came off ruder than intended. "But what would happen if I said I'd rather walk to my final destination."
Leo chuckled and shrugged. "Hell, if I know. Maybe someone will find your body. Maybe you'll reunite with Cece in heaven. Or maybe she'll survive and grow up believing that her hero abandoned her. What do you want from me?"
"You said you were human once- I want to know something about you."
Leo cupped his hand to my face, tracing a finger along my jawline. He appeared to be studying my features, which gave me an opportunity to study his. "What do you see when you look at me?"
"You have green eyes," I said in a whisper. His eyes were hypnotic, his breath; warm, comforting, human.
"I know what it feels like to love someone until it hurts." Leo leaned in and kissed my lips, breathing a long constant stream of air that seemed to crackle with electricity.
Chapter 2: Lust, Greed
'All you need is love? Love? Love is all you need?' The voices hummed in my ear. They weren't singing, they were asking. I know where I am and I don't want to open my eyes.
"How does that feel?" asked a voice that was not Leo. It was Dr. Ethan Rogers, my physical therapist. He was a younger man; late twenties, early thirties, with blond hair and blue eyes- the most all-American soldier you could ever hope to meet. And he was massaging my naked thigh with a vibrator.
I know I'm hard, and I know what he's about to do next.
"I'm going to put this inside you," he said in a most professional tone of voice.
I could have attacked him, punched him in the face, or at the very least or at least said no. But it felt so good. I knew my scar tissue was prominent. It was a disgusting crater that ran along the entirety of my leg. I stayed in shape; my body was lean, muscular but that seemed all for show. I needed to look the part of a soldier, maybe if I was lucky, I would be able to pass my physical. My legs were for running, training. My cock was for pissing. My ass was for shitting. It had been months since I allowed myself to feel sexual pleasure.
"Just relax, let yourself go."
Damn it feels incredible. My eyes open on their own, staring straight into the blinding room light. The bulb is blinking forcing me to blink. Letters form in the shape of the light. 'L-U-S-T.' Yeah, I guess so. But it wasn't a lust for sex.
I feel him inject my leg; my broken, mangled leg. My leg that existed for the sole purpose of causing me unbearable pain, akin to the fires of hell. In a matter of moments, all of that was but a memory. He told me he was giving me morphine but I knew it had to be something stronger. That shit fucked with my head. Like a cool wave of tranquility; life death and every emotion in-between.
"I can get you a prescription for morphine, maybe even fentanyl.” His voice is calm, cool, like an ice tea on a hot day. “All you have to do is submit to me."
All I could do was laugh. "Sure, sounds great." My speech was slurred. This man was the devil and I willingly jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole into Hell.
I was physically fit. Dr. Ethan Rogers knew he could rent me out to anyone who had a fetish for dominating. Over the next year and a half, I lived as a sex-slave. I was bound, gagged. I sucked cock and even let men fuck me in my on-base housing. I was a human party favor, but I was always well compensated.
I took their pills, so many pills, all the colors of the rainbow. Most of the time, I never knew what any of it was, only that it was my prize. And when given vials of heroin, meth and God knows what else, I shot up in my arms, legs, but mainly my hands just because no one at my actual job seemed to notice my hands.
It was a perfect system. By day I was a soldier; a flawless, reliable worker who could be counted on for any job. I was a great husband and father who was working tirelessly to make sure his family would be taken care of. I worked myself to the bone, playing through the pain. But at night I was free.
Until the day my heart stopped.
I awoke in Alysa Blake's room, on her sofa. "Wow, you fucked up." The general looked like her actual youthful age. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun.
"Aly?" I tried to speak but immediately had to vomit.
General Blake had a bucket waiting by the side of my head. "You're going to stay here for a while." She placed a cold washcloth to my neck focusing on my artery. "This is going to help with the pain in your chest."
I shook my head. "But, what about my leg?"
"You're not the only one living with chronic pain." Alyssa took my hand a placed it on her hip, just below her abs. There was a massive scar. I knew the story; she had been shot in the hip; the bone and surrounding tissue had to be rebuilt. This was likely the reason for her later miscarriage. "I'm not giving you anything for your leg. You're probably going to have another seizure from all the drugs you already took."
I tried to move, to sit up- anything. But the pain seemed to course through my body. I wanted to cry or scream, but no sound was coming from my parched throat.
I gripped my head as a massive migraine pounded my vision. In the midst of my agony, I didn't even notice Alyssa leave and return with a blanket until the moment she cuddled by my side. "I'm going to stay with you."
I nodded, with a noticeable lump in my throat.
"Talk to me about Cece." Alyssa put her arms around me as she rested her head on my chest. “What is she like?”
I knew what this was. This moment, it was the opposite of lust. Nothing was worth more than my family, my daughter "She's a dancer."
"I think my wife has her in gymnastics and cheerleading but she..." I swallowed hard thinking about the last time we talked. Cece asked if she could send me a link to a video of her ballet recital. She loved ballet, she wanted to be a choreographer. She sent the link but my Alaska internet was too weak to see it without an extensive amount of buffering. And the camera had been placed so far back I could barely make out her face. I told her as much, but that I would love to see her dance someday.
"Have you seen any of her performances?"
I nodded. "C-Can I have some water?"
"Sure." Alyssa turned away, attempting to sit up.
Try as a might, my arms wouldn't let her go. "I feel sick. But, more than anything, don't want to cry in front of my commanding officer."
Alyssa glared at me with a look of seriousness. "I found you in your room bleeding from your ass. I performed CPR until you were lucid enough to walk with your arm around my shoulder." She only lived a few houses down and often visited.
I couldn't remember making the walk to her house but it wouldn't be the first time. I had the habit of dialing her number when I was too high to think straight. "My apologies Ma'am."
She reached for my hand, stroking between my fingers. "If I was here as your commanding officer you would be in a hospital awaiting a medical discharge." Her fingers paused on an open sore where I injected regularly. "I'm here as your friend, because what you need right now is a friend."
I knew she wasn't wrong. "Thank you."
"So, tell me about the time you saw your little girl dance."
My hands were trembling as my eyes filled with tears. "She sent me a USB."
"She sent you a file on a flash drive? Wow, that's really sweet."
"Cece had somehow used her phone to record a solo piece in her backyard. I didn't recognize the song, something Gaelic sounding about finding your wings to touch the sky." With the warm memory in my heart, my body relaxed.
"That sounds like the theme from the movie Brave," Alyssa said as she sat up. "Wow, that brings back memories. Anyway, I'm going to get you some water now."
Brave? Of course, it was.
Alyssa returned with a bottled water and a straw. "Take small sips." Once it appeared like I was not going to vomit again she took her place back on my chest, holding me close. "You need to go home."
"I know." I stroked her hair as I looked up at her stucco ceiling.
"You need to research a position at a base closer to your family,” she said as she kissed my cheek. “And I will sign off on it."
"Thank you." Now I just wish she talked me out of driving down to the states. Maybe I wouldn't have fucked up as badly as I did.
A lonely drive, six hours on the road, maybe eight. Behind the wheel of a rented SUV carrying all my worldly possessions, I thought I could keep focus, I thought I-
And here comes the crash.
I opened my eyes, but all I see is darkness. "Leo, are you there?"
I could feel someone grab my hand, pulling me from the vehicle. It wasn't Leo, but rather a younger male, possibly a teen.
"Wow, Leo was right, you are fucked up." The kid pulled me out of the vehicle, seemingly indifferent to my level of pain. "You should grab your wallet and suitcase. We have a bit of a walk into town.”
I did as he asked. I could recall what happened at this moment in time. While it did not include a Native American surfer-boy, I knew where we were headed.
"How long did you manage to stay clean for?" the smug teen asked.
I turned to him with a look of contempt. He stood maybe 5'9", and although he had an attractive face and youthful demeanor, I would have no problem punching his lights out.
"Really, old man?" The boy laughed.
"Master Sergeant Adam Severgine," I said with a groan.
"I know," he said, happily, skipping down the road. "I'm Jamie. Welcome to Oklahoma."
"How old are you? And where's Leo?"
"Leo will meet us in town. And as for me-" Jamie did a backflip landing in front of my face, close enough to kiss my lips. "I'm legal."
"Are you a guardian angel too?"
"Are you asking if I have powers?"
"I am," I replied through gritted teeth. I could remember how long the original walk took me. By the time I got to town, my leg was killing me.
"That's not why you got high off your ass."
"Oh, fuck you!"
"You got clean just long enough to pass a physical, for the job transfer. And then you started using again like the fucked-up junkie that you are!" Jamie continued doing flips and cartwheels down the empty road.
I focused on my own path looking down at my boots as I walked. My leg was mostly healed, to the point where I could walk unassisted, I could even drive. But I still felt an ache, a chronic pain that would never go away no matter what drugs I took.
Jamie appeared in front of me, lifting my face to look into his eyes. "I'm bored and I miss my boyfriend so I'm going to do you a favor." He punched me in the face with all the force of a fighter jet.
I awoke on the floor of a casino. And I do mean floor: My eyes opened to reveal the sight of paramedics working frantically. They had apparently just finished restarting my heart.
When I looked straight ahead, sitting at a slot machine was Jamie. The little punk was doubled over in laughter.
Leo stepped out of the shadows. He raised a finger giving the 'give me a second' sign. He embraced Jamie, speaking to him in a quiet tone. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but at least Leo was calming him down. When Jamie finally stopped laughing, the couple walked to the elevators.
A tall older man, in a suit, came over to check on the scene. He was the hotel manager and a former Marine. We talked for a while, with me telling him my situation. He kindly offered to give me a room for the night, free of charge. It was the least he could do for a fellow soldier.
Yes, it was only for one night. I could contact the rental agency and they could send a new car to my location. But until then he offered to buy me dinner and give me a tour of the hotel and casino.
Everything was going great. After hanging out with my new friend I took a seat at one of the many the table poker tables.
I was by no means an expert but I preferred tables, to computer-generated games of chance. That was when I met Lola. She looked like a typical cocktail waitress, just a few years away from retirement. She was possibly old enough to be my mother (either that or she had just spent too much time in the sun,) but she was undeniably beautiful. She made sure to flirt, playing with her long blonde hair as she brought me free drinks.
"Drink up," she said, before taking a shot. She cupped my face, forcing the shot of whiskey down my throat. "It's on me, love." Next thing I knew she was on my lap. I was winning hand after hand; she was truly my good luck charm. When I was too drunk to walk, she offered to escort me to my room.
I remember collapsing on to the bed. I could feel her hands, her long nails, then her mouth. When I was ready, she started to ride me. Talking dirty in a way that my wife never did, I gave her full control. she got on her knees and wanted me to fuck her from behind. I did, and what was when a man barged in with a master key. It was the manager.
My memory is blacking in and out but I remember him getting on the bed. He and Lola are laughing. They offer me cocaine.
The next morning, I awoke to the sight of Lola in my bed. Her naked chest was moving, so I had no immediate reason to panic.
Jamie stood in the corner wide-eyed. "Wow, I was raped to death by a demonic cult and even I found that disturbing."
Leo walked through the wall to stand at Jamie's side. "And this isn't even the worst of it."
I tried to sit up but my body hurt. "Why, the fuck, are you even here?" Just my luck, I had a pair of fuck-boy morons for guardian angels.
Leo sighed. He approached the bed, stroking Lola's hand. "You can't change the past." He made a turn to the closet, grabbing my phone from my pocket. "But you can choose your future."
I was lucid enough to move my arm and unlock my screen. I had wi-fi. I clicked on my email. it was open to a message from Cece, starting with a link that I had never seen before. "Greed.mov?"
Leo shrugged. "You should probably take a look."
I clicked. There was Cece in her blue dress, sitting on her bed. "Hi, Dad. I'm a little nervous. I really like Jason, and well, I wish you could have met him. He's so much like you. He wants to join the Marines, travel the world. I mean, I guess I'd write to him. A lot of my friends are planning on getting married, so their boyfriends don't cheat. It's really stupid. Jason says he loves me, he wants to marry me. I'm pretty sure he just wants to fuck me." Cece looked down at her silver ring. It had belonged to my grandmother who passed away before Cece was born. I had given it to my daughter on her sixteenth birthday. It was only then, on that video, did I notice where she wore it. She wore it like a wedding ring: a purity ring.
Cece looked to the side, at her computer, to press a few keys. "I hope this will help my anxiety." The music starts to play, it was a slow, Celtic, song. I watched as she moved her arms, in a graceful ballet pose. She appeared to be free-styling a dance piece, in her room, dancing on her bare feet. It was truly breathtaking. But why was the file titled 'greed.mov'?
"I can't wake up without you, Dad." The voice was not coming from the phone.
I nearly screamed at the sight of Cece's broken, bloody form.
Jamie put his arm around Cece, patting her shoulder. "Don't worry, she's still in a coma."
The creepy, undead version of my daughter leaned her head on Jamie's shoulder. She turned just enough to look at me with her dark, innocent, eyes. "When you rocked me to sleep, you would tell me stories. I think you assumed I couldn't hear you or what I wasn't paying attention."
"You couldn't even talk." For the first two years, I was so nervous about being a father, that I would unload all of my horrific stories on to Cece like a verbal diary. she didn't speak a word until she started preschool at age three and even then, I never heard anything from her teachers about my stories.
"Knowing so much about your past is why I always had such respect for you." Cece took a step forward, reaching out her hand. "I know what you saw, what you experienced. It made you the person you are." When she came closer, her hand hit a glowing wall of energy. She nodded her head knowingly. We weren't in the same space. "Jamie said you're going to make your way back to me."
I knew our time was short so I had only one question to ask. "Why greed?"
"You told me I was your treasure; I was everything you ever wanted."
"I'm so sorry."
"That wasn't meant as an attack. Not at you, not ever." Cece moved closer. She was able to sit on the bed, her hand caressing the fabric. Her moves were careful and deliberate.
I would have given anything to be able to touch her hand. I knew in my heart this wasn't an illusion, this was my daughter.
Cece pursed her lips and continued, "There's an old saying, 'Shoot for the moon, even if you fail, you'll be among the stars.' Well, what happens when you reach the moon but it's not the finish line that you thought it would be. You always want more, I did anyway. that's why I let Jason go as far as he did. I thought I could have it all; I'd go to college and have a hot, long-distance boyfriend. maybe we'd meet up in Europe where I would audition for a ballet company. At least that's what I thought." Cece wiped tears from her eyes. "He was dating me as a practical joke. I was the nerdy-science geek who was also a dancer. The rumor was that I clearly wanted to be fucked, but my stern military daddy was keeping me inline." She paused for a moment, looking into my eyes. "I guess he was half right. I knew Jason's plan was to make me choose between you and him. And what's really messed up is, I would have chosen him. I was greedy." Cece took a few steps back, her form already starting to fade. "I miss you so much, Dad. Please come find me."
Leo cracked his knuckles. "Well, this was fun but we have miles to go before we sleep. So-" He turned to Jamie.
“Yeah, I know.” Jamie nodded, with a sigh, as Cece vanished.
Next, Leo turned to me, with hesitation. "This next part is going to hurt."
"More than seeing my dying daughter?"
Leo clicked his tongue as he moved to Jamie's side. "Adam, how much do you remember about your trip from Oklahoma to Louisiana?"
"Do I remember who shot me and left me for dead int he Louisiana swamplands?" I clearly did not.
"Do you want to know?" Leo asked, twirling a lock of his rainbow hair. "I mean I'm supposed to show you, orders from the big boss," he said, motioning towards heaven. "But I think it would be a little cruel."
Jamie's eyes lit up. "Can we just give him a summery? He'll feel just as shitty but we won't have to watch it!"
Leo pursed his lips, clearly trying to hide laughter. "Jamie..." Leo took a breath to calm down. "None the less you are correct. But to stay in line with the," he made the pointing gesture again, "I'll give him just enough to dwell on during our hike back to civilization."
Jamie leaned against a wall as Leo stepped towards me. He crawled into bed, positioning himself on top of me like a snake. His long hair trickled against my face. "You good, Adam?"
"As good as I can be."
"I'll make this quick." Leo closed his eyes.
I did the same. The images flashed before my eyes like the world’s worst vacation slideshow. Oh, God.
More sex, drugs, a few suicide attempts. Luckily it would only last three weeks. I apparently went on the mother of all drug binges. I didn't want to go home, and I knew why. My daughter was sick, but my wife… my beautiful, kind, wife, Marni-Lynn was a fucking whore who’d torn my heart out a long time ago.
By Thomas Mann Translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter THE FIGHT BETWEEN JAPPE AND DO ESCOBAR I WAS very much taken aback when Johnny Bishop told me that Jappe and Do Escobar were going to fight each other and that we must go and watch them do it. It was in the summer holidays at Travemünde, on a sultry day was a slight land breeze and a flat sea ever so far away across the sands. We had been some three-quarters of an hour in the water and were lying on the hard sand under the props of the bathing- cabins——we two and Jürgen Brattström the shipowner's son. Johnny and Brattström were lying on their backs entirely naked; I felt more comfortable with my towel wrapped round my hips. Brattström asked me why I did it and I could not think of any sensible answer; so Johnny said with his winning smile that I was probably too big now to lie naked. I really was larger and more developed than Johnny and Brattström; also a little older, about thirteen; so I accepted Johnny's explanation in silence, although with a certain feeling of mortification. For in Johnny Bishop's presence you actually felt rather out of it if you were any less small, fine, and physically childlike than he, who was all these things in such a very high degree. He knew how to look up at you with his pretty, friendly blue eyes, which had a certain mock- ing smile in them too, with an expression that said: "What a great, gawky thing you are, to be sure!" The ideal of manliness and long trousers had no validity in his presence——and that at a time, not long after the war, when strength, courage, and every hardy virtue stood very high among us youth and all sorts of conduct were banned as effeminate. But Johnny, as a foreigner—or half- foreigner——was exempt from this atmosphere. He was a little like a woman who preserves her youth and looks down on other women who are less successful at the feat. Besides he was far and away the best-dressed boy in town, distinctly aristocratic and elegant in his real English sailor suit with the linen collar, sailor's knot, laces, a silver whistle in his pocket, and an anchor on the sleeve that narrowed round his wrists. Anyone else would have been laughed at for that sort of thing——it would have been jeered at as "girls' clothes." But he wore them with such a disarming and confident air that he never suffered in the least. He looked rather like a thin little cupid as he lay there, with his pretty, soft blond curls and his arms up over the narrow English head that rested on the sand. His father had been a German busi- ness man who had been naturalized in England and died some years since. His mother was English by blood, a long-featured lady with quiet, gentle ways, who had settled in our town with her two children, Johnny and a mischievous little girl just as pretty as he. She still wore black for her husband, and she was probably honouring his last wishes when she brought the children to grow up in Germany. Obviously they were in easy circum- stances. She owned a spacious house outside the city and a villa at the sea and from time to time she travelled with Johnny and Sissie to more distant resorts. She did not move in society, although it would have been open to her. Whether on account of her mourn- ing or perhaps because the horizon of our best families was too narrow for her, she herself led a retired life, but she managed that her children should have social intercourse. She incited other children to play with them and sent them to dancing and to deport- ment lessons, thus quietly arranging that Johnny and Sissie should associate exclusively with the children of well-to-do families—— of course not in pursuance of any well-defined principle, but just as a matter of course. Mrs. Bishop contributed, remotely, to my own education: it was from her I learned that to be well thought of by others no more is needed than to think well of yourself. Though deprived of its male head the little family showed none of the marks of neglect or disruption which often in such cases make people fight shy. Without further family connection, with- out title, tradition, influence, or public office, and living a life apart, Mrs. Bishop by no means lacked social security or preten- sions. She was definitely accepted at her own valuation and the friendship of her children was much sought after by their young contemporaries. As for Jürgen Brattström, I may say in passing that his father had made his own money, achieved public office, and built for himself and his family the red sandstone house on the Burgfeld, next to Mrs. Bishop's. And that lady had quietly accepted his son as Johnny's playmate and let the two go to school together. Jürgen was a decent, phlegmatic, short-legged lad without any prominent characteristics. He had begun to do a little private business in licorice sticks. As I said, I was extremely shocked when Johnny told me about the impending meeting between Jappe and Do Escobar which was to take place at twelve o'clock that day on the Leuch- tenfeld. It was dead earnest——might have a serious outcome, for Jappe and Do Escobar were both stout and reckless fellows and had strong feelings about knightly honour. The issue might well be frightful. In my memory they still seem as tall and manly as they did then, though they could not have been more than fifteen at the time. Jappe came from the middle class of the city; he was not much looked after at home, he was already almost his own master, a combination of loafer and man-about-town. Do Escobar was an exotic and bohemian foreigner, who did not even come regularly to school but only attended lectures now and then——an irregular but paradisial existence! He lived en pension with some middle-class people and rejoiced in complete independence. Both were people who went late to bed, visited public-houses, strolled of evenings in the Broad Street, followed girls about, performed crazy "stunts"——in short, were regular blades. Although they did not live in the Kurhotel at Travemünde——where they would scarcely have been acceptable——but somewhere in the village, they frequented the Kurhaus and garden and were at home there as cosmopolitans. In the evening, especially on a Sunday, when I has long since been in my bed in one of the chalets and gone off to sleep to the pleasant sound of the Kurhaus band, they, and other members of the young generation——as I was aware——still sauntered up and down in the stream of tourists and guests, loitered in front of the long awning of the café, and sought and found grown-up entertainment. And here they had come to blows, good- ness knows how and why. It is possible that they had only brushed against each other in passing and in the sensitiveness of their knightly honour had made a fighting matter of the en- counter. Johnny, who of course had been long since in bed too and was instructed only by hearsay in what happened, expressed himself in his pleasant, slightly husky childish voice, that the quarrel was probably about some "gal"——an easy assumption, considering Jappe's and Do Escobar's precocity and boldness. In short, they had made no scene among the guests, but in few and biting words agreed upon hour and place and witnesses for the satisfaction of their honour. The next day, at twelve, rendezvous at such and such a spot on the Leuchtenfeld. Good evening.—— Ballet-master Knaak from Hamburg, master of ceremonies and leader of the Kurhaus cotillions, had been on the scene and prom- ised his presence at the appointed hour and place. Johnny rejoiced wholeheartedly in the fray——I think that neither he nor Brattström would have shared my apprehensions. Johnny repeatedly assured me, forming the r far forward on his palate, with his pretty enunciation, that they were both "in dead eahnest" and certainly meant business. Complacently and with a rather ironic objectivity he weighed the chances of victory for each. They were both frightfully strong, he grinned; both of them great fighters——it would be fun to have it settled which of them was the greater. Jappe, Johnny thought, had a broad chest and capital arm and leg muscles, he could tell that from seeing him swimming. But Do Escobar was uncommonly wiry and savage—— hard to tell beforehand who would get the upper hand. It was strange to hear Johnny discourse so sovereignly upon Jappe's and Do Escobar's qualifications, looking at his childish arms, which could never have given or warded off a blow. As for me, I was indeed far from absenting myself from the spectacle. That would have been absurd and moreover the proceedings had a great fasci- nation for me. Of course I must go, I must see it all, now that I knew about it. I felt a certain sense of duty, along with other and conflicting emotions: a great shyness and shame, all unwarlike as I was, and not at all minded to trust myself upon the scene of manly exploits. I had a nervous dread of the shock which the sight of a duel à outrance, a fight for life and death, as it were, would give me. I was cowardly enough to ask myself whether, once on the field, I might not be caught up in the struggle and have to expose my own person to a proof of valour which I knew in my inmost heart I was far from being able or willing to give. On the other hand I kept putting myself in Jappe's and Do Esco- bar's place and feeling consuming sensations which I assumed to be what they were feeling. I visualized the scene of the insult and the challenge, summoned my sense of good form and with Jappe and Do Escobar resisted the impulse to fall to there and then. I experienced the agony of an overwrought passion for justice, the flaring, shattering hatred, the attacks of raving impatience for revenge, in which they must have passed the night. Arrived at the last ditch, lost to all sense of fear, I fought myself blind and bloody with an adversary just as inhuman, drove my fist into his hated jaw with all the strength of my being, so that all his teeth were broken, received in exchange a brutal kick in the stomach and went under in a sea of blood. After which I woke in my bed with ice-bags, quieted nerves, and a chorus of mild reproaches from my family. In short, when it was half past twelve and we got up to dress I was half worn out with my apprehensions. In the cabin and afterwards when we were dressed and went outdoors, my heart throbbed exactly as though it was I myself who was to fight with Jappe or Do Escobar, in public and with all the rigours of the game. I still remember how we took the narrow wooden bridge which ran diagonally up from the beach to the cabins. Of course we jumped, in order to make it sway as much as possible, so that we bounced as though on a spring-board. But once below we did not follow the board walk which led along the beach past the tents and the basket chairs; but held inland in the general direction of the Kurhaus but rather more leftwards. The sun brooded over the dunes and sucked a dry, hot odour from the sparse and withered vegetation, the reeds and thistles that stuck into our leg. There was no sound but the ceaseless humming of the blue-bottle flies which hung apparently motionless in the heavy warmth, sud- denly to shift to another spot and begin afresh their sharp, mo- notonous whine. The cooling effect of the bath was long since spent. Brattström and I kept lifting our hats, he his Swedish sailor cap with the oilcloth visor, I my round Heligoland woollen bon- net——the so-called tam-o'-shanter——to wipe our brows. Johnny suffered little from heat, thanks to his slightness and also because his clothing was more elegantly adapted than ours to the summer day. In his light and comfortable sailor suit of striped washing material which left bare his throat and legs, the blue, short- ribboned cap with English lettering on his pretty little head, the long slender feet in fine, almost heelless white leather shoes, he walked with mounting strides and somewhat bent knees between Brattström and me and sang with his charming accent "Little Fisher Maiden"——a ditty which was then the rage. He sang it with some vulgar variation in the words, such as boys like to in- vent. Curiously enough, in all his childishness he knew a good deal about various matters and was not at all too prudish to take them in his mouth. But always he would make a sanctimonious little face and say: "Fie! Who would sing such dirty songs?"—— as though Brattström and I had been the ones to make indecent advances to the little fisher maiden. I did not feel at all like singing, we were too near the fatal spot. The prickly grass of the dunes had changed to the sand and sea moss of a barren meadow; this was the Leuchtenfeld, so called after the yellow lighthouse towering up in the far distance. We soon found ourselves at our goal. It was a warm, peaceful spot, where almost nobody ever came: protected from view by scrubby willow trees. On the free space among the bushes a crowd of youths lay or sat in a circle. They were almost all older than we and from various strata of society. We seemed to be the last spectators to arrive. Everybody was waiting for Knaak the dancing-master, who was needed in the capacity of neutral and umpire. Both Jappe and Do Escobar were there——I saw them at once. They were sitting far apart in the circle and pretending not to see each other. We greeted a few acquaintances with silent nods and squatted in our turn on the sun- warmed ground. Some of the group were smoking. Both Jappe and Do Escobar held cigarettes in the corners of their mouths. Each kept one eye shut against the smoke and I instantly felt and knew that they were aware how grand it was to sit there and smoke before entering the ring. They were both dressed in grown-up clothes, but Do Escobar's were more gentlemanly that Jappe's. He wore yellowed shoes with pointed toes, a light-grey summer suit, a rose- coloured shirt with cuffs, a coloured silk cravat, and a round, nar- row-brimmed straw hat sitting far back on his head, so that his mop of shining black hair showed on one side beneath it, in a big hummock. He kept raising his right hand to shake back the silver bangle he wore under his cuff. Jappe's appearance was distinctly less pretentious. His legs were encased in tight trousers of a lighter colour than his coat and waistcoat and fastened with straps under his waxed black boots. A checked cap covered his curly blond hair; in contrast to Do Escobar's jaunty headgear he wore it pulled down over his forehead. He sat with his arms clasped round one knee; you could see that he had on loose cuffs over his shirt-sleeves, also that his finger-nails were either cut too short or else that he indulged in the vice of biting them. Despite the smoking and the assumed nonchalance, the whole circle was serious and silent, restraint was in the air. The only one to make head against it was Do Escobar, who talked without stopping to his neighbours, in a loud, strained voice, rolling his r's and blow- ing smoke out of his nose. I was rather put off by his volubility; it inclined me, despite the bitten finger-nails, to side with Jappe, who at most addressed a word or two over his shoulder to his neighbour and for the rest gazed in apparent composure at the smoke of his cigarette. Then came Herr Knaak——I can still see him, in his blue striped flannel morning suit, coming with winged tread from the direc- tion of the Kurhaus and lifting his hat as he paused outside the circle. That he wanted to come I do not believe; I am convinced rather that he had made a virtue of necessity when he honoured the fight with his presence. And the necessity, the compulsion, was due to his equivocal position in the eyes of the martially- and mascu- linely-minded youth. Dark-skinned and comely, plump, particu- larly in the region of the hips, he gave us dancing and deportment lessons in the wintertime——private, family lessons as well as pub- lic classes in the Casino; and in the summer he acted as bathing- master and social manager at Travemünde. He rocked on his hips and weaved in his walk, turning out his toes very much and setting them first on the ground as he stepped. His eye had a vain ex- pression, his speech was pleasant but affected, and his way of entering a room as though it were a stage, his extraordinary and fastidious mannerisms charmed all the female sex, while the mascu- line world, and especially critical youth, viewed him with sus- picion. I have often pondered over the position of François Knaak in life and always have I found it strange and fantastic. He was of humble origins, his parents were poor, and his taste for the social graces left him as it were hanging in the air——not a member of society, yet paid by it as a guardian and instructor of its con- ventions. Jappe and Do Escobar were his pupils too; not in pri- vate lessons, like Johnny, Brattström, and me, but in the public classes in the Casino. It was in these that Herr Knaak's character and position were most sharply criticized. We of the private classes were less austere. A fellow who taught you the proper de- portment towards little girls, who was thrillingly reported to wear a corset, who picked up the edge of his frock-coat with his finger- tips, curtsied, cut capers, leaped suddenly into the air, where he twirled his toes before he came down again——what sort of chap was he, after all? These were the suspicions harboured by militant youth on the score of Herr Knaak's character and mode of life, and his exaggerated airs did nothing to allay them. Of course, he was a grown-up man (he was even, comically enough, said to have a wife and children in Hamburg); and his advantage in years and the fact that he was never seen except officially and in the dance-hall, prevented him from being convicted and unmasked. Could he do gymnastics? Had he ever been able to? Had he courage? Had he parts? In short, could one accept him as an equal? He was never in a position to display the soldier char- acteristics which might have balanced his salon arts and made him a decent chap. So there were youths who made no bones of call- ing him straight out a coward and a jackanapes. All this he knew and therefore he was here today to manifest his interest in a good stand-up fight and to put himself on terms with the young, though in his official position he should not have countenanced such goings-on. I am convinced, however, that he was not comfortable ——he knew he was treading on thin ice. Some of the audience looked coldly at him and he himself gazed uneasily round to see if anybody was coming. He politely excused his late arrival, saying that he had been kept by a consultation with the management of the Kurhaus about the next Sunday's ball. "Are the combatants present?" he next inquired in official tones. "Then we can begin." Leaning on his stick with his feet crossed he gnawed his soft brown mous- tache with his under lip and made owl eyes to look like a con- noisseur. Jappe and Do Escobar stood up, threw away their cigarettes, and began to prepare for the fray. Do Escobar did it in a hurry, with impressive speed. He threw hat, coat, and waistcoat on the ground, unfastened tie, collar, and braces and added them to the pile. He even drew his rose-coloured shirt out of his trousers, pulled his arms briskly out of the sleeves, and stood up in a red and white striped undershirt which exposed the larger part of his yellow arms, already covered with a thick black fell. "At you service, sir," he said, with a rolling r, stepping into the middle of the ring, expanding his chest and throwing back his shoulders. He still wore the silver bangle. Jappe was not ready yet. He turned his head, elevated his brows, and looked at Do Escobar's feet a moment with narrowed eyes——as much as to say: "Wait a bit——I'll get there too, even if I don't swagger so much." He was broader in the shoulder; but as he took his place beside Do Escobar he seemed nowhere near so fit or athletic. His legs in the tight strapped boots inclined to be knock-kneed and his fit-out was not impressive——grey braces over a yellowed white shirt with loose buttoned sleeves. By con- trast Do Escbar's striped tricot and the black hair on his arms looked uncommonly grim and businesslike. Both were pale but it showed more in Jappe as he was otherwise blond and red-cheeked, with jolly, not-too-refined features including a rather turned-up nose with a saddle of freckles. Do Escobar's nose was short, straight, and drooping and there was a downy black growth on his full upper lip. They stood with hanging arms almost breast to breast, and looked at one another darkly and haughtily in the region of the stomach. They obviously did not know how to begin——and how well I could understand that! A night and half a day had inter- vened since the unpleasantness. They had wanted to fly at each other's throats and had only been held in check by the rules of the game. But they had had time to cool off. To do to order, as it were, before an audience, by appointment, in cold blood, what they had wanted to do yesterday when the fit was on them——it was not the same thing at all. After all, they were not gladiators. They were civilized young men. And in possession of one's senses one has a certain reluctance to smash a sound human body with one's fists. So I thought, and so, very likely, it was. But something had to be done, that honour might be satisfied, so each began to work the other up by hitting him contemptu- ously with the finger-tips on the breast, as though that would be enough to finish him off. And, indeed, Jappe's face began to be distorted with anger—but just at that moment Do Escobar broke off the skirmish. "Pardon," said he, taking two steps backwards and turning aside. He had to tighten the buckle at the back of his trousers, for he was narrow-hipped and in the absence of braces they had begun to slip. He took his position again almost at once, throwing out his chest and saying something in guttural and rattling Spanish, probably to the effect that he was again at Jappe's service. It was clear that he was inordinately vain. The skirmishing with shoulders and buffeting with palms began again. Then unexpectedly there ensued a blind and raging hand- to-hand scuffle with the fists, which lasted three seconds and broke off without notice. "Now they are warming up," said Johnny, sitting next to me with a dry grass in his mouth. "I'll wager Jappe beats him. Look how he keeps squinting over at us——Jappe keeps his mind on his job. Will you bet he won't give him a good hiding?" They had now recoiled and stood, fists on hips, their chests heaving. Both had doubtless taken some punishment, for they both looked angry, sticking out their lips furiously as much as to say: "What do you mean by hurting me like that?" Jappe was red- eyed and Do Escobar showed his white teeth as they fell to again. They were hitting out now with all their strength on shoulders, forearms, and breasts by turns and in quick succession. "That's nothing," Johnny said, with his charming accent. "They won't get anywhere that way, either of them. They must go at it under the chin, with an uppercut to the jaw. That does it." But mean- while Do Escobar had caught both Jappe's arms with his left arm, pressed them as in a vise against his chest, and with his right went on pummelling Jappe's flanks. There was great excitement. "No clinching!" several voices cried out, and people jumped up. Herr Knaak hastened between the combatants, in horror. "You are holding him fast, my dear friend. That is against all the rules." He separated them and again instructed Do Escobar in the regulations. Then he withdrew once more outside the ring. Jappe was obviously in a fury. He was quite white, rubbing his side and looking at Do Escobar with a slow nod that boded no good. When the next round began, his face looked so grim that everybody expected him to deliver a decisive blow. And actually as soon as contact had been renewed Jappe carried out a coup——he practised a feint which he had probably planned beforehand. A thrust with his left caused Do Escobar to protect his head; but as he did so Jappe's right hit him so hard in the stomach that he crumpled forwards and his face took on the colour of yellow wax. "That went home," said Johnny. "That's where it hurts. Maybe now he will pull himself together and take things seri- ously, so as to pay it back." But the blow to the stomach had been too telling, Do Escobar's nerve was visibly shaken. It was clear he could not even clench his fists properly, and his eyes took on a glazed look. However, finding his muscles thus affected, his vanity counselled him to play the agile southron, dancing round the German bear and rendering him desperate by his own dex- terity. He took tiny steps and made all sorts of useless passes, moving round Jappe in little circles and trying to assume an arro- gant smile——which in his reduced condition struck me as really heroic. But it did not upset Jappe at all——he simply turned round on his heel and got in many a good blow with his right while with his left he warded off Do Escobar's feeble attack. But what sealed Do Escobar's fate was that his trousers kept slipping. His tricot shirt even came outside and rucked up, showing a little strip of his bare yellow skin——some of the audience sniggered. But why had he taken off his braces? He would have done better to leave æsthetic considerations on one side. For now his trousers bothered him, they had bothered him during the whole fight. He kept wanting to pull them up and stuff in his shirt, for however much he was punished he could bear it better than the thought that he might be cutting a ridiculous figure. In the end he was fighting with one hand while with the other he tried to put him- self to rights; and thus Jappe was able to land such a blow on his nose that to this day I do not understand why it was not broken. But the blood poured out, and Do Escobar turned and went apart from Jappe, trying with his right hand to stop the bleeding and with his left making an eloquent gesture behind him as he went. Jappe stood there with his knock-kneed legs spread out and waited for Do Escobar to come back. But Do Escobar was finished with the business. If I interpret him aright he was the more civilized of the two and felt that it was high time to call a halt: Jappe would beyond doubt have fought on with his nose bleed- ing; but almost as certainly Do Escobar would equally have re- fused to go on, and he did so with even more conviction in that it was himself that bled. They had made the claret run out of his nose——in his view things should never have been allowed to go so far, devil take it! The blood ran between his fingers onto his clothes, it soiled his light trousers and dripped on his yellow shoes. It was beastly and nothing but beastly——and under such circum- stances he declined to take part in more fighting. It would be inhuman. And his attitude was accepted by the majority of the spec- tators. Herr Knaak came into the ring and declared that the fight was over. Both sides had behaved with distinction. You could see how relieved he felt that the affair had gone off so smoothly. "But neither of them was brought to a fall," said Johnny, surprised and disappointed. However, even Jappe was quite satis- fied to consider the affair as settled. Drawing a long breath he went to fetch his clothes. Everybody generally accepted Herr Knaak's delicate fiction that the issue was a draw. Jappe was con- gratulated, but only surreptitiously; on the other hand some peo- ple lent Do Escobar their handkerchiefs, as his own was soon drenched. And now the cry was for more. Let two other fellows fight. That was the sense of the meeting; Jappe's and Do Escobar's business had taken so little time, hardly ten minutes; since they were all there and it was still quite early something more ought to come. Another pair must enter the arena——whoever wanted to show that he deserved being called a lad of parts. Nobody offered. But why at this summons did my heart begin to beat like a little drum? What I had feared had come to pass: the challenge had become general. Why did I feel as though I had all the time been awaiting this very moment with shivers of delicious anticipation and now when it had come why was I plunged into a whirl of conflicting emotions? I looked at Johnny. Perfectly calm and detached he sat beside me, turned his straw about in his mouth and looked about the ring with a frankly curious air, to see whether a couple of stout chaps would not be found to let their noses be broken for his amusement. Why was it that I had to feel personally challenged to conquer my nervous timidity, to make an unnatural effort and draw all eyes upon my- self by heroically stepping into the ring? In an access of self- consciousness mingled with vanity I was about to raise my hand and offer myself for combat when somewhere in the circle the shout arose: "Herr Knaak ought to fight!" All eyes fastened themselves upon Herr Knaak. I have said that he was walking upon slippery ice in exposing himself to the dan- ger of such a test of his kidney. But he simply answered: "No, thanks, very much——I had enough beatings when I was young." He was safe. He had slipped like an eel out of the trap. How astute of him, to bring in his superiority in years, to imply that at our age he would not have avoided an honourable fight——and that without boasting at all, even making his own words carry irre- sistible conviction by admitting with a disarming laugh at himself that he too had taken beatings in his time. They let him alone. They perceived that it was hard, if not impossible, to bring him to book. "Then somebody must wrestle!" was the next cry. This sug- gestion was not taken up either; but in the midst of the discussion over it (and I shall never forget the painful impression it made) Do Escobar said in his hoarse Spanish voice from behind his gory handkerchief: "Wrestling is for cowards. Only Germans wrestle." It was an unheard of piece of tactlessness, coming from him, and got its reward at once in the capital retort made by Herr Knaak: "Possible," said he. "But it looks as though the Germans know how to give pretty good beatings sometimes too!" He was rewarded by shouts of approving laughter; his whole position was improved, and Do Escobar definitely put down for the day. But it was the general opinion that wrestling was a good deal of a bore, and so various athletic feats were resorted to instead: leap-frog, standing on one's head, handsprings and so on, to fill in the time. "Come on, let's go," said Johnny to Brattström and me, and got up. That was Johnny Bishop for you. He had come to see something real, with the possibility of a bloody issue. But the thing had petered out and so he left. He gave me my first impression of the peculiar superiority of the English character, which later on I came so greatly to admire. 1911
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