Anyone who tells you blood tastes delicious is a liar. In fact, I can almost guarantee that they are telling you that to sound tough. The truth isn’t nearly as glamorous. Blood tastes like dirt and metal. I hate it, especially when all you can do is swallow it down or spit it up. Either way, you look like a monster.
One kick and I’m falling. I feel my projection flicker.
“Get off your back!” Jack’s voice echoes.
The crowd roars, chanting violent insults. For them, this is a spectacle and they pay damn good money to see it. The man pinning my frame to the ground has at least twenty pounds on me. I’m just trying to survive. He raises his fists and drops them without the slightest pause, but there’s no technique, just sloppy strength. I find myself doing anything I can to avoid the impending onslaught. He rests one knee on my chest, slowly pushing all his weight into my sternum. Not good.
“Lita, you have to move!” That’s easier said than done.
I close my eyes and reach up with my right arm. I’ve laid out the bait; now let’s see if he’ll take it. He chuckles. Punches cease in favor of the wonderful opportunity I’ve just given him. I feel calloused hands encircling my elbow. The moment his weight shifts, I move. My hips vault forward as I twist my arm and pull back. He falls and my instincts take over. I’ve practiced the next three steps religiously. One, get up and swivel around to his back; Two, jump and hook both feet into place; and three, I lock a rear naked choke around the neck and wait.
The air grows thin. He grasps at my arm. His attempt to pull away is futile; the choke is too tight. The countdown to victory starts now.
His projection fades and mine quickly follows suit. Before I know it we’re both standing in our reset positions at opposite corners. Damn, I was close. Blood drips into the corner of my eye. It stings, but not as bad as sweat does.
I must look like hell. My gloves feel tight around my hands. This fight is over, but neither of us is the victor; not really anyway. Being reset just means we’ve run out of time. We are vintage entertainment and the people love us despite what we represent. This is hardly more than a game. I’d give anything for this to be real again.
“How are you feeling?” Jack climbs over the low fence separating us.
I smile and take everything in. “Just fine.”
I nod. “Are we done?”
“Yeah, I’m heading back. I’ll pull you out when you get to the hall.”
“Okay.” Neither of us are really here. I watch as he fades into pixels and then to nothing.
It’s all the same. I give one last wave to the crowd before leaving the ring. Someone throws a towel my way. They forget I won’t need it. Still, I accept it and continue forward.
Everything slows down once I take that first step into the hall. The towel falls right through my hands. The solid image of my body starts to fade. For a moment, I am a ghost in the doorway. The pain is starting to disappear. I take a deep breath. This is a dream only my mind can feel. Now it’s time to wake up.
Jack and I go way back before the sports safety law was passed. In those days we were real athletes. We trained for glory, but now we train for a machine. Barbaric past times, I believe that is what they call sports now. It’s all like this. Our bodies are scanned exactly as they are in the real world and then wired through computers just so we can become perfect projections. My opponents and I, we’ve never actually met or stood in the same room.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” Watermelon? Jack must be chewing gum. I open my eyes, but it takes a moment for them to adjust. The room is small. Jack sits at a table with his console set out in front of him. “How you feeling?”
I push the visor off my head. “Fine.”
“The pain gone?”
He swivels in his chair. “Am I good or am I good?”
“Don’t push it, Jack.” It’s all disappeared, the throbbing, the bruises, just gone with a flick of the switch.
Jack stands and walks to my side. “Oh don’t be like that.”
There’s a familiar taste in my mouth. I can’t help but cringe. While you’re in the machine, everything feels real, but when you’re out it’s different; it is real.
Blood — why can I still taste it?
I look up. “Yeah.”
“Nothing.” I turn away.
He catches my arm. “Hey, hold on a second.”
“Jack — ”
“I know that face. Talk to me.”
I say nothing.
“Is it about the money? We just got paid. I saw the funds go in. People love watching you get the better of the boys — ”
“That’s not it.”
His grip lessens. “Then what is it?”
“It isn’t real.”
I’ve never kept the taste of blood before.
I feel him studying, searching for a clue about what’s on my mind.
He lets go of my arm. “Maybe we should stop when our contract — ”
“No.” I respond quickly. A reflex.
“Lita — ”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Elements from the machine aren’t supposed to carry over.
Jack sighs. “I was… just kidding. I’m in as long as you are.”
For a moment it’s quiet. I need to be doing what I know. I’m human and I bleed, but I haven’t bled in so long. Perhaps that is what I’m longing for.
Jack is still. He’s worrying.
I take his hand. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Then, we walk. Slow, but together. There are no words. Just footsteps.
Tiffany John is a writer living in Coquitlam, BC. She enjoys exploring multiple genres, but tends to linger the most in worlds of her own creation. When her pen is down she is an avid practitioner of the martial arts and spends most her time instructing students and learning from people.