“Crixus! Crixus! Crixus! Crixus!” the crowd cheers.
I close my eyes as I hear the gates open, and walk towards the sunlight as the announcer says my name over the speakers.
“Get ready everyone as he approaches...the fresh, the young, the quick, the cunning...Atticus!!!!”
The fans are fired up. Yelling their tonsils out as I breathe it all in. They love me now but I know they’d love to see me in pieces by the time the match is over. I turn and look at my opponent. Crixus the Creator. He was given this name due to the way he demolishes his foes with flawless victories. His matches never last more than 5 minutes, he’s surely one of the Gladiator Gods. Standing at an opposing 6’3” with a built wrestler body that appears to have no weaknesses. I need a plan if I’m going to make it out of here alive. I circle the ring as I stare him down scrambling to find an achilles heel. I determine I can’t find one as the bell rings.
“Do not fear death,” was all I’ve been told through training. Right now, I’m pretty frightened.
“Fuck, I’m done for!” I think to myself as I make a break back to the gates.
They shut right in my face. There’s no way out. I clench the metal and press my face on the gate with my eyes closed as I pray to god and start my repentance.
Maybe he couldn’t understand me though, since I was bawling my eyes out so hard I stopped breathing for a couple of seconds.
I muttered “p-p-pl-please god forg-forgive me for all my sins,” as I broke down.
I’m cut short by the sound of moving chains and Crixus’s battle cry “Ahh!!!”.
I turn around to see Crixus swing his smart disc at my face, I immediately fell to the ground, dodging the frisbee of spikes. I scramble to my feet, gripping my flaming sword so hard my fingers began to lose their color.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha. You look scared boy! Why don’t you make this easier on both of us and just give it up. I’ll make it nice and quick.” I lift my fiery sword in it’s fighting position. “Have it your way!” Crixus charges at me at full speed. I swing my flaming sword back and forth, up and down but surely miss all of him. He laughs again as he swings his smart disc to attack.
“Get down! Dip! To the Left!” my brain tells my body as I dodge the spikes. After playing defense the whole fight I close my eyes and swing my pyro sword towards Crixus’s face as I feel myself connect. I open my eyes to see him standing there shocked. I cut his cheek and drew blood; something that’s never been done before; something that made him angry. As the crowd got louder, Crixus got angrier and charged again, this time with harder, faster, and sharper blows. Knocking me to the ground with a punch to the gut, the wind was knocked out of me. After a few seconds of laying in the dirt, I flip over onto my back and only see the outline of his body as the sun behind him blacks him out.
“Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!” the crowd chants.
On my last plea I reach for my pyro sword and he steps on my wrist, reassuring me that this fight is over. Crixus then grabs my sword and cocks it into the air above his head, ready to strike for the kill. I stare into the sky and await for the world around me to go black. In the last couple of seconds my life flashes before me. The training sessions with my dad where he used to pull me close and apologize profusely on how this was his fault that I was in this situation, my mother’s smile, and most importantly the times I shared with Augusta. Damn, I know she misses me as much as I miss her. At that instant, I look to my soon killer and a tear rolls down my eye. It’s really over.
In the crowd I hear “Atticus! Atticus!” just as the blade is coming down.
“Atticus get up!!’ I lift my body up, look around and see my room, feel my arms and chest to make sure this is real.
“It was just a dream?...” I say to myself confused as I wipe the night sweat off my forehead.
Right then my mother barges in the room
“Atticus! Wake up! Now!”
“I’m up! I’m up mom. Chill out, no one wants to hear you yelling this early in the morning,” I mutter to myself.
“What was that?” my mom replies. I don’t respond.
As annoying as my mom is, I respect her enough to never disrespect her to her face. When I’m alone though, that’s another story.
“Good. Now go to the store and pick me up some milk, we’re going to need it for our Cream of Wheat.” she orders.
I look out my window into the city and daydream what it’s like to live down there. No one I’ve ever known has ever been downtown. Our kind isn’t allowed there. I roll off my mattress and pick up my old flip flops, throw on my dirty tank top, and slide into my dusty shorts while leaving my room. I hate it here. Calling my room modest is a stretch. I have an old hand-me-down mattress that is on the floor, a bookshelf that’s just collecting dust (what does someone like me need to read books for?) and I only have enough clothes to fill one drawer. 5 pairs of underwear, 8 pairs of socks (half of which are ripped), 3 pants, 4 shirts, and about 10 cockroaches running around my house floors. I run down the steps and kiss my mom on the cheek goodbye as she hands me $1 and I head out the door.
“Augusta! Augusta!” I scream out at the top of my lungs to her 1st floor bedroom window.
She then replies “Atticus! Shut up! I’m trying to sleep!”.
“Aw c’mon! I’ll be out here screaming all day if you don’t come out!” “Ughh fine! I’ll be down in a sec,”. There she is my best friend Augusta. She lives across the street and we’ve been best friends our whole lives. Her dad died in a gladiator fight just like mine, which only made us grow closer. Her luck is better than mine though, since she’s a girl she doesn’t have to fight, she just cooks and cleans. Unlike me, on my 16th birthday I have to register to be a gladiator to bring money home for my mom. After technology took over the world, the U.S. decided to invest most of it’s money into the “new age”. One day the cloud that controlled all forms of technology became overloaded and broke down. Leaving not just the U.S. but the majority of the world broke. Most large countries decided to re-introduce gladiators to cut down some of the population and to bring in some revenue. The problem is, that every 16 year old boy living in poverty must register. I’m not too threatening, 5’8, 130 lbs. Athletic build. I’m more on the small side. So I’ve been training vigorously on the tree in my backyard so when my time comes I’m remotely ready.
When she finally made it out the house she went on a rant “You’re crazy. You can’t just yell at the top of your lungs in the middle of the street like some crackhead.”. .
“Well good morning to you too!” I replied.
She rolled her eyes and said “What’s the rush anyway?”.
“Oh nothing I just needed some company to the store,” I said.
“You got me out of bed for this? You know I’m not your bodyguard right Atticus? You’re a big boy now. You can walk yourself to the store.”
“Ouch. That cut deep,” I chuckled as I picked up the milk.
As we made our way home it hit me that I am turning 16 in a couple of months. I wasn’t ready. I wish there was somewhere for me to run away from all of this.
When Augusta saw my face she nudged me and asked “What’s wrong?” Since Augusta was always a tomboy, I always saw her as a brother and nothing more. She’s tougher than most guys I know. She’s not afraid to fight and not afraid to get dirty, two traits that I wished would rub off on me.
I walked her to the door and said “Nothing. It’s just the big day is coming up and I’m just nervous as all.”
“Oh yeah...I’m sure you’ll do fine. You’re still practicing right?”
“Training Augusta! It’s training! But yeah, speaking of that, I gotta go train right now. See you tomorrow!”
“Bye!” she replied.
On my way back across the street my mind was swirling: “How do I get better?; I’m so small they’ll beat me to a pulp; Stop Atticus. You’re great you can do this!” I negotiated with myself. So I dropped the milk off and went outback to train. “Let’s start with some cardio” I said to myself. 100 jumping jacks and 100 jump ropes. Next up was lower body “50 squats, 50 lunges” then I finished with 100 push ups and 100 crunches. After my gruesome workout, I was beat, so I fell asleep on the grass.
I awoke to the screaming of my mom “Atticus! Time to eat!” said my mom. “You shouldn’t be working out so hard in this heat, you’ll drop dead!”
“I have to, I have to be ready for the registration on my birthday,” I replied.
Then she said “I know, I just hate to see you end up like your father. I can’t lose you too.”
She began to cry and I didn’t know what to do so I assured her that everything would be alright, even though I didn’t have the slightest amount of hope in myself. After Dinner, I made my way back outside and practiced my poison dart accuracy. The darts consists of Komodo Dragon saliva extract and enhanced to kill it’s victim within minutes. At that time, I was new to this, so I practiced throwing darts at a target over and over. I never hit the bullseye. Most times I missed but sometimes if I was lucky, I hit the outer ring. I gave up and decided to just call it a night and head to bed. I had to get up early tomorrow for school. I attended Spartacus Secondary School. It’s a pretty big school even though it’s only from 8th to 10th grade and only boys are allowed to attend. Boys from around the city come here before they’re sent off to the camps for their fights. I have less than a year. Less than a year to live my life before I become someone else’s property. In less than a year I’ll be transforming from a good kid who wishes there was a way out of the system, to a cold-blooded killer, a warrior, a gladiator.
I woke up the next morning and was so late that I almost missed the school hovercraft. I chased it for blocks when it finally stopped and let me on. As I walked down the aisle, everyone was laughing at me and throwing paper balls at my head. If you can’t tell, I’m a wimp here. I get no respect and I’m constantly pushed around by my enemy, Leonidas. When he catches me in the hallway he calls me names or he knocks all of my stuff on the ground. But today he took it too far.
“Augusta! Augusta!” he mocks as he laughs at me with his friends. “How’s your little girlfriend short stuff?”
“That’s not my girlfriend Leo, what do you want?”
He became serious, “I want your money. Give me everything in your pockets,”
“C’mon Leo stop playing, I have a class to go to.” I said while trying to walk away.
“No you don’t,” He said as he moved closer menacingly. Then him and his friends suddenly pushed me to the wall and started jumping me. Bang, bang, boom, the sounds my body was making while they punched me in the face, eyes, stomach and ribs. Even though my body was killing me, I attempted to raise my hands and fight back but my body wouldn’t let me. I was weak and fell to the ground and curled up like an armadillo. During this time, all I could think about was how much I hated being smaller than everyone else, how much I hated being bullied, and how much I hated Leonidas.
Before I blacked out, I heard my savior. “Stop! Stop! Get off of him!” as the bullies scrambled away.
It was Mr. Petrus. He ran over and helped me stumble to my feet.
“You got quite the beat down there kid. Good thing I came over when I did, I don’t know how much longer you would’ve lasted!”
“Thanks for your help Mr. Petrus. Beat downs like that are starting to become routine.” I said as I spit out blood from my mouth.
“I used to be like you, so I want to help you.” he said in a friendly voice. “Something like a mentor,” he added.
“Like a trainer?” I questioned.
“Exactly. I’ll just have to talk your mom and run it by her. Also, I have to be sure you’re dedicated to this. I can’t waste my time on a pupil who doesn’t want to learn.”
“I promise I’ll be dedicated I promise!!! Just teach me how to fight so I can stand a chance.” “Alright, just let me take you home and we’ll work it out with your mom.” he said assuringly.
“What happened to your eye!?!?” my mother said.
“Nothing mom. But Mr. Petrus is here to talk to you about training me for the registration.”
“Training? What kind of training?” she asked.
“Well Alexandra, as you can see your son Atticus gets bullied quite frequently. I would just like to help him get better, faster, and stronger; since you know his big day is coming up.” said Mr. Petrus.
“Why does he need your help?” she retorted.
“Well ma’am Atticus’s registration date is soon approaching and he needs a lot of work. I was once in training for Gladiator fighting and could be of great help in the survival of your son. I see my younger self in young Atticus and would only like to push him towards reaching his maximum potential.” he said heartwarmingly.
As I looked at Mr. Petrus I could see the vague description of a former Gladiator. Wide Shoulders, big arms, muscular frame. He was probably one of the best; I thought to myself.
“The training would be every day directly after school, and I promise, if Atticus gives me his maximum effort you’ll see a change in him. Physically and Mentally.” he reassured.
“Please mom please? I need help! I’m always getting pushed around and the registration is only a couple of months away!” I pleaded.
“I don’t know Atticus…” she argued.
“Mom! Please!” I groveled once more.
“Ok! Ok! Fine! Just keep my son safe Mr. Petrus. He’s the only thing I have left.” My mom said as she started to tear up.
“He’s in good hands Alexandra. We start tomorrow bring your A-game kid. I don’t need my time wasted.” Mr. Petrus said seriously.
“I will!” I replied.
Then he looked at me with a smirk and said “Good, that’s what I want to hear. I’ll be over here around 4 tomorrow so we can start.”
then he walked away. I couldn’t wait I was so excited. I called Augusta outside.
“You’re looking at a soon to be gladiator,” I said cockily.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Well I’m gonna start my training for the registration starting tomorrow with one of my teachers.” “Well it doesn’t matter what training you do. I could still kick your ass.” she retorted.
“Ha. Ha. Ha. I could whoop you with my right hand tied behind my back.” I said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.”
After school the next day I rushed home and got ready for training. Mr. Petrus was already there waiting. “You’re late Atticus.” he said seriously.
“I’m sorry, I got home as quick as I could.” I responded.
“Well let’s start with an overview of your weaponry.”
“Okay, I have my poison darts, flaming sword, and my ray gun. I need some help in learning how to use them. I’m not confident in them.”
He looked me in my eyes and said “First lesson. You should always believe in yourself and if you do, a sling shot can become a deadly weapon. What’s a gun without a confident shooter behind the trigger?” We started with the poison darts. He got behind me and fixed my form and showed me other ways to improve my accuracy. Next we practiced my sword fighting. Mr. Petrus brought his sword from his gladiator days to help me. Finally, I had target practice for my ray gun, hitting bottles of a gate 10 yards away and gradually getting larger. After months of training I could see a change in myself. I became confident, faster, stronger, a better fighter, and an actual contender.
The day before my birthday, he told me it was my last day of training and that today was the final test. I had to fight him. “Are you sure Mr. Petrus?” I asked. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I continued.
“I’m your enemy now, he’s not worried about your wellbeing so why are you worried about his? I’m trying to hurt you. Hands up.” he said calmly.
“But Mr. Petrus I d-” he punch me in the nose. I fell to the ground, surprised, and confused. “Get. Up.” he said angrily. “You better fight back or I’m just going to beat you down,” he swung again. I dipped to the left then dipped backwards to avoid the combination of punches. Then I swung and hit him in the mouth. His emotion didn’t change, he just pulled out a sword and charged towards me. I pulled out my flaming sword as I got in my defensive stance. “Mr. Petrus, I don’t want to fight you!” I replied.
He replied calmly “You have no choice.” he struck his sword towards my legs as I parried his attack numerous times. “Click, Clank, Clank” the sounds of the swords clashing together under the sunset orange sky. Until an elbow to the chin disarmed Mr. Petrus and knocked him to the ground. I stepped on his chest and put my sword to his neck.
“Stop. It’s over.” He gripped a handful of soil from my mother’s garden and threw it in my face. I rubbed my eyes and before I knew it he had my ray gun to my face.
“No. Now it’s over. Bang. You’re dead. You lost.” He put the gun down. “You never show mercy to your opponent,” The most important lesson he told me was to “kill the opposition before they killed me.” “Atticus. Everyone has a reason and a drive to keep them in the Gladiator Battle. Yours is your mother. Without you, she’s done for. She needs you to bring money home to live. Now these other guys on the other hand, will either be slaves fighting for their freedom or poor, desperate boys like you who are in the battles to bring home money for their family. There’s no room for nice guys here Atticus. Remember that.” He helped me up. “You’ve grown so much in these last couple of months, physically, as a fighter, and as a man. I can almost look at you as a son. It’s been a pleasure to train a wonderful young student like yourself. I only wish for the best of you on your registration day.”
“Thank you Mr. Petrus, thank you for believing in me and saving my life. I don’t know how long I would’ve lasted without you.” We started to pack everything up.
“Night kid, I’ll see you at the registration,” He waved and walked off into the sunset.
The next morning I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, I didn’t see my former self. The small, fearful, young kid was now gone. He’s been replaced with a confident, walking tall, lion hearted man. Before I left for the registration, I had to talk to Augusta. “Augusta! Augusta!” I called out like I used to.
“Hey Atticus, long time no see.”
“I gotta talk to you,” I called out.
“Alright, I’m on my way down.” she responded. “Wassup?” She said.
“No Happy Birthday? You’re the worst.”
“I was getting around to it!” she laughed. “Besides, it’s not much of a happy day. But, I got something for you.” From behind her back she pulled out a dog tag that said “A.A. the dynamic duo. Together forever.” I stared shocked.
“How could you afford this?...” I said, with my eyes still wide open.
“Don’t worry about it! Just a little saving,” she smiled and laughed.
“You like it? I bought it so you’d know, during the registration and during your fights I’ll be there fighting with you.”
Still in disbelief I said. “I love it. I’ll never take it off. Shit. I’m almost late!” I gave her a long, tight, 5 20 second hug before I ran off. When I got to the registration there were hundreds of boys already there. Most looked ready but some of them looked frightened like me before training with Mr. Petrus. I felt bad for them, I knew how they felt. When it was finally my turn to register, they asked me my name, my weight, where I was from and my weapon preference. I told them what they wanted and received a number and waited for my number to be called.
After waiting for some hours I heard “#773 and #821 report to your respected locker rooms.” When I got there a man was waiting for me.
“Today you will be put up against another contestant in a fight to the death. The winner moves to the next round and will travel to Camp Sparta for further training and battles. I’d advise you to make yourself appealing to the fans to get your name out there. Okay? You have 10 minutes to prep.” and he left, just like that. I sat in the locker room and thought about my mother’s smile and cry when I left, and most importantly the times I shared with Augusta and our last moments together. Finally, I tried to remember everything Petrus taught me before I put my gear on.
“5 more minutes until showtime Augusta.” the man said. I took a deep breathe as I walked to the arena tunnel. I could hear the crowd get pepped up as I moved closer to the end of the tunnel. I closed my eyes and kissed my necklace from Augusta and then traced a cross on my chest before my name was called. “Hereeeeee comesssss Atticus!!!!!” The crowd roars as I grip my weapons and walk towards the light at the end of the tunnel.