It had been tailing me for three days by then. That abhorrent, freakish, despicable horror that no amount of fiction could have prepared me for.
The year was most likely 1855; I would have twenty back then. I had since lost my way while trudging through the thick heart of one of Mexico’s many jungles. The journey had been arduous and more than a little lengthy; I was running out of time. I hadn’t eaten for two days and had barely managed to resist devouring the multitude of poisonous frogs I’d identified along the way. And all the while, that thing haunted my steps, keeping its distance just enough for me to know it was there but never letting me get an impression of what it was. It was mocking me and I have no shame in admitting that I was terrified. You had warned me of inevitable adversity and at the time I gave no mind nor worry to that prospect. I believed fervently in your teachings, that they had made my body a weapon capable of overcoming anything. I had projected your mastery of martial arts inward and deluded myself, so much so that it nearly cost me my life.
The jungle was silent that morning. No birds chirped and no lizards scrambled or scrounged along the ground. It wasn’t me the jungle had stopped for, I knew that much. I had awoken at the foot of a young tree, surprised to find that the few remaining provisions I had were still on my person. Though, truthfully, I was even more bewildered that the stalking monstrosity hadn’t dispatched me during the small hours. That was when the epiphany had struck and I realised what I was to this creature: a mere plaything. It stirred and cultivated fear, restraining itself not for its own sake, but for mine. I hadn’t dared to turn around during my journey and I had postulated for that small stretch of days which seemed to drone on so tirelessly, why I couldn’t bring myself to look back. I had simply been too terrified. It wanted a challenge, for me to give up on ignoring it and meet it head-on with a gaze that despairingly accepted the presumably slow death the thing had been planning since it first spotted me. My fear ran deep, all I saw was death. The monster knew this well.
I sensed its patience growing thinner; I knew it wouldn’t wait another day before making its move. I began trying to find an arena, though not alluding to such. I had adjusted to the terrain of the jungle by now and with fewer provisions to carry, travel became easier. Even as I leapt and jogged through the environment at speeds impossible for normal humans, the thing followed me without any trouble. Eventually, I came to a somewhat open area, distinguished from the otherwise claustrophobia inducing environment. It truly was an arena. The ground was mostly even and hard, an unusual density for grass and mud. The area itself was ovular and bordered by large rocks, logs and trees. Something glimmered in the dirt and when I crouched to pick it up, I restrained a gasp upon finding a tooth lodged in the soil, a molar. Searching a little more unearthed two canines. I wasn’t the first to bleed on that sacred ground and I probably wasn’t the last.
The thing had been waiting ever patiently by the rim of the arena, letting me prepare myself and discard anything that would weigh me down. After tossing my Duffel bag to one side, the time had come to face my adversary. Perhaps for the illusion of protection or to simply try and appear stylish in my final moments, I chose to remain clothed in my torn three-piece. I had no god to pray to, only the kung-fu knowledge you imparted to me gave me comfort at that point; I only prayed for them to serve me well.
In my one-hundred and fifty-five years of life, I’ve never looked upon something quite so hideous. It hunched over, following me with its head and made sure not to move even slightly. That thing wanted to give me all the time in the world to soak up the horror, to realise how doomed I was. I’ll never forget the gargantuan hands of that pitch-black beast. And they were hands, I have no doubts on that matter. Almost subconsciously, I began to circle around the arena, making sure not to move so quickly as to spook the thing into a reflexive attack. It continued to follow me and then too began circling its own side of our battleground. Had our duel been a televised match, it was at this point that a bell or gong would have been sounded.
The one to take the initiative, that is to say, the first to move was the beast; it sprung forth and with more speed than I had anticipated. I hadn’t raised my guard yet and was completely blindsided by its opening assault. It raised one of its mighty fists and cocked it fully back before letting it rip into my left side with a brutal right hook. I had never felt such an impact, never felt so weightlessness from a single blow. The hit launched me high, carrying me all the way into a far off tree on the border of the arena. The wooden spire split on contact, breaking in two. Then came the blood, a waterfall of red that erupted and then streamed from my mouth. Truth be told, I was more surprised that the hit hadn’t just killed me outright. I’ve never been one to turn my nose up at an opportunity and so I was back on my feet in a few seconds. The hubris of the monster wouldn’t allow it to simply kill me after one attack; this thing clearly enjoyed playing with its food.
It wanted me back in the ring; the monster hadn’t even started to have its fun. The initial attack had been a test to see what I was made of. Things became much direr after that first blow. The moment my foot had touched the arena’s ground was the moment the beast made its second attack. It leapt into the air, bringing its hands together to pound me like a wooden stake into the dirt. Luckily for me, this was so telegraphed that I had practically an eternity to leap out of the way… and right into the monster’s trap. Instead of hitting the earth, it used the momentum of the initial jump to launch itself towards me with such speed that escape was impossible. I was trapped. The monster’s abyss of a maw clamped down on my right arm all the way up to the shoulder; it was toothless and terribly hot inside the mouth. The inside of that creature felt very different from its rough exterior. It was gelatinous and made me think I could sink and fall further into it at any moment. It raised another fist but this time I did too.
I reared back as to the best of my ability and rammed my hand into the creature’s side with everything I had. I had yet to amass the insurmountable strength I possess today but my attack still carried enough weight to set my adversary back some. A neutral positioning had been re-established between us and it was anyone’s move. A large imprint of my fist could be seen from where my punch had connected but when the monster swirled and convulsed any proof or sign of injury I had caused had vanished.
“You’re a tough one to put down…” I muttered to myself. My hand gripped at my chest for the first time in over a year. My lungs had long since forgotten how it felt to be under strain, to be truly tested. Then I heard a voice, the first I had heard in almost a week, mine.
“You’re a tough one to put down…” My eyes grew wide and I looked up to see a terror like no other - my own face staring back at me. It had copied me, no doubt collecting my data for reference during its biting assault. The muscles on its frame strained and rippled like mine, and all seemed to be perfectly replicated. But one glance at the eyes would be all the indicator one would need to discern that fake from me. The gaze that stared back at me was dead and without passion, just hungry. I took stance and awaited the next attack eagerly, for what did I have to fear now? My enemy had taken my visage and with that, had assumed the weaknesses inherent to humans, my weaknesses. I had spent the last two years of my life being taught by a man who knew how to kill people better than almost anyone else in history.
When it came for me again, now with some weak imitation of my stance, I couldn’t hold back an embarrassed smile. The punch was another right hook and was so laughably off-target that I immediately knew that the creature was planning to use the momentum from the whiffed attack to catch my head with its heel instead. I blocked with a sigh and half-opened eyes, satisfied that the monster was now exactly where I wanted it, but still disappointed that something with my image could be so lacking in skill. One clean hit blew open the creature’s chest and sent it far off into a boulder not too dissimilar to how it had launched me. The thing recovered quickly enough; I hadn’t expected it to go down so easily anyway. It displayed a bold change of tactics and decided to use the very same boulder to crush me by throwing it. I slipped beneath the rock’s trajectory and closed the gap between me and my adversary. The imposter feebly attempted another right hook which I parried tiredly, returning the favour with another blow, this time to the face. Its head exploded and hung from the neck openly like a cracked egg. But as was the case with its chest, the monster reformed at the head within moments.
The winner of our battle seemed cut and dry as I continued to pummel the monster, pounding away at its top half until it was thoroughly bloody, bruised meat. And then the boulder behind me, the one that had been thrown, shattered under the impact of my body. I was back on my behind, my clothes were shredded and the concern that I would have given to my broken left arm was instead directed at my right shoulder which lacked its accompanying arm entirely. My eyes were about the only thing I could still manoeuvre freely; my neck was broken, rendering me almost totally immobile. To this day, I still don’t know what hit me - what had launched me so far and so quickly without warning with such resounding power?
No tears left my eyes, not for lack of trying; I assume that my body was too broken to allow for crying. The only thing I was afforded now was a view of my opponent as it returned to the unintelligible, primordial form of blackness it had appeared to me as. There was no character nor feeling in its steps - one-two, one-two. Each one brought me closer to my demise and for all my trying to focus on that fact, my mind instead raced to think of the ones I had left behind in Marrion. As all began to grow dark, I remembered the smile of my mother, Suzumi and the might of my father, Raymond. And I remember a distinct feeling of gratitude that my bastard sister was not there to witness my final pathetic moments - Audrey.
That should have been the end.
I should be dead.
- Angelo Naco.
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