The crowd of drunken men and women parted away from the unfolding scene. A large circle began to form, and all eyes were on the raging madman in the pub. Dante was doing his best to ignore Jack as he yelled in deep growls. Jack demanded that Dante prove himself on his intoxicated promises from Rebekah’s party of being able to kill him. I pushed my way through the small, but tight crowd to see Jack shoving a stone-faced Dante. Dante struggled to stay upright on his barstool, taking a cautious swig of his beer whenever Jack backed off.
“I know,” Jack shouted. “I’ll piss you off first!”
He leaned over Dante and grabbed the beer from his hands. Dante turned now, his face contorted with rage. Jack poured the beer over Dante’s head, soaking his black hair with the cold drink. A smirk played on Jack’s face. Before Dante could properly react, Jack shoved him off of the stool and into the bar table.
“What the hell? I didn’t do anything to you!” Dante finally stood on his feet.
“No, you didn’t do anything to me. You did it to someone else, and I’m not okay with you just getting away with being an ass.” Jack grabbed someone else’s drink and splashed it on the front of Dante’s shirt. “Do something about it! Kill me, tough guy! You said you could! Prove it.”
Dante grinned and threw the first punch, hitting the left side of Jack’s jaw. His face turned with the impact and a grin fell into place along his lips. He laughed and regained his composure before Dante landed another hard hit on his jaw. The impact seemed to resound along the walls and it drove the crowd into a chant, cheering on their local contender. Jack continued to laugh as he spit up blood. When Jack grinned a smile of crimson stains, I stepped from the crowd that had encircled them and stood between the two men. I could feel the tension radiate off my skin. Dante wouldn’t swing with me standing in the way. Not with all of these people around us.
“Karen, move.” Dante spoke slowly through clenched teeth. His fists were tensed into tight balls. Jack’s blood painted his knuckles with smears of red.
“Stop punching Jack,” I stated firmly.
Jack placed an open hand on my shoulder and turned me to face him. A trail of blood had made its way from the corner of his mouth and traveled halfway down his chin. “I will be fine, I promise. Please, just stay over here.” He led me to the edge of the crowd once more. “If he can fight as he had claimed before, then he too will be okay. He deserves this. Just stay over here for now.”
“This isn’t worth it!” I shouted at him, frustrated but feeling ultimately helpless. My words were left unheard and Jack turned back to face Dante.
“Come on now!” Jack shouted, flashing a devious smile with his red painted teeth.
Dante threw more punches to Jack’s face and stomach, frustration boiling in his eyes. His opponent just would not fight back. Jack only laughed and taunted Dante, begging for him to give him a better hit. Or to at least try and hurt him. Dante paused for a moment and looked at Jack and the surrounding crowd, confused. Perhaps he thought this was some kind of joke to humiliate him. The group of people that had encircled around the fight thickened and the chants continued to cheer on Dante’s name with increasing volume. Small town folks don’t generally root for an outsider—especially not one who didn’t seem to have all of the screws in his head tightened. The bartender had his back turned to the fight that had unfolded in the middle of his establishment. He studied the extensive liquor cabinet, loudly exclaiming the plethora of collections he possessed. He was the only person making a conscious effort to ignore the two lunatics. He wanted nothing to do with this fight. Dante’s eyes searched the crowd, smiling wickedly once he locked sight with me. I could only roll my eyes; the sight of him still made my stomach turn with frustration and an anticipation to be hurt. Dante turned back to face Jack again, who continued to laugh as blood dripped from his nose and the corners of his mouth. Another dark bruise was already forming on his jaw line.
“Is that the best you’ve got?” Jack smiled, wiping his face with his forearm.
Dante punched Jack in the stomach, smiling and whooping with satisfaction as his opponent doubled over and coughed up another small splatter of blood. Dante had punched Jack’s grin from his lips and he couldn’t be more pleased with himself. Jack still did not raise a hand; he just kept an arm around his stomach. He started laughing again.
“Fight back!” Dante shouted, infuriated. He pulled back his fist by his ear, ready to land another blow.
Everything seemed to stop abruptly for a brief moment.
Jack stopped laughing suddenly, his head bowed down. With little effort, he caught Dante’s fist mid-swing and looked up at him slowly, a mischievous smirk cast along his blood soaked lips. Tense anger beamed in his inhumanly blue eyes. “Okay.”
Jack twisted Dante’s wrist and pulled him forward. A bone-crunching snap echoed shrilly in the ears of the now hushed crowd. Jack threw a punch to Dante’s left temple with his opposite hand and then kicked his knee inward, forcing him to the ground in pain. Dante, intoxicated and ignoring his now broken wrist and most likely injured leg, jumped back up to his feet and charged at Jack, who merely stepped out of the way. He grabbed Dante’s good arm and held a grip around Dante’s forearm and bicep, flinging him to the ground. Dante scrambled to his feet and looked up at Jack, completely stunned by the sudden turn of the tables. Jack had quickly gained the upper hand, and he hardly seemed like he was putting any effort into forcing Dante into submission in the fight. Jack’s movements were fluid and aimed with skilled precision. It almost looked as if he was dancing around Dante. He did not allow Dante to land another hit. For every attack that Dante attempted to throw with his intoxicated courage, Jack would block and throw two more. The air fell still around us. The only sounds were the shouts of Jack as Dante kneeled on the bar floor, his back arching with spastic pain, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth.
“Get up!” Jack was furious. “Come on! Kill me, you coward!” He gave a swift kick to Dante’s ribcage, sending him on his back. “Show me what you’re really capable of!”
If anger had a face, it would take the form of Jack’s. His eyes were wide and his jaw muscles were tense. His cheeks and forehead were red with adrenaline and rage. He continued to taunt Dante, who remained on the floor.
“Get up!” Jack shouted with venom etched in his deep voice.
Dante could only cough and whimper. Blood sprayed from his mouth, staining his fingers and the floor he knelt upon. He looked up at his attacker, his swollen and bruised eyes filled with fear. He pleaded with Jack to show some mercy, for he was unable to take any more pain.
He was no longer recognizable.
Black, purple, and dark blue colors painted the swollen skin of his cracked and bleeding perfections. His drunken monster had finally gotten what it deserved most.
Utter fucking pain.
Dante spit up a tooth that had been knocked loose, deforming his charming, flawless smile. His broken wrist hung limply at his stomach, pathetically protected from Jack’s skilled strikes. He stayed hunched over on his knees, struggling to breathe while his lungs tried to recover from the earlier blow to his cracked ribcage. Jack grabbed Dante by his shirt and pulled him from the floor. Dante swayed on his feet, his face swollen and his nose dripping blood.
Jack patted Dante’s shoulders in a friendly manner and lightly swiped at Dante’s shirt, as if to remove dirt and straighten any wrinkles.
“What’s wrong? I thought you knew how to fight. You threaten people and belittle everyone, but when push comes to shove you’re pretty pathetic.” Jack spoke calmly at first. “Now, fight! Prove yourself! Prove that you can fight like you say you can. Fight back!”
Jack threw another swing and sent Dante back onto the floor.
Dante raised a single hand, palm facing out, to shield his face from another shattering blow.
It never came.
Jack was doubled over, hands on his knees. His hollow laugh echoed against the silent crowd. He took a deep breath to regain his composure and leaned closer to his broken victim. He scoffed and pushed Dante’s hand away and gripped his bruised cheeks in a single, tight grip.
“You. Are. Pathetic,” he spat, enunciating each word with hatred.
Jack threw his last punch and the silence of the spectating crowd was invaded with the loud tension that hung over the end of the battle. Dante collapsed into a defeated heap on the ground, face down in a small pool of his own crimson mess. Jack straightened up and slowly made his way over to me. He grabbed one of my hands and placed a folded picture in it.
“Give this photo to your uncle.” He looked up at me with those insanely blue eyes. The man from my dreams, The Man In The Tank, his face dripping with spots of blood. “I’m sorry, Karen, but Dante deserves so much worse than what I did to him, and you know that.” He walked off.
I had no words. I was in such a delightful sense of shock. I turned the picture over a few times. Staring into the camera, with their eyes harshly squinted, were three men dressed in tan and green pixelated camouflage. The desert sun was shining brutally down on their dirty helmets and packs. The men held their guns angled across their chest from their hips for the picture, as if they were prepared for anything that may come their way. Even during the time of the photo, they were ready for battle. One of the men in the photo was my, uncle, Alex, only he still had both of his legs. The man on his left was my father, and the other man I did not recognize. I gripped the old photo of my father, my uncle, and the mysterious third man. How did Jack acquire this picture? A note was scribbled on the back.
If I am correct in my snooping around, this should rightfully belong to you. My father would have wanted you to have it. He spoke very highly of you.
Thank you for your sacrifices,
Jack’s father knew my father and my uncle. It explained how he got the photo; it did not explain how he knew Alex was my uncle. My head was filled with confusion now. Who was he? Carefully, I tucked the picture into my pocket and walked towards the bleeding and swollen man that was still on the floor. He was refusing to get up and face everyone. I knelt at Dante’s side and looked hard into his bruised eyes. He managed to give me a weak and shattered smile.
“I hope it hurts.” I patted his shoulder, smiled, and left.
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