"Title": Go For Broke"
"Memories: Ace Visconti"
"Ace rushes into Uh, Ohs sports bar still pumped with the excitement of the mixed martial art title defense he just watched. Female lightweight MMA champion Mika James knocked the challenger out in the first round and now he’s ready for another thrill. He sits with his buddy Wallace. Did I miss anything? Wallace shakes his head. Nah...They’re preparing the bowl now. Ace laughs out loud. Hilarious. The guy’s going to try to swallow a bowl of slugs. Only at Uh, Ohs would they hold such a ridiculous bet. Wallace nudges Ace and levels a wager. Ten to one he pukes it out. Ace looks at the idiot and the bowl of living slugs in front of him. His instincts tell him this guy’s actually going to do it. Ace just cleaned Wallace at the MMA fight and he doesn’t mind taking more of his money. Ace scrutinizes the idiot just to make sure his gut isn’t leading him astray. Most people would puke trying to swallow the first slug. But not this guy. This guy knows what he’s doing. He’s a winning horse. A sure thing. All right… let’s say double our last bet. \n\nWallace nods and assures him he’s going to lose. Ace smirks. We’ll see about that. As he stares beyond the idiot preparing to swallow slugs, he’s amazed to see Mika James at the bar in her signature tracksuit. They exchange a look. He points at his fan shirt and extends a thumbs-up for a great title defense, but she looks past him as she nurses a beer. Wallace sees Mika and nudges Ace. She could kick your ass in two licks. Ace scoffs. That’s a bet you would lose, asshole. I’m double her size and strength. Wallace snickers. I say you don’t last ten minutes… nah… you don’t even last five minutes. Wallace is talking shit just to talk shit. Before Ace can respond, a bell sounds and everyone goes silent as the idiot lifts the bowl of thick, moist slugs to his trembling lips. Ace stops breathing, narrows his gaze, pulls out his lucky alligator tooth, holds it in his fist, and just knows he’s got a winner. In a few short minutes he’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Come on, idiot...swallow those slugs. "
"Ace doesn’t understand what happened. He had Wallace dead to rights. His winning horse confidently slurped down the slugs one at a time as though he were enjoying a bowl of fresh sushi. Then he stops with the last one dangling out of his mouth… cocky little shit... He smiles and swallows... but the damn slug doesn’t go down... not as he planned. Ace can see a lump oozing and squirming down his throat. It slithers down… but it must have tickled his gag reflex or something... because he instantly loses his smile. There’s a silence. The idiot begins to squirm uncomfortably in his seat. The crowd goes… Uhh-ohh… and all of a sudden… a projectile of slug-chum shoots out his mouth and Ace hangs his head realizing he just lost everything. \n\nWallace laughs out loud and slaps his back. Told you so. Ace doesn’t say anything. Tell you what… double or nothing if you last five minutes with Mika James. Ace stares up at Wallace. What’s in it for you? Wallace narrows his gaze. Your lucky alligator’s tooth. Ace hesitates. Wallace smiles. What? Thought you were double her size and stronger? Ace looks at Mika, at Wallace, at Mika again and nods. I’ll knock her out in two minutes and then buy her a drink. Wallace smiles, stands, and heads over to the manager of the club to make the arrangements. Ace stands and figures he may as well introduce himself to the champ."
"What the hell was I thinking? Ace staggers to his wobbly feet. Oh yeah… I wasn’t! Mika steps toward him. He throws a desperate right. She ducks with a grin. He follows with a left. She sidesteps and he sees black and a few stars fading in and out of existence. What the hell did she hit me with? He doesn’t know. All he knows is he’s on his ass again and his eyelids feel like cement. He forces them open and stares up at the timer. Thirty-Seconds. How can that just be thirty-seconds! Either the timer is rigged or time itself has slowed down to an impossible crawl. Shit! I’m in trouble but I ain’t losing my lucky gator’s tooth! He doesn’t know much right now but he knows Mika’s got him outclassed in every way except guts and luck. Ace stands on wobbly legs and smiles at one of the dozen Mika’s swirling around him. He regards a dozen clocks, narrows his gaze, and calculates. Four more minutes... I can do this..."
"The crowd is hollering and jeering. Fight! Fight! Fight! Ace stares at the timer and is relieved to pass the two-minute mark. Only three minutes to go. He just wants to last and has completely given up on the idea of knocking Mika out. He’ll be happy if he can land just once punch. He thinks he might need to grab her hair and punch below the belt just to get her to back off. But she moves faster than his eyes can track and he’s convinced his feet are turning to spaghetti. She stares at him like a hungry tiger and throws a roundhouse kick. He ducks. Laughs just as he feels her hands knit over his head and her wicked knee in his face. Black fills his vision. A moment later he’s on the ground swirling in a pool of stars with the crowd giving him a count in unison. He’s up at five with a fat lip and a pathetic smile."
"Minutes don’t feel like minutes. They feel like hours… days… Three minutes and Ace wants to throw in the towel, but his pride won’t let him. His common sense is telling him to quit before she breaks another rib. He gets the sense he won’t be laughing to the bank but to the hospital. But he can’t give up. He won’t give up, and he certainly won’t lose this bet. He’s going to win even if winning kills him. For a moment he half-remembers a quote about sitting on a stove with a pretty girl or a pretty girl cooking at the stove or something about a pretty girl and a stove. He’s getting it all wrong, but he knows it has something to do with time. Mika smashes a fist straight into his puffy face and he staggers back and nearly buckles over. He manages to keep his balance and tries to smile but just as soon as his lips part he somehow finds himself on the hard floor staring at a crowd that seems miles away, laughing as they give him a count in unison. He rolls on his belly and pushes himself up, groggy, and spaghetti kneed. It’s going to take a lot more than that to keep me down."
"Two rights in a nose that’s already broken. She clearly doesn’t want to lose. She wants to knock him out but that won’t happen. Ace won’t let it happen. Outclassed in every way except guts, he clambers to his feet. He tries to smile at her. That didn’t hurt. But it did. It really did. Before his smile breaks he finds himself in a headlock. Shit, she’s fast! Mika twirls him around like a sack of potatoes and thrusts him into a table. The table breaks. So does something in his chest. He thinks it’s a rib, but he didn’t think he had any more that could be broken. He gets up, manages a grin, and charges her. Grabs her rock-hard arms. Pins her to the wall. A surge of adrenalin fills his entire being. He’s got her now. He shoots his fist out at her face. She drops to the side, and he shatters his hand against the stone wall as he feels her lift him off the ground. A moment later she twirls and throws him into the crowd with his broken hand swelling and throbbing with every heartbeat. The crowd scatters and lets him fall hard on the ground. Something cracks. He hopes it’s not a bone. Everything is distorted. He feels like he’s underwater listening to a muted crowd hollering for him to get back up or stay down. He can’t quite tell anymore. He stands and stares at the timer, feels a sharp pain in his mouth and senses an awkward gap. My tooth! My fuckin tooth! He looks around the floor and sees his front tooth lying in a glop of blood and saliva. It’s still attached to the roots. He glances over the amused and entertained crowd and finds Wallace looking pale and frightened as Mika suddenly cuts through him like chafe."
"Ace dives under a table for refuge as Mika grabs him by the ankle and pulls him out. She lifts him over her head, twirls him and breaks him against another table. He stands, turns to face her, shakes his head until he clears his vision. He lurches and throws a left at one of the three faces he sees. Mika ducks and delivers a slashing right hook to the body then drops him with a devastating right hook. He rolls over the ground, wheezing, feeling his jarred and jutting ribs. He probably should be dead. He doesn’t even want to think about the hospital bill. Hospital? He doesn’t need a hospital. He hasn’t seen a doctor in ten years and certainly doesn’t need one now. His body can heal on its own. He pushes himself up but doesn’t feel much below the waist. He shoots a weak punch with his good hand. Mika grabs his fist mid-air and crushes his fingers into a mangled mush. Mercilessly she grabs his arm and… pops his elbow. He screams with blood gurgling out of his mouth. She wants him down even if it means killing him. \n\nAce suddenly realizes... Mika made her own bet. His entire body floods with endorphins as he wobbles around Uh, Ohs spinning floor. A glance at the timer reveals he’s only got twenty seconds left. He’s going to win even if he loses every bone in his body. What more can this kitten do to me? He clambers back to his feet and smiles with blood gushing out of his mouth. She charges him like a wildcat and is a whirlwind of devastating blows. He’s hit a dozen times and flattened with a wicked uppercut. The crowd is screaming and hollering for Mika to lay him out for good. But Ace won’t lose his gator tooth even if it cost him his real tooth. \n\nSeconds pass like minutes. The bell sounds. It’s over. It’s finally over. Ace collapses. Wallace stares down at him with a newfound respect and a wad of cash in his hands. Ace stares at the money and manages to mumble something. You bastard... you bet on me? Wallace pulls Ace up and hands him his tooth. Put this in your mouth to keep the nerves moist. Keep them there until we reach the hospital. That’s one for the books, buddy. Ace shakes his head. I’m good... don’t need a doctor. Wallace laughs incredulously. Dude... you need a doctor, a dentist, and fuckin shrink."
"Title": "Eat Dust"
"Subtitle": Memories: Meg Thomas"
"Slash tires? Sounds a bit extreme. Meg regrets showing Coach Jenny how fast she could run during Phys Ed class. She saw something she liked, asked Meg to run, and now she wants her to race at the State Championships. From a virtual nobody to glorified jock almost overnight. New friends, bitter rivals and rumors abound. Why Meg? Why does she get a free ticket? She never practiced, sucked up, or took diet pills to keep her weight in check. Why her? What makes her so special? The idea of a free ticket makes Meg laugh. No free ticket for her. She’s always loved to run, just not in an organized way, and she’s quite certain she put more hours into her passion than anyone else on the team. \n\nThe team dresses Meg up in bandit costume with black and white stripes like a criminal in a silent film. It’s so stupid she wants to scream. Two team members argue over the costume and finally decide on dropping the cliché bandit look for a more contemporary supervillain costume. They make a mask and tell her to slash tires near the police station. Then they exchange anxious looks with one another. Sounds less like initiation and more like a way to get her off the team and into a prison cell. Dana gives her a strange look, a dirty look. Seems like she has an upset stomach, gas even. She hates Meg for beating her time and probably wants to see her locked up. The rest of the team thinks up supervillain names for Meg. Street Rusher. Super Blaster. Dare Diva. Whatever. They’re all stupid. Just choose a name already."
"Dare Damsel Meg bolts through the streets stirring up laughter and attention. She feels stupid and scared at the same time lurking about in her supervillain costume. Meg pushes down her fear, composes herself, focuses her thoughts. If they want a slashed tire, they’ll get one and more. I’ll go straight into the belly of the whale and pull out a rib. She laughs at the image. Wonders where it came from and realizes it’s from one of the stories she recently read to her mother to help her fall asleep despite her deteriorating condition. Doctors don’t know what she has, and they can’t afford the doctors anymore. Don’t let your thoughts betray you. Meg pushes her grief out of her mind as pedestrians laugh and point at her costume. I’m going to target the police and set the record of this stupid hazing ritual.\n\nDetermined, Meg approaches the Colorado police station with her heart beating at a record-breaking speed. She kneels behind a cruiser, hesitates, her hand trembles involuntarily. She’s not used to breaking the law. She takes a deep, calming breath. First time for anything. Then, with a pocketknife, she slashes a tire, yanks a piece of rubber off and backs away. Before the officers realize what’s what Meg’s a bolt of lightning. Her heart’s pounding in her throat. Her legs are a blur. The police give chase but eat her dust. She returns to the team with a piece of slashed rubber and a new team record. A police cruiser. An actual police cruiser. Beat that! The team laughs and jeers except for Dana who stares at her with her usual gas face. No one on the team has ever done anything so bold. Welcome to the team… Dare Damsel Meg."
"Meg is the talk of the school and she likes it. Coach Jenny tells her she still needs a lot of work in the mechanics of running. She doesn’t even know what that means. She’s been running in the mountains with her mother for years and she never had to learn the ‘mechanics’ of running. Coach says for the next few practices she needs to improve her confidence on the starting line. Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem. Coach spends a lot of time with Meg and many on the team are beginning to take notice. Dana makes snide remarks in the shadows about Meg’s body being disproportional, about Meg having beginners’ luck, about how Meg’s legs seem disproportional to her torso. Meg ignores her, refuses to dignify her jealousy by responding to it. Dana gets no reaction from Meg as she talks about how her thighs are just a bit too thick for running. Dana gives her that stupid, gas face. Meg glares at Dana with a flood of expletives she wants to unleash. You’ll eat my dust soon enough, wench! Meg suppresses her anger and smiles politely, thanking the wench for her concern, telling her she’s confident her so-called disproportional body and thick thighs will prove advantageous at the championship."
"Meg begins her long walk home after an exhausting yet exhilarating practice. She holds her lucky piece of tire in her hand though she doesn’t really believe in luck. She hears her mom’s voice rattle in her brain. The only luck you get is the luck you make. And yet… the piece of tire kind of looks like a horseshoe. Coincidence? Probably. She admires her lucky slice of tire and starts when she hears a twig snap behind her. Before she realizes what’s happening, she’s thrust to the ground by a shadowy figure who stomps on her ankle. Terrible pain shoots up her spine and she screams for help as the shadow bolts away. Meg screams in agony as she desperately scrambles to her feet. As soon as her wounded foot touches the ground another sharp pain rushes through her like wildfire and she collapses. She closes her eyes, gathers herself, suppresses her pain and reaches around for something, anything, to support her weight. A moment later she grabs a thick, gnarled, branch and shrieks as she forces herself to stand. Every step home is like a hammer smashing at her ankle."
"The doctor tells Meg her foot is fractured in several places and she should probably stay off it until it heals. She shambles out of the office on crutches with her mother by her side. Meg can sense she’s worried about her and how she’s to settle the bill without insurance. They drive home in silence. Mom… I’m sorry. Meg breaks the silence. Her mother shakes her head. Don’t apologize, Meg. No need for that, I’m just glad you’re okay… Could have been a lot worse. Meg nods and replays the assault over and over again in her mind. The push. The kick. The stomping. Nothing about what happened makes sense. The perpetrator didn’t mug or try to steal anything from her. Meg’s mother breaks the silence and asks if she remembers anything about the man since they spoke to the police. Meg shakes her head. I’m not even sure it was a man. "
"Meg confides in her mother at the kitchen table. She’s convinced Dana arranged for someone to wound her to discourage her from running. Anger overwhelms her and she says things she wouldn’t normally say. I want her dead. I want to crush her like a bug. I want her to burn in fucking hell. I would have won that race! Her mother listens to her without judgment and waits for her to calm down. You’re very upset and I understand, but don’t... don’t stoop to her level, don’t let her turn you into what you’re not. You want revenge? Best revenge is success. Let her know you’re the best even at your worst and that will be her worst frecking hell. Meg narrows her eyes on her mother. Her mother squeezes her hand. If you think you’re beaten, you are. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Life’s battles aren’t won with speed and strength, but mind and will. Tears fill Meg’s eyes. Not because of her mother’s advice… but because she knows her mother’s days are numbered… and this probably one of their last be-positive, pep talks. \n\nHer mother hands over a box she pulls from under the table. Meg lifts the lid to reveal a black dress unlike anything she’s ever seen or worn. Before she can say anything her mother laughs. Not only will you win, but you’ll be the jewel of the afterparty. Meg feels a lump growing in her throat. Don’t lose all your strength focusing on the negative. Her mother used to be a competitive tennis player. All Meg heard growing up was stories about Billie Jean King. Meg waits for the ‘listen-to-win’ pep talk she’s heard so many times she’s lost count. Her mother relates how she would listen to a radio broadcast of King’s game to steer her mind away from fear and negativity. Fill your brain with success so there’s no room for fear. She’s prepared a special mix for Meg on her pod. Meg takes the pod and stares at it a moment, a long moment. Then she leaps across the table and embraces her mother and never wants to let go."
"Meg listens to a radio broadcast as she enters school. Fastest runner ever. The Buckeye-Bullet taking the gold at the Olympics despite every mental and physical obstacle leveled against him. She listens to the same broadcast over and over again. Fill your head with win so there’s no room for fear or doubt. Coach approaches Meg as she puts her pod down beside her. I heard a nasty rumor that Dana may have had something to do with your leg, and I’ve decided to pull her from the race. Meg shakes her head. Please, don’t do that... I’m going to beat her, coach, and I’m going to win. Coach’s eyes widen. You’re going to do what? You didn’t just say you’re going to win? You’re not actually thinking of running on that foot. Meg hesitates, then lies. Doctor says it’s fine and that it’s just a little bruised. Coach touches the foot, Meg shrieks. She gives Meg a skeptical look, sighs, says nothing else and leaves. Dare Damsel Meg grabs her pod, raises the volume of the broadcast and fills her mind with greatness as The Buckeye-Bullet makes The Dictator eat his dust."