The Dandelion

Written by Shawn Funk

Red light burst from the Quick Fights neon sign, casting grotesque shadows on the faces of three security men in hot pursuit; ahead of them by a stride is a boy, Terrel Hamer, carrying a satchel full of apples he lifted from a locked cabinet owned by a wealthy vendor near the Freegarden center square, where tonight, thousands of raucous off-worlders flaunted their excess and purged their aggressive tendencies to the spectacle of carnage called The Main Event.

“Stop right now, kid!”

Two strides ahead now, he turned into a dim passageway with a ladder leading onto a corrugated rooftop. Three peaked caps reflecting red neon closed in. The boy grasped the highest rung his small stature would permit. There was cheering on the street, electronic music crescendoed in the distance, then a firework exploded above him, lighting up the narrow corridor with brilliant green light. Rushing up the ladder, a firm hand grasped his ankle.

“You little shit! I got you!”

Terrel let the heel of his oversized boot stomp out the security man’s nose like a scary insect, then he climbed the last rung and disappeared through the green glow.

“I am going to fuckin’ get you, you little asshole!”

The security man covered his nose as blood poured through his fingers, down his arm, and onto his pressed company-issued uniform. The corrugated roofs were too thin for them to follow, but Terrel was only 60 pounds soaked. He leaped from roof to roof as the security men followed on the dirt below. Fusion Transport shuttles streaked blue firelight across the sanguine sky, bringing wealthy off-worlders to the Quick Fights stadium from the orbiting spaceport. He leaped again, landing hard. Another firework exploded above, laughing and cheering resounded from the crowded streets. The fibreglass cracked underneath his feet, but he pressed on, breathing heavily with fire in his eyes. His aunt’s place was just past the silver cross now coming into view above the impoverished sprawl. The security men won’t stray that far, Terrel thought, silver light to safety. The security men shouted orders below.  

“Queez, get him at the gap! Last chance!”

“I got it.”

Queezy aimed his stunner between two dilapidated huts and waited for Terrel to make his final leap. Terrel leaped, Queezy shot. The boy went limp mid-air, hit the ground. Thump!   

“I got you now, kid. You’re dead!” Terrel’s lips curled up, his brow knitted, yet his body wouldn’t move. The man raised his club into the air striking Terrel across the thighs, then one more in the left kidney.

“Get your revenge somewhere else, Dick. This kid is our bonus!”, said a deep voice.

“Look at my fuckin’ nose, asshole. I’m gettin’ him, now!”

The deep-voiced security man held Dick by the shoulder, “No, we take him to Mr. Quick, and we get our bonus.  Queezy, are you with me on this?”

Queezy replied, “Maybe we just rough him up a bit. Besides, your nose has never looked better, Dick.”

“You’re an asshole,” said Dick as he pushed away from the hand on his shoulder and continued rapping the bat across Terrel’s body.  

The security man with the deep voice reached forward, grabbing Dick’s bat mid-swing, “You’re done. Get’em up. Were takin’ him to the stadium.”

When Terrel woke up, he was on his back staring at a concrete roof. The cell was dark. Four walls and a door with a sliding slit. The side of his body was still numb from the stunner, and he could barely move. There was no telling how long he had been asleep or if it was night or day, yet he knew exactly where he was. There would be a matinee soon, probably tomorrow or the next day.

Terrel watched his first matinee at the Quick Fights arena when he was 7 years old on a dare from his friend Bobby, who was 3 years his senior. Terrel wasn’t afraid, and he really liked Bobby. Besides, Bobby had promised to teach him how to pick a lock if he could prove to him that he was tough. Terrel said to Bobby that his aunt didn’t call him The Dandelion for no reason. That afternoon, Terrel took mental notes as he watched Bobby fiddle with two pins in the keyhole of a utility door that led into the arena. Inside, they snuck through a dingy maintenance hallway to a ladder that led up to the boardwalk. There they watched the cruel entertainment below as wisps of barbecue smoke made their mouths water.

“What happens to their bodies, Bobby?” Terrel asked.

“They are dismembered and fed back to us at the almshouse. Didn’t you have the steak last Friday?” Bobby answered.

A look of horror crossed Terrel’s face and Bobby laughed.

“Gotcha!” Bobby said.

Later that evening, Terrel showed his aunt what Bobby had taught him, clumsily opening her prayer box with two small clips he had found while sifting dirt. A worried look creased her face, and she prayed, fastening the lock on her prayer box. After a while, she laid down beside him on a dusty blanket and closed her eyes. Bobby had disappeared a few days later and Terrel never saw him again.

When Terrel awoke again, the numbness was gone, allowing the pain from the beating he took from the one named, Dick, to radiate from his bruises. He remembered the story his aunt had told him about his birth. She said that his mother had died giving birth to him alone in a back alley. She said that he laid there for hours before being discovered, writhing on the bloody rocks underneath him. Now he thought he might die the same way.

The next day, a gun report signalled the start of The Matinee. Bang! Two by two, he and the others were chained and filed into a tunnel that led to an open-air pit where the fighting happened. A cacophony of boisterous laughter, celebratory shouting, and spirited music from the grandstands made him dizzy; the smell of shit and piss kept him alert. Bang! Clank! Another gun report from outside reverberated through the hall, and the boys clanked their chains one step forward. Two by two, they disappeared into the cruel light at the end of the tunnel. Bang! Clank! Bang! Clank! He stood now at the front of the line beside his other. He didn’t look at him. He didn’t want to know his name. He didn’t want to see him cry. He wanted to hate him. Bang! Clank!  

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