Werewolves and zombies and vampires, oh my!
Set in the same universe as A Good Wallow and An Uncertain Meeting, here is a glimpse into the undead fight game.
Dee had half of her attention on the heavy bag and the other half on a tall figure on the far side of the room. Her gray hands hit the bag with restrained force, aiming at a target an inch beyond the surface, jerking the bag on its chain as she landed a right jab, left, right cross, uppercut, forearm strike, while across the gym Meredith Reynard and one of the trainers were watching two middleweight werewolves spar. The men were circling each other in the center of the ring and the champ was leaning on the edge of the canvas, watching with a little smile.
Maybe today was the day.
No sooner had Dee had this distracting thought than her hand came down too hard and her taped knuckles pierced the bag. She looked around her. The other zombies were working their weights in pairs and the wolves waiting their turn to spar had their eyes on the other match. No one was paying any attention to her. She reached under the towel at her feet and produced a roll of red gaffers tape that was the same color as the tough material of the bag. The roll went under her arm while she held the hole closed and wiped away the sand that had leaked out.
She heard Reynard's angry shout and looked up from the bag. The redhead was in the ring with the two fighters, a firm grip on the scruff of one who was dropping his fur in clumps on the canvas.
Once she was sure the shout wasn't meant for her, Dee went back to her taping, the results of what she'd just seeing filtering slowly through her plans. The champ was angry with one of her better prospects. It would be a long bad mood. Dee turned the bag on its hook so that a unblemished section of fabric faced her, dropped back into her stance and began her routine again. She tried to focus only on her strikes but it was hard not to think about the missed opportunity. This was the first time in weeks Reynard had appeared at the gym without her fight trainer at her side. The short one who watched everything the zombies did with disapproving eyes. How many more weeks would it be before Dee could get the champ alone to talk about the pairs tournament?
Dee looked up, the bag bumping her as it swung back on its chain.
The champ was still in the ring, waving her over. "Come here, kid."
One of the middleweights was in the ring beside her and his face was too long, a film of blood on his lips as his human teeth clicked back into place. Dee looked at them both as she approached the ring. "Yes, champ?"
Reynard clapped the other fighter on the shoulder, the blow too hard to be friendly. "Are you up for three rounds with Carter?"
Dee looked at the younger fighter. He was an inch taller than her but his arms were shorter and more compact. His legs were thick too. He would hit hard but he wouldn't be as fast as some of the welterweights she usually fought. She nodded.
"She's not in my weight class," the young wolf said, the words muffled by his changing mouth.
The champ's smile showed too many teeth as she put her arm around his shoulder. There were a few scars across his dark skin; hers was a patchwork of white lines and splotches from hundreds of fights. "She's my weight class, will that do?"
He looked away from Dee and mumbled, "yeah."
"I'll get my pads." Dee waited until the champ nodded to turn and walk back towards the lockers.
"You can tell me again what you think about spooks when you're done."
Even in a low tone meant for Carter Reynard's voice carried and Dee's placid face began to twist into a frown as she turned into the locker room. She strapped her pads on in order, shins, feet, forearms and hands, carrying the headgear out with her, trying to put the slur out of her mind so she could think over what she had seen. Two wolves sparring a round on their feet. The round called with one a man and the other a wolf. The champ's dark expression. Carter must have flipped during the round. No one under Reynard's banner did it. The tactic wasn't allowed at this gym.
There were more people gathered around the ring as Dee approached, the wolves had come over from the other ring, the zombies had left their weights and even the vampire who ran the back office had emerged.
"Three five minute rounds, freestyle. I'll ref." The champ held the ropes open for Dee to enter the ring.
Dee nodded and slipped the headgear on, making the strap tight under her chin.
Carter joined her in the center of the ring and reached out to touch her gloves with a cocky grin that showed the blood between his teeth.
Dee tapped his gloves in return, her frown still digging furrows across her brow.
"Back to your corners. At the bell come out fighting." Reynard gave Dee a flicker of a wink.
In her corner Dee put her mouthguard in, got up on the balls of her bare feet, curled her hands into fists and visualized the spot where she would meet Carter on the canvas.
The bell rang and her legs moved, carrying her toward the blur of werewolf bearing down on her. Carter got in two rights before she caught his arm and flipped him over her shoulder and onto the canvas.
He was up again, sliding away from her before she could close on him. She pivoted in the center of the ring, waiting for the next volley. In a moment he was kicking low at her legs. She stayed her ground and swung out with a right, waiting for him to try a grab.
He ducked the right and punched up under her arm instead with a dull thud that rocked her to the side. Another kick sent her to one knee. His mouth guard made his smile a uniform blue as he kicked out again. The shape of his mouth changed from a crescent to an "O" of surprise when she caught his leg and brought him down on his side. She rolled with him but he had squirmed away before she could get a good grip. She got back to her feet and widened her stance.
He left her legs alone and began punching again, landing one then dancing out of the way before her long arms could catch him. A straight right and a jab and a cross and then the left. She could feel her right cheek beginning to swell despite the pads. Then he struck out with the right again.
The punch extended his arm the same way it had the last time and brought his weight onto his forward foot. She gripped his elbow as he made contact and pulled him into her. She caught another body blow as she got both arms around him and twisted him off his feet. They rolled over and over until she got her left foot flat to the canvass and mounted him. She hit him twice, checking the blows the way she had at the bag.
The bell sounded. Dee pushed back to her feet and walked to her corner. Three of the other zombies were there with the werewolf she had been sparring with that morning. He was smiling and holding out her water bottle. Dee took a small sip and handed it back.
"Don't wait for the right, he's telegraphing more on the left," he said in a low voice.
Dee nodded and turned. The champ was in the center of the ring smiling her predatory smile as she called them to touch gloves. Carter wasn't smiling now, his lips were drawn in a thin line over his mouth guard so even human his face pushed out like a muzzle. Dee could feel that her own face had relaxed, her expression a blank as the bell rang.
The middleweight heaviness seemed to fall from her opponent. He was in and out almost before she saw him, a streak of brown and a blow to the cheek, one to the ribs, a jab to the eye muffled by the pads. She raised her hands higher and the expected body blow came in under her elbow, raking across it before it made contact under her ribs. Her hand came down and grabbed his thick arm, fingers digging hard into the muscle as she spun, using his momentum to send him stumbling across the ring.
She had his back before he could turn, legs catching between his, trying to bring them down. His elbow shot out and got her in the side of the head, once, twice before they hit the canvas and he rolled free.
Dee came up with the ropes near her back and Carter a blur in front of her again, flying in and out. She kept her hands up, more stance than block, if she protected her face he hit her body, if she protected her body it was her head. She kept her eyes open and held her ground, putting out shots that hit air but kept him back, not letting him push her onto the ropes. He got impatient and a single shot became a combination. Right, left. It was slower, he had to commit to stay close enough to deliver both. He flicked out with a jab and danced away, put out another and moved back then set himself for the hard right, left.
She ducked his left and struck out with hers, catching him under the ribs where he was turned toward her. The blow bent him forward and gave her an opening. Allowing her momentum carry her forward she caught him around the waist and bore them back to the ground. With both hands on his right arm she was forcing it straight for an arm bar when he slipped free.
He was striking again before she made her feet but he didn't do more than rock her from side to side. She caught him with another left. He was moving away and kept his feet. He was circling faster than she could turn, glancing a blow off her shoulder, kicking at the back of her leg. Trying to protect her back she edged steadily toward the ropes as he darted in and out. A sweep from behind landed her on the mat. She pushed herself up to a crouch, ready for the next blow. A kick came lacking force, it only sent her back on her heel as she turned to keep Carter in sight. He was smiling again, mouthguard gone, teeth long and white.
She got her foot planted under her and shot forward, catching him around one thigh and twisting him to the ground. He was hard to hold, the fur erupting from his skin was smooth and his muscles bunched and twisted to rearrange themselves over his shifting joints. Dee dug her fingers into the thicker fur covering his neck and used the purchase to get his back. Behind him she wrapped both legs tight around his body and felt his snapping teeth graze her arm as she locked it up under his chin. She ignored the faint prickle of pain and pulled her arm tighter, gauging a grip that was tight enough to hold him without doing more than cut off his air.
At the triple tap on her shoulder she let go, rolling clear. Reynard was standing over her, offering her hand. Dee took it and stood, allowing the champ to raise their joined hands. "Good one, kid," Reynard said over the clapping and whistling from the fighters and trainers.
The champ released her hand and went over to Carter, helping him to his feet and supporting his weight as his legs lost their fur and straightened. "Anyone else think it's a good idea to flip in the middle of a round?" she said, voice stern as she looked over the crowd gathered around the ring.
The wolves shook their heads.
Her frown became more fierce. "Anyone else going to go into a fight thinking zombies are slow?"
There was more head shaking and a murmur of nos.
The champ grinned and walked Carter to his corner. "Good! Now what are you all standing around for? Doesn't anyone train around here?"
The crowd scattered except for two of the trainers who helped Carter out of the ring and began testing his reflexes.
Dee stripped off her headgear and climbed out of the ring on the other side, working her arm pad loose. Carter's tooth had punctured the foam and raked a thin line across the inside of her forearm.
"He did get you."
Reynard's fight trainer had appeared next to her with a blue first aid kit under her arm.
Dee pulled off her other arm pad and tucked it into her headgear. "Just a scratch." More than a scratch could put her out competition for weeks and she still needed to convince Reynard to pair her up for a fight.
The trainer's dark eyes bored into her and Dee wished she was back in the ring. It had felt safer.
"Kids these days. It's like they don't hear anything I say." The champ came around the side of the ring and threw a friendly arm around her trainer's shoulder. She smiled and nodded to Dee. "Thanks for working out with Carter. He needed an attitude adjustment before his fight on Friday."
Dee was relieved to focus on Reynard. "I was happy to help."
"That's what I like to hear." Even the champ's nice smile had too many teeth. "Have you thought about joining the pairs circuit?"
The trainer's expression darkened and she looked over at the champ but didn't speak.
Dee could feel her slow pulse rising higher than it had during the fight. She held her gear in both hands and said what she had been waiting to say for months, "It's what I want to do."
Reynard nodded and jostled the woman beside her. "Lily's going patch you up and give you the clear. Then you come back to the office and we'll talk." She nudged the trainer again and left, still smiling.
They watched her go and Lily sighed, her lips pressed into a thin line. "Sit. I'll get you some ice."
Dee allowed herself to be pushed back onto a stool, something like elation building in her chest. "You don't think I can do it," she said looking up at the trainer.
The other woman blinked, her mobile face shifting from surprise to a deeper frown in an instant. "I don't think she should do it, so you better watch her back out there."
Watching the trainer walk toward the coolers Dee felt her gray face slowly moving into another expression. A smile.