Somewhere far away, a roaring crowd had transformed itself into the deafening sound of heavy rain. The people blended together in a multicolor blur on the edges of David’s periphery.
Here, in this place, time itself behaved differently. It wasn’t the slow-motion, Matrix-like theatrics of action movies or stunt-men. Instead, at least for David, it moved more like an ocean-current. Time was fluid, flowing easily from moment to moment, expression to expression. It illuminated and revealed every feature of every coming obstacle in ripples and waves. Every contraction of muscle and twist of direction was pronounced and projected through space and time. The ocean encased the arena.
And, much as an ocean is unconcerned with the shore—with that outside of itself—so became pointless everything outside the ring. The audience, the managers, the veiny foreheads of the coaches and sweating palms of the bookies, the hidden cameras and radio transmitters. None of it was important. It was only David and The Giant, immersed in the sea and the rain.
The Giant stood before him. His eyes were darker now than before, casting deep shadows around themselves. His brow had become hard and beset with wrinkles. He was slimmer than he once had been, which in no way meant that he was a small man. His stance was set like a great boulder—a massive stone parting the force of the water.
And David was the Lightning, waiting to strike.
He was the sum-product of a thundercloud which all around he and Titus blew and shook wildly. The surface of the salty-water in which they faced each other was broken by the endless rain of the audience’s noise. Distantly, David heard the sounds of thunder.
The Giant lurched forward, faster than David had expected. The water of time broke around him with a great surge. David twisted sharply left, avoiding the Giant’s blow. As he turned, the ocean moved with him. There was no time to look, though, as the water surged back against him, foretelling Titus’s follow-up. A sharp jab landed short of David’s right ear.
Exhaling sharply, David pushed back. He imagined his knees bending weightlessly under the invisible current. His toes pushed into the sandy bottom, springing away. He moved through open space freely, escaping yet another heavy lunge from the Giant.
There was a dull thud. David felt air force itself out of him. He’d hit the jagged, ocean shore: the roughness of the ring’s taut ropes. He jammed to a halt.
The Giant came directly toward him, growing larger and larger. His face was curious. It was hard like a stone and distant like a star. Even as the massive shape of it moved closer,blocking the rain, the flinty light in Titus’s eyes retreated. It looked afraid, almost…and sad.
Then the blow came like a car crash. It punched deeply at David’s stomach, and any wind he had left escaped him. He heard the distant audience’s unknowable din.
Two more blows, right behind each other. The ribs. The first was dull and hard. The second, right behind, was sharper and weighty, followed by a tiny cracking noise. Sonofabitch! David roared in his head. Ribs again! The invisible dark clouds rumbled, long and slow and rolling.
The Giant was in close now, his concrete jaw alongside David’s ear. In a growl, he spoke, so only David might hear.
“You shouldn’t have come back, Wymond.” He said in the low growl of a mourning animal.
David coughed air back into his lungs, regaining his breath. The sting of Titus’s blow was swelling to a fire in his side. His mind reeled.
“What?” He spat. “What?” Titus punched again in a half-powered uppercut, forcing the air back out of David.
“You heard me. Feel like you did last time?” Titus growled, making to punch again. David pulled his arms down sharply, blocking. “You’re still quick. But you can’t win, boy.” His harsh mouth was turned down into a gruesome frown. “Gloves hit hard as a rock, too, don’t they, Davey?” He said, smashing again into David’s block. But David didn’t fall. He had come here. He had come here to win. “Best you play dead,” said the Giant.
The steely-flint of Titus’s eyes was clear now, in the flowing water. They were both wide and hard and far-away all at once. David saw it, right then, in that tiny instant. He saw something that he had seen before, in mirrors and in his mother. It was desperation. He had tasted it. They both had. The fire in David’s ribs was raging.
Titus punched again. It was like a bulldozer.
The sound of thunder filled the arena. The gloves were like stone. Even for a Giant, the hits were beyond strong. They were the blows of a desperate man. And David had experienced the same type of blows many years ago. Thirteen years, to be exact.
“Just like before,” David heard then, clearly, like a bell. It had emerged from the endless noise surrounding he and the Giant.
His thoughts rushed madly in the next millisecond.
Was that someone in the audience? Their voice came through the roaring din with unnatural clarity. That never happened. The audience was always tuned out. It wasn’t his own thought-voice. That one he was familiar with.
Who’s voice? David demanded in the flashing seconds that followed. I know your voice. He thought. The Giant’s deep metal eyes were far, far away. They seemed forlorn and dreadful. Torrential rain came down in great sheets. Thunder bellowed out in low bass. It came rolling from somewhere deep within the dark clouds. And, before another moment had passed, behind the thunder was the voice. And he knew it when it spoke, this time. He knew it well. It was from long ago. From a happier time. It was Kay, angry and alive.
Just like before, David! The gloves are like stone just like before. He’s cheating, Son! He’s just a fucking cheater! He can’t beat you! You’re the Lightning! Kick his ass!
The words moved through his mind like the ocean of time moved through is body.
“He’s kicking my ass, Ma.” David wheezed, looking up into the dangerous sky.
Titus narrowed his eyes, stopping short of another crushing jab.
“What, boy?” He snarled. His eyes raced with confusion. But David wasn’t looking or listening to the words of a dumb stone. “Just fall down you fucking fool!” The stone man spat.
Trust me, Son. Kay’s voice said confidently. Put that bastard on the ropes. Make him block. Switch positions. Its time to strike, Lightning Bolt. It’s time to end all this. David sucked in a fast breath, reacting with electric speed.
“Don’t call me Davey.” He said, air and static and water all flowing through him with renewed vigor. He was the child of the storm that surrounded them. He was Kay Wymond’s son, and he came here to win.
“You fall down, you cheating fuck!” He heard himself shout.
There was a flash of precise energy. Voltage flowed along an unseeable circuit. Maybe the Giant was still waiting on an explanation for how David had known. Maybe he couldn’t understand the fearless charge that had rushed into David’s expression, despite the handicap he had devised. Maybe in David’s narrowed eyes he had seen the flash of electricity that awaited him. It didn’t matter. David twisted through the water, sliding deftly around and behind. His side burned, but the water cooled it. With his better half, he threw a quick series of daggers. The blows landed with heated pops along Titus’s bulging neck. The static noise of the storm grew louder and louder. Titus spun wildly, snapping his body around to face David. His flinty eyes were wide—eyebrows raised. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, he seemed to say. The bright fluorescent lights above the ring illuminated the buzzed edges of Titus’s faint, blonde hair. The ocean of time had robbed Titus of his youth. It had brought him to this point. It had taken away his confidence here, in this very moment. The cords of rope pressed into his rippling back, digging deeply. They strained against his weight–against the heavy stone body.
David could feel it. The tension flowing effortlessly between the groaning ropes and taut muscles of the Giant. Between Titus Grant and the hair-raising crackle of energy above them. Between the storm and the flowing water and deafening rain. Between the inexplicably terrified look in Titus Grant’s eyes and the deft, lethal crack of lightning that was David’s glove. Finally, between the dull red-orange encasing David’s final strike and the deadened impact of it into the Giant’s stony chest.
The tension transformed, piercing the heart of the stone Giant and traveling through him, out along the ropes and down their trembling length to the bolts that, by the Giant’s own scheming hand, had been previously loosened beyond return.
The flowing electric circuit broke along with the final thread of iron that held the top rope tight against the Giant’s back. Then there was nothing. There was only gravity. They were falling. They were sinking down through space to the bottom of the raging sea. Its murky depths encased them, blanketing them as they drew ever lower and deeper.
It was calm here, beneath the stormy surface. It was quiet and hazy. In the shadows were only their two faces, locked in a gaze as they drifted downward. There was no time to speak, and the Giant’s stone eyes sparkled and shone in the fast-fading light. They were wet and shimmering with what seemed to be a sadness deeper than any body of water. They spoke some volume of words in a language that David could not understand. Instead, he looked on, mystified. His eyes looked back in the growing deep with the last dark hues of watery blue-green. He thought of his mother, of the shitty hotel. Of thirteen years gone by. What had he done? What had just happened in a flash of lightning? What had brought he and the Giant here, so far away from the world, together in their lonely descent? The bottom drew near, and the Giant’s eyes were wide.
There was a loud crunch. David’s stomach coiled like a great serpent. His side burned with unearthly fire. He felt his eyelids squeeze shut. He squeezed them harder, as strongly as he could. All became enclosed in blackness with only the grisly echo of breaking bones.
The sun was bright and warm. Seagulls dove and rose above the surf. Again and again, effortlessly.
David couldn’t see them. His eyes were closed softly against the rays. He heard them, though. Their shrill cries moved through the air, intermixing with the steady crashing of the waves. The ocean lapped the shore somewhere down past David’s feet. His heels pressed down into the hot sand. He imagined the seagulls and their screeching. He visualized their raising and lowering with and against the wind—saw them as great wavelenghts, amplitudes, frequencies. They were small and white-gray and fierce, taming unrestricted air. They crashed down in unison with the water.
“Are you awake?” He heard his mother say. Her voice was bright and strong. Distantly, he pondered a time when it had sounded different. It had been weaker and tired, for some reason. He couldn’t think of when. He could only imagine seagulls.
“Yes,” he mumbled.
David cracked his eyes open into tiny slits, shielding his face with one hand at the same time. The brightness of the world spilled in, regardless. The sand surrounding him was illuminated like millions of diamonds, cast in pale yellow. Overhead, the gray-white seagulls screeched and rose and fell.
“Isn’t that special?” David muttered, squinting. Kay didn’t miss a beat.
“It is! So…I was thinking,” she continued. David didn’t give her a chance to go on.
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. “I’m getting up.”
The sand enveloped him in a shapeless, warm blanket.
“I’m getting crispy, anyway.” The birds swarmed distantly, audience to their conversation.
“Good.” Kay. “We’re gonna go get some ice cream,” she said.
He heard her feet padding off through the endless sand—the last words of her voice fading out against the tireless breeze. They served ice cream from a frail little straw hut at the very end of the pier.
The pier extended for maybe a quarter-mile, nearly, over the ocean. Beneath it, the waves flopped uselessly against the great, heavy pylons. A frank wooden building, complete with rusting tin roof gated the gap between the pier on land and the pier at sea. Feeble, the building withstood the marine winds with the help of its guards. On one side, the Pavilion’s great Ferris Wheel churned the sky like a water-mill, harvesting some unseen force. Down a ways, off center and on the other side of the pier-shack, a huge resort building loomed like a Giant. PAVILION TOWER, it said in large block letters on a billboard. At night, the letters lit up in glowing neon. Blues and reds and oranges. The buildings stood as monuments to the timeless enjoyment of seaside life. To the Pavilion and its grandeur.
. . .
He hadn’t remembered getting there. Didn’t remember the simultaneously long and short stroll down the wooden planks of the great ocean-dock. He was just there, or rather, he was watching himself be there. Both above himself and within it. People were all around. Grown men and women. Some were fat, gobbling down frozen treats like the world was about to end. Some of them spoke in Yankee accents, transforming vowels into awful, nasally sounds. Children ran about, squalling and fighting like seagulls. David was perched on a red and chrome bar stool, his back to the bar. His mother sat beside him, to his right, facing the pier-full of tourists.
“Look at them.” David said from somewhere far-off, hearing the disdain in his voice. Kay sighed, hearing it too.
“Why do you think they come here, Davey?” Kay said between two big mouthings of ice-cream. Rainbow sherbert blobbed on a waffle-cone. Behind her, a scrawny teenager was shoving cans of soda into a big cooler. They crunched one at a time into the ice.
“Same reason we’re here, I would imagine.” David heard himself say from somewhere far away. Kay looked down the pier, gauming with another mouthful of ice-cream. Her eyes glittered in blues that rivaled the sun-dappled water beneath them.
Crunch. Another can of soda jammed into the ice.
“What reason is that, do you think?” She said. A married couple broke into a jog as their two children started making to climb the wooden rails along the side of the enormous dock. “Get off there!” The mother of the kids shrieked. “There’s sharks in the water! You wanna take a gamble at that, huh?” David laughed at them. He felt his face smiling. Watched himself smile. The moment both was and wasn’t.
“To have fun, Ma.” David said. “Look at ’em.” He added, reclining against the bar on his stool. The married couple was lively, young. The woman was frantic, but beautiful. Even as she chased down the little kids, dimples shone from her rosy cheeks. Her eyes danced in the sun. He couldn’t remember how, but he knew her. Perhaps from a different time. Time, as it was, didn’t seem to exist anymore. Certainly not here, at the Pavilion, which has somehow found a way to discard any recollection of it.
“S’that why we’re here, David?” Kay said, turning her bright eyes to her son. He watched himself meet her gaze.
“What do you mean?” He said. The heat from the Sun radiated in transparent waves from the hot planks lining the pier. They rose, higher and higher, out of sight. They washed over David’s watching place, high up over himself and his mother.
“It would’ve been nice, wouldn’t it?” She said casually, mucking with a mouthful of melting sherbert. “To have just been tourists. To run after screaming kids and ride the Ferris wheel. To have everything run as smoothly and easily as that big amusement ride.”
“Is that not why we’re here?” David said from his body’s mouth, far down beneath himself. He became tense. It’s not, I know it’s not.
“You already know that, Davey. We’re here because you want to be. We’re having fun because you want to have fun. It’s what we all do: what we want. Some folks will stop at nothing to get where they wanna go.” She smiled. Dazzling. I love you, David caught himself thinking, watching from up high.
“What if I want to always have fun?” He said from far away, beneath the little straw shack at the end of the world. Kay took a bite out of her waffle-cone.
Crunch. Pepsis and Cokes and Mountain Dews were slowly filling up the big cooler.
“Don’t be dumb,” Kay said lightly, but in all seriousness. It was a tone only his mother had mastered. “Sometimes doing what you want means doing other things you don’t want to do. Things that guarantee you get what you want. Like making a reservation at a restaurant or gambling on a fight. Stressful stuff.”
The married couple were practically peeling their kids off of the side of the pier. The father was a hulking man. His bright, beachy shirt was stretched tight over his muscular frame. He called sternly after the children and his wife. Down his back, a blonde ponytail threatened to blow off in the wind. An old man was fishing nearby, discreetly shaking his head. The father saw him, and fixed him with a threatening stare. His eyes were like flint and steel. Solid as a rock.
“Like what?” David said from down below himself, feeling the hard bar stool underneath him. “Got a better example?” He knew she did. She always did.
“Sometimes,” she said, sighing, “you want to get over a cold so that you can feel awake and strong and lively again,” she said. “Follow me so far?”
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“But the best way to do that is to get some rest, as any doctor will tell you. And trust me on that, Davey. I’ve seen my fair share of doctors.”
He knew she had. He thought vaguely of machine-crowded hospital rooms, though he couldn’t recall when or where or why. There was only this moment with his mother.
“Sometimes you have to sleep, first.” Kay said, chomping waffle-cone like a fiend. Kids yelled. Seagulls cried. Tourists coughed and ate and laughed and talked. The married couple—children retreived—walked hand in hand down the pier, following behind the excited youngsters.
“And then what? Go running around like a kid? Like those heathens over there?” David said, half-sarcastically.
“Only if you’re a kid. Some people think they stay young forever.” His mom said, laughing a little between chomps. “First thing first is to wake up. The rest is simple.”
“What’s the rest?” David said. His voice was tiny, as if through a tin can. The waves grew loud and restless against the pylons. The seagull-kids called and called and shrieked and called.
“Oh, David. You wake up, you realize that you’ve gotten what you needed–that you’ve done what you needed to do–and you get your head together. You get back in the game. You keep doing what you want to do. And you put the trials of feeling ill or making reservations or gambling on sports and chance behind you.”
Crunch. Another soda.
David shook his head. He watched himself grin broadly at his mother far below, beneath the little hut. He watched himself order an ice cream. He watched the people all around. The cacophony of their number grew louder and louder. He watched himself hug his mother. She was so young and bright. Strong. The crowd was buzzing with excited noise. They were entertained. The married couple kissed. They were in love.
One more soda.
“Rise and shine,” he heard, in his mothers voice. The happy scene beneath him vanished.
David was awake.