Rise - Chapter Four - Gabriel Arnold
Our Story So Far: The year is 2028. PKFR is the largest sport/activity in the world, surpassing even the old standards like soccer. Rusty, a 17-year-old boy living in “The City,” is a fanatic for PKFR but, after the untimely death of his father (a top Runner himself), he has been forbidden to train. Recently however, a mysterious man known only as Owen saved him from an early demise. Enamored by the man’s power and grace, Rusty has gone against his mother’s wishes and begun preliminary conditioning. Today, he will tested, but in a most unexpected way…
 
Swollen, blistered hands clasped tightly over his shaggy red head, Rusty panted and heaved, sweat seeping out of every pore. His mouth felt like a wad of cotton and his limbs burned with stinging fire, an hour’s worth of lactic acid buildup. His fair skin was covered in a fine layer of grass, dust, and dirt, with the cold sweat forming zigzag streaks across the surface. Everything, from his baby toes to the tips of his sun burnt ears, was sore, weak, and tired. But, for the first time in nearly a month, he was still standing at the end of the workout. It was Kirra, his trainer and self described “slave driver” who was the first to notice the milestone.
“Rusty!” she proclaimed, louder than the nearby Rusty was ready for.

“…Yeah?” he replied, wincing at the sudden burst of sound from the thin, dark skinned woman.

“You’re still standing!”

“I am? I can’t even feel my legs but yeah, looks like it. What’s so amazing about that?”

“It means you’re ready!”

Rusty winced further and groaned silently under his breath, thinking that Kirra meant yet another set of pushups or squats or wind sprints or anything from the seemingly endless list of exercises and training methods that she managed to pull from her head. “More conditioning sessions?”

Kirra laughed hard, a laugh not unlike a feminine coffee grinder, and swatted him playfully on the arm, harder than Rusty was ready for. He hid the pain and discretely rubbed his bruised shoulder but perked up the instant the words left Kirra’s mouth. “It means you’re ready to be tested by Owen and me!”

Any discomfort Rusty felt seemed to vanish into the humid, late June air. A great weight was lifted off his shoulders and the skinny redhead straightened to his full height, emerald eyes suddenly glittering like a cheap cartoon effect. Cautiously, he said, “For…for real? No more conditioning? No more pushups and pull-ups and stuff? I get to start training techs? Techniques?”

Kirra stopped chuckling but kept the ever present smile wide across her lips. “Well sorta. There’s gonna be plenty more conditioning down the road, but…yeah! You can start training the specific movements. If you pass the test of course.”

“OF COURSE!” Rusty belted out, excited beyond all Christmas mornings combined. At last! This was his chance, to put all those back breaking days of physical abuse to the test! To show off the gains he had made! Though he was relatively thin to begin with, he had already dropped five pounds, although that was misleading since he had actually burned through ten pounds and added five back on in pure muscle. His quads were rapidly beginning to fill out his pant legs and his back was starting to strain against his tight T-shirts. His hands were covered in popped blisters and ever-growing calluses. Rusty had gotten so wrapped up in the training that he hadn’t cut his hair either, the red bangs now well within his vision’s range. The weak, ungainly boy that had been nearly knocked out by falling on a train rail was now quickly becoming a man, at least visually, with the body to prove it.

“When do we meet?! When is the test!?”

Kirra held her hands up in mock surprise, trying to hold off his newfound energy. “Easy kid, easy. We’ll do it as soon as possible, say, two days from now? Saturday morning?”

“Perfect!”

“All right then. See you Saturday morning, two hours after dawn. We’ll meet at “Notre Endroit”, Our Place. You remember how to get there?”

“Yup! Got the directions saved in my wallet.”

“Great! I’ll contact Owen and let him know you’re prepared. I don’t wanna scare you but, uh, rest well. It’s not going to be an easy exam.”

Rusty simply smiled and nodded, too overcome with happiness to continue speaking. Everything was working out. He was faster, stronger, and about to start real training. And on top of all that, Jenna, his high school crush, had her gymnastics competition that Friday, the day before his test. What better way to get himself motivated than finally getting a chance to be alone with the girl of his dreams?

The next morning, Rusty and his best friend Lee arrived bright and early at The City convention center, home for the 2028 Regional Women’s Gymnastics Open. Neon colored banners fluttered in the generous breeze as throngs of spectators, family, coaches, and competitors milled around the entrances and filed down the corridors, the ten thousand seats filling to capacity. In the wake of PKFR’s rise to cultural and sporting dominance, interest in gymnastics had risen as well, with many Runners moonlighting or starting out as gymnasts. The strength, precision, and beauty of gymnastics found new life in the eyes of PKFR fans, those hungry to see what was possible for the human body.

Taking their seats in the upper decks, Lee rambled off stats and figures for nearly every competitor there today, taking his unofficial role as a supercomputer for all things PKFR, tricking, and gymnastics related very seriously. He went to especially long lengths to detail the finer points of Jenna, their high school’s squad captain for floor exercises. “…and her specialties are the Floor Routine and the Uneven Bars, though she also has been working hard on developing her vaults…”

Rusty simply smiled and nodded much like he did the day before with Kirra. He was interested to hear about Jenna but the other ninety or so competitors he could have done without. He hadn’t seen Lee very much in the last month and he would have liked if his friend had mentioned his training or his new look. Still, he knew Lee was enjoying himself so Rusty stayed quiet, chiming in when necessary but mostly scanning the convention floor for a glimpse of Jenna. Finally after a half hour of waiting, the opening ceremonies began and the competition officially went underway.

And at the risk of sounding cliché, what a competition it was. The stakes were high and the women were pulling out every trick in the book. Round off half turns with handspring fronts and 5/2 twist for good measure over the vault. Precisely executed back handspring layout step-outs on the beam. And Jenna, blond hair snapping in all directions, scored a silver medal on the Floor Routine, stunning the crowd with a perfectly performed full-twisting-double-layout. Rusty and Lee screamed at the top of their lungs when she took the winner’s box, feet stamping and drawing numerous annoyed stares from the unlucky fans below them. As the final awards ceremony took place and the national anthem played, Rusty and Lee hurried down the stairs, dodging slower people with nimble feet and uncanny luck. They were fighting to make their way towards the back on the center in order to congratulate Jenna in person.
Just before they arrived, Lee suddenly froze in place, feet glued to the floor, and nearly got bowled over by the rampaging Rusty behind him. Side stepping his Asian friend and missing by mere inches, Rusty came to a skidding halt in the long corridor and yelled back to Lee, “Yo, buddy! What’s wrong? We have to hurry or else it’ll get too crowded to even breathe!”

Lee’s usually happy-go-lucky demeanor was gone, replaced by a look of pure horror. In a monotone, deadened voice, he said to Rusty, “I think I left my camera back at the seats.”

Now it was Rusty’s turn to be horrified. That camera was Lee’s pride and joy, his baby. He had spent over a year earning enough money to buy it, then another six months tricking it out to fit his exacting specifications. To lose that camera meant losing a piece of Lee’s soul and most of the day’s footage as well. The two young men stared at each other, unable to speak. Finally Rusty snapped out of the trance and began sprinting for all he was worth in the opposite direction, heading back to the center’s main floor. He cried back over his shoulder, “Go on ahead Lee, catch Jenna before she leaves! I’ll run back and check the seats, I’m faster than you anyway. GO!”

It was a brutally tense four minutes as Rusty fought his way back upstream, like a single salmon fighting an entire river. Shoulder to shoulder he pressed his way forward, shoving and getting shoved in return. When he finally made it to the now emptied seating area, he dashed up the closest stairway, consuming three, four, five steps at a time. Arms and legs pumped for all they were worth, the last month’s conditioning showing itself plainly in his speed and power. Upon reaching their section, Rusty tore through the area, diving to the ground to check under seats and hopping from one plastic chair to another.

But to no avail. There was no camera to be found, only the remnants of snacks and ticket stubs. Crushed at not being able to get there in time, Rusty sulked his way back down the dozen or more flights of stairs, head hung low. How was he going to explain this to Lee? Back through the corridor and into the mass of people, Rusty had drifted away like he usually did, lost in his own thoughts. Lee would be heartbroken, he’d be practically suicidal, he-

Was holding his camera. And had his arm around Jenna’s waist. And he was taking a picture. Of the two of them. Rusty stopped, eyes unwavering and staring straight ahead, catching glimpses of the scene as people passed in between. Lee and Jenna were laughing, hugging, and, and…kissing. The two were acting just like a high school couple, like perfect girlfriend and boyfriend, holding each other and talking excitedly in exaggerated tones. For Rusty, it was as if a sociopathic psychic had peered into his mind and, on a whim, decided to torture him with his deepest, darkest fears. Unable to do anything but stare, Rusty spent what easily amounted to several minutes rooted to the floor, leering at the scene layed out before him.

After an eternity in Rusty’s eyes, the pair parted ways with a goodbye and a deep kiss, leaving Lee to head back in Rusty’s direction. Lee spotted Rusty a moment later and smiled, running over awkwardly through the crowds and holding his camera over his head, pointing and gesturing towards it. When he came within earshot he exclaimed brightly, “Look man! I didn’t lose it, it was stuffed into a side pocket on my pants. You know how light these new holographic ones are, I guess I just forgot it was there.”

Rusty on the other hand was the polar opposite facially of Lee. Rusty’s eyes were squinted closed to half their normal size, mere slits at this point. His lips were sealed tight and his cheeks flushed red with blood, matching his fiery hair. In a harsh tone, sounding suspiciously like Owen when Rusty first called his art Freerunning, Rusty said to Lee, “How long?”

Lee, surprised and taken aback by the total reversal of Rusty’s normal personality, said quizzically, “Uh, the camera? Like, when I found it? Five minutes, I guess, I don’t kn-”

Rusty interrupted Lee’s clumsy words and nearly spat his words onto Lee, stepping forward and screaming into his friend’s face, “No you ass****! Jenna! How long have you been going out with Jenna!?”

Lee acted genuinely surprised and tried to hustle backwards away from the fuming Rusty. “Wha, what? What are you talking about? I’m not hooking up with her, do you think I’d even have a chan-”

“I JUST SAW YOU LEE! I just saw you and her and, and, and everything! Was the whole camera thing just an excuse to get me to leave? Oh my god you little, backstabbing…!”

Lee, finally realizing the gravity of the situation and seeing himself backed into a corner, slumped his shoulders and said quietly, “I, I’m sorry man. It, uh, jeez, it just kind of happened, you know? Jenna and I started hanging out and one thing led to another and…”

“What?! You knew I liked her Lee, you knew better than anyone else! You were my friend Lee, I trusted you! And this, this s**t is how you repay me?!”

“Look, Rusty, I’m sorry, I really am. I was going to tell you but you haven’t been around. You’ve disappeared man, nobody sees you anymore. I called you a bunch of times because Jenna wanted to hang out with us but you never replied. So it was always me and her and, well, like I said…”

“I don’t believe this, I don’t freaking believe this! You know what, forget you Lee! Forget you and your backstabbing, skinny little ass. I’m out of here!” Rusty turned in a fury and stomped his way to the nearest exit, elbowing pedestrians out of his way left and right. Lee called out from behind him but Rusty’s rage was so great, so deep, that all the sounds around him died away. He was left in a quiet, eerie world, drifted away into his own personal hell. He didn’t remember the walk to the station, the train ride home, nor the single hot tear that scalded his cheek as he walked down the road to his home. The orange and gold sunset silhouetted his hunched over form as he climbed the few stairs to his doorway, the warm summer air showing no sign of breaking for the night.

Rusty entered the house and immediately made a beeline for the staircase, to lock himself in his room and forget he ever knew Lee or Jenna or anyone else in the entire world. But just as he was starting to climb the steps a stocky woman who looked to be in her late thirties but who was probably slightly older, with short reddish-brown hair and emerald green eyes, came from the kitchen around the corner and spied him, saying, “Rusty, you’re home early. You said you wouldn’t be back till at least after dark.”

Rusty muttered something about not feeling well and his mother said, in that classically mother-like tone, “What Rus? What did you say?”

Rusty’s voice snapped and cracked the general quiet, screaming “I said I wasn’t feeling well, okay!? Can I go upstairs to my room now?!”
Rusty mother was shocked. Never, not even once in his seventeen years, had Rusty raised his voice in such a way to her. He had always been kind to her, especially after the death of her husband, his father. He had taken on the role of man-of-the-house quite well and was always patient and helpful, even when other teenagers were dying their hair pink and blasting modern rock on overpriced stereos. To snap like he had, something extreme was happening.

“Russell Klein! What was that? What’s wrong?”

“NOTHING! I just don’t feel like talking! I’m skipping dinner tonight, see you in the morning.”

“Didn’t you say you had work at the scrap yard in the morning? Do you want me to wake you?”

At the mention of the scrap yard Rusty stopped climbing the stairs and gripped the hand railing tight, remembering the lie he had told her. He had needed a way to cover up his constant conditioning sessions and times away from home, something that would explain his filthy appearance and growing muscle each day. He had settled on an imaginary place on the outskirts of town called Frank’s ScrapYard, a metal recycling plant. Knowing he couldn’t let his rage blow his cover, he quickly said, “No, no, that’s okay. I, I think I ate something bad at the convention center. Don’t get me up. I’m going to just sleep it off, okay?”

Rusty’s mother, as intuitive as she usually was, was too worried about his sudden outburst to notice how poor his lie actually appeared. Giving him a nod and her okay, Rusty finally made into his small bedroom and collapsed onto the wooden framed bed, eyes glazed and tired. Tomorrow he wondered. Tomorrow is the test. And today. Today was supposed to be the fuel. I can’t cancel it; this might be my only chance. But after Lee and Jenna…damn it. Just…damn it.

And there Rusty stayed, staring at the pale blue ceiling above him, until the sky outside grew black with night and the clock clicked by from midnight to two am to four. Before he knew it, Rusty rolled over and realized it was nearly dawn. He had to be leaving now or he’d never make it to the place on time. He hadn’t slept at all.

“Just…damn it” he thought.
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Written by Paul Mederos   
Thursday, 09 July 2009 10:19
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:43