Rise-Chapter Seven- Gabriel Arnold

By Gabriel Arnold

Rusty's goal is set and his training has become fierce, but will he push it too far? Will he start to lose sight of what matters most...?
Scretccch…raatcchhh…shaattshh… Steady, rhythmic scratching filled the air, the unusual tones mixing with the far off wails of the city night. It was the scratch of shoes on thick walls, the sound that all practitioners have burned into their ears. Huff…huff…rraahh…ahhh… Next the sounds of strain and challenge, of hands bit by concrete edges and lungs burning for a full breath. Inch by inch, fingers shaking under his weight, a young redheaded man shimmied himself along. His shirt was stained with sweat, his eyes locked on the final lip several feet to his right. With one last trembling reach, Rusty caught the metal capped edge of the roof and hauled himself up over the side, elbows and toes clawing for a solid ground.
It was late October and the night was unusually warm, though the wind was cool. Rusty sat on the edge of the roof, gazing north toward the neon lights of downtown. Banner blimps hovered over the cityscape, and skywalks crisscrossed the buildings like strands of spider webs, connecting everything. It had rained earlier that day and stray streams of light bounced off the wet solar panel arrays that lined the city limits. The City. To Rusty it appeared as a steel and glass jewel, lit by light from within. It was past midnight, but the city never slept. Rusty’s aching legs dangled over the side as they had done months earlier at the tower in Notre Endroit. This building that he had scaled was only half the height of that tower, but this was the third time tonight he had made the ascent. The breeze shifted Rusty’s long hair, blowing damp bangs into his eyes. He didn’t bother to pull them away. He was simply too tired.
He had felt this a lot lately, this feeling of exhaustion. For nearly the past two months he had been training nonstop, seven days a week. Afternoons after school were spent drilling techniques in the park and on school grounds, away from the eyes of others. His nights consisted of homework and late night conditioning, when his mother wouldn’t hear the endless reshufflings of exercises big and small. Saturdays he practiced with Kirra and Owen, though mostly with Kirra, learning new movements and refining old ones. Sunday mornings and afternoons he spent with his mother, to avoid suspicion of his activities. But Sunday nights, like tonight, he disappeared into the dark, far past curfew. He went to run the empty streets of his neighborhood, to train and climb amongst its playground, and to dream of the glory of winning and the possibilities waiting for him in The City.
Falling slowly back to Earth from his dreamland, Rusty picked himself up and worked his way back down the side of the apartment building. It was rough going and Rusty realized too late that his forearm muscles had been fatigued so much that they could no longer hold his weight. Cramping and locking up, Rusty could only watch as his grip failed and he slipped off the window ledge. Luckily he was only on the first floor. He fell backward and landed with a plastic thud in a large garbage bin below, sinking into the mounds of black, stinking trash.
“Yuck!” he moaned as he fought to free himself from the rotting banana peels. He grabbed hold of the side, stepping out, and dropped down to the street, picking sticky wrappers off his clothes. “So much for this shirt,” he said. “But I wonder why my hands gave out…that’s never happened before.” Too tired to think much more on the subject, Rusty wiped his hands on his pants and turned to leave the alley, heading back to home.               
“Russel…WAKE UP!”
The scream snapped Rusty to full attention. Sitting up faster than a rocket, Rusty looked with bleary eyes at the source of the sound. It was Mr. Grant, his biology teacher, standing over his desk.
“Sorry, did I wake you? I know cell division isn’t exactly riveting material, but you could at least TRY to hide your naps, instead of drooling all over my desk.” It was true enough; there was a good-sized puddle of drool smack dab in the center of the wood. “Now then, maybe you could tell me in which phase of mitosis the cell’s centromeres divide. Well Rusty?”
Rusty balled his fists in panic. He hadn’t gotten through the latest chapter yet. He had left earlier than usual last night to find a suitable building for climbing training. Feeling a cold sweat start to break out on his forehead, Rusty was saved by another voice behind him.
“The answer is Anaphase.”
“Thank you, Lee. At least somebody read the chapter. Right, anaphase, in which the cell’s…”
Mr. Grant’s voice trailed off as he walked back to the head of the class. Lee’s voice behind Rusty, however, chimed back in. “Rusty, man, you look terrible. What have you been doing to yourself?”
Rusty didn’t even bother to turn around. It was bad enough the class had assigned seats and he was being forced to be near Lee. Rusty didn’t want to have to talk to him too. “Forget it Lee, don’t worry about it.”
Rusty could hear Lee leaning forward, trying to make his point more sincere. “Look, I know you still hate me, but I’m telling you this because you need to hear it. You look like hell.”
 Rusty gazed into the monitor of his desk’s computer. Though shut off at the moment, the screen was reflective enough to give Rusty a fair depiction of his face.  Lee was right. Though his body looked to be in the best condition yet, his face told another story. Dark circles under his eyes. Creases at the edges of his mouth that had never been there before. Hair messy and dull. In fact, he looked like that old rock star from the 90’s, right before he died. What was his name…oh yeah. Kurt Cobain.
“Whatever Lee, I’m fine. Just been training hard.” To win the Pro/Am competition and steal your girlfriend, Rusty silently added in his head.
“Well, whatever it is, it’s wrecking you. Maybe you should take a break…”
“I’m FINE!” Rusty quietly hissed through his teeth, effectively ending the conversation. Slumped in his seat, Rusty was fuming, thinking about the last week or so. First his mother pestering him about his sour looks and why he never hung out with friends anymore. Then the leg spasms last Wednesday. Then Kirra warning him about overtraining while Owen scolded his lack of focus on Saturday. Then the hand slip last night, and finally, Lee rescuing him only to say he looked like crap. What the hell was everybody’s problem lately? Why couldn’t they just let him be himself?
Lee shifted back into his seat and finished by adding softly, “I’m sorry. Just trying to be a friend again Rus…”
The rest of the week passed uneventfully, but Rusty’s exhaustion only grew worse. He was being forced to scale back his workouts, and falling asleep in class was becoming more and more of a problem. The ending bell on Friday rang sharply and Rusty limped out the front doors, nursing a swollen ankle he had rolled slightly the day before. It had been such a simple precision too! Deciding that he simply didn’t have the energy to train normally, Rusty chose to take the afternoon off and make up for it that night in his room.  Perhaps with an extra set of pushups.
The sunset was early now, and by the time Rusty stepped off his train onto his home street it was nearly dark. Coming up the front porch steps, Rusty shuffled in through the door, but just as he entered the house he heard a scream from the backyard. A woman’s scream.
His mother’s scream.
Tensing in the moment of true panic, Rusty dropped his bag at the door and sprinted through the house, swerving around the kitchen table and bursting out through the screen door in the back. Wasting no time, he leaped over the banister of the tiny porch they owned, placing one hand on the wood and speed vaulting the barrier in one fluid motion. He landed on the grass below and rolled out perfectly, coming up in a top speed sprint. Again he heard his mother cry out, this time calling his name. She sounded like she was in pain.
The family yard was not large but it shared ground with the home across the way.  There was a five foot fence that crossed the center, dividing the single run into two sections. Hearing the scream from the other side of the fence, Rusty popped over the top and dropped down the other side, landing seamlessly, as if his ankle didn’t hurt at all.
His mother was standing there, waiting for him. Nothing seemed to be wrong, except the look of utter fury in her sharp, green eyes. Suddenly Rusty knew the score and knew the game was over. His mother had tricked him into using his new skills to ‘save’ her. There was no way he could have moved that fast and fluidly without PKFR training, and both Rusty and his mother knew it. He was screwed.    
“I knew it,” his mother said coldly. “I knew you were hiding it from me.”
Rusty tried to play dumb. “Hide what mom?”
“Don’t you dare play dumb Russell, don’t you dare! You know exactly what I mean!”
No use anymore. Rusty’s shoulders slumped and his head hung low. “I…I’m sorry mom. It’s just, it’s just…”
“It’s just nothing!” his mother cried. “You’ve been learning PKFR! Even after everything that’s happened to us because of it! You lied to me, you lied about everything!”
Rusty wanted to curl up and die. “Mom, please, I didn’t want to hurt you. This is just something I wanted…”
“You WANTED? Russell…that sport…is a death wish. Over twenty people in the last decade have died while training, your father included. You want to die too, is that it?”
“No mom, please, hear me out. This is what I’ve been missing. This is what I needed. I’m…I’m happy doing this.”
“Not another word, not another word! I knew I shouldn’t have let you have anything to do with PKFR, not even watch it. No, no this does it. You’re finished. As of now, consider yourself on lockdown. No computer, no television, no trips outside the house, nothing, till after the new year.”
Suddenly Rusty looked up, shocked. “What?! That’s ridiculous! Mom, you can’t be serious, PKFR is the best thing that’s ever happened to me! I’m stronger, faster, smarter. It’s making me better!’
“At what cost, huh Russell? You never see your friends anymore, you’re tired all the time. You’re injured every week. Don’t think I haven’t seen you nursing bruises and limping around the house. Recycling scrap yards aren’t that tough. Soon enough you’ll be hitting bigger obstacles, bigger jumps. You expect me to sit at home, waiting to hear how my son fell to his death like his dreamer father? No, I won’t. So forget it, you’re through.”
Rusty’s voice grew louder, loud enough to match his mother. “Don’t talk about dad like that! You can’t stop me from doing this! I’m not stupid, not a little kid. I’m not a child!”
Out of nowhere, Rusty’s cheek began to burn. It took several seconds for him to comprehend that he had just been slapped, slapped by his own mother. Placing a hand on his stinging cheek, Rusty looked up into his mother’s eyes and saw…tears. Though the fury had not left her face, his mother had tears welling up in her eyes, threatening to start running down her own red cheeks. Slowly, almost trembling in her speech as if on the verge of sobbing, Rusty’s mother said,
“You are my child Rusty. You’re the only thing I have left. Please, don’t do this. If you want to keep training, if you want to become a Runner…you might as well leave this house now.” Rusty had heard his mother speak enough times to know when she was deadly serious. He didn’t even try to argue his point any further. With the angry weight of all his recent frustrations fueling him, Rusty stepped away slightly. He raised his chin and said defiantly,
“Fine. I’m gone.”
Then he went back into the house, packed as much of his belongings into a duffel bag as he could fit, picked up his backpack from the front door, and left.   

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Written by Janine   
Tuesday, 29 September 2009 14:04
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:44