Rise - Chapter Thirteen - Gabriel Arnold

By: Gabriel Arnold

Chapter 13 – RISE

 

“Lee, don’t you know any back roads?”

“This is the back road. Unless you want to get out and run across car roofs.”

Rusty grew quiet and pressed his face against the window glass, trying to get a look ahead. Lee tried to keep his eyes on the bumper in front of him but was forced to glance over before saying, “That was a joke, Rusty. Please stay in the car.”

The redhead smiled and sank back into the fake leather seat. “I know, I know” he said, not at all convincingly, “I’ll behave.”

“Just save your energy till we get there, you’re going to need it.”

Rusty nodded in agreement and leaned forward to pull a brochure off the dashboard. Emblazoned across the front were the words “New Year’s PRO/AM” in huge neon colors. He flipped open the cover and browsed through the program listing, seeing for the first time the lineup of the day’s action. Turning the brochure over in his hands, Rusty spoke up and said, “So after we get past registration where do I go next? They’re always changing these things up every year.”

Lee reached his right arm over and tapped at the small map on the back page. “You need to head to the school for the first PK round at noon. Because of the number of Runners this year they had to break up all the categories into PK and FR rounds, like the Nationals do.”

“So there’s the speed PK runs today and the freestyle FR runs tomorrow. But the speed runs aren’t as popular, everybody just wants to see the tricks.”

“Yeah well tell this traffic that the speed runs aren’t as popular this is ridiculous.”

Rusty tossed the brochure back on the dashboard. “They should just separate them and make the PK runs more realistic.”

“Well they can’t call it PKFR without the PK. Look we already talked about this. Just blow away the competition in the first half and you can squeeze by the freestyle rounds in third or fourth and still win.”

Rusty nodded in agreement again and pulled out his cell phone to check the time. 10:10, they had to hurry to make the amateur registration deadline at the school in the next twenty minutes. He looked back up from the screen just in time to see a souped-up scooter fly past his car door, nearly taking out the side mirror. “Maybe we should have left before dawn…” Rusty said.

“You think?!” Lee muttered loudly as he jabbed at his horn. He cranked the wheel hard to his left and edged out around a slow moving line, only to end up in another stalled lineup. “Every damn year! I’ll never get used to this traffic.”

Nineteen minutes later Rusty and Lee sprinted across the high school’s football field and into the registration tent set up in the center, Lee huffing hard but Rusty relatively unfazed. The tent was enormous, with a high canopied roof and probably over a hundred people milling around, a vast collection of fans, competition workers, and Runners. Jogging up to the Boys 18 and Under table, Rusty fished out his pass and just managed to get into line as the clock struck 9:30. He handed his ticket to the seated woman and said, “Russell Klein, non-sponsored Runner, for the Amateur Combine Event.”

The blond haired woman smiled and took the pass from Rusty, scanning it with her data reader and tapping out a few brisk commands on the computer screen next to her. “Russell Klein huh? JK’s son? I’ve been hearing a lot about you, we were starting to worry you wouldn’t make it.”

Rusty shrugged his shoulders and said matter-of-factly “Here I am.”

The woman smiled again and handed Rusty his Runner ID for the day’s event. “So you are. You’ll be the last Runner in your group. Please head to site #5 for the event briefing, it should be starting soon. Good luck out there, the competition looks heavy.”

Rusty thanked her and stuffed the ID into his pocket as he turned away. Slipping his way past the throngs of people near the door, Rusty met back up with Lee and asked “I have to get moving or I’m going to miss the briefing. You good on your own for now?”

Lee laughed and said “Of course, this isn’t my first Pro/Am. I’m meeting up with Jenna in a bit to watch the 18 and Under pros at site #4. We’ll be sure to get front row spots to watch you at noon.”

Rusty grinned and adjusted his duffel bag. “Thanks Lee. I’ll see you later.”

But before he could turn and leave Lee reached out and touched Rusty on the shoulder. Rusty stopped and saw that Lee had a grim look on his face, a rarity for the cheerful man. In an awkward start Lee said, “Um, Rus, I…I’m sorry about all the stuff that happened before. I should have told you about Jenna.”

Rusty’s eyes widened and he stood still, blindsided by the sudden apology. But he quickly recovered and said in reply “Don’t worry, I overreacted. Neither of us has much to be proud of, I’ve been acting pretty bitchy myself.”

Lee smirked and wiped the grim look from his face. “Yeah but you’ve always been kind of a bitch.” He held out his hand and said “We good?”

Rusty clasped his callused hand around Lee’s and smiled back. “Yeah, we good. Just make sure you bring Jenna by so I can show you up.”

Lee knocked Rusty’s hand away and laughed. “Yeah yeah, whatever. Get going man, you’re going to be late for your own coming out party.”

And with that Rusty turned on his heel and ran off through the crowds, nimbly stepping around any and every obstacle in his path.

He arrived at site #5 minutes later and was forced to a standstill by the awesome spectacle laid out before him. According to the map, this site was actually the high school’s science hall, a four story building made of brick and glass that dominated the south end of the campus. But now the entire front of the building and its grass lawn was dominated by a patchwork of steel pipes and plastic composite panels, transforming the hall into a crazy scaffold, a seemingly random assortment of levels, landings, ropes and metal connections, each one of differing size and shape. Rusty could only stand and stare at the possibilities.

Snapped back to reality by the screech of a bullhorn, Rusty jogged over to the large group of kids his age who were gathering at the raised judges’ booth nearby the scaffolding. A portly man with grey streaked hair and mirrored sunglasses, totally out of place in the cloudy overcast weather, stood at the railing and called for everyone to quiet down and pay attention.

“All right listen up! First off, welcome to the first day of this year’s Pro/Am. This area for Amateur Boys 18 and Under, PK round, so if you’re in the wrong place, better leave now. I know most of you know the rules and what to do already but I have to read through the list for insurance reasons.”

“The aim of the contest is simple: get to the top of the structure, hit the buzzer, and get back down to the start line as fast as possible. The only requirements are that you stay within the front section marked in red. Everyone gets a single run, best time wins. If you injure yourself in any serious way, leave the marked course, or fail any other requirements, you will be disqualified.”

“Runs begin at twelve-noon sharp. If you’re not in position when your name is called you forfeit the run. As is customary, everyone will get the thirty minutes before start time to inspect and recon the course. Use it wisely. Till then warm up, stay loose and good luck!”

Left alone once again, the crowd of nearly thirty kids turned to leave, most bursting at the seams with pent up energy. Standing at what was once the back of the circle Rusty suddenly felt dozens of pairs of eyes staring at him. Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, one of the younger looking Runners ran up to him, practically stepping on his toes, and said exuberantly “You, you’re Rusty Klein right? THE Rusty Klein?”

Rusty took a step back and pulled loose hair from his eyes saying “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Dude!” the young kid exclaimed, “I’ve seen you on TV! You’re totally going to kick ass here, we might as well give you the title right now.” Several other Runners began chiming in, adding to the first kid’s remarks. Pretty soon Rusty was surrounded on all sides by a sea of faces, some asking for his autograph, some trying to ask him for tips, and still others jeering him and saying he didn’t look all that good.

Overcome by the onslaught, Rusty pushed his way through the crowd and ran to the fenced off spectators’ section, hopping the rail in a single jump and disappearing as fast he could in the maze of bodies. This was not what he wanted. He wasn’t some prodigy, some long lost hero. This wasn’t about the contest, wasn’t about winning. Was it?

Rusty continued walking through the crowd until a brilliant flash of color lit up against the dull grey air caught his eye. Picking his head up, he was just in time to see a lean, muscled woman in her mid to late twenties coming towards him. She had incredibly frizzy hair, a deep tan, and wore a simple outfit of loose sweats and a tight sweatshirt, all angelically white and pristine.

It was Kirra.

“What the hell, Kirra?! What are you doing here?”

Coming to a stop a few feet away, the tall woman smiled a big toothy grin and said “I’m here to watch you, Rusty. Why else?”

Rusty was floored. “But, but, I thought you and Owen, you hated competitions.”

Kirra pushed her hands into her pockets and leaned back and forth on her heels, grinning the entire time. “Well, Owen hates competition. And I’m not a fan of the Freestyle events but…I can’t say no to a good PK run, even if it is really contrived. I mean, I told you before; I used to train the Olympic level Runners. I have a soft spot for this sort of thing, even if it goes against Owen’s idea of Parkour.”

Rusty started to recover from his shock and realized he had a golden opportunity on his hands. “Then, would you mind doing me a favor? Could you take a look at the course with me, from the sidelines? I’d like your advice on what the fastest way up and down would be.”

“Sure Rusty, let’s go look.”

It was nearly noon and Rusty was perched on the top of the science hall roof, gazing out over the world below. Stretched out directly below him was a hive of activity, as thirty-plus Runners and officials crawled over the step-like scaffolding, each man testing the sturdiness of the panels, the slickness of the rails, estimating distances and practicing drops. Farther out laid the spectators section at the edge of the grass lawn and the judges’ booth off to the left. The starting line was just to the right center of the spectators’ area, with the Runners’ waiting section directly across from the judges on the right.

Even further out Rusty could see the numerous other sites, each one variations on the same course he presided over now, each one incorporating different aspects of the buildings and environments the school offered. Out near the front courtyard sat the freestyle course, covered up with sheets and plywood to disguise its size and shape. No one would be allowed to see the exact design until tomorrow morning, so that no one could prepare runs ahead of time.

The biggest crowds were gathering at sites #1 and 2, the Pro sites. A few PK rounds had already gotten underway and Rusty could see small individual Runners taking their chance, hear the cheering fans and the faint buzz as the contestants reached the summit of their respective courses. Rusty sat next to the small podium that held the red button, the summit of his course. He had been sitting there, silently, for the last fifteen minutes, ignoring all the commotion around him.

He and Kirra had scouted the area for past hour and Rusty practically knew the layout by heart. The course started as a simple series of five foot square ascending platforms, each one about six feet high and all connected to create a staircase effect to the second floor. From there the scaffolding took over and things became more vertical, with the contestant relying more on wall scaling and possibly pipe climbing to continue on to the third story. At that point the only option up was either a rope climb attached to the building’s side or a series of tiny ledges that allowed a Runner to cat leap repeatedly up and over the roof lip.

Going back down was relatively simple in that all a Runner had to do was reverse his process and make sure he didn’t fall too far at any one time. The science building itself was a piece of the equation in that objects like window sills and path lights were in the middle of the course and available for use should the contestant need them.

Soon enough an air horn sounded and the man with the sunglasses called for all Runners to come down off the course and line up in their numbered order. As soon as he had said that Rusty noticed that several cameramen suddenly appeared, each one taking up various spots throughout the course while others ran around on ground level. The monitors near the spectators flickered on and showed the course from every possible angle. Rusty was confused at first why there seemed to be twice as many cameras at this site as the other amateur sites until one of the screens showed a close up of his face and the entire crowd cheered wildly.

“Oh right,” Rusty said quietly to himself, “They’re here for me.”

Within ten minutes all of the Runners were in position. The judges took their seats and the announcer blared on the microphone, whipping the crowd into frenzy. It was an incredible experience for Rusty, standing at the back of the pack, feeling and hearing the vibrations and sounds from hundreds of feet and voices simultaneously, while he did his best to appear as uninteresting as possible.

Leaning against a low brick wall near the edge of the site, Rusty couldn’t help but chuckle to himself and roll his eyes. He didn’t know how his fellow Runners were ordered, whether they were numbered according to ability or by their check-in time. But judging by the performances of the first dozen or so, it should have been ability. They were, for lack of a better word, horrible. Rusty watched the close-ups on the monitors and could see problems in technique and physical conditioning instantly. Arms were flailing during drop downs, stutter steps abounded, climb ups were weak and uncoordinated, and even though they were called Runners, none of them had even passable running form.

It was only as the day wore on that Rusty began to see serious competition. As the numbers passed into the twenties several contestants were posting times that Rusty knew would be hard to beat. And even though he was spoiled by seeing the flawless footwork of Owen for months before hand, even Rusty had to admit there was great talent and potential.

It was well past two o’clock till Rusty’s number was finally called. Stepping lightly up to the starting line, Rusty cast a shifty gaze on the leader time so far: just over thirty-five seconds. Rusty silently bet himself he could do it in fewer than thirty. He pulled his long hair back, set it in place with a rubber band, and breathed deeply. The air was chill and white fog hissed from his lips. Rusty unzipped his jacket and let it fall to the ground, revealing the war torn RISE T-shirt beneath.

The response was incredible. Camera flashes went off like machinegun fire and his fellow Runners began jumping up and down, pointing excitedly and screaming at each other “That shirt, that shirt!” The announcer and the crowd roared behind him but everything else in Rusty’s world seemed to fall away, piece by piece. His vision tunneled into his planned path, all other objects blurring into a formless mass. Blood thumped in his ears and drowned out all but the electronic beeps of the countdown. His palms were dry and fingers ready but a cold film of sweat encased his forehead and neck. There was no room for error anymore. Far away, barely cutting through the static, Rusty could hear Kirra calling out “Don’t think, react! Just MOVE!”

The signal light flashed green and Rusty tore off the start line, arms pumping and legs churning for all they were worth. His sneakers bit chunks of earth from the grass below his feet and propelled him onward like a cannon. Within seconds he had cleared the run up lane and the first series of obstacles appeared. Unlike earlier contestants who had been forced to slow and hesitant coming into the walls, Rusty barreled forward and upward, never breaking stride. His hands clamped down on the plastic panels and, even though they were slick from previous attempts, he flew up and onto their tops in fluid, single sweeps.

As he approached the vertical section of the course, Rusty suddenly veered off the path taken by the majority of the competitors and went to the least modified section of the building face he could find. Rusty ran toward an exposed beam and tic-taced off the metal surface, rocketing himself up to a windowsill ten feet above the platform. Continuing the motion, he pulled himself up higher and higher along the window’s edges till he kicked off a scaffolding support pole and landed on the third and final level.

Rusty wasted no time and rushed toward the hanging ropes that led to the roof. But instead of coming at them straight on and going up hand over hand like the others, Rusty ran at a sharp angle close to the wall. As he came up to the thick rope, he grabbed a fistful in each hand and dashed along the building face, pulling the rope with him as if preparing to swing on a vine like Tarzan.

And, in fact, that’s just what he did. Using a spare scaffold edge to get the final height he needed, Rusty leaped into the air and collected the excess rope in his hands. Then he swung, picking up speed and air as he went along, till by the final point of his arc he was nearly level with the roof edge. Reaching out, he snatched at the metal capped roof and held firm, hauling his body up right next to the buzzer podium.

He slammed his fist down on the red button and heard the satisfying ring as the buzzer sounded. Turning back the way he came, Rusty ran out, again coiled the rope in his hands, and literally jumped off the four story roof. This time he really was Tarzan, swinging down and out with such speed and force that he looked completely out of control.

But as he reached the third level platform he released the rope and dropped down, rolling out with perfect timing and maintaining his speed. He came up at a dead sprint and swung down onto a horizontal pipe just below the platform. He let go of the pipe and landed lightly on his feet, never once losing any of the speed he had gained from the rope swing.

Now at this point all of the competitors had done almost exactly the same thing: they had jumped down from platform to platform like Super Mario, one or two rolling their ankles in the high drop attempts. Rusty however completely changed directions and headed away from the platforms, running headlong instead toward the course boundary. Still reeling from the never before seen Tarzan swing, the crowd was stunned into silence at Rusty’s final stunt.

With no hesitation and no safety rope like before, Rusty again launched out into space, still a full two stories off the ground. He could hear the wind ripping at his hair as he flew. Then, just as it appeared that Rusty had lost his mind and committed his last leap of faith, a light pole came into view.

Latching onto the cold steel tube, he slid down the pole like he did a week earlier in the Ironside Projects, slashing his run’s descent time by over half. He touched down on solid ground and sprinted back to the finish line, breaking the tape and stopping the clock at thirty seconds flat. He collapsed to the ground in an exhausted heap, chest heaving and eyes wide with adrenaline.

He had done it - first place.

If the cinematic reveal of the legendary RISE shirt cause an uproar, Rusty’s win was like an atom bomb going off. Never before had a contestant so fully and creatively used the environment to conquer the obstacles and defeat the clock. The Runners and the crowd descended on Rusty’s fallen body like a pack of wolves, lifting him up and cheering with reckless abandon. Rusty tried to remain stoic but couldn’t fight his happiness a second longer. He raised both fists in the air and screamed with joy, watching the grey sky shift and fly by as he was carried surf-style past the judges’ booth and toward the main event concourse.

All over the Pro/Am monitors were cutting short their current feeds and showing replays of the unprecedented, reckless run and live footage of the celebration. Though only an amateur run, the reaction was nearly as great as if Andre Levy himself had suddenly arrived ahead of schedule.

Lost in the heat of the moment, Rusty was jarred back to consciousness when he felt a microphone shoved into face and a reporter ask him “Rusty, Rusty! Truly you are your father’s son! Can we expect the same history making performance tomorrow in Freestyle?”

Freestyle. Freerunning. The word shot through Rusty’s brain and exploded in a rain of piercing shrapnel. Tomorrow was the big one, the real draw of the Pro/Am. As incredible as today’s run was it was still little more than an appetizer, the preliminaries of the event. Only the hardcore followers came out to see the speed runs. Tomorrow morning the tournament grounds would be crawling with thousands of thrill seeking fans. All wanting to see the best of the best The City had to offer.

And Rusty still didn’t know how to do a single flip…

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Written by Janine   
Sunday, 28 March 2010 19:00
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:44