He couldn’t wait for the fight. The taste of blood was already in his mouth.
Karl sat on the table in the fight preparation room, kneading the stitches still in his elbow.
His trainer, Romar, wore a knowing grin, “Getting too old for this, Karl?”
“Never too old to kick your head in, Romar.”
He knew that wouldn’t be very satisfying, though.
“Right, just maybe if I had a bad elbow too,” Romar chuckled.
Karl continued wrapping his fists. An assistant added milky grease to his face.
“Yeah. I’ll break Ren’s face instead,” he sighed. “Why even try to take my title? You’d think they’d know better by now.”
“You’d start a fight in the streets, if you had to – the promoters find you fresh meat instead. Just don’t make a mess this time.”
Karl shrugged, “It’s what I do.”
He hopped down, the trip to the floor farther than he thought.
He stumbled, recovered and spotted himself in the mirror: a little girl with a ponytail and a yellow dress?!
“Something wrong, soldier?”
“Wrong? Look at me! I’m a little girl! What is going on – what is happening?!”
“Okay, alright, just focus on the fight, friend.”
Karl sputtered in disbelief.
“Fight- I can’t fight! Can’t you see I’m an eight-year-old girl?!”
“Yeah, but you’re our girl, and your wife is depending on you winning this fight,” Romar held up a crystal sphere, the cloudy image of his wife tied and gagged. “Now stop wasting my time and get out there.”
He gaped at the sphere and his memory lurched. He nodded numbly.
Wringing his hands, Karl shuffled to the center arena among hundreds of screaming fans. Everything was so loud and bright. He smoothed his rumpled dress over and over. They all cheered at him, not acknowledging he was no longer a grown man.
Were they all insane?
He swallowed hard as the arena door slammed behind him, and his head spun. He heard a bell clanging miles away, and an enormous muscled hulk charged at him. A taped fist filled his vision, coloring it as blood.
Sound rushed back in. He made out repeated thuds and other wet sounds. The red haze cleared, and he was swinging his own fists wildly, smashing down on the unmoving body beneath him.
The cheering grew even louder.
He stopped short. The body was a little girl, covered in blood and disfigured.
A hoarse choked cry came from his throat. What had he done?! What was this?!
He desperately scooped her limp body up and felt the sobs wracking his chest, hot tears stinging his cheeks. He rocked back and forth, wanting this nightmare to end and knowing that it would not.
Romar and the assistant watched from the front row. Karl knelt in the arena, covered in blood and scars, crying like a baby and hugging yet another dead fighter against himself.
“Ugh, not this again,” Romar shook his head. “Go find his dolly. Oh, and reset the crystal.”