PART IV: FATE IS A CRUEL AND EFFICIENT TUTOR
Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall
Atlantic City, NJ
Unsteadily, a baby deer on ice may have been able to hold themselves to a higher degree of coordination, as another bloody handprint was smeared across another painted concrete wall searching desperately for purchase.
Amber couldn’t find the air to speak, although her jaw surely tried as though mouthing her thoughts while trying desperately to squeeze a gasp of air past her intentions. A stolen moment as her knees met the floor recklessly once again, sprawling in a concerted attempt to get anywhere faster than her body might allow.
Screaming pain radiating from the centre of her bones did little to hinder, no background noise to the ferocious guilt that cried a malevolent wail through her nervous system. Forcing herself forward on autopilot, headed to the one place that she’d promised forever – only to walk away when she realised forever didn’t mean what she thought it had.
How wrong she’d quickly understood herself to be.
How desperately she’d wanted to change.
How much she’d acted as predictably as expected.
That hurt worse than the bruises and potentially broken bones, hurt worsre than the cut across her cheek that seeped steadily in crimson interweaving into the tangled mane she’d become so recognizable for.
From his slumped vantage point sat on a creaking folding chair, wrinkled hands tapping along the impeccable crease lines running down the front of his trousers, Earl blew his cheeks out with a chestful of air held too long inside a bony ribcage. He glanced over to see Amber stumble around the breezeblock corner, bleeding and mouthing something unintelligible.
Levering himself up with a wince, SCW’s Senior Official didn’t bother to do anything so absolute – and foolish – as try to impede the redhead’s path. Instead, he just shook his gnarled head from off to the side.
“You won’t find him, Miss Ryan,” He said simply. There was still blood on the old man’s fingers. Fexxfield’s blood.
“All of this …” He continued, “Got something to do with that strange woman? One with the hidden face? Saw her back here while you were still out there, once they wheeled Terryl back in.”
He sighed. “Don’t think even Ramona and Devlin as a duo roughed him up as badly as he was just now.”
“Speaking of roughed up …” Earl said with obvious concern painted all across his features. “Want me to fetch a trainer, or a doctor or maybe both?”
Wheeling around like a virulent crimson whirlwind, Amber was almost upon the Senior Official before he could react in any meaningful way. A wild eyed panic barely veiled by the vicious snarl that crossed her features, as the demand for any kind of explanation tried to cross her lips.
“Where is he…”
Through ragged breaths, the blood slowly soaking through the edge of her shirt – torn away towards the collar bone and stained a thickly smeared red.
“You have to tell me…”
Words didn’t come easily, disjointed as her racing thoughts. Hands gripped firmly at the older man's collar as her fiery mane fell across her face like a wall of static flames.
“Miss Ryan, please… I have to insist–”
Infuriated by the response being anything but an affirmation or direction, Amber’s hands dropped from his collar and pressed deeply into his chest as she used him to push off, handprints staining in viscose crimson.
A stagger, then another as knees desperate for reprieve and equilibrium startled way too far to the left to be right. Grasping hands clutched towards anything that might provide a momentary stability as she fought against her own body towards the only place that seemed to make sense.
“I have to…”
Syllables trailed as the thought dissipated in the fight to remain mostly vertical – and failing as the concrete floor met her faster than she imagined. Crawling for the last few feet, the name plastered on the door slipped like a cold hand between her ribs and wrapped a set of icy fingers around whatever was left in her chest with an aching squeeze.
‘Atlantic City Champion - Terryl Fexxfield’
… Not anymore.
... because of her.
Slickened hands shook as they pulled on the handle, trying to seize verticality before it was swept out from beneath her as the door opened with little resistance. Too little.
“I have to tell him…”
It wasn’t even directed anymore, a subconscious stream of thought as fractured and disjointed as the woman they were spilling from, wrought with guilt and failing determination to hold it at bay. Amber’s sprawling hands found blood on the carpet, still damp from the earlier scuffle – however, in spite of the heavy staining that spread further across her skin, that wasn’t what had caught her eye upon an unstable entry.
She tried to pull herself back to a state of normality, even if on her knees wasn’t where she’d intended. A stream of clear cut through the seeping red on her cheek, mirrored by one on the other side – shoulders slumped forward with heaving breaths as the dam started to visibly break. A fedora, worn to hell and stained at the rim in a thick crimson that had seemed to pool – taken up by a hand that shook so badly that she could barely hold a grip, yet she balanced it into her lap. Supremely unaware and entirely uncaring of the small audience that had followed her bloody trail.
Frustration gave way to something else as the deafening background buzzing of activity was pierced by the heart wrenching scream of a woman whose broken heart could no longer shatter into any smaller pieces, cradling the reminder of what she’d been so willing to sacrifice as though it were precisely what she had wanted from the start.