One Bad Night

One bad night is all it takes to change your life forever.

That’s what happens to teenage wrestler, Cuba, when he’s the victim of a brutal hate crime. It’s going to take every bit of endurance this elite athlete’s got to stay in the match, and survive this adrenaline-packed fight during the one night he will never forget.

Our Story Begins...

Cuba’s whole body thuds with each pounding footfall in the night.

Blood sprays off his face.

He sucks in air through his wide open mouth and the taste of hot copper washes up his nose.

Sprinting lopsided with one bare foot and one yellow Nike high-top, he races down the center white line of the barren country road.

Slap-thud. Slap-thud.

In the dark, the shadowy concrete spins underneath him like a too-fast treadmill trying to tilt up and smack his chin, and his legs stumble, trying to push the road back down.

His arms flash ghostly white under a streetlight. Then bam!he has no arms anymore because the inky dark jumps in all around.

Slap-thud. Slap-thud.

There, in the shadows—the gravel entrance for the boat dock.

Cuba turns sharply, his bare foot skidding out from under him on the little rocks, the teeth of a bottle cap snapping into the flesh of his arch like a biting dog.

The bottle cap flies off and Cuba’s still upright and running.

His raw throat tightens like a chokehold. He spits something hard out. It’s a little rock that was stuck in his cheek.

Blood’s in his eye now, squishing out.

There’s a growl far behind him, an engine revving up.

Now the hairs shoot up his neck like a kill volt of electricity. He tries to run faster on the unstable gravel. The dark shoulders of pine trees loom over him, reaching down to grab him with hairy arms.

A pine bough slaps his face. Whap!

Suddenly the big toe on his bare foot bends underneath him, crushed under the weight of his Missouri Huskers high-school wrestler’s leg, his tendon screaming no. Pain explodes. Even up through the back of his skull as his teeth snap.

Then he is weightless, flying in the dark.

The air smells like wintergreen. Then a bright warm flash of light on impact.

Total stillness.

Total quiet.

# # #

Cuba can’t find his arms.

They’re all tangled up in a knot and straitjacketed around his waist. He knows he’s wiggling his hand because a finger is scratching his lower back.

What’s wrong? Why won’t his brain work right?

In the distance, Monty’s jacked-up Ford F150 truck growls again, rear wheel spinning, stuck in the ditch back on Lohman Road.

Cuba feels a groan vibrate in his throat before he even knows he’s making a sound.

I’m in real slow-mo, he thinks.

There’s the almost full moon hanging with a fuzzy white glow up above the serrated treetops. He just has to reach one arm up toward the sky and then his arms will unwind out of this crazy knot.

His stomach muscles contract. Wrong.Then his shoulder. Wrong.

Then Cuba’s hand finally reaches up to the sky and his fingers are silhouette like a black claw digging out of the grave.

There’s a hot feeling in his ribs, spreading down his stomach and he feels like someone poured hot water on him but he doesn’t have time to check.

Monty’s truck just put out a V6 scream and exploded out of the ditch by the angry sound of  the engine revving and rocks pinging against that metal stop sign.

Some kind of nocturnal bird calls out in the night, disturbed.

Cuba rolls onto his stomach and crawls up on his hands and knees. The gravel pinches the skin under his kneecaps, digging in.

He pulls up into the wrestler’s neutral position on his feet, shoulders square. Now the referee can blow.

Cuba’s going to take the first penetration step. He’s going to psych the opponent out—get fast into position to score because this is the A-show now.

Yeah, that’s it, Cuba thinks. I’m gonna take you down.

But there’s nobody else there on this gravel road. Not even a streetlight. The wind blows a little bit and feathers across his face.

Cuba refocuses his eyes.

Bristol Lake is straight ahead at the end of the drive, reflecting the white light of the moon like ice chips on an oil slick. The boat dock stretches out into the depths, the wooden planks glowing like a single lane runway.

Takeoff, Cuba’s mind says. Take off now!

Running again but there’s a new catch in his hip. One leg feels tight as a rubber band.

Slapthud.

The dark green trees on either side of the road suddenly light up, switching into their sunny happy daytime faces. The shadows slink away like demons on the ground.

Cuba’s still running but he whips his head over his shoulder to glance back. His eyes feel so wide they will never shut.

Monty’s F-150 skids to a stop with a plume of gravelly dust billowing up behind it. The light bar across the cab has four 100 watt blinding halogens.

Cuba turns back toward the lake again but now all he can see are bright fireballs burnt into his retinas.

[End Excerpt]