1. casperpearl

    casperpearl New Member

    Mar 29, 2011
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    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by casperpearl, Nov 14, 2013.

    The first time Runner stepped on a landmine, it was an accident. It was his first day on the battlefield, and his comrades were getting sprayed with bullets. He didn’t know which shouts to follow, so he cowered away from the metallic arms snapping necks by their Adam’s apples, and the metallic chests reflecting projectiles, and absolutely everything metallic, because those men, those enemies we was supposed to be killing, they were terminators, and they were goddamn unstoppable.

    Runner got lost in the trees, and he thought he was alone because no one was near, and the shouting and gunfire were so far away, but that’s when it clicked. After it clicked, that’s when it went BOOM.

    He thrashed himself awake inside the finest Seoul hospital, far removed from the front lines. So far, in fact, that instead of ear-shattering blasts, instead of cries and gurgles and metal tings, his ears were treated to a radio down the hall and its lighthearted symphony of gayageum rhythms, daegeum whistles and janggu beats.

    He had successfully made the transition from tragedy to normalcy.

    And then two doctors, one American, the other South Korean, filed into the room and sealed the door. The music became smothered, replaced by something of a quiet storm.

    Something was going on. Runner had lost his right leg, could see it over and over again as a depressing movie scene stuck on loop in his memory. After the BOOM, he was sent to the ground where he watched his limb go flying, disappearing through a mess of treetops.

    The doctors had entered the room as though they were on a diplomatic mission for peace, but Runner wasn’t the enemy—North Korea was.

    The South Korean doctor, Ji-Han as he introduced himself, a tiny thing, handed Runner a folder, and as he skimmed over the pages filled with confusing symbols and graphic photos of a dead soldier and a metallic leg coated in black crust, they asked for his help.

    Runner closed the file, let it fall on his stomach, and raised what remained of his bandaged thigh. It looked like a thick erection, that’s how little was left of it. So he wondered how a broken, one-legged grunt could be of any help in a war against enemies who rolled around the battlefields like boulders.

    The doctors moved forward with their orchestrated presentation, and Ji-Han smiled through the entire thing. Smiled as he referenced the holey and chewed up North Korean in the photos, and smiled as he offered to take the corpse’s cybernetic leg and connect it to this poor amputee.

    Runner would be able to walk again. Run again. Jump again. And Hell, if he gave it a month or two, maybe he’d even forget that he lost the damn thing in the first place.

    Maybe it’d be the best thing that ever happened to him.

    “Of course,” Runner said. He didn’t really care about the details—he was, in fact, a simple-minded kid. All he wanted to know was why his left leg hurt so much. They told him it was probably the fall, and that he’d feel enhanced pain throughout his remaining limbs. To think of it as several glasses filled halfway with water, and each time a glass was taken away, pain, or rather, the water, was emptied into those remaining.

    “Water,” he said, dying of thirst.

    As he gulped his way through three bottles and signed by the Xs on page after page of some release forms, he realized why his leg really hurt so much.

    Back before everyone started telling him what he couldn’t do, Runner had free rides to all of the top track and field colleges. But on one stupid day, one stupid friend made a stupid comment about jumping some stupid creek, and what did Runner do? He tried to leap across the car-long gap, but his vaulting shoe slipped on mossy stone, and he landed right in the middle of the swallow water—his left leg’s tibia and fibula snapping in half upon impact with the rocky bed.

    That’s when the colleges told him he couldn’t go to their schools anymore. That’s why his leg hurt so much—because of the rod and the two pins.


    For a second time, Runner rushed onto the battlefield with a thousand other soldiers. And for a second time, he cowered away from the metallic men. It was hard to tell who was who, especially with all three sides deploying their own versions of terminators.

    Runner knew exactly where to go—where no one else was. He slipped off into the woods, and then he saw the rusted heads poking out of the ground. All he had to do was tip-toe over to one.

    People died in the distance. You could hear it in their voices. Their final words guttural screams. These were his friends and allies. But it’d all be over soon, because the North was losing more men than the South and the United States combined, and there were whispers floating around about the possibility of mass suicide within the high ranks of the enemy.

    And so, when Runner pressed his left foot down onto the pressure plate, he couldn’t help but smile when it clicked, and then BOOM, he was vaulted back into darkness.


    Runner left the hospital on his own two cybernetic legs, ready for a third attempt to do something useful on the battlefield. The third time was always a charm, only the war had ended. Enemies were lying in the fields, groups of good guys going through, stripping each dead and half-dead man clean until all of their cybernetic parts were scavenged. And then those parts were used to fix what remained of the broken and severed South Koreans and Americans.

    Those who were lucky enough to get fixed, would, from that day forward, walk the earth as trophies. Men and women with enemy parts. A cybernetic arm, leg, eye, lung, kidney—everything, you name it.

    Runner returned to camp, his face lit up like his legs, and he strutted amongst his soot-covered comrades. He no longer felt pain below the pelvis, but he did feel it in his elbow—the one he fractured back in grade school. Good lord did it hurt worse than ever.

    Soldiers turned their heads, they gave him high-fives, whistled and slapped him on the back with heavy-hearted comments. Runner not only got blown to Hell once, but he came back for seconds, and even tried for a third.

    What a stone-cold bad ass.

    But one guy wasn’t buying it. Ferris was a hardened soldier on his fourth tour, and during the second assault, as he was shooting two machineguns which seemed too big for human arms, he caught a glimpse of Runner sneaking away from the action. Ducking below bullets and machetes. Even crawling amongst the dead like he was one of them. And when Runner hit the wall of trees, the kid looked back over his shoulder, made sure no one was near, then he hopped up onto his feet and took off.

    He was a deserter. A no-good, rotten, pathetic deserter.


    During PT, Runner zoomed by the group wearing shorts so short one would think he borrowed them from a teenage girl who dressed to broadcast her exploding sexuality.

    Runner’s legs were naked and glowing from the sun. He swung around and jogged backwards, because it wasn’t fair how fast he was. He started yapping about the time he was great, and how every school wanted him, and how he was positioning himself to win the Olympics, and how his mom was going to cheer him on from the stands, because his dad was a deadbeat who abandoned them. His mom said he couldn’t answer when his dad came calling, asking for tickets and eventually money, and Runner agreed. He couldn’t do such a thing, and that was perfectly fine.

    And during this yapping, Ferris shouted like the dying men on the field, “Hey, Private!”

    “Yeah,” shouted Runner who was in the midst of doing some high knees, throwing some jabs, even an uppercut or two. He wanted everyone to see him for what he really was—talented. Special. Perhaps even a celebrity. “What’s up?”

    “How many kills you record?”

    Did it matter?

    “Like seven.”


    Runner slowed, and the group started closing the gap.

    “Yeah, I believe so. Could’ve been more.”

    It was zero. The closest he came was when he almost got himself killed, twice.

    A few unseen heads began snorting out laughs, and as the speedy kid skidded to a halt in the dirt, the group passed him by. Ferris leaned in and shoulder-rammed him off the path, and before he could shout, “What gives?” Ferris had the nerve to say, “You woulda never made the Olympics.”

    And then there Runner was, standing in the grass, blindsided once again and left all alone.


    The colonel’s interest was piqued, so he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to somebody else, and eventually a call was made and a reply came back—it wasn’t good.

    “No,” the colonel said, “sorry, but no. That’s what they told me.”

    “But why?”

    “Because you don’t have legs.”

    “But I do.” He hiked up his fatigues, showed off the polished metal. “See.”

    “Special Olympics, yes, but the real deal, it’s a no go. Sorry, Kid. Sounded like a great underdog story, but that’s life.”

    “What if…”

    The colonel lifted his thick brows.

    “…forget it, I guess.”

    “Good idea, Private.” He bobbed his head up and down. “Go watch some porn or something. It’ll make ya feel better.”

    Runner left just as wounded as those two appearances on the battlefield, but this time he wouldn’t awake inside a nice, stark white room with a new metallic part. He left the colonel’s tent trying to hold himself together. One wrong move and it’d all fall apart, so he was determined to bury his Olympic rejection just as deep as intentionally stepping on that mine.

    But word had already spread, perhaps even before he found out the devastating news himself. One of the somebodys who made a call here or there must have whispered to somebody else. Runner bet they shared a chuckle or two at his misfortune. About how sad he was. About the things he couldn’t do.

    Forget food—Runner was intent on sneaking into his tent and slipping under no less than three layers of blankets. He was going to bury himself, and squeeze his eyes shut, and pray that when he woke up, the doctors would be there, smiling.

    Maybe they’d be there to award him with medals and ribbons and other colorful and shiny things.

    Maybe they’d tell Runner how proud they were, and that they never saw an amputee with so much drive and passion and strength and courage.

    Ferris was inside their tent, waiting like a wolf on that top bunk of his. He was on his knees, sinking into the bed, tossing his hands all about in dramatic fashion. He reenacted that day on the battlefield. Holding two huge machineguns. Spitting out the sounds of bullets. Popping his eyes, his mouth, while impersonating an explosion.

    Ferris was giving his audience an exact play by play as Runner tried to sneak alongside a wall of bunks, but this time he got caught.

    “You really do it?” an audience member said.

    Runner stood up straight and said, “Do what?”

    “Get yourself blown up?”

    “What? No! Why would I do that? You’re nuts.”

    “Jesus Christ, he did,” another audience member said.

    Runner went to shoot back, but Ferris had done his homework. Had prepared for this moment like he had prepared for the war.

    “Hold on a sec,” Ferris said, putting up a fist. Runner gulped. With his other hand, Ferris plucked a photocopied newspaper clipping out of his butt pocket and held it up into the spotlight.

    “If you were so awesome in the past,” Ferris said, “then why’d your mom do it?”

    Runner felt it all over again—that feeling of nothingness, so he did what he did best and started to drift away.

    Ferris let the article fall and used both hands to try and flag the coward down. He yelled, “Wait a minute, bud! At least you still have the special Olympics to fall back on.” He was smiling as big as Ji-Han had when offering over the trophy leg, and as big as Runner had when he stepped on the mine.

    Runner took off, fleeing the tent, and as he did, he wondered how many of his comrades were talking in raised voices about his dead mother and his lack of legs. Talked about all the things he couldn’t do in the past, and all the things he wouldn’t be able to do in the future.


    It cost a measly three dollars to make a cheap landmine, so it wasn’t surprising that 29,000 people were either killed or maimed by the things each year. The war alone should have easily bumped that number by a few thousand.

    There were herds of soldiers sporting metallic parts buzzing throughout the camp. Everywhere you’d look, there’d be a trophy, and behind each one there was a unique story. One kid got his arm slashed off at the elbow by a machete. Another took a sniper’s bullet to the lung. There was even a girl who literally ate a bullet, but then the doctors made it so her smile glowed brighter than before.

    The glow faded from her face when Ferris caught up with her. He spoke in hushes, and said stuff like, “He’s saying a lot of you guys did it,” and, “Lying through his freaking teeth,” and, “I know, I know—I’d be beyond pissed, too.”

    He did this with all of the metallic folks he was able to track down, and with each one, he would first congratulate them, then he’d ask how they were hanging in there, and then he’d say, “Look, I have a ton of respect for you guys,” and then he’d lift his shirt up over his chiseled chest and show off three bullet hole scars lining his abdomen and say, “These almost claimed my life, so I can only imagine what you went through. I only thought it right that you know.”

    Some of those metallics went straight to the source—got right into Runner’s personal space and said, “You think this is a joke?” and, “Where’re your other scars?” and, “Please tell me it’s a lie—I almost died out there.”

    Runner got it that night. Six strangers snuck into his tent, all like him, their shiny limbs reflecting the dimmed LEDs from the lantern in the corner. They beat him with those limbs. Gave him scars to talk about.

    They spit as they hit and kicked and shot him up with shouted whispers.

    They called him a loser. A wannabe. A tard. A piece of shit.

    They talked about how sad it was that they were beating a dead horse—how worthless Runner was, and if they didn’t have futures to look forward to, they would do him a favor and just put him down.

    Instead, they fled the tent, leaving Runner dead on the inside, and as he was lying there, bleeding under the sheets, Ferris whispered, “Karma.”


    He wanted to be transferred was all. Spoke through a pair of fat, busted lips, and had to dab a tissue at his forehead several times to clog a juicy blood bubble.

    Runner said he needed to get away from the source of his nightmares. That he kept seeing his legs flying off and disappearing into the blackened skies. That he fell out of bed because of them, and that’s why his face was so messed up.

    It was the ground’s fault.

    “Question,” the colonel said, standing tall behind his desk, “did you intentionally step on that mine?”

    “No, of course not, why would I?” Runner said.

    “Uh huh,” the colonel said, shaking his head.

    “It’s been hard.”

    “It’s about to get a lot harder.”

    “So does that mean no?”

    “It means Hell no, soldier. You can’t transfer. You can’t get any more time off. You can’t get special privileges because you got yourself blown-up twice. And you sure as shit can’t waltz back in here without me kicking your ass right back out.”

    It was just two short years ago when he missed that stupid jump and all the can’ts started flooding in. No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that. You can’t leave this hospital, and you can’t keep putting pressure on your leg, you fucking idiot!

    His second day home, Runner had to use the only bathroom in his house, so he knocked softly on the door, and his mother said, “Not now.”

    Twenty minutes later, he came back and knocked again, this time saying, “You okay, Mom?”

    Within minutes, he had picked the lock and was hobbling through the crack in the stuck door. It was stuck on his mother’s face-down, colorless body. Runner didn’t know CPR, but he did it anyway. Just how it looked on the TV, only he cracked her sternum by pounding and pounding, all the while, wailing, and shouting through the snot, “Why’s this happening? Someone help me!”

    From that day forward, Runner could never make sense of her suicide. On those too few days when the recruiter was at his school with an arm hung around his shoulder, patting him on the back, inviting him away from his Aunt’s boring house, to go out and watch a game or shoot the shit or be handed a beer and winked at, Runner finally had an escape. Finally had someone resembling a father involved in his life. Finally felt happy and energetic and optimistic.

    But when it was just Runner alone, which was too often, he couldn’t stop his mind from wondering. Wondering if he was all his mother had left, and because of that stupid day when he was laughing and pounding his chest and shooting off sarcastic comments, because of a stupid jump to impress stupid friends, was he actually the one who killed his mother rather than the drugs?

    And that recruiter of his—he really guided Runner in the right direction, didn’t he?

    “Please, I just need to go home,” Runner said, shaking, knowing fully well that he didn’t have a home outside of that camp.

    “Awww, that’s too fucking cute,” the colonel said. “Really, though, the twelve-year-old girl in me pities you. She wants to do things like cuddle and snuggle and paint ponies and butterflies.”


    “But it’s time to pull the tampon out, Private, and get the fuck out of my office, because you can’t go home. You’re stuck here—wanna know why? Because I’ll put you through Hell if you seriously want to leave, and I know you can’t handle that.”

    “Stop telling me what I can’t do.”

    “You can’t give me lip, boy—how’s that?” He made a big, oval smile on that square chin of his. “Hope you enjoy shit jobs, cause you’re assigned to all of them effective immediately. Got any other funny things you wanna say?, cause I’m enjoying the Hell out of this.”

    Runner dropped his head in defeat.

    “Skedaddle,” the colonel said, using the back of his hand to shush Runner away, “and if you’re thinking about wandering off of base like you wandered off of the battlefield, just know that nobody will take you in, because nobody wants to be associated with a deserter.”


    Runner hurried back to his tent, and Ferris was outside the flap in short shorts that would’ve given the ones he wore during PT a run for their money. The prick was oiling his legs, rubbing his meaty hands all over them, and he looked up when Runner’s shadow tried to sneak by, and he grinned, overly pleased with himself.

    Runner was fast. A minute tops. Just grabbed a few things from his bag and shoved them into his pockets before leaving. But he couldn’t just leave without doing something, so he knelt down next to Ferris and said, “You said you have a wife and little kid, right?”

    Ferris dove for his neck, but Runner had hopped out of reach. “Remember that when you’re here, and I’m not.”

    He was fast again, leaping over the base’s barbed fence and fleeing the premises in under two minutes. By the time a search team was dispatched, he had already burrowed too far into the forest.


    Runner made it back to his city, but it was no longer his home. His aunt had switched states, and he didn’t have a father, and his mother, that pathetic druggie, she OD’ed with her own son in the house.

    He had $2,300 to his name and the clothes on his back. Found a rundown box way up on the 29th floor of some complex. Got a tiny mattress and tossed it on the floor. And in the dead of that wretched summer, where temperatures hit 115 degrees twice, he wore jeans that hugged his legs, refusing to peel away and reveal his two monsters.

    The business of war was a hit. All of this new cybernetic technology the North Koreans had worked so hard to hide from the rest of the world, so they could repair their broken men, make them stronger, faster, deadlier—all it did was get them killed. Now pieces of fallen soldiers had made their way, by the ship load, to the states, and they were all the rage.

    Runner was practically walking the streets on two sticks of gold. And he walked into office after office, figuring a desk job would do him good. Nice change of scenery. White walls opposed to smoke-filled skies. A keyboard and mouse opposed to a knife and machinegun. The only risky deployment he’d see would be a random fire drill, and he’d enjoy himself out in the middle of the parking lot, surrounded by huddles of people chatting about the weather opposed to what part of their best friend made it back to camp alive.

    It came down to the didn’ts and wouldn’ts. Runner didn’t know this program or that one, and he didn’t understand accounting, didn’t even pass the course in high school, and for that matter, he didn’t have a degree, and you’re usually screwed even when you have one of the two (experience or education), but not having both meant Hell no. So he wouldn’t be a good fit here or there. He wouldn’t get a call in the future about different positions. He wouldn’t want to waste his time in this industry anymore.

    “Why?” Runner would say, and they’d cough and point, and they’d say, “Looks like you’re a deserter,” and he’d drop his head and go, “Oh, okay.”

    By the time his money ran dry, it was either a convenient store or fast-food, and two dozen applications in, Runner learned that even landing one of those was going to be tough.

    And so began the boring struggle of just barely getting by, and this went on and on and on for several months.


    And then Runner met Poison in a pawn shop while trying to hawk a coworker’s phone. He placed the cell down on the counter, then ducked below and practically smushed his face into the glass.

    “You like?” Poison said, angling the phone in the light, scanning with a keen eye for cracks and scratches.

    “Been wanting one for a long time now,” Runner said, rubbing his arthritis-ridden elbow. The metallic arm on display, a lefty, was exactly the kind he needed. It was smooth and shiny—no traces of war. No nerves to emit pain. To think, instead of picking the coworker’s locker at work, he could have just ripped it open.

    Poison reached over the counter and lifted Runner’s left sleeve. “You know you already have an arm, right?” Poison was a burly man with a thick mustache to compensate for his friar monk haircut. He wore a denim jumpsuit, because why not?

    “For now,” Runner said.

    Poison put the phone down, put both hands on the counter and said, “That’s the most peculiar thing I’ve heard in ages.” He looked around his shop at the shelves stuffed with bizarre objects. Murdered bunny statues, cute nickname generators, pillows with arms, a fire hydrant, even a strap-on beard with built-in ear buds. “You plan on losing that left arm of yours?”

    Runner nodded.

    “You know why they call me Poison?”

    Runner shook his head no.

    “Used to be a doctor.” He reached into the bundle of chest hairs puffed out of his jumpsuit and pulled out a tarnished stethoscope. “Some people came to me and didn’t want to be here no more.”

    “So you helped them?”

    It was Poison’s turn to nod. “I use this,” he fits each earpiece into his ears, then places the chestpiece over Runner’s heart, “to hear who’s bullshitting me.”

    It felt like he was being interviewed all over again, but he wanted this, wanted that arm, and he wanted it more than anything—more than any office job—more than a friend—more than his old life back.

    “You a thief?”

    “No,” Runner almost whispered.

    “Then what’s this?” Poison flicked the phone with his dirt-tipped fingernail.

    “First time.” His heart beat at a normal pace. “I need the cash.”

    “Yet you got your eye set on that arm down there.”

    “Yeah,” Runner said, staring at it, his heart revving up.

    “You know, people usually want one when they’re missing a part, but people who got all their limbs, they don’t even care, because, well, you know, they already got ‘em.”

    “I know.”

    “Of course you do.”

    Runner’s eyes crawled the length of a barbaric sword to the pointy top. Jumped down a shelf to mindlessly count the severed, shrunken tribal heads stuffed inside a netted bag. “Are you hiring?”


    “Yeah, hiring.”

    “Kid, does it look like I need help around here? I put shit on shelves. I occasionally say, ‘No, I’ll give ya half,’ or, ‘Deal,’ or maybe I tell someone to beat it. Not rocket science.”

    Runner’s heart was pounding. “Oh,” he said.

    The phone started jumping around the counter, blasting some techno music. Poison picked the thing up and put it to his ear. “Yeah?” he said. “Uh huh. Yup. Sure. Well, newsflash guy, this is my phone now. Cause I’m buying it, that’s why. No, I imagine someone else is gonna use it when I sell it to ‘em. Okay, now you’re just being ignorant.” He turned the phone off and laid it on the counter. “Give ya fifty.”


    “It’s gonna take ya about a thousand phones to get that arm, ya know? You work with a thousand morons?”


    “Shit, Kid,” Poison threw his hands outward, “you’re making me sad.”


    “You know, when your everyday Joe wanders in here and gets to looking at that arm, I can see it in their eyes. They won’t say a word, so I usually say something like, ‘If you’re missing a different part, I can probably make it appear before your face.’”

    Runner perked up, his eyes exploding.

    “Yeah, that’s the look.” Poison smiled. “The guys are usually wearing suits, and for good reason—this stuff ain’t for the poor.”

    Runner practically crumbled, every piece of his body waiting to be stepped all over.

    “Shit, Kid.” Poison replaced the phone with a fifty dollar bill. “You’re fuckin’ lost, aren’t ya?”
    Runner wouldn’t look up as he nodded.

    “Don’t bring me any more stuff. No things. No possessions. You’ll draw too much attention. Just cash, you hear?”

    More nods.

    “Do small jobs.”

    That’s when Runner unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them down to his ankles.

    “Hot damn, there you go.” Poison clapped as he came around the corner and ducked down to take a look. On the left leg, running vertical on the calf, he read the laser-imprinted, red text aloud, “Lee Bong-chol,” and on the right, “Rim Chin-haw.”

    He stood, towered over Runner by a good two feet. “You’re thin, kinda small, and you’ve got Bong-chol and Chin-haw on your side.” He took a key out of his belly pocket, opened a locked cabinet on the side of the counter and withdrew a pistol to hand over to Runner. “You give me back that fifty and use this.”

    Runner did so.

    “You don’t use ammunition, okay? Cover yourself good, like you’re ready for a blizzard. Don’t worry about being noticed—worry about being too slow. And then you run, okay? You run through the streets, and you run into stores, and you show ‘em the gun, and before they know it, they’re handing you cash, and you’re gone, cause you’re fast as Hell, aren’t ya?”

    Runner grinned, reliving the glory of his youth all over again.

    “You do that, save up sixty grand, then you come back here and leave with an arm you don’t need.”


    “Hold on, boss.”


    “Let me ask you something.”


    “You get that arm, then how you gonna get it on?”

    Runner stood there knocked dumb for a moment. Mines worked great for legs, but they’d most likely take his face off, and he didn’t need a new face just yet. “I know what to do.”

    “Sure you do.”


    After swinging the door open, it was five long steps until Runner banged his knees against the high counter. The guy behind the wall of glass looked up from his book and fell back in his chair.

    It was a little past midnight.

    The fan was blowing around hot and sticky air.

    And there stood the store’s only customer, a robber hugged in all black, tapping the tip of his gun against the glass, saying, “Hand it over—all of it.”

    When the attendant popped the register drawer open, Runner said quite loudly, “Plastic, please.”

    The bag was rolled into a ball and shoved through the metal tunnel meant to pass credit cards and a few bills and change and receipts. Runner pulled on it from the other side like it was a turnip stuck in the ground, and as he did this, he giggled, and said, “Sorry,” and pulled some more until he went stumbling backwards, bumping into a rack filled with chips. When three bags fell, he bent over, picked them up and plugged them back into the gaps.

    He giggled a bit louder at the thought of receiving paper and plastic, and then vanished from the store like the cockroach he was.

    He sped up this block and down that one, and Jesus Christ was he fast.

    His tail of wind even knocked off some guy’s baseball cap.

    Runner cut around a dozen corners and even barreled through a few allies until the fresh sirens were as distant as death was when he was trapped in that mine-laced forest.

    He climbed a rickety fire escape thirty-some stories to the roof and perched on the stone edge like a gargoyle. His legs swayed back and forth, scratching against the sandpaper bricks of the building, as he dropped the balled bag onto his lap.

    It was nice up there. No, it was amazing. The millions of lights. The tiny things moving all around. The noise dialed down to a one or two instead of a constant ten. And that minty breeze compelled Runner to close his eyes—to breathe—to enjoy the first of many victories which were surely headed his way.

    Yeah, it was super nice while it lasted, but those pesky sirens were slowly being dialed up to a three or four, so he peeled his eyes open and stared out past the concrete jungle. Stared at the lonely moon all the way up there in the black sky, and he couldn’t help but feel its pain.

    What was the purpose of being great if no one knew it? Or, if you didn’t know others knew? Perhaps the moon has no idea millions are on this rock, simply amazed by its presence in the galaxy. That it’s constantly being viewed with high-powered scopes—voyeurism at its finest.

    Maybe it’s up there in space feeling just as gloomy as Runner was on that ledge. He considered jumping, but then again, with nothing but his thoughts, Runner considered quite a few drastic measures.

    Like if his father still lived in that Hicksville town.

    Like what he would’ve said had he swiped someone’s phone, found the number and called.

    This is a stranger, and I’m just wondering if you’ve been watching your son all these years?

    Do you see how well he’s doing?

    No? Well, keep an eye on the news, because that kid’s really something special, and it’s not going to be long before the entire world knows.

    Yes, Sir, you definitely screwed up. I know, you should hate yourself, and you should smack yourself in the head, and yes, you definitely should cry.

    The howling sirens, now at a six or seven, were headed in his direction.

    He wondered if Ferris was keeping a keen eye on the news, or if he was at home standing guard in the living room, waiting for Runner to try something funny.

    He wondered how everyone who once knew him would feel once his name resurfaced. They hadn’t heard of Runner since the accident, because that boy with the snapped leg, the dead mother, the ruined future, he didn’t have anything left to offer.

    He was sad and pathetic and dependant and those sirens were screaming at an eight, maybe even a nine.

    He wasn’t sad and pathetic and dependant anymore.

    He was rejuvenated. Stronger. Faster. And he was right where he belonged towering over everybody else.

    Runner tore the bag open and dug his hands inside. He wanted to swim through his squanders. Gobble it up into fists and let it rain down on his body. But one hand was enough—Hell, it was too much. As he lifted each finger, he had high hopes to see a few hundreds, not the reality that was before him. Not the twenty, the two tens, the dozen or so ones. Sixty bucks tops. Sixty measly bucks.

    At a ten, the sirens took hold of Runner’s eyes, and he watched the two cruisers zip through the street below. They were headed in the opposite direction of his robbery. In fact, he could see convenient store’s lit sign, and it was just as dead outside as when he had robbed it.

    The attendant probably didn’t even phone it in—that’s how pathetic his first job was.

    Runner crumbled the paper and plastic back into a ball and hurled it toward the moon. It didn’t even take a second for him to scramble to his feet and stretch an arm out, yelping, “Fuck!” when he realized he didn’t even have enough money left to buy a candy bar.


    Dean Norris was sitting there in his chunky, leather chair, hunched over his desk, shoveling the remaining bits of meat and cheese and lettuce and onions into his mouth as something blew in through the open window.

    Before Dean could swallow, his chair capsized and spit him onto the carpet. When he heaved his head up, two thick, black legs scissored around his neck. He made fists and tried to pound them away, but the thighs squeezed just a pinch causing his eyeballs to nearly pop out.

    “Money,” Runner said, his ninja-shrouded face hovering just over Dean’s ear, “now.”

    The thighs released, and Dean spit out chunks of soggy food. “We don’t have cash on hand.” He gulped down mouthful after mouthful of air. “We operate in private investments.”

    “I meant your wallet.” Runner snatched a patch of Dean’s wavy, gelled hair and jerked it back so he could peer down into the smart ass’s eyes. He wanted to spill the beans—ask Dean if he remembered an interview way back when—some piss-poor kid with no experience, no degree, only the label of deserter to his name.

    And he wanted to say, “You can’t run, you can’t hide. Sixteenth floor? You can’t be serious? I’ve climbed higher. Look at these legs. Look at me. Look at what you passed up.”

    “Now hand it over.” Runner was half-tempted to rip his hair out, clump by clump, but he didn’t have time. He had to be fast.

    One, two, and there it was, a big, fat piece of leather stuffed with bills.

    “You happy?” Dean said, and Runner didn’t justice that smug shit with a reply—he simply stood up and smashed the guy with a left roundhouse kick before hopping out the window.


    It took seven months, but Runner was willing to take his sweet ass time—to chisel his destiny, chip by chip, from stone.

    The arm was still shining behind that glass, so Runner strolled over to the counter and set the trash bag down. It was packed tight with paper.

    Poison snapped his fingers and said, “Well I’ll be damned.” He took a peek inside and sighed. “You kiddin’ me?”

    “It’s all there.”

    “I saw way too many ones.”

    “It’s whatever they handed over. That’s why I took so long. And I had to eat, and sleep somewhere, and—”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah. No life stories here.” He slid the bag out of the way and leaned in on the glass with his elbows. “So you went for the business folk, huh? How many you nail?”

    Runner tried to count mentally, but he lost track twice, so he just said screw it.

    “You got a name blowing around the streets.”


    “The spandex king.” Poison reached over and snatched the spandex around Runner’s armpit. He stretched the fabric to the point where Runner’s pale skin was visible before letting is snap back.

    “Oh,” Runner said.

    “I’m just messin’ with ya. Shit looks goofy is all. The pants, shirt, gloves. All tight. All making you look like you’re a psycho ballerina or something.”

    “Is that my name?”

    “Jesus, you gotta be fuckin’ with me here and there, I just know it. But no, Kid, they’re calling you ‘Runner’.”

    “Wow, really?”

    “Yeah, nice ring, huh?”

    “I started life off as a track runner. Was real good.”

    “Yeah, well why ain’t ya doing that instead?”

    “Bad accident. Had to join the army.”

    “Ah hah, so you were in the war, weren’t ya?”

    Runner nodded.

    “You kill those guys?”


    Poison pointed at the spandex-covered legs. “Bong-chol and Chin-haw?”

    “Yeah, they—”

    The stethoscope chestpiece was back out and placed over Runner’s heart, so he said, “No.”

    “You get ‘em shot off?”

    “Mines. Stepped on mines.”

    “You’re just one big sad ball of depression, aren’t ya?”

    Runner shrugged, and his heartbeat galloped.

    “What’s going on up there, Kid?”


    “In your brain? What’re ya thinking about?”

    “What part to get next.”

    “What part to get next?” Poison slapped himself in the stomach to burp out a laugh. “It’ll take you forever.”

    “It won’t.”

    “Kid, you can’t just come in here, point at a body part and say, ‘Oh, I’ll take that one,’ and then run off to your hospital and get it sewn on all nice and fancy. The hospitals are trying to make big bucks before this metallic stuff runs dry. You need to know people. The right people. Which is why you can’t—”

    “Stop telling me what I can’t do,” Runner said, tightening his fist one last time before saying, “Can I get that arm now?”


    In the hallway, she was shrouded in animal fur, but when she stepped inside the boxy apartment, it thudded against the floor, and she was naked, except for the thigh-high latex boots.

    Runner already had his shirt off, so she slapped him in that smooth chest of his with a leather flogger and said, “Good boy.”

    She stood firm, embarrassingly taller than him, and read aloud what seemed like a script inside of her memory. “Cash up front. Two-hundred for the mouth. Four for the vagina, and—”

    “Seven for anal,” Runner said, “Got it.”

    She whipped him in the cheek with her paintbrush of pain. “Don’t interrupt me. I have rules, and you need—”

    “You enjoy inflicting pain?”

    She whipped his other cheek, even cackled. “You’ll speak when—”

    He yanked the quilt off his bed like a magician removing a cloth from a busy table, and on that stained, naked mattress was a more useful batch of tools for his new lady friend to use.

    She fell back a step, unnerved by the combination.

    Runner swiped the first object, a paper bag, and tossed it at her belly. Said, “Seven grand in there,” as he took his pointer finger and dragged it down the line.

    Stopping on the rubber tubes, he said, “I took blood thinners, but you’ll tie these around my arm, right around the armpit, for extra suffocation, of course.”

    The next stop was a thick, black marker. “Make a dotted circle around my arm—doesn’t have to be perfect.” He pointed with his chin like he couldn’t move his finger.

    His lady friend stood there with a limp flogger, biting her cuticles.

    “These are filled with lidocaine,” he tapped each of the six needles, “which you just inject around the circle you draw. Again, doesn’t have to be perfect. First grade accuracy will do.”

    “And these are obvious,” he said, skimming over the rolled bandages and bottled peroxide and tubed cream. “But this,” he said, a shitty smile spreading across his face as his finger glided over the stainless steel surface of a one-sided battle axe, “this is what you’re here for.” He took both hands and wrapped them around an invisible axe—lifted it into the air and came down hard with it. “It shouldn’t take more than five hacks—I don’t care how bad your swing is. But you look strong.” He picked up the last object, the handheld blowtorch, and said, “To seal the wound.”

    She caught a glimpse of movement, so her eyes followed. His erection was knocking against the zipper of his jeans. She shot him a disgusted look.

    “Don’t worry,” Runner said, “I’ve seen this performed successfully in countless movies.”

    In case he wasn’t paying attention, she shot him another disgusted look and said, “Are you fucking kidding me?”


    Runner got the same kind of reactions when he stumbled into the office, leaking lines of fresh blood out of his sopping wet shirt sleeve. The second person in line turned when he heard a dragging sound stop right behind him. And when he saw Runner slumped there, white as the paperwork in his hands, he tripped getting out of the way. Fell right into an empty chair.

    “Thank you,” Runner said, moving ahead one spot, at which point the first person in line turned around and yelped. She slid out of the way like she was on a ledge, and Runner said thank you yet again and moved up to the window.

    With a half-ass smile on his face, Runner heaved his metallic arm up onto the wooden countertop, knocking over a cup of pens.

    The secretary leaned away, her mouth blown open. She watched what little life remained inside this man cascade down his face in sweaty waves. Her trembling hand reached blindly for the phone. Pressed speaker. Started dialing.

    “Oh,” Runner said, digging a stack of hundreds out of his pocket and slapping it down on the counter. “Almost forgot my co-pay.”

    As the phone began to ring, Runner wiggled his vacant sleeve and said, “Could you note that this is really, really, really starting to hurt?” And then his eyes rolled white as he dropped out of view.


    Runner awoke in a jail infirmary without an arm and stripped of his legs. He tried to throw a fist, but his only remaining limb was bound to the bed rail. So was his torso with a fat, leather belt.

    He thrashed his head about and screamed for the restraints to be removed. For the needles to be plucked and the tape to be torn away from his body. For his goddamn, fucking arm and legs to be returned, and reattached, and for him to be released immediately, because he went through too much pain and suffering and loss to get that far, and it couldn’t end with him being a helpless lump of his former self.

    The officer at the door told him he couldn’t leave, and Runner didn’t want to hear that no-good, rotten, forsaken word ever again, so he thrashed about with carnage racing through his veins, and he spit, and he strung together all of the creative curses he had heard overseas, and he sung about violence and revenge, and how he’d no longer be a slave to the world, and the officer became annoyed, but Runner didn’t care. Nothing else mattered if he couldn’t have his trophies.

    So Runner wailed and cried and was Hell-bent on displaying his range as a dramatic actor until two probes speared into his ribs and electrocuted him silent.


    The lawyer was nice—a black guy in a pinstripe suit with sunglasses painted midnight—almost Ray Charles-esque. Couldn’t see his eyes, but his big hand was always there to shake. He was always saying, “Hang in there.” Not to worry, because, “I got this.” Called him “brother” a lot, and in a sense, made him feel like one, too.

    Runner wasn’t a details kind of kid. He didn’t understand the language everyone in the courtroom threw around. Didn’t understand the laws, the charges, why he had to swear on a Bible. He was a thief, so wasn’t it obvious he was going to lie? Going to deny taking that money from people he didn’t know? Going to act dumb when asked where he got the cybernetic arm? If he lost Poison now, if cops swarmed the pawn shop and picked-over the parts just like it happened on the battlefield, he’d never get his body back together.

    So he lied, and didn’t pay attention, and drifted off, sometimes rolling in his chair, his lawyer catching him with that big, helping hand of his. Runner daydreamed about reclaiming what was his. Shedding more of his parts so they could be replaced, and he’d grow and grow and grow, until he was able to do everything in the world. No one would tell him what he couldn’t do. And if they did, he’d do it, and he’d make them all eat crow.

    The lawyer placed a packet of papers down in front of Runner, planted a pen in his only hand, and told him he’d be crazy not to sign. That he read everything with his own two eyes, and it couldn’t get better than that offer.

    Runner thought back to his recruiter and the papers he had to sign. Thought back to Ji-Han and those papers he had to sign as well. Thought about where he’d be if it weren’t for that string of events. He’d be a dumb kid with no plans—no future. But here, he had an opportunity. He had a goal. And signing those papers was bringing him one step closer. The sooner he got out of that courtroom, the sooner he could get back to completing his work of art.

    So he signed on all of the Xs, and the judge read the sentence aloud from his perch, something about sixteen years in prison, a bad prison, and it seemed like an incredibly long time to serve with no real evidence presented in the case, and it seemed, if Runner thought about it hard enough, that his “brother” took the pen he had used and stabbed him in the back with it.

    And then it happened—when the lawyer was clicking his suitcase shut, when he was standing there, positioned to leave, he slid those tinted sunglasses down the length of his nose to reveal orange eyes, like two October moons, which was weird, because orange wasn’t a natural color. Even stupid Runner knew this.

    The lawyer tapped a fingernail against each eyeball, ding, ding, and then pushed those sunglasses back up his nose and said, “Enjoy the sentence.”
    GingerCoffee and RaeRae like this.
  2. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    I liked your story, thought it was very creative.

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