Friday, 25 June 2010

The King of the Castle - Joshua Rapp Learn

The contestants lined up at their starting places.  There had been some initial concern over the fact that some of them would begin with clear advantages but there seemed no way around it – disqualification could hardly apply in this contest.  The competitors stood tottering in bleary-eyed regard of the goal ahead of them.

Before the game had even begun, one player dropped a glove and followed it with a crashing body.  He flailed around on the street in a drunken mess, grasping for air that resisted his barehanded clutch.  He was a write-off – if there were a bookie present he would have offered vast percentages for the unlikely event of victory.

Another contestant – a tall, bowlegged blond cowboy with a drawstring tie and fat chops dusting either side of his face – tossed an empty beer bottle over his shoulder.  The resounding shatter replaced a whistle as the official announcement of the game’s commencement.

A spindly, middle-aged redhead with matching denim shirt and jeans divided by an insolent belt buckle lurched off with teetering acceleration.  As he tumbled face first into the rising snow pile it occurred to him that the buckle hadn’t been built with a great degree of aerodynamic consideration.

The rest of the racers broke off in a slow rumble.  In total there were six, including the gloveless man still flailing his bare knuckles in search of protection. A short pudgy man in a grey suit with thin-rimmed, round spectacles hopped over the fallen redhead and made another few steps before the spindly prostrated man reached out with a malicious hand to pull the business man’s ankle out from underneath him.

The obvious athlete broke into first place.  He was a broad-shouldered nightclub bouncer with a neat goatee.  He wore only a skin tight, armless t-shirt despite the blistering cold, a t-shirt that marvellously articulated the man’s abundant biceps.  Rumours shifted among the fans concerning his use of performance enhancing drugs but disqualification did not apply to this contest.  He bounded several steps up the steepest side of the hill, throwing a glance back at his blond cheerleader’s false breasts and fell when the weight of a flexing bicep was just enough to set off his balance.  As he slid back down the large pile of snow he cursed the swanky Italian loafers he brandished to make up for an absence of personality.  

The girl shrieked as her high heels were suddenly invaded by the roving fingers of the gloveless bandit seeking five-fingered leather completion.  He keeled backwards in response to this unexpected spurn and reached inside his jacket for a silver-lined whisky flask.

Meanwhile the skinny redhead and the slick-haired businessman were back on their feet.  They rose up the side of the hill in half-embrace as they attempted to push each other away from the prize.  The contest came close to a tie before a blond head butt preceded the cowboy’s tackle, bowling all three of them back into the snow.  They rolled down the small hill gnashing their teeth and clawing each other’s skin, boots tilling frosty chunks of mud up through the snow.  Bill clips and platinum credit cards flew out of pockets as pagers buzzed with pop music ring-tones.  

Somewhere out of the dog pile, a ten-gallon cowboy hat flew into the air and came to rest on the ground behind them.  The final contestant and popular crowd favourite bent down carefully in order not to reveal too much under the scant garment that passed as a skirt and set her long nails along the velvet brim.  She perched the hat lightly on top of her architected hairdo and laughed with seductive delight.  The one-gloved pirate widened his pupils and coughed a thin spray of whisky over the muddied snow in front of him.  He wiped the excess liquid off his face, scraping his lip with the sharp edge of his gold watch as he rose to his feet.  

He took a few steps towards the girl before a maverick punch exploded some of his teeth from their normal resting places.  As he fell once more, he reached out to grab his opponent and came away only with the thin thread of chain that brandished a golden “T”of suffering.  The cross had four small diamonds inlaid at each of its extremes.  

The roid-monkey stared in shock at the fallen man’s hand for a moment before testosterone prodded him to further action.  He wound up for a hearty kick but the loafers betrayed him once more and he tumbled on the icy sidewalk.  The high-heeled woman sighed in disgust as he fell.

Elsewhere the three others continued to thrash through tufts of puffy powder.  A timely face wash disabled the business man by smashing his tools for vision while the redhead clamped his teeth into the thigh of the cowboy’s tight wrangler jeans.  Howls rose over the empty parking lot drawing the attention of a vast network of subscribers to the suburban community’s Neighbourhood Watch program.  

Sirens sounded in the distance and the match seemed in imminent danger of forfeiture without a victor when the sixth contestant put down her suede purse and stepped through the gory fray.  She carefully stepped over the dirty rascals and climbed to the top of the snow pile to proclaim herself queen.

-Joshua Rapp Learn is not a university professor nor is he the editor of another literary journal.  He didn’t study creative writing, has but a few publication credits and won no writing contests.  Nonetheless he experiences great swellings of righteousness when declaring he’s an artist.

-Photograph by Christopher Barrio