by Leo King

Approx. 1200 Words

Beyond the Mask Series:
Part 1 | The Prayer
Part 2 | The Sell
Part 3 | The Walk

Sitting alone in the dark room, Emilio Alvarez leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and prayed for strength. Slowly, his lungs filled with air, then emptied, his breathing as loud as it was labored. In his hand, he clutched the wooden rosary his mother had given to him just before she passed away—he was never without it. For a moment, her last words hung in his mind like the wooden cross at the end of its chain.

“Always believe in you.”

Emilio was surprised to hear the words leave his dry, cracked lips. He could feel the pain in his left ribs, an old injury that never fully healed and radiated a dull ache. It always started to ache whenever he was about to go out before the crowds, as if his body knew that a similar injury was just a single mistake away.

Sitting up and stretching, Emilio moaned softly, and he absently rubbed the area. His fingertips touched over the wrappings of the bandage he wore to “show off” the old injury. It drove the crowd wild. They loved seeing him hurt others and be hurt. It was amazing how much they were like the crowds of the Roman Coliseum.

As the pain ebbed away, Emilio got up and trudged over to a nearby sink. It was dark in the room, as he preferred it, but he had just enough light to see his reflection in the mirror.

Earlier in his life, he had been a very attractive man. His baby blue eyes and white, shining smile had won him the love of many a lady, especially his beautiful Maria. Although she often had urged him to abandon his profession, Emilio knew he couldn’t. Maria had given him two beautiful angels: Amada and Antonio. The twins, like their mother, had to eat, and Emilio had very little talent other than fighting.

The years of combat, however, had taken their toll, and Emilio saw that in his reflection. His teeth were chipped, several were completely gone. His face and neck, even his body, had scars across them. Half of his left ear was gone, ripped off in a titanic battle in a cage of steel. His eyes had long ago lost their shine, losing their light a piece at a time.

Emilio hid his scars well. Tattoo upon tattoo, most of them showing murals of angels and saints, or bearing prayers in his native tongue, covered most of his body. His teeth were covered by the mouth guard he wore. His face was covered by his mask.

However, nothing hid the scars in his eyes.

Turning on the water, Emilio washed his face. The cool water was refreshing as it trickled off his skin. Looking slowly up into the mirror, meeting his own gaze, Emilio forced the dullness to go away and brought up the fire and determination the crowds knew and loved from him.

The next few minutes were spent in silence as he got dressed. The preparations for the fight were complete. Everyone involved with the fight had already spoken to him. He knew what was expected. He knew the crowd’s bloodlust was particularly heavy tonight. He knew this would be a rough fight.

He knew it would likely his last.

Emilio pushed those thoughts out. He couldn’t allow himself to think that way! He had to think like he was going to win, or else he would fail. Failure on such an important night was not an option.

His clothing on, his boots laced up, Emilio went over to his locker and took out his mask. It was his father’s mask, a red and gold design that his father had spent months creating. As he looked at the mask, the memory of his father’s last days and his lingering death in a hospital from an injury during a fight, weighed heavily on Emilio’s soul. It was almost overpowering.

For a long moment, Emilio stared at the mask, remembering his father urging him to go to school, urging him to become a doctor, a lawyer, even a mason—anything but what his father had become. With each inhalation of breath, he could taste his own scent; it was growing musky as he started to sweat anxiously. Emilio was glad his father wasn’t alive. He would be so let down.

“Emilio,” said a voice from the doorway, “it’s time.”

Emilio turned to look at his manager, an older gentleman in a striped suit who nodded grimly at him. Emilio nodded back just as somberly. “I’m coming.”

Pulling the mask on, Emilio zipped it up in the back and made sure it was in place. He could feel the change within him, the change that over twenty years of training and fighting had instilled in him. He was no longer Emilio Alvarez.

He was Furio.

Stepping out of the locker room, Furio walked past several other fighters, some of them working themselves up for their upcoming fights, others walking off the pain and exhaustion of fights that were over. The ones who noticed him walking by, head up high, nodded to him in respect. He had earned that respect, and if he was going down tonight, he would have his head held high.

At the back end of the entryway, he met with his manager once more. Louis had been with him for most of his career. The older man patted him on the back and, looking down at his hand, said, “Hey, you’re still holding your mother’s rosary.”

Furio looked down and saw he was holding it. He chuckled at the irony. “Imagine that.”

As one of the crew told him it was almost time, Furio tucked the rosary into his right boot. He wasn’t sure why he did that. Maybe it was for good luck.

“Break a leg, Furio.” That was the last thing Furio heard before heading through the black curtain to the sound of his entrance music.

The lights were blinding, and the roar of the crowd was deafening. Over sixty thousand people, he was told. Here to see him hurt and be hurt. Here to see him bleed.

The announcer spoke through the microphone. “The following contest is scheduled for one fall and is for the Cruiserweight Division Championship!”

Furio moved to one end of the stage, slamming his fist forward in time to the pyrotechnics. The crowd screamed like ravenous hyenas. He moved to the other side of the stage and repeated the motion to even more thunderous applause. The movements of his entrance came naturally. Muscle memory, he had once heard it called.

“Making his way to the ring, from Mexico City, Mexico…”

As he walked down the ramp towards the ring, Furio drowned out the announcer calling out his statistics. The hands of the crowd along the ramp reached out for him, and he reached back. Their touch, their screams, their love, their bloodlust—those were the only things that were real now.

Tonight was the night, the biggest event of the year. For Furio, it was the culmination of a long and storied career. Tonight he would win the championship from his longtime rival, or he would be forced to retire.

Tonight was his night.

Note From Leo: If you wish to leave feedback on this general fiction short story, please fill out the comment form below. I make sure to read all feedback, both praising and critical.