Johnny Marco stood in the middle of the caged ring. The crowd chanted and cheered in the name of bloodshed. They wanted to see death, but didn’t care whose. A wicked smile gleamed across his face; annihilation was the only thing that ran through this mind. He was a killer and a slayer of the undead--a gladiator.
This was the life he lived every single day, since the day these people took and enslaved him, captured only to be a source of entertainment for this underground city below the ruins of New York. He had been the longest survivor to ever step in the cage. The others who were forced in had never lasted.
Outside the cage, three monsters growled and screeched. They shook the cage, craving Johnny’s flesh. These were “Runners,” a more evolved form of the original monsters, which were now known to the world as “Drifters.” The Runners had gotten their name from their lightning fast speed and incredibly ability to jump great lengths.
“C’mon, is that all you got? Seriously?” Johnny screamed. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, his lip forming a snarl. The other side of the cage slid open and the Runners immediately charged through, no thought in their minds, no fear in their hearts, and no knowledge of pain.
Grabbing the first one that approached, Johnny growled viciously. He twisted its head around so that it faced the entrance that they had come through. Johnny booted it to the ground. It lay there, shaking violently and moaning with hunger, struggling to get back to its feet.
Johnny grabbed a knife from his boot and stabbed the second Runner in the head, letting it fall with the knife still attached. The third and last monster leapt onto him, slamming him to the ground. The crowd screamed louder than ever as Johnny came closer and closer to death. Still, he managed to punch it in the face, smashing its teeth in. He threw the Runner off, quickly climbed to his feet, and finally, stomped on its head, putting it out of its misery.
Successful, Johnny lifted his arms in victory and screamed. He felt unstoppable every time--but this time would be different; little did he know that it would be the last match he ever fought.
He looked down at his hand and stared at the tiny scratch on his finger. One of the Runners must have gotten him with its teeth. In this unfortunate world, a small scratch was all you needed for your fate to be sealed. His eyes drifted away from cut when the gate opened up for him. As he stepped out of the cage, a young boy excitedly ran up to him.
“Mister, can I have you autograph?” he asked with excitement, holding up a photo of Johnny.
“Sure, kid,” Johnny replied as he took the picture.
“Do not talk to this man!” screamed a woman in the distance. She rushed over to them. “He’s a monster.”
“Who isn’t?” Johnny said rhetorically.
“Just stay away from my kid!” she continued. The woman grabbed her boy by the hand and pulled him along as she scurried off into the crowd.
“But Mom...” the boy said.
“He came up to me,” Johnny muttered under his breath. He ripped the picture, letting it fall to the ground. “Why is your kid here anyway?”
15 years earlier...
Twelve-year-old Johnny sat on the couch with James, his older brother by a few years. They watched the Saturday morning cartons as they always did. But today was not a good day for cartoons--today was the day that billions of lives would change.
“What’s going on over there?” Danny asked the woman on the other end of the phone. He sounded frustrated. “Is she safe? I’m coming over to get her.”
“Sir, you can’t. The facility is on full lockdown,” the receptionist replied. “We have your number on file and will call you when everything is back up and running.”
“Listen, I have the right to see my own wife and check to see if she is okay!” Danny growled and tossed down the phone in anger. The kids stared at their father, silent. “We have to go,” he told them and walked over to the television, shutting it off.
“Go where?” James asked quietly.