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Crave the Risk (lisamcmann)

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I twisted my hair into a ponytail, tucking it under my cap and lowering the brim. Then I took a final look around the room full of strangers, wondering which of them would help me escape, and which would try to kill me. Things were getting out of hand. Scratch that. Everyone had gone nuts. I just wanted to get out of the common room alive.

An unidentified burning wad of something flew past my head.

“Get down, moron,” said Jaxnon. His advice was reinforced by a strong hand pushing down on my shoulder.

I bent low to the floor while trying to figure out who the pyromaniac was. That’s the trouble with being surrounded by criminals. When something lights on fire, anyone who points a finger could easily be hiding the match behind their back.

The sirens screeched and blared. The noise rang through my ears, piercing my skull as easily as an oar through the water. I tried to cover my head but it didn’t help. Nothing helped.

“Attention! Cease and desist! Attention! Lethal action will soon be taken!”

The Voice- usually a psychotically pleasant tone reminding us of our daily requirements- had an unmistakable air of authority. The Voice made me shiver. I pulled my hair out from under my cap and held onto it. The coarse texture helped to ease my nerves.

When I was a child, perhaps six or seven, my mother told me a story before I went to bed. She wouldn’t tell me who it was about, or even where the story came from. She said that the times were too dangerous to even say the word.

There was once a man with more strength than any other human. He was given powers by some supernatural being. The only condition to his powers was that he wasn’t ever allowed to cut his hair. His hair was his strength. He destroyed his enemies without any trouble. Then he met a woman, and a devious woman at that. She was paid by the man’s enemies to find out his secret. When she finally learned the source of his strength, she betrayed him and cut off his hair while he slept. The man was taken prisoner and blinded. He later died while defeating his enemies.

I begged my mother to tell me more about him. I wanted to know what his name was and where he lived but she would never say. I wanted to be strong as well and I knew that I could keep a secret. So I made a promise with myself. I would never cut my hair; I would become stronger than any other man. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The strange part isn’t that my mother went along with it. It isn’t even that my childhood self had the determination to see it through, despite the teasing and the jerks telling me that I looked like a girl. The strange thing is that it worked. Maybe it’s the placebo affect coming into play, but when I hit puberty, I started to notice a difference in myself. I was stronger than all of the boys my age. That was when I started to get cocky. That was when I started to get myself into trouble.

My first real fight happened when I was thirteen. A guy at least five years older was acting tough and trying to jack my friend Nettle’s lev-bike. It wasn’t even that great of a model; a couple years old and it could only maintain a foot off the ground on a smooth, steady road. It even jostled when it went over rocks and bumps. The crappy lev-bike isn’t the point though. The point is that it got me rattled when I saw the guy using his size to threaten Nettle.

I stormed over and I told him, straight to his square, beefy face, that he should back off and leave Nettle alone. He laughed; his mindless grub of a friend followed his lead and started to mock me. It made me angry. I warned them again. The first guy shoved me. I stumbled back but was able to catch my balance. Then something just went off inside me.

I’m not sure who was more surprised by my first punch. All that I can say was that it was glorious when my fist made contact with his ugly nose and I felt something crack under the pressure. He doubled over in pain with his hand raised to his face. When he moved to hit me, I saw blood oozing slowly from his nose like milkshake dripping from the bottom of a straw.

The rest of the fight didn’t last long. Between the two of them, I maybe had one small bruise, and it was from a cheap shot. I’ve been fighting ever since, much to my mother’s dismay. She threatened on multiple occasions to cut off my hair while I slept, but it was only a bluff.

I was lucky when I was younger. Because of my size and age, the guys that I took on- always older and double my weight- never wanted to tell anyone who handed their asses to them. Then I got older and my strength defined itself in more obvious ways. Suddenly, guys weren’t so eager to fight over nothing. I should have been happy that I didn’t need to throw punches to get my way, but as sick as it sounds, I liked the feeling of power. I liked for the bullies and the tough guys to know how it felt to be scared. I started to crave it. I took bigger risks.

By risk I mean the son of a New Contingent Councilman. From my window, I caught a glimpse of him walking down the street. He was leading a girl by the hand. She was stunning; long red hair that swished gently in the breeze and a body that was shaped like the number 8.

Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes later, I saw the girl hurrying back down the street. There was a small tear in the hem of her skirt. She was wiping desperately at her face, trying to clear away the tears before anyone could see. A part of me wanted to catch up to her and offer her a soft blanket and a place to clean up. The nurturing instinct in me was overwhelmed by the rage. I would never, ever hurt a girl.

I didn’t even stop to put on shoes. I remember the pavement. It was like a warm caress on the soles of my feet. Little bits of gravel dug into my skin. The trace of pain was what brought me to my senses. It’s probably the only thing that stopped me from killing him.

The trial was laughable. Nobody cared about what he had done to the girl; she couldn’t be found to testify against him. Chances are that she wouldn’t have spoken against him even if she had have been there. The judge didn’t care that I was only sixteen, that I had a life ahead of me or whatever bull my public defender tried to pull. The judge was in the Councilman’s pocket and juries only exist in the memories of the older generations.

Good-bye mother. Good-bye home. Welcome to six floors of underground, overcrowded penitentiary. Welcome to over 10,000 hard asses and at least 50 guards under private contract by the Councilman to make things rough for me. Sure, there were new people to fight, but fighting for your life and for the freedom of your body just isn’t the same as playing the hero.

“Damn it Eron, snap out of it or we’re both gone,” yelled Jaxnon.

Over the wail of the siren and the roar of my fellow inmates I could hear the howls of hungry wolves. I once saw those beasts attack someone and I would kill myself before I let them have me.

“The wolves?”

 I’m not sure why I needed my cellmate to confirm what I already knew. The wolves were coming and so was the reserve force of guards. They would have guns. The words ‘lethal action’ resonated in my mind.

“We better be a long-ass distance from here when they arrive,” said Jaxnon. He was already scurrying away. I began to follow and then paused.

“This isn’t just a riot, is it?”

“A riot? Eron, look around. This is a full-fledged retaliation. But you and I aren’t going to wait around for the shit to hit the fan. We’re getting out.”

“Out? But that’s impossible. We’d need a plan and tools and…”

Jaxnon cut me short with a raised hand. “Eron,” he said with a diabolical smile, “who do you think started the riot?”

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