Chapter One: Death

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Ashley Everson had never been scared of death until he was bleeding out on the dust floor.

It was just another part of his job, and having a yellow belly doing breakneck stunts on a bike was just not possible: you either didn’t get nervous of dying or you learned not to get nervous. A mere few seconds ago Ash could’ve kissed the sky, but now his lips had been pulled across the ground without recourse.

The blood pooling underneath might have been warm to the touch but he’d lost all feeling in his arms along with the first couple of layers of skin. Still the blaring drone of the arena filled with a whooping crowd thrummed in his ears, he wanted to see but the blood from his head was weeping into his eyes and keeping them shut. His entire body trembled and twitched.

The smell of scorched engine oil eclipsed even the scent of the blood. Over the din Ash may have heard his manager and the medic at his side but he couldn’t open his eyes, or barely even take a breath. Every single inhale was raw, unbridled.

“Medic, for god’s sake! Staunch the bleeding, where’s the damn ambulance, we need to get him to the hospital.”

*****

They saw a fissure leaking onto the plane, plumes of unreality bleeding out and phasing in to each other. The only time the planes had a connection was at the point of death. In an act of desperation they bundled through, settling in the confines of the consciousness and setting it back alight.

*****

"The more you worry, the more it’ll put me off. Stop it.” Ash stubbed out the cigarette on his used plate, trying to mask his nerves and missing the ashtray just a few centimeters from his fingers.

“Derek, Ash has only ever done this stunt one time,” Bernie was rubbing the side of his face most agitatedly. “Actually, no: you’ve added a truck to the end! I don’t even know if it’s possible for him to even make that jump.” His medic Bernie Kay was old, yellowing and always seemed to wear a shirt determined to untuck itself. A toothpick hung off his lips as he moistened them rather audibly. “As his doctor I’m contractually obligated to tell you when you’re being a moron, and adding that truck is a really goddamn moronic idea. Are you trying to kill him?”

Ash zipped up the leather jumpsuit to his neck and grabbed the helmet. He checked his cell idly, deleting the last conversation asking to see him again and blocked the number.

“We don’t really have a choice, Bernie.” The much younger, sharper voice piping from a chair and twiddling a pencil between his fingers was Derek Flack, Ash’s manager. “Our last big sponsor Yakka are sniffing around that new kid, Kal. We’ve already lost Venom Drinks to him, we’ve gotta ignite the interest back in Ash.”

“I know but -”

“This is the final event of the summer, we can’t afford to not go out with a bang.”

Unseen to both men, Ash leaned against the table and rubbed his wrists. He was not as confident in his ability to do the jump as Derek was, but there was no reason it couldn’t be made. Perhaps maybe more than just one practice run would have been ideal, but their collective hands had been forced to be prepared for this final event.

He grimaced as he thought of Kal: a natural in front of the camera, boundless charisma, a real charmer. Ash was no way near as polished, and his thoughts stuck to the inside of his head at every single interview to be replaced with his diatribe of empty clichés he always had prepared for when he dried up, which was often.

The press had also fabricated this great grand rivalry between the two and had driven the entire story, to the point where people came expecting fierce one-upmanship from the pair anytime they found themselves performing together, which was frequent as they were fairly evenly matched in terms of skill.

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