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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #2122444
First chapter of a new book. Just wanting to see what sort of feedback I get

The Gladiator

Chapter 1

Alaric Cade listened to the buzz of the crowd through the curtains. His heart raced as he psyched himself up for tonight's match. "Sell your brand, sell your brand,' he mentally chanted to himself.

"And in this corner, weighing in at 245 pounds, Alaric Cage, the Gladiator!" came the announcer. Alaric shoved his hands through the curtain and strode through to the top of the ramp. The arena was a small one, a rented gym with a boxing ring. Folding chairs sat in three rows around three of the sides of the ring. His opponent was already working the crowd, getting them amped up. Unfortunately, it was a small town and few were likely to have seen the buildup to their feud. Public access cable only went so far.

Stomping down the ramp, the Gladiator high-fived the kids in the crowd as he passed. The kids cheered and the parents smiled as Alaric made his way down the ramp. His opponent, Sailor Steve Flannigan walked around the ring, threatening to shove him off the apron before he made it inside. The referee pushed Sailor Steve back into his corner so that Alaric could step between the ropes.

Alaric raised his arms and turned around to show off to the audience. The kids cheered his Roman Centurion armor more than anything else. He took off his gladius and handed it down to the ring side announcer. A moment later, he handed down his helmet. The referee stepped up to him and looked over his costume to make sure he wasn't hiding any other weapons.

It was all for show, of course. He and Sailor Steve, a man actually named Bob Howard, had been training with each other for this match for several weeks. Steve wore a blue shirt and bell bottom pants to hide the knee pads. Alaric's costume armor was just padded leather. He rolled his neck to loosen the muscles.

The bell rang. Sailor Steve and the Gladiator charged across the ring and locked up on each other. Steve stepped in and threw Alaric over his hip. Alaric bounced back up and gave Steve a forehand chop across the chest. Steve's shirt muffled the sound a bit, but the crowd roared in appreciation. Steve went back into the ropes, then charged forward, clotheslining Alaric. Alaric dropped onto his back with a thud and a slap to the mat.

Back and forth the two battled, working flips and tosses in with chops and knee strikes. The crowd cheered as the two men built heat with the audience. Finally, Steve whipped Alaric around and into the turnbuckle. Alaric winced as the padded metal dug into his back. He saw Steve coming to deliver the final attack. The blow slammed into him hard enough to hurt. Alaric fell to the ground where Steve dropped to cover him and pin his shoulders.

The referee slapped the mat once, twice, three times and the bout was over. Steve was led away to the center of the ring to receive his applause while Alaric rolled out of the ring and was helped up the ramp to the locker room by one of the ring officials. The crowd booed him as he passed, showing their displeasure in his loss. He maintained a sad, defeated face until he exited the gym.

Once in the locker room his step brightened as he headed for his locker. They had put on a good showing, and he knew Harvey had to be satisfied with his performance. His bout with Sailor Steve had been the finale of the evening, and the crowd had ate it up. Harvey Kramer was the owner and general promoter of Rampage Wrestling, the small wrestling company Alaric performed for.

Alaric sat his helmet on top of the locker and leaned his gladius against the bench before stripping off his costume. He sniffed it, and recoiled at the smell of sweaty leather. He was going to have to let it sit out for a while to air out. He quickly stripped out of the rest of his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Sailor Steve came rolling into the locker room a minute later and trooped over to his own locker. He grinned at Alaric.

"Good show tonight," he said. Alaric nodded before heading to the showers.

The wrestler padded up to the shower stall and turned on the water. He gave it a couple minutes to warm up, then stepped in. The shower hit Alaric with a spray of cold needles. "Yeow! Why can't you book a gym with a hot water heater?" he yelped at the absent Kramer.

"Because you guys don't bring in a big enough crowd with fat enough wallets!" said Kramer from the locker room.

Alaric ducked down in the shower. He hadn't expected Harvey Kramer to come back to the locker room until after the show.

"Come on out when you're done, Cade," said the promoter. Alaric slammed off the water and roughly dried himself off. He wrapped the towel around himself again and headed back into the locker room.

There were eleven other wrestlers present, including Frick and Frack, their midget wrestler team. Those two had been in a handicap match against Ogre as the opening act, and Frack had injured his elbow during a mistimed elbow drop onto Ogre's chest. The small man had an ice pack bandaged to the joint.

"Okay guys, here's the deal. We didn't make a lot of money tonight." Harvey paused while the wrestlers groaned. "We made enough to pay everyone their promised amount, but I just don't have any bonus money. I know it's almost Christmas and you were counting on it for extra special presents, but the till is the till."

Sailor Steve and Ogre shrugged while Frick stomped up to Harvey.

"You know I needed that money! My wife already had plans to go on a trip!"

"Look, guys! I'm sorry. We had a good show, and t-shirt sales are still going on. But I had to cut prices from ten to seven dollars a head. That killed thirty percent of our income. That was where I was getting you all's bonus from," explained Kramer.

The wrestlers grumbled some more, but there was nothing to be done about it. Alaric was glad that he had changed up his t-shirt design. The previous one was kind of flat, the new one was more dynamic. His son Davey had designed it in art class. Each of the wrestlers received a percentage of the sales of their own merchandise, so it paid to have a good looking shirt for the fans.

Alaric could hear the ring announcer wishing the audience a good night and safe trip home. The wrestlers hung back, not wanting to be seen with their former enemies in the ring. At other gyms they normally would split the heels and faces into the men's and women's locker rooms, but this was an old boxing gym with only one true locker room. They had all done their meet and greet before the show, signing autographs and t-shirts, but the post bout sales were going to take a hit. Alaric stuffed his armor into a gym bag, tossed his gladius on top, then zipped it shut. He carried his helmet under his arm.

"See you at the gym Monday?" he asked Sailor Steve.

"Yeah, sounds good. Got a couple new moves we can work on."

Alaric clapped his friend on his shoulder and headed out to his pickup. Once out of the gym, he sniffed in the New Mexico air. It was different from the Colorado air for some reason. 'Must be the elevation,' he thought as he pulled open the back door to his truck and tossed in his gear. It would be at least a two hour drive back home, and he had his regular job in the morning. He'd be doing good to be in bed by midnight.

"Mr. Gladiator! Mr. Gladiator!' came the high pitched voices of two little boys running towards him while wearing their new Gladiator t-shirts. "Can we have your autograph?" asked one of the kids.

"Sure! What do you want me to sign? Your foreheads, so you can get a tattoo later?" laughed Alaric. The boys' mom dropped her jaw in shock, then grinned.

"Just their t-shirts, please," she said. Alaric winked at her. Other wrestlers were being stopped for the same thing in the parking lot. Alaric reached inside his truck and pulled out a silver paint pen he always kept handy. Black t-shirts looked good with silver paint signatures, and he drew his name and "The Gladiator" in large, sweeping motions.

"There you go, you can sell that on eBay for about a half-million bucks!" he joked. The boys grinned and the taller one said, "I'm never selling this!"

"Sorry you didn't win tonight," said the smaller of the two boys after Alaric had signed his shirt as well.

"Ah, don't worry about it kid. I'll get him next time. Make sure you watch us on TV next Monday. We'll be showing some of tonight's action, maybe you'll see yourselves. You'll be famous, and Hollywood will want to hire you," said Alaric. The boys' mother smiled again and said, "Thank you," as she herded her kids towards a waiting SUV.

Alaric tossed the pen into the air a few times, flipping it end over end. None of the other audience members came over for him to sign their shirts. Soon the lot was empty except for the other wrestlers and support staff. He would collect his check for the t-shirt sales next time he stopped in at the gym. He climbed into his truck, fished the keys out of his pocket, and started the engine. He flipped his phone up onto a magnetic holder he had mounted on the dash and tapped the Navigate app button.

"Home," he said. The tiny screen flashed, and after a few moments the computer's voice said, "Your approximate arrival time will be 12:20am."

"Time to beat, 12:20am," said Alaric to himself. He put the truck into reverse, then drive and headed out of the parking lot and onto the road. The highway wasn't too far, and with any luck, it would be a smooth ride home.

The stoplights had switched from directing traffic to flashing yellow as Alaric left the gym. Rolling through the light led to the highway ramp and the long drive home began. He tapped the radio button and got the station he had been listening to on the way down. AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" blared out of his speakers.

"Nice," he grinned to himself as he mashed down on the gas pedal. The GPS updated his estimated arrival time to 12:19am.

Little to no traffic on the northern New Mexico highway allowed Alaric to make it to the Interstate in short order. From then on it was an easy trip up to Colorado and home.

Pulling into his driveway, Alaric glanced at the time. 12:12 a.m. "Ha! Eight minutes!" he laughed as he shut off the engine and unplugged his phone. The kitchen light was on in his house. Hmm...

Grabbing his gym bag from the back seat, Alaric bounded up the stairs to his singlewide trailer and pushed open the door.

"Son! It's way past your bedtime," he said as his son looked up from the kitchen table.

"No school," was David's reply as he returned to the task he was working on. Books with fantasy characters were scattered about, along with oddly shaped dice, graph paper, mechanical pencils and pens and several miniatures of wizards, warriors and monsters.

David Cade was twelve, and favored his mother's Korean looks. Alaric dropped his gym bag and helmet on the overstuffed couch before wandering over to see what Davis was working on.

"Did you eat anything?" he asked his son.

"There was some leftover pasta, so I nuked it and had that. How did your match go?"

"Pretty good. The crowd loved it, and I even signed an autograph for a couple kids after." Alaric sat down and toyed with one of David's miniatures. A warrior wearing only a loin cloth and waving a massive sword stared back at him, blue eyes peering out from painted black hair. He then picked up a female mini, this one with long ears sticking out past blonde hair. She was wearing a red robe and held a staff in her hand.

"Oh, Conan! Take me in your mighty arms, you studly brute," said Alaric in a falsetto voice. "Yes. Conan smash pretty girl, make many barbarian babies," he continued in a deep voice. David looked up at his father and rolled his eyes.

"Whatcha working on?" Alaric asked.

"New adventure. Tim and Robin and Hamad will be over tomorrow to play, and I was just finishing up some details on this dungeon," explained David. Alaric sat the minis back down on the table. His son had a notebook in his hand, his neat penmanship detailing the monsters and people of his latest story.

"Alright. Just turn off the lights when you're done. I have to go to the gym tomorrow to pick up my check."

"Night, Dad," said David as Alaric headed down the long hallway to his bedroom. He flipped the light on, then suddenly off, so as not to disturb Eun-mi. His head drooped, and he turned the light on again. Of course he couldn't disturb Eun-mi, she had passed away three months ago. Cancer had taken her from him and David. It had been so sudden. He sighed, and stripped out of his clothes.

He had wanted to do better by her. They had met when he had been in the Marines, and he had been assigned to a small base in South Korea. She had been a librarian at the post library, and they had met when he had stopped in to grab a couple paperbacks before heading out to the field. It had been first sight love. He had asked her out while checking out the books, asked her out again once he got back from the field, and at least a dozen more times. She had never said "No," she just made up excuses why any particular time wouldn't work. Finally she had said yes, and they went to see a movie down in Busan.

After three months, they had begun the process to get married. The Marines had all sorts of rules for Marines marrying foreign nationals, and Alaric Cade had followed all of them. He later transferred stateside, and Eun-mi had had to learn American customs. He reenlisted for a second term, and David had been born. Deciding that bouncing around the world wasn't what he had in mind for his wife and young son, Alaric left the Corp to become a school teacher. Teaching didn't pay very well though. Alaric had trained to become a pro-wrestler in hopes of making it big one day. Rampage Wrestling had hired him after he had shown the most promise of the student wrestlers.

Everything had been going well, until Eun-mi had started feeling sick all the time. A trip to the doctor's office confirmed the worst: Eun-mi had cancer. The doctors had begun her on chemo, but the cancer had been too aggressive. Eun-mi returned home after two cycles of chemo and watched her favorite K-drama series one last time. She had died while Alaric and David had been at school. It had happened all so fast, leaving David without a mother, and Alaric without his wife.

Alaric entered the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower. Eun-mi's last bottle of shampoo was sitting in the corner. She had a special brand she preferred, forbidding Alaric from using with the excuse "Too expensive for you." Alaric would never throw that bottle away, or use it. It would be with him in the old folks' home in forty or fifty years. Instead he shampooed the sweat out of his hair with a store brand shampoo and washed himself with a men's body wash gel, using the coarse scrubber Eun-mi had introduced him to when they had lived in Pohang.

With the night's effort in the ring washed away, he staggered towards the bed. "Don't stay up too late, David!" he called down the hallway.

"I won't! Good night, Dad!"

Sliding between the sheets, Alaric adjusted the pillows, looked once at the picture of himself and Eun-mi on the nightstand. He blew it a kiss and whispered, "I love you." He looked at her face for a long moment before finally turned off the light. Minutes later, he was sound asleep.

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