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Ajax: A Short Story
Or: Twelve Nights In Rio: One Man's Odyssey Through the Barren Wastes of Dawn

Andrew Bellows woke fairly late that morning, getting up and stretching just a bit too obviously, shuffling to the kitchen and making some coffee, reading the newspaper. This was clearly not a man about to put his very life at stake.

The challenge had come two weeks earlier. He had gotten up in the same manner that day too, stretched a bit less obviously, rubbed his eyes a little longer before he took the first sip. Sooner or later Andrew had worked enough sleep from his brain in order to wander into his office, slump into his chair with a properly satisfying thud, and begin to massage his battered cortex into the type of machine necessary for the day’s work. This was most efficiently accomplished, he had decided, with a rather liberal dose of his favorite computer game until he could coax his soul into some sort of working mood.

Richard Gibson, friend of Bellows and soon-to-be champion of all time and space, did not wake up fairly late. It was a Saturday, true, but it was a very important Saturday. The contest had finally come, and Gibson, though in his heart he knew that he could not lose this match, felt it would be prudent to fully prep his mind and body. After a quick and certainly invigorating shower followed by a meal, as dictated by a carefully calculated diet designed to maximize all those things that needed to be maximized, Richard dropped into a perhaps slightly unnecessary meditation in the middle of the floor of his incensed gym, on a very nice mat. Of course, he didn’t call it a mat. It was a zabuton. In retrospect, if he had been in the position to think about it, Gibson probably would have decided that the loudly chanted “OM” reverberating through his gym was rather unnecessary.

It was two weeks prior, the same two weeks prior to Bellows’s own awakening,, that Richard Gibson had been the one to pose such a challenge. Truth be told, the challenge had been gestating in his mind for some time, but the time, Richard felt, was now right to set into motion the tumultuous and epic events which would change both of their lives… forever.

I challenge you.” These words did not seem to fit into any context which was congruent to the one Bellows was currently thinking in. He had, to the best of his knowledge, been sitting and drinking a small cup of coffee in order to pass the time while he waited for his friend to arrive, at which point they would commence, together, drinking more small cups of coffee. Standing in front of him now, however, was Richard Gibson, yes, he could be certain of that, but he did not seem to be much interested in coffee. There was a small white card in his hand. Bellows looked up at him.

“Coffee?”

“No. No, my friend, not today. Today is a day of bigger things, and I fear that our meeting which we had planned for today may not, in fact, come into existence in any meaningful way… Except as the seed of a greater and life-defining challenge which I have just proposed to you.”

“You said, ‘I challenge you.’”

“Yes. Indeed I did. And so I do.” Richard Gibson quickly flipped the card over and held it in front of his friend, whose coffee was getting cold. After several awkward moments, he indicated that it would be highly appreciated if Andrew were to take the card and read it, rather than sit there like the gawking moron he so obviously was. Bellows complied, though on some distant spiritual and subconscious level he mildly resented the part about being a gawking moron. Bellows looked at the card. It was made from very fine paper stock, with embossed edges and the sort of shiny black script one usually sees on invitations to parties where they probably won’t play any really loud rock music.

“Nice card.”

“I know. Do you accept?”

Andrew glanced at the card in order to make sure that he wasn’t selling his soul or anything of the sort. Gibson was known to have been dabbling in that sort of stuff several months ago, and Andrew feared a relapse. When it had been ascertained that he was not, he said, “Um… Sure.”

Though he seemed momentarily disappointed that his opponent’s reply was not more dramatic and worthy of immortalization in an epic poem, Gibson nonetheless allowed a moderate amount of fire to enter his eyes and set his mouth at an appropriately steely angle. “Very well then. I shall meet you again at the time of the contest. You had best practice.”

“Ok. See you later, Rich.”

As Richard Gibson strode out of the café, he found himself mildly irritated. It was not right, he decided, to call one’s opponent “Rich.” It wouldn’t do. Oh well, no time for that now. There was much preparation to be done.

During one of his lesser moments in the interim between the events having just taken place and the contest itself, it occurred to Rich that perhaps the only reason that he was so, well, let’s face it, excited about the contest was that he was so sure of his abilities. The idea that he could lose was somewhat unfathomable; his whole dramatic vision, one which he had worked on rather hard, somewhat depended on his victory. This concept faced something of a conflict when it further occurred to him that the reason he had chosen Bellows as his opponent was because, in addition to being his good friend, Richard felt that he was the only whose skills approximated his own. Gibson found it mildly irksome that Bellows should be so stupidly reluctant to acknowledge his superiority, leading to some tension between the two. It had become all too apparent that the only way to salvage this tenuous friendship, becoming ever more rocky as Andrew’s skills increased, was to utterly and finally crush him on the field of battle. Richard had happy dreams of one day, perhaps not too far into the future, clapping his hand on Bellows’s shoulder with a paternalistic look in his eye as Bellows looked up on the Titan’s face in adoration. It was such dreams that kept his faith in his own dramatic vision alive.

Which is why it finally came as such a shock to him when he was absolutely thrashed as though he were a young pup in the jaws of some much larger animal, with very sharp teeth and bad breath. It was the same day, the day when they both woke up and prepared for the ultimate confrontation in the only ways in which they could. Gibson, anticipating his opponent’s utter lack of flare for the dramatic, decided to enter the arena from the back. Granted, this necessitated a small amount of vandalism in order to use the door heretofore reserved only for the arena’s janitorial staff, and he did waste some time wandering through the dank, fetid tunnels beneath it, surrounded by pipes and steam – very dramatic, but not particularly glorious – in addition to being forced to make use of the ladies’ (unoccupied, thankfully) locker room, being denied access to the one in which his opponent and mortal enemy was no doubt changing in at that very moment, but the confrontation had a lot of flare. Gibson wished that someone had brought a video camera.

And so it was, that they both girded themselves for battle and strode out on the field of glory, to meet face to face on a line which separated not only the two opposing sides, but good and evil, strength and weakness, glory and ignominy. The two opponents met each other, both faces masks of stoic determination and restrained fury. They placed their weapons on the field, together, according the time-honored custom, and Richard Gibson raised his hand, a small black disc in his clenched fist. He let go, and as the disc fell onto the ice, time stopped-

-and immediately started again as he felt himself knocked over fantastically quickly. Bellows gracefully skated down the side of the rink, and with ease flicked the puck into the goal. Andrew Bellows: 1, Richard Gibson: 0. Richard’s mind reeled. He was being beaten, and badly. He was fairly certain that this would not do; he had a distinct recollection of being the victor. Or at least, he was supposed to be. Naturally, he instantly suspected treachery from his friend; Bellows had been training in secret, that bastard! He had, without having informed Richard, been honing his skills, furtively and in the dark. Or perhaps, he thought, Bellows had sabotaged him. The bastard wasn’t above it, he decided; his innocent demeanor was a mere front for a dastardly and dishonorable mind. To think, that Richard had taken him into his confidence, allowed himself to befriend the cretin! (The truth, in fact, was none of the above. Andrew Bellows was a very good hockey player.) The rest of the game was equally as quick and brutal. Gibson limped off the ice in agony and shame.

He was crushed. Defeat. Him… It was impossible. It was not right. It wasn’t how things were supposed to go. And yet, here they were. And there he was. And so it went. Gibson was left a broken shell of a man, all he had dreamed of and all he had planned mere shards of a forgotten vision, a vision tossed aside and trampled by that inhuman monster, that brutal and sadistic bastard. Andrew Bellows went home to his cat.

As Richard Gibson left the hockey rink that day, he was hit by an errant bus and instantly killed. Life is funny like that.

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