James was standing, drenched in sweat and covered in sand underneath a jaundiced, full moon. He panted during the short interlude, his bruised limbs lethargic. He tasted salty iron at the corner of his mouth and knew it had been split in that last flurry of blows.
His opponent looked just as battered as he did but neither one of them was ready to give up yet. This was the ultimate battle of wills and he couldn’t lose or he would die.
James wiped away the sweat from his brow and ran towards his opponent. He dodged a right hook and landed an upper cut to the man’s jaw. He lashed out with a kick to the knee as he disengaged.
The man buckled but dove for James’ legs and tackled him to the ground. Choking on sand James rolled his opponent off him and pushed up into a crouch. Teeth gritted he watched his opponent with a wary eye.
The crowd was jeering now, urging them to spill life’s blood in this most ancient arena of death. The marble amphitheater glowed, sickly yellow. It made the crowd look like macabre ghouls desperate to find fuel for their boredom.
James found his gaze snag on a particular man at the front of the crowd and his mind splintered for a fraction of an instant. He looked again at his opponent, the arena, the moon so large and yellow above him. It was like the clouds had parted in his mind and gave him clarity.
That man standing silently in the crowd, watching the fight with an intensity rarely seen. He was the Supervisor. His visage was pasted in posters across every blank wall throughout his neighborhood. The square clean shaven jaw, long aquiline nose, deep set black eyes, neatly gelled brown hair. It was a face to inspire awe and fear.
Everyone knew the Supervisor was recruiting for some unknown purpose. He visited you in your dreams where you pitted your will against his. If you won you woke up and you would be summoned. Death was the cost of losing and death was the punishment for ignoring his summons.
James smirked and looked towards his opponent once again. The man had no identifiable features in this dreamscape. It was merely a representation of an opponent created by the Supervisor. This whole fight was just a construct of their minds, locked against each other in a battle for dominance.
James ran towards his opponent once again.At the last minute when his fist was about to connect with the man’s windpipe he suddenly held a dagger, conjured by the power of his mind. His opponent slid silently to the ground his throat slit open, a river of red that glimmered in the moonlight.
He looked towards the Supervisor who stared at the hand that held his dagger with widened eyes. That was the last thing that he remembered as the dreamscape melted into nothing.
James woke up with a gasp. Sitting straight up in his single bed he let the blankets fall in a puddle around his waist. He was covered with sweat and as he raised his hand to press against his temple he noticed they were trembling. In fear, shock or adrenaline he didn’t know, maybe a combination of all three.
He jumped when Bob, the building’s AI, spoke in the usual cool tones, ‘Good morning James, this is your wake up call. Would you like me to open your blinds for you?’
‘Yes,’ James croaked as the sunlight slid across his bed. His mind flashed to the yellow moon of his dreams and he shivered.
He staggered out of bed and touched his hand to the wall hiding his wardrobe. It opened with a barely audible click. He pulled out black pants and a grey shirt. While he pulled it on he heard a ping come from his communications tablet sitting on his bedside table.
James ignored it. It was the summons from the Supervisor. Instead he found a duffle bag and started packing.
Twenty minutes later James took one last look at his apartment. It was small and Spartan, suitable for a young man living alone. He had no family left to say good-bye to so with a last sigh he turned and left his apartment behind for good.
He stepped out into the hallway full of people barely concealing their panic. This had happened every morning ever since the Supervisor had appeared and started recruiting. Neighbours checked each other to make sure they were still alive.
‘Hey James, I see you got recruited,’ said Tanya. She was a middle-aged widow whose husband had died two years ago.
‘I haven’t checked Isaac yet. But I’ve heard that Naomi and Tim have also been recruited,’ Tanya was leaning against her door frame warily watching Isaac’s door across the hall.
She was right to be concerned. Isaac usually came to check on them first thing in the morning. That he hadn’t did not bode well.
James stepped up to the door and knocked. Nothing.
‘Isaac’s vital signs are missing. Overriding locks now.’
The door hissed open and James clenched his fists. He walked to Isaac’s bedroom and found exactly what he had been expecting. Isaac was lying on his bed, body slack. Blood leaked out of his ears and gathered in the sheets in a sticky mess.
James walked back out of the apartment and shook his head at Tanya. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes but did not fall.
‘The Coroner’s department has been called. They will collect Isaac’s body in the next twenty minutes,’ said Bob.
‘Go,’ Tanya said. ‘I’ll wait.’
‘Good bye Tanya.’
James turned without another word and walked calmly through the hallway. He may not know why the Supervisor was recruiting but one thing was certain. This battle might be won but he had a war ahead and it would take every ounce of his strength to survive.