26 parts of a Speculative Fiction story by J Lenni Dorner
I barely made it through my first day of Kindergarten. Three fights. One on the way into the school, where an older boy pushed me. The next was when some kid tried to take my finger paints. And the third was because I dropped a cracker and someone stepped on it as I went to pick it up. That first day of school was when my older siblings pulled me aside and explained that my parents didn’t protect me at school. They’d do what they could outside of class, but I was going to have to learn to fight. I found out what people meant by a “rough neighborhood.” Before, I thought people were just complaining about the multitude of potholes and crumbling buildings, things that felt rough to the touch. But no, it was a reference to the violence. It was about how few people walked with their heads held high, unafraid of anyone. My siblings explained that my choices were to be intimidating or to be intimidated.
Fighting was a means of survival. Everyone around us was poor and wanted more. People were laid off and dependent on government handouts. Not so much our family. But, as I came to learn, my dad walked a gray line when it came to the law. And, sometimes, he flat out broke it. That’s why our house looked nice inside. Why we had a new water tank installed the same day when the old one broke. Other families had crumbling ceilings, cardboard in the window panes, rats chewing on exposed wires, and mold eternally growing on the walls. We weren’t rich by any means, but we were doing better than our neighbors.
Mom would deliver food every Sunday to two dozen houses nearby. She said there wasn’t a point to going to church if we weren’t going to implement at least some of the teachings. My wife lived next door to one of the houses. Her parents didn’t go to church. They wouldn’t speak to my family. But I saw her every week when I dropped off food to her neighbor. She was outside, the first time we talked. I offered her a biscuit. She looked over her shoulder, back at her house. When she decided her parents couldn’t see, she took it and crammed the whole thing in her mouth.
She hated when I fought. Any cut or bruise, you’d think I broke her expensive china. Not that we ever had china. It was just how she treated me, like I wasn’t meant to use my body in this way. I stopped fighting because I hated how sad it made her.
And now, here I am, about to enter a ring. In this fight, am I good or evil? If I die, Jenesis dies. If I lose, we go hungry. If I win, we eat. What are the stakes for my opponent? And what if Jenesis was wrong, or lying, about my stakes? What if a loss would be my ticket back to Earth?
I glance at the tattoo on my hand. The thirteen little shamrocks around the T remind me of home, of my family, of the lessons about being intimidating instead of intimidated. An announcement comes on as the ring lights up. I don’t understand the first dozen languages, but finally they get to English.
“Attie the American Earthling versus Miwinhaiz of Mossmion.”
Do you agree with “be intimidating or be intimidated”?
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