For the first time in years, Walter woke up in peace. Feeling too comfortable to leave his bed, he turned to his other side. He looked over the object Kriskin had given him the other night and frowned at it. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he got out of bed, shambled over to the desk and looked at the clock on his phone. It was already almost noon. In his hands, the device began to buzz. Someone was calling him from a number he didn’t recognize.
“Walter! It’s Damian, what’s up?”
“Uh…how did you get this number?”
“Not important. Listen, I need you to come to the gym. Like, right now. We’re already here waiting.”
“Uh, okay. Why?”
“You’ll see!” he answered, and ended the call.
Walt made sure to take all the time he needed to get ready. Before leaving his room, an added message appeared from the same number:
And you better have those weights on, or I’m docking your pay!
As he carried his bicycle down the stairs, James called his name from the living room. “Yo, there’s some pancakes left over if you want ‘em.”
He took him up on that offer, though with trepidation. With enough syrup, they were pretty good. The only thing to spoil his appetite was the way his new roommate shamelessly sat on the couch in nothing but his underwear. Take the bad with the good, Walt supposed.
The island’s winding village roads and brisk morning air made for an invigorating bike ride. Caught up in the adventure, he got a little lost as he tried to find the gym. When he finally found it, he was already winded by the training weights. He locked up his bike and went inside, scanning the gymnastics floor for Damian.
“Walt!” called his voice from somewhere behind him. Turning around, he could see Damian waving at him from the other side of the building’s lobby, leaning on the ropes of a boxing ring. Walter drooped his shoulders and sighed aloud. This isn’t going to be fun.
He pushed through the glass door and looked around. There wasn’t a soul in this part of the building apart from them; no one training or practicing on the punching bags or sparring in any of the two rings. Damian must have rented the whole place out again. How much was he spending just to train him?
“Come on up here,” Damian instructed him. “I can assume you got enough rest?”
“Yeah,” Walter grunted as he climbed under the ropes.
“Good. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty today.” Damian handed him a sparring helmet with a mouth guard and told him to put it on. “Jack!” He shouted toward the other end of the room, “You’re up!”
Hidden from view, Jack had been laying on a mat near the other ring. He got to his feet, bringing with him a pair of large black boxing gloves.
Damian put his arm around Walter’s shoulders and told him the plan. “Today we’re gonna see how well you do in combat situations. Do you have any training in that?”
“I dook a marshell artsh clash,” Walter recalled, his tongue fumbling between the plastic guards in his mouth, “whed I wash elever.”
“Good! Try to remember some of what you learned.” Damian pat him on the back and backed off to the side of the ring. “Alright, the goal is simple. Knock the other person out of the ring!”
That’s not how boxing works! Walter’s mind screamed. “Shoulded I be wearig glovesh?”he asked the both of them. “I-I woulded wanna hurd you…”
“Don’t worry,” Jack spoke for the first time, huddling into a combative stance. “I can take anything you throw at me.”
Damian rang the little bell beside the ring. “Begin!”
“Round wud,” Walter chuckled, trembling while he put up his fists, circling the ring with Jack.
“Nothing personal, dude,” Jack remarked as he pounded his gloves and approached him. Thrusting a limber arm at Walter’s head, he was fast enough to duck under it and step to the side. However, Jack’s long, hairy arm kept going, clipping Walter in the backside as he escaped. Sent to one corner of the ring, he fell onto his hands and knees, causing the mat to quake beneath him. Jack allowed him some time to get back on his feet, though not a second more. He jabbed again, this time hitting Walter square in the chest, sending him staggering into the ropes.
“Don’t run!” Damian called from the sidelines, “fight back!”
I would if I could breathe, he thought. Jack charged toward him again, raising a fist high to bring down the hammer on Walter’s cranium. Closing his eyes, Walter crossed his arms over his head and pushed upward—!
His parry resulted in a blast, filling the ring with a burst of light for a split second. Walter opened his eyes, surprised to see Jack in a daze as he stumbled backwards.
"Follow up!" Damian urged, and Walter dashed forward to strike. Feeling triumphant already, he threw a fist at Jack’s abdomen, and...!
…Nothing happened. His fist bounced off the wall of muscle like a rubber ball. He paused for a second to make funny looks at his hand. Amused, Jack regained his composure and nailed Walter in the jaw, sending him sprawling across the mat.
Ding-ding-ding! Damian rang the ball to call off the beating. “Hold it, hold it,” he repeated, stooping down on his knees to meet Walter on his level. “What happened? Jack should be flying through those windows by now!”
Walter rolled over and onto his back. “I dunno,” he slurred, spitting out the mouth guard. “It just didn’t work.”
“But it did work! Sorta. Here, here, sit up and run me through your process. What happened when your raised your arms up to block him?”
He shook his head, “Um, I just didn’t want to get hit.”
“And what about the punch after that? What did you think or feel differently?”
Walter thought about it for a moment. “I guess I thought I had already won. I thought that all I needed was to hit him one more time and it would be over.”
“Interesting…” Damian rubbed his chin in consideration. “Well hey—this is why we’re doing this! To figure it out! And I think we’re getting closer, don’t you? Get up, let’s try this again.” He helped Walter on to his feet. “This time, no mercy! No hesitation! I wanna see some fur fly! Uh, no offense, Jack.”
He only uttered a low growl. Sliding out of his way, Damian dropped off the mat and rang the bell again. “Round two!” he declared.
Sixteen near-fruitless rounds left Walter feeling exhausted. He lied face-down on a weightlifting bench where the gym’s physician looked him over. According to him, he’d, “sustained a mild black eye and multiple contusions,” while Jack got away without a scratch. He did get him once though; managed to tap Jack in the arm, and the blast was enough to knock him off his feet. That was a victory—even if Damian wasn’t around to see it. He claimed he was needed elsewhere, abandoning them sometime around the seventh round.
The doctor advised him to rest for as long as he needed, and that he would otherwise be just fine. Walter didn’t feel just fine. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and shot a text at Kriskin.
Could you come pick me up? I’m at the gym.
Three whole seconds must have passed before she appeared. “Holy heck,” she declared, “what happened to you?”
“Damian happened,” Walter answered, not even looking at her.
“Do you need me to take you home?”
“No, nothing like that. I was wondering if you’d show me how to get to that burger place we were at yesterday.”
Moments later, they were in line waiting to order. Walter leaned on the support rail lost in his phone. Judging by the smile on his face, Kriskin knew he was having a conversation with Faith. She waited to ask him about it until they got their lunch and sat down. “So…how’s she doing?”
Walter sighed, “She is amazing. I’m taking her out tonight at eight. I don’t know what we’re going to do, though…”
Now she knew the real reason why Walter had summoned her. “Take her to the mall,” she suggested, “there’s lots to do and see there.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea. And there’s a zoo, too, isn’t there?”
She shook her head. “Zoo closes pretty early. Save that one for your next date.”
Walter’s smile grew wider at the sound of the words, ‘next date'. “Where's the mall?”
“At the base of Pointer’s Peak, just southeast of here.”
“Cool. I guess I have a plan now.”
“You’re welcome,” Kriskin teased. “…Hey, Walter?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about...how you feel about being forced to come here.”
Walter’s face fell a bit. “Well…You could say I’ve changed my mind on a few things.”
Kriskin gave him a small grin. “Can I show you something?”
She opened a portal to the outdoors and hurdled through. “Follow me.”
Stepping through the gate, he found that she’d taken him to the tower. Again, they walked through the main entrance and into the elevator. “Where are we going?”
Kriskin pressed some of the buttons to several different floors simultaneously. “Down,” she answered.
Walter gave her a dubious look. “Isn’t this the ground floor?”
In spite of his question, the elevator dropped. Daylight gave way to darkness as they went underground, replaced by the soft yellow light of the elevator. The doors opened to a long, circular tunnel that grew darker and darker as it went on. Intrigued, Walter went ahead, his movement activating overhead lights to show him the way. Then he realized, these walls were glass, and he could see the depths of the ocean beyond them. A school of tiny blue fish swam by to his left, while a curious sturgeon watched him from the right.
At the end of the hall, the lights came to a stop before a pair of huge metallic doors. Kriskin stepped around Walter, producing a card and sliding it through a reader.
Something on the other side whirred, and the doors began to open. “Welcome to Haven Correctional Facility,” boomed a deep, yet pleasant voice. “Please enter the scanner and await instructions prior to entry.”
“You go first,” Kriskin told him, pulling rings one by one out of her hair and off of her fingers. “I’m going to be a while.”
Walter stepped across the gap and onto a platform. At once, the voice instructed, “Please step inside the yellow square and move your arms out to both sides.”
Looking down, something projected a yellow square big enough for one person to stand in. He placed his feet in the square and raised his arms until they pointed straight out to either side. The dark, metal room lit up with blinking red lines that swept over him in many directions. Once it stopped, another projection appeared on the wall: a yellow silhouette shaped like Walter. The voice gave him more instruction, lighting up certain areas of the yellow shape in red as it went. “Please remove your—training weights—mobile device—training weights—and—boots—and place them in the tray.” A window opened up to the right, revealing a little space with a plastic tray. One by one, Walter removed the items listed, starting with his boots. As soon as he placed his phone on top of the pile and withdrew his hand, the little window closed. “Thank you for your compliance,” boomed the voice, and the doors ahead opened wide. A white light flooded Walter’s eyes as he stepped into a small lobby. Stepping across the room, he laid his hands on the guard rail and looked down—way down into whatever facility lay below. It was spacious, with countless glass booths on either side that continued for another three floors.
“Afternoon, sir,” called a tired voice to his right. It came from a middle-aged local in a blue uniform, complete with a black hat and tie. “Here are your items, processed and determined threat-free.” He sounded bored. “Your phone will be returned to you upon exit. Please enjoy your visit.”
“Uh, thanks,” said Walter as he crossed the room to scoop up his weights and boots. “What, uh…what is this place?”
The guard smirked at him. “You must be new. Are you a guest?”
“Yeah, I guess. Kriskin brought me here for…some reason.”
He chuckled, “I’ll let her tell you. Afternoon, Kriskin.”
“Hey, Garry. Are you giving Walter a hard time?”
“Course not! Would I do that?”
As they bantered, Walter carried his items to the guard rail to re-equip them.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Kriskin stood beside him as he finished, admiring the view.
“Just like everything else I’ve seen here,” Walter answered. “What is it?”
Kriskin looked away from him and sighed. “This is the prison.”