The Lightning Crashes and the Thunder Calls Out

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Write your story from the point of view of someone learning or teaching an extreme hobby.... view prompt

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Sad Drama Fiction

It was there again… It was always there.

The weight pressed against his soul as he stood alone in the darkness. He took a deep breath, and lightning shattered the night. Thunder beat out, demanding that the world hear it. The burst of light faded, and the darkness seeped in and pressed against him. It threatened to consume him, but he wouldn’t falter.

Blind to everything in the world, he shifted his feet and continued forward. For years, he had roamed this darkness, desperately seeking the faintest remnants of light.

His light.

His breathing grew hoarse as his lungs worked harder. The amalgamation of God’s wrath splintered throughout his vision. He closed his eyes, overwhelmed by its intensity.

His lungs felt like they were going to burst as he trudged forward, refusing to break, but the ballad continued without his permission, and one after another, the thunderclaps reminded him of his powerlessness.

His muscles tensed as he flailed against the lightning and the darkness. The only thing he had left was the fight, no matter how futile it might be.

---

Royce leaned against the punching bag. A puddle of his sweat lay beneath him. The dim fluorescent light flickered above his head, fighting for its last seconds of life. Even with the gloves on his hands, he felt the blood trickle out of the freshly made cuts from the strain of his workout. The blood fell freely from his knuckles.

It had been a good workout.

Royce didn’t know how long he’d been at it. Hell, he didn’t even know what time he’d wandered into the gym that morning. What he did know was that he couldn’t have spent another moment lying in bed.

The comfort.

The peace.

The warmth.

He’d felt it all weighing down on him as he’d rotted there. If he’d stayed there any longer, he knew, he somehow knew, that he would never have gotten up again.

His eyes trailed up to the clock on the wall: two o’clock. It would be four hours until he had to open the doors to the gym.

He looked around and clicked his teeth.     

“It wouldn’t do for the normies to show up and see this mess lying around.”

Royce went over to the side closet and fished out a mop. He spent the next few minutes cleaning up his mess. Then he noticed that his hands were still bleeding.

Right…take care of yourself before taking care of others, idiot.

Royce wrapped his hands in bandages, took a decent helping of aspirin to numb the pain, and finished his work on the floor. Then he took a gander around the place. He already had the mop out; it wouldn’t hurt to do some last-minute sprucing up before starting the day.

First, he scrubbed down the ring in the center of his place. After closing yesterday, he’d bleached the canvas to get up all the blood. The metallic smell seeped into the canvas, and once that smell was there, there’d be no getting it out. For the most part, it was still clean, but there were still some scuffs that he’d be able to get out with some good elbow grease.

After his job on the mat, he checked each boxing bag. Out of everything in the place, these got worked over the most, and one thing he couldn’t have was sand spilling out from a torn bag. He’d have to clear the area and stop everyone’s workout until he cleared the area. It was dangerous. A person might twist their ankle on it, and the next thing he knew, he’d have some lawyer breathing down his neck, trying to take everything he had.

His hand trailed across the bag he had been working on. It was the furthest from the mirror and the one he always chose for his nightly excursions. He felt a rip at the dead center of the bag. He scraped it with his fingernail, only to see a single grain of sand escape its confines.

There was nothing to do but replace the damn thing.

He knew people who ran other gyms would throw some duct tape over the hole and go about their merry way, but it threw off the feeling of the bag. It also didn’t make the right sound when a person managed to throw a perfect punch. Besides, there were few things he took pride in, and his gym was one of them.

So, Royce did what he always did when he found something broken: he replaced it. He unhooked the piece of garbage, hefted the thing onto his shoulder, and headed out the back entrance. He navigated his way to the dumpster, hoisting the bag into it. The clang echoed into the night, and with it came a moan.

The sound surprised Royce, as his dumpster didn’t have a habit of talking, and he made his way to the wayward sound. The alley’s lamplight cast a dark shadow on its opposite side, and nestled within it was a young girl, wedged between the dumpster and the alley wall. She had the put-upon expression of someone who’d been woken up from a pleasant dream, and she frowned up at him.

Her contempt quickly shifted to genuine shock, which soon gave way to delight. The girl bolted from the shadow, wrapped her arms around Royce, and buried her face in his gut. “Uncle Royce! It’s really you!”

As the girl stared up at him with a sunbeam smile, he felt an unexpected weight fall over his heart. “Gabby? Gabby, is that you?”

Her smile grew wider as she nodded in glee. “It sure is! I was worried that you weren’t going to recognize me.”

It had been nearly two years since he had seen his niece, which meant that she would soon be thirteen. She had grown out her strawberry hair, which was tied up in an elaborate braid. She still had her piercing blue eyes, the exact blue of the irises his mother had grown in her garden when he was a child. In truth, Gabby had hardly changed during the past few years, besides being a few inches taller.

“What are you doing here, Gabby?” he said coldly, getting over the initial shock.

If she noticed his cold demeanor, she didn’t show it in the slightest as she tightened her grip around him. “I wanted to see you. Dad pointed this place out when we were driving past it, and I’ve been thinking about coming to visit.”

“In the middle of the night?” Royce said, his voice tinged with doubt. “C’mon, you can do better than that.”

Her sunny demeanor faded, but it quickly returned, brighter than before. Royce frowned as he got a better look at the girl. Her clothes were wrinkled and torn, and they had accumulated their fair share of grime. It wasn’t the amount of dirt someone got from a simple night out on the town. She must have been out on the streets for at least a day or two, which probably meant that her father was worried out of his mind. More than likely, the cops would be out looking for her, too.

Worst of all was her slight trembling as she clutched onto him for dear life.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Gabby took his hand and guided him toward his gym. “What are you waiting for? Show me around your place!”

Royce could do little as his niece barreled her way back into his life. His mind wasn’t ready to deal with something like this.

Two years!

It had been two years since he turned his back on his family and embraced his seclusion.

As the pair made their way into the gym, she released his hand and scampered about, looking into every nook and cranny. She crawled onto the ring, pumped her arms in the air as if she had just won the belt, and then flailed about in a pale attempt at punching. In between her punches, she sputtered out, “Dad told me that you were a boxer, but he says that you stopped to run this place. Why’d you give it up?”

Royce felt his frown deepen. Children had the uncanny knack of asking questions adults never wanted to answer. Luckily, she wasn’t at the age to put things together yet; if she had been, she’d have realized that the opening of the gym and his disappearance from her life had happened nearly around the same time.

Or worse, she had noticed, but she possessed a sense of nuance that far outstripped her age.    

Royce climbed up to the edge of the ring and hung over the ropes as he watched her dance around. Gabby pretended to glare at her opponent as they lay sprawled out on the canvas. He had no other choice but to play along with this charade. “I got punched.”

Gabby stopped and raised one of her eyebrows. “You’re a boxer.”

“Well, I got punched hard.” Royce shook his head. “And before that, I got punched so many times I got tired of counting, but that one in particular really did me in.”

Royce shuddered as he remembered waking up after that match. His life had changed for the worse. He now walked around with his mind clouded. Every thought was a struggle, and he found himself getting frustrated over the silliest of things…like his niece suddenly showing up out of nowhere.

Why is she here!? His mouth itched to hurl the question at the little girl, who had resumed dancing around the ring, giggling all the while. His hands tightened around the ropes as he tried to contain his anger.

I disappeared for a reason, girl. Didn’t you ever think of that? When people disappear, there is always a reason.

He closed his eyes and welcomed the darkness. It covered him. The shuffle of Gabby’s feet could still be heard from beyond, but he cloaked himself in the darkness as if it were a safety blanket. He took a couple of deep breaths, centering himself.

He was alright. He could get through this.

“Uncle Royce, are you okay?”

Royce opened his eyes to see his niece staring up at him with a worried frown. His mouth twitched.

She was still there. Why was she still there?

“What?” he heard himself mutter, genuinely confused.

“I asked if you were okay,” Gabby repeated as her eyes found his bandaged hands. Blood had seeped through them. Instinctively, he tried to hide them, but her hands found his, and she said gently, “You’re hurt.”

A smile crept to his lips, and he chuckled.

God, when was the last time he had laughed? He couldn’t help it. Gabby’s genuine worry for him brought a warmth he had long forgotten. His hands gently closed around hers as he nodded toward the bags. “It’s nothing. I just got a little too worked up in my morning workout. It happens sometimes.”

Her eyes looked doubtful, but it wasn’t a lie. There were reasons he did what he did. He needed to remember what it felt like. The “him” that he’d lost during that match. Every punch was like a glimpse of his past self. Beacons of light cut through the fog of his mind, revealing a young man filled with dreams and aspirations.

It was worth the pain to become the person he’d lost, or at least to get one last look.

His hands felt cold. He heard a gentle thumping on the bags behind him, and he saw Gabby practicing on the punching bags.

When had she gone over there? How had he not noticed?

Gabby threw a punch against the bag and winced in pain.

"You're doing it wrong,” Royce said as he made his way to her side. “Give me your fist. Let me show you how to throw a punch without hurting yourself.”

Gabby didn’t hesitate as she placed her hand into his. “First, when you close your fingers, make sure you hold them tight and tuck your thumb over your middle finger.”

Royce made his own fist as an example and then turned to face the bag. “Next, when you throw your punch, you have to make sure you lock your wrist, or you can dislocate it.”

He flowed into his boxing position as if it were an old glove. “Finally, when you are ready to punch, bend your knees to keep yourself stable and twist your hip so you throw your entire weight with it.”

Royce flew forward, and when his punch hit the bag, it thundered out, signaling to the world who he was. He went through a familiar combination, beginning a storm, but as he attempted to throw a hook, Gabby’s voice cut through, interrupting his rhythm. “Um, Uncle Royce? Can you let me try now?”

“Oh,” Royce said, regaining himself. “Sure.”

He moved to the opposite end of the bag and held it in place for Gabby. “Let’s see what you have. Remember what I told you.”

Royce stood steadfast as his niece practiced on the bag. When her form began to fail, he quickly pointed it out to prevent injury, but otherwise, he allowed his niece to practice to her heart’s content. As she whaled against the bag, her sunny demeanor changed, and he began to see the hurt that lay underneath. He didn’t need to try hard, as he had seen it plenty of times in himself.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked without meeting her eye.

The words caught Gabby by surprise, and she missed the bag. She stumbled, but as she fell, he grabbed her effortlessly. He helped her back to her feet, and she looked up at him with a face full of worry.

“What?”

“Gabby, I’m not stupid,” he said, motioning toward the bag as he resumed his position. “You don’t show up to my place in the middle of the night without having something to say.”

Gabby studied him and then threw one tentative punch at the bag. “No, I don’t want to talk about it. Can I just stay here for a bit?”

Royce nodded. “I understand, but you know I’ll have to call your dad, right?”

Gabby punched harder. “Yeah, I know.”

“Alright, then,” Royce said. “I’ll tell you what. Work out what you need to, but after that, I’ll give your father a call, and he can take you home.”

Gabby’s eyes reddened, but she didn’t cry. All she did was give Royce a single nod, and then she thumped against the bag with all her might until she couldn’t any longer.

---

Royce carried his niece to her father’s car. His brother didn’t even look him in the eye as he placed her gently in the back of the car. Royce had burned that bridge a long time ago.

He’d read about it in the local paper, a car accident. Some drunk driver had run onto the sidewalk and hit a jogger. The jogger had died instantly, while the driver had run off. From what Royce had heard, the police were still looking for the guy.

Royce didn’t even bother giving his brother a call.

After that punch, he had lost his ability to empathize with other human beings. If he had reached out to his brother, he’d only have made things worse.

He was under no illusion that his niece had come to see him. She had no one else to turn to, and she needed to work some shit out, but when she asked him, “Uncle Royce, can I come back here?” his response slid out as easily as if his past self had said it.

“Of course. We have to work on that punch, after all.”

Back in the gym, Royce made his way to the bags. Opening time was in about an hour. He closed his eyes, and the darkness met him. To his surprise, it didn’t seem as imposing as before. It would always be there, though.

He threw a punch. Lightning erupted through the darkness, and thunder called out.





January 19, 2022 15:48

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4 comments

22:27 Jan 27, 2022

I enjoyed your story. I do jui jitsu because I *need* to do it. I can relate to your character. He felt real to me, and the boxing felt genuine (though I've never boxed before). I got the sense that the author (you) had boxed before. If you haven't, you faked it well for a non-boxer. I have one suggestion. I wasn't hooked until he took the bag to the dumpster. If you ever rework this to publish elsewhere, you might consider starting there, and sprinkling the most poignant elements of the beginning throughout after that point. It would also ...

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Keya Jadav
06:07 Jan 24, 2022

This is incredible Patrick! Tbh, I can already see it as a winner. I loved your take on the prompt and how beautifully things have unfolded. The descriptions were remarkable and accurate. This could definitely be a longer piece. :) Great story!!!

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Patrick Borosky
14:00 Jan 24, 2022

Thank you for the kind words! Its always painful for me to write these prompts and be restricted by the word limit. I have a long list of stories that I feel compelled to expand on for the future.

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Graham Kinross
13:07 Feb 26, 2022

This was good. It reminds me of the time a gym buddy friend of mine tried to teach me kick boxing. Apparently I punch wrong. It's amazing how much technique there is in simple things. I'm guessing the lightning he's throwing about when he punches is metaphorical? If not then I'll see him as Midoria from My Hero Academia.

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