‘Last Man Standing’

Last Man Standing

They didn’t kill me, just made me wish they had, bastards. We were all there that day, lined up ringside waiting for the off. It was top billing and we were crackling with anticipation, the scent of victory already creeping up our noses and fuelling our self-belief.  Our man was big. The biggest. I mean really big. So big their man couldn’t even reach him never mind hit him. So what, that it was barely a competition? All we cared about was winning. We had bets, we’d make a pile. We’d get the hell out of the gulags and away somewhere warm with women; lots of women, easy women.

Almost time.

Suddenly the noise dropped, we all held our breath over that tipping moment between the waiting and the battle, then the baying and roaring began as the fighters made their way through the pumping crowd. Sergei was unmissable, 7’2” of muscle and dumb intent, while their guy, Fyodor Vasiliev, was barely visible despite being a pretty impressive size himself. Roaring chants broke out, most of them anticipating Sergei’s bloody defeat of the pretender, but some of them silky-sly because of what they knew was coming.

They climbed into the ring, Vasiliev ducking under the ropes while Sergei stepped over them like he was in a child’s playground. The crowd went ape. Then everybody froze; nostrils flared and mouths open ready to howl allegiance. We froze too, a few more minutes and it would be over and we’d be rich. My chest was squeezed tight as a rusty wing-nut with the waiting.

Then the plan kicked in. Sergei began to puff and blow, his eyes went all wild-looking with huge pupils and even huger whites, and Vasiliev saw his chance. Leaping forward like a panther on springs, he hung a hard right on Sergei’s temple, getting in another with his left as he dropped back and skipped away. Sergei staggered; he wasn’t smart, our man, and he wasn’t used to being hit. We waited for the crash and Vasiliev being declared the winner. We practised looking shocked and mentally counted our haul.

But the plan was screwed. Sergei was used to a regular arseful of meds in the psych unit where we’d found him, but that didn’t include horse tranqs. This crap sent him nuts and he laid about him with arms like wrestlers’ legs. His face got redder, his eyes wilder, and when Vasiliev tried to make a run for it, Sergei grabbed his neck. Must have reminded him of the guards or something because he swung that man round like a piece of dead meat, which is what he was after a minute or so of being battered against the posts and thrown onto the floor. Now we were screwed. Painted into a corner with no Plan B. Sergei collapsed: twenty-five stone of him hitting the deck like a brick shit-house and dead seconds later. Vasiliev got his hits in first, alright, but he couldn’t win because Sergei outlived him. Last man standing rule.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012

28 thoughts on “‘Last Man Standing’

  1. Never heard about anybody getting out of the gulags due to a successful bet.:)

    1. I detest boxing, let alone this sort of fight but, on last year’s course – or maybe the one before – we had to write a flash piece about the first news item we heard in the morning. Unfortunately for me, during the night David Haye had unexpectedly flattened Nikolai Valuev so it was unavoidable. I considered lying to myself and pretending I’d been on the fluffy-animals-get-reunited-with-owners channel but heck – a challenge is a challenge!

  2. I suspected it was an assignment. So Valuev is to blame for the Russian flavor. When I read Louis L’Amour’s books, I thought he was really great in writing fighting scenes. He was a professional boxer, among other things. His fighting scenes are extremely vivid and realistic — a poetry of fists and knuckles. Straight to the point too.:) I never read anything like that by another author.

  3. I’ve never tried writing flash fiction and not read that much either but I have to say that this little story gripped me. When I saw it was about a fight I thought I wouldn’t like it (like you I hate boxing) and thought I’d read a couple of lines and finish reading it later. I didn’t as I ended up reading it all in one go. What I particularly enjoyed was the narratorial voice. There are also some wonderful similes such as ‘chest was squeezed tight as a rusty wingnut’.

    I’m not sure about some of the punctuation though – I know we’ve discussed the devil that is the comma. For example, ‘So what, that is was barely a competition?’ or ‘So what that is was barely a competition?’ I had to read that sentence a couple of times for it to make sense. But hey, I’m being picky as a pedantic publisher. The story is great and no mean feat in 500 words.

    1. Those darned commas! I wonder, though, if the way they’re deployed is different when the whole story is told in a character’s first person so that it reflects the way they speak, and not a standard of written English? I’ll have to stew that one for a while I think. I’m glad you liked it though – narrating as a male Russian inept fight fixer takes me some way from my life experience!

  4. That is a dilemma isn’t it? I’ve been looking at punctuation use as I’ve been reading to see how other authors handle it. I’ve not reached any firm conclusions on that one.
    How did it feel to be so out of character for this?

    1. This book on punctuation I read was excellent. One of the topics it covered was standard usage versus a specific writer’s stylistic variances.

      By the way, Suzanne, I had the same problem with this sentence ‘So what, that is was barely a competition?’ Had to read it a couple of times. A comma before “that” here is very unnatural. I did not mention this in my previous comment because I had already bugged you about punctuation previously. 🙂

      1. Bug away, Irena, there’s no other way writers get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. And now I’m falling over that sentence as I read it too!
        I think you recommended Noah Lukeman before – or someone else did – so it’s either on my Kindle or it was out of print, or I told Amazon I wanted it on my Kindle please and huffed off until they obliged. There’s a reference too that anaspanish gave me I need to follow up as well so that, if I don’t get it right for someone, I can at least point to a reason why, in my head if nowhere else 🙂

        1. Yes, I did recommend it before. I see now that the problem with it is that it is available on US Kindle(the one I have) but not on UK one. Isn’t that crazy, amazon’s ebooks policy?! The printed book is out of print in UK, available only form sellers.

    2. I quite like the car indicator analogy: there are some situations where indicating is mandatory – turning, overtaking and the like – after that, you use your indicators if you think they will help someone. Same with dots, double dots, and dots with tails, methinks! The other thing that seems to be a truism (in any subjective experience) is that the more famous/esteemed you are, the more you can get away with. No problem, then!

      Writing the character owed a lot to my jaded view of the boxing underworld and a few seedy night clubs I’d been to in the late 1960s! I was quite sympathetic to his situation though – when you’re desperate to get out of a trap, you might turn to anything. He thought he’d found his escape but he wasn’t clever enough. Hm – I’m feeling even more sorry for him now!

  5. That’s a good analogy. The important thing for the indicators is not to be misleading and annoying.

  6. I was very excited to see a recommendation for good book on punctuation – I’ve been trying to find one for ages. I see it’s written by an American. When I studied (briefly) in the States I was told by more than one university lecturer that the American use of the comma and other punctuation is different from our use in the UK. I’m actually not at all sure that is true except for the very odd thing such as use of different types of quotation marks. Can I ask Irena whether Noah Lukeman mentions this?

    Suzanne, I see we can buy it via Amazon Uk (used from other sellers) in hardback or paperback quite cheaply.

    1. I’ll put this query (anonymously) on Irena’s Facebook page so she knows to look. I must say, I’m struggling enough with home-grown British confusion, without adding American!

      1. This is from Irena: ‘Yes, you are right, Lukeman is an American writer and editor. I checked now and I see the only place in his book where the word British is mentioned is: “British call our parentheses ‘brackets’, so don’t confuse the two”.:) He mentions that the rules for dialogue punctuation are different in different languages, but he says quotation marks are must in English(now, come to think of it, does British English allow for dashes instead of quotation marks in a dialog like French does?). Actually, this book was most useful to me not by the discussion of the minute rules of punctuation (there is not much of it there) but by the analysis of how punctuation influences the reading experience, how it enhances or spoils writing. There are lots of examples from different writers discussed from this point of view. He talks not only about the usage of commas, semi columns and such, but also about the period’s role(forming longer or shorter sentences to achieve a certain effect) and breaking the text into paragraphs. The overall theme of the book is how to use punctuation to better your writing.’
        I like that.

        1. Suzanne – thank you for that and thanks to Irena. This book definitely looks worth getting for punctuation in general and I’m going to order.
          I’m still after a very detailed book on how to use each form of punctuation. At the moment I use the MHRA style guide:
          and also that link that I sent you before.
          Sorry the punctuation thing has rather taken over but it’s obviously important as we keep needing to discuss it.

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