The man in black sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m just supposed to… supposed to fight.” He began pacing back and forth. “Oh, this is bad. I saw what you did to the others. You’re really good. I don’t wanna get beaten up like that. I just want to die, you know? Just quick—get it over with, and then it’s done.”
“You want to die?” asked Victor.
The man stopped and faced him. “Of course. I’ve been here, what, fifty years? I’m tired.”
“You’re not even going to try and fight?”
“You think I know how to fight? Look at me! I’m wearing a headband with the words ‘Kung Fu’ written on it! You think real kung fu masters wear headbands like this?”
“All right, all right,” said Victor. “Calm down. I just want to figure this out. So… you want me to just knock you out with one punch?”
The man’s face lit up. “Would you? Oh, that would be so great. I don’t want a bunch of broken bones.”
Victor smiled. “Let’s talk first.”
With some hesitance, the man black entered the ring. Victor sat down, cross-legged in the dirt. The man in black sat down opposite him. Victor gave him a warm smile.
“What’s your name?” asked Victor.
“I don’t have a name.”
“Well, what name would you like?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Come on,” Victor pressed. “Pick any name at all.”
“Great! Neil. That’s a good name. My name’s Victor.”
“I don’t care,” said Neil, without a hint of discourtesy.
“Okay. Well, Neil, let’s make a deal. I want some information. If you tell me what I need to know, I’ll knock you out quick. If not, I’ll make it slow… and painful.”
Neil sighed and looked down. “I can’t help you.”
“I’m not asking for much, Neil. You know things I don’t, and I’d like you to share them with me.”
“Yeah, but…” Neil looked toward the door. “I can’t.”
Victor nodded. “I get it. Well, no problem.” He stood up. “It does mean I’m going to break every one of your fingers, though.”
As Victor stepped forward, Neil tucked his hands under his arms and rolled into a ball.
“No, no, no!” he squealed. “Wait!”
Victor grabbed him by the shoulder, squeezing a pressure point. Neil’s face screwed up and his legs kicked madly.
“Okay, okay!” he whimpered.
Victor eased his grip.
“Please,” said Neil.
Victor let him go and stepped back. Neil sat up and rubbed his shoulder.
“I’ll help you,” he said. He looked toward the door. “We just… need to be quick. Before he finds out.”
“Before who finds out? Gary?”
“Of course Gary!”
“All right,” said Victor. He sat back down. “Tell me about this curse.”
Neil drew a long breath. “Well, it’s pretty standard really. It’s Gary’s curse—do you know about Gary?”
“I’ve heard a little. He was young, had cancer. Cursed the place before his death, right?”
“Yeah, that’s basically it. So, since it’s Gary’s curse, it’s based on his experiences, his knowledge.”
“So Gary controls the curse?”
“Not exactly,” said Neil. “He’s the boss, but the curse pretty much runs itself now. It makes use of any fear or hatred Gary had. So… well, right here for example. Gary saw a kung fu film once—the villain scared him. Now, the movie was awful—bad acting, amateur fighting, lazy stunts—but that’s all Gary knew about martial arts, so that’s what we have to work with.”
Victor nodded. “So that’s why none of these guys could fight.”
“Yeah, well, you’re the first visitor with any fighting skills. No one else ever made it past the second bout.”
“Well then,” said Victor, “how many more fighters do I have to face after you?”
“I’m the last,” said Neil.
“Okay. Good to know. How come you’re the only one that seemed scared?”
“Hmm. That’s hard to explain. The curse is… a thing—impartial, unfeeling—inhuman. Yet it is based on humanity. Some of that humanity seems to leak through in areas. Like me, for example. And Nikolai. I heard you got to him.”
“The communist in the storage room.”
“But apart from a few glitches, the curse is solid,” explained Neil, “That’s why everybody you fought in this room was… I don’t know… like a law, or a robot or something. But I’ve inherited a touch of humanness. So I don’t want you to beat me up.”
“But you’re happy to die?”
“Well, I’m not really human. I’m not really anything. I’m a phantom in a curse. Dying is nothing to me. Before this curse I didn’t exist. I barely exist now. When that gong strikes again I will go back to not existing.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
Neil shrugged. “Sure.”
“Good grief,” said Victor. “That’s kind of depressing.”
“I don’t get depressed,” said Neil. “I’m not human, remember.”
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