[Flash Fiction] Patricia Correll presents “Legit Heat”

Hello, Internet! Welcome to a special edition of Flash Fiction Friday on a…Wednesday? Joining me today is newcomer Patricia Correll with her piece “Legit Heat.” Where we bear witness to the special ceremony of the changing of the guard among…luchadores? Heaven, Hell, Blood, Sweat and Cheers!

Legit Heat

by Patricia Correll

Center of the ring, figure-four leg lock. Angel strained for the rope, his fingers clenching. Sweat glistened on his chest, and his luchador mask wrinkled as the face beneath contorted. King Jaguar leaned as far forward as he could, fingers inches from Angel’s. El Demonico roared and tightened his grip on Angel. Across the ring, El Demonico’s tag team partner, Jonny Muerte, shouted taunts. King Jaguar waited for the slap of calloused fingers on his palm.

If it was going to come. No one had told him how tonight’s match was supposed to end. It was strange, but when he asked Angel about it the other wrestler only laughed. “It looks more authentic if you and Muerte don’t know.”  His eyes, peering out of his white-and-gold mask, were bright with amusement.

King Jaguar’s own mask felt fused to his skin. His ear was ringing from the blow Muerte had given him earlier. He didn’t care, not about the various pains and aches of his body, and not about who triumphed tonight. In the endless rivalry between Angel and El Demonico, each had won and lost hundreds of times in equal numbers. All that mattered was that, by the end of this match, he would no longer be King Jaguar, and his training partner would no longer be Jonny Muerte. They would be Angel and El Demonico.

El Demonico’s muscles rippled. The pentagram on his black mask shone bloody red. Somehow, with a movement so subtle even King Jaguar’s trained gaze didn’t catch it, Angel writhed out of the other luchador’s grip and flung his body toward the ropes. His fingers smacked King Jaguar’s palm. Immediately King Jaguar leaped into the ring. El Demonico threw up his arms to catch him, but King Jaguar twisted in midair, driving his knee into the other man’s broad neck. They crashed to the mat. King Jaguar breathed in the smells of sweat and blood. A tack, left over from a previous match, embedded itself into his forearm. The pinprick of pain was strangely sharp and clear, alone in a sea of tension and dull pain.

Beneath the ring, machinery began to grind. King Jaguar felt the mat shudder, and anticipation shivered up his spine. It was time. Jonny and Angel felt it too; as King Jaguar rolled into a crouch,  he caught a flash of white launching itself from the top rope. Jonny Muerte, apparently insane with fury, ignored the screaming ref and jumped into the ring.

Smoke billowed up from beneath the ring, obscuring white clouds that made King Jaguar’s eyes water. This was it, just like Angel had told him. The switching of the masks, the handing over of roles. By the time the smoke cleared, Angel and El Demonico would have new faces beneath their unchanging masks. The crowd howled jaggedly, some for Angel, some for El Demonico, a few voices cheering King Jaguar or Jonny. Anticipation shivered up King Jaguar’s spine. The matches between El Demonico and Angel were famously violent, their schedule grueling. Rumors said no wrestlers wore those masks for more than three or four years. But how could anyone give up that adoration? King Jaguar rolled off El Demonico and peeled off his black-and-yellow mask. Jonny Muerte appeared out of the smoke and yanked off his own skull mask. El Demonico got slowly to his feet. Angel materialized at his shoulder, hissing, “Hurry!”

King Jaguar watched in fascination as Angel and El Demonico removed their masks. No one saw their faces, not even the other wrestlers. Their contracts stated they must always wear their masks, even in the locker room.

They were both younger than he’d expected. He’d thought they would be old men with lined faces, but they were only a handful of years older than Jonny and himself. Angel had a shaved head; El Demonico wore a thin mustache like an old-school matador. Angel stared at the mask in his hand for a moment, then held it out to King Jaguar. His eyes, cast down to his tightly-laced boots, were sad.

King Jaguar tossed the other man his own yellow mask- Angel caught it in one hand. Beside them, Jonny and El Demonico were also exchanging masks. King Jaguar and his friend glanced at each other, grinning broadly. The hairs on King Jaguar’s arms tingled as he lifted the white-and-gold mask and slipped it over his head.

For a moment he thought he’d put the mask on backward – his vision went dark. Then he blinked, and could see again- swirling white smoke, and three masks. The eyes gazing at him from his old King Jaguar mask glistened wetly. He opened his mouth to ask Angel- the former Angel- why he was weeping.

But before he could ask, he knew.

The knowledge appeared in his mind in a flash, as if it had been a memory there all along. His stomach lurched as dizziness swept over him; vaguely he noticed Jonny- El Demonico- shaking his head as if to clear it.

A creature of darkness. A being of light. A bargain struck fifty years before. King Jaguar- no, he was Angel now- felt it inside his head, a pair of eyes not his own, watching. His own body, his own voice, his own thoughts- but now this other too, crouching inside his mind, urging him forward. Spurring him to fight. He shook his head to dislodge it, but it held fast. As it had to the former Angel, until he found a new vessel for it. As had the one before him, and the one before him-

Because the matches between El Demonico and Angel weren’t planned. The demon and the angel inside their human bodies were fighting in earnet, for a prize. Not a belt. The souls of that night’s audience.

A scream clawed its way into Angel’s throat. Suddenly a hand clapped over his mouth, tasting of sweat and dust. The former Angel hissed in his ear, “Look out there. Heaven or Hell, you fight for them.”

Angel looked. Through the thinning haze he saw them, some cheering him. Others screaming for El Demonico. None of them knew. He stared at El Demonico, his friend since their training days. His eyes were bleak inside the bloody pentagram.

Jonny Muerte and King Jaguar swung over the ropes. A moment later something flew up and into the ring with a clatter. They both started and gaped. The crowd, confused, began to boo at their inaction, but the boos turned to cheers when another steel chair arced over the ropes and into the ring.

Angel breathed in damp air that smelled of sweat and beer. There were children in the crowd, families, good men and women. He nodded slowly to El Demonico. Together they dove for the chairs.

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