the short story project


Fred Rohleder

Death Match

Gladiators are back in this Futuristic Dystopian Adventure. Welcome to Death Match! Two Men Enter…One Man Leaves! It’s the ultimate cure for crime, or is it? Join our young anti-hero as he literally struggles for his life while trying to make a living! This is the first of 10 short stories by new authors Fred & Peggy Rohleder. Look for a new Dark Daydream every month!



            There was only one way to get into Death Match, and that was to commit a crime and get caught. There was only one way to get out of Death Match, and that was to commit murder. Committing a crime was easy enough; I committed a crime a couple of times a day. Most of the time the cops could care less. Keep in mind; these weren’t the beloved Officer O’Leary kind of cops from the days of old. They were just another gang in matching uniforms as far as I was concerned. The Rojo boys held the northern part of the city and the Skinheads had the east. The Asian Spiders were down to the south. The cops just kind of filled in here and there, anywhere there wasn’t enough crime. They took protection money most of the time and occasionally even did police work. What I am trying to say is that you had to watch your ass all the time in my home town, from all directions!

            You would think that with all this going on tickets into Death Match would grow on trees. You would be wrong! You still needed some creative thinking. Every single tough guy in the galaxy was trying to make a name for themselves. Death Match was how you made it. You had to pick the right person to violate so the cops would give a shit but not such a shit that they killed you on the spot. You see, even with our utopian Death Match society, cops still killed people. Criminals still killed people. In fact, you had to work very hard just to stay alive. The only ones who were really safe from all this street chaos was the rich. Go fucking figure!

            Walking back to the building where I was currently squatting and figuring shit out in my head on how to get in at the same time. Would a breaking and entering charge or a random assault do the trick or if a more violent approach be called for, perhaps even kill someone? I had gotten so involved in my thoughts that I had forgotten the cardinal rule for staying alive in the slums. I had forgotten to remain aware of my surroundings… always! A familiar voice was coming up from behind me much faster than I liked.

            “Hey bitch tit!  Where ya’ headin’?” he said.

             I didn’t turn to reply, I didn’t need to. I knew the voice. Its owner was a violent piece of shit ambusher who called himself Jams. He was one of the kids in the slums I had grown up with. He had sprouted up faster than the rest of us and generally made everyone’s life a living hell using his size advantage. I tried to avoid him whenever possible. He stood around 6 feet tall with super long knuckle dragging arms. He was going to be a monster some day, but for now he was just a major pain in the ass! He didn’t need to get close to you to smack you with those freakishly long arms. He had a kind of pointed head and big staring eyes. He looked kinda like he had been doing Ice all day, which he probably had, but then again he always looked that way. On top of all of that he was a complete fucking moron.

            Word around town was that he was a heavy lead baby. His parents had moved here from a mining planet back when he was about five or so. Due to heavy metal contamination his brain never formed properly. He was mean and violent and a complete fucking asshole. This waste of space had been a plague on me for as far back as I could remember. He had punched me, smacked me in the back of the head, and kicked me in the stomach. He gave me arm burns and made me dance the chicken. He did this by grabbing the short hairs at the back of my neck and then making me cock a doodle doodle do as I danced around on the tip of my toes. He did every mean thing an over grown child with an under sized brain could come up with. I mean shit the fucking bed for fuck sake!

            I had gone and fucked up letting him get the jump on me. There was no turning back from this fight. I quickly started scanning the alley for something to use as a weapon. If you’ve ever been in a slum, then you know what I was looking at. A big fat nothing! Anything useful had already been scavenged. There were no pieces of pipe or a two by four with nails sticking out of it. There was a half piece of red brick by the overflowing trash cans, but they were at the end of the alley. There wouldn’t be time to reach them. Shit! I would just have to face him down, but not like he thought. I just kept moving pretending like I didn’t hear him, half hoping he would lose interest or find an easier kid to prey on. Today it looked like all my luck had run out because he was gaining on me.

            “Motherfucker!” Jams screamed as he came at me swinging a baseball bat. “I asked ya’ a fuckin’ question!” he finished. I would only get one chance at this, god he was fucking close. He was so close I could smell him! He smelled like if you took a pile of shit and then put it in the oven and baked it real slow all day. The smell would get into the carpet and drapes. It would permeate your clothes and the furniture. Who knows when this piece of shit had had a bath last, but it certainly wasn’t yesterday. He was so close that I was starting to gag on his odor. How the fuck can you not know you smell like a walking dumpster fire? I waited until the point of no return. Ducking under his first swing and dragging my left foot behind me to trip him up and then giving him a solid shove with my shoulder into the wall. He passed over my ducked shoulder and wound up in a half conscious pile of shit smelling crap near the back of the alley. Rushing over, I landed a vicious kick to his head and another couple to his guts. I had heard the air woof out of his lungs, I thought he was down for good, but I had needed to make sure.

            I had learned from watching classic horror movies that you never leave your attacker down without permanently disabling them. I wasn’t looking forward to dancing around with him anymore than I already had, so I grabbed the bat he had previously intended to pulverize me with. I really went to town on his egg shaped head. It wasn’t egg shaped anymore when I was done! I could see some of his boys watching from a safe distance as his brains leaked into the gutter, but the sight of me covered in Jam’s blood and the sound of my hysterical laughter seemed to have scared them off. I sat down and waited for the cops. God he smelled worse dead than alive. I moved a bit off from him just so I wouldn’t blow chunks all over the place. It took the cops over two hours to respond and I had laughed myself hoarse by the time they showed. Ticket to Death Match…Secured! You know it’s funny when sometimes life gives you the exact thing you need!

            Death Match started as an alternative to the justice system in 3045 as an experiment, just a few low profile cases. People no one would care about, death row inmates and such. It did whet the appetite of the disgruntled masses yearning for safety, order, and above all, entertainment. What they got instead was government sanctioned murder with no more courts, lawyers or prisons. No cost to the taxpayer as well.  All crimes and legal disputes were to be settled in the Matches. While it did quiet the masses some, it was the gamblers and bookmakers who really benefited. After a taste of the money, there was no going back. Death Match was here to stay!

            Steal a candy bar or a gold bar, the sentence was the same…Death Match! This was not a perfect system as no systems created by man ever are. Innocents found their way into Death Match, either by mistake or manipulation. It was generally felt that the sacrifice of a few innocents was worth the reduction in spending it created and the elimination of undesirables. It was being sold to the public as a safer society for all. Lower taxes got most folks behind it right away. Now no system is perfect, but it seemed an equitable trade off from the pure insanity in the streets of current times. Super safe communities all over the galaxy and all it cost were the lives of a few innocents, a few trouble makers, and all the dissidents the governments wanted disposed of. Basically just a few folks no one would miss anyway.

            As time went by and the body count grew, more and more questioned the fairness of this system. It became rapidly apparent that a new way of judging was going to be needed. Embittered wives and husbands started accusing each other of adultery or spousal abuse in order to send their better half to the Matches. Business partners started accusing each other of fraud and embezzlement in the hopes of gaining full control of their shared enterprises! Everyone’s worst nightmare was coming true. No one but a crazy person would want to risk a ticket into Death Match…No one but a crazy person.

            The wealthy Death Match owners were making a killing, pun fully intended, broadcasting these modern day gladiators. In order to protect their obscene profits they needed to come up with a better way of determining guilt and innocence. They couldn’t have the whole system crashing down around them. For awhile, however, the system continued to operate as usual. It had made the streets safer after all. Even with its flaws, this was still the most watched and wagered on TV show of all time! It was broadcasted from multiple worlds all over the Milky Way and available 24 hours a day. Advertisers were begging to get on board. The closest thing it could be compared to was the Superbowl on Old Earth. Instead however it being on one day per year for about 6 hours this was every day, every hour, every minute! It had pushed all other sporting events to the side. After all, who wants to watch players try and kill each other when you can actually watch them kill each other? Death Match was the only thing that mattered anymore. The citizens of the Milky Way loved it!

            Now in 3057, along comes Dr. David Aspen, a noted neurologist and a computer science PhD. He had been able to link brainwaves to a computer in a way no one had before him. He was able to tell if a person was telling the truth or not, just by looking at the screen of his machine. A new way to make sure only the guilty were sent to the matches had arrived. The Aspen Trial, as it came to be known, revolutionized crime detection and sentencing. Aspen became super rich as all planetary governments rushed to purchase his machines and get them into service. As a side note, Aspen died in 3065 when he found his wife in bed with a lover and killed them both. He was placed in his own machine then sent to die in the Matches. Quite a shame if you ask me and yet so completely ironic! Now the trillionaires had their guarantees of guilt and their profits. The public had their circuses! Everybody wins! Or so it seemed.

            Every crime resulted in at least a 50/50 chance of death, but there was an even greater chance of permanent bodily damage for both fighters. In order to keep Granny or Gramps from dying in the matches over an unpaid parking ticket, the law now allowed for substitution of fighters. A family member or a hired gun was allowed to stand in for them. That’s were a young smart killer with no compunction came in.

My name is Danny, no last name, as I couldn’t afford one. I grew up in the slums of New Baltimore on Earth 3 somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy. I didn’t know where it was and I didn’t give two rat fucks either. It was fucking hell and that was all I needed to know. Even though this shithole city I lived in was called New Baltimore, it had a lot in common with West Baltimore on Old Earth. Constant crime, drug addicts everywhere and cops that would just as soon shoot you as talk to you. Have you ever heard of getting the shit end of the stick? Well, I always got the stick covered in shit from both ends. Born to a junkie mother and raised by an ever revolving cast of my mother’s loser boyfriends who used me as slave labor and/or a punching bag. I did my best to stay out of their way when possible. Growing up in the slums, always hungry and always getting my ass kicked by anyone who thought they could get away with it was boot camp for Death Match. The Slum University I called it. I got the truth of the world beaten into me on an almost daily basis, but I also had a secret that gave me an edge during these beatings. This was a secret only my x-rays and my doctor would divulge and they weren’t talking!

            I watched the Matches through the window of bars and hotels. Sometimes I’d even cling to the fire escapes of housing units just to get my fix. I was destined to fight in the Matches; I had figured out that much at least. There really wasn’t much of a choice. If you didn’t get out of New Baltimore, somehow or someway, then death would come for you. Girls could fuck their way out if they wanted it bad enough. Boys I guess could too, but that wasn’t how I wanted to go down, again total pun intended! Basically if you’re poor, then you’re fucked, no ifs, ands, or buts! At least in the Matches I had a 50/50 shot at some kind of life, if I could survive that is. If I stayed in the slums, then I had no chance at all.

            You were teleported in on an energy wave, landing you on any number of different Match planets. You could even see both your embarkation point and your destination point during the teleport.  A kind of double vision as your eyes temporarily occupied both the starting point and the landing point. You’re teleported in naked as a jay bird with nothing but your hide and your smarts! No watch, no sunglasses, no hats, no nothing, just pain and death. Welcome to Death Match!

            There were a million uninhabited planets available for the Matches or at least they were uninhabited by sentient beings. There was no rule against sending you in to face snow creatures or giant lizard men. You literally had to watch out for wildlife and your opponent at the same time. I was good at that, having grown up always looking over my shoulder.

             25 years after that day in the alley, I find myself on a no name planet in some jerkwater part of the known galaxy, half buried in the only watery mud hole I could find on this shitty little rock. It was about 2 feet deep with soft mud on the bottom, ringed in animal footprints and painted white with bird droppings. I was pretty sure there were a million teaming colonies of bacteria waiting to devour me from the inside of this mess. I made sure to keep my mouth above the water line and covered myself in the sticky mud. Doing my best to stay cool and concealed was essential. The two suns above guaranteed a sunburn and eventually sunstroke too. Death was on the menu if no cover was found. I was hiding not only from the sun but also from my opponent. I didn’t know his name or his crime, only that he wanted me dead. To be fair I wanted him dead as well, but it wasn’t personal, it was just business.

            My opponent was built like a Neanderthal, but his eyes were alive with an intelligence no Neanderthal had ever had. When he looked in my direction you could tell he was killing you over and over again, working shit out as it were! We had already mixed it up on arrival. Normally they don’t set you down close to each other, but this time they did. I wasn’t sure if it was a mistake or intentional, but either way it didn’t fucking matter now. They wanted the audience to get what they had paid for. He was about 5’10 and probably weighed in around 225 pounds with bulging muscles, this guy spent a lot of time in the gym. He was completely hair less, it helped in combat so as to not give the other guy something to grab onto. I was shaved in a similar fashion; it was the mark of a pro.

            I had waited for my vision to resolve as I teleported in. He must have come in seconds before me and as soon as I solidified he was on me, lightening quick. He stunned me with a head shot immediately. My vision went wonky and my ears were ringing. I flailed around hoping to fend him off till my head cleared. He went right for a death blow; a sharp stick he had picked up had found its way between my ribs. This was another mark that he was a pro. He forced it between my ribs where my heart should have been. That would have ended the whole thing for most, but for me, the place where you should’ve found my heart was empty body cavity. Due to a birth defect, my heart and most of my organs where on the right side of my body instead of the left. Don’t get me wrong, getting stabbed with a stick still hurt like a motherfucker and there was plenty of blood too, but no cigar for this asshole this time! I pretended to go down like I would have had he hit my heart. He started walking around with the bloody stick playing it up for the cameras. Hmm…Maybe not such a pro after all. I used this time to slip away, holding my hand over the wound and hoping to not leave a trail of blood for him to follow. This was a fight I wanted to fight on my terms, not his, and I needed to get away from him as fast as possible and regroup.

            My agent was billing me as the un-killable Danny. This was an exaggeration, sort of. I wasn’t really that hard to kill, you just had to look to the right instead of the left. Everywhere else on me was the same, but the nickname and actual footage showing me being stabbed in the organs over and over helped bring in some high priced offers. Two men enter and One man leaves. The Official slogan of Death Match. Probably stolen from some 20th century B-movie. I had been killing in matches for 25 years. It’s a dog eat dog world and I don’t plan on being lunch! The only thing I believed in was me. Not God or the Devil.

            I had killed over a hundred people in Death Match over those 25 years and would kill a great many more in the next 25.  This one would be no different I hoped. I knew a lot of tricks but not every trick in the book. I wasn’t worried about being physically over matched sometimes. Most times I could out think them, besides, big muscle bound strong guys don’t last. They need too many calories and too much water. Guys like me lasted, compact, tough and deadly. Sometimes I killed them while they were still sizing me up. I could see from their expressions that they considered me an easy mark, an easy win. If I wound up being overmatched, then I would engage them after the planet had some time to work on them. Sometimes I would present them with an opening to go for the killing move, something sharp to my heart. While they were busy thinking they already won, I was busy going for their sweet spots. The hearts, kidneys, livers and of course the eyes, you didn’t spend 25 years in the Matches without learning a few dirty tricks.


            Don’t get the impression this was like an episode of Star Trek. The one where Kirk puts together a projectile weapon with chemicals found onsite while fighting The Gorn. You had to be super creative though. The only weapons you could use were from the surrounding area. Branches for clubs and stones to bash with. Even vines for nets or ropes if available. The most watched Matches involved hand to hand combat. People loved to watch others kill with their bare hands. Each match was on a random world, supposedly, but I suspected that didn’t apply to high dollar matches. The tougher the combatants, the harsher the world it seemed.

            I was careful to keep the water out of my mouth and nose. I was sure going to need a strong antibiotic when this was all over and I got back to the world, but who knew how long this match would go on. Matches lasted as long as they needed to and that could be days or even weeks. The mud was getting into my stab wound and it was starting to ache on top of everything else. I was conserving as much energy as possible. I would need it to hunt him tonight. There was no way I could take this fucking monster on in broad daylight. There was also the terrain to take into consideration. Two suns blazing down 20 hours a day. It was 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, if you could find any. The only water was undrinkable poop milkshake. Dust storms also blew up with no notice and could tear the very flesh from your bones. The environment here was just as likely to kill you as your opponent was. So here in this shit hole full of mud and stagnant water I would stay until the suns had set. Hunting at night has its own dangers, but you had the advantage of cover provided by the dark. However, you could still trip and break an ankle or leg on the rocks, but so could your opponent. Dislodge the wrong stone and get buried in a rock slide. You could even happen upon a venomous snake and die a horrible death from snake bite. There were a hundred ways to die in this game, maybe a thousand. On top of that your primary opponent might set an ambush in the gloom. 

            I was mostly underwater and looking at a few more hours or at least till the suns set, I broke from my ill advised reverie, and I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I needed to stay on top of this guy or I would wake up dead! Small ripples had started spreading out from the middle of the pond. I stayed where I was, just using my eyes to see if I could detect where these ripples were coming from. I was sure it wasn’t random rocks falling or bird shit dropping into the pond. There weren’t any trees along the bank of the pond so nothing was coming from them. And although there were plenty of animal signs, there weren’t any animals that I could see right now either. The ripples spread to the far bank and doubled back on themselves. It reminded me of when I was a kid chucking stones into the sewage pond. It had to be the Neanderthal just out of sight. I didn’t see anything else that could be doing it. Despite my earlier assessment that there was knowledge behind that forward jutting brow, I must have been mistaken. Neanderthal was a rookie. Chucking stones and revealing his position, pure amateur shit. This went on for about two hours I guesstimated, an exact time was not knowable.

            I stayed where I was, I knew this game. He was trying to startle me into giving away my position, but I was no rookie. He did want something from that mud puddle and at this point, I wasn’t so sure it actually was me, but who can say? I didn’t know what he sought, but I wasn’t about to jump up and march into those weeds to ask him. I was hoping he didn’t have the same idea of using the mud hole to rest until the evening brought cooler temps. This could get ugly very fast if he accidentally bumped into me. About a hundred tiny pebbles later, he cautiously approached, stopping for long periods of time before moving a bit closer, then doing it again. This guy was huge and I was going to have my hands full with him if it went down right here. Being in the same mud with this guy would be tough. I had to breathe and move a bit to keep from stiffening up. Nothing you would notice from the bank, but in the water I created my own ripples once in awhile and if you were in the water with me, you would most likely see them. This of course would be the same for him, but I preferred to wait until a time of my choosing. Surprise attack, as usual, seemed to be the way to go. 

            Watching carefully through slit eyes he covered the last few feet, then he was at the water’s edge. I was sure he and I were on the same plan of hiding in the muddy water until the short night came. When he dipped his hands into the water and mud I assumed he would start putting it on his very sunburned face and body like I had. The next thing he did both horrified and thrilled me! The fucking fool! He was drinking from this shithole! I personally had been pissing in it for 3 or 4 hours! There were also some partially rotten carcasses of local wildlife half in and half out of the water. If that wasn’t enough, the whole pond was covered in a foul smelling green sludge. The only thing missing was a huge sign that said “DON’T DRINK THE FUCKING WATER IDIOT!” Shit, the bugs alone in this water would destroy his guts and dehydrate him in no time. I had been preparing for an all out physical conflict and now this moron had just poisoned himself! I almost cried out in surprise and delight! I could wait until he was cramping, puking and shitting his brains out and then swoop in for the kill. Of course this could be a ruse of some kind trying to draw me out, but 25 years in the kill zone had made me much too smart for that. This guy had just killed himself; he just didn’t know it yet.

            I stayed put for another few hours waiting until the suns had been down for awhile. Leaving my cover carefully in case he was watching, I reapplied mud to my body at the water’s edge so I wouldn’t reflect too much moonlight creeping up on him. This guy should be in the throes of dysentery by now, but it never hurt to be careful. Being over eager and overconfident had killed many a great Matcher. I tracked him by trail sign, using the light of the moons. I barely needed it, his smell marked his way. For some reason it reminded me of that kid I had murdered in the slums in order to get in my first match. What was his name again, Jazz? Jizz? Jams?!  That sounded right, I remembered his smell though, hot sick diarrhea. I guess that kid had the shits too.

            It wasn’t long I before I could give up the trail sign stuff and just listen for his vomiting and shitting. If you don’t think you can follow someone by the sounds of their bowels evacuating then you’ve just never lived baby! Most cases of dysentery were not fatal, if help could be reached in time. Help would not be reached for this guy! I was the only one on this planet that was capable of helping him and I wasn’t going to. The only help I had to give was ending this fucking moron’s life.

            When I snuck up on him he was literally covered in his own shit and puke. He was also sporting one of the worst sunburns I had ever seen, so add sunstroke to his tab too. Slowly stepping up to him, I found a large stone to bash his stupid fucking head in with. I didn’t want to get too much of his blood and guts on me but a certain amount was inevitable. I was already going to need a surgeon for the stab wound and some serious antibiotics from being in that fucking pond all day, I didn’t need any extra contamination from him, but it is what it is. I swung the rock up over my head and brought it down as hard as I could, stepping back at the last second, as it landed on his head. His skull cracked on the first try and he stopped moving after a few moments. Fuck! I had thought this guy was going to be tough! This win was like taking candy from a baby, a very stinky, nasty gross ass baby. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop shitting or stinking upon death! The smell was so much more horrible when it came straight out of his body.  

            He was dead, the blood and brains spreading in the sand proved that, but I had bills to pay, my sponsor wanted a vicious kill and still needed to get his money’s worth. The fans wanted it too. Disregarding the puke, shit and blood on my boulder, I raised it again and again until there was only a puddle of gore where his head had been.  I broke all his ribs and smashed his arms and legs to splinters. I still had my hands raised above my head for another strike when I found myself teleported directly into a decontamination tank back at home base. There was a robo surgeon preparing to stitch up my wounds and my stats were displayed like a ticker tape on the television set. Another match was already beginning. Yee Haw! I was back in the first world! Hot showers, good food and delicious clean water!

Just another day at the office.








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First and Foremost, I want to dedicate this to my wife, writing partner and editor, Peggy Rohleder. She believed in me when even I didn’t!


Secondly, I would like to thank Lauren Dentler for her help with editing. She helped me to see where I needed to fill in the cracks and tried to help me not make an ass of myself, which is still to be determined.


Third, I would like to dedicate this to Danny Scott. He was my inspiration for the lead character. Danny is of course much more civilized, or so he’d have you believe!


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