The Gauntlet of Gore is one of my longer short stories – a similar length to The School of Necromancy, if you read that. It is also, perhaps, my bloodiest, and one of my strangest.
It is about a competitive school sport where players punch opposing players in the stomach with a powered gauntlet, which makes the person explode.
There is also a pervading supernatural horror element – and some of the creepiest team captains you may ever encounter…
You can find it on Amazon here.
The grass were iron blades burnished under the heat of the midday sun. Millions upon millions of little knives, all thirsting, ready to whet their whistles on the redness of humans.
The grounds for play covered the field, the central mud banks where lives were often lost, and the sparse yet dark forests around the fringes, where each team would begin. That’s where they waited, so tense you could cut yourself on their muscles. Some shivering, some breathing deep, some with eyes closed and praying to the gods of slaughter.
In no time at all, each of them would look a horror, team colours almost indistinguishable under slopping coats of mud and blood. Fighting, frenzied and frothing, lost in the berserker hazes of battle lust and battle terror. The tactics drilled into them could never last forever, could never be present when you were staring into the rolling whites of enemy eyes. Then, it was just you and them, and your death hung on a seesaw.
The woods were thin, but most of the trunks were wide. In the later stages of the game, sometimes called the hunt, sometimes called clean-up, they would hide players, players shivering and scared, putting off the inevitable, and players silent in their concealment, waiting to assassinate their hunters. Overhead the canopy was thick and heavy from these trees, filling in the gaps and shutting out the sun. The experienced players stood and crouched like panthers in the darkness, feeling the dirt under them and stroking the bark of the trees with their free hand.
You couldn’t see the cameras unless you were looking for them, but they were there. They had their places. In the field the cameras were long-range, pointing in at the action from the sidelines, but here they sneaked in among the trees, flicking on and off with night vision to the rapt, hungry attention of their audience.
The spectators sat in their stands on the only side of the field not bordered by woods, munching their processed meats and gurgling beer, keeping eyes on the huge screens that showed the choice views from the cameras, field and forest. The audience who watched at home slunk lower in their fat armchairs, or indulged drunken bloodlusts perched on barstools with their chattering, gasping brethren.
No spectators would cross the boundaries and come onto the pitch. There would be no streakers, no attention-seekers. If you passed the boundaries, your life was forfeit. Neither the Organisers or any player were held responsible if you were hurt, or if you died.
The audience stayed put.
This wasn’t as polished a set-up as the Nationals, or the World Titles, but a lot of people preferred the Locals, the inter-school matches. They were amateurs, technically, but the orgy of violence suited them, suited the dirt and roughness of the grounds. There were only a handful of pro stadiums – called Coliseums these days – out there. The players didn’t play on fields and in forests and sliding up and down mud banks, but on laminate flooring. Obstacles were varied, with new ones introduced in each game, keeping a novelty element for the audience and a surprise element for the teams. Regular obstacles included a simulated forest made of branchless, leafless poles to dodge, a waxen floor to slip and slide on, and a crowd favourite, an area of connected trampolines. You hadn’t seen anything until you’d seen two players jumping towards each other, fists connecting in each other’s stomachs, and exploding in mid-air.
Sarah checked her gauntlet for what seemed to be the twentieth time. There was no such thing as over-checking, not when your life depended on it working and staying strapped tight around your hand. She opened the small protective casing, flicked the switch and felt the familiar thrum, the vibrations coursing through her fingers and up her arm. When it hit the spot, a stomach, the vibrations, tuned to the perfect frequency, would multiply over and over, rumbling their way through the gauntlet and rippling the enemy’s (you better hope they were an enemy) stomach. And then they exploded.
She moved to switch it back off, when a siren sounded, sharp and angry, emitting from every camera. Now she could see them, blinking black and sullen in the trees.
‘Switch ‘em on!’ she shouted, and those players that needed telling did so.
She looked over at Mike, who nodded at her, his face hard. She turned to see Joseph, who had his eyes closed and was muttering fast to himself. She was relieved to see his gauntlet was on and working.
A couple of steps before her, Freddy was stretching. You better be good, she thought.
A second noise, higher than the last, and ending faster.
‘Everybody!’ Sarah shouted. ‘You’re here now! If you want to turn back, it’s too late, you’ll just have to fight your way out! Remember your training! Remember your teammates! Fight for your team, fight for your life, fight for William Howard! Give ‘em Hell!’
A cheer, desperate and aggressive, was echoed by some, and was quickly swallowed by the darkness. Some of them were gulping repeatedly and some were shaking their heads, as though wishing the dream away.
The third call.