The Oatmeal better "like" the hell out of this....

>> Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sister Muriel grins and bears it when Mother Superior hits her. There went another tooth. Now she's on the mat, red spit runneling down her chin and the world is canted sideways and sparkling; boys are cheering on the other side of the chainlink and then Mother Superior's foot catches her on the temple and she's down and out.

Undefeated in defeat, Mother Superior.

Feels good to lie down, doesn't it? Muriel's ears are still ringing and she doesn't remember when she closed her eyes. That single fluorescent bulb in its own cage is too much like looking right into the sun so Sister Muriel closes her eyes. She'd pray but she can't remember the words, so she whispers "Goddamn" instead and it's like a prayer.

Time was, Mother Superior would have chastised her for the expletive. But all she does now is cluck, nearly henlike, through her broken lips. Sister Muriel blacked her eye before Mother Superior knocked her out. Time was, a lot of things would have been different. Time was, Sister Muriel would never have called Leslie anything other than "Mother Superior" and in her heart and her head, well, she still can't, though she mostly remembers to call her "Leslie" when she cradles Mother Superior's head between her breasts in the last hours of night.

And Mother Superior smiles and rinses the dirty rag, and she applies cool water to Sister Muriel's bruises and cuts where she sees them. With her other hand she takes Muriel's and rests it, still holding it, in her own lap and from the coarse fabric she feels on the back of her hand knows Mother Superior is still wearing her habit. Sister Muriel is wearing only the thin blanket their captors put in their cell and the dirty, badly-fitting bikini they made her fight in tonight.

There is a low rolling rumble comes up through Mother Superior and up through the cinderblock wall into their cot; the tremor from the explosion's like a high-speed train rolling under the prison, which used to be an elementary school before the invasion.

"Love, they said we have to fight again," Mother Superior--Leslie--whispers. "Tonight. I could try to let you win if you'd let me, Mur. You can't go on like this any longer. And if...." In Mother Superior's silence, they can both here something ticking in the walls of the building, a hum of some machine and then another distant explosion somehow feels like licking a 9V battery; "If I lost you," Mother Superior whispers, and tries to kiss Sister Muriel's asphalt lips but there's too much blood between them.

Inside the chainlink perimeter within the chainlink walls of the institution, the tankers have laid out gym mats that don't soften the blacktop beneath them. They pulled out the gym bleachers and moved them into position round the fence with only a small gap for people to enter, people to leave, the audience and the fighters coming and going the same way, though sometimes the fighters have to be dragged in or out. There used to be a lot more fighters, all the sisters from the convent plus the other hostages the invaders took when they floated into the city on their heavy metal. And animals, too, but the tankers probably ate them all and that's why Sister Muriel and Mother Superior, the last two ring fighters left, don't have to pummel dogs or kill farm animals with their bare hands when the tankers are tired with seeing two women beat each other next to death. Sometimes the women fight in their torn and dirty habits and sometimes the tankers make them wear costumes: cheerleader outfits, bathing suits, one time Sister Muriel had to wear the heavy furred costume of a former local sports team mascot when she was forced to pummel a fat businessman in a gimp outfit (later she found out he was a collaborator 'til the tankers turned on him). Lately it's just been her in the bikini and Mother--Leslie--Leslie in her habit; as if the tankers are bored now, killing time because they can't kill anyone else with the Old Government's robot war machines hemming them in on all sides.

Sometimes Sister Muriel sees the tanks in the once-upon-a-time schoolyard, turrets pointing out into the shadows; she sees why everybody is hunkered down, now. Most of the tanks rest on their bottoms, skirts spread out round them like flat tires. The tankers' flames have gone out, all that 2H melted down to He and blown; she doesn't know this in so many words, mind you, just that the tankers' hovercrafts are clearly dejuiced. They're grounded and using their armor as artillery, cracking off a nuke every few nights just to keep the 'bots from getting any ideas; except if Muriel can tell they're down to just a couple of shells, probably everybody knows it and maybe it explains why the tankers look as beaten down as their fighters and don't even get excited by the matches anymore. (Muriel figures the only reason she and Mother Superior still get dragged out to the cage at all is because the tankers haven't even asked, "Why stop now?" The tankers are waiting to die just like she is.)

The sky is the color of a blood orange, the clouds of civilization mirroring violence.

Mother Superior is dressed like a stripper. She's pushing seventy and Muriel, dressed in drag, is pushing fifty; but Leslie is young in her sixties and used to jog six miles a day before the war started and Leslie is old in her forties and her main recreation was going down to the convent kitchen for a snack while waiting for a compile to finish. (God knows she's lost weight living on nothing but protein pills and gruel these last nineteen months.) Still something proud and defiant in the way Mother Superior stands there in those ill-fitting stilettos they've made her jam her feet into, even with her tits sagging like that, while Sister Muriel looks less like a rake and more like a little girl forced to dress up like a daddy by a merciless older sister using her siblings as living dolls. The tankers are barring the door to the cage with the upright from the baskeball goal that used to stand not twenty feet away from where the nuns face each other beneath the petrofuel-powered Kliegs and reflected firelight from the poison sky. Mur can't do this anymore. The two dozen spectators are cold and quiet as their guns.

When Mother Superior swings, she swings wide. When the second punch connects, it's hardly a slap. Sister Muriel is just standing there like she dropped something. Mother Superior closes and grapples, twisting Muriel over her knee and knocking Mur's hat off when she grabs her hair, but it's all pro-wrestling moves, it's all stagefighting and theatre; Mother Superior has Sister Muriel's short hair wound round her fingers like warp to her digits' weft, but she's pushing, not pulling, so the hair grab might as well be cradling an infant's head. And when she brings her face in to bite Sister Muriel's ear, what she does instead is whisper, "Fight back, Mur, fight back! I'll take a fall but you have to fight!"

Mother Superior pushes Sister Muriel away and it would look like Muriel breaking the clutch if she didn't stumble over her heel and fall on her back. Hits the back of her head on the mat and can see stars in a sky that's been occluded so long no one can remember what night used to look like. Mother Superior is wobbling a circle around her because she has trouble walking in those damn shoes they're using to humiliate her tonight.

And a faceless man stands on the top bench of one of the overlooking bleachers. He pulls the trigger of a megaphone and it gives an electronic banshee shriek and the man shouts, "Bitches will fight or bitches will die," and he sits down while his voice continues to slap back from the walls. The tankers give an unenthusiastic cheer and cock their weapons.

Mother Superior looks round the merciless ring and then she wobbles over and falls to her bony knees, straddling Sister Muriel's waist. She puts her hands around Sister Muriel's head and begins to bang Muriel's head against the mat but in a way that her own fingers take the impacts until Mother Superior begins to bleed around her fingernails. "You must fight. You must fight. You must fight."

Sister Muriel tastes the ocean on her lips and listens to a memory of bells.


vince Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 6:20:00 PM EDT  

I like it, but it it would be even better if it had more tanks.

You're welcome.

Eric Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 9:53:00 PM EDT  

I tried to compensate with robots, nuclear weapons, a post-apocalyptic landscape and a women-in-prison vibe.

Maybe there should be a sequel with Mother Superior on a hovertank?

John Healy Friday, April 13, 2012 at 12:09:00 PM EDT  

Good stuff, Eric. Of course, I'm not The Oatmeal.

timb111 Friday, April 13, 2012 at 3:05:00 PM EDT  

I came across "How to get more likes on Facebook" on The Oatmeal and now your post makes sense. I'll also need to see your drawing of George Washington defeating Skynet while riding on a bald eagle before I click your like button.

I guess I should have clicked the Mathew Inman link.

Eric Friday, April 13, 2012 at 4:27:00 PM EDT  

There is an implied "or"--"any of those things", the man said.

If it's all of them, I can't paint for shit.

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