Cheers roll in the distance like the thunder of an impending storm. The faint rumble reminding me it’s time for battle. The muscles in my arms tighten and my heart pounds in my chest. I force myself to move forward. Force myself to face it again.
The chanting grows to a roar as I enter the stadium. My name on their tongues beckoning me into the arena. At first, the faces blend together. Fleshy masses without independence. But I strain my eyes, forcing myself to focus on each one. My mother. My father. My brother. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Ancestors lining the bleachers like a parade in Dante’s underworld. Friends with concern and curiosity lean their bodies forward in anticipation.
A door across the arena slides open. The scratch of wood against wood makes my heart race faster. The revealed room is dark. Sweat drips into my eyes as I await his arrival. The horns are first. Then a snout breathing so heavily the sand of the arena floor kicks up into the air. His brown eyes leer at me, and I swear I see a glint of recognition. We’ve met before. Numerous times. He’s studied my moves and fine-tuned his attack. He’s grown stronger.
I let him charge me. His hooves shaking my soul with each blow of the ground. Coming for me, ready to bowl me over. Just to dodge him at the last moment, with a flourish of the cape. A twirl, a dance, the beast and I do. A triumphant feeling floods me as the bull runs pass and trots around realizing his failure. Closer and closer he gets with each attack. His horns scrap my skin, the heat of his breath falls on my arm. The triumph fades and the fear grows. Both of us cannot survive the fight.
In the corner of my eye, I see a tall, bearded man leaning against the wall. He nips at his thumb as he watches me. Looking at him I feel a hope I haven’t felt in a long time. He holds the sword I need to end my dalliance with the beast. I run to him. Closer and closer I get. With each step, his smile grows, summoning me forth. But as I touch his hand, he dodges. Twirling and dancing away with each pass I make. I plead with him. I tell him I’m worthy. But his sideward glance reflects my own skepticism. Desperate, I chase him—knowing he’s the one that can save me. But he ignores me. I look to the crowd for the support. I wait for their jeers. But the bleachers are now empty. What remains is a deafening silence that is only broken by my own voice.
I feel the ground shake behind me and I prepare for the inevitable. The horn pierces me. The sharp pain catches in my gut. My breath is sucked from my body. I look up at the man. His grin deepens and he walks out of the arena—my hope evaporating as he fades into the distance. The horn of the bull vacates my body, leaving an emptiness searing in me.
Sated, the beast trots back into his pen. Alone, once more, I recount all the prior loses, pray for a single victory.
Aila Doyle resides in Chicago, where she currently is working on two novels. She tweets from @ailadoyle2.