This is not a regular feature, I just thought that sounded appropriate since I'm posting a flash fiction piece for an online group I belong to. I'd appreciate your feedback!
The Red Ticket
"Twenty on red! Twenty on red!" The pale-faced man waved a note at the attendant. Kicking aside an empty beer bottle, he leaned over the men next to him and stretched his arm into the aisle, oblivious to the stares.
Arthritic fingers curled around the bill, then scribbled on a scrap of red paper and shoved it at the man. Others grabbed at his sleeve but he brushed them off. "Bettin's closed. Fight's about to start." Pushing through the crowd, he waved at the referee.
A bell sounded and the crowd erupted.
The contender in the red corner rushed to the center of the ring, nervous energy rolling down his back.
His opponent approached more slowly. He looked from side to side, then took a cautious step back, but his trainer picked him up and threw him into the center.
A man with a blue ticket leaned over the low wall. "Hurry up, Blondie! What you waiting for?" he yelled at the fair-colored opponent.
Red stepped closer, then leapt into the air. Light flashed off the knife strapped to his claw, and an arc of blood streamed across the ring.
Blondie stumbled, and Red jumped once more, landing on Blondie's back. The dirt beneath them pooled with blood, but Blondie tossed Red aside and scurried to the corner.
The crowd screamed.
The trainer stepped forward and nudged Blondie with a scuffed boot, while Red threw back his head and crowed, the clear sound echoing off the walls.
Blondie straightened, ready for more.
They faced each other, feinting from side to side. Forward and back. A moment's pause, and Red rushed forward, but this time Blondie dodged the attack. He jumped and swung, his blade connecting with the tough muscles shielding Red's back.
The crowd pressed closer, thirsty for more. Drops of blood splattered the dirt, but Red didn't pause. He lowered his head and dove at Blondie, claws flying.
A strangled cry rose over the cheers, and a cloud of dust lingered in the air when Blondie fell to his side.
The man with the red ticket held his breath. It wasn't a large bet – he'd certainly risked more on lesser fights – but his pulse quickened all the same. His gaze focused not on Red, whose chest puffed while his trainer checked his wraps, but at Blondie. Did he have the will to keep fighting?
A quiver of feathers and a cheer from the men gave him his answer. Blondie wobbled to his feet and called to the crowd. His crow wasn't as forceful as Red's, but it got his opponent's attention.
They returned to their dance, each moving in time with the other, their movements slowing as the minutes ticked by.
"I paid to see a fight!"
The trainers inched into the ring, but didn't interfere. The fighters knew the signal. Each leapt towards the other, knives flashing.
They collided mid-air.
Their bodies fell as one, crashing to the dirt with a whoosh of air.
One moment passed, then two.
A steady crow broke the silence. Blond feathers rustled, then fell to the side as Red stood and paced the ring. Red's trainer rushed forward and held him aloft for a victory lap, indifferent to the drops of blood that stained his shirt.
While the crowd cheered, the attendant hustled through the bodies to collect the winning tickets.
The pale man wiped his brow and waved his scrap of paper. As the attendant moved closer, the losing trainer knelt beside Blondie and rested a hand on his chest. A shadow darkened his face, and he looked into the crowd. Several men laughed and blue tickets rained onto the dirt floor. He swatted them away, then jerked to his feet, pulling Blondie with him. The lifeless body dangled against his legs, leaving a trail of blood in his path.
The attendant pressed a bill in the pale man's hand. A hundred note.
"Congratulations." Someone clapped his shoulder.
He smiled, weak now that the rush had passed. "It's too bad about the blond one. I hate to see the animals die."
The men near him laughed. They came for the blood; death was inconsequential.
"Why you come if you don't like the blood?"
He paused, unsure if they'd understand. When he was a child his mother taught him that taking joy in another's misery was not a good way to live one's life. With gambling it was inevitable, and his mother disapproved of his diversion.
The trainer opened a gate and tossed Blondie into the tall grass.
The pale man looked at the men around him. "I enjoy the sport. It's the dying I could do without."
The man nearest him shrugged, then turned to his friends.
The pale man stuffed the bill into his coat pocket and took his seat to wait for the next fight.
The prompt for this month's piece was Schadenfreude, which German for pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This story came to me while I was having a massage on the beach this past Tuesday. There I was, being pampered in a cabana 150 feet from the ocean, thinking about cockfights.