OUT OF THE DARKNESS, I saw it.
More alarming it saw me, too. Even at the age of nine, I knew well enough to remain still.
The bull would be attracted to movement.
I sucked in air, trying to fill my lungs, yet no breath remained. Orange flames flickered from the few fire torches positioned around the empty arena.
He trotted toward me and then broke into a gallop. The ground shook and time slowed, forcing a dreamy sense of reality. Hoofs skidded to a stop, spraying up a cloud of dust. Sweat evaporated off his hide and a pungent aroma reached my nostrils.
Our eyes locked.
I bit down on my lip, fists clenched, fingernails digging into my palms, though I barely felt them.
He snorted, sniffed, and tilted sharp, devilish horns. My heart pounded, racing ever faster, and my hands shook as I rose to my full height and pulled my shirt over my head, hating those vulnerable seconds, careful to minimize my movements.
He pawed the dirt.
“Control with composure.” My brother’s words spoken to me long ago, conveying his poise as a seasoned bullfighter.
The bull flicked his tail and snarled. I judged which horn he favored, indicating the direction he’d go.
He thundered toward me, his hoofs rhythmically striking the ground, and I raised my make-shift cape. It brushed over his horns as he galloped past, and swerved left, snorting stale breath that left a putrid taste buried deep in the back of my throat. Lumbering, he turned to face me again, inclining his enormous head. My dry tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth and I tried to gulp my fear. Taking short breaths, unable to remember my last, I suppressed a whimper.
Large nostrils sniffed the air again. I steadied my hands and flicked the garment as he lurched under my left arm, spraying up soil.
I backed up.
Head down, he followed.
My back struck the arena wall, betraying my escape, trapping me between it and him. His stare met mine and went on through. In a state of dread, those terrifying seconds seemed more like hours as they took my breath with them. I struggled to recall which saint could be rallied.
The ground vibrated, bringing with it a sea of black as a billowing dust cloud arose. I threw my shirt over his head and then dived to the right of him. The material blinded him and he plunged into the stone, horns scraping and grinding. He bellowed and shook his head.
I leaped to my feet and bolted along and over the enclosure, landing on the gravel, scraping my hands and knees. Still tasting the dirt he’d sprayed up, I turned awkwardly and peered back. The bull’s eyes bulged, his tail hung low between his legs as he trotted, searching. I sighed, almost forgetting my stinging, bloodied knees.
Thrown forward by the crack that struck my head, pain exploded in my skull. Through a bleary stare, I lay looking up at three men, their shadowy figures looming over me, handkerchiefs pulled up to obscure their faces. The tallest of the three tapped his fingers against his thigh. In his other hand, he grasped a wooden cudgel.
After the third strike, I blacked out.