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vol vi, issue 1 < ToC
Slobbering Sevillano
by
C. I. I. Jones
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The Little JoysThe Shack and
of Sisyphusthe Plums
Slobbering Sevillano
by
C. I. I. Jones
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The Little Joys
of Sisyphus




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The Shack and
the Plums
Slobbering Sevillano
by
C. I. I. Jones
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The Little Joys The Shack and
of Sisyphus the Plums
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The Little Joys
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The Shack and
the Plums
Slobbering Sevillano
 by C. I. I. Jones
Slobbering Sevillano
 by C. I. I. Jones
It was a beautiful city filled with beautiful people. It all felt so ancient, everything was from a time long ago. Everything needed to be treated like an antique, even the trinkets in the gift shops, created for the sole purpose of luring in tourists like Brent and Jolene Garl. Jolene drifted away to a far corner of the store where the same fans that were in the last gift shop had been—all imprinted with the beautiful city’s name—Seville.

“Be careful back there, will ya?” Brent called to her. “Don’t want to be paying a fortune for one of them fancy fans if you break it.”

He received no response, which didn’t make him feel any better. Carol could be so careless. And if he had to pay the cost of an airline ticket for a broken souvenir he would not be happy. Still, he was in Seville, an American abroad in the south of Spain. The weather was perfect. He had a mid-afternoon buzz going off a few cervezas. Despite his wife’s carelessness and the risk she posed of the waste of money on damaged goods, she was wearing a sexy “Spanish” shirt.

Hung on one wall was a set of posters advertising the bullfights. They were works of art, painted to show both bull and man as true lethal forces. Both strong, statuesque creatures, writhing with killer instinct. Each showed the schedule of a different day’s event. Each was dated, starting from the week prior all the way back to the early 1900s. The older the print, the more expensive. He and Jolene had toured the Seville Bull Ring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. For Brent, it’d been the highlight of the trip. There was something about staring death in the eye, and then sticking a sword through its shoulder blades that really got Brent’s blood pumping. If he ever read Hemingway he’d probably break a sweat. It was late autumn though, and all the bull fighting events were past. Brent threw a hissy fit over not getting to see a man potentially get a horn run through his stomach.

Brent picked one of the more recent posters up and felt pang of sickness in his gut when he heard the unmistakable sound of card stock tearing.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered, but not quiet enough. The store clerk was already rounding the front desk and headed in his direction. He looked down at the bottom corner of the poster. A big, two-inch rip hung off like a piece of confetti.

“Si. No hay problema señor. No problema,” the shopkeeper said. She was a short, stout woman, and like all of the Spaniards he’d met, beautiful.

“I, uh, no comprar. No want comprar,” he mumbled to the lady. Jolene had begged him, leading up to the trip, to learn at least a bit of Spanish. To make an attempt. Before leaving for Spain, Brent knew Si and No. He had an unfair advantage with no, the word being interchangeable with its English counterpart, but two words were better than none. He learned cerveza pretty quick, since he knew he would be saying it a lot. Comprar was the next word he learned because he knew with Jolene following him around, he’d be comprar-ing a lot of shit.

“No hay problema,” the shopkeeper repeated. “Nosotras tenemos muchos de estos cartels. No hay problema.” She took the damaged poster and started walking back toward the front desk.

“Uh, wait. Um, no comprar. No dinero. Los siento. Can’t comprar,” Brent tried as she walked away, back to the counter, he assumed to ring up and charge him for the damaged poster. The woman placed the poster on the counter and stood there, staring at him with a wide grin and saying nothing further.

Jolene joined Brent. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Brent said. His face told differently. He was looking about the shop for anyone that might be able to diffuse the situation with this unreasonable shopkeeper, to say that the damage wasn’t great enough to require this poor tourist that has already dumped hundreds of American dollars into your shitty local economy, to be required to buy the old relic. If someone could just convey this in Spanish to her, everything would be fine.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Jolene asked.

“Please shut up, I’m trying to think.”

As Brent thought a Spanish man walked into the store, tipped his hat toward the shopkeeper, and said a friendly, “Hola,” then walked over to a shelf filled with different candies. He looked at Jolene and Brent and said, “Good morning,” possibly seeing they were no native Spanish speakers by their dress, skin tone, or their tourist-y demeanor. Maybe he could smell Brent’s fear and frustration.

“What’s going on?” Jolene asked, ignoring the stranger’s greeting.

Brent ignored her. “Hablo English?” he asked the man.

“Si,” he said. “I speak English.”

“Can you help me please? I don’t know what to do about this woman. The shopkeeper.”

“What’s going o—” Jolene tried to ask again, but was silenced by a glare from Brent.

“What seems to be the problem?” the stranger asked.

“I think she expects me to buy one of these posters,” Brent explained. “See, I made a tiny little tear on the corner of one and she took it over to the register there, and I think she expects me to buy it.”

“No, surely not,” the stranger said in a tone that Brent recognized as sympathetic. “Let me see if I can sort this issue out. Okay? I’ll have a word with the lady of the shop, and then see what we can do, yes?”

“Please,” Brent said. “That would be great.”

“Un momento,” the stranger said, then paced confidently toward the shopkeeper.

“What the hell did you do?” Jolene whispered.

“Shut up,” Brent said, never taking his eyes off of the stranger.

“We come all this way. Want to have a nice trip and make beautiful memories, and naturally, you have to go and do something like this. And you get on me for being clumsy, tell me not to break th—”

“Shut the hell up,” Brent said.

The stranger and the shopkeeper were in a rapid fire dialogue of Spanish that Brent realized, even if he studied the language for a year straight, he would never be able to follow. The stranger introduced himself, but the lady seemed to recognize him. The conversation seemed to be congenial. Then Brent’s heart sank. The woman lifted the poster off of the counter and displayed the damaged corner for the stranger. The stranger looked at the damage, like an insurance adjuster surveying photos of a damaged car. He said something. The shopkeeper said something back. Then they both laughed, making Brent feel like the butt of a joke he couldn’t understand.

“Amigo,” the stranger called over to Brent. “Amigo, come here.”

Brent nodded but still did not approach for another moment. He actually considered yanking Jolene by the arm and darting into the busy streets of Seville, weighing out the chances of being able to outrun two locals in their own city. Jolene shoved him forward.

Brent stepped up to the counter. “Everything okay?”

“I’d say so,” the Stranger said. “How’d you say in English—today is your lucky day.”

“I don’t feel very lucky.”

“Take a good look at the poster you tore,” the Stranger said.

Brent did. He looked long and hard, mostly at the corner of the poster that was hanging off, dangling like a swooning damsel in an old west movie. Then his eyes moved away, focusing on the things that made him pick the poster up in the first place. The artistry, the attention to detail. The bull’s tongue hanging out from exhaustion, and the matador, looking directly at the painter, so confident that his bull was defeated. The matador, in his fine linens, designed strictly for this moment of glory. The thought of death doesn’t seem to be on the matador’s mind as he looks directly at Brent. A true man—no, a god among men. This is no sniveling crybaby like the ones he filled his days surrounded by back in the states. This is a man’s man. Then Brent saw it. What the stranger truly had him looking for.

“It’s you,” Brent said. “The bullfighter is you, right?”

The stranger laughed, and the shopkeeper laughed with him. “Yes, that is me.” The shopkeeper produced a fat marker from behind the counter and handed it to the man. “I think this poster will be more valuable with the tear now,” he said as he scribbled his signature on it, right next to the tear. Brent took a moment to look toward the text in the top right corner, trying to find a name. The boldest, biggest name, the one Brent assumed to be the Stranger’s, was Antonio Martin.

“What’s going on here?” Jolene said as she stepped up to join the conversation. “Are we going to have to fork out some cash for this poster because my husband is such a boob?”

“I don’t think so, sweety,” Brent said, still staring at the man. A god among men, he thought again.

He finished signing the poster and stood up straight. He barely came to Brent’s shoulder, but still filled the room. When you realized how the man spent his weekends, how could he not fill the room.

“My name is Brent,” Brent said, thrusting out his hand.

“Antonio Martin,” the matador said, and shook Brent’s hand. “Friends call me Toni. You can call me that.”

“Not before I buy you a cerveza.”

“Ah, Jesus, Brent,” Jolene whined. “I want to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. All you ever want is more cer-vay-sas. Can’t you give it—”

“Jo, shut up,” Brent said. “This man is on the poster. Just look. He just saved us probably a hundred dollars or something like that.” In truth, the poster was a reprint from a bullfight only a year prior. It was worth maybe ten bucks and probably could have been haggled for five. “I’d say we owe our new friend a beer.”

Jolene leaned in between Antonio and Brent for a close look at the poster. Then leaned back to look at Antonio. “Well, how about that,” she said and smacked her husband on the back. “What are the odds?”

“Slim,” Brent said, trying not to show his embarrassment over his wife. “What do you think? Have time for a quick drink?”

“It’s the off season. I have time for two,” Antonio said as he handed the marker back to the shopkeeper.

“Gracias,” she said. Antonio gave a nod in response and led his new American friends out into the streets of Seville.

“I know a great bar where the other people from the bullring go,” Antonio said. “It’s a block away and should be pretty quiet this time of year. Sound good?”

“Sounds bueno,” Brent said, then turned to Jolene. “You can go back to the hotel if you want. I’ll come by and get you before dinner.”

“Like hell,” Jolene whispered. “I’m not missing this.”

They followed their new friend. He led them into the inner gate of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza Caballeria de Sevilla, within its high white walls past its wrought iron gate and onto the cobblestone outer circle. “The bar,” Antonio told them, “is popular with bullfighters for obvious reasons. Mostly it’s easy to get to.”

They walked halfway around the outer ring to the other side and found a small bungalow. “This,” Antonio told them, “is the living quarters for many of the fighters during the season. Especially the ones that are just getting started and make just enough money for meals. I don’t stay here anymore unless I come back during the off season.” He led Brent and Jolene into the building. “There also happens to be Seville’s best kept secret bar.”

Inside the small bungalow was an open living quarter with cots and bureaus for storing clothing, all crammed together. Enough settings for five occupants. Towards the far side of the room was a door. Antonio gave the door a few knocks and it cracked open. He muttered a few words in Spanish and the door opened wide. They all walked in.

“This place looks like something out of a movie,” Jolene said. On the other side of the door was an old-style saloon with an ornate, wood-crafted bar. The back bar was overcrowded with various liquor bottles. The bartender wore old-fashioned black-and-white service clothes and was busy toweling down the bar. Other than Antonio, Brent, and Jolene, there were two other drinkers cast off to far corners of the small saloon.

Antonio led the group up to the bar and pulled a stool out for himself and Jolene. Brent sat on his other side. Antonio was about to address the bartender, but Brent cut him off. “Uh, tres cervezas por favor?”

“What if I don’t want beer?” Jolene asked.

“Okay,” Brent said. “Dos cervezas and uno agua.”

Antonio laughed, then said something to the bartender, who nodded and then walked away. “Water is no way to celebrate new friends. He’ll take care of you.”

“So long as I get the tab,” Brent said.

“I wouldn’t take that from you,” Antonio said. “I’d never steal the tab from a friend.” They all laughed.

The bartender returned with their drinks. Two tall glasses of beer for Antonio and Brent. A colorful mixed drink for Jolene. “Ooo, what’s this?” she asked.

“We call it a Slobbering Sevillano,” Antonio told her, “because if you drink too many of them, you’ll be slobbering.” Another laugh around the table.

The talk went on while they sipped at their drinks. What brings you two to Spain? Where in Spain are you from? How long is your visit? How long have you lived in Seville? Where else do you plan to go? Then Brent asked, “How long have you been a bullfighter?”

Antonio thought about this for an extended moment, actually calculating the years. He lifted his beer, by Brent’s count his third, and drank off the last of it. Brent signaled the bartender to line up two more. “I have always been a matador,” Antonio answered.

“Ah,” Jolene groaned with adoration and slapped a hand on his shoulder. “Like something you were born to do, huh?”

Antonio smiled. The woman seemed to be seriously into her cups. “Yes, I guess you could say that. I spent most of my life inside the walls of this ring. I’ve done just about every job related to bullfighting that you can think of, from cleaning bull shit to killing the animal. But it has been a journey I took with great happiness.”

Both Jolene and Brent grunted at this statement, hearing it as profound wisdom.

“That’s really inspiring,” Jolene said, lifting and lowering her hand on the matador’s shoulder again.

“Aren’t you scared, though?” Brent asked.

“Scared?”

“Of the bull! Of getting gored! Of dying, of course,” Brent said. The volume of his voice had risen with each completed cerveza.

“Fear of death, no,” Antonio answered. “Fear of injury, no. Not that either. Fear of failure, though. That is a different story. If I were to fail and not fight the bull well. If the crowd is not pleased with my performance. That is something that I fear.”

“Letting people down, huh,” Brent said, then took a pull on his glass, nearing the end of his fourth beer. “Now that’s something I can relate to.” It was a lie. He couldn’t remember the last time someone depended on him for anything.

“The bull, though,” Brent said after a silent moment. “What about the bull?”

“What do you mean?”

“Doesn’t it scare you? They’re big. Mean!”

Antonio laughed. “I don’t think you have a true understanding of the matador’s relationship with the bull.” Antonio looked over at Jolene, then to a nearby clock. “I think you will need to leave soon. Your señora wants a true Sevillano dinner. And I’ll tell you where to go. But after that, if you really want to know more, you can meet me back here tonight. How does that sound?”

Brent’s mouth hung up for a moment. This man, this walking god of a man, a man’s man, wanted to get together later. With him, Brent, the office schlub. “Oh, yes! Of course!”

“Muy bueno! Muy bueno!” Antonio shouted and stood up from the bar. “There may be a few other bullfighters here, too. You can ask all the questions in the world.”

Brent stood and started shuffling in his pocket for some euros to pay for the tab. He laid down a bill that covered far more than the cost of the tab, and would have more than sufficiently paid for the torn poster as well. With several more bills and coins leftover in his wallet that, truth be told, he didn’t really comprehend the value of. “Tell the bartender to keep the change,” Brent told Antonio.

Antonio spoke in Spanish to the bartender, whose reaction may have hinted at how large Brent’s tip was. Of course, Brent didn’t even realize the Spaniards didn’t regularly accept tips and that for the bartender to take any leftover cash after the tab was paid was unusual, and Brent was being taken for a rube. So goes the life of a tourist.

Brent walked over to his wife, who was still staring out into the far-off corner of the bar. “Let’s go,” he said. “Got to get you your five-star meal, right?”

She turned on her stool toward him, and had to lean on the bar to catch her balance. “Why don’t y-you taake you new boiiifriend with you,” she slurred.

“Sorry,” Brent said over his shoulder to Antonio. “I think she’s had too much to drink.”

Antonio laughed. “Common problem. Not to worry.”

Brent helped Jolene out of her stool and the trio left the bar, walking back through the door to the living quarters. They almost made it to the door, into the outer ring of the Maestranza, when Jolene wriggled out of Brent’s grip. “Show me where you stay,” she said. “I bet it’s this one.” She collapsed on one of the un-comfy looking cots.

“Quite a good guess,” Antonio said. “That’s my bed. When I stay here.”

“You know,” she said, sprawling out on the bed. “We can just send Brent away and you can take me to dinner. And we can skip the dinner.”

“For Christ sake,” Brent said and stepped forward to stand her up again. In his haste, he bumped a small nightstand next to the bed and rattled the few objects that stood on top of it.

Antonio lunged forward. “Mierda!” he shouted and reached out to snatch an object close to tumbling onto the floor. As he steadied it he released a litany of Spanish that was enough to let Brent know he’d almost royally screwed up.

“I’m so sorry,” Brent said. “Seems those Slobbering Sevillanos have her doing a bit more than slobbering.” He looked down at the object that Antonio had saved from smashing on the floor. It looked like a small figurine. A matador and a bull, in action. More like in collision, tangled together. Brent stooped down so that his nose was a few inches from the thing. “What is this?” he asked. He lifted his finger to prod it.

“Don’t touch,” Antonio said, then added. “Please. It’s very fragile.”

Brent’s finger withdrew, but he kept his face right next to the thing like a child eyeing the selections at a candy store. On a closer look he realized what it was. “Is it leather? The figurine?”

“It is the tanned heart of a bull. And a matador.”

Brent pulled back at the revelation. Leather was fine. The hide of a creature being tanned was nothing unusual to him. But the heart? “Wait a second? The heart? Is that even possible? And did you say matador?”

“Si,” Antonio said. “It is the heart. And it is the combined heart of both a bull and a matador. Preserved and then shaped into this figurine. See, here,” he pointed to the carving that most looked like a man, “this was Diego Lopez. This is his heart that we carved out of him. And this,” pointing to the leathery bull charging the fighter, “was the bull that took his life. Henry. We took both of their hearts and made this leather piece.”

“That’s brutal,” Brent whispered.

“That is the life,” Antonio said.

Brent was about to ask about the bull’s name. He didn’t realize that they named the bull. And why not a Spanish name? Why Henry? Before he could ask anything, Jolene let out a childish whine.

“Brent,” she said. “I’m hungry. I want something Spanish. And fancy.”

“Tend to your wife now,” Antonio said. “More questions later.”

“Sure,” Brent said, still staring at the preserved hearts of a bull and man. Brutal.

After Antonio gave a few suggestions for dinner spots, Brent guided he and his wife back to the hotel. Jolene staggered the whole way home, and talked to Brent, though he couldn’t say what about. He was still thinking about the hearts carved into a work of art. He tried not to imagine the imagery of the matador being gored and killed. Then later, the bull being killed for a transgression it was born and bred to perform. And then they carved both of their hearts out of their bodies to make a statue.

They made it back to the hotel and Brent started getting ready for dinner. The places Antonio suggested all sounded nice, so Brent put on a suit he and got ready in the bathroom. When he came out still adjusting his tie 15 minutes later, Jolene was passed out on the bed. He thought for a moment of stirring her, then he realized he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to go to dinner. He wanted to get back to the Maestranza to see his new friend. He had a million questions to ask about a world that was foreign and fascinating to him, and another dinner where his wife tried three different meals and ate none of them in their entirety, made fun of him for his lousy Spanish, then cried when he sniped back at her sounded as fun as a sandpaper back rub.

He thought about changing back out of his suit, then decided not to. He wanted Antonio to at least think they made it to dinner, and he could just lie and say Jolene was too tired to make it back to the bullring with him. So, he crawled into bed with his wife, still suited, and turned the TV on. He mindlessly flicked through the channels, wishing, but not hopeful, to find an English-speaking channel to watch while he killed the next two hours.

“You really tied one on,” he said to his wife. “Those Slobbering Sevillanos really delivered on their promise.”

“One,” Jolene moaned, muffled by the pillow her face was buried in. “Only one.”

“One what?” asked Brent.

“Drink,” she groaned. “Only one drink. I feel like part of my brain melted.”

Brent chuckled. “You had one drink like my aunt has one drink at Thanksgiving. I hate to tell you, hun, but you’re hammered. You had far more than one drink.”

Jolene shook her head into the pillow. She whispered something that Brent couldn’t, and didn’t try, to hear. He watched his wife lovingly. It was nice to see her let her hair down a bit. She hardly ever did. For her to get really zonked was always a goal for him when they went on vacation.

He checked the time on his phone. Still an hour before he was to meet Antonio back at the bullring, but the television was muttering words at him that he couldn’t comprehend and his wife couldn’t mutter anything at all. She was out cold, her back rising and falling with heavy, drunken breathing. He decided to go for a walk before heading to the ring. He still refused to give up the façade that he and Jolene had a nice dinner before meeting up with Antonio, and in that vein, decided to wear his dress shoes for his walk. An uncomfortable but necessary choice. He put the shoes on and, after a last check on his slumbering bride, took off into the happy streets of Seville.

Like every night of their trip, the streets were lively. Brent walked along without a care in the world. The locals and the tourists alike went about with a cheerful nature, shouting in Spanish, perusing the shops, and drinking, and Brent felt at one with the place. He checked his watch and thirty minutes had passed at the snap of the finger. He looked around him and realized that he wasn’t positive where he might be. He did not grow fearful at the thought. Seville wasn’t a huge city. He’d find his way out of the backstreets easily. And there was a pervading sense of calm running through the exuberance of Seville that was contagious. It told Brent he had no reason to fear.

He took his next left and found himself in the midst of a tight-quartered market. He kept muttering the word no to the several shopkeepers that offered him their wares, growing louder and more annoyed with each one. By the time he made the end of the block and was able to make another turn, his sense of oneness with the place was diminishing. He was asking himself some very rich, touristy questions and thanking God he didn’t have to sell shit like that day-to-day to get by.

The next street he was on looked almost the same, only there were no market stalls. It was quieter here, and he was grateful. So much for the jolly streets of Seville. He had a timeline to keep. He raced down the street trying to remember the best way to go. There was a big river that ran down the middle of Seville, and that was ... west of here, he thought. The bullring was right next to the river, so if he could find the river he could find the ring. He made another right turn, and there was no river. His pace quickened. He made another turn and was facing a market again and no river at the other side. He refused to struggle his way through the crowded street, and moved along to the next. It looked the same as one of the other streets and like the next street he turned down. The sense of calm was gone, replaced by a panicky knowledge of being lost. The streets of Seville seemed to be a labyrinth constructed of tight roads, whimsically painted houses, and stocked with beautiful drunk people and merchants desperate to sell their goods.

He made yet another left, sure he’d find himself on the mirror image of the last street he’d turned off of. Instead, he ran right into a nun, burying his face into her habit. He pulled his face away from her ample and imposing body, mortified at having buried his face in the bosom of a holy lady, and perhaps reigniting some disturbed early-teens induced fantasy. He couldn’t find the words, it was a simple one, one that he should know. There it was. “Los siento,” he said, and meant it.

She shot something back in Spanish. It was quick, but not unfriendly. She smiled at him. It was the maternal smile of the kind nun, not the disciplinarian that shadows the memories of any catholic upbringing. She said another Spanish phrase he didn’t catch a word of and went on smiling.

“Los siento,” Brent said again. “Uh, lost. Los siento. No español. I am lost. Help?”

The nun’s smile grew wider. “I would be happy to help,” she said in clear, perfect English. “Welcome to Seville, visitor. I hope you come to love our city.”

“I do,” Brent said as a wave of relief washed over him. Not only someone that could understand him, but a fluent English speaker. He was saved. “But I am terribly lost.”

“The streets of Seville can be tricky,” she told him. “Where is it you are going?”

Brent tried to remember the proper name of the place, to appear he was making an effort, but gave up and said, “The bullring?”

The nun’s smile faltered and she looked toward the sky between the crowded rooftops as if she needed a reminder that it was night. “Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla,” she said, using the full name of the place. “But why? It’s no time to go to la Maestranza de Sevilla. You will find nothing there worth finding at this time of day. If you asked me, there’s no time of day to go to la Maestranza. It’s a barbaric place.”

Brent grinned in a way that revealed the truth. The barbary was what attracted him. “It’s true, I guess. But it’s the culture, right?”

“It takes resistance to the accepted way of things to change a culture,” the nun said. “Sure, there are worse things than bullfighting, but I don’t let myself get swept into the culture.”

Brent could feel that this woman was attempting to say something profound. But he had no time for Sunday school. “I am meeting a friend over that way,” he told her. “A matador.”

The smile was no longer faltering on her face. It disappeared. “The fighters are not people that you want to keep company with.” She looked toward the sky again. “Especially at night. Nothing good will come of that.”

“I am a big boy,” Brent said, forgetting himself. “I can take care of myself.”

“And yet, you’re lost. I think I would be better to give you directions back to your accommodations, si.”

Brent could feel the anger reddening his cheeks. He wanted to yell at this stupid bitch. He knew how to get back to his hotel; at least he thought he did. He wanted to get to the bullring! The color died down in his face as he thought of a better approach. “I won’t worry you with all that, and perhaps you’re right, sister. It’s been a long day, and maybe an early night is better than getting mixed up in whatever nonsense the bullfighters are involved in.”

“It is no simple nonsense,” the nun said, her eyes speaking just as directly as her tongue. “It is fearful sin they take part in, and is for no visitor of our beautiful city to see.”

Brent took a half a step back, feeling the impact of her heavy stare like a push in the chest. “I’m sure you’re right. Nothing for me to get involved in. But perhaps you can direct me to the river. My wife and I are staying right on it and I’m sure if I can find the river then I can find our hotel.”

The nun’s smile came back and her relief was palpable, like a woman that just snatched a man from over the fiery pit of eternal damnation. “I think that is the right choice,” she told him. “You were close to the river as it were. If you’d wandered much more on your own, I’m sure you would have found it. Just that way, and turn left two streets up. After that, if you keep walking you’ll be in the river.” She laughed.

“Gracias,” Brent said, pulling from his five-word Spanish vocabulary.

“De nada,” the nun said. “I’m happy you ran into me. It was important for you.” She smiled again, made a nod, then disappeared into a nearby door. Brent looked up and realized that embedded into the housing was also a parish. How fortunate, he thought, then turned to follow the nun’s directions—two streets up, then left toward the river. Then he’d be able to find the bullring in no time.

As suggested by the nun, if Brent would have kept walking following her suggested left turn, he would have dove head first into the river. The main street running the length of the city was alive with people, and immediately Brent’s sense of foreboding after being lost in the Sevillano labyrinth of streets disappeared. He took a moment to get his bearings and decided to turn right to find the bullring. It was a good guess. He only had to go about two blocks, then the great white ring stretched out upon the landscape of the city. Brent approached the outer gate, realizing that the old nun may have been right. The gate would certainly be locked, and maybe the matador was just putting him on, having him end up in a position such as this, where he is foolishly sitting outside the gates of the bullring, and nobody shows up to let him in.

He almost decided to turn and wander his way back to the hotel when someone spoke behind him. “Amigo, I’m happy you could make it. I was beginning to think you had abandoned me.” Antonio walked closer to the gate of the outer ring, emerging from the shadows like a Shakespearean ghost.

Startled, Brent said, “Oh, there you are. I was wondering the same thing about you.”

Antonio approached the gate and presented a large key. “I don’t abandon my friends. No, no. I’m happy you’ve made it.” He opened the gate and let Brent in, then shut it and clamped the large lock again. He led on, Brent presumed back to the bar.

“I see your wife was unable to join,” Antonio said.

“Yeah. Wasn’t feeling well. Those drinks you gave her really put her on her ass.”

“Drinks?”

“You know. That cocktail. She must’ve knocked back quite a few, ’cause she was out cold by the time we got back to the hotel.”

“Ah, the Slobbering Sevillano. You know, that’s also what we call a bull towards the end of a fight in this ring. About to give in. Slobbering. Ready for death.”

Antonio swung open a door to the bar and led Brent inside. It was much livelier than before, but still kept its frozen-in-a-past-era atmosphere. Several men, at least 12 by Brent’s count, were scattered through the bar, including one man with a guitar picking out and stringing together notes in a classic, Spanish style.

“Welcome to La Taberna de La Maestranza,” Antonio said. “These are the men of La Maestranza. The fighters.”

Brent felt a boy-like adoration for the men gathered around him, each of them struck with a level of bravery he liked to believe himself capable of. He offered a bashful wave and said, “Hello.”

Antonio spoke in Spanish, “Esta noche estamos aquí para la corrida final de la temporada.”

An exaltation rose from the crowd after he spoke. “What was that? What did you say?” Brent asked.

“You will see,” Antonio whispered. One of the other men brought him a small glass of some sort of liquor. He raised it and called, “Salud.” The cheer was echoed and all gathered, other than Brent, drank.

“Oh, I don’t have a drink,” Brent said. He began to walk toward the bar, but Antonio grabbed his shoulder.

“No, tonight amigo. No buying drinks.” He motioned toward the bartender. “Instead, I want to show you something special. Sound good?”

“Ah, yeah. Si,” Brent said, trying his best not to sound too excited.

“Good, follow me.” Antonio led toward a door off behind the bar and Brent followed, expecting the door to lead to some sort of service kitchen for the bar. When Antonio opened the door he realized there was no such kitchen. They entered a dimly lit corridor of the Maestranza’s inner ring. The ring was built, on a much smaller scale, like any American football stadium. There was an interior of the ring that people used as a pathway to get to their seating. A fan could even buy concessions, which Brent really got a kick out of. Buy some crackerjacks to munch during the murderous fight.

“I thought you guys updated the ring with electrical lighting,” Brent said, noting that the dimness was due to torches affixed to the wall every twenty feet or so.

“Si,” Antonio said without looking back at Brent. “For certain events we like this better.”

“I guess it creates a certain mood,” Brent said.

Antonio did not answer, only continued walking. It seemed to Brent that they must have nearly walked the entire length of the ring, coming full circle, when Antonio finally came to a door and said, “Aqui.”

“What’s this?” Brent said. “You know, my wife and I already did the tour. You don’t have to show me around. I’d rather just have another cerveza with you guys and shoot the shit.”

“Oh, but you haven’t seen the real tour. The True Ring.”

Brent walked through the door and into a back corridor of the ring. There were glass cases displaying matador suits, swords, and lances. This room was also barely lit by the fire of a few scattered torches. There was a painting, centered and ginormous, just visible in the dim light. A matador that kept a watchful eye on the entire room.

“That,” Antonio said, “is Diego Ramirez. Founder of the True Ring.”

“They told us the King of Spain established all of the Bull Rings.”

Antonio laughed. “Sure, something like that. I am talking of something altogether different.”

Brent was only half listening. A bullfighter’s sword in a glass case had his attention. “Like I said, you don’t have to show me all of this. The tour didn’t come to this room, but it was all the same.”

“They would never come to this room,” Antonio said sharply. “This room is different. It’s special. Only for the True Ring. El Verdadero Anillo.”

It was the third time Antonio said the phrase and it finally caught Brent’s attention. “True Ring. You saying the shit they showed me on the tour was fake?”

“Not exactly, no,” Antonio said. “But did they let you try on La Traje de Luces on the regular tour?”

Brent was about to ask what the hell he was talking about, when he realized. “Are you saying you’re going to let me try on one of the suits?”

“Si, exactly,” Antonio said. He walked over to a case displaying a suit. “This one is larger than most. Perfect for the Americano. You are a bit bigger than the average matador.” With that, Antonio slid the case open and pulled the traditional matador attire off its display and handed it to Brent. He pointed off toward a closet. “You can dress in there,” he said, then turned away. Brent looked at the suit in his hands, shrugged, then went to the closet.

A few minutes later he emerged from the closet and was startled to find the patrons of the bar now occupying the room, all of them under the ever-watchful eyes of the painting—the man whose name Brent had already forgotten. The men were no longer in street clothes, however. They were in their own traditional La Traje de Luces. All of different colors, like a rainbow composed of hardened, gruff men. They all stared at him as he exited his makeshift changing room.

Antonio emerged from the small crowd of men. “Excelente!” he shouted. Some of the other matadors echoed the sentiment. “Es Bueno?” Antonio asked. “A good fit?”

Brent, suddenly conscious that he was tugging at the crotch, stopped and said, “Very good.” The suit was a light blue with golden trim, and he was happy there was neither mirror nor camera about. He never wanted to know how ridiculous he looked. “I really appreciate this, but I think I should take this thing off.”

“Nonsense, amigo,” Antonio said. “One must wear La Traje de Luces. It would not be proper to carry on in your dinner clothes.” The bartender came through the door with two drinks in hand, a tall glass of beer and a shooter. Antonio took both. “We professionals try not to drink heavily leading up to a fight,” Antonio said and handed Brent the shooter. He took a gulp of the beer left in his own hand. “But, for a first fight, a little liquid courage goes a long way.” He motioned for Brent to take the shooter. Brent did. “That won’t do so much harm as your wife’s drink. The Slobbering Sevillano, well, you can’t drink one of those without passing out.”

Brent felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t just the suit. It was the setting. The men staring at him. The way Antonio spoke. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that it’s best that Jolene were not here. I’m happy she stayed back. I made sure she stayed back.”

“How do you—” Brent stopped, his discomfort turning sharply into fear. He looked at his small, empty glass. “Drugged?”

The crowd of fighters laughed. “No, no,” Antonio said, laughing as well. “Just a bit of whiskey to take the edge off.”

“Edge off of what?” Brent asked, trying not to sound too panicked.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to act so brave. Not in this circle. Not inside the True Ring. These men know that same fear. We’ve all felt it. Embrace it without letting it overpower you. It will keep you alive.”

Without Brent even noticing it, Antonio had guided him out of the back room, again into the circular corridor under the bull ring proper. The other fighters, some of them now carrying torches, led or followed the pair. “Fear of what?” Brent said. It was an honest question. He felt plenty of fear at that moment, but had no idea where to direct it.

“The first fight is always full of fear,” Antonio said as they turned right down a wider corridor. “Let that whiskey do its job.”

The right turn gave Brent a fuller view of what he should fear. The gates were open and the moon, somewhere off in the Spanish sky, was peeking just enough through the clouds to reflect off the yellow-brown dirt of the Maestranza. He and Jolene had stood on the same dirt only a day before, and he had wondered how often they had to bring in bags of the stuff to soak up newly spilled blood. “Antonio, what’s going on here?”

Antonio was silent for a moment as the small crowd passed through the gate and into the ring. When emerged, the torch-bearing fighters dispersed into the empty benches, spreading out enough to cast a reach of light covering the majority of the ring from their torches. Antonio took Brent into the middle of the ring. The two of them did a full circle, taking in the scope of the grounds. Even in the dark, even with the full weight of his fears pressing in on his chest, Brent felt an overwhelming sense of the courage it took men to stand exactly where he was.

“This is the True Ring,” Antonio said with a flourish of his arm. “These men compose it. Without them, the ring you see before us falls, and years of tradition go with it. We have sacrificed much to uphold these traditions. Blood has been spilt. Sweat poured. Few know of our efforts, or even our existence. But we hold this all together. We are the bones of this structure. And there is a spirit that holds us upright. The heart of man, and the heart of the bull. Both have lived victorious and died with honor here. And to that spirit, we dedicate this fight.”

Antonio punctuated his small soliloquy by unsheathing a sword he had strapped around his waist and handing it to Brent. “What is this for?” Brent said, still processing the words of Antonio’s rousing speech. “A fight? I’m not trained for a fight.”

“Who’s really prepared?” Antonio said as he turned to leave. Brent followed for a few steps, then looked at the blade in his hand. He pictured himself chasing down Antonio and burying it in his back, and wondered how quickly the rest of the men would butcher him. He let Antonio leave, then looked around the ring. Most rings, La Maestranza de Sevilla included, have a protective ring encircling the main area of bullfighting, which men not directly involved in the combat can duck behind to avoid being hit by a charging bull. Brent thought he could duck behind one of these, make a break for it, and try to run into the streets. He jogged in the direction of one of the protective ring’s openings, but as he did so, two of the fighters closed ranks, shutting the hole off to Brent. He took a deep breath and gazed around the wide ring, knowing that these men were positioned so that there was no escape. The torchlight flickered throughout the place, and for a moment, all Brent could hear was the thud of his own heart and the shudder of his own breathing.

“El Verdadero Anillo,” Antonio shouted. It was from a distance and it took a moment for Brent to spot him. When he did, he realized he should have guessed where Antonio would be. The seat of the king, an elevated box over the ring, giving a perfect and safe view of the carnage that would happen below. “Gracias para estar aqui. Vamos a empezar.”

Brent had no idea what Antonio had shouted, but he looked around the ring at the 20 or so men and thought that they would charge him at any moment, butchering him like some ancient, uncivilized people trying to assuage the anger of their pagan god. None of them moved. Brent felt his legs tremble, and the weight of the unknown future crushing down on his shoulders. He wanted this, whatever it was, to be done, whatever that meant.

Off in a far corner of the ring, one barely touched by the scattered splinters of torchlight, he heard a distinct sound. Steel sliding against steel. In a sobering moment, Brent remembered back to his tour of La Maestranza the day prior. The ring and the golden dirt, the red trim of the canopy on the outer edge of the ring—then there was a gate. He could picture it if he closed his eyes. Red trim like the rest of the woodwork in the ring, and a huge bolt for a lock. And he’d just heard that bolt slide open.

The first thought that came to mind was that this must be a hoax. He wondered if any of these men, besides maybe Antonio, were even bullfighters. Maybe they were just friends of Antonio’s, and this was some elaborate joke they liked to play on tourists. Very elaborate. Over the top, so much so that they’d apparently drugged his wife with that drink. All for kicks at the expense of a loud-mouth, idiot Americano abroad. This all seemed far more plausible than the idea that these men lured him here to make him fight a real bull.

The gate swung open with a woosh and Brent clamped his eyes shut, waiting for the sound of hooves and the life-ending impact that was sure to follow. The point of the horn as it entered his gut and tore vital ligaments and arteries. He’d bleed out in the middle of the ring in seconds. Nobody would ask questions. Why would they? Jolene probably wouldn’t remember anything after leaving that godforsaken gift shop they just had to stop at earlier that day.

The charge didn’t happen. Brent forced his eyes open. The torches still glimmered, the gate was open with a black hole beyond, unscathed by the dim light. All the men watched on, just black silhouettes from Brent’s perspective, like ghosts awaiting the arrival of another soul at the edge of the veil. And all was silent.

When the quiet was broken by a snort from the unlit space beyond the gate, Brent felt his bowels tighten. He looked at the blade in his hand as if it never occurred to him before that moment that the thing could be used to defend himself, to save his own life. He lifted it, pointed it in the direction of the open gate and the darkness beyond, and took a deep breath. He would try. It would be difficult. All the feeling had left his legs, and he wasn’t sure that he could move. But he would try.

The horns emerged from the shadows first, glinting in the light like the silver scales of a fish. The sight caused a small stir amongst the men in the stands, who commenced a quiet but excited chatter. There was another high-pitched snort as the length of the two horns came into full view, then an odd sound more like a throat-clearing. A sound Brent would never have associated with a bull, or any animal if he’d had time to think about it. It sounded human. But there wasn’t time for those thoughts.

Just as the full length of the bull’s horns emerged from the shadows, the initial charge commenced. The full head of the bull erupted from the shadows like steam from a pressurized valve. A cry rose from the spectators, “Ole!” as the thing emerged into the full light of their torches. And the word thing was correct. For, even as it charged him, thrumming with a blood-pulsing panic, Brent could see that this was no bull. Certainly, there were horns, even the head, snot, dripping snout, and dangling tongue of an enraged bull, but that was only the top half of the thing advancing on Brent, ready to kill him. It stood on the bottom half, however, of a man’s body. The two legs it rested on, up to the torso, bare abdomen, all the way up over the pecs of a grown man, where the arms and shoulders began to mesh into the hide of a bull. And every inch and pound of the creature was closing distance, bearing down on Brent.

Again, the world went silent as Brent watched dumbfounded by a creature he could have only imagined in nightmares. The sound that brought him to was of heavy feet shifting over and thudding into loosely packed dirt. He saw the horns fall a fraction of an inch as the creature lowered into a kill position. At the last moment, he dove to the right, feeling the rush of wind as the creature missed his fatal blow.

“Ole!” the crowd screamed, no longer so reserved. Worked into a frenzy at the prospect of death they’d all faced professionally, now played out for them as entertainment. Brent struggled up to his feet. He took up the sword he’d dropped and turned in the direction the bull-man had rushed past him in, only to see the monster making another charge, practically on top of him already. Brent dodged left, this time taking a glancing blow from his pursuer. The force of impact spun Brent like a top. He went down again as the crowd cried out for blood. He was face down, and could hear the plodding of feet through the ground of the bullring. The sound was slow at first, but then picked up speed. It was charging again.

What happened next could only be attributed to a fluke, chance, or the hand of God. Maybe survival instinct. Brent rolled to his right, not truly knowing his intention. By the sound of the plodding feet, the charge was almost to an end, and if he were to stay still the thing would have run its ungodly horns through Brent, and there would be more man joined together with the beast as Brent spent the last agonizing moments of his life with a horn through his chest. But he rolled, and not a second too soon. The blade was clutched to his chest when he pitched over, but after the roll, with his eyes clenched, gripping the handle with both hands, Brent thrusted forward. Immediately, a force threw him backward onto his back and sent him skidding across the dirt.

He was sure he was dead and grateful that it came immediately and without too much pain. He kept his eyes closed, too scared to reveal to himself the afterlife he’d just arrived into. What finally prompted him to open his eyes was the sound of applause. An earthly sound that brought him right back to reality. He looked around and for a moment wished he had died. He was still in la Maestanza. The men in the crowd were clapping. And why?

He sat up. And looked to his right. A mangle of flesh and fur and horn lay there, and Brent, scared it was another charge, scrambled to his feet and ran a few steps away. The men watching all laughed. It caused Brent to look back. Joined in the mangle of elements was the blade, thrust squarely through the prostrate creature. On closer look, Brent realized it was still alive but would not be for much longer. He’d stuck the sword directly into the hideous thing’s mouth and it was dying. The sound of it choking made Brent queasy. He fell to his knees and dry heaved.

“Muy bien, amigo,” a voice said. “Muy bien.” It was Antonio, descended from his place of honor to come congratulate the victor. Before attending to Brent, he stepped over to the creature, still heaving for breath on its back, the sword sticking straight up like a barber’s poll. Antonio took the handle and with a swift motion pushed the sword further in to finish the job, then ejected it from the mouth. It squealed once more and was dead. Another of the matadors approached and took the sword from him, then disappeared into the shadows at the edge of the ring.

“What is—” Brent tried to say, but couldn’t. “Why?”

“The sacred tradition. The heart of a man and a bull. They must always be joined or we will fade. The True Ring has honored this, and so have you.”

Antonio approached Brent and placed an arm around his shoulder. He started guiding him toward the main gate of the ring. They walked in the direction of the royal box. During his tour of la Maestanza, Brent was informed that, for a fighter to be escorted after a victory in the ring, through the arches below the royal box, was among the highest honors that a bullfighter could achieve. Despite the terror experienced that evening, Brent still felt a flush of pride as they approached the arches.

Two fighters passed Brent and Antonio, headed towards the center of the ring, presumably to clean up the mess, dispose of the body. Brent turned to watch them pass. Antonio stopped and let Brent watch. “You fought admirably, tonight. I have picked my fighter well.”

Brent only nodded and watched the two men. Casual observation soon shifted into shocked terror. One of the men held the creature on either shoulder. Brent thought it was dead, but clearly the men were concerned it might have some last bit of life and fight left in him. The other man pulled a knife from somewhere in his garments and without hesitation, plunged it dead center in the chest, then yanked the knife down. Sure enough, the jolt of pain caused the creature to kick a few times, and the man at the shoulders bore all of his weight down. The other one doing the cutting plunged his hand down in the incision he’d just created and rooted about for a second or two. Brent watched in pure horror as the hand re-emerged a moment later with a bloody clump. Brent knew it was the heart, and wondered how long it would take them to tan the thing, to create another of those leathery statues like the one he’d found in the lodging area.

Antonio’s hand tightened on Brent’s shoulder and he started to guide him again, back toward the arch beneath the royal box, with great honor. “This will be commemorated and honored. You will be honored. This is a moment of glory.”

“It doesn’t feel glorious,” Brent said, thinking he might vomit.

“Glory can be much more about the perceiver than the perceived,” Antonio said. He gripped Brent’s shoulder harder after they’d passed through the arches. The wrought iron gates were only fifty feet beyond, and would spill them out into the streets of Sevilla. But they weren’t going that way. They took a left, off into the corridors beneath the ring. Antonio had a different destination in mind. Brent was too exhausted and shocked to resist, and followed Antonio’s lead. They walked on for what seemed miles to Brent. They made left turns, right turns, went down staircases, then made more turns and descended further, deep into the guts of that beautiful city. And Brent was led like livestock, not resisting once.

Then a door opened. The dungeon beyond the door was lined with shackles and chains. The home of the beast, he presumed. Brent still didn’t fight when Antonio and another bullfighter of the True Ring began shackling him up. Binding him at the ankles. He watched in a nightmarish daze, knowing that this was a horror movie fantasy, nothing that could actually be happening to him.

When the head of the slain beast was carried in, he began to scream. The rotting, empty eye sockets stared at him. The mouth drooped open. Several of the fighters held Brent down as Antonio carried the head of the bull over toward Brent and placed it over his head, creating their new creature. A minotaur created by the True Ring of la Maestranza de Sevilla. Brent could still smell the sweat and blood of the last man that was merged with the bull head for God knew how long. Maybe days. Maybe years. The timeline ended just minutes ago when Brent stuck a sword through the bull’s dead mouth and into a living man’s skull. But Brent couldn’t think about this, or how long his own timeline would be. He just went on screaming for help. And over the next several days, months, and years, the shouting and screaming would divulge into snorting and slobbering. And he would fight for the True Ring, valiantly, until his own timeline as the Slobbering Sevillano ran its course.