A rolled up carpet carried past the dogs was the first sign of movement for the last ten minutes. The large man carrying the carpet was followed by a number of other equally good-sized men with large wooden panels. The noise and commotion- shouting of orders, echoing of voices off cinderblock walls, trampling of boots over cold concrete- was added to by the restless animals. From their cages the dogs bellowed to each other, testing each other's limits and limitations, and challenging each other’s ferociousness through savage calls of fang bursting arrogance.
Their owners parroted their pets by continually raising the stakes of the day's event.
-My bitch right here will fuck up all ya’ll faggot-ass dogs, one man boasted.
The dogs seemed to sense the brazen man’s contest, bawling louder and more viciously to one another.
Towards the center of the vacant factory, the box, as it was called, was being assembled in its octagonal form, the interlocking wood panels being carefully secured by the large overseers of the day’s festivities. Inside it, all of life’s nuances could be found: ambition, regret, resilience, life, and most of all, death.
Upon closer inspection, its insides offered a glimpse of the savagery about to be witnessed and experienced. Caked blood speckled the inner wall and remnants of fur splintered loosely to the upper rim. Even closer could be seen the efforts of those few unwilling to participate. Those who desperately imprinted their final acts on the box's walls in the hopes of release. Those who should have never been there.
The largest of the men, Parris, the one who carried the carpet, directed the task with a routine precision, offering warnings along the way. His job was to make sure the box was secure and locked at all corners. He reminded the assemblers of last month’s fight when a panel collapsed and a dog got loose and nearly ripped off his arm.
-Do it right, motherfuckers! He warned.
After the other men had clamped the wooden panels together, Parris personally rechecked each one, unwilling to leave anything to chance or incompetence this time. Assembled to approval, the last piece of the day’s theater, the carpet, was added. Cut to match the shape of the octagon, it was rolled out carefully. Also spattered with dry blood from past wins and losses and a years worth of movement around dirty vans and vacant warehouses, the original color and texture of the carpet were lost. Now it was nothing but a tattered, hardened blanket of bloodstains and death that retold the stories of so many lives savagely ended and fights grotesquely won.
Away from all the preparation sat Red, without cage, tied to a metal staircase that lead nowhere with a piece of rotted rope, rope that wouldn’t contain most dogs, but worked just fine for him. There was no aggressive nature to Red like the others. He neither barked nor snarled. Although Red’s head did shift in rapid motion, attempting to soak in the commotion of his surroundings, he did so with a seemingly quiet dignity and poise and not in the slobbering, pathetic manner expected of such a dog. Jowls locked tightly, Red felt no need to pant with it being so cold inside the factory. But through Red’s apparent composure there was a palpable apprehension pervading through him. His heart told the truth of it, pounding relentlessly inside of him like the popping of gunfire, wailing of sirens, and crying of distress he endured on an endless basis for the last year. And although Red was content to be inside for the first time in six months, he could not escape the twitching feeling of being trapped for something far worse than he had ever experienced.
Randy attended to his new friend’s angst by patting his head and feeding what was left of the beef jerky he had originally allured Red with just a few days ago.
-There you go little man. I know you be sweatin’ this here, but it’s nothing. You may be small and all, but you be fast. I know! I seen it in dat alley the other day. You wrangled that big ass rat up right quick with no thought to it. You hungry and that be our advantage.
Randy’s reassurances neither assuaged the palpitations of Red’s heart nor the worry of his mind. In addition to the commotion of organizing the box and the snarling and yapping of his competition, the whole of Red’s surroundings added to his confusion and worry. Why was he here? What did Randy intend to do with him? There were men everywhere- shouting, laughing, and barking to each other. Some dressed in long, leather coats with an air of refinement about them, smoking white-tipped cigars. Others were shrouded in dark colored hoodies concealing their identities, nothing but the mean grin of confidence to be seen. And still others, more like Randy, dressed shabbily and ill-prepared for the cold conditions outside, still shivering inside, looking more desperate than even Red, made their rounds through the crowd of eager spectators. What they were all gathered here for was unknown to Red. Over by the main entrance a table was set up where Parris was now collecting handguns of various shapes and sizes from the would-be audience. Red recognized the guns and understood their use. Barely escaping one’s wrath six months ago taught him that when you see one in a man’s hand, you run.
As the more experienced looking men walked past Red and Randy, offering their insights, Red became increasingly anxious.
-Yo, Randy gotta playa, huh? Lookin like he gonna be down and out in one though, one observed.
-Waxman bringin some prefight entertainment? You can’t be serious about dat scrawny ass thing. You bedda off puttin a pup up in da box than that! another added.
-Is you just been feedin im dat rat jerky you always eatin? a final passerby inquired.
Randy, never one to quarrel when outmatched, reserved his thoughts for his new friend.
-Dontcha worry now boy. Those fools don’t know nothin about it. Theyz can’t see what Im seein and feelin inside cha. No they can’t. Nah, nah, nah! You got heart, right?
The only response Red could offer was a bashful paw on Randy’s lap and the continued pounding of his supposed ace in the hole.
The blood painted the side of the one corner of the box splattering its canvas in a mottled mess of new life and giving rise to an intense exuberance from the crowd of admirers. Wailing in a manner unfamiliar to most, its producer collapsed to the ground in writhing pain, his bottom jaw nearly torn off entirely. Blood trickled out of many wounds endured throughout the fight and poured out of the ecstatic-inducing final tear. The loser, named Jax, was an experienced fighter known for his brute strength, capable of pinning his opponents to the frayed carpet with one of his massive, over-sized paws. His size incited a hallucination of fear and awe that caused a panting of mouths and pissing of corners. Inside the small box, Jax’s size seemed to burst forth in an uncontainable manner. Yet today, in this fight, Jax’s success of so many easily won battles became his failing. His raw power and size which had allowed him to rip so many other competitors apart, simply lunging in a spectacle of unparalleled might and pouncing down with ferocious force, permitting him to simply bite into their jugulars and let them bleed out slowly only served to aid his competition.
Jax’s challenger, a young, swift dog named Titus, was not intimidated by Jax’s size as so many others were. Rather than run, Titus would dodge, moving swiftly in and out of small corners, finding places that no one else saw or thought to go. Creating space in tight corners was his strategy and it would serve him well today. Every time Jax rushed Titus, Titus stood his ground, snapping a quick bite at Jax’s face or ears or deftly maneuvering left or right like a cockroach avoiding a man’s foot. Titus would step quickly to Jax’s hind parts again chomping fast enough to harm Jax but still get away. Titus’ incessant movement inside the closed quarters enraged Jax more than hurt him though, but the attacks also made Jax tired and lazy in his strategy. When Jax finally attempted to trounce and dispense of Titus in the same manner he had his other competitors, he did not expect the smaller, swifter dog to still hold his ground. Waiting for the perfect time to counter to Jax’s leap, Titus lunged, fangs fully exposed, directly for the bottom half of Jax’s snout. Securely snared, Titus used his and Jax’s weight to pull down as hard as he could, twisting at the perfect moment to the right, his neck muscles and veins rigid and pulsating, tearing Jax’s jaw in half.
Stains of victory smeared across his cheeks and chest, Titus, aware of his success, felt no need to embarrass his opponent, knowing it was only a matter of time before Jax bled out onto the carpet. Titus simply strolled back to his corner away from Jax’s blood, which saturated the carpet so quickly that the carpet couldn’t capture it in time and it spread out in a wide misshapen, nameless manner like oil across water. Once back to his corner, Titus looked up to his owners and the rest of the dazed and euphoric crowd and licked his upper and lower jowls clean of the lingering, dripping blood.
Away from the revelry, Red sat with Randy still waiting to learn his purpose. The deathly wails of Jax and the onlookers’ elation intensified Red’s confusion and apprehension. Randy tried his best to continue to mitigate Red’s fears, patting him gently and scratching under his ears.
-Sounds like a mean one goin’ down in da box. We up next. You good, right? Randy asked as he looked down at Red hoping for some type of answer or guidance. But before Randy could distinguish Red’s feelings on the matter, there was a shout over by the box for Randy to come forward with his friend. Randy pulled Red’s leash, goading him along.
Red realized he was heading towards the site of all the commotion of the past hour or so. As he headed in the direction of the box, finally panting and starting to shake, he caught out of the corner of his eye a sight that stirred in him a sensation of disinclination stronger than any he had ever endured, causing his panting to turn to panic, and he pulled the other way. He yanked and scrambled as hard as he could, pulling on the rope with such ferocity it seemed bound to snap. Seeing Jax’s nearly severed jaw dangling and flopping back and forth and painting the gray floor a smeared crimson brought the full weight of Red’s situation upon him. Although Red did not know, could not know, what was contained within the box, he could finally see its ugly product and all its weighted expectations. The burden of this new, unspeakable reality vanquished all former mild apprehension and uncertainty and replaced it with a sensation of such vibrant fear, bordering on absolute madness, that Randy barely had enough time to cling to the rope. The harder Red pulled, the more fatigued he became, severing his own air supply as the rope cinched ever tighter around his neck crushing his larynx, reminding him that he was just a dog and he was in a world of men.
By the time Randy was able to lasso the rope in and get close enough to lay his hands on his friend, Red was nearly passed out from struggling so hard. His attempted escape incited anger amongst the event’s organizers and spectators for it was slowing down their schedule.
-You bout to be bumped off if you can’t get that bitch in the box, Waxman.
-He good, he good. Jus be a little excited. You know, first time and all.
-Whatever man. Just get over there now before I have both your asses taken out back and shot.
As Randy pulled him closer to the box, Red could start to hear the cries of excitement from the crowd. The crowds’ cheers pierced his already ringing ears. He struggled to see very well, his eyes still filled with tears from almost strangling himself to death. As Red and Randy approached the box, the men in front of them parted in a perversely inordinate showing of respect as Randy brought Red up the left side. As they came upon the makeshift gate, Randy cinched up the rope a little tighter anticipating a struggle, but there was no fight left in him. Whether through sheer fatigue or an enlightened sense of the situation at hand, Red simply accepted what was on the other side of the octagonal walls now in front of him.
Above all the noise one voice rang out as Randy and Red waited outside the gate. It was Parris, who had carried the carpet and orchestrated the box’s assembly.
-Listen up! This gonna be our second fight. Odds on the board. No changes once leashes be off. Randy’s Bitch comin’ in at 20 to 1 odds and Curtis’ dog, Manny, 3 to 1. Get your bets down and we good in five.
Randy devoted all of his attention and concern to his companion of the past five days, stroking Red gently behind the ears. Randy looked down one final time into Red’s eyes, a final, sad plea of encouragement from a man of equally hopeless circumstances. But Randy could see, he understood all too well what Red’s eyes held within them. Nothing. And in that moment of recognition, the two shared a final brief moment of forlorn commiseration that only two creatures of such hard and horrible lives can share. Both of their eyes, ravaged and gaunt from years of desolate abandonment, fixed on each other and spoke louder than all the revelers’ cheers and dogs’ bellows combined and spoke louder than the strident echo bouncing from all four corners of the empty cold walls and spoke louder than the resounding wails of pain the box contained and spoke louder than the pulsation of their hearts. And as briefly as this acknowledgement existed, it ended just as quickly with Randy bowing his head, unable to hold the stare any longer and finally pulling his hands away from Red’s head and placing them firmly on the rope.
For his part, Red stared a moment longer towards Randy and then turned towards the box’s gate and its walls which had seemed so distant only moments ago. He was now ready to face and accept whatever was behind the gate and inside the box.
The gate was opened and Randy led him in and then carefully exited back out of the box pulling the leash over the top of the wooden walls. Randy loosened up on the rope so that when the time came he would be able to lift the rope off of Red’s neck and head. On the other side of the box, Red saw a scarred manifestation of sheer pity and rage. His competitor, Manny, a pit-bull mix, served as Red’s direct antithesis in his seasoned nature. Scarred all upon his face and back and missing one eye, Manny carried the poise of a veteran of the box. While not massive in size like Jax or stealthy like Titus, Manny still commanded a certain admiration from the crowd. A true brawler, weighing a solid ninety pounds, almost fifty more than his competition today. Manny seemed to look right beyond Red as if his presence was so insignificant to the laws of the box and the end result of the match so absolute that time was only being wasted in allowing the match to even occur.
So when the signal was given to release the dogs, Manny made it clear that he intended to waste no more time. Manny pounced in one swift motion and came crashing down upon Red. Manny’s claws dug deep into Red’s hind legs and below his right eye. In no time, Manny had arranged Red’s body in the perfect position to end it by stretching Red and digging his claws ever deeper while pushing in opposite directions, which exposed Red’s neck and jugular perfectly. Being pressed up against the box’s one panel limited the crowds’ view and so an ensuing struggle of position to witness Red’s end began. Just as Manny was about to end it, the struggle amongst the spectators pushed one of the panels into Manny’s side knocking him off balance long enough for Red to get on all four paws again. As he got up, Red noticed a small opportunity of attack as Manny was still slightly off balanced and distracted by the developing commotion on the other side of the walls, so Red bit down on Manny’s back left leg as hard and quickly as he could. His advantage did not last long though as Manny easily flung Red off by spinning around in a rage of dismay, but Red’s efforts did not go in vain because now Manny limped back to his corner struggling to keep his poise. Against the far wall of the box, Red felt the bloodied carpet underneath him and again felt a resignation of insurmountable weight come crashing down. The carpet was cold and clung to his fur, pulling him ever closer and calling him to join all its past victims who once lied so helplessly as he did now. But he rose again, barely able to see the wound on his leg from the blood dripping into his eyes.
On the other side of the box, Manny circled and waited for his opportunity. Seeing that his opponent was temporarily blinded, Manny moved in again, this time with a charge of bloodthirsty death in his one good eye and he slammed Red so hard into the wall of the box that it broke open releasing the two dogs onto the cold, hard floor of the warehouse. The wooden panels swung open with such power and violence that they knocked some of the crowd over, flipping them into the box and onto the carpet, covering them in the dogs’ blood. Others dispersed fearing the dogs would turn on them. But Manny knew his intent and aimed to see it through. He turned towards Red and again bull rushed him with all his might this time successfully sprawling Red onto the floor underneath his claws again. This time Manny had his mark and there was nothing to intervene. As Manny bent to bite deep into Red’s jugular, Red closed his eyes, unwilling to witness his own demise. And just as Manny was about to bite down, Red could hear the shuffling of hasty feet vibrating against the concrete and the echoing of sirens. And then there was silence.