In Mexico for my first bull fight.
Something odd. Something wrong. A bright Tijuana sun on an unreasonably, unseasonably cool day.
The arena half-filled with tourists, phones in hands, shivering.
Locals squint into the sun, wondering why the deep chill.
Something is off. Gradually, we're all looking at the same thing at the same time. The first bull is in the ring near a closed gate, watching. Watching us.
Way too early. Sponsor introductions are just starting. The bullfighters aren't in the ring.
Everything stops, the announcer, the spectators, the vendors, the dust suspended in the air. All eyes on the bull. The wrong bull, small, malnourished, broken right horn, patchy, dull coat.
The pitiful excuse for a bull examines us, each of us, every one of us. His scalpel-edged horns expose my corruption, weakness, digs out things I have buried alive. His red/brown bull eyes find us all wanting, drives the chill into our souls.
We come to life again, stunned, sick, terrified, embarrassed, ashamed. Some are vomiting, others crying, some fleeing, a few faint.
I sit. I can't take my eyes off the ragged, eviscerating bull. I sit. I shiver, shiver. The sun is bright and frozen.
They're not going to kill this interloper, intruder, exposer creature.
The announcer tries to say this amid bursts of ear-splitting static. They will try to herd the infernal fiend back under the stadium, and back to hell, I hope.
The devil bull walks to the center of the ring, raises his thick head, waits. Two horsemen on skittish mounts shout, wave their hands.
The bull ignores them, closes his eyes. Waits. Waits for the right moment.
A rider crosses a few feet in front of the bull. The demon takes one step toward the rider in front of him, twists, turns, lowers his head, charges and catches the underside of the horse on his left. The bull lifts the horse off the ground; the rider catapulted off, lands with a crunch and a moan. The gored horse squeals. We shriek in unison with the dying horse.
The bull disengages his bloody horns. Stands. Still as death. A third equestrian quickly moves in to rescue the injured rider.
The horned brute turns away from the rescue to watch the partner of the downed rider.
The wounded rider is on his feet. The murderous beast charges again, his massive head catches the battered horseman in the lower back. We hear the man's spine snap like a gunshot.
The monster's charge sends the would-be rescuer's steed to the ground. The bull lunges over the fallen horse, hooks the rescuer in the gut, lifts the screaming man, tosses him in the air. The rescuer's dead before he hits the ground.
The bull slowly eyes each of us, dares us to stop his slow return to the gate. Stops. Stands. Disappears.
I sit, tears streaming down my face. I'm shaken, shaking, shocked, gutted, exposed.
# # #
At home. Back in Redding, California, a week later. I still feel the chill deep in my bones. I dream of the blood, the dust, the screaming horse and rider.
I now go to Mass every day. I step out of the church into a strange, sunny, cold day. I stand there freezing and sweating. I think I hear the distant clop, clop of hooves in the parking lot.