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The Animals Will Eat

The crowd was big that night, I could hear the crackle of the bonfire as I got out of the car. The rain had stopped a few hours earlier, leaving the ground soft, muddy and challenging to walk on. My boots sank with every step, collecting mud as I made my way towards the glow of the fire. I could smell the wild sage and feel the energy of the cottonwoods. They seemed to exhale in relief after the afternoon storm, giving them life again. It had been a long, dry summer that year. The monsoon season was upon us, nature was coming back to life to show off all its beauty and power.

As I got closer to the party I had a feeling of anxiety that seemed to wash over me like a blanket. There was something sinister in the air.

I made my way through the crowd towards the bonfire in the center. The warmth felt good, but my anxious feeling would not go away. Somebody brought over a couple of beers for me. I sipped my beer and pretended it was good, trying my best to look normal and cool, whatever that was.

Looking across the fire to the opposite side of me I could only make out the front line of people, mostly their faces. Some laughing and enjoying each other, some trying to look as cool as possible while others seemed intimidated and nervous. It was a typical party, some of us new each other some didn’t. Some were sizing each other up, some looking for love. I watched and tried to take it all in.

The fire was hot against my face. I looked up to the dark sky, watching the embers float higher and higher until they disappeared. There was a strange rhythm to the fire. The crack of splintering wood, the small explosion of embers, that for a moment, hung in the air before ascending to the darkness.

Suddenly I heard loud, angry voices across from me. I couldn’t make out what was being said. The energy of the party had violently shifted in that moment. Two guys were squaring off, ready to fight. They had stepped out from the line of people, standing face to face. Waiting to see who would swing first. One took off his shirt and the crowd started yelling. The other seemed nervous and stood strong, arms at his side, fists clenched. While the other was flailing around shouting at him what he was going to do, he remained stoic, save for his heavy breathing I could see in his chest. There was also a rhythm to this moment as well, a strange rhythm at that. You could see and feel most of the crowd taking the side of the loud, dramatic fighter. He was whipping them into a frenzy. It was ritualistic and scary and my heart raced. They were of equal size and stature, but very different in their approach to the impending violence.

My eyes started to drift upon the people closest to them, they were yelling and egging them on to fight. Not thinking of the repercussions, not putting themselves in either of their shoes, not for a second. The wanted blood, they wanted it to start, they were a mob. A selfish, faceless, mob. The light and shadows caused by the flickering flames of the giant bonfire were morphing their once innocent faces into animals, hungry animals.

Just then I heard the sound, the sound of a fist striking a face. The fight had started! Arms and legs and fists swinging at each other, two bodies almost as one. I was mesmerized and couldn’t move a muscle. I was breathing hard, time seemed to slow to a crawl, everything moved in slow motion. The fire casting it’s menacing shadows on the warriors and the animals . They seemed to dance, punches landing, blood splattering, people yelling with joy with every blow. The warriors would fall to the ground, then let each other get up to continue on their feet. All the while the animals laughing and screaming, hoping it would never end. The dance, the bloody dance they thought was just for them on that early fall night amongst the giant cottonwoods.

I was frozen to help or stop the fight. The mud and fear had grabbed a deep hold on my boots. My heart told me to yell out, “stop!” But I couldn’t muster a whisper. So I watched, I watched the two warriors dance their violent dance. I watched the mob of animals rage on with glee. More, more, more! They wanted to see how far it would go. How much blood would be shed. How hard their own hearts could beat, selfishly ingesting the euphoria of their senses at the very peak. Me, me, me…..as the two warriors continued punishing each other. More, more, more…the chant of the heartless animals almost tasting the blood and pain themselves. It was terrifying and sad all at the same time. I couldn’t stop it, but I couldn’t watch anymore.

As the two warriors began to tire, the animals became restless as the dance was coming to an end. I turned and left before it was over. I thought if I walked away maybe others would do the same, but as I pushed my way out of the crowd, others filled in my spot to get a better view of the melee.

I struggled through the mud to my car. The sounds of the hungry, cheering animals faded behind me the further I went. I got in, slammed the door shut….silence. I turned on my lights and could see all the animals dancing around the bonfire. I put my car in reverse and spun the wheels hard in the soft dirt and mud.

When I got to the road I looked back one last time at the party, it looked like a a normal party but …..the animals will always eat.