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Short fiction

A sampling of some of James' work

Ferg and the dog

"It's five bucks to get in and if you mention our little show to anyone it'll cost ya even more," some stout-faced boy not much more than 13 (but trying his best to look at least 16) said at the door.

"Don't worry about me...here," I said shoving the handful of quarters I'd dug out of my bank that looked like some Chinese person's version of what Superman would look like if you'd never seen him before--a bank that I got for Christmas the year previous and had been diligently saving up as much as I could, sliding coin after coin through the back of his head.

Of course never in my wildest dreams, as I shoved the silver hunks of flattened metal through old Superman's head, would I have thought that I would be spending the coin on what I'd somehow been conned into attending.

"Come on Eke, let's head over there," Ferg, the latest guy I'd been hanging around with, motioned with a flick of his arm.

Ferg was a good enough guy most of the time but had a bit of a twisted side. We'd been hanging around for a few weeks, ever since he'd saved me from a particularly good beating from a kid who I swore looked just like Frankenstein's monster--square head and all. Ferg had just walked over to the kid, as he stood there, holding me by the collar against the back wall of the school and said, "if you're going to hit him you're going to have to hit me too." The square-headed kid (I have no idea what his name was or why he'd decided to put the jump on me) looked Ferg up and down and then without skipping a beat or blinking an eyelid, let go and simply walked away. It wasn't much of a surprise--Ferg was a good two heads taller than any other kid in our school and built like a trucker, complete with a beer belly and sideburns, despite the fact we were still in public school.

When my dad heard that I was hanging out with Ferg he'd muttered something under his breath to my mother about "special ed." Of course at first I thought he was talking about me, thinking that if I was going to hang around with the kind of guy you usually saw a picture of on the front page of the Spectator as being some kind of wanted criminal, I was destined for those "special classes". But later I guessed dad had been hinting that Ferg didn't have all his screws tightly in place and was likely still in public school because there wasn't anywhere else for him.

Still, in my eyes he was a good guy. Which is why, when he growled in his deep gravel-filled voice that we were going to the "fights" on the weekend I just nodded.

Ferg and I rarely talked. Or at least he rarely talked. I went on and on for hours about everything from Kwai Chang Caine to bath tub farts while he sat looking at me with the same expression. But it was all good, he had after all, saved me from Frankenstein's monster.

"So what kind of people fight in there?" I turned and said into Ferg's ear, motioning to a small ring made out of scraps of chicken wire and fencing that the kid at the door or maybe someone else had dragged into the basement of the abandoned house we'd just paid money to get into.

Ferg looked at me. "Dogs...people...you crack me up man."

I slowly looked from Ferg into the ring, realizing that it was way too small for anyone to fight in unless they were going to stand toe-to-toe and just punch the hell out of each other. I realized that somewhere over, or maybe under the din of the basement full of kids laughing and shouting I could hear the bark of dogs.

"Did you say dogs?"

Ferg looked at me again with the same blank expression and nodded.

While I'd watched plenty of boxing matches on the television with my dad and had seen a few neighbourhood dogs scrapping it out I'd never thought I'd pay five bucks to get into the basement of a house that looked like it was going to fall apart around us to see dogs fight in a makeshift ring.

I glanced around the basement. There was a strange, almost maniacal look on most of the boys' faces as they laughed and shouted at each other. I noticed on the other side of the room a kid I thought I'd seen at school trying his best to keep the most beat looking dog I'd ever seen under control. Ferg pointed the other direction and I saw another kid with dark greasy hair pulling in a dog I could tell just didn't want to be there. This dog, unlike the other, wasn't into what it was obviously figuring out it was in for--this dog looked like the kind you'd see some rich couple walking down the sidewalk. I just knew that the greasy haired kid had probably grabbed it out of someone's backyard.

"Dog fight? Why the hell did you bring me to a dog fight?" I said, more in a voice that likely sounded like a scream, as I tried to get over the other voices and into Ferg's ear.

He looked at me, diving deep into my eyes with the same blank expression he always had. Then he turned his head slowly back to where the ring was set up.

I'm not sure how long we sat there gazing into the mass of faces and wire. Occasionally I'd look at the door we'd come through, thinking I could always get up and walk back out. Then I'd look at Ferg's profile, unblinkingly staring in front of us. And more than a few times I looked at the dogs.

Eventually the same guy that had taken our money wandered into the centre of the room.

"Okay guys, you've all paid to come here and see a good fight. We have last week's winner back again...the nice little puppy we call Satan," he said sweeping his hand towards the growling, barking and generally unhappy dog the one kid was still trying his best to keep a hold of. "And of course we have today's contender, a strong looking dog from across town...hey Murray, what are we calling him."

"It's a her," the greasy haired kid yelled.

"What are we calling her then?"

"Whatever you want to call her," the kid yelled back to a chorus of hoots and hollers.

"Okay...whatever...well, let's get the fights underway."

I looked back at Ferg and then from one dog to the other, willing myself to stand and leave but there was something about the room, or Ferg, or maybe something in the air that just wouldn't let me stand up. It felt as if I'd lost control of my legs and I was stuck watching what was about to happen whether I liked it or not.

I looked at Ferg again, noticing that while his head wasn't moving, his eyes were doing the same as I had been doing, going from dog to dog and then back towards the doors. The expression on his face remained the same.

Before I knew what had happened the dogs were brought to the ring, the aggressive, almost wild one let loose on its own in the ring while the other dog was carried by the greasy haired kid and basically thrown in with a thud.

At first I thought the dog was just going to sit there dazed--the same look of disbelief in its eye that I must have had in mine--as Satan glared and growled at it, every hair on its back standing straight up. Then in a movement so fast I never even saw it, the dog threw itself against the fencing, trying to climb out. And she might have climbed out too if it hadn't been for Satan who lunged for her, grabbing hold of the back of her neck with its seemingly endlessly long teeth.

The noise in the basement was almost unbearable. I could hear myself praying that someone in the neighbourhood would hear what was going on and call the police or at least wander over to investigate.

Satan savagely shook the other dog, making it seem more like a plaything than another dog.

I looked towards Ferg but realized he was gone. Suddenly it seemed like the whole room had gone into slow motion. I looked back at the ring and saw a huge figure pushing its way through a group of kids who'd huddled near the ring, pushed them aside like they were cardboard cutouts and pulled a hole in the fence with one massive yank.

It was likely only a fraction of a second but it felt like much longer. One moment Satan was looking like it was about to kill the other dog, which appeared to have gone limp but was still making frantic movements with its legs, then the next moment Satan was flying through the air, landing in the face of the greasy haired kid. And Ferg, as I realized the towering figure was, was lifting the other dog into his arms.

The basement went silent except for a low whimpering noise from the bundle of hair Ferg had hoisted up to his chest. He looked at me and motioned with his head. As if I was watching myself I stood and followed him to the door. Later I'd wonder why none of the other kids had tried to stop him or at least yelled something about what he thought he was doing but for the first and last time in my life I truly understood what the cliché term "you could have heard a pin drop" really meant.

For at least 10 minutes we walked down the sidewalk in silence, Ferg still cradling the dog, seemingly oblivious to the fact it had at some point urinated all over his stomach and left leg. I noticed that the poor thing was silently panting, its eyes looking dazed. And I noticed Ferg's huge fingers slowly rubbing it under its neck, only inches from where Satan had left huge red tears that somehow didn't seem to be bleeding much.

"Why did you bring me there?" I said looking up at Ferg, wondering what exactly he planned on doing with the dog now.

Slowly he turned his massive head and smiled at me, "everyone needs their back up..don't they?"