by Ryan Stone
The dogs circled, tails arched, teeth bared. A cluster of sweaty men stood close in the stifling barn. Hay bales formed a fight pit in the centre, and the smell rising from the dirty straw matting was rancid.
My old man stood at one end of the pit, watching his mutt intently. It was part Staffy, part pit bull—a solid nugget of a thing. Dad called this one Blue, and Blue was being stalked by a bigger, leaner ridgeback owned by Ernie Smith from the pawn shop. The ridgy had a map of silvered scars over its big head and flanks. Its ears and tail had been cropped short.
“Get him, Mack,” Ernie encouraged. It darted in and tore a flap off Blue’s back leg. Blue bit at air as the ridgy moved back. Again the ridgy darted in, ripped flesh, and dodged out of reach.
Hoots and cries rose from the crowd. I tried to slide away, but Dad put a hand on my shoulder and turned me back to the fight. “Watch.”
It didn’t last long. Ernie Smith’s ridgeback opened up Blue’s stomach with a vicious slash. Blood and entrails soaked into the straw. A cheer went up from the men.
“Tough luck,” Ernie said to my dad.
“Fuck off, Ernie.”
When the pit was clear, I followed Dad in to collect Blue. One of his eyes was still open.
“Not fer long,” Dad muttered. He dragged Blue out of the pit. I followed them outside.
“What’ll happen to him?”
“They burn the dead ones.”
“But he’s still alive.”
“He’ll be dead soon.”
Dad cuffed the back of my head, knocking me to the ground. “Ya sound like yer mother.”
“Ease up, Vern. He’s just a kid.” Ernie Smith came around the corner of the barn. He was a big man, but soft, where my old man was all hard angles and muscle.
Dad turned on Ernie. “Now yer gonna tell me how to raise me kid, are you?”
“Easy, Vern. I’m just saying.” He reached out a hand and pulled me to my feet.
But Dad’s blood was up, and he cracked Ernie on the nose with a right hook. Ernie dropped to his knees, bloodied hands sheltering the mess of his nose. “That the type of thing you teach your kid, is it—how to sucker punch a guy?”
I thought Dad was going to hit him again, but instead he looked over at me. “Come here.”
He took hold of my hand and curled my fingers into a fist. “When you punch someone, keep yer thumb outside yer fist. You’ll break it if you don’t.”
I did as he said, and held my fist up for inspection.
“Good. Now go punch that fucker.” He gestured at Ernie, who was still cradling his nose.
“You heard me. Punch the fucker in the face. Tryin’ to tell me how to raise my kid.”
I looked from my old man to Ernie, who knelt hunched over with blood drenching his hands and shirt.
“Don’t do it, son,” Ernie said and looked up at me.
It’s hard to say which one of the three of us I hated more at that moment.
“I’m not your son,” I said, and swung my fist at his nose.
Ryan Stone writes after midnight in Melbourne, Australia. He lives beside Sherbrooke Forest with his wife, two young sons, a German Shepherd, and a Ragdoll cat. On daily walks through his woodland surrounds, he often falls down rabbit holes.
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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dog Fight”? For a long time I only wrote poetry. “Dog Fight” began as a poem, suffered through multiple drafts, and never really came together. When I started writing flash fiction, I think “Dog Fight” finally found the form it was always meant to inhabit.
What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dog Fight”?
For a long time I only wrote poetry. “Dog Fight” began as a poem, suffered through multiple drafts, and never really came together. When I started writing flash fiction, I think “Dog Fight” finally found the form it was always meant to inhabit.
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08/30 • Andrew Warnke
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