Birds of Prey

This is the first cockfight I've been to. I ask Jacob if there's a lot of blood.

-There's blood, he says.

The building we're in, an old warehouse a few miles outside of town, is a sort of Coliseum, had it been built to watch chickens fight to the death. There are bleachers surrounding the pit, which rests in the middle like an oversized sandbox. The bed of the pit seems to be a mixture of sand and woodchips. The bleachers are like those you'd find at a little league ball diamond. I look around. There are at least 200 people in here. I lean towards Jacob and admit I didn't realize this many people were into cockfighting. I thought it was illegal.

-It's legal here and New Mexico, my cousin tells me.

A row of cages stuffed with bawking roosters overlooks one side of the pit. The birds have ringside seating. A man in a tattered ball cap opens a cage door and, with gloved hands, reaches inside and pulls a rooster out by its neck. I notice there are razors tied around the bird's ankles. It shakes frantically in the man's grip. The rooster seems to be having a seizure, I say.

-Naw. It's just hyper. They inject 'em with caffeine, usually. Makes 'em quick.

The man carries his bird, speckled red and white, around to one side of the pit and lowers it down. He holds its wings and the rooster's razor-equipped legs run in place. Jacob tells me the bird is known as Big Red. On the opposite side of the pit, another man, holding a burly gold and black rooster, does likewise with his bird. When the two roosters make eye contact they both become perfectly still. All around us money is exchanged like pleasantries.

Somewhere in the warehouse, someone strikes a bell and the two birds are released. Instinctively, they charge one another. Big Red and his opponent lunge and peck, feeling each other out the same way boxers trade jabs with their opponents. Then in one sharp, symmetrical motion, Big Red arcs its foot, perhaps the avian version of an axe kick, and when it drops its leg back to the ground, it takes me a moment to notice that Gold and Black is missing his left leg. I see it, lying in the sawdust and sand. It twitches once, trying to walk as if remembering its former function, then remains still. The rooster doesn't emit a cry or a bawk, but instead hops around the pit madly on its one good leg, continuing to peck whenever Big Red draws close. After a few more seconds, Gold and Black loses his footing and slips to the ground. Big Red kicks up a cloud of sand as he goes in for the kill.

When the fight is declared over Big Red having lost interest towards his dying opponent and now seemingly searching the pit for food the handler grabs Gold and Black, lifts him up to the light as if inspecting a diamond. The handler says something to the man standing beside him, then wraps his gloved hands around the rooster's throat and snaps its neck. Gold and Black's body goes limp.

-That wasn't a very good fight, Jacob tells me. They usually last longer.

I look back down at the cages overlooking the pit. It's weird. There must be over a dozen roosters stuck down there, but they're all perfectly silent. They aren't squawking or rustling about like before the fight began. Were some of them related to Gold and Black? Did they just witness the death of a friend? Does that make sense? Probably not. Maybe they just realize what will happen to them.

Money is exchanged. Two new roosters are placed in the pit. The bell sounds. I can't look away.

About the author:

Mark Medley was born and raised in Oshawa, Ontario. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the Mississippi Review, Scrivener Creative Review, Ultraviolet, Lichen, The Lighthouse Wire, and Kiss Machine. He is 23.