This is one of my favorite shorts. It is based on a real rodeo event, in case any of you haven't heard of "Bull Poker."
Maren Bradley Anderson
Casey wasn’t 100-percent sure that he could actually ride a bull, but he was damn sure he could sit at a card table in a ring with an angry bull longer than the other jackasses who had signed up.
“Shee-it,” he’d said to Amber, his sweet little girlfriend. “If that nut-sack Charlie thinks he can do it, I sure as hell can, too!” She had batted her eyes at him adoringly as he hitched up his Wranglers and sauntered to the sign-up desk. There was time for three more Silver Bullets before the Bull Poker began, and Amber sat on his lap for an entire round of buckin’ broncos. Casey hadn’t gotten any from her, yet, but he figgered that with beer and Bull Poker, tonight was the night. He slid his hand between her knees possessively. She put on his hat and bounced as she cheered for the cowboys.
Amber wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed, but she was in beauty school and thought that Casey’s job selling real estate was glamorous. He didn’t quite have his license yet, but he was planning on taking the test sometime in the next couple years. He was making enough to make the payments on the sweet truck he bought as soon as he got the job from his Daddy and to pay his part of the rent on the apartment he shared with his buddy Art. Plus a little to show the ladies a good time, too. He caught a wiff of Amber’s hair and smiled.
He was so focused on the girl on his lap, that Casey didn’t hear the loudspeaker announcement calling the Bull Poker contestants. Art slugged him in the shoulder. “Dude. That’s you and the other dummies.”
Casey slugged Art back. “You mean me and the losers.” He laughed as he set Amber down on the bleacher seat. “Be back with the prize money, sweetie.” He kissed her harder than usual and tossed her a wink as he walked off.
Casey found his way to the spot behind the chutes where the other Bull Poker players had gathered, including his friend Charlie.
“Casey!” Charlie looked relieved to see him. “Is Art coming down?”
“Nah. That pussy’s afraid of hurting himself so he couldn’t fuckin’ study his college books no more.” Casey grinned. “That guy’s got no money, no girl, and no fuckin’ balls.”
Charlie’s grin was weak and jiggly. “What’s up with you?” Casey asked.
“Oh, nothin’,” Charlie said. “Um, didja see the bull?”
Casey turned to look where Charlie pointed. Through the slats of the chute, he could see a small, dense black shape and a white horn poking out. “What is it?”
“Mexican fighting bull,” said a contestant in a black hat.
Casey squinted at it a moment. “Huh,” he said. “Little.”
The bull snorted. A huge huff of air kicked dirt up off the floor. Casey looked at that horn again, curved and blunted, but plenty wicked-looking. Then the bull caught his eye.
Casey wasn’t one for poetics, or turning a phrase without an explicative, or talking about his feelings, but the way that bull looked at him made him feel like all the air’d been let outta his tires. “Shit,” he muttered. “That thing’s evil!”
“Who? Pussycat?” the event organizer asked as he walked up. “He’s hasn’t killed a single person yet. And only three in the hospital for more’n a week.” The man grinned in an unpleasant way. “Here are your waiver forms. Sign ‘em or you ain’t goin’ in that ring.”
“Waiver?” Charlie’s voice did, too.
“No suin’,” the man said. “This is the dumbest thing you’ll ever do, and you’ll do it knowingly and absolving us of any responsibility for your stupidity.”
Casey glanced at the dense text of the waiver before giving up and signing it. He tried to be flip as he handed the form back, but he could feel the bull watching him. The other contestants signed and handed the forms back, too.
“Well, good luck to ya,” the man said and walked off as a clown opened the gate and waved them in to the arena.
A card table and four plastic patio chairs stood in the middle of the dirt arena. Casey’d never really noticed how spindly a card table is until he saw this one standing all alone, a single target in the wide open expanse. As he passed the gate, another clown handed him a heavy vest. He musta looked confused because the clown said, “Safety vest. Need help?” Casey shook his head and pulled it on. He looked at Charlie who had gone white.
“Dude,” Casey whispered. “Why’re you out here?”
“Brother dared me.” Charlie stared at the table. “You?”
Casey nodded. As a group, they walked toward the table.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” cried the MC as he galloped around atop his paint horse. “This here is the most reckless sport in rodeo! What we have here is four young men who have all paid $50 for the opportunity to play Bull Poker!”
The crowd cheered, and Casey looked up to see Amber bouncing and waving and Art sitting with his arms crossed looking grim. Casey waved to her and shot Art a look that he hoped relayed what an asshole he was. Casey sat at the table and picked up the cards.
“The rules of Bull Poker are simple,” the MC went on as he cantered around the ring, his horse’s tail bannering out behind him. “Here is the $200 from the kitty!” He handed the money to a clown who tossed it onto the table. “We are going to let Pussycat the bull out of the chute in a minute. Simply put, the last man sitting at the table gets the $200!
“Now, Pussycat hasn’t killed anyone, but he’s put more’n a few in the hospital. These fellas’ve signed a waiver. I’m-a gonna read it to ya now!
“Bull Poker is a very dangerous endeavor. I know that if that bull hits me, I could be broken, maimed or outright killed. By signing this waiver, I hereby declare that I am eighteen years of age, not inebriated, and I absolve this arena and this rodeo company from any responsibility for my stupidity and ill-advised actions.
“Furthermore, I acknowledge that by playing Bull Poker, I am admitting that I think with the lower of my two brains and that this is the dumbest thing I have ever done.
“However, if I win at Bull Poker, I get bragging rights for a whole year, and a special place in the ladies’ hearts. Are we ready to play? Deal the cards!”
Casey shuffled and dealt out some cards. “Five card stud?” he said. He got a nervous chuckle from Charlie on his left, but the other two guys were already focused on their cards. Black Hat pulled his Stetson low over his eyes, but he looked like he was about to faint. The one across from Casey had a blue shirt and the jaw-set of a linebacker.
It was only when he heard the chute open that Casey realized that he had taken the seat facing the crowd. Not only was his back to the bull, but he was the closest one to the chute.
Staring hard at his cards, Casey listened to the bull as it leapt from the chute and charged around behind him. “Come on, Pussycat!” the MC hollered into his microphone. “We ain’t got all night!”
The crowd gasped and Casey looked up, ready to run, as the bull attacked the clown in the barrel with savage ferocity that Casey had never seen up close. Pussycat’s eyes bulged white as he thrashed his head at the barrel, venting his fury on what he thought was a human being. The barrel rolled away, and Pussycat stood center ring, snorting, head high.
Pussycat met Casey’s eye. Casey swore he heard the bull say, “So, it’s you again?” before it lowered its head, pawed the ground once, and charged the table.
Casey couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He sold real estate, what was he doing staring down 800-pounds of angry pot roast? Okay, maybe he didn’t actually sell the properties—all he really did was fill in paperwork for the agents. But was he even going to be able to do that when Pussycat was done with him?
He noticed that the sounds in the arena had taken on an indoor-pool quality and that Pussycat was charging much slower than he thought possible. Casey looked back at the table and saw all of his compatriots were high-tailing it for the arena fence. A lopsided grin split half his face as he thought, “Hey, I won.”
Pussycat split the other half.
And stomped on his leg.
And stared him in the eye and spat, “That’s for McDonalds, asshole,” before he flicked the table in the air and trotted off.
Casey opened his eye and watched as the cards and money fluttered down around him like confetti, the arena lights like supernovas. The noises still sounded pool-like but that was because his ears were filling up with blood from his broken nose. The first faces he saw were the rodeo clowns, and they struck him as so absurd that he laughed. Or gurgled, rather.
“Was it worth it?” a clown asked as paramedics gathered.
“Fuck, yeah,” Casey said. “I’m getting laid tonight!”