The Arena

Apud Fredric Brown

The sleep had glued my mouth, making me feel a bitter taste and I swore for the umpteenth time that I’d never put any booze in my mouth again. Like usual, I’ll forget these oaths the moment I get to the club with the boys.

I tried to lie better and then, all of a sudden, I realized I was not in my bed. I held out my hand and I met some rough hair. Before opening my eyes completely I asked myself how drunk I could have been the night before to get in bed with such a woman. I stretched myself and I tried to turn over: maybe I should better pretend I am still sleeping and she will have the decency to leave unnoticed. Not a chance: women, the rougher their hair, the more churl they are, I found myself formulating one of the laws I was to forget the moment I got rid of my hangover.

A kick in my ribs made me open my eyes over an incredible scene: I was lying with half of my body over the thick mane of a lion that was snoring gently and farther on I could see a lioness too. My hand was resting on the lion’s mane and,  for a moment, above all the absurd of the situation, I let out a sigh of relief: no matter how drunk I may be, I never get in bed with a woman that has got rough hair. Under me, just like under the lion, as a matter of fact, laid golden sand, and when I raised my head I saw, only a few meters away from us, the blue waters of a lake from which a drowsy crocodile was taking out his head. Or it was an alligator, because I could never tell one from the other very well. What I didn’t like about all this story was that, as sleepy as he seemed, his eyes were greedily fixed on me.

“A zoo”, I said to myself. This was the explanation! “Somebody, and I’ll find out who, took advantage of my being terribly drunk last night, gave me a sleep pill or a drug and put me here among these beasts”. I was just thinking that there is no zoo in the world where crocodiles and lions are put in the same place, when I got a second kick in my ribs:

-Aren’t you going to wake up?

I looked toward the owner of the voice. A well built up woman, just like in the commercials that lure you to the South seas, stark naked, kept on kicking me somewhere between my second and my third rib. With her hands she was trying in vain to cover either her sex or her exceedingly big breasts. My attempt to close my eyes and treat all the problem like the natural sequel of my drinking from last night didn’t have as a result but a second kick.

-Hey, calm down! I shouted at my superb dream.

-Wake up! She growled in a whistle, with a voce that seemed to float on the climax of exasperation.

As my only reaction was to lie better, she went on:

-You should better wake up before the lion under you does!

I watched the lion better. He was already breathing faster and he looked like he was slowly wakening up.

After a time he blinked and the eye on my side stared at me. I decided that the dream started to be a little bit too realistic so I rose slowly followed by his somehow curious look. Only curious for the moment, though I didn’t have the slightest idea about the moment when this curiosity was to become more aggressive.

-Oh, thank God you woke up! the woman next to me sighed with relief. I thought he would wake up before you.

I watched myself puzzled. I was as naked as she was. We were both on the shore of a lake with clear blue waters and on the beach around it there were lots of sleeping animals. Some of them started to yawn in their sleep; others were already moving and trying to get up. I stepped cautiously over the lion, took the woman by her hand and drew her a little farther, and then I asked her:

-Can you tell me what the hell is going on here?

-I will, but if you don’t mind, let’s make some more steps away from here … This is why I woke you up … We are running out of time … they are going to wake up soon …

We stepped away from the animals on the beach.

-Now, speak! I summoned her.

She looked around hesitating, like she was searching for a bench to sit on. Nothing of this kind could be seen nearby so she started to talk.

-I think I woke up ten minutes before you, she said irritated. You should have woken up and hear, too …

-Hear what? I asked puzzled … Was there an announcement or something of this kind?

-Not exactly an announcement, she said confused but I had just woken up when suddenly I heard something like a buzz in my head. Then a voice, or a thought made its presence felt in my mind. It said something about the fact that many times, through its fortuitous genetic mutations, nature doesn’t know how to choose the real masters of a planet. And that they, but I don’t know who are they, will rectify this situation. They will take one animal from each species and they will put us all on this … I think the word or at least the concept of arena war used. Which they are not going to open again before it remains only the species that deserves it.

I watched more careful around with the last remainders of my sleep chased away. In the distance I could see something like a translucent wall surrounding the place we were in. it looked like a circle with a diameter of three or four kilometers, on the surface of which had been amassed, as I could realize, almost all the animals on the earth. Like in a monstrous ark oh Noah. The small difference was that I was not Noah but an ordinary animal. Or at least this is how those who had put us here saw the things. I took a better look at the woman. Pretty, a little bit saucy, the type I would have chosen to have fun with on an usual night but not to have her as an equal partner for fighting against lions. But maybe she thought the same about me …

-Did you have the time to look around more carefully? I asked her. Is there a shelter or something of this kind around this place? Otherwise we have no chance against the lions … or the crocodiles … I added noticing the eye of the reptile from the lake looking straight towards me with a fixity I still didn’t like.

-I don’t know, I didn’t have the time to look, she answered helplessly. The moment I woke up, I began to look for people. Then, when I found you, the announcement was heard and I tried to wake you up … Do you think we can manage? She asked with a whine and all her self-assurance seemed to have faded away all at once.

-We have to, I encouraged her, forcing myself to smile. Otherwise the whole world will end up populated only by lions … or crocodiles.

I took her by the hand and we headed for the translucent wall in the distance. Animals were walking by our side staggering. As I could see, the small animals were the first that had come to their senses after the drug’s effect or whatever might have operated on us. Anyway, the majority seemed still sleepy and was shaking their heads like they wanted to drive away their dizziness.

We arrived at the wall. It was like a milky screen which let the light but no image through it. I pushed it with my hand. It had the firmness of a hard rubber and it seemed completely insensible to my attempts of scratching or piercing it with a branch. I started digging at its base but I came over the same hard material everywhere. Anyway, I didn’t have any tools for digging. Nor did I have the time. At least, not before the big carnivores woke up. Or before they got hungry.

-What shall we do? the woman asked worriedly.

-For the moment, we shall search for a place to shelter and be safe, I answered and started along the wall. We must find something…a place where we can stay until we decide what to do.

I noticed a cluster of trees in the distance. I headed for that place hopefully. Although it didn’t look like a solution to perch in the trees until the animals ate each other, at least they were to offer us a provisional shelter. And all of a sudden, I saw two huge cylindrical forms coming out from behind the trees. They seemed to be some reservoirs or something like that but anyway they were the first thing that broke the monotony of our habitat. Yes, our kidnappers had thought about everything. There were two huge tanks and we got closer, I saw water was flowing from one of them. After it was collected in some sort of a drain, it poured out over its margins in the lake on the shore of which I had woken up. In the other, there was a yellowish gruel that also flew into a pipe whose form reminded me in an unpleasant way of a trough. I hurried to taste it: it had a mellow taste, quite pleasant, but next to me, an ape bent to taste it too while staring at us. He lacked the fierceness oh a gorilla but if one day the food in the pipe was to lessen I wouldn’t have liked to fight him at all. Still, this was not an urgent problem right now, but the lions were. And the tigers, and the crocodiles too, which I don’t know why, I wasn’t sure they would be content with the rosy porridge from the pipes, even if it probably contained all the necessary stuff. First, the problem of the shelter needed to be solved …

-We can try to build a hut and …the woman suggested with timidity, then looking at the lion that meantime had woken up and was staring around heavy with sleep, she abandoned the idea.

There could be built no hut that should resist a hungry lion. And no raft to retire in the middle of the lake. Weapons: a solid branch I had found earlier, down, under the trees. It was good after all for a dog but not for a lion or a Siberian tiger that was already sniffing around on the lake’s shore.

“An idea! I have to come up with an idea, or we’ll be lost”, I kept repeating to myself and then my eyes fell on the two tanks. They were stuck together with a space of a few centimeters between them. When we passed among the trees I noticed a fallen trunk. I rushed back, hoping it was not too late and that I wouldn’t find the lion sprawled over it. I put it on my shoulders and, bending under its weight, I lent it against the two reservoirs. There were two more meters to the upper edge. I urged the woman to climb the first and then I crawled up myself drawing the trunk after me. The platform on the tanks had around six meters in diameter and if the situation called for it, it could serve pretty well as a shelter for a while.

I held out my hand towards the woman:

-Now we can finally introduce each other. I am Paul …

-And I am Laura, she said.

She looked at me cautiously and then she added:

-And I need to tell you that I didn’t like the way you touched me when you pushed me on the lid of the reservoir. Despite the conditions we are in, I want us to maintain a civilized attitude … I must tell you that I have a very good friend that I am going to marry soon and to whom I want to remain faithful, no matter the situation …

I was flabbergasted. With the lion twanging at my feet, she and her appetizing body was the last thing in the world I could care about.

-Believe me, this is not the moment to think of something like that…

-This is what you all men say, “that it’s not the moment”, but you are thinking of it all the time, she said looking scowling and she jumped on the water tank.

-I am going to sleep here tonight, so that I’ll be safer, she decreed and she began to tear branches from the tree that spread its leaves above the tanks.

I shrugged my shoulders and I began to watch the landscape beneath me. It seemed that all the animals, with no exception, had woken up. I don’t know how they had understood the message to fight for conquering the supremacy over the planet, but no fight could be seen yet. I was not a zoologist or a biologist, but I had no doubt that such an agglomeration, on only a few square kilometers, was to lead soon, with or without any warlike appeal, to a real massacre. The lion I had rested my head on was walking idly under the tanks. Although the water in the pipe flew into the lake, there was no trace of doubt that soon the place would get crowded. The shore of the lake was abrupt, and in the place where I had woken up and which was more accessible, I could see the crocodile on the watch.

Nothing else happened before the dark fell and we went to sleep in an atmosphere rather tense, each of us on his reservoir. I slept agitated and I was woken up by Laura’s sharp screams. The day had hardly broken but I could see pretty clearly the tank she had gone to sleep on. The monkey from the eve, the one that had stared at us while at the food pipe, was trying to rape the girl. At least this is how it looked from the place where I was because I doubt he had any intention of eating her.

-Help! Help me, damn it, to get this horrible thing off of me.

I took a branch and using it as a club I hit the monkey’s head. He turned around staggering and wanted to prey upon me but he stumbled against one of the branches Laura had used as a bed and fell down over the edge of the tank. A muffled bang was heard and when we rushed to see what happened his legs sprang a few times and then he remained stiff.

-Why didn’t you come faster? Laura shouted offended. You were just sitting there and watching the beast maltreating me …

-I was hoping you’d convince him to leave you alone if you told him you wanted to be faithful to your friend, I answered bitingly. And maybe you’ll ask him to be civilized.

Although the ape was the first dead of this strange war, it was also a sort of a signal for the beginning of the massacre. If the lion kept himself in a royal abeyance, then the Siberian tiger seemed to be killing just for his own pleasure. Or like he was listening to the urge of the voice Laura was talking about. As if he wanted to remain the only master of the planet…

After five days, only the big carnivores were still alive. And the crocodile in the lake that was patiently waiting for the denouement. I got down for water and that pink porridge more and more seldom, drawing then the trunk, cautiously, near us. Sometimes I thought that, without the tanks, we would have been long time ago the prey of the big carnivores. Meanwhile, my relationship with Laura became more normal and she even got used to the idea that, if we survived this test, we would probably be the parents of the new world. A sort of Adam and Eve, supposing we would be allowed to rewrite the myth …

More than two weeks went by like this and, from the multitude of animals, we could see only three from our watching tower: the lion, the Siberian tiger and the crocodile. They were still hunting each other delaying the denouement as much as possible as if they had realized that they were the last representatives of the animal kingdom on Terra.

The end came suddenly and took us both by surprise. The tiger, always hungry, always in search for food, after trying in vain to eat the half rotten corpse of a coyote, approached more than usual he crocodile’s territory. This one, with a slow move, much slowed down by the long fast, rushed for the tiger. He caught him by a fore-paw and tried to draw him into the lake. Only the big Siberian tiger was not a mere deer. Lashed by the pain, he broke loose from the crocodile’s mouth and a terrible fight started on the lake’s shore. Attracted by the noise, the lion approached too but he remained at a cautious distance. Stirred by the smell of the blood, he finally joined the fight, although from the distance we were we couldn’t see very well who tore whom. The alliances were made and broken rapidly but the only one that could leave the lake’s shore was the Siberian tiger. Anyway, he died too in the course of the afternoon … and as far as I could see at a first glimpse we were the only survivors of the arena.

-Do you think we should get down on the arena and kill the small crustaceans or whatever may be still alive down there? Laura asked me the second day seeing that no consideration was paid to our victory yet.

-Or maybe we should shout so that the referees should hear us …

That night, as we were winners and I held Laura in my arms, I remembered how the announcement sounded: “until the last sample of the most gifted species survives”.

I wonder what else did our watchmen want from us? A terrible thought flashed my mind: What if they are somehow asexual? What if they don’t know anything about the sexual dimorphism? Wouldn’t they consider me and Laura as making part of different species, waiting to kill each other?

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