Bewildering Stories

Change the color of the text to:

Change the color of the background to:

A Nice Day for Balanced Contests

by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

“Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I mastodon something good.”

Outside the stadium, the posters were going up. Posters were being placed in the poster cabinets. These were big, colorful posters. Because everything was known to them in advance, they were able to use actual moments of the encounters in the advertising, like movie makers are able to place incidents from the actual film in the trailers. So this new poster going up in the frame was a picture of the very last samurai being crushed to death right as the dying mastodon fell on him.

I was inside the stadium, so I didn’t know anything, at all about what was happening outside the stadium. All I knew was that now they were leading in a huge mastodon, using chains and clubs and flares. And on the other side of the arena, fifty samurai were walking in without having to be herded in. They were coming in from the waiting area. Walking out with bold strides and fearless postures with their swords still resting in their scabbards.

“It’s a nice day for contests,” I said. I was up in the booth where the emperor’s friends usually sit. I think they call this the luxury box. I was talking to the people around me. I was very nervous. I was dressed as a Roman soldier, and I was holding a sword. I didn’t remember walking to the stadium, or driving to the stadium, or being in a tailgate party and getting drunk, or buying a ticket, or even dressing as a Roman soldier. I did remember parts of my real life. Working in a grocery store isn’t something you can easily forget. Even now I’m typing with a broken fingernail, something I got by using a cash register just last night. “Good thing the sun came out,” I said to the spectators seated near me. Most of the spectators were wearing white togas. Some were in casual clothes. Some in jeans and T-shirts.

A man walked by selling beer. I found my little pleated skirt had pockets. And in the pockets there were coins. I bought a beer and it was pretty good, better than I expected. “You should taste the beer,” I said. “This is pretty good beer; for two drachmas you can’t get better than this,” I said. Then I bought some cotton candy and later a pretzel. I wanted to sneak out and wander the back areas, maybe grab a bratwurst, but as I approached the exit to the fancy booth I was in, two big guys stood and blocked my departure.

I went back to my seat.

Down below, the samurai warriors were slashing at the great beast’s legs. They had the giant beast surrounded and they were attacking it. The mastodon was furious. I think he hated all the colorful costumes. I think he hated the arena. I think he hated being sliced like lunch meat.

All the samurai were wearing very colorful outfits. Red. Purple. Green. Yellow. Grey. Black. Pink. The great beast must have known how drab he looked compared to his adversaries, because he tried to grab the crowd’s attention by bellowing and flailing around with his trunk. Faster than one would have thought possible; the big-building-with-legs turned around twice, and then spun around in the other direction. At one point, the mastodon grabbed hold of a grey outfit... and the grey costume dropped a dark grey sword... and then the grey helmet fell away... and the mastodon broke open the grey uniform like it was a fortune cookie... and only when open, did the uniform reveal it contained a man. For a moment, the man’s intestines looked like a white ribbon with a message written on it. The mastodon used its trunk and tossed half the man up into the crowd. The armor-wearing projectile was thrown with such vigor that it actually killed a man selling tofu. Let’s make that a man attempting to sell tofu.

I was back in my seat at this time. “Whoa, look at that!” I yelled. “Wet clean-up in aisle six! You don’t see that watching the Rams!”

With one quick swish of his sword, one of the samurai cut off a full foot of the mastodon’s trunk. The mastodon started spraying blood with every breath. The colorful soldiers started slipping in the blood. Whenever he saw one sliding, the mastodon rushed over, stepped on heads, or tummies, or legs, or their heads — which I already mentioned — but I didn’t mention how very gruesome it all was down there.

Up above the slaughter, there were 50,000 seats; with the stadium almost full of people. But even great entertainment has audience who don’t show. That can’t be helped. Years ago, standing room only meant if there were seats still empty by the third inning, you could sit in those seats unless the real owners happened along. But now, when they sell standing room only they expect you to stand for the whole game. And that’s why I called that one lady an idiot that one time. And I said I was sorry; I even went back and told her I was sorry.

By this time, there were ten swords sticking out of the great beast. One was stuck in his foot like the thorn stuck in the lion’s paw in that fable, only there wasn’t a mouse big enough to effect a cure for this thorn. And true to the advertising, just like the poster outside the building, the last samurai was crushed to death as the mastodon fell on him.

Outside the stadium new posters were going up. New posters were being placed in the poster cabinets. These too, were big colorful posters. Because everything was known to the promoters; they were able to use actual moments of the encounter in the ads. These new posters were awe inspiring. They had Shakespeare on one side and a million typing monkeys on the other.

Inside I was watching the preparations. First they had to clean up the carnage. Bulldozers entered the stadium. No one was driving the equipment. The bulldozers were operating themselves.

“Hey, those are the bulldozers from that short story I like. Those are from the short story, ‘Killdozer’,” I said. “I recognize the broken exhaust pipe.”

No one contradicted me. No one was actually listening.

I left my seat again. “Nice day, ain’t it?” I was asking a man who was wearing a real good suit. He looked annoyed. He closed his little phone and stared at me. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Just some information,” I said. “Like for instance, have you been here before?”

“Season tickets,” he said. “I’ve got season tickets. And a personal seat license,” he said.

“Is this, like, the usual show?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Not really. Today all they have is balanced entertainment. One day a year they try to have perfectly balanced adversaries. Every contest today is rigged so the outcome is, let’s say, a dead heat.”

“So there’s no winners?”

“Not today,” he said.

I went back to my seat. The grounds crew had the mastodon cleared away. People with white coats and stretchers were coming onto the field now, to pick up the swordsmen. For a moment the stadium center looked a lot like that scene in Kill Bill where all those men are down in the hotel lobby spilling blood. But I think my scene is just a bit more shocking. I think I did a better job than Quentin on this one.

Another question occurred to me and I went back to talk to the man in the good suit. I showed him my sword. “What do you think this means?” I asked.

“I’m pretty sure it means you’ll be competing,” he said.

My knees went weak. I had to stumble back to my seat. I yelled for the beer guy and bought three.

In the field below they were setting up one million desks and one million typewriters. Monkeys started strolling in and they took their seats.

The loudspeakers had been playing music, now they made an announcement:

Monkeys, may I have your attention, please. Please try to remember that this is a modified — an abbreviated — contest. You are only trying to produce a sonnet. A new sonnet. One that experts would attribute to William Shakespeare if they were to find it in an appropriate circumstance.

For his part, William, also, will be trying to compose a new sonnet. As a distraction, to level the playing field, we have placed Mr. Shakespeare at the center of a driving range. As he writes, fifty golfers will be hitting golf balls in his direction.

The contest started. One of the monkeys hadn’t been listening to the instructions, and he immediately launched himself into composing (or re-composing) the play Julius Caesar. The clatter of a million typewriters was almost deafening. Some of the monkeys were throwing reams of paper around and other monkeys were attacking the golfers, which lessened the assault on the great bard. Still, Shakespeare was being struck over and over again, by meteoric balls of golf screaming in from off the sky. He was trying to write using a quill and parchment, and one golf ball tore right through the paper he was holding. But it was only a matter of minutes before William raised his hand and some of the judges rushed over and one of them read the scattered lines, and there came a tear to his eye.

It took a little longer to evaluate the simian submittals. Of the million typed papers, only nine thousand were thought to be poems. And only thirty-seven were done in the proper rhyme scheme. Those were brought forward. One was of particular interest. The line judge was holding William’s sonnet in one hand and “Corky’s” sonnet in the other. Despite the fact that one was typed and the other written by hand, there was a miracle here in the judge’s hand. Save for one small change in punctuation, the sonnets were identical.

The sonnet was read over the loudspeakers. It was beautiful. Perfect.

This contest also, was declared a draw.

While the typewriters were being gathered the loudspeaker started playing


This time the man in the suit came over to me. “Any idea who you’ll be fighting?” he asked.

“I don’t think I have any enemies,” I said.

The two big dolts who kept me from leaving earlier approached me. “They’ll be wanting you downstairs,” they said.

I went down the stairs with them.

On the way down I kept trying to think about balancing. About being halfway between things.

Down at ground level I was given some last-minute instructions. A little guy in a white shirt and red bow tie was talking to me. “Keep your guard up at all times. Your will not throw your weapon. You cannot throw sand or soil or other items into your opponents’ eyes. No biting. No gouging. Try not to cry or beg, it isn’t good for business.”

He pushed me out into the sunlight. From the other side of the arena came my opponent. It was me!

I was approaching myself from the other side of the arena.

“What are you here for?” I asked.

“I’m here to make you face facts and give up on your marriage. She doesn’t love you. She’d rather you went somewhere else. She’d rather you were gone.”

“I can’t do that,” I said.

“We’ll see,” he said, and aimed a mighty slash at my head. I blocked his attack and began one of my own.

Copyright © 2003 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

Home Page