A Dance with the Devil

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Illustrations by Michele Tremaine

I don’t know when it was or where it took place, but at some early age, I saw my first bull-riding contest. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a bull rider myself, and when I got into high school, I turned that dream into reality. When word spread that I was going to ride bulls, people were impressed and called me many flattering things, such as dumb, stupid, idiot, ignorant, crazy, insane and suicidal. Despite these discouraging words, I continued to chase that dream, and with a little help from above, survived to tell the tale.

My friend Scott and I entered up in the rodeo in McPherson, Kansas. After we paid our fees, and found out which bulls we had drawn, we headed behind the chutes to have a look. Scott’s bull was a huge, polled Angus. We then saw a much smaller spotted bull with horns. The number 283 was branded on his hip the same way that it is now branded into my brain. This was my bull. He seemed a timid little bull with big puppy-dog eyes. He was so cute. We wanted to give him a cookie.

I was pretty relaxed after I first saw my Bambi-sized bull. I was still relaxed when the hands started loading the chutes, and I saw 283 casually walking down the alley. Little did I know that a demon from below was sitting on the fence, waiting to possess one of the bulls and put on a real show. The animal he chose was 283. I know this because the second that cuddly little guy got into the chute he went from Bambi to ballistic.

Little 283 bellowed, kicking the back of the chute and hooking at us with his horns. There wasn’t time to perform a proper exorcism, so Scott and I tried to put my rope on him without being skewered. But 283 pinned the rope against the side of the chute. I was half expecting his head to start spinning.

With the rope finally in place, Scott assisted me as I climbed into the chute. The bull alternated between trying to hook Scott and stab me in the eye. When I was finally situated, they opened the gate.

A split-second later I was wishing that they hadn’t opened it, because 283 barreled into the arena and began to spin. He wasn’t really bucking, just trying to remove me from his back with his horns. The wild little bull almost got a horn behind my right thigh, but I kicked my leg back so he missed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get back into position fast enough and lost control.

The ride was all over except for the flying. I may not remember most of the ride, but I vividly remember hitting the ground. I opened my eyes and No. 283 was standing there staring at me. Time stopped, my heart stopped, the audience froze. … The only thing moving was the bull-fighting clown trying to get the crazed animal to chase him. But 283 didn’t care about the bull fighter. He just stood there staring at me, and I, feeling like a deer caught in headlights, stared back. Then, as if on cue, 283 simply turned and trotted out of the arena.

As I packed up my gear after the show, I felt one of the bulls sniffing me through the fence. I looked up and 283 was staring at me with those puppy-dog eyes. I reached out with a hand to pet him, and he shyly backed away – no longer demon-possessed.

I realized that day, that with a guardian angel tough enough to keep a 1,100-pound bull at bay, I need never be afraid to chase my dreams.

From his home in Valley Falls, Kansas, J.R. Conser keeps busy writing short stories and poems, working and spending his leisure time in the great outdoors.