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Urban Fantasy

Xavier tried not to stare as he followed his cousin through the building; Jona was obviously used to this, and unaffected.ย 


On the outside, this looked like a typical warehouse, with a few security guards patrolling. On the inside, it was an illegal dinosaur fighting haven. Xavier wondered how his cousin had gotten admittance, and almost regretted having come himself. Then he pushed the feeling down. Just this once, it was necessary, and he didnโ€™t ever have to come back.ย 


Jona headed for a chain link fence enclosure anchored to the concrete floor, and circled it, looking for the bookmaker. Xavier watched as a forklift carried a cage towards the arena. Inside, a brown velociraptor paced, agitated.


โ€œHey, Carl!โ€ Jona greeted a man with blond hair, slapping his brown hand into Carlโ€™s pale one. They shook, then Carl jerked a thumb at Xavier. โ€œWhatโ€™s he want?โ€


โ€œHeโ€™s gonna make a bet.โ€

โ€œBut not yet,โ€ Xavier interjected. โ€œI need to look first.โ€ย 


A second forklift approached the pen, carrying another caged velociraptor, this one a rusty red-brown. A man was walking alongside the cage, shouting directions to the forklift operator. The cage was lowered to the floor in front of a sliding gate in the fence.


Xavier strolled over and observed the rusty-colored animal, which was already growling. It looked a bit underfed, but alert, and intently focused on the far side of the pen. Xavier followed its line of sight, and saw the opponent animal.ย ย ย 


He headed to the opposite side, and watched the brown velociraptor for a bit. This one was still pacing, and seemed nervous, jumping at every loud, sudden noise, and snapping at whoever came too close. It was covered in scars. Listening to conversation, Xavier soon realized it was a celebrated winner, as well as the favorite.ย 


He went back and scrutinized the rusty velociraptor again, looking specifically for scars. It didnโ€™t have as many as the brown, and was smaller.ย 


People were starting to cluster around Carl, placing their bets. Numb, Xavier clutched the thick, compressed stack of paper billsโ€”nearly all of his familyโ€™s savings. As he handed over his bet, his stomach churned.


When the cage doors were opened, the rusty velociraptor stepped out first, head high. The brown shifted uneasily, until someone jabbed it with a prod of some kind, and it leaped forward. Then it saw its opponent.ย 


Xavier didnโ€™t want to watch what followed, but felt he had to, so he would know whether his suppositions held true.ย 


The rusty-colored velociraptor was quickly set upon by the larger brown, but fought back hard. They bit and clawed each other until blood ran and bone was visible in deep gashes. The bigger animal kept jumping on top of his opponent and holding him down with his weight, while his sickle claws scored deep. The little one would twist his head and snap at his adversaryโ€™s exposed throat and undersides, until the uppermost dinosaur had to jump off to escape. But it always circled around and tried to get on top again.ย 


The brown was standing on the rusty again when the rustyโ€™s teeth caught its arm, twisted, and snapped it. That took the fight out of him. The brown velociraptor ran around and around the pen, harassed by the rusty, until poles with lassos on the ends caught them and shoved them back into the cages. Xavier couldnโ€™t tell whether it had lasted minutes or hours.ย 


People drifted towards Carl again to collect their money. Xavier waited to be one of the last in line. He didnโ€™t want to get followed and mugged.ย 


โ€œLucky,โ€ the bookie commented as he handed Xavier his winnings.ย 

Jona looked dumbfounded. โ€œI canโ€™t believe you pulled that off.โ€


Outside, Xavier couldnโ€™t find a garbage can, so he ended up puking on the asphalt of the parking lot, then again on the side of another warehouse. Wiping his mouth on his arm, he drew a shaky breath, and mentally divided the money. Utility bill, phone bill, car repair, mortgage, groceries. But first, to the bank, to replace what heโ€™d taken out earlier. Xavier crammed the wad of cash as far down into his pocket as it would go.ย ย 


Xavierโ€™s mom was happy when he told her heโ€™d paid the bills, and so were his siblings when he told them he had pizza and soda for dinner. When he thought about where the money for the food had come from, he felt queasy again, said he wasnโ€™t hungry, and left to work overtime at the gas station.


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โ€œIโ€™m proud of you, Xavier,โ€ his father said the next day, squeezing his hand. โ€œYouโ€™re doing a good job taking care of your mother and your siblings.โ€ย 

The way the heart monitor kept beeping made Xavier feel crazy. The smell of hospital would be stuck in his nose for hours. Even Dad smelled like hospital. โ€œItโ€™s hard without you at home.โ€ย 


โ€œI know. I donโ€™t want to be here, and Iโ€™ll get out as soon as I can. You keep doing what youโ€™re doing.โ€


โ€œOkay, Dad, I will.โ€ Xavier stood up. โ€œMom said she needed to talk to you about stuff. Iโ€™ll wait in the hallway with everyone else.โ€


โ€œI love you, son. Youโ€™re doing a really good job.โ€


He wasnโ€™t so sure about that last part. โ€œI love you too, Dad.โ€ย 


Faster than Xavier could believe, money ran short. The bills needed paying. Eli needed new shoes. And they always seemed to need more groceries.ย ย ย 


He asked Jona to take him back to the fights.


His cousin laughed. โ€œThought you said you werenโ€™t going back there again, Judas.โ€ย 

โ€œIโ€™m not a Judas.โ€

โ€œIโ€™ll write down directions.โ€

โ€œDonโ€™t. This is the last time.โ€


Soon Xavier knew the route by heart.


At the fights, he was known as Judas. It was the name Jona always called him. The only name they ever heard him called. He didnโ€™t correct them. An alias was probably safer.


โ€œI donโ€™t know how youโ€™re doing this with just the money from the gas station,โ€ Dad said on the next visit.ย 

โ€œIโ€™m not. There are other things Iโ€™m doing, but itโ€™s really hard.โ€ Nausea punched Xavierโ€™s gut. โ€œIโ€™ve gotta go.โ€ย ย ย 


Every time he went, he set up a mental block. He didnโ€™t let himself see the injured, losing animals with mangled limbs dripping blood. Or the starving hatchlings eaten by their litter mates. At home he could barely eat dinner, and at the hospital he had a hard time looking his dad in the eyes.ย 


His family needed money.

August 20, 2022 02:59

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7 comments

Graham Kinross
11:42 Sep 26, 2022

This is a nice unique mix of inspirations, the gambling issue which isnโ€™t a conventional addiction but a dependency. Interesting that he consistently wins the bets. Got a thing for velociraptors? I like that you donโ€™t try to redeem anyone here. Itโ€™s all murky, Xavier isnโ€™t out at the end. The temptation would be to add some happy ending where he frees them and wins the lottery or something but it sticks as close to reality as you can in a world with velociraptor fighting.

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I always appreciate your comments, and I wanted to reply to this one, even though you gave it a while ago. When I started writing this story, I did plan to end with a redemption, but I soon realized that with the title and the point I was trying to convey, a redemption did not fit. I wouldnโ€™t say that velociraptors are my favorite dinosaur, but I know theyโ€™re popular, and I think that if people did get there hands on velociraptors, someone would probably want to make them fight. Xavier can win his bets because he understands animal beh...

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Alex Sultan
20:51 Aug 23, 2022

Hey friend, I enjoyed reading through this one - it might be my favourite of yours so far. The whole 'go against morales to make money for family' is a great concept, and I'd say you pulled it off very well with your signature style of dinosaurs in our modern world. I'm already looking forward to the next part. I took some notes reading through: -I do like the premise and how you start it off, with the fighting ring. It's easy to tell Xavier is uncomfortable about it Jona headed for a chain link fence enclosure anchored to the concrete fl...

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Hi Alex! Thank you so much for reading, and your detailed feedback. I really appreciate it. I'm glad you enjoyed this, and it means a lot to me that this may be your favorite out of what I've written. I forcefully applied the 'kill your darlings' technique when I self edited, which I hadn't previously used. I evaluated almost every sentence, and found a lot of unnecessary stuff which I deleted. I personally think this came out as my least-cluttered story, and I know it has my lowest for-Reedsy word count ever. The edits you gave are rea...

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Feedback and critiques are much appreciated. If you're interested in more urban fantasy involving dinosaurs in our modern world, take a look at my stories Tour Guide, New Arrival, and Nomenclature. You might recognize someone from this story . . . Link to Tour Guide, the first story in the Dinosaur Conservation and Rescue League series: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/o1w8mr/

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TJ Squared
04:19 Aug 21, 2022

Wow. Thatโ€™s an interesting idea, and an interesting way to get income at the cost of blood. I like how you made Xavier feel guilty every time he thought about where the money came from; he should feel guilty too! Really interesting one!

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