I did as he suggested, then rolled the barrel into the arena. Smets and Ronny Sparks would be the bullfighters. With six world championships between them, I knew I would be in good hands. The announcer introduced us, and I set the barrel where Smets and Sparks had told me. Then I did a flip over the barrel, which is what Murray does as part of his opening routine. That was a mistake. The arena began tilting back and forth, as if we were at sea. I climbed woozily inside the barrel. Butterflies congregated beneath my larynx. Either that or tiny pieces of hot dog.
The first bull, Harry Void had told me, was not apt to attack the barrel. He would, however, posture theatrically in front of it. Sure enough, after he had bucked off the rider, the bull rumbled ponderously in my direction.
"Get down!" Sparks yelled.
I ducked and braced myself. Suddenly I felt Smets pushing down my head. "Get your head down in there," he said. "You want to get killed?"
The bull, fortunately, veered away. Smets was alarmed. "You've got to pry yourself in there, man," he said. He got in and showed me what he meant, pretzeling himself deep in the barrel. "Got it?" I nodded. But I heard him say to Sparks as they headed back to their positions, "He's gonna get knocked right out of there."
Murray, meanwhile, was telling the crowd, "No one knows how nervous he is except God and the person who does his laundry."
The next bull meant business. You could see it in his eyes when he caught sight of me in the barrel.
"Get down now," Sparks said, concern in his voice. He tipped the barrel over so it was lying on its side. "He's coming."
I braced myself, clenching my teeth. The foam padding smelled. I hoped I wouldn't throw up. I was pondering that eventuality when the bull slammed—Wham!—into the barrel, driving some air—Unng!—from my lungs.
The barrel tumbled over three or four times. I was pressing as hard as I could against its sides, determined not to be dislodged.