Wham! It hurt, and I was breathing dust. "You O.K.?" I heard Ronny ask.
Wham! It was like being blindsided by a linebacker. The barrel stopped rolling. I felt myself being righted. "Everything O.K.?" Ronny asked. I nodded, but my bell had been rung.
I lifted the barrel by the handles and shuffled back in front of the chutes. I was sweating hard, and it felt good to be breathing the air outside the barrel. The next couple of bulls ignored me, and the arena stopped tilting. I admired the ease with which Rob and Ronny led the bulls away from the fallen cowboys. Then Smets came over. He said, "This next one's pretty rank."
I remember it was brown. After it caught sight of me, I ducked down in the barrel pretty fast. Then Smets tipped me over. I braced myself for the crash.
Nothing. My teeth were clenched, every muscle in my body fully flexed in an isometric full-court press—and nothing. "Stay in there!" Smets warned. Still nothing. It was tiring.
The barrel spun. Why? What was happening? I kept flexing. The sweat dripped into my eyes, and I squeezed them shut. God, it was hot in there. And my mouth had never felt so dry. Suddenly, while expecting a collision, I heard laughter. Roars of it. Smets, I later learned, had spun the barrel so that the open end was facing the reluctant bull. Then he'd stepped aside and given the bull an after-you gesture, offering me up as a sacrifice. The bull, after much pawing of the ground, charged. Smets spun the barrel back around just in time.
Wham! Wham! Wham!
Three quick blows, jarring and deafening. I was tumbling fast now, utterly disoriented. Dirt was everywhere. It felt, with each concussion, like someone was shoveling sand in my face. The barrel stopped rolling for a moment, and Smets yelled, "Five feet!" I braced.