NYHW: The Assigment was to take something strange or startling and make it familiar.

The flames ignited, the ropes were pulled, and the air rose inside its massive capture. The lingering morning air did little to slow the skyward craft as it approached the lower clouds of the troposphere.

Neither occupant had ever experienced such freedom prior to this event, but their minds were on a different matter entirely. As predetermined enemies, the ride up was one of silence and deadly glares. Their fight would be to the death, and only once one had perished would the balloon descend. There was money being collected below, this was strictly business.

Charles shifted his weight while maintaining eye contact with his opponent. A scar was just visible on his left shoulder from a fight he’d had been a part of just two weeks ago. It had only lasted through the first round though, as the authorities busted it shortly after the bell. For such a reason his master devised this innovative system to avoid the legality by being in international airspace.

The problem with it all was that Charles was a pacifist. He loved helping others and doing good. Fighting seemed foreign and pointless, and he chose not to participate in it if possible. Yet here he was, pitted against another whom he’d never met and was supposed to kill.

Charles had developed a theory that everyone could get along rather peacefully if only they received enough sleep. And he didn’t mean the kind of powernaps that had become so popular, rather a deep-and-relaxed-slumber that left you feeling completely placid in the morning. Without such sleep he believed everyone either became extremely irritable or severely depressed. He had not slept well last night.

His opponent appeared to be younger and leaner, with quickness to his step that led Charles to believe that he himself to be the underdog in this match. He’d heard rumor that this was his first fight, however, and that his trainers were actually not sure of his exact level of ability. But one thing remained certain- his eyes were searching for blood.

The wind picked up and Charles felt his wing feathers flutter slightly in the cold breeze. He was not feeling ready. He wished for wings of an eagle that could take him from this place, back to the comfort of his home on the range. But alas he was born a cock, and would remain a cock until he either killed or was killed.

Looking now at the chain tethered to his ankle he wondered at which elevation they’d have to get to in order to be unleashed upon. Charles was not at all prepared for this, he could tell from his still sleeping body. His conception of time faded some as his dreams of a the good lifebetter life went running through his thoughts. His opponent let out a single high pitched scream which startled him back into a readied position. Did he know something he didn’t? Was he just trying to intimidate him? He felt they must be approaching the beginning- the air was getting rather thin.

His prediction came true before he had time to plan as the cables contracted, causing the clamps to release about their ankles. As Charles was looking down at this his attacker struck from the side, landing a blow to his healing scar, reopening and causing a new gash as the talons tore through his toughened skin. “Stupid!” he thought as he clumsily dodged the second blow. Adrenaline surged through his heart, causing his eyes to widen and finally alert themselves to the situation. He had to decide whether to remain static and die, or break out and live. The choice became instantly clear upon the third strike from the razor-sharp beak that impacted his upper thigh. Kicks and head thrusts were exchanged amongst a flurry of feathers; it seemed that chaos had enveloped the brawling creatures. An increase in turbulence tossed the feathers and fighters against the wall of the basket. The bones in Charles’ wing became torqued and mangled as he gasped for a breath of air only to find the wind had stripped him of it. After a brief interlude in which the two regained their footing and oriented themselves in accordance, it was Charles who made the subsequent move. He swung out with his beak and feigned left with his body in a motion so fluid it looked like a choreographed dance. The force of his body sent his foe tumbling to the ground, but the rebound was swift, as his enemy had righted himself within seconds. Charles lay stunned; he had thrown all he had left. The look of a murderer returned to his rival’s eyes and Charles looked desperately for any sort of desperation escape, but he only saw a confined space surrounded by cameras. Backing now into a corner he looked to his assassin with a plea of mercy, but found only hatred and resentment.

How cruel could this world possibly get? He knew now that he had a clear glimpse at its limit. Pacifism simply had to admit defeat in the presence of war. But this was much more than war, it was a battle at the most individual level and he was surely about to lose it. “Pull yourself together man”- the last thought of a dying man - “take flight”.

With the audacity of a firefighter surrounded by flames he turned to the wall and clawed at its sides. Climbing fast with his assailant at his tail feathers, he came to a lip in the basket that caused him to slip back and lose his grip on the wicker entirely. Rotating mid-air to right himself he came down hard upon the other. His talons tightened not so much as an attack mechanism, but rather to avoid direct impact. They dug deep into the pillowy flesh that broke his fall. What was meant to be an escape had turned into a fatal attack. The silence brought calm to the scene and Charles lay still. The war had taken its toll, the fighters each losing something. Lifting his head to look towards the sky he managed to pull himself from the mass beneath him. He was still breathing heavily as he walked towards the opposite side of the floor. He looked down to see an oozing hole which got worse as he breathed out. A song he’d heard by the Doors which his master used to blast on the barn stereo began to emanate through his thoughts,

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land

He started leisurely climbing the walls once again, knowing this time there was only one way to fall. Turning slowly, he looked back at his fallen comrade, a tarred and feathered corpse of a bird. He rotated now to gaze upon the mid-morning horizon. “So much calm,” he thought, “yet so much hate entwined”. With the grace and honor of an eagle he dismounted from the railing. He felt free from the confines of sadness and fear at this moment alone, and downright pleased to be alive.

He would finally get the sleep he so desperately needed.

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