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"Courage" by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

We’re walking down a narrow alley when the people on the balconies above us begin to applaud. Not sure why we might be so entertaining, yet feeling magnanimous on our vacation, I take a bow. “You should bow too,” I tell my brother.

“Why are they clapping?” he says.

“Maybe it’s some sort of tradition,” I say. “Perhaps the local custom dictates that when people on their balconies observe the entertaining passersby, it is polite to voice one's appreciation.”

That’s when we see the first bull running towards us, and then the next one, and dozens more after that.

Naturally, we run for our lives, until we find a doorway we can duck inside and let the bulls flow past.

I’m desperately ringing the bell while my brother is pounding the door with his fists, but no one answers. Instead, the people on the balcony directly opposite call down to us. “What are you doing?” they ask. “Why aren’t you running instead of skulking in that doorway while the opportunity to show your courage is all around you?”

The people on the balcony laugh. “Come on, show your bravery!”

“Maybe they keep their bravery in that little bag of theirs, what is it called?”

“A fannypack!”

“How much bravery can they have in there, it is so small! No wonder they do not wish to run.”

“Why aren’t you down here with us then?” my brother yells back up at them. “There’s plenty of cattle to go around.”

“Oh no,” one of them says. “The bulls are just for the tourists.”

“It’s in all the guidebooks!” another says. “Why are you here if not to run with the bulls?”

“Your website says this town is world-renowned for its many charming vegetarian restaurants,” I say.

“And your archaeology museum,” my brother says. “It doesn’t mention anything about bulls.”

“We have an archaeology museum?” one of them says, before a brace of irrationally happy German tourists run past us, followed by a bunch of merely trotting, bored looking cattle.

“Our website belongs in an archaeology museum!” Everyone on the balcony starts laughing.

“But,” says one of them, as he pulls out his phone. “Would you like to tell everyone on my livecast why you’d rather cower in some doorway than test your manhood?”

“Come down here,” my brother says. “And I’ll give you a piece of my manhood.”

But the locals just laugh and start making clearly obscene remarks about us in their native language. Despite my best efforts to convince him otherwise, my brother cracks and takes off.

More cattle saunter by; one of them turns and thrusts its head in my direction. He’s just staring at me, with his brown eyes, horns and terrible cow breath. I know I’m supposed to worry about being gored or stomped to death, but I’m struck by the gentle nature of the animal in front of me. I decide to feed it my leftover salad.

“I’m sorry they make you chase stupid tourists all day long,” I tell the bull, holding the plastic container to his mouth. It’s surprising how delicate a cow can be.

On the bull’s ear is a yellow tag, the same as all the other bulls. It reads, in four languages, If you’d like to download a video of your bull running experience, text _______! Prove your courage to anyone who asks for only €40.

Without even lifting his head from my greens, the bull just gives me a long, drawn-out sigh, like dude, you have no idea.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in X-Ray, Grimoire, Joyland, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review and Pank. His short story "Taylor Swift" won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast, and his story "Goodwill" was picked as one of the Wigleaf Top Fifty Very Short Fictions of 2018. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, was published by Nomadic Press in 2020. He teaches writing and literature at California College of the Arts.

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