Short Story
                                           The Blood Feud
                                                                    By Keith A. Raymond, MD


    Felicia’s heart thundered in her breast, twerking her nipples, awash in goose flesh, as her eyes tracked
up from the cracked clay through the Taiwanese village to the other side where men and women were
sparring. Beside her, Yao, the translator, was yammering in her ear and pointing.  Behind her Derek
followed, her boyfriend and manager. The tall slender Brit was mopping his brow.

    That is what she had come for, new fighting techniques. Inexplicable moves, lightning fast, excited her.
Felicia was entering the top tier in mixed martial arts competition and she needed an edge. She had
fought her way up through the ranks, her heavily muscled body, raven hair, and golden eyes appealed to
the judges. Now she licked her upper lip to wipe away the sweat in the village humidity.

    Felicia heard about this place after listening to an old Chinese trainer speak of it with his students.
Derek encouraged her to take a training break and check it out. It may be what she needed to take her
over the top. She argued against it at first, but Derek could be persuasive.

    She was transfixed by the moves and ignored Yao’s tour of the locale. Derek was looking for a hotel,
but this place was too small and primitive. Going native was clearly not his idea of adventure.

    A duck waddled across their path followed by a group of ducklings in a row. One strayed behind, her
tennis ball yellow feathers flapping to catch up with the others. Felicia gushed, bent over and picked it up.
Yao panicked, switching from English to Mandarin, to warn her to put it down, but by then she was cuddling
and cooing at the little bird.

    A woman charged out of her house yelling at Felicia, causing a stir. A small crowd gathered almost
immediately as the duckling tried to flutter to the ground and out of Felicia’s hands. Yao chimed in, but all
the rapid Chinese was lost on the Haitian fighter.

    “Are you trying to steal my duck? Don’t you know this duck is special?” the woman argued.

    “You best put it down, this will cause big problem for you!” Yao said in Mandarin.

    Both the tour guide and woman went on like this tempers and voices rising, while Felicia was frozen in
place.

    Then Yao stopped, he took a breath, and switched to English. By this time, the other villagers were
pointing at Felicia rudely, and yelling threats.

    “Please Madam, put the duck down,” instructed Yao.

    Derek tried to intervene gallantly, “I don’t know what is happening, dear. But perhaps you should put that
duckling down, seems sacred somehow.”

    Felicia unaccustomed to such an affront stood her ground, petting the duckling, looking from face to
face, trying to find meaning. ‘Didn’t they know she was just trying to help?'

    At this point, the village woman’s face was bright red.

    She stopped, and issued a challenge to the giant Haitian, “Blood Feud, I challenge you to a blood feud!”

    Yao’s face drained of color. He tried to apologize to the woman, gently taking the duckling from Felicia,
and trying to hand it back, but the woman refused.

    The crowd started chanting, “Blood Feud, Blood Feud!”

    Derek rolled his eyes, this was not going well. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot.

    A fire plug of a man wearing beads broke through the crowd, and took the duckling from Yao.

    He raised it skyward and declared, “Blood Feud has been called, and it must be answered.”

    Felicia turned to Yao for help translating.

    He answered, “She has challenged you to a fight. Here they call it a blood feud.”

    Felicia looked the short woman up and down and figured she would make quick work of her, even if she
had expert fighting skills.

    “Okay, I accept the challenge.”

    The crowd and the village leader understood ‘okay,’ and a roar had gone up as the rest of the villagers
had arrived to check out the commotion.

    Yao went even paler. “No, no, no, you don’t understand. It is to the death. Either you or her. If you win,
then the duck is yours and she dies, the village will train you. If you lose, well, not good for my business.”

    Derek looked at Felicia with a pained expression, it was typical of her to jump in over her head without
looking. She had always won against impossible odds, but this was a different story.

    Still confident, Felicia said, “Tell them, if I say Okay, it is okay. We blood feud!”

    Yao pulled them aside, as the village became charged with banter about the upcoming event.

    “This is not hand to hand. Here a blood feud is two separate contests. Each of you is given...” as he
continued, Felicia’s eyes went wide. “You will watch her first, then it is your turn. You will have all night, win,
draw, or lose. The winner will be obvious in the morning.”

    Derek swallowed.

                                                                                ***

    Two hours later, the short middle aged Taiwanese woman stood bare breasted in a circle made of
stones. The village along with Derek, Felicia, and Yao gathered outside the circle to watch. A goat was led
in and staked down, then the two men stepped out. The crowd became apprehensive, impatient even.

    The woman warmed up with a variety of karate-like moves. Then she screamed and attacked the goat,
killing it in a series of blows and kicks, brutal in its bone snapping intensity. Derek shook, Felicia felt sick,
Yao shook his head. What followed was even more extreme.

    Above, clouds had gathered, a storm was building. The first peal of thunder rolled across the twilight
sky. First the woman scraped out a series of small depressions in the clay using heels and elbows in a
martial arts display of extraordinary grace. Then she approached the now dead goat lying on its side.

    Turning her hand, her fingernails became blades, she screamed, plunging her hand deep into its belly
and tearing away the organs, blood and offal spreading over her feet. She tossed the organs into the
earthen depressions, just as a night rain began. Once done eviscerating the goat, she sat in the center of
the circle, and offered her hand to Felicia as if to say, ‘your turn.’

    Felicia stripped down to her waist, handing her leotard to Derek. Yao was whispering advice to her as
she led a procession to the other side of the village where a second circle of stones was waiting. The rain
was increasing, the storm building, as they marched.

    Felicia entered the circle and placed her hands on her hips.

    She looked at Derek and said, “My family practiced voodoo and blood sacrifice, this is not much
different.”

    The crowd arranged themselves around the circle as the second goat was led forward. Despite her
bravado, Felicia was nervous. She liked to fight but was not much for killing. She was uncertain how she
would react.

    The crowd grew restless waiting on Felicia. She stood examining her prey. The hot rain fell, turning the
clay to mud. First she dug depressions with her heels but without the grace of her opponent. The crowd
was disappointed.

    Felicia stalked the goat and spirits lifted. She came toward it cautiously, like a wrestler. The men
admired the mountain of strength of this woman, on the other hand, the women were disgusted by her
muscles and her lack of feminity.

    For dramatic effect, Felicia leaped at the bawling goat and placed it in a head lock. She held it firmly as
it struggled, choking it to death mercifully. Her muscles swelled and trembled as she garroted the beast.
The eyes losing focus as it died in her arms.

    The crowd spit and shuffled their feet. Yao could read their disappointment in Felicia.

    She looked for something sharp, but the village leader waved her away from the stones in the circle.
She looked about the surrounding forest. The leaves were steaming from the rain. Felicia had no nails, so
she used her teeth to tear open the goat’s abdomen. The villagers’ cheered as she tore into its belly.

    Like a maniac, she tossed the beast’s organs into the puddles she had dug. Her face was covered with
blood and viscera as she completed her grisly task.

    “Now you both eat,” cried the village elder to Felicia. “She who eat most, win Blood Feud!” He
thundered along with the rain.

    Derek gagged when Yao translated the decree to Felicia.

    The villagers retreated to their homes for the night. Soon all that could be heard was the rain. Felicia sat
in the center of the circle and wept. A bottle of rice vinegar fell by her crossed legs. She looked up.

    Yao said, “It will help.”

    The thought of eating raw organs was making Derek’s stomach churn. Yao led him away burping
bilious reflux as Felicia set herself to the horrible meal. Yao frowned, he thought to himself, this tour has
gone terribly wrong.

    No doubt she would die, and Derek would forever regret the trip. Yao led the visibly ill man to a guest
house where he could rest, though he doubted he would sleep.

    Felicia started strongly but it was beyond disgusting. First pancreas, then stomach, she chewed the
rubbery flesh wincing. She would save the intestines for last.

    The night bore on. She wondered about her opponent. Thought of the other woman to distract her from
the offal. The vinegar helped. The smell was nasty, her own breath made her wretch.

                                                                                    ***

    Felicia fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. The rain stopped. Later, the cicadas woke her as
the heat rose in the jungle. A lone figure approached. An elderly woman walking slowly with what looked
like a two headed stork. Felicia squinted, trying to make out the creature.

    The waning crescent moon came out from behind a cloud and illuminated both woman and beast.
Felicia shook her head. Tried to clear her vision. It was a white crane with a second neck ending in the
head of a snake.

    The snake looked around sampling the air with its forked tongue. The old woman released the rope
from around the bird’s neck, allowing it to enter the circle with its ponderous gait.

    Felicia stared uncomprehending as it walked toward her. She tried to clear her vision wondering if she
was hallucinating. Betel nut red juice dripped from the old woman’s toothless grin onto her chin as she
laughed. The crane/snake knelt down beside the end of the intestine, near where the pile was before
Felicia.

    She began to pull back in terror, but stared fascinated as the two long necks probed the offal. Then the
heads of the mythic creature pushed inside the intestine, tunneling toward her. She could see the outlines
of their heads stretching the viscera.

    A strange urge pulled at Felicia. She ate from the other end of the raw intestine, eating toward the two
heads, as they wove hypnotically through the goat’s bowel towards her.

    The taste was repulsive, the smell worse, and the rising nausea made Felicia pass out.

                                                                                    ***

    Derek was howling. It was not the morning that woke her, nor the sound of the village chickens, but his
loud shouts. The sun was high, making Felicia blink. She removed a string of mucus that clung under her
left eye. She sat up, her hair matted flat in the back with dried blood.

    Looking around, she was still in the stone circle. She saw a piece of intestine on her thigh and pushed it
away rapidly. Turning, Felicia saw what had been her pillow. It was the abdominal cavity of her opponent
lying on her side. Her rib edges were raw and white.

    Derek was being restrained by Yao, the translator’s hands on his shoulders holding him back at the
edge of the circle. Derek’s eyes were bloodshot, his face drawn, his spirit broken. Emotions surged up
into Felicia as she came awake.

    She grabbed her belly, fell to the side and vomited. Vomited all she had eaten the night before. An
ungodly mess. The retching drew the attention of the villagers who up until now had gone about their daily
business. They gathered at the edge of the circle, amazed.

    The village leader pushed his way through the crowd cradling the duckling in his hand. It looked around
curious, nipping at his fingertips and quacking. He entered the circle. Yao pushed Derek to his knees, then
followed the Chief in, to translate for Felicia.

    “You have won, to everyone’s surprise. This duckling is yours,” he gestured with the creature.

    Felicia looked up at him squinting, wiping her mouth free of vomit. As Yao translated, she did not feel
triumphant.

    “Our village is at your disposal. We will teach you our fighting style if it still interests you.”

    Felicia had lost all desire. Her dreams flooded back from the night before, or rather her nightmares.
Looking at the crowd, she glimpsed the old woman from the night before turn and walk away. The corpse
behind her filled Felicia with self-loathing.

    “This blood feud was not what I wanted! I just wanted to return this duckling to its family. I had no
intention to steal it or fight for it. I just wanted to learn,” Felicia said, eyes pleading.

    After Yao translated, the Chief answered, “Learn you did, my child. Learn, you did.”

    Yao helped her up, escorting her through the crowd to their guest house. The crowd fell upon their fallen
member, tears and cries filling the circle. The men lifted the body on their shoulders and carried the
woman away, a procession following them.

    After her shower, Derek approached Felicia cautiously. She was drying her hair with a rough fragment
of towel. The room was dark compared to the outside brilliance. Yao sat on a wood stool, dejected.

    “How are you?” Derek asked.

    She looked at him with sad eyes, “I can’t fight anymore. Never again.”

    Silence waxed between them as each weighed the confession that surprised even her.

    “What will you do?” he asked, feeling the weight of the world.

    “I don’t know...but I want to stay and learn their fighting style anyway.”

    “But why, if you never enter the cage again?”

                                                                                    ***

    Months later, back in Chicago, Felicia had auditioned for a spot in the city’s modern dance troupe and
been accepted. The choreographer liked her body and her unique movement style, plus her minor
celebrity status would bring more season ticket purchases. People thrilled at the chance to see an MMA
champion dance.

    Derek parted from her at O’Hare airport after their return from Taiwan, and they never saw each other
again.

    She never told anyone about the grisly events in Taiwan. No one would understand.

    Ever so often, however, Felicia’s dreams were visited by the two headed crane/snake, while the old
woman laughed. She could still taste the meat, smell the offal, and see their heads’ pushing through the
loops of slimy intestine.

    Sitting up from the nightmare, she’d shudder with revulsion. The burr of the central heating leaving
nausea and a cold sweat clinging to her in the sheets.  

                    
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.
About Keith A. Raymond
MD

Bio: Dr. Raymond is a
Family and Emergency
Physician that practiced in
eight countries in four
languages. Currently
living in Austria with a wife
and a polar bear our
husky brought home.
When not volunteering his
practice skills with
refugees, he is writing or
lecturing. He has multiple
medical citations, and also
published stories and
poetry in Flash Fiction
Magazine, The Grief
Diaries, The Examined Life
Journal, The Satirist,
Chicago Literati, and
Frontier Tales Magazine.