I could not help, as much as Roman society and its debaucheries disgusted me, being impressed with the Romans’ ingenuity, even when that ingenuity they applied towards killing. A civilization is judged by the barbarity of its entertainments. History then must pronounce a severe condemnation on the Roman race. Yet their architecture, their arts were unequalled. Even in the act of murder, Rome excelled.
“As promised, I have something special today for you, Doghead!” the Gamesmaster commented to me one morning. I did not inquire as to his surprise. I did not know what he intended and neither did I care. All my days had become one stygian night, an unending oppression of body and soul. When one cares nothing for his own existence, what else is there to spark his interest? Even so, I could not help but marvel, as I said, at the particulars of my scheduled contest for that day, or rather the manner in which this was accomplished.
Standing on the small platform clad in nothing but my thin loincloth, I squeezed my eyes closed in the sudden discomfort of the blazing sun as the pedestal raised me up into the arena and the fullness of day. The crowd, at capacity, as it always seemed on those days and nights when my captors put me on display, roared my welcome.
“Reprobus! Reprobus! Reprobus!” they shouted. I had become a celebrity, loved and feared. Which more than the other? Did they love me more for the savage titillation I provided them, or shudder more at the thought that my slavering jaws could, if they ended up in the arena themselves, snap closed upon their throats? I do not know. Perhaps the populace loved me with such passion because they feared me with equal measure.
I think they saw in the beast a reflection of their own bloodlust, beasts cheering on a beast. Christ warned of wolves in sheep’s vestments. Of a surety such were the Romans. Wolves, founded by one, whose name they bore, who had suckled at the teat of a wolf. These, then, the men and women of Rome, were my brothers and sisters. No wonder they adored me so.
At least the Cynocephalus, unlike them, displayed an honesty they did not, in that it wore at times its true form.
While still in a man’s form, however, I stood blinking in the light, watching, as my eyes adjusted, a curious and bizarre sight. From apertures in the walls protruded the ends of logs, like snakes poking their heads out of burrows. These, angled downward, had been hollowed out. I had noted them before but taken no interest, supposing they were gutters or some such. Now, however, I saw not a single cloud in the polished sky, yet, with a series of groans, these logs began to vomit forth water.
I had heard tales of the wonderful and dreaded Coliseum all my life, believing them nothing more than exaggerations designed for the purpose of entertainment, as are most embellished tales. I had heard that the arena could at times be flooded with water, for the purpose of staging mock sea battles. I did not believe it; even less so after seeing the Coliseum firsthand. How could such a structure become filled like a water basin? There are cells beneath the arena, and platforms such as the one upon which I stood. There are gates in the walls. How might all of these become sealed and watertight? The water would drain from the arena as fast as they pumped it in—or so I supposed. In reality the water did begin to cover the arena floor, did begin to rise. Later I would learn, as my curiosity nagged at me despite my depression and forced me to inquire of my jailers on the matter, that this feat of engineering involved the sealing of all crevices with thick pitch, while the turning of giant cranks, such as the ones operating the pedestal beneath my bare feet, by slaves would pump the water from reservoirs up through the hollowed pipes. The results were imperfect; the water would leak out—there were a series of drains designed, when opened, to accomplish and hasten this purpose, to prevent the flooding of the chambers beneath the arena floor—but it drained only at a gradual pace. By continuous working of the cranks and pumps, enough water could be kept in the arena for the designed purpose.
The purpose this day was not, I soon learned, to stage a naval battle, nor to drown me; in actuality the water at its deepest only came up to my shoulders, not enough to drown me even if I hadn’t been able to swim, which I could have.
The Romans, though, had not come to see me swim or to see me drown.
One of the gates, more of a window, in truth, being set a little higher in the arena wall and sealed with a portcullis of crisscrossed bars, remained visible by a couple of feet above the water when it reached its greatest depth. I did not wonder at it, or even then take note of it, until I heard, even amidst the rushing of the water out of the pipes and the cacophony of the multitude in attendance, the shriek and groan of metal grating against stone. Turning I saw the lattice of rusty metal lift itself up out of the water. Did they mean for me to swim through, or…?
Ah. Of course.
I confess that the cold, muddied water, as it had risen inch by creeping inch around me, had felt good, refreshing after my confinement in the stifling dungeons beneath the arena. I felt a chill, however, when I saw a massive form slip through the aperture.