Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
2075 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Fighting Toads

by Lars Rasmussen

I must tell you about fighting toads.

Fighting toads are ideal for small arenas. You can easily stage a match on your own breakfast table. You can start by inviting the closest neighbors, but the rumor that you are staging toad fights will soon spread and draw spectators from far and wide. The audience will watch spellbound as the two combatants sit still for a surprisingly long time, sometimes up to half an hour, staring intensely at each other, without moving, without blinking, until all of a sudden and without warning, they grab each other’s torso like wrestlers and twist and twirl until one of them manages to topple the other and expose his soft belly skin. The winner will now use a small thumb of hardened skin or horn, as sharp as a nail, to cut the loser’s stomach open, and his little arms and hands will work like cartwheels to tear the entrails out and throw them wildly around the room, sometimes right in the faces of the nearest spectators. A terrible ending for such a small and seemingly peaceful creature.

Ancient Japanese Carved Toad, Photo by Thomas E. Kennedy
Ancient Japanese Toad
(Carved in one piece from a tree root)
Photograph by Thomas E. Kennedy

As the audience wildly applauds the winner, and the owner of the unfortunate loser hastily carries the mutilated body of his beloved toad out, the champion sits pensively, seemingly unaffected, and licks his fingers clean of blood and the glassy, sticky remains of the loser’s entrails. His reward will be a thimbleful of dried flies or moths.

Toad matches call for heavy betting. In those regions where toad fighting has become particularly popular, quite a few fanatics are known to have lost all their possessions, houses, farms, even their wives, when they’ve lost self-control during an exciting match.


Let me tell you now about the most famous of all toad fights, the one between the two absolute champions, Dio and Diabolo. They were the two biggest toads ever to enter an arena and they both appeared out of nowhere at about the same time. They left behind them a bloody trail of savagely butchered opponents, and soon no one dared set his best toad up against either of them. To continue making money on the two beasts, the owners themselves were forced to bring toads in for the slaughter. Bets were out of the question—no one would back the opponents—so the owners made their profit from heavy entry charges. They carefully avoided that match beyond parallel which every fan of toad fighting dreamed of: the meeting of Dio and Diabolo.

In the end, however, there was no way around it. The demand was tremendous, and the amount of money that could be made on the betting enormous. Both owners would hate to lose their champ, but in the end they agreed to set the two monsters up against each other.

The big day came, the show was sold out at ticket prices previously unheard of, and the betting reached unknown heights. The pile of money got bigger and bigger, with everybody constantly raising his bet.

The two toads were placed in the arena, sprinkled with holy water for good luck, and lots of cheap incense was burned. The signal sounded that the match could begin. No one dared breathe. It was impossible to guess who would come out as the winner. The two giants were equally big and scary. They were staring at each other. They continued staring, without blinking, for hours. Neither of them showed any interest in starting the fight. They just kept staring viciously. Nobody left the building. No one wanted to miss the match, and no one wanted to miss his winnings. People were biting their lips in order not to fall asleep. They came to the point of starving, but still no one dared to walk out. They were all sure the fight would start the very moment they had left the room. They would wet themselves rather than dare go out to the toilet. The women came to pick their men up but were chased away.

Evening began to fall, lights were lit and the performance continued through the night. The next day came and went; nothing happened. People started fainting, and were allowed to lay there. No one touched them. Nobody would take his eyes off the toads. A week went by, then another.

People began to die. After a couple of weeks, there was not a living soul in the room, that is, except for Dio and Diabolo, who just kept staring at each other. The two toad owners were the last to die; they fell over on the floor next to the table where the bets were stacked. The tossing of firecrackers, which usually announced that a match had ended and a champion been found, was never heard.


This is where the story-tellers usually end their narration. No one knows what actually became of the toads. They just tell us that they survived everybody.

The exact circumstances are lost in the mist. Some say the match took place several hundred years back, others that it happened only a dozen years ago, or even less. Some place it in the murky suburbs of the capital, others in a remote mountain village, or in another country and other parts of the world.

There are even those who claim that the match between Dio and Diabolo never took place. That it is a myth, a symbolic tale about the never-ending conflict between good and evil.

I know better. Not only do I know that the story is true, I also know that the match is still going on. I happened to witness it, just a short while ago.


So let me tell you now about the day, a couple of weeks back, when I, during my perpetual ramblings, suddenly realized that I was very close to that mountain village near the border where some claimed the match had taken place. I decided to check it out for myself.

Box Canyon with Waterfall, Photo by Cindy Sheppard
“Box Canyon with Waterfall”
Photograph by Cindy Sheppard
Stairway to Heaven, Photo by Cindy Sheppard
“Stairway to Heaven”
Photograph by Cindy Sheppard

On my way up the mountain slope I came to a village which I soon discovered was occupied by mature women only. Not a man or child was seen. Strangers were obviously both a rare and unwelcome sight, and I was baffled by the women’s reticence and complete lack of hospitality. When asked, they reluctantly revealed that they all came from the village where the menfolk once staged the famous toad fight. As the match dragged on, they had repeatedly tried to persuade the men to stop it, but they were just chased away, at first by coarse words, later by a hail of stones. Finally—as they saw their husbands faint and pass away—they had given up and abandoned the village to move down to where I now found them. There was only one road running through their village and they explained that by following it I would come to their old home. They did, however, strongly discourage me from continuing.

You may go up, but you will never come back! they warned. No man who has followed the road up that mountain has ever returned!

With these warnings in my backpack, I began my ascent up the winding mountain path.

It took me two hours to reach the village. It was the last settlement before the border; only a narrow sheep trail was to be seen leading up to the crest. Already at a distance it was clear that the place was deserted. Not even a cat or a single chicken crossed my path as I drifted through the empty lanes. Barrows, tools and harnesses lay scattered where they had once been dropped, and when I looked into the empty houses, I saw a thick layer of dust over everything the women had left behind. I passed empty stables and pigsties still waiting for the animals who would never return.

Finally I discovered the house. A cardboard sign, bleached by sun and rotted by rain, was nailed to a tree and, between two naive drawings of a green and a red toad, one could still read the names, Dio and Diabolo. A number of old, rusty bicycles were leaning against the wall and two soggy boxes of firecrackers were placed next to the entrance door, which was still half open. I hesitated for a moment before I dared step inside.

It took a while before I got used to the dark. Then I began to distinguish the dozens of dark figures who were sitting on benches in the room. They were dead, just as the story told. Their clothes were mottled with mildew, and a thick coating of spiderweb covered several of the bodies. Not a woman was seen among them, only men. I took a few steps to get a closer view, but I felt as though I were violating a shrine. I stared at their haggard, dried-up faces. Here and there I dared wipe a veil of cobweb aside. Everybody had open eyes. Even in death they had kept staring with hypnotised attention. Now and then, when I was very close to the face of one of them, I smelt a vague stink of garlic mixed with the all-pervading stench of mold. It was as if they could come alive any moment, turn around and look at me with their bright eyes, open their cracked lips and say a few words, give me some advice as to the outcome of the match or invite me to place a bet. It suddenly seemed overwhelming. I stepped back in fear, but kept watching them. Some had had their hands and chins bitten by rats. Many were still grasping bills in their hands, as though, to their last moment, they had been thinking of raising their stakes.

On the floor lay two men who distinguished themselves by being well dressed. They wore thick gold rings on their fingers and in their ear lobes, and they had big gold chains around their necks. I realized that they were the owners of the toads.

On a small table I noticed a huge stack of bills, covered with dust. I could have taken the money and would have had no more financial worries for the remainder of my life, but I couldn’t think of money right now. I had spotted the toads.

They were the biggest I had seen in my life. Enormous, like the dishes you serve tortillas on. They were placed on a round, green table in the middle of the room. I walked closer, not without a feeling of fear. My heart was beating, and I had trouble breathing.

From a distance they looked like glazed stoneware animals, but when I took a closer look, it was clear that they were still alive. Their warty skin was shining, as though they were covered with sweat. They had yellow eyes, and each was watching the other with the most hateful expression. I could see them breathe, but neither dared blink. It was impossible to decide which was Dio and which Diabolo. They were equally large and frightening. They could be siblings or clones of each other. I felt an almost irresistible urge to grab a chair and seat myself quite close to them and watch. The fight could start any moment, it might take less than a minute, and I wouldn’t want to miss it. Then I remembered the women’s warnings.

I took a few steps back. I thought of producing a sound, throwing a stick or a small stone into the arena, anything that might trigger the start of the match, but it was as though I was frozen. With great difficulty I managed to work myself back to the entrance and turn my eyes away.

Outside I was blinded by the daylight. I staggered through the empty streets and left the village behind me. The heat was overwhelming, and descending the mountain was almost as difficult as the ascent. It was late in the afternoon when I reached the women’s village where I was met with disbelieving glances. Several women ran into their houses when they saw me. It was clear that they thought I was a ghost. They had seen me alive just a few hours ago, but in a place like this, time has lost much of its meaning.

It no longer exists.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Lars Rasmussen

was born in 1955 in Denmark and runs The Booktrader, a second-hand bookstore and publishing house in Copenhagen. He has written/edited six books about South African jazz plus several volumes of short stories, the most recent of which, Come Raw, was published by Serving House Books.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Cindy Sheppard

is an office manager at a public-works company, who enjoys traveling whenever she can arrange time off. Although she has been shooting photos for thirty years, especially to document her trips, she does not consider herself a photographer, saying that she only points the camera and clicks the buttons.

We are delighted to be the first to publish Ms. Sheppard’s visual perspective. Three of her recent images appear in this issue and are from a long-yearned-for rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, which she went on to celebrate her fiftieth birthday.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury