From Akashic Records
Ricardo’s glutes were so tight that I could barely take the ball from him in time to drop back in to the pocket. Every time he settled in to position, he appeared as if he were about to explode. I didn’t blame him, and he was the best fullback I’ve had in twelve years, since the peewee days, when our center offensive lineman hit a growth spurt before the rest of us and shot up to five foot seven before any of us were half that tall.
The pocket collapsed around me before I even had time to think about an eligible receiver. This other team, they weren’t like us. Before the snap, I could hear their guttural breathing. They forced their way through my line like demons possessed. My offensive linebackers dropped like bowling pins, and by the time the football rolled off my index finger with a shaky release, the right defensive tackle was on me, three hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle. My head hit the dead, lifeless grass of the decaying field, and then I heard the hissing. They hissed on every big play, positive or negative, but this one was joyous….celebratory. In that moment, with my head halfway embedded in the dead-field, I knew I’d thrown an interception. The others were one possession closer to victory, and that meant we would all be dead soon.
We were brought here because we weren’t good enough for the National Football League. We all had starry-eyed ambitions; we aspired to get burned by Jim Rome on SportsCenter, to make people thousands of dollars with our fantasy football stats and our spreads and our yards per carry, quarterback ratings, and third down conversion percentages. None of it worked out that way.
We are the fourth stringers, the last round stragglers, who were the stars of small high schools around America. We did fairly well in college, but not well enough to merit a six figure salary and a draft pick from the AFC or NFC. We watched the star quarterbacks of Oklahoma, Florida, Texas Tech, the Heissman trophy winners, the school record holders. We watched them, and we waited. But long after they were chosen and spoon-fed multi-million dollar contracts, in the two-hundred and twentieth round of the NFL draft, we still didn’t have a bid for a spot on a team.
That’s when they came to us. We were the rejects. The ones who had been cut. We would actually use our college degrees, because we wouldn’t be playing professional football. The problem for me was, specifically, that I had counted on the NFL. All of us had our hopes wrecked to oblivion, and we were vulnerable. Maybe that’s why they came when they did. They played us like a fiddle. Our emotions were marionette strings, and they are the puppet masters. That’s how we all ended up on this field, right now.
They came to me about three hours after the NFL’s expression of their lack of interest in signing me to a roster. They wore black suits, wore large pieces of jewelry that resembled the over-sized, lavish sheen of Super Bowl rings and genuine Rolex time pieces. They seemed legit, until the moment I signed the contract. Their eyes were odd…. I just thought they paid for strangely-colored contact lenses. Then, something knocked me out, and when I came to, I was in a locker room, being prepped for the slaughter that’s taking place on this “field.” I assume the rest of my teammates were duped in the same manner. I don’t even know where we are.
They’ve pulled Ricardo to the sideline and replaced him with some other rookie. I’ve seen two others since the first quarter; the first was a wide receiver that dropped a solid pass on a slant route to the corner, and the other was our running back, who blazed like lightning during his high school and college career. He looked like an old man trying to get downfield against this other team’s secondary. They’re not human. They caught him about a split second after he broke away from the line of scrimmage and drove his head in to the forty yard line. It was the most vicious tackle I’d ever seen in my life. He shouldn’t have survived, and when he did, they sent him to the other team’s sideline. They’re passing his body parts around the bench like his dismembered arms and legs are a quick, hydrating fix from a gatorade bottle. I couldn’t see for sure, because I was freaking out and too concerned about my own performance. The first time I looked, he was making the walk of shame to the opposing bench…. which I thought was odd. When I looked back two minutes later, his body was in pieces, his head was mounted on top of the first down marker, and the safeties were eating his limbs. Their eyes glowed with a singed, bloodred behind their black gloss visors. His sustenance gave them a lust for more blood, more violence. What better way for them to sate their hunger than on a football field, if you could actually assign that term to this place. I’d call it an expanse of athletic death.
As sick as it made me feel, and as much as my stomach churned, the players around me have rallied. They’re inspired, not with the competitive desire to win, but with the raw, instinctual will to live, to survive. They don’t want to die, to be consumed by the monstrosities in the black and red uniforms on the other side of the ball. Ricardo was being carved up, and he was our friend, our companion. As our defense went out on to the field, my guys were voracious to get back out there. We had to stop them, get the ball back, and push.
“Grind your heels,” my father always said. “Grind your heels hard enough, and you’ll get to the endzone, son.”
We needed the big “dubbayew,” but the points didn’t matter. We had to make sure we weren’t pounded in to a scurvy pulp by these hulking monstrosities. They were out for blood. They probably could have lost by ten thousand points, but as long as they tore in to us like ravenous ghouls, the thousands of hissing shades in the stands would be happy. They weren’t drinking beer and eating chili dogs. Their viscuous, cloudy black figures were there to witness our torment, our downfall. We had to emerge victorious. And, then, we needed to find out how to get out of this infernal stadium from hell.
I didn’t know how or why, but there were TV cameras on the sidelines. The tall, robed figures operating them didn’t appear to be employees for any major entertainment network that I was aware of. They had pads and pens with them, scribbling down furiously as they talked on their cell phones. As a football player, I knew what was going on there. They were bookies, and they were taking bets from someone on the other side. People who were aware that this was going on. It infuriated me, and I was ready to exact revenge on the fans, the red-eyed “franchise owners” who deceived us all, and most of all, the ogres at the line of scrimmage.
Our defense, bless their hearts, looked tired and defeated as they came to the sideline. The shade-warriors have failed to score a touchdown from my interception…. a “pick six,” if you will. I saw the terror in their eyes, but thank the Gods, none of them were being taken to the other sideline. It was time for us to get out there. As we huddled around the marker, I tried to console them, to ensure that regardless of the outcome of this game, we would find a way to stay alive. I was making empty promises and hollow assurances, but I needed morale. How could I make a speech and take the place of a leader when not even I believe that we’ll make it out of here alive? I had to try.
I took the snap and handed the ball off to our new fullback. I didn’t know his name, but he was a huge, hulking fellow who looked as though he’d served military time in the marines or the army. Much to my surprise, he hunkered down, powered through the growling defense, and picked up a gain of around seventeen yards before the backfield defender caught him around the neck and drug him to the black turf. There were no referees, and we were running on pure adrenaline, pure rage. He came back to the huddle, and I decided it was go time…. go big or go home.
The huddle of a football team is a sacred place for any athlete. It’s the moment when you plan your attack, when all eleven of you collectively decide who will take a hit, who will carry the ball, and who will reap the glory. My voice was shaky, and I saw tears in some of their eyes. Yes, even football players cry. I feel like King Arthur, except I’ve never fought anyone in my entire life.
“I don’t know your names, but I know you all dreamed of playing in the big league. They told us we’re not good enough to be pro. I don’t know why we’re here, but these things are counting on us to lose. Do you want to die, or do you want to live? It’s that simple, boys. We fight, here and now, and if we die trying, then so be it. Until now, we haven’t played like a team, because we weren’t brought together as a team. Every single one of us has to count on each other. We’re running a Z-26 play action skid. Convince them that the fake is real, and I’ll take care of the rest, if I can. Ready?”
The roar from around me comes not from the ghastly black clouds in the stands, or from the beasts waiting at twenty yard line. It’s from my temporary brothers, my teammates. It’s the most raw, emotional “BREAK!” that’s ever graced my ears.
I didn’t want them to make any more mistakes, because I was afraid they’d be killed. I was the quarterback…. the leader, of sorts. If anyone was going to be sacrificed on an account of bad athletic performance, it was going to be me. I took the next snap and dropped back, faked a pass to the tight end, and broke for strong side. The yell from inside my own helmet, from my own voicebox, was so loud and animalistic that it inspired my last bastion of protection, the right offensive tackle. He surged forward, driving back the defense from hell. They wanted to tear my head off, and this guy, who I’d never met until five minutes ago, was playing his heart out, pushing, fighting for his life, and mine, and every other human being in this place.
I broke free, and there was only one defender between me and the goal line. He was three times my size, and I honestly believed that if he had hit me, I would have never stood up again. I managed a juke, and although I wasn’t a runningback, I was doing whatever I needed to do to secure those six points. He dove, and whizzed by me. Grind your heels, son. Grind your heels.
I made it, and the vicious hiss that rang in my ears was like a brutal, fast-acting contagion. It destroyed my senses, rang through my ears, and I felt as though my head might be ripped in three different directions, splattering in to a bloody mess. How would that be for an endzone celebration?
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The crowds were furious, but I had scored. The score was six to nothing, but we never got the opportunity to kick the extra point.
The shades had begun to fade away, and the franchise owner, the red-eyed man in the black suit, has seemingly pulled the plug on the entire operation. He came toward me, and his voice was sonorous, almost bell-like, a complete and violent betrayal of everything that has taken place here, as he ambled across the field to the one yard line.
“This is the first time anyone has scored against us. All of you will leave. You will do one thing for me when you return, or we will return for you, and you only.” He says.
His voice has chilled me to the bone.
There was only thing that I truly regret, and that was that I couldn’t have stepped up sooner and saved the lives of the first few players who failed. We could have stopped it. It required determination, teamwork, and the resolve to stay alive. We fought, and we won.
I have one last thing that I had to accomplish, however. The bookies were counting on our loss, and apparently, so were certain people who were connected with these hooded, robed figures. They are the financial movers and shakers of the underworld, I suppose. I wasn’t entirely sure, but when I brought the man Richard to them, kicking and screaming, he appeared to be a rich man. He’d been cashing in on their scams for a long time. In addition to making side bets on football games, apparently, he’d been winning, lucratively, I might add, in some sort of demented poker game that they ran on the side. They have their dead, skeletal hands in multiple cookie jars to harvest fodder for their consumption.
They forced me to watch as they skinned him alive. They scooped out his eyes, crushed his skull, and peeled off his face. Then, they stitched it up, and made it in to a pig-skin football.
Where they would normally inscribe the manufacturer of the ball, “Spaulding,” instead, there were only two words.
- Credited to Violent Harvest