Echo, Part 14

Veronica turned to face him.  She seemed genuinely interested in hearing what he was going to say.  Given everything she had already said, that wasn’t very surprising.

“Well, I was considering…”  He was surprised by how hard it was to say the thought out loud.  It seemed ridiculous, both the idea itself and that he couldn’t voice it.

She looked at him askance and he sort of laughed.

“I was considering killing myself,” he finally got out.

“That’s it?”  She seemed confused.

Charles understood her confusion.  It had to be why they were trying to hunt him down but it was such a weird thing to try and prevent, plus, he never had any intention of actually doing it.

He shrugged his shoulders, “That’s all.”

It was Veronica’s turn to laugh.  It didn’t last long, though, as her face turned serious and she chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully, her brow furrowed.  “Were you going to?”

“No.”

“That’s good.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that so he said nothing.  The silence that fell between them didn’t last long as Veronica quickly launched into another question.

“Why would the FBI care if you killed yourself?”

“Only they know and perhaps the system.  I don’t really care, though.  It is enough to know that they were spying on my thoughts and decided to move to keep me from acting on them.”

“Even though you weren’t going to?”

“Even though I wasn’t going to.  It is kind of a relief, though.”

Veronica seemed shocked, “What do you mean?”

“They were wrong about me.  That means they haven’t really figured all this out and that gives me hope that the system will eventually figure out how to get us all out of this mess.”

Her eyes widened and she nearly whispered, “That’s a good point.”

A little smile twitched at the corners of her lips and Charles could tell that she was about to launch into one her long-winded tirades against the government.  He wasn’t interested in sitting through another rant at the moment so he cut her off before she could even get started.

“So, that’s my story.”

Her eyes found his.  They seemed to bore into him.  “And why you were you thinking about killing yourself?”

Charles sighed.  “I don’t know.  It’s going to sound terrible but mostly out of boredom.”

She laughed.

“Boredom isn’t quite the right word, you know.  It just seemed like, as I am getting older, that there is less and less to look forward to.  Rather the opposite, actually.  There is more to dread.  Health problems.  Higher expenses.  On and on, and at some point I hit upon the notion that perhaps it would be better to avoid some of that.  Thinking about it as a professional sports star, perhaps it would be better to retire on my own terms rather than trying to hang onto the glory and end up being forced out when I wasn’t ready.”

Veronica’s intense eyes seemed to apprise him anew.  There was more than a hint of admiration.  Apparently he had said something that impressed her.  He wasn’t sure if that was good or not.  She wasn’t exactly something he cared if he impressed.  And he felt his own musings on death and suicide tended towards the childish.  There were beautiful parts to all of life.  Some struggles would get harder and some would get easier.  Somethings would cease to come to him naturally and others would start.  The idea of having “glory days” was incorrect.  All of life was glory.  All of life was beautiful, wonderful, a gift.

Veronica smiled again.  This one was different, though.  It was a genuine smile, perhaps the first she had shown him in their brief time together, and it lit up her face.  Charles was struck by how beautiful she was.

“I’m proud of you,” she said.

Charles laughed.  He couldn’t help it.

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Fantasy Football Part 8

Revis and I are back, once again, with more fantasy football action…  and now with actual game play.  Soooo, we’ve been writing for weeks and just now getting to the good part…  Yep, sounds like football to me.  What?  What?  You don’t agree?  Tell me about it in the comments.

Confused?  This link right HERE will take you back to the very first Fantasy Football post.

…..

A deathly silence fell upon the arena.  Even the spectators in the stands were too stunned and scared to mumble and grumble their displeasure with the dragon’s announcement.  They had come to see a game, mock battle that it may be, not a slaughter.  Would they have to watch as Lavalandinarial ate the team that lost by the most points?  The thought made more than one spectator blanch.  That might be their child, their sibling, their cousin, their friend.

Plex glanced towards his sister.  Even at that distance and with her face mostly covered by a helmet, he could see that she had gone even paler than normal.  He clenched his fists and jaw as he looked back to the dragon.

The beast, its wicked eyes gleaming, surveyed the field and the stands, daring any of them to speak against his proclamation.  None did, of course.  None wanted to become a pre-game snack for the massive creature.

Turning back towards his sister, Plex hoped to catch her eye and let her know that he would do whatever he could make the game close.  He couldn’t let her team win.  He just couldn’t.  He knew that about himself.  He needed to win but he wouldn’t let it be a demolition.  He wouldn’t sentence his sister to death.

As that thought went through his head, his hands clenched tighter and he heard a pop in his jaw from grinding his teeth too hard.  This was unacceptable.  There had to be something that could be done.  If all the teams refused to play, the dragon would change its mind.  It couldn’t kill them all at once.  But it could kill most of them before it flew away.

The people in the stands wouldn’t be armed.  They weren’t organized for an attack.  The beast could easily roast them and use its magic to ensorcell them before they could come up with some sort of plan.  Lavalandinarial had been smart to keep that rule change to itself until this late stage.  It denied them all an opportunity to do anything about it.

A group of the dragon’s honor guard, dressed in black and white striped garb, stepped onto the field.  One of them whistled for attention and called the captains out.  It was time to get started.  Coach Sprout motioned for Plex to take the honor and he jogged onto the field to see what happened next.

For those in the stands who didn’t know what was happening or couldn’t see, the dragon narrated, “We will now do something called a coin toss to determine how the game will start. The team that wins the toss chooses which team will receive the opening kickoff. The team that loses the toss gets to decide which side of the field they want to start on.  From what I’ve been able to scry, it is mostly ceremonial but we will proceed anyway.”

One of the honor guard took a large gold coin out of his pocket and held it up for Plex and the captain from the other team.   One side had the head of Lavalandinarial on it.  The other had the very stadium they were playing in.  Both sides were magically enhanced to show movement.  The head of the dragon twisted around and its eyes darted around.  The banners representing the eight teams waved and the roaring sconces flickered on the stadium side.

“Which side do you think the coin will land on?”

The other team’s captain, a very beefy ogre, appeared to be confused by the question. “The stadium?” it finally said when it saw the troll Honor Guard becoming impatient.

Had the stakes not been so big, Plex would’ve found the ogre’s confusion funny. As it stood, he was doing his best to keep his mind on what was happening in front of him and not allow it to wander. If it wandered, it could negatively affect his play. That was something he couldn’t allow. If he was going to survive this, and keep his sister safe at the same time, he needed to be playing at his absolute best.

His eyes flicked to the spinning coin that was falling to the ground. The coin hit, bounced up, and fell back down. When it came to a rest, it was the arena that faced up. The rotund ogre grinned stupidly, happy that it had won the toss, but still not knowing what that meant. Plex thought the troll was going to smack the ogre. In fact, the trolls arm twitched in what Plex was sure would be a backhand strike, but it held it in check.

“Do you want your team to kick the ball first, or receive it?” the troll angrily demanded.

“We want ball,” the ogre said, taking a defensive step back.

Turning to Plex, the troll asked, “What end zone do you want to go towards?”

Plex closed his eyes for a moment and felt which way the wind was blowing. It was better to play with the wind at your back, he reminded himself. If you played into the wind, you couldn’t throw or kick the ball as far. “That one,” he said as he pointed to the end zone behind him.

The two captains were then forced into shaking each other’s hands by the Honor Guard before being allowed to go back to their sideline. Coach Sprout didn’t bother to give a rousing speech before the game started. He just ordered the kickoff team onto the field. Plex watched as his team’s orc kicker booted the ball down the field. This attempt was a lot better than the first couple of kicks he had seen the orc make. This kick had the ball go all the way into the end zone.

An elf caught the ball for the other team and began running up the field with it. Plex was surprised that the elf didn’t kneel down and take a touchback, where the ball would be automatically be placed on the 25 yard line. He hoped his team would make the elf’s decision to run the ball out be a mistake. It looked like his hope would come true when the elf ran into the first of Plex’s teammates at the 12 yard line.

Plex’s dwarven teammate had the elf in his sight and moved in for a vicious hit. The elf juked to his left, leaving the dwarf hugging air before falling face first into the turf. A minotaur had the next chance for a tackle, but he also missed. The elf cut to the right to avoid another tackle and before Plex knew what was happening, the elf had passed every member of his team. Plex could only watch helplessly as the elf crossed the goal line for a touchdown.

A tentative applause developed into a roar from the stadium as they realized that something good had happened on the field.  Plex looked around the stands.  He wasn’t sure what he was looking for but he felt like he needed to see something.  His eyes caught on a small group of dwarves that were still seated on the stone benches, arms across their chests.  While the rest of the gathered throng cheered the touchdown, these dwarves were not moved by what they had seen.  Either they had a relative on Plex’s team or they found the whole thing ridiculous.  Plex made a note to check on them again throughout the game.

Lavalandinarial spoke over the roar of the crowd, “Congratulations on scoring the first touchdown.  I’m very pleased with that.”

The dragon’s voice seemed to have a calming effect on the crowd and everyone settled down.  The other team sent their kicking team on for a point after attempt.  Their kicker sent it wide left.  It wasn’t due to anything other than the kicker sending it that way.

The dragon seemed to huff in amusement at the mistake and a small tendril of smoke rose from its left nostril.  Plex couldn’t seem to move his focus away from the mighty beast and time slipped as the teams swapped out and their opponents sent their weak kick-off tumbling end over end just beyond the thirty yard line.

Their minotaur running back, rushing forward from the goal line where’d he been waiting, picked up the ball and pushed forward.  The minotaur brushed off two attempted tackles by an ogre and an orc before finally being tackled by a lunging troll.  The impact of the two of them crashing into the turf finally brought Plex out of his distracted reverie.

The return had been a good one and the ball was now at their opponents’ 30 yard line, well within field goal range.  Plex was happy about that.  They were only two field goals away from tying up the game if it came to that but he was confident he’d be able to get a touchdown shortly.  He had never failed to get one in practice.  This should be no different.

With a shake of his head, Plex put on his helmet and started to run out onto the field.  Coach Sprout called out, “Look to me for which play to run.”  Plex nodded in understanding and joined his huddled offensive.  Their coach mouthed the play, Plex relayed that to his teammates and they broke to form their attacking line.

Everything faded away.  His sister.  The dragon.  The crowd.  Plex’s vision narrowed to focus on the center, the line moving into position around him and the eyes of the defensive line that flicked back and forth trying to read the play that was about to be run against them.

When his team was set, Plex yelled, “Hike!”  The ball was in his hands.  He rolled backwards to give himself some space.  He faked a throw downfield and then handed off the ball to his runningback.  The minotaur quickly made it back to the line of scrimmage and then pushed forward, shrugging off one tackle after another until only a troll stood between him and the goalline.

The minotaur stiffed armed the troll just as the defender lunged forward, the effect sent the minotaur hurtling over the top of the troll and into the end zone for a touchdown.  Plex lifted his hands in triumph.  The minotaur hurled the ball at the ground where it popped with a hissing snap that was lost beneath the appreciative roar of the crowd.

Fantasy Football Part 7

And Revis and I are back with another dose of fantasy football madness, the craze sweeping the nation… What are you still doing here? Go check it out!

33 Grams of Blog

“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

This was only the second morning he’d had to deal with it, but Plex already hated the cylindrical contraption that his coach used to amplify his voice. He wasn’t sure how long he would be on this team. At the end of that time, though, he vowed that he would destroy that annoying thing. When combined with Coach Sprout’s high pitched voice, it gave him an instant headache.

It didn’t help that Plex was tired. He had spent a long night trying to get to know his new teammates while they ate. While he walked among them, he noticed that they had three extra players on their team. Originally, they were told that each team was to have a fifty-three person roster, just like the teams on the realm in which this sport originated. Plex counted fifty-six players. He assumed that it was done…

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Safe, The End

I passed the alcove the other day, the one I had seen her resting in from time to time, and was surprised to see a single candle burning there.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Life on the streets is not easy and life, regardless of where it is lived, only ever ends one way.  We will all have a candle lit in our memory at some point.  Still, I was surprised.

She was the inspiration for this series, these “Safe” posts.  I had seen her sitting in the alcove, smiling out at the warming day, as the princes and I passed along on our way to the park.  She wasn’t always there but she was there enough that it made me start to think about why she would be there and where she would go when she wasn’t there.  Each of these posts has been about my thoughts working through the life she had.  And now that life has come to an end so these posts will as well.

I will never know why she was on the streets in the first place and what caused her death.  I could speculate based on appearance, based on the observations I made on her behavior, but what purpose would that serve.  If I truly cared, I could have done more.  I could have done more than say “Hello” and offer the occasional donut or bottle of water or spare dollar from my pocket.  I could have asked her name.  I could have asked what she really needed rather than falling on what was easy for me to offer at the time.  My opportunities to do so, with her, have been missed.

If someone else claims the alcove once her candle has burned out and been swept away, will I do more?

Only time will tell.

Thank you for going on this journey with me.  When I wrote the first post I had no idea what it would become.  Without some encouragement from my readers it likely would have ended there.  I’m glad it didn’t.  I’m glad I forced my eyes to open a little more and to see the parts of my community that I most often ignored.  I wish it could have had a happier ending.  Though, in truth, I’m not sure what that would have looked like…  speculative fiction at best…  The real world rarely provides happy endings.  Death is inevitable.  And a candle will be lit if we are lucky enough to have people who care to light them.

That is something we should hope for.  That is something we should more than hope for.  We should work for it.  We should care about others and prove that we care through words and actions and thoughts and prayers and whatever it takes.  If we care, they will.  Then when it is our turn, the candles will be lit and those who strike the match and touch it to the wick will have happy memories to hold onto.  And there is the best happy ending any of us could hope for.

Fantasy Football Part 6

And we, they, are back. Again. With the fantasy and the football together at last in the only way that really makes sense to me.

…..

Plex jumped to his feet, adrenaline coursing through him and pain forgotten.  His instincts and reflexes, finely honed with the extra training he’d been doing in recent weeks, burned and he nearly gave in to them but he managed to hold off before swinging at the dwarf.  Instead, he turned and began to walk away.

“Don’t turn your back on me, elf,” Kalant growled.

Plex tensed, expecting another attack and not wanting to get hit a second time without being ready for the impact.  Nothing happened, though, so he turned to face Kalant. The dwarf looked ready to strike again. He was crouched down, preparing to spring forward and use his mass to take down Plex as he had before.

Plex wasn’t sure what he should do to diffuse the situation but was certain that if he turned away again the dwarf would attack.  So, instead, he said, “We shouldn’t be fighting each other. Hurting ourselves just benefits the other teams and will make it harder for us to win the prize at the end of all of this.”

“I don’t care about that.”

Confused, Plex asked, “You don’t care?  Why are you here then?”

The dwarf didn’t answer and Plex sensed that if he pressed Kalant would attack him just to not have to answer.  Changing tactics slightly, Plex said, “I don’t think the dragon will appreciate you sabotaging his game.”

Kalant blanched.  Regardless of why he had joined and why he had taken being beaten on the field so hard, the dwarf did not want to get on the bad side of Lavalandinarial.  Plex didn’t like using the dragon as a threat but he needed to do something to keep the dwarf from hurting him or, more likely, from having to hurt the dwarf to defend himself.

“Don’t you dare,” the dwarf’s voice quivered slightly as he spoke, “mention that beast to me.”

Plex realized that it wasn’t fear causing the tremor.  There was an immense amount of anger radiating from Kalant.  The elf wondered if that had something to do with Kalant’s reasons for joining a team, for taking part in the dragon’s games.  He would need to bring it up with Coach Sprout. If Kalant had his own motives that could make him a liability and the coach would need to take that into account when picking teams and working through game day strategy.

To try and keep the peace in their current standoff, Plex raised his hands and said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you today. I’m not sure why you are here but the plays today had nothing to do with you and everything to do with making sure we can win this thing.”

Kalant growled something under his breath.  Plex tensed again, expecting the dwarf to launch into another attack but then Kalant spun on his heel and walked away.

Plex watched him leave the field and then went to find Coach Sprout.  He felt bad, like a snitch, for running to the coach. But he was thinking of the whole team.  The team came before any one individual. As he searched, he sort of laughed at himself. He had gone from not even wanting to play to now caring about winning in a very short time and he wasn’t quite sure why that was.

“That looked like it hurt,” a high pitched voice said from his side.

The proclamation was immediately followed by the sound of someone kicking the ball. Plex had a little trouble following the ball’s path as it fell in front of the now setting sun. It hadn’t gone very high, he noticed, but it landed at the five yard line along the left sideline. After a short bounce, it rolled out of bounds at the two yard line. If that had been during a game, whoever just punted the ball would have pinned the opposing team back deep in their territory. 

Plex turned towards the punter and was a little surprised when he saw a gnome standing there. The gnome held another ball in his hands. It looked ridiculously large in the small humanoid’s hands. “Physical strength isn’t everything,” the gnome huffed as if he was reading Plex’s thoughts. “If your technique is good enough, it can help make up for some of that deficiency.”

The gnome exploded into motion. He dropped the ball down, taking a couple steps forward. His right foot shot upward. It hit the ball when it was halfway between the height of gnome’s waist and knee. The ball went into the air. It didn’t reach the height that his old elven teammate was able to punt it, but the gnome had placed it in the exact same spot he did the first time. The ball bounced slightly differently, going out at the one yard line.

Plex was sure his jaw had dropped when he watched it. Elves were known for their grace and fluidity of motion. The gnome’s kicking technique was as graceful as anything he had ever seen performed by his kinsman. It was almost like the gnome was dancing.

“Impressive,” Plex said honestly. “Your kicks are almost as accurate as my throws, if not more so.”

The gnome acknowledged the compliment with a nod of his head. “What’s the deal with you and the dwarf?”

Absentmindedly rubbing his chest, Plex answered, “He’s upset because he thinks I purposefully embarrassed him at practice.”

“Did you?”

“Of course not! All I did was throw it to the open receiver, just like I would do in a real game.”

The gnome considered that for a moment. “I get that, but I think you should take it easy on him.”

“I can’t! If I practice differently than I would play in the games, it will disrupt any cohesion I might build with the rest of the offense, and that might cost us the game.”

“No, you misunderstand. I don’t think you should take it easy on him in practice. What I meant was that I think you should take it easy on him as far as him tackling you just now.”

“Why should I?”

“For one, Lavalandinarial has already had some players from other teams killed for fighting with their teammates. Whose to say he won’t kill both of you just for the fun of it? Plus, if you knew what that dwarf had had to go through lately, you’d know why he’s acting like that.”

“How do you know either of those things?”

“One of the few advantages of my size is that I’m constantly overlooked, so I hear a lot of secrets because people don’t know I’m there. My name is Vinyard, by the way.”

Plex offered his hand and said, “I’m Plex.”

“I know,” the gnome said dryly, but shook the offered hand all the same.

Plex turned back the direction he had been headed and frowned.  After a moment of thought, he asked, “Can you tell me if Kalant’s problems will impact our chances of winning?”

Vinyard replied, “From what I’ve heard, it shouldn’t.”

Plex studied Vinyard and decided that the gnome had no reason to lie.  It seemed unlikely that he would be in league with whatever Kalant had going on behind the scenes.  And, perhaps it would be wiser to wait and see before potentially upending the team by running to the coach.  The dragon was notoriously fickle. Vinyard was right that if the beast caught wind of any dissent in the team it might just remove all involved.  

“Thank you,” Plex said.

Vinyard shrugged, “We’re all just trying to win here.  Some of us have more reasons than the offered prize. Some of us fight for pride, for the honor of battle, for the riches of course, and some of us volunteered to play this game for reasons all our own.”

That made sense to Plex.  He had joined because his queen had asked him too.  Others had volunteered and it was fitting that each person who did that would have very personal reasons for doing so.  “Thank you,” Plex said again. “I’m going to get some rest.”

“Good idea,” Vinyard replied dryly again.

Plex started to walk away but then stopped and turned back to the kicker.  Vinyard had taken out another ball from a bag of them nearby. He dropped the ball and swung his leg into it.  Just as before, his movements were graceful, poetic even, and, as before, the ball carried down the field to land where the first two had.  

Shaking his head, Plex quietly mused to himself, “Vinyard is a better kicker than the elven team had,” as he left the field.

The whole experience had proved very enlightening so far.  When the dragon had first announced his ideas and demanded that each race provide a team, he had been skeptical and had wanted no part.  As each day progressed he seemed to learn more about his fellow races, though. He was getting a better understanding of his world and that was fascinating at his age.  He had already thought himself very learned. He had been wrong and rather than be upset by how little he had known, he was enjoying the broadening of his knowledge.

He decided he would sit with different groups for each meal in the coming days and try to learn more about each of them.  Not only would that help him get to have better chemistry with his teammates on the field it would also enrich his own mind.  

The smell of food reached him and he smiled.  Whatever the cooks had thrown together smelled amazing.  He headed towards the food tent with a spring in his step and a smile on his face.  He was curious who he would sit with and what he would learn.