by Josh Rountree
James whispered a prayer to Landry of the Fourteen Eyes, then called the play.
post, on one. Ready?”
jeez, Brodie! Don’t throw it to
me!” said Kenny, red eyes pleading from the shadowed depths of his helmet.
“I can’t afford another drop.”
don’t call the plays,” said Brodie, sorry for his friend but short on
options. “I promise I’ll get it
to you. Just get open.
You can do it. They’ve had
you in single coverage all night.”
“This is for the game, man! My sister’s already lost half her-"
“Shut up and don’t think about it!” said Brody, slapping his wide receiver’s helmet. “You don’t want nothing on your mind but how sweet it’s gonna feel when you catch that football. Anything else is a distraction. Got it?”
approached the line of scrimmage and both sides of the field erupted.
The red robed fans in the visitor’s stands surged like a crimson wave,
swaying in unison as they began the Rite of Interception.
They stamped their feet against the aluminum bleachers, chanting as they
drew gleaming blades across the bellies of countless doomed rattlesnakes.
Their blood spilled, the snakes were then hurled onto the field.
The rain of reptiles sounded like bacon burning in a skillet as the
animals protested their own sacrifice.
the sea of angry spectators, The Great Red Bear watched from the comfort of the
visitors’ suite. An Innsmouth
Amphibians tee shirt was stretched across His bulbous chest, and several of His
furry tentacles drooped lazily from the luxury box’s open window.
One of them sprang to life, lashing out to snag a less fervent member of
the crowd and depositing the pleading victim into its posterior mouth.
This excited the Innsmouth contingent, and they responded with a
rhythmic, booming chant that shook the stadium.
“Defense!” Stomp, stomp. “Defense!”
cast the Rite of Interception, so obviously they knew it was a pass play.
Not that they were that smart or anything.
What the hell else would Coach call under the circumstances?
The rattlesnakes leaped like fish on a boat deck, tight coils of death
sent to suffocate Brodie’s resolve. He
avoided their random strikes, wishing he were anywhere else in the world but the
seventeen yard line of the Staubach County consolidated football stadium.
in black capes and light gray fedoras, the home crowd sang the Earl Campbell
High School battle song, and Brodie took comfort in their support.
Over the years, protective spells and assorted nuggets of pigskin magic
had been sewn into the cant of the glorious old hymn.
The song cleansed his mind, battling his worrisome thoughts about what
might happen if he accidentally put a little too much air under the ball, or if
the offensive line allowed him to be sacked.
This was it. Make or break.
An incomplete pass meant the Campbell Cougars would miss the playoffs,
and if that happened, somebody was going to pay.
Brodie damn sure didn’t want it to be him.
was a senior. Useless beyond this
one final pass unless they managed to sneak into the playoffs.
Fourth and goal from the seventeen with five seconds left didn’t leave
much wiggle room.
of the Fourteen Eyes bellowed along with his worshipers, and Brodie felt the
weight of each and every eye. The
play clock was winding down. Time to
snap the ball. He checked his
receivers, Kenny on the left, Burt Amos lined up wide right, the freshman Hank
Summers lined up in the slot. The
ball wasn’t even coming his direction and the kid looked like he might piss
put his hands under center and called for the snap.
The football slapped his palms and the play was underway.
exploded overhead like fireworks as each side tried to best the other’s magic.
Brodie knew his fans were trying to cancel out the Rite of Interception,
and he hoped to hell they’d succeed.
took a three step drop, scampered to the left as the running back picked up a
blitzing linebacker, then locked on his receiver.
Kenny had a half step lead on the cornerback covering him, and the safety had followed Hank across the middle.
Single coverage, all the way to the virgin.
Tucker, this week’s offering to the triumphant team’s god, was tied to the
goal post, cheerleading skirt splattered with chicken blood and amber eyes wide
with either terror or fanatical joy. The
Friday Night Gods always demanded a virgin sacrifice, and though a few of
Brodie’s buddies would argue that Earlene had long ago forfeited her
eligibility, the gods had chosen her anyway.
streaked toward the end zone and Earlene shook her golden curls like a pompom.
set his feet and threw the ball.
split second later someone crashed against his back and he hit the grass.
couldn’t see the play, couldn’t see anything in fact but the thick clump of
mud stuck in his facemask, a stampede of cleats, and a dead rattlesnake curled
up just beyond arm’s reach. He
held his breath, listening for the crowd reaction, praying with every fiber of
his soul that he wouldn’t hear the triumphant roar of the Great Red Bear.
second later, the Campbell fans erupted, and Landry of the Fourteen eyes
released a chorus of foghorn cheers, each mouth sounding off with a separate,
earth rattling pitch. Brodie felt
hands pulling him up from the ground, and quickly found himself lifted onto his
Well I’ll be damned. Kenny caught the ball.
the sideline, Coach Peg spun his wheelchair in celebration, and the fans parted
to allow Landry of the Fourteen eyes to slither onto the field and claim his
prize. Somewhere along the way,
Earlene had passed out from either fear or excitement.
Either way, Brodie figured she tasted just the same.
the far side of the field, the Great Red Bear dismantled the bleachers, tossing
worshipers aside by the dozens with his flailing tentacles.
His anger decimated the woodwind section of the school band, and reduced
the concession stand to a nacho cheese covered pile of splinters.
Long experience told the crestfallen football players that they would not
escape the angry god’s wrath. They
crowded together on the track surrounding the field and awaited their
won, Brodie!” said Hank, running toward Brodie when the rest of his teammates
finally returned him to the ground. “Did
you see that catch? One handed,
had incentive to catch it.”
but we made the playoffs!”
“You sure making the playoffs is a good thing,” asked Brodie, trying to temper the kid’s excitement.
“Better than losing.”
ain’t you excited?”
Hank,” said Brodie with a bitter smile. “It’s
Copyright © Josh Rountree 2004
Photo Copyright © Eric Marin 2004
About the Author:
Josh Rountree is a father, husband, writer, and inveterate football fanatic. Please do not call his home when the Dallas Cowboys are playing or you might wind up with an earful of profanity. Instead, spend that quality time visiting his website at www.joshrountree.com. Or better yet, read his fiction in Realms of Fantasy, Abyss & Apex, or a number of other fine publications.
Lone Star Stories * Speculative Fiction and Poetry * Copyright © 2003-2004