I’ve been trying like all hell to write more on the story that’s been destroying my brain for the last three years. I put down all I had at the beginning of December (which, sadly wasn’t much) and then, for the past couple of days, have been trying to figure out how to transition to the next scene I had in my outline. It has not been going well.
So I’m going to post what I have so far and then go try and brainstorm some secondary characters. Here’s what I’ve got:
“Today I have some deeply unsettling news for fans of professional football.” The commissioner of the American Football Federation stood before an eager press core awaiting his next words. Lights beam off of his face and a consistent audible stream of camera shutters fill the room like a symphony of chaos. He strained for each of the following words.
“Because of Congress’ historic mandates in the recent class action chronic traumatic encephalopathy lawsuit, brought about by former players of our league, we no longer possess the ability to provide a safe working environment for the athletes that play our sport.” The commissioner paused for a moment, looked into the crowd, and the sound of cameras became louder and reporters shouted increasingly inaudible questions.
“These new, federally mandated, laws require a level of protection inside of a helmet that will not be available anywhere in the near future, if ever.” The commissioner sighs and continues to struggle to say the following words on his page. “Due to these revelations, effective immediately, all football-related activities on the league schedule have been canceled. I have no further comment on this story.”
The room erupted. The commissioner, with visible remorse, walked away from the podium and out of the room. An assistant took over and attempted to manage the now frenzied press core.
Six Years Later
“Hi James, I’m Trevor.” The reporter held out his hand but James didn’t budge. He stood for a moment but eventually pulled out the chair from his side of the table. He set his briefcase down beside the table and ordered his things. “I assume they’ve told you why I am here.”
They had. Trevor was writing about what had happened, what had landed James in the situation he was in – inside of this cage. All James could do was stare at the clock on the wall. If he could ignore him he wouldn’t have to acknowledge what happened.
“I’m sure they’ve told you what I can do for your case.” Trevor’s gaze grew tighter and drew James’ attention. “I believe in your story.”
“Does it matter?” James finally spoke.
“I believe it does. I believe your story, your discovery, can change everything.”
James hesitated although he was intrigued. How could he know what really happened? The way James was portrayed after everything went down was very clear – and very one-sided. Maybe this was his chance.
“What would you like to know?”
“Everything.” Trevor’s eyes grew with the concession. He put his recorder on the table and leaned back.
James paused. He looked at the bars on the windows and the chain around his arms. He wanted it off.
“The world died a little when they took football away from us. There was the countless litigation regarding the decision but, without a helmet that would stop the concussions, the feds didn’t budge. People tried playing flag football in 7-on-7 leagues but it could never garner the same interest, the same intensity, the same passion we all once felt. Society mourned and lamented the sport everyway they could. Instead of traveling to Europe to see the vast ruins of forgotten societies, people began to make pilgrimages to old, decaying stadiums. The coliseum, in Rome, was said to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 men. With the death of football every state in America had their own coliseum. 32 Professional teams and hundreds of collegiate stadiums became remnants of a not too distant past.”
“Can I get a Pepsi? I have had one in, well, awhile.”
“Anything. I’ll have my assistant bring it in.” He took out his phone and messaged the woman who periodically poked her head in the window of the special containment conference room.
“Where did I leave off?”
“But, eventually, most people forgot about it. The others turned to different, socially acceptable, sports. Baseball got really big. Some people, though, some people took to the darker corners of cities and formed underground leagues full of greed, corruption and every malfeasance imaginable. Law enforcement tried to dismantle the leagues, but they lost themselves amidst the money, guns, drugs and sex.”
The doors clicked, the young woman raced in the soda and promptly left.
“My story – excuse me – our story is about many things. Some people will point to the drugs, sex, violence and manipulation and argue that everything that happens to us was well deserved. Others will look at the course of events and say the world was better off had it not happened. What I hope they learn – What I hope you learn – is that the hope of one man, woman or child can change the world. If there is anything you need to take away from this – from us – it is hope.”
One year earlier
It’s 10:00 p.m. and the parking lot is a ghost town. Dark cars line the dirt lot and are pushed tight to the building. Just like they are supposed to be. Dust flies up from my wheels as I make the turn in and, for a moment, everything I could see in the lightless lot was a cloud. I pulled into the first spot I saw when the dust subsided and jumped out of my car as if I was back in D-1 and breaking out of my route. After a little bit of searching I found the right hole in the fence and made my way towards the storehouse. I was late. Really late.
There is a lone spotlight at the back entrance of the storehouse –you can only see it when you get past the trees – and music from a speaker inside began to get more apparent the closer I get to the building. I flashed my security badge to two new mammoth guards and made my way through the rest of the security. Some might think of the measures to be excessive, but they didn’t want just anyone to be able to come in this way. I finally reached the correct door and walked into an explosion of activity. Spotlights scanned the room, the music blared and people are yelling – most, drunkenly – and screaming at the action on (and off) the field.
The game was packed tonight. But only about half the people in the warehouse were giving all of their attention to the game on the field. Some hovered by the cages of “cheerleaders” who made out with their squad as currency and blow was thrown at their feet. Speaking of drugs, with every turn of the head people used and sold and resold anything that could be ingested. Cops, and select elected officials, lined up with everyone else – there was no difference in the search of a high. Maybe not everything had changed post fall. We were just more willing to be open about it.
Eventually I got through the crowd and I reached the border to the sunken field. When they decided to use an abandoned warehouse for an underground location they built a pit for the field. They said it was so they could pack in as many people as possible to watch the games. But what they didn’t tell people was that the field had a cover incase the facility got raided by the good cops. Every precaution to hide who we were was taken.
Making the descent to the field always came with a pit in my stomach. Fifty of what used to be the greatest athletes in the world were reduced to playing in a converted warehouse on poorly installed turf for profits from drug money and prostitution. Every day was like watching the final scenes of a Greek tragedy. I climbed down to field level and entered the sideline area for the Ground House Ghosts – our team. Rachel, my assistant, rushed over to meet me.
“Where have you been?”
“There was traffic.”
“There never is traffic.”
“Well, tonight there was.” I looked around my area on the sideline. No players were up on tables or getting any sort of treatment. “Have there been any injuries tonight?
“No, but their guys have been dropping like flies. I think they’ve lost like ten dudes. Aren’t you supposed to be here for kickoff? You are the head trainer, James.”
“I told you, there was traffic.”
“You were working on it, weren’t you?
I ignored her question and looked to the field. Rachel nudged my shoulder and pointed to the scoreboard.
“Your brother is lighting it up tonight.”
My brother, Mike, is the quarterback for the Ghosts. Sitting on the 35, going out, we hold a 14 point lead, beating the Scions from Second City 21-7. Second and Seven, they broke the huddle and came out in doubles from gun. They ran a read play and he pulled, weaved his way through defenders – the crowd screamed more and more the further he progressed down the field – jumped over tacklers on his way to the score. Ghosts 28-7. Mike sprang up from the tackle and started to show off to the fans. He danced and pointed to the glass box that overlooked the field. Rather, he was pointing to someone inside it. The owner of the underground Ground House Ghosts, area drug queen-pen and girlfriend to Mike, Brianna Claymore – a true embodiment of everything that ever was wrong with the game. Pre and post fall.
After celebrating with his teammates Mike rushed up to me and wrapped me in a hug.
“James!” He shouted in my ear. “You’re late!”
“There was traffic!” I tried to shout back but he was already flirting with women in the crowd. Everyone’s attention directed towards Mike when he was on the sideline. Women threw their underwear, guys threw drugs, and all that was amid screams of loving declarations. He was a rock star. He knew it. “Mike, she’s watching.” I pointed to the box. Brianna stalked the glass window with the lethal intent of a jungle cat. But he didn’t seem to care.
“She likes to watch.” He didn’t even look at me in response.
“At least care about the game…”
Mike put his hand on my throat and pulled my face to meet his eyes.
“I always care about the game, Motherfucker. Don’t you fucking forget it.” His pupils were wide. He was high.
I pushed him off of me and pointed to the field.
“Go, you’re on offense.”
Mike sprang away and smiled with all the ferocity of a kid touching the ball for the first time. He grabbed his helmet and made his way towards the coaches, almost skipping. He always did whatever he could to get back onto the field.
The scoreboard showed six minutes left in the fourth. I started cleaning up the sideline because it sucks being in the middle of everything once the game ends. It’s like being at the front of an arroyo when a hurricane starts. All the rain has to go somewhere. But in this case the rain are prostitutes, pimps, junkies, dealers, and a bunch of people who want to screw you any way they can.
Three minutes left. Our offense still has the ball. Three yards, Four yards. Second City wasn’t going to touch it again for the rest of the game. Racheal and I went back to the locker room before the clock ticked within one minute. We were going to have to give out treatment and it’s better to get there early, it allows a chance to get set up.
I’ve been in many locker rooms in my life. High School, College. I’ve seen the good and the bad ones. This one didn’t deserve to even be called one. It was a room, or a couple of rooms with the walls removed, back in the secure area where I came in. Wires hang from the rafters, little penetrations of light pierced through from the ceiling, and, if you didn’t turn the lights on before entering, you can hear mice scurry back towards their holes. For a place that had so much drug money running through it you’d think they’d clean the place up a little bit.
Yelling could be heard from down the hall. The game had finished. The players would be entering any second. I looked down at my cart to make sure everything was in place. Scissors, pills, needles and a bunch of little vials to feed the injuries and addictions of the gladiators.