The Big Game – Part 2 of 3

“Let’s run Pass 18, on two,” said Ian Thomas, pointing toward Jackson Shepherd. “And Jackson, run the Out, Okay? We’ve only got 16 seconds left!”

    In American Rules Football the Out Pattern meant Jackson would run about 10 or 15 yards straight downfield, then quickly turn outward and sprint toward the sideline. The purpose of the play was for Jackson to catch the pass from Ian, gain some much-needed yardage, then hurry out of bounds to stop the clock.

    “On two. On two, ready,” called Ian.

“BREAK!” yelled the team, breaking the huddle and hustling to the line of scrimmage.

Ian began scanning the defense. He observed Rodney, inching toward the end of the defensive line. From past experience Ian knew Rodney was going to blitz.

    A blitz meant instead of covering a receiver, Rodney was going to rush Ian. Rodney hoped no one would block him, allowing him to tackle Ian before he threw the ball to Jackson.

“Hey, Dak,” whispered Ian, cupping his hands around his mouth, “Rodney’s all yours.”

“I got him,” big Dak replied, wiggling his eyebrows and smiling at the thought of knocking Rodney to his backside.

“Ready. Set. Hutt! Hutt!” yelled Ian.

As Dak snapped the ball to Ian, a chorus of deep growls and grunts filled the air. Dirt exploded upward from the ground as the two opposing lines of bruised and battered children crashed into one another. Dak, immediately turned and threw his body in front of the blitzing Rodney, knocking him to his backside as planned. Ian took three quick steps backwards and watched as Jackson blazed down the field. Jackson Shepherd made his sharp outward cut, glancing back as Ian rocketed the football toward the sideline.

The timing between the two players was perfect. The ball hit Jackson directly in his hands, just as he scurried out of bounds and stopped the clock. Cheers erupted from the field and sidelines!

“The catch is good!” shouted the referee, hobbling toward the sideline and marking the new position of the ball with his foot, while steadying himself with his thick walking cane. “We have nine seconds remaining and it’s first down from the 36-yard line!”

“Huddle up!” bellowed Dak, now with blood streaming down his arm from the hard impact with Rodney.

“Sweet catch, Jack!” exclaimed Ian, slapping Jackson on the back and rubbing his head.

“Not too bad, if I do say so myself,” said Jackson, beaming ear to ear while showcasing his best dab – by far, his favorite celebratory move.

The Big Game – Part 1 of 3

“Timeout!” shouted Ian Thomas.

“We have a time out by the offense,” hollered the Ager referee, “and that’s their final timeout. We have 16 seconds remaining in the game and it’s a first down at mid-field!”

Although the referee was actually an Ager elementary school gym teacher, he took his job as referee quite seriously. Before the earthquake he had worked as an official for the National Football League in the United States – that is before the flooding left the Denver Broncos as the only team in existence. The gym teacher was a novelty around the school, as the young players enjoyed hearing his stories about the glory days of the NFL. One thing was certain, the kids in Colorado loved to play American rules football.

All children at schools around the world were encouraged to participate in either American Rules Football, Australian Rules Football, rugby, boxing, martial arts, or some other full contact sport. It was believed that contact sports toughened the children and prepared their young bodies for more strenuous military training. Injuries were a minor concern, considering the potential benefits gained as the children became physically and mentally stronger. The military believed that a strong warrior was always more beneficial to the greater good of humanity.

“Alright, let’s huddle up,” directed Ian, clapping his hands together, rallying his team. His exhausted teammates huddled around him with muddy sweat dripping from nearly every inch of their young bodies.

“Okay, I know you’re tired, but so are they. Just look at those guys. Tony has his hands on his head trying to breathe, and poor Fitch… what tha’, Wow! Fitch is actually lying down now,” Ian chuckled, nodding toward the defense, using the legs of his long athletic shorts to wipe the sweat from his hands.

Ian’s teammates turned to sneak a quick glimpse of their fatigued competition, then sniggered quietly amongst themselves.

“There is no way we’re gonna let these guys beat us,” Ian said, urging. “Dak, after this play you’ve got to set the huddle as fast as you can. I know you’re pooped, but hold your hands high so we can get the next play called quickly, Okay?”

Dak nodded a couple times, still breathing heavy from the last play.

“We’ve got enough time for two, maybe three more plays,” continued Ian. “Let’s give it all we’ve got and remember what’s at stake. I mean, who wants to watch poor Fitch over there do push-ups in the dirt for the rest of the year? I know I do!”

Ian’s entire team burst into a fit of laughter. They looked over their shoulders, observing the dog-tired young man known as Fitch, still lying depleted upon the ground.

Ian Thomas looked his teammates in the eyes, confident and determined. “Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do.” ….

The Monsters of my Youth

When I was a boy, I lived in an old house in Saco, Maine. As with most old homes, nights were filled with cracking noises, and soft thuds that sounded like footsteps. My imagination kept me awake for hours at night. I slept with my bedroom and closet doors open wide. In my mind it was better to see the monsters coming for me, than have a door fling open when I least expected. My bed was my safe place. I believed, as long as I was on my bed, my monsters would leave me alone. The exception to my rule lived in the space between my bed and the wall of my room. My bed was set up with a small gap, about 12 inches, between the side of the bed and the wall. The space was left to allow room to make up the bed without crawling all about the top, mussing the covers.

The small space is what haunted my childhood dreams. I was convinced, when the lights were off, my monsters hid in that space, just inches away, waiting for me to close my eyes. Time and again, into the early hours of the morning I would peer over the edge of the bed, heart pounding, ready to scream for my father at the first sign of a monster. 

Now, as an adult, I still don’t feel comfortable with my bedroom door closed at night. My eyes pop open, as I listen from across the house to the ice fall from the machine, and into the freezer container. I lift my head when I hear scratching sounds made by bugs or other unknown forces that hit and rub against the window screen. I look through the doorway of my bedroom, into the dark hallway, still listening to the cracks, and unexplained footsteps of my childhood fears. My monsters follow me still, even now, with my bed placed firmly in the middle of my room.

Sanchez, the Little Fighter from Mexico

“Thank you, Drill Sergeant Perkins,” responded Sergeant Honeyman, taking his position between the two eager squads. “The rules are simple. Each recruit must wear a protective helmet, protective footgear and boxing gloves to participate. Members of each squad will be paired with an opponent of like size and weight. Only two recruits will be inside the ring at one time. You will fight for a full two-minute round. You are allowed to punch or kick your opponent – no head butting is allowed. At the end of the two-minute round, the buzzer will sound. The fight is then over. You will stop fighting and shake hands. Do you all understand?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” screamed the two squads of recruits.

The two Sergeants compared rosters, pairing up the squads by size and weight.

“Sanchez from Upsilon and Ranier from Alpha, barked Sergeant Honeyman. “You two are first. Grab your gear and get in the ring.”

Sanchez was a twelve-year-old girl, who came from a proud boxing heritage in Mexico. Her father was a professional boxer who, for a short time, had actually held the title of Welterweight Champion of the World. Sanchez spent most of her spare time at the gym to be near her Ager father. While there, young Sanchez developed some impressive boxing skills – as young Ranier from Alpha Squad would soon learn.

Buzzzzz! Sounded the timer.

From the very beginning Ranier was eager to attack. She hit her gloves together and rushed toward Sanchez. Ranier stepped forward and threw a wild haymaker punch. Sanchez leaned backwards slightly and watched the misguided punch blow by. Sanchez then followed with a blazing left hook and connected with the exposed Jaw. Ranier’s knees buckled as she dropped to the mat like a twenty-pound bag of potatoes falling from the back of a truck. Merely four seconds into the fight young Ranier was lying semi-conscious upon the mat. She struggled to focus her glassy eyes, making a goofy face, and muttering something about moon-glow as she stared up at the lights above the ring.

The members of Upsilon exploded in cheer while Alpha Squad kicked the ground, grumbling, disappointed.

Sanchez removed her headgear and grinned proudly as she exited the boxing ring. Upsilon hugged her and rubbed her head for good luck. Several Alpha Squad members helped Ranier slide out of the ring and watched as she wobbled toward a metal chair in the corner of the room.

“Next,” yelled Sergeant Honeyman, checking the clipboard, “let’s have Dubois from Upsilon and Walker from Alpha.”

The Baby Eagle 

The bright sun kissed the blue summer sky, as it had done time, and again. The sunlight glistened upon the surface of the roaring river like fire jumping randomly about the canyon floor. High above, upon a mountain ledge, a baby Golden Eagle sat inside his comfortable nest. The baby watched as his mother soared above the canyon, so graceful, powerful, and beautiful, circling effortlessly against the backdrop of the pale sky. After a while the mother eagle landed upon the edge of the nest.

“Mother,” said the baby, “how do you fly? I’m afraid. I don’t think I will ever be able to do that.”

“My son,” said the mother eagle, smiling into her son’s majestic, young eyes, “even the mother eagle, at one point in her life, had to search herself for the courage to try her wings for the very first time.”

Part 2: The Horrible Bear Of Colorado

Things were quiet at the makeshift camping area, with just a few minor periodic snorts and snores breaking the silence. The nine remaining recruits of Upsilon had managed to drift off to sleep, shivering in their sleeping bags as the temperature continued to drop. Suddenly, the peaceful Colorado night was interrupted by aggressive whispers of a frightened young Laurence Dubois.

“Psssssst! Psssssst! Jackson!” whispered Dubois, shaking Jackson awake, urgent.

“Dubois?” mumbled Jackson, half asleep, eyes wide with confusion. “What is it? Is it midnight already? Ian, dude, I’ll pay you to take guard duty for me.”

“Jackson, there, there, there’s a Kodiak Bear in the woods!” exclaimed Dubois, terrified, and no longer whispering.

The recruits were awakened by the excited young Dubois, then most just gripped their sleeping bags tighter, and rolled over, away from the racket.

“Dubois, there aren’t any Kodiak Bears here!” exclaimed Jackson, now wide awake, peeking at the boy over the top of his sleeping bag. “That’s Alaska, man. And, it’s just 11. Go back to your post!”

“But, well, maybe the bear swam to Colorado,” stammered Dubois, shivering from the freezing cold, and afraid to go back to his post.

“Yo, Jackson,” interjected Ian, pulling his sleeping bag snug, yawning, rolling over to get more comfortable. “You might as well go look. Dubois is pretty upset. Besides, it’s technically possible for a bear to swim to Colorado from Alaska if it wanted to bad enough.”

“Aw, dang, man,” Jackson huffed, unzipping his bag, then wrapping it around his shoulders, “alright, come on, Dubois. Let’s go find your bear.”

The two boys walked across the open field to the fat pine tree at the edge of the forest. As Jackson and Dubois stood silently, it wasn’t long before the growls began again. The grumbling roars filled the night. Dubois hid behind Jackson, pulling his sleeping bag tighter around his shoulders as he peered into the treeline. Jackson slowly made his way toward the noise, shining his flashlight into the night. Dubois pressed against Jackson’s back, inching forward toward the horrible sound. The growls became louder as the boys moved closer. Suddenly, Dubois shrieked as Jackson located the angry animal’s eyes with his flashlight. The animal jumped and moaned, snorting loudly. It didn’t take long for the boys to realize the growls were actually loud snores, coming from the sleeping Sergeant Perkins, who was now awake with the blinding flashlight still shining in his eyes.

“What are you people doing!” groaned Perkins, confused, squinting at the bright light.

“Sorry, Sergeant Perkins,” answered Jackson, embarrassed, but still accidentally shining the flashlight in Perkins’ face.

“Shepherd, is that you!” grumbled Perkins, still mostly asleep.

“Sir, yes sir,” responded Jackson, “just looking for a spot to go to the bathroom. Have a good sleep sir.”

“So, find a spot, do your business, and get back to bed,” Perkins mumbled, actually falling back to sleep as he spoke.

Jackson and Dubois jogged away from the treeline, giggling uncontrollably as they hurried along. Jackson spent the rest of the hour with Dubois, sitting beneath the pine tree, wrapped in their sleeping bags. The boys chuckled quietly amongst themselves, and joked about the crazy-eyed look upon Perkins face. They couldn’t wait to tell the other recruits about their adventure with the horrible, Kodiak Bear Perkins.

Part 1: The Horrible Bear Of Colorado

Drill Sergeant Perkins and Upsilon Squad took a transport into the mountains. Eventually, the road ended and the transport dropped the recruits at the edge of a dense forest. The squad then hiked for hours until they reached a flat, open area, as the sun began to set. One of the requirements of basic training was to sleep outdoors in cold weather with only sleeping bags for warmth. The recruits would go without food or fire for the night, with temperatures dropping to around 20 degrees fahrenheit.

“Recruits,” said Perkins, “this is where you will bunk for the evening.”

The recruits stared at one another, confused. There wasn’t a bunkhouse in sight.

“You have your sleeping bags,” barked Perkins, “and that’s all you will need. I recommend you find a soft piece of ground and stake your claim for the night. I hope you ate a delicious breakfast, because you will not eat again until tomorrow morning.

“Dude, seriously?” whispered Jackson into Ian’s ear, irritated, his tummy already rumbling with hunger after the long hike.

Ian glanced back at Jackson, exhaling deeply, clearly not looking forward to the campout.

“Dubois,” barked Sergeant Perkins,  “you’re on guard duty until midnight. I’d climb that fat pine tree over there for a better view point. I’ll see you children in the morning. Try not to do anything stupid. Goodnight.”

Perkins turned, jogged across the open area, and disappeared into the trees. The unmotivated recruits slowly began to unroll their sleeping bags, still hoping this entire cold-weather camping episode was just a bad dream.

“What is Perkins thinking?” said Jackson, agitated. “Does the military know we’re sleeping out here in freezing weather like a herd of elk? Prolly not. And, where did Perkins go? I got ten dollars says he’s in a nice, heated camper right now. Un-Freaking-Believable!”

“Dude,” said Ian, laughing, climbing into his sleeping bag, “you’re from Colorado. You should be used to cold weather.”

“Yeah, I live in Colorado,” responded Jackson, matter of fact, hands on his hips, “but I live in a snug, warm house with central heating, and a big fireplace in the living room. I don’t sleep in the yard, Ian!”

“Will you just stop complaining,” said Ian, zipping his sleeping bag up to the neck. “The sooner you get in your bag, the sooner you’ll warm up.

“Fine,” said Jackson, shaking his head, mumbling as he climbed inside his sleeping bag, “Stupid Perkins.”

Meanwhile, Dubois had made his way to the base of the big pine tree, and was staring upward, as if someone was going to drop a hoist down and pull him up to the top. After a few minutes, and several unsuccessful attempts to climb the tree, Dubois decided the best plan was to jump inside his sleeping back and lean against the base of the tree. Dubois fought to keep his eyes open, wishing he was back in his warm bed.

Around 11 p.m., Dubois was startled by a terrifying sound coming from the woods. It was a low, horrible growling sound, merely feet from him. Dubois frantically jumped up and tried to run away… falling a couple times, his sleeping bag still zipped up to his neck. He took tiny, rapid little steps, while trying to shove the bag down around his feet as he moved. Dubois knew one thing – he had to get away from the trees, fast!