Illustrated by Yeryung Hong
Sam and Josh get to go home from school early. It is the school fundraising conference. They go to the video store and spend their lunch money on Warheads and those green strips with the sugar on them. They look at the new video games until the owner starts giving them shit looks.
The scary older kids were loitering by the side entrance so they walked home through the woods. They stuff their faces. They talk about everything they know. They talk about video games, computer games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, the new James Bond movie, whether or not you can really dodge bullets, whether or not they had quick enough reflexes, etc
The sky is completely white.
They hop off their bikes and take the road by the lake. When they get to the door there are a few little dark clouds at the far corners of the sky.
They take off their shoes and socks. Josh goes to the room, takes out the Perfect Dark Cartage from under his bed. Sam turns on the TV and sets the channel.
The machine grinds to life.
They are so engrossed with the lights and noises of their game that they don't see the old man on the road who's walking all alone.
The sweat on their backs isn’t even dry when they hear the gravel crunch under the tires of Josh's mom's Tercel. He turns off the TV, and rips out the cartage.
They hide in Josh's room and pretend to read.
"Hi guys!" Josh's mom calls.
"Hi mom," replies Josh from his room.
"Is Sam there?" she asks as the groceries crumple on the floor.
"Yup" says Sam.
"Whatcha guys doing?"
"Aww, but you're gonna have to get ready to go to the game."
"But it's raining."
"No, it's not."
"It's gonna rain." says Sam.
"Well, the Coach hasn't cancelled so we're still going."
"You get changed - we have to go."
"Aww Mom, I don't wanna," says Josh.
Sam looks at him, shocked.
"You're supposed to like this, you signed up for it."
"You forced me to," shouts Josh.
"Josh, I don't have time for this. Stop being lazy. You're supposed to get exercise. When I was a kid everybody played soccer."
They come out of Josh's room in their uniforms. They throw their water bottles and sandwiches into the green duffel bag they got from Karate.
They throw their things in the Tercel. Josh wipes the dog hair off his seat.
"Do up your safety belts," Josh's mom says.
They back out of the driveway. As soon as they round the corner Josh's mom starts talking. She usually has Sam's mom to keep her company but this time she talks to the boys.
"People used to be healthier. There wasn't all this fast food and processed stuff and refined sugar. And we went outside and we didn't just stare at a screen and binge on video games. I think you guys are really addicted to video games."
"But video games teach us stuff," says Josh.
"Oh, who's that," she says, glancing out the window
Josh inches closer to Sam and takes out his new deck of Magic. Josh's mom stares at the old man with his long white beard. His eyes meet hers and she turns away to stare at him in the rearview.
"Look, guys" she whispers.
"Huh, what?" says Josh.
"I don't see anybody." says Sam
Josh's mom looks back in the rearview and checks all her mirrors. She quickly looks out the window as she's driving.
"Huh I thought I saw somebody. I could have sworn I saw somebody. He was dressed up in some kind of costume. You should have seen him."
"Okaaaaay," says Josh
He goes back to showing Sam his cards. Josh's mom turns on the tape player and Paul Simon starts singing about lasers in the jungle.
They drive across town and past the grotto where the Virgin Mary watches them. All the pigment on her has faded except for the blue of her robe.
As they drive down the hill by the park, Josh puts away his Magic and unfastens his safety belt. He unlocks the door as the car is still rolling.
"Wait!" says his mother.
He puts his belt back on and he waits.
The team is waiting in the parking lot. When the Tercel stops at the far end, Sam and Josh throw open the doors and rush towards their friends. Josh's mom locks all the doors by herself and takes their bag from the back.
The sky is grey. There are no shadows on the ground. The air smells like metal.
The coach is out on the field looking at the sky squinting with his hands on his hips. His mouth is hanging open and his lower weasel teeth are showing.
The coach walks back and sees Josh's mom.
"Hey Erica!" he says.
"Oh Hi Glenn." she says. "Are we gonna play today?"
"Well I talked with the other team they said they'd give it 'bout fifteen more minutes. Hows that sound?"
"Sure" says Josh's mom.
"We're missing quite a few players, though."
The coach slaps the back of his neck. He finds a dead mosquito in his hands. It is full of someone else's blood.
He wipes it on his cargo shorts. There is still a streak of blood on the back of his neck.
He waddles off to talk to the parents.
Sam and Josh were talking to the coach's son Anthony. They were talking about Star Wars.
Anthony leaned on the fence and looked at his father.
"I don't like Star Wars, I love it," he says.
Sam and Josh laugh at his cleverness. He's a big kid. Next year he will be in teen league. He's the only big kid who'd give Sam and Josh the time of day. He is the best player on the team. He plays computer games, but only Star Wars computer games. He reads comics, but only Dark Horse Star Wars comics. He's the only one who knows how to play Young Jedi. He has a real gun. He once showed Sam and made him swear not to tell.
Josh takes out a Magic card from his pocket and smiles. “I can’t believe you’re still playing Magic,” he says to Josh. He pretends to hit he in the stomach but he blocks him and drops the card.
He leans over on the fence with his head in his hands. He crosses his legs.
Sam looks at his shiny new shinguards and his spotless black socks. His uniform is tucked into his shirt. Sam once tried to wear it that way but it just looked funny.
They all stand there waiting. No new people arrive. Josh's mom talks with the other parents. One of them brings out a case of beer and she has one. They make jokes about how they will show their breasts to the players on the other team to distract them. They all laugh about that.
"It looks like it's clearing up." says the Coach. The sky is still grey, but it doesn't seem to be getting any worse. The Coach looks up to the sky and feels the air for raindrops.
"I'm gonna go talk to the other team and tell 'em we're ready. Wanna bet they chicken out?"
They get out on the field as the coach claps his hands and yells at them.
"Come on! Come on! Shake a leg!"
They gather in a row before the goalpost.
At that moment the old man's head emerges from the riverbank as he climbs the hill and continues straight for the field. In the distance he shimmers like a mirage.
"Uh.. sir." says one of the kids. He points at the old man. Everyone turns their head. They see the old man walk onto the field. Somebody left the gate open.
"What?" says the coach.
The other team has stopped in their tracks. They too have seen the stranger.
He has a long beard and long hair. They are filled with leaves and brambles. He is wearing a linen robe tied with a cord. Amulets glint from his chest. He nods to the boys on the team as he walks. He stops and stands at the centre of the field. He won't stop smiling.
The coach jogs over. He blows the whistle, he holds up his hand.
"At least he's wearing clothes." Anthony says to Sam.
"Hey buddy" the coach says to the old man. "What are you doing here? We're trying to have a game here."
The old man says nothing.
"Are you lost? We'd really appreciate it if you stepped off the..."
The coach stops. The old man's hands are grasping his shoulders. He has stopped smiling. His skull collides with the coach's. Repeatedly. Drops of blood spray the air. The old man's face is covered.
A woman screams. The dad next to Josh's mom puts his beer down and runs for the field.
The sky is torn open. Rain comes pouring down on everyone. It washes the blood from the old man's face.
"I saw him!" blurts out Josh's mom like a prophet.
The old man seizes the coach by the scruff of his shirt and stares at him. The other man is swiftly approaching. He turns to meet his eyes. The old man raises his hand to the sky.
A magenta arc of lightning comes crashing to the centre of the field.
The man who had been running towards them stops.
The coach slides from the arms of the old man. His body falls to the turf limp.
The old man is smiling again. It almost looks like he's laughing. He throws his arms open as he walks towards the goalpost. He takes five paces and collapses headfirst into the ground.
The team runs screaming from the field.
The man runs after them, shouting.
But Anthony just stands - because he of all people - should know...