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A View From the Fence
And as the lights come up and the world outside fades into darkness, pale and ghost-like wraiths of memory begin intruding upon my consciousness. Noises, sounds, carried to me across time by the crisp Autumn air. I can hear distant echoes of the Band. The faint, far-off roar of the crowds. And... the voice of Coach Garrick... calling my name...
* * *
I blink, roused from my meditations. The case of the lighter closes with a click.
"Jordan. You with us here?"
I slowly turn my attention towards the voice. Garrick, of course. My coach. A moment passes before I respond.
"Yes?" I say, quietly. I am vaguely aware that Garrick is looking at me with an expression that, until this moment, he would have thought exclusively reserved for the observation of lunatics or dangerous animals. Garrick, I perceive, is _uneasy._ Perhaps at my behavior. Coaches, as a general rule, appreciate their players getting "psyched up" for upcoming matches, but it's clear that he believes that to spend several hours on end sitting cross-legged on the fifty yard line gazing into the flame of an antique lighter the afternoon before the game is to begin to take things a little bit too far.
No matter. Coach Garrick has grown increasingly irrelevant to me. As has everything else. Except the Game.
Garrick clears his throat slightly. "They're going to be prepping the stadium in a couple hours, Jordan. You going to be here when that happens?"
"Perhaps." I say.
"Feeling the aura?" He says, blithely.
I stare at him for a bit. After a long pause that flits on the near edge of uncomfortable, I reply, "I suppose so."
I go back to flicking the lighter. Over and over again. The flame remains steady, of course; the Zippo provides a constant feed as long as the case is open. Doesn't matter. I enjoy the noise that the sparkwheel makes. It's sort of like a mantra.
Garrick hems and haws a little bit. "Jordan?"
I snap the lighter closed. I look at him again. Pause. "Yes?"
"We're a little worried about you here." He laughs, nervously, although I know that he is not being entirely facetious.
"Don't worry." I say. Pause. "I'm fine."
Snap. Flick. Flick. Flick.
"Jordan, Montrose is gonna be showing up in a little while. They'll probably be warming up on the Fields, but they _may_ want to use the Stadium, here. You _will_ move if they ask you to." Garrick smiles uneasily, but this time, he's being dead serious. I meet his gaze, quite calmly.
"...Right?" He says.
"Perhaps." I say.
Snap. Flick. Flick. Flick.
"Just take care of yourself, huh?"
Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick
"I will." I say, my gaze never leaving the ambient flame.
Garrick nods, then, and walks slowly away.
He disappears and is gone. Literally. From my mind.
Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick.
* * *
Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick.
Once again, I am not alone. I can sense it. It is as though my consciousness has expanded through my ceaseless meditations to include every blade of grass covering every inch of the Stadium floor. I can _feel_ the presence of something... _other..._
I pause, waiting to be accosted.
The day so far has been filled with a number of occasional visits. Teammates, wondering after my status. Teachers from the classes that I'm skipping. The Assistant Principal. The Groundskeepers. And, lately, Coach Garrick. All wondering, essentially, what the fuck it is I'm doing sitting out here all alone. As always, I simply inform them that I'm fine and that I'm just... concentrating. I've received a few back-pats, a few concerned glances, and, from the Assistant Principal, an idle admonishment for cutting class, a comment that I daresay he regretted making upon finding himself on the receiving end of my impeccably calm and distinctly unnerving Stare. Each and every one in turn has done their business with me, for better or for worse, and then turned to go. So I wait for the inevitable, wondering idly who it is _this_ time.
Nothing comes. For some time.
And, although it seems somewhat silly to say so, my unseen visitor and I spontaneously begin a silent and undeclared struggle of wills. In my focused-state, I am _determined_ not to acknowledge the presence of any distractors, choosing to wait instead until they force their presence upon me.
Still, nothing comes.
Doubt creeps into my formerly perfect concentration. This isn't how the world is supposed to work. Whoever they are, they're supposed to call attention to themselves, so that I can respond to them and get rid of them and then go back to my reveries. They're not supposed to just _sit there,_ being... present...
Logically, if they don't attempt to gain my attention, they have no business with me and are therefore not worth my time. Thus resolved, I attempt to continue concentrating.
This time, I fail.
I feel myself losing the battle. The urge to look up is strong. To see who is here...
As he... she... it... comes ever so slowly closer... and closer... and closer...
Right behind me...
I leap to my feet, distinctly unnerved, and spin around. "All right. What do you w--"
I don't even finish the sentence, because the figure to whom I have addressed it is _gone_. Instantly.
"Mother of Christ..." I say, awkwardly completing my turn in a vague and unfocused attempt to figure out what the fuck is going on here. I _felt_ someone. I know I did.
Vanished, without a trace.
A bit shaken, I sit back down. O-kay, Jor. Maybe this _has_ gone just a witzy bit too far. Hallucinations are not a Good Thing.
It is only then that I realize that I have missed lunch. And breakfast, too, for that matter. It's generally considered a pretty stupid idea to skip meals right before important games, but up until this point I've not even felt the need. It's like those monks you read about who eschew nourishment to optimize their spiritual awareness. I'm zoned. I'm focused. I'm concentrating.
Cursing the distraction, I rise again and begin wandering towards the stands and the water fountain that I know is there. Okay, mystical consciousness aside, I _need_ to at least drink something. To do otherwise would be just plain dumb. I mean, look at you. You're _seeing things_ for crissake. Six fucking hours of exposure and you think you--
A flicker. Out of the corner of my eye.
My head snaps around. There. Over by the bleachers.
Cautiously, almost predatorily, I approach.
Step by step by step by step by step...
Everything is deadly silent. Even the birds have fallen quiet.
Step by step by step by step...
I'm watching. Carefully. Waiting for that motion again.
My feet leave the grass and touch the rubberized asphalt of the jogging track that surrounds the field. The bleachers loom before me as I approach.
There is a faint, barely perceptible wiggle of _something_. There, from beneath the seats. My heart leaps, but my steps are as slow and controlled as ever. My concentration has returned to me, but this time, I'm in action. I can't explain why I'm getting so caught up with what is probably a silly little insignificant nothing, perhaps a bit of wind-caught debris or something. It doesn't matter.
I'm on the hunt.
In a sort of wry commentary, one of the many corners of my brain points out that _this_ is probably exactly how your average predator must feel. This one part goes on to make the observation that perhaps Kim's dickering with my phenotype had some other, more subtle effects as well. Another corner of my brain takes up the debate, and states that, no, this is a natural instinctive thing for _most_ vaguely predatory animals, humans not excluded, and there's no reason to become alarmed at a slight overreaction to a spare movement in the environment, especially in the mind-altering frame of mind I've been in this entire day, while the remaining portion of my brain tells both of these two to shut up because damnit, I'm being distracted here, and besides, whatever it is might _hear..._
Step by step by step by step by step...
Closer and closer.
Five meters. Four. Three.
And then, I see it. A figure. Human, it seems. Crouched in hiding, underneath the seats.
The vague predatory haze dissipates as quickly as it arrived. Just some kid who wandered onto the field. I probably spooked him, spinning around like that. I close the last few meters in a far more casual fashion and end up crouched on the lowest set of seats, looking underneath.
It looks like I pegged 'human' right. As for it being a 'kid,' well, probably not. The figure that sits there crouching nervously amongst the support beams is clearly of high-school age, although there is a certain bland innocence to his face that makes him appear younger than he actually probably is. He has wispy duckfluffy blonde hair and his eyes are a bit too widely-spaced, giving him an odd sort of mentally-incompetent look. One of the Special Ed. kids, I bet. Jesus, I probably freaked him out big time. His vaguely vacant eyes are wide with surprise, and his breathing is coming a bit hard. Best start some damage control...
"Hey. Sorry 'bout that. You just... kind of... surprised me." I look to see if it's registering. It doesn't seem to be. There is no real response. I try again.
"Look. I'm sorry for scaring you. I won't hurt you or anything. You wanna come out of there?"
"Um. Listen. The S.E. teachers are probably out looking for you right now. You want me to go get one a' them?"
_Still_ no response. We're talking low-functioning young adult here. I'm starting to get a little bit pissed off that this dumbshit is screwing up my focus routine, but that part of me which has compassion for the poor and stupid is still in control. Just get rid of Bright Boy here, and you can go back to your mental prep, okay?
"Are you... like... stuck, or something?"
There is the faintest glimmer of comprehension. A brief pause, and then, one single nod.
Well. Good. He's not a complete veg. "How are you stuck?"
The glimmer goes away. No response.
Rolling my eyes in my best "Oh, Lawd!" expression, I make my way to one end of the bleachers. "Just hang on there. I'm coming." And I begin to pick my way through the welded-steel struts towards the figure resting thereamongst.
"You're a damn fast runner," I remark, parenthetically, as I go. "'Spose it's lucky you got caught here at all, else we'd never find ya." Damn Universal Integration anyway. Some kids just aren't mentally fit for normal school life. I mean, yes, the idea behind Integration makes sense, but really, these kids are, not to be blunt or anything, retards. This one worse than most, if what I'm getting from him is any indication.
The words are striking some kind of familiar chord in me, but at this time, I can't for the life of me place it. I brush it off.
"You okay? Nothing hurt or anything?"
No response. Sighing, I close in on him and place one hand on his shoulder.
He freaks. Kicking and thrashing all the way. All played out in a sort of eerie Helen-Kellerish silence. Jesus Christ, the kid's a nutball.
"Hey! Whoa! Calm the fuck down, okay!"
The thrashing lessens. I take a moment to size up the situation. Looks like he got his foot caught in an A-shaped nock of support girder. If he actually gave the matter any thought, he'd realize that all he'd have to do is push his foot down and back, then up and out. But it's one of those things that can't be done directly. And so he's struggling against the pipes, blindly and frantically.
Bare feet, then, I notice. Hm. I check around to see if he kicked his shoes off or anything, but I can find no trace of them. Not the smartest choice of footwear for the debris-strewn area under the bleachers. Otherwise... The basic loose greyish sweatsuit-look seems to be what the well-dressed retard is wearing this fall. Not much else.
The thrashing is subsiding a little bit. A faint muddy gleam of cognition returns to the eyes. He gazes at me.
"You with me here?"
"Okay. I'm gonna try and get your leg out. Looks like you need some help with it or something. Don't go spastic on me again, all right?"
He nods. Thinking this sufficient I take his lower calf between my hands. There are a few twitches, but he holds pretty still. In a jiffy, I have moved his leg in the proper fashion to allow me to extricate it, and he's back on his feet.
He looks at me with an almost comic expression of gratitude.
He hugs me.
Okay, I'm kind of embarrassed. But it feels good to be appreciated. The little wanker really kind of gets into it after a while, rubbing his face all over my chest. There's something sort of touching about it, really.
We stand there for some time, our forms alternatingly illuminated and obscured by the black and white striped paths of light and shadow cast by the seats above and the support beams all around. It almost feels kind of sad, in the vague and undefinable way that these sort of things do.
"Christasion!" A deep male voice, from far off, rapidly approaching.
"Ah." I say. "That one of your teachers?"
He looks up at me, quite blankly.
"Your... Teachers." I say, more slowly. Still no response.
"Christasion!" The voice is coming closer.
"Hey!" I say, from my position beneath the bleachers. "You looking for somebody?"
"Yeah!" Says the as-yet-unseen voice. "Little blond shit. Seen him?"
"Got him right here!" I say, making my way out from under the stands, dragging the obliging form of my rescuee behind me. "Just a second.."
"Thanks for catching him." He says. "Jake, you dumbass, Coach Pietrick's been shitting his pants looking for you..."
This gives me pause. Pietrick.
I take a brief moment to re-evaluate my charge. _This_ little shit is playing for _Montrose_ tonight?
"You're on the football team?" I say, vaguely in disbelief.
I laugh, then, continuing to lead him out from the stands. "Should be a hell of a game." I say, grinning smugly. But there is _something_ unnerving, here. Christasion, or whatever the hell this kid's name is, doesn't look like he could stand up to a stiff breeze, let alone a defensive rush. But he sure as _hell_ can run...
It is a tribute to my own stupidity that I didn't figure it out right then. Blithely, I continue my careful trek until finally we are out in the clear again. In a moment a big hoss of a fellow wearing a Montrose jersey appears from around a corner, and Christasion goes to his side. I nod to him. I vaguely recognize his face from the past few years of games. "New walk-on?" I ask, gesturing to Christasion.
The big fellow just smirks. "'S first game, the little shit."
"Thought they had different leagues for Special kids." I remark.
"Yeah." Remarks the big fellow, unhelpfully, as he turns to go, Jake Christasion firmly in tow. "Thanks for finding 'im."
"Hey." I say, in recognition. "No prob."
He nods once in acknowledgement, and then they are gone.
Jake Christasion speaks not a word as they go.
"Quiet little shit." I remark to myself. I go to the water fountain and take a long drink.
That done, I wander back to the center of the field, sit down, snap open the lighter, and resume my concentration.
Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick.
And as afternoon fades onward into evening, one can hear the beginning warm-ups of the pep band from somewhere far off. And as they rehearse, there comes, like the first harbinger of battle, the staccato rattle of the drum...