The Final Huddle (Dusty Grein)
Etta closes the front door quietly, and with a shaking hand she reaches up and gently places the security chain into its receiver. She slides it to the right, and through the small window beside the door she watches as the two who brought her home pull out of her driveway.
The young quarterback and his oh-so-pretty girlfriend.
As the two drive off in Mr. All-American's pickup, a crooked smile works its way across the old woman’s wrinkled face. Her posture changes and she stands much straighter and taller than the hunched and mild-mannered little-old-lady who had fainted at the ceremony. The twinkle in her eye is not a pleasant one.
She crosses the foyer, walking toward the cellar door, and her quiet laughter is swallowed by the yellowing walls; its sinister chill is only heard by the grandfather clock she passes on her way.
"That was easier than I had hoped." This comment is made to herself, or maybe to some other inhabitant only she can see.
She opens the door and peers down the flight of steps which descend into darkness. Pulling on the string which hangs in the landing illuminates a single bare bulb in the small cellar below; her sharp shadow follows her down the stairs.
Gone is the quaint elderly cat-lady who the world above knows as Etta--in her place is a determined middle-aged woman with a cold and calculating mind.
Twenty years she has waited, biding her time. The ancient spell had been performed and the blood sacrifice made long ago.
Ten of them had been there tonight. It wasn't yet enough, but it was a good start.
Her own short-lived time as homecoming queen, and the disastrous prom night which had devastated her life, had been a long time ago.
The class of 1980--her class; the class she vowed to exact her vengeance on--had been grown and twenty-seven of their children had been preparing to graduate the year she had come out of the coma; this had been twenty-one years ago, in the marvelous year of 1999.
She had been too weak back then to do much more than plan, but she had found a way the following year to obtain her revenge. She would punish the bloodlines of at least ten of those who had hurt her. A time-capsule would carry her hate and anger across a gulf of twenty years, and she had planned, even then, to be present when it was opened.
A pentagram is still mostly visible on the basement floor. Painted in blood, it had been fresh back then, and the ten items had been consecrated and returned to the capsule the night before it was interred for its twenty-year nap.
She had paid the price and had been promised those cursed items would be received by the proper hands; earlier tonight she had watched in silent delight as these grandchildren of her torturers selected the items, one by one.
Her prom date in the long-ago year of 1980 had been Milton Frye, and she owed him the biggest payback of all. His son Peter had gone on to be a backup tight end for the school's football team and had donated his championship jersey to the time-capsule.
That jersey was now in the hands of Milton's grandson, Thomas.
Mr. All-American himself.
The thought of him putting on the jersey brings a shiver of anticipation to the twisted woman who kneels before the faded pentagram and lights a black candle.
* * *
Thomas shifts the truck into fourth gear as he climbs the freeway on-ramp. Allison scoots over next to him and places her hand on his thigh. She starts to move it slowly toward the inside of his leg.
"Damn it, Allison! You know I can't until after the game!" He watches a small smile flicker across her perfect lips. She is teasing him on purpose. "Look, you can walk home if you can't stop." Her sly little smile turns into a pout, and she slides away from him.
"Whatever. You'll wish you'd let me keep going later."
He is about ready to end things with her. She's hot, and really popular, but she's also dumber than a box of turnips, as his Grandma would have said. A great body and perfect lips can only let a guy overlook the rest for so long.
She turns on the radio and stares out through the passenger window as she begins to sing along.
Damn! Her voice is yet another reason to end it. She may look like a million bucks, but she sounds like a cat in heat. A suffering cat being forcibly taken by a big old tom.
This thought brings a smile to his face. "Hey, Alli…"
"What." Not a question, but a whiny demand for attention. He is really beginning to wonder what he ever saw in her.
"Who sings this song?"
"Duh. Final Spasm."
"Can we keep it that way?" He tries, unsuccessfully, not to laugh.
"You’re a friggin' jerk."
He takes the exit for the west side of town, where she lives. It isn't as nice as Maple Heights, but then his parents have been here their whole lives; Alli's folks had only moved here a couple years ago.
Thomas leans his head out and looks into the side mirror. "I may be a jerk, but I look good doing it."
"Whatever." Her favorite word.
He stops at the bottom of the off-ramp and thinks about spinning his wheels onto the surface street. Luckily for him, he spots the cop coming down the road and quickly changes his mind.
Allison turns to face him. "So, are you going to feed me, or what?"
Her voice is seriously beginning to grate on his nerves even more. "Sure. You can have the best they offer at the drive-thru window." He knows she hates fast food, but he's tired and just wants to go home.
"Ugh. Just take me home!" The whine has become almost that of a spoiled kindergartner.
"Fine." He congratulates himself on making it her idea as he turns toward her neighborhood. "If that's what you really want."
He pulls up in front of her house and stops in the street with the motor running. The look on Allison's face is priceless. She finally opens the door and angrily climbs out. She spins and faces him with one hand on the door.
"I hate you, Thomas Frye! I hope you die and rot in hell!"
He just blows her a kiss. She slams the door in his face and turns around. She is crying and covers her face as she runs to her front door.
As he pulls away, Thomas reaches back and grabs the jersey from behind the seat. "Yeah maybe, sweetheart, but not today."
* * *
Thomas pulls his truck into the garage and kills the engine. He pushes the button to close the garage door and leans over, picking up the jersey from where it sits next to him. It's still a little amazing he found it.
Holding it up, he turns it around to read the back. There on the shiny blue shoulder panel, bright white letters spell out the name FRYE and below that, the number 17 - his dad's old number. His whole life he has heard stories about the only game his dad ever started in high school. Closing his eyes, he can hear his dad's voice and almost see the game unfold.
--["There I was. The regular tight end, Mort Jacobs, helped get us to the state finals, but his appendix decided to pick this final game of the year to burst. That's why I was on the field that day." Thomas can hear the crowd in the stands and smell the dirt and sweat from the players on the field.]--
Thomas knows the excitement of starting a game, but to start in the game for the state championship--that must have been amazing. He has often looked through his dad's old yearbook at the team photo. His dad, sitting in the bottom row, looked younger than Thomas looks now.
#17 Peter Frye.
--[Thomas watches through his dad’s eyes as the quarterback fades back, looking for a receiver. Oh no! The other team is blitzing! He thinks fast and fakes a move against the safety. Two steps later he is past the only guy between him and pay-dirt. He glances back to let the quarterback know he is open, and he sees him release the ball. It is going to be close. The ball is pushed ahead of his pattern, and he knows that this is it. This play makes or breaks the game.]--
Thomas can feel the adrenaline coursing through his body as he sits in the cab of the truck. He has the jersey scrunched up in his hands and his face is buried in the cloth. With each breath, he inhales more of the past, and he relives it in vivid detail.
--[The score is tied, and the clock is inside one minute. As he crosses the thirty-yard line, he puts on the last burst of speed he has left in him. Turning his head back, he spots the ball. The safety is running hard behind him, but he has at least a four-step lead. The world slows to a crawl, and he tracks the ball as it sails in a perfect spiral toward the spot where he will meet it. It never leaves his line of sight as it floats gently into his arms, and he never misses a step. He secures the ball, clutching it tighter than he has ever held a girl, and looks back up-field. There are only three lines between him and that elusive yellow mark. Mentally he counts off the yards. 15... 10... 5... and then he's there. He breaks the plane of the end zone and the world catches back up to him.]--
Sitting in the quiet garage, Thomas throws his fists into the air. His eyes are still closed, and he is still somewhere else.
--[The state championship, 2000. The Millennium game. His teammates join him in the end zone as the final buzzer sounds. They have won 20-14 and are now the new state champions. Never mind that he hasn't started a single game all year; at that moment, he is the hero. His last second catch for the win will be the highlight of his football career, his high school years and in many ways, the rest of his boring life.]--
Thomas opens his eyes, and they slowly focus on the interior of the truck. This lucky jersey made that trip into his dad's personal history, and now it belongs to him. Getting out of the truck, Thomas gently folds the dirty, torn jersey and with tender, almost reverent care he places it inside his Letterman's coat.
He had been prepared to show it to his parents when he got home, but now he isn't so sure. What if they want to keep it? It's HIS now, and they can't have it!
Thomas feels his anxiety lessen as he zips his coat, knowing the jersey is safe and secure next to his chest.
What he doesn't realize is it is now almost midnight, and his parents have gone to bed. Thomas has been home, parked in the garage, for almost two hours.
* * *
"Frye! What is your major malfunction?!"
Thomas blinks and realizes he has dropped the snap again.
Coach Riley "Bulldog" Barker lives up to his name. The angrier he gets, the more like a barking dog he sounds. "We are playing Turner High this week, and you are dropping the ball like a little girl with an ugly cat!"
Thomas, along with every other varsity player on the team, learned long ago not to try and figure out the Bulldog's similes. They rarely made any sense at all. "Sorry, Coach." Thomas puts on his most sincere face. "I'll do better."
"You better!" The coach seems to gather himself. He walks up and puts his head against the helmet Thomas wears. "Look, Frye, you are my starter; you’re my go-to guy. I'm counting on you to carry this team on to its first winning season in four years. You gotta pull it together, son."
"I will coach."
The problem is he can't seem to focus his thoughts today. All he keeps thinking about is his jersey. He hid #17 in the top of his closet, but he keeps thinking his mom found it, and took it--which is stupid; she hasn't gone into his room in years. Not since that little incident when he was fourteen, and she walked in without knocking, while he was surfing his favorite Internet sites--that's a memory Thomas doesn't care to recall. What if she decided to put away the laundry? She normally leaves it folded on the table outside the bedroom door, but what if she decided today, it was time to hang something up?
Thomas looks around and realizes everyone in the huddle is looking at him, waiting for him to call the play.
"Uh, Flying G, on 3."
"Huh? Thomas, what the hell? We haven't used that pattern since like third grade!"
Thomas steps back, and signals for a time-out.
Coach Barker is flabbergasted. "Frye! This is a practice! We don't have time-outs in practice!" The Bulldog is beginning to turn red around the collar and his voice has crept upward on the canine meter again.
In his mind's eye, Thomas sees his dad as he decides to go for a run. He starts to tie his shoe, but the lace breaks. Suddenly he recalls Thomas has a couple pairs of sneakers, and they are probably in his closet. Surely, he won't mind his old dad borrowing a pair of laces. And Hey! What is this? Why, it's his old high school jersey! Thomas watches in horror as his dad tries to put on the jersey and rips a seam out trying to pull it over his stupid fat stomach.
He begins to feel nauseous, and while he can see Bulldog is screaming something at him, he no longer even hears the coach. Instead, he turns and throws his lunch up all over his shoes.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me!" The cords are standing out in Bulldog's neck as he turns around and throws his clipboard at the bench. "This is worse than grandma and her jellybeans!"
The team splits away from Thomas and the steaming pile of what used to be spaghetti.
"Frye! Hit the showers! Wilson! You’re in at QB, so get your hands out of your jock and put on the red shirt!"
As Thomas slowly walks toward the locker room, he doesn't notice the old lady standing in the shadows next to the small stadium's gate; neither he, nor anyone else, sees her malicious grin.
* * *
"Tommy! Dinner is ready!"
Gabrielle Frye turns from the bottom of the stairs and wipes her hands on her apron again as she makes her way toward the kitchen. Her kitchen is immaculate. She has made dinner for her husband and son, and her maid Natasha has been behind her, cleaning every surface she has touched the whole time. Gabby can see her reflection in the front of the stove as she carries the serving tray into the dining room.
Her husband Peter is seated at the table already, his Kindle is standing on its tripod to the side of his plate, and he is reading intently. "Something smells delicious, Gabs." He says this without looking away from the gadget.
Gabby smiles her indulgent smile and sets the big serving dish down on the tablecloth. She loves her family, but she loves her house even more. The table is an antique and the tablecloth itself is 1200 count linen. It is beautiful with sparkling cut crystal glassware, china plates and sterling silver flatware, polished after every use.
She sits down and daintily places her napkin on her lap. "Peter, you are going to have to talk to Tommy. He has been cooped up in his room all day. Something must have happened."
"Nonsense, Gabs, the boy is just being a teenager. He's fine."
As if on cue, the object of their discussion comes through the arched entrance from the hall. This is a very different looking Thomas from the boy she sent off to school. His eyes are bloodshot, there are lines on his forehead and his hair is a complete mess.
"Are you feeling okay Tommy?"
"I'm fine, Mother." This last word is stretched and sounds ugly coming from his mouth.
"Do you have a fever?" Gabby turns her head toward the kitchen. "Natasha, bring the thermometer from the master bathroom. I think Tommy has a fever, and I need you to find out."
"I said I'm fine!" Thomas slams his hand down on the table.
"Now Thomas, really." Peter turns his Kindle off. "Your mother is just being a mom. There's no need to get all anxious, son."
Thomas looks at his father, and the venom in his eyes is obvious to Gabby. She is almost afraid of this version of Tommy.
"Yes, Father." Thomas turns toward her. "I am very sorry Mother. I am fine. I do not need Natasha to take my temperature." His voice is now quiet, but cold.
"Well, good." As Natasha enters with the digital thermometer in hand, Gabby waves her off and she backs out of the room. "Now, Tommy dear, I hope you are hungry. I prepared your favorite." She smiles as she reaches out and lifts the lid from the serving dish. "Spaghetti!"
Thomas jumps backwards, almost toppling his chair in his haste to get away from the table. "You did this!" He screams at both his parents, who sit and stare at him dumbfounded. "You are trying to get me out of the way now, is that it?" Small flecks of spittle are flying from his mouth as he screams, and his eyes have become those of a trapped and wild animal. "Well, it's not gonna work, do you hear me? It's mine! You had your chance, and now it belongs to me! Just leave me alone!" He throws the beautiful mahogany chair at the wall and runs up the stairway, slamming his bedroom door. The click of the lock is the only sound left in the house below.
Gabby turns and stares at her husband.
"See?" Peter gives a small smile and reaches for the spaghetti. "Teenagers! There's just no living with them."
* * *
Thomas doesn't quite know what to do. He has locked the door, thrown the deadbolt and placed his chair in front of it, balanced at a forty-five-degree angle, the back firmly under the doorknob. He checks the window locks again.
They aren't getting in - I should have known it was them!
Sitting down on his bed, Thomas gently spreads the jersey out on the blanket next to him.
I knew he would be jealous! He had his day in the sun; it’s only fair that I get mine too!
He can see himself wearing #17 in the sunshine as he throws the game winning pass. He can even hear the announcer's voice.
--["Frye takes three steps back... scrambling out of the pocket to his right... and... Oh! That was close, the right tackle almost had him! Thomas arcs away to his left... Here comes a huge defender! Frye extends to his left... he spins on his left foot... He pulls back and throws a missile across his body as he goes down!" It's a 65-yard bomb, right at a pair of defenders matching his wide receiver stride for stride. Before he hits the ground, Thomas sees the ball spin its way between the opponents. It finds the only spot it fits, without being batted away.]--
He closes his eyes as the wind is knocked out of him, but from the sound of the crowd, he knows he did it! His receiver tucked it home and rolled into the end-zone headfirst.
The jersey chose ME! Not you!
He glares as he looks toward the floorboard and the people he calls parents.
I used to think you loved me! I finally see you both for who and what you really are. You probably planned this all from the day I was born. I'm not even a son to you, just a means to an end; a way for you to get the jersey back after you abandoned it to that vault. It didn't deserve that!
Thomas rips his tee shirt over his head, picks up the jersey and pulls it on. He scoots back onto his bed and reaches under the pillow.
Let's see them take it from me now!
The blade on the machete--stolen from the gardener's shed--shines bright and clean in the glow of the overhead light. The glow in his eyes, however, is a malevolent and deadly orange.
* * *
Steve Burdwell leans his forehead against the side of the ambulance and tries to breathe. He has been riding around in this meat wagon for fifteen years, and he's never faced a scene like this.
The kid in the back of the police car out front is some special kind of monster. He is just sitting out there, covered in blood and gore; handcuffed, he keeps rocking back and forth, saying what sounds like "Flying G in a tree."
The lights may be on, but Burdwell doubts there's anybody home. Anybody sane, anyway; no sane person could have done what this boy has.
The parents--what’s left of them anyway--are on the dining room table. Parts of the live-in maid are on the stove; more are in the oven.
It's hard to say exactly how long it has been since he chopped them up, but from the insects swarming the place and the dried texture of the blood spatters on every surface in sight, it has been at least a week.
Steve would have been fine cleaning the mess up. He could handle blood, vomit, piss and shit; hell, he could handle almost anything. At least he used to think so. Before he saw bites had been taken out of most of the pieces of flesh... many, many bites.
* * *
Thomas sits quietly on the bunk in the small, padded cell. His arms are tightly bound around him, the straight-jacket buttoned, snapped and tied-up tight. On his face is a slack expression, and there is no light in his eyes now. Over the straight jacket is draped an old dirty jersey. It was the only way they got him to stop screaming.
--[He smacks his helmet hard and joins his teammates as they run out onto the field. Looking up he sees the game clock stands at 1:25, his team is behind 24 - 20, and it is fourth down. Now or never time. He steps into the final huddle and joins his brothers for a heroic last-ditch attempt. They are at their own 35-yard line, and it looks hopeless.]--
"Frye! Thomas Frye!" The orderly gets no sign of recognition from Thomas. The doctors are calling it catatonia. "You better hope you never come back, you evil son-of-a-bitch. This is a death penalty state, and you got three of them to serve."
--[Thomas steps up to the line, and as the ball is snapped, he can hear the announcer's voice: "Frye takes three steps back... scrambling out of the pocket to his right... and... Oh! That was close, the right tackle almost had him!"]--
As the orderly leaves, the tray of food sits and grows cold on the floor of the padded room.
©2023 - dustygrein