The Rising(7)

It came without the quarterback noticing Alex sliding to the left to shoot the gap between offensive linemen moving out to block, reaching the running back at the same time as the ball. Alex hit him with enough force to jar the ball loose and send it floating through the air.

Straight into the arms of Tommy Banks, who caught it clean and seemed to freeze.

Game over, Alex thought, just go down and cover up.

Then instinct took over and Tommy started running instead, twisting toward the sideline en route to the end zone, near which his father was seated. The quarterback and one of the linemen had a direct bead on Tommy, their angle certain to cut him off before he turned upfield.


Sam watched a kid who looked too small to be playing for the Wildcats chugging down the sideline. They were on defense a minute ago, meaning he must’ve gotten the ball after an interception or a fumble. A pair of Grizzlies, Bears, or whatever they were called converged for the tackle from two different angles, certain to sandwich the smaller kid between them. Then, though, a blur of motion zoomed into the picture, another Wildcat slicing to cut the tacklers off.



Go out of bounds! Alex thought, but Tommy clearly had other thoughts as the quarterback’s and lineman’s focus was entirely on him, all their pent-up frustration over the impending, now inevitable loss about to be unleashed in a single violent moment. Tommy would never see it coming, the tackle sure to crush him. Alex could see it all happening on a Jumbotron in his head as if it were a done deal. Only it wasn’t, and he still had as good an angle on them as they had on Tommy.

Alex charged across the field, looping ahead to cut off the would-be tackle, stop Tommy from getting crunched just as his father had a generation before. Running as fast as he’d run in his entire life and catching a glimpse of Tom Banks cringing in his wheelchair.


Sam was on her feet with everyone else in the stands, practically bouncing up and down. The bleachers reverberated in a tinny echo she could feel at the core of her eardrums. Hardly a football fan, she couldn’t help rooting for the kid who looked too small to be out there streaking for the end zone, with Alex slicing in to throw him a block.

And that’s when she felt something brush against her. Thought nothing of it until the smell of motor oil flooded her nostrils and left her looking at the man who’d forced himself into the seat behind her sliding toward the aisles holding—Sam’s gaze dipped downward, to the open empty pocket of her backpack—her iPad in his grasp.

“Hey, somebody stop him! Stop him!” she cried.

But the crowd was roaring too loud for her to be heard and Sam pushed her way after him, past the students crowded into the front row.

“Hey!” she yelled again. “Stop!”

He started up the aisle toward the exit, not turning to regard her.

“Somebody, stop him!”

But the crowd was so loud now Sam couldn’t hear her own words. She reached the aisle to find her way blocked by students positioning themselves to rush the field in celebratory fashion. Sam did her best to fight through them, nobody giving an inch and seeming to form an impenetrable wall between her and the guy who’d stolen her iPad.

He was getting away!

She glimpsed him descending the ramp that would free him from the stands, the distance between them continuing to grow with Sam still fighting to follow, when she heard a sickening crunch and the crowd went quiet.


The moment before impact, Alex Chin saw the blur of two onrushing forms aglow in the light cast by the halogen bulbs towering overhead. Tommy Banks never heard them coming over the crowd noise, clueless to the bone-rattling crunch he was about to suffer as he veered away from the sideline with the end zone in sight.

Alex excelled at all things football with the exception of blocking, since he was never asked to do it. So when he threw himself airborne in the last instant before Tommy got sandwiched, it felt awkward and wrong. The last sight he remembered was a glimpse of Tom Banks in the wheelchair—upside down because of the way Alex’s body had canted.


Sam felt the air go out of the stadium, the crowd seeming to hold its collective breath. She stopped fighting against the swell of humanity to turn in the direction everyone else was already staring, a single focused gaze aimed straight at a form down on his back in a Wildcats uniform, lying so that his body straddled the sideline. Motionless.

It couldn’t be, Sam thought.

But it was.



He’d slammed into both Granite Bay tacklers a mere instant before they reached Tommy, bent in half at impact until it felt like his lower body was separated from his upper. Alex felt his spine rattle, seeming to crack low and high at the same time and sounding like a gunshot inside his head. The field felt spongy beneath him and he didn’t realize he’d hit it until he heard the blaring echo of the referee’s whistle blowing.

That was all Alex heard because the crowd had gone totally quiet, so quiet he could actually hear the air seeming to whistle inside his helmet.

Why aren’t I getting up? Somebody, help me up.

Then Alex realized it wasn’t just that he couldn’t get up, he couldn’t even move. Started to suck in a deep breath when he realized he couldn’t breathe, either. It felt like his helmet was a plastic bag fastened over his face to shut out the air. He heard the referee’s whistle blowing louder, figured it was drowning out his cries for help and then realized he hadn’t uttered any.

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