The Rising(8)

Somebody, help me!

Alex thought the words but couldn’t speak them. Around him, the jam-packed stands were nothing but a soft blur, the blackness of the night sky descending until it swallowed him.



SAM HAD FORGOTTEN ALL about the man who smelled of motor oil and her stolen iPad. She’d heard about moments when time seemed to freeze solid, but had never experienced one until now. That’s what watching Alex lying still on the sideline felt like, a snapshot instead of a video. The crowd remained dead silent, standing as if still preparing to celebrate while assuming a position more like a prayer service.


That’s what the collision sounded like. She’d heard it, even though she’d been facing away from the field trying to follow the path of the thief.

Sam watched trainers from both teams and the Wildcats’ team doctor sprinting onto the field toward Alex. An ambulance parked off the far sideline of the field at every game spun its flashing lights to life in anticipation of a hospital ride, needing no signal to head out to the downed player.

“Cara!” she called out to the blond-haired shape with pom-poms dangling by her hips on the sideline, then louder, “Cara!”

Cara didn’t turn, as transfixed by what was taking place on the field as she was. Alex down on the ground, engulfed by kneeling and crouching forms. The kid for whom he’d thrown the block standing in the end zone, no one acknowledging the score. He looked lost, as frozen as she felt.

Sam returned her gaze to the sideline, saw Cara talking on her cell phone. To her mom, maybe, or someone else who’d been watching the game on television. Sam waved, trying to get her attention but to no avail, Cara jabbering away, managing a smile.

A smile? Her boyfriend was lying broken on the field. So where’d the smile come from?

“Who is it?” a teacher named Danika Tomkins asked, suddenly alongside her. “Is it Alex?”

“Yes,” Sam managed, even though the downed form was now blocked from view by a sea of figures hovering over him. “I think so.”

In fact, she didn’t think, she knew, but couldn’t bring herself to say it, hoping against hope she was wrong. Her whole world was about being right all the time, every answer on every test, and now she desperately wanted to be wrong.

“Oh,” Ms. Tomkins managed. “I hope he’s…”

Her voice trailed off, drifting away with the breeze. Lost along with everything else besides the ambulance backing into position near Alex beneath the spill of the lights breaking the night.

Sam remembered her iPad in that moment and swung again for the area she’d last seen the foul-smelling thief. But he was gone, long gone, and Alex still wasn’t going anywhere.




Alex dimly thought he recognized the referee’s voice in the same moment he heard the steady beeping of the ambulance as it reversed. He could breathe again, he realized, but each contraction of his chest felt labored and wrong.

His vision misted over and when it cleared he looked up to see Tom Banks hovering over him. Only, he wasn’t in the wheelchair anymore; he was standing up.

You want your ball back? the football star who’d been injured in this very same stadium asked, extending it toward Alex.

“Can you move your fingers?”

But it wasn’t Tom Banks asking him that question now, it was a man wearing the blue uniform of a paramedic as he squeezed on a pair of exam gloves he’d plucked from a cargo pocket on his pants.

“Can you move your fingers?” the paramedic asked him again.

Alex didn’t have the strength to try.

“Can you feel your legs?”

The world felt too soft and cushiony for him to bother. He felt warm hands feeling about his neck and upper back and then easing his helmet off to let his long sweat-tangled hair dangle free. He’d seen so many scenes like this unfold, mostly on television but also live, never for one moment considering it could be him.

And now it was, following literally in the footsteps of the legendary Tom Banks. That thought spurred him to look to see if he still had the ball Banks had given back to him while again standing up on working legs. There was no ball or Banks, of course.

There was nothing at all.

The paramedics and ambulance were gone, the stands that had turned dead quiet were gone, even the field was gone. In their place were machines, vast tentacled steel monsters moving about with surprising agility. The field seemed to tremble under their weight, impressions that looked like miniature sinkholes left in their wake as their clanking steps kicked up swarms of the black pellets lending the artificial turf its cushion.

Alex looked up and saw one of the machines looming over him in place of the EMT, retractable arms extending from slots in what might have been shoulders and positioning themselves beneath him.

Don’t touch me! Get away from me!

Alex tried to cry out but couldn’t find the breath he needed. The machines were everywhere, just like in the pictures he drew in his sketchbook, currently tucked between the mattress and box spring in his bedroom, its pages full of black ink and pencil drawings of things his mind showed him. Alex never knew when one of the spells would overtake him. Usually it was when he was listening to music or trying to do homework. He’d go into a weird state that felt like daydreaming and when he snapped alert again, another page had somehow been filled by hands so lacking in talent that he’d nearly failed art.

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