November Challenge: Day 8

I really am glad I started doing this challenge. Today I started on a story idea I had about a month ago but had never done anything with until now. I really liked the idea, but I couldn’t sit and force myself to write.

Maybe “force” is the wrong word. Before I was trying to force the words out. Today I was forcing myself to get words out. I abandoned the paragraph I already had jotted down and started fresh. I realized that what I had wasn’t working, and I stopped forcing it. Instead, I forced myself to do something different. And it worked.

I’m going to continue writing this story tomorrow. It’s story about ritual, and mob mentality. About ugly ducklings and unreliable narrators. Eventually it’s going to be cosmic horror. I had the idea when I, quite irrationally, got very angry at all the posts on my facebook cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series. I was not having a good day, I was angry about a lot of other stuff, and I ended up venting on a good friend of mine who didn’t deserve it. I apologized for it later, when I had calmed down and the initial shame was no longer at the stage where I wanted to bury my head in the sand, but something about it stuck with me.

I GET that sports are special. I get it. It’s ingrained in our souls. Physical competition, striving for excellence, reveling in a shared experience, taking joy in the physical pinnacle of our species. It’s evolution.

I just don’t UNDERSTAND it. It’s like people who have gun collections. Yeah, I GET that you want to feel safe, and that you think guns are cool. I just don’t UNDERSTAND why you need 20 of them. Or armor piercing ammunition.

Sports are fucked up. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. Read this. You may remember this popping up on social media a few months back. Now, don’t get me wrong, Brazilian soccer fans are fucking crazy. I had a friend vacation there with his family one year who said that fans fill glass bottles with urine and throw them at each other. On a regular basis. But let’s be honest, American sports are no better. How many times have you seen news footage of football players getting off of their bus wearing helmets because the crowd of fans is throwing D batteries at them? Or heard of a fight breaking out in a parking lot after a game? It’s mob mentality. It’s why you don’t wear certain colors in certain neighborhoods. Sports fans are just a different type of gang when it comes down to it.

I GET why people like sports. I don’t UNDERSTAND why they go crazy over them.

This story is about a guy who, like me, doesn’t understand. But he’s going to find out. And it’s not going to be pretty.

Writing Challenge Day 8: Sunday Night Football (Working Title)
By, E. W. Morrow
Word Count 2042

“Tell me again,” Alex moaned “why you’re brother had to come?”

“Oh, fuck, man. Not this again.” said Pete.

“I’m just sayin,” Alex continued, “Devon doesn’t even like football. We should have brought Derek instead. You saw how bummed he was that he couldn’t come.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t see you offering to trade places with him.

“Well…”

“So obviously it wasn’t that important to you.”

“Yeah, but…” Alex began.

“No ‘buts” dude.” Pete said. “We’ve been over this. He needs to get better at crowds. Going places. Shit like that. It’s part of his therapy. So shut up, eat your damn hot dog, and fucking drop it.”

“Fine,” Alex conceded grudgingly. “No offense, man.”

“None taken,” replied Devon from a few seats down.

Alex was right, Devon knew. If he’d had any say in the matter he would have never suggested that he accompany his brother and his brother’s friends to the game. Just watching a game on television was enough to twist his nerves until they either had to unwind suddenly, possibly violently, or break altogether. The problem was that Pete was also right. It was part of his therapy. The penultimate step in supposedly curing his severe agoraphobia. The previous step had been a trip to the mall, complete with lunch in the filthy, sticky food court. Thank God there had been a store selling per-packaged, sealed salads. Salad bars were a hive of germs, and Devon didn’t trust meat he hadn’t cooked himself. After today, assuming he made it through the day, the final step would be attending a major event such as this by himself, completely cut off from the safety net of family and—well he didn’t have any friends, but family for certain. His therapist said she thought that he had a mild form of Asperger’s well. Devon couldn’t tell if she was serious.

“I think…” Devon began, fully realizing that this situation was bound to happen sooner or later. “I think I have to use the restroom.”

“Oh, yeah, one sec…” Pete began, moving to stow his tray of nachos beneath his seat without spilling it.

“No,” Devon said firmly. “No, I think I should go by myself.”

“Ah,” said Pete, not entirely convinced that this was a good idea. “You sure?”

“It has to happen eventually.”

“Well, okay. Do you remember where it is?”

“Forty-two steps up to the main concourse. Left. Forward for roughly eighty-five meters passing sixty-six chairs, seven food stands, and two merchandise retailers. Twelve of the chairs were empty, forty of them were filled by men wearing caps, seven of the caps were red, two were yellow, five were a mix of both and the rest were back. This may be different now. Restroom is on the right next to the out of order pay phone.”

“Um….yeah.” said Pete lamely after the verbal avalanche. All things considered it was a relatively mild way for Devon to release tension. “If you say so.”

As Devon rose and ascended the first few steps of the forty-two he heard Alex and Scott, Pete’s other friend, snort into their beers in what they thought was a silent way. Devon didn’t even pause to give them a dirty look. He just kept climbing.

It wasn’t that Devon was overly proud of his memory, it was just that he couldn’t understand why nobody else was ashamed of their poor memory. He wasn’t overly ashamed of his anxiety in social situations either, but he still got it. As far as he was concerned everyone else he knew made an equal, if not greater, number of mistakes on a daily basis. The only difference he could see was that he was able to tell when he did. Add on to that a keen intelligence and an extreme, even preternaturally strong, perception of everything around him, and the weight of all that knowledge grew too heavy to bear.

Today was supposed to help him fix that, or at least make it better. Be in a place where everything around you was a riot of human interaction and color and sound and suddenly you were faced with an ultimatum: either learn to ignore it, to shut it all out, or break down completely. And breaking down completely was not an option. Not really. Not if you were truly conscious of what everyone else thought of you. The only real choice was to suck it up and deal with it.

Suddenly the crowd around him surged to its feet and roared at something on the field. The shock nearly caused Devon to trip as he scrambled up the last few steps. When he made the top of the steps he turned and glanced at the field. Devon only had a basic understanding of the rules of the game and so couldn’t tell what had gotten the crowd so excited. The players were all milling around near one of the 30 yard lines, Devon didn’t know who’s. One man was on the ground, possibly hurt, though Devon was given to understand that a certain amount of over acting was involved, especially when there was a chance for a penalty of some kind. Devon glanced at the huge screen mounted on the other side of the stadium. Cameras had focused in on the prostrate man and zoomed in as far as they could. Devon was no doctor, but it didn’t look much like the man was faking.

So why, Devon wondered, was everyone around him laughing? True, the injured player was from the away team, and football was physically demanding sport where injuries must be common, but surely the crowd couldn’t be glad to see this man hurt. Devon replayed the past fifteen seconds in his mind, paying attention to things he hadn’t necessarily been conscious of at the time but had none-the-less committed to memory.

On either side of him the crowd had been active, yes, but strangely static at the same time. Much like the surface of the ocean constantly pitched and heaved with endless tiny waves, yet somehow seemed unchanging all the time. And then a rogue wave had swept past, it’s primal power separate from and yet completely enveloped by the ocean itself. A large number of the crowd’s members had not actually witnessed the event, having been checking their phone or talking to their neighbor, but the crowd was a gestalt entity. As soon as one member noticed, the rest followed, rising and roaring as one. Fans on both sides shared the same reaction, a guttural cry pulled deep from within them. Only after the initial emotion had been expended could individual reaction take hold.

Devon became aware of the press of people bunching up behind him on the stairs. A few of the less polite and more inebriated ones were already edging their way past him, their eyes fixed on him in open glares. He shuffled out of their way and tired to stop for a moment to compose himself but it proved impossible. Wherever he stood he was always in someone else’s way. This didn’t keep others from stopping whenever they felt like it, but Devon was far too self aware to do the same. He inched his way forward, trying to find a gap in the press of bodies so that he could join the traffic that was flowing in the correct direction. In the end he simply had to go for it and mumble apologies to those he had just cut off. He was getting more glares now.

As he finally got himself up to speed and heading in the right direction, Devon wondered, not for the first time, if the reason for the glares wasn’t that he was doing anything wrong, but because he was acknowledging it. By his own apology he admitted his mistake and he was beginning to think that this told others that they were allowed to blame him as well. He glanced around nervously and every pair of eyes seemed to be fixed on him. Every screaming child was screaming at him. Every woman clutching the arm of her boyfriend and sneering was doing so because they found him repulsive to even look at. And every other man glared at him as a man glares at a fly at a picnic. Whatever gestalt bond that linked the crowd together and caused it to roar as one had turned it’s attention onto him. Devon realized now why the image of the ocean had come to him when he’d first noticed it. It was dark and abyssal. And it was not pleased with what it saw.

Devon realized that he had passed the restroom several seconds ago. It was only after he had veered to one side and turned around, apologizing as he went, that it dawned on him that he could have simply kept walking until he saw another restroom. Now he was on the inside track, as it were, and would have to cross streams again to reach the restroom, and then again when he left. He wondered how long he could hide in a stall before his brother came looking for him. Then he thought of sitting in the stall, dripping with the filth of hundreds of previous occupants, while dozens more crowded around the door waiting their turn. In and out, that was the only option, and back to his seat as soon as possible.

The restroom was not what he had been expecting. He’d been in public places before, if not often, and had expected something like a movie theater. Movie theaters were one place he could go and not feel overly anxious, provided he arrived early, left several minutes after everyone else and only went to see films several weeks after their release. In the dark he could almost forget there was anyone else there. Theater restrooms were designed to deal with rushes of people after a film let out. Long lines of urinals along one wall, packed as close together as humanly possible, were common. Stadium restrooms, it seemed, were something else all together.

They were—troughs. That was the only way he could describe them. Five or six troughs along each wall, side by side. Above each one was a pipe that had several holes spewing a constant stream of water along the length of the trough as the only concession to cleanliness. Men huddled around them, sometimes four or five to a trough, and simply emptied their bladders into them. Devon nearly vomited into the nearest one. Clamping down on the reflex he made his way to the back of the restroom, bast a partition in the middle. There were stalls back there and the line was short. He found a spot to wait and tried to breathe through his mouth.

After he’d done his business he washed his hands thoroughly. He noted with distaste how there was no line at the sinks. Roughly three quarters of the men who came in did not wash their hands before they left. The water was bitingly cold. He quickly dried them off under the blower and shoved them deep inside his pants pockets.

The trip back to his seat was marginally less stressful than the trip up had been. He was prepared for the press of bodies this time and had only apologized to two people by the time he slipped into his seat. Pete offered him a hot dog and he took it politely. He even almost considered eating it, but the sight of Alex wolfing his own frank down, ketchup smeared across one cheek almost to the ear, was enough to dissuade him from that course of action. He just held it in his hands, taking whatever warmth from the foil wrapped bun that he could while it still had some. The stadium was domed but it was still winter and even the press of bodies didn’t raise the temperature to more than chilly.

“You didn’t miss much,” said Pete, wiping ketchup from the corners of his mouth.

“Mhmmm,” muttered Devon. He wouldn’t have phrased it as him “missing” anything, but he hadn’t heard another roar from the crowd when he’d been in the restroom, so he had assumed nothing momentous had happened at any rate.

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