True Freshman

Travis Tyler

“I can't breathe," the kid says.

            He's not really a kid. Eighteen. A true freshman playing for The University of ——.  Is that a kid?

            “What was that Lawrence?” Coach’s voice. “Why didn't you stop him?"
            Jacobs had snuck right by the kid. Barely had a grip on the ball. Could have been an easy tackle. Probably a fumble. Coach says some of these words, the rest the kid just understands. Something’s filling in the blanks.

            "Can't breathe. My name’s Jackson. Hard to breathe.”

            It's a hundred and two. The kid is shivering.

            “Lawrence." Coach knocks on the kid's helmet. "You in there, son? You wanna explain to me what was going through your head?"

            Red plastic football players stand their ground behind Coach. They're on rails.

            "Need water."

            There are no clouds in the sky.

            "Go get water, Lawrence. Jackson, get over here!"

            Jenna is the physical therapist. Athletic trainer? What's the difference? She waves a bottle in front of the kid.

            "You want this?"

            The kid tries to figure out if it's water or Gatorade. He nods.

            "Pussies like you lost us the championship last year.”

            The kid nods again.

            "Here's what I want you to do," Jenna says. "Make the tackle next time," she puts her lips together, "and you'll be glad you did."

            The kid nods again.

            "Lawrence!" Coach yells from behind. "Your spot on the team's getting cold."

            Jenna's eyes are telling the kid something. "Coming," he says and breaks his gaze with Jenna's mouth. He can’t tell if he’s horny or supposed to be.

            "Boy, you better be dying if you're moving that slow."

            I can't breathe. Did the kid say that? Just think it? What's with the shivering?

            Same play. The kid throws his numb body at Jacobs. Got him. Ball comes loose.

            "That's what I'm talking about!”

            The kid’s on the ground. He’s not sure how long he’s been there, gazing at the cloudless sky.

Coach leans his head between the kid's metal facemask. Jenna's there too. Her hair is touching the top of coach's bald head.

            There's a third head, at the bottom of the kid's vision. Coach is saying something. Jenna is shrugging. That third head is doing... something.

            "Hey, kid,” the third head says.

            "My name is Jackson."

            "Not Lawrence? Huh. Gotta change that." The third head writes something down below the kid's vision.

            The sun gets brighter. The blue sky turns white. Coach and Jenna are gone. The facemask remains. That third head is everything beyond.

            "Are you God?"

            "Kid, for the next sixteen weeks, you better believe it."

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