“Welcome back, Jay,” Coach Rogers said. “That was a nasty collision in last week’s game.”
“Yeah, when you and that guy from the other team smacked skulls, it sounded like an egg cracking,” Cameron said, being his usual not so helpful self.
Ignoring the team captain, Coach Rogers asked, “Are you sure you’re up for playing soccer today? Did you see a doctor and get checked for a concussion?”
“Yes, sir,” Jay said. “I had a headache for a while, but the doctor said no concussion.”
“I’m glad to hear it. You know I like my team to play hard and especially at your sweeper position. You’re the last line of defense before the goalkeeper. If someone gets past you, they have a good chance of scoring. That’s why I want you to hit them off the ball.”
“I always do my best, sir,” Jay said with little excitement.
Coach Rogers nodded. “I know you do. Look, Justin played well after you left the game last week. I’ll let him start today. If you’re still feeling up to it at halftime, I’ll put you in then.”
The referee’s whistle sounded signaling the end of the first half.
“Alright, Renegades, gather around,” Coach Rogers said. “That was a pretty good half. We’re up 2-0, but it could be more. I want everyone to be more aggressive. Get in their faces. Even though we have the lead, don’t let up.
“Jay, you’re in for Justin. If you don’t think you can be your usual self out there, let me know. Let’s try to maintain the shutout. Bring it in. Shutout on three: one, two, three. Shutout!”
The second half began uneventfully for Jay. The Renegades maintained possession of the ball in their opponent’s, the Generals, half of the field for the majority of the time. Jay could have sat and read a book while anchoring the backline of his team’s defense. His offense didn’t need much help when scoring three more goals. Then a Generals midfielder stepped in front of a Renegades’s pass and headed up the right line. The defensive back to Jay’s left moved to intercept. Out of the corner of his eye, Jay saw a Generals forward running up the left side of the field. Experience told him the midfielder would attempt to switch fields by passing the ball to the forward.
Jay was right but not quick enough to intercept the pass. Jay pursued the forward as he dribbled the ball toward the left corner. The two players pushed and shoved as they jockeyed for position to control the ball. Finally succeeding, Jay cleared the ball back up the line before it could travel out and likely resulted in a corner kick. Jay’s teammates continued to take the ball up field as Jay drifted over to his usual spot in the center.
The forward Jay had won the ball from slowly jogged back over to midfield. He then collapsed screaming in pain and holding the back of this right leg. No one was near him. He went down untouched.
The referee stopped play to allow the forward’s teammates to help him off the field and allow the Generals to insert a substitute. The last minutes of the half went by without further incident. The final whistle blew.
“Great job, Renegades!” Coach Rogers said, as the team came off the field. “You didn’t let up. You should feel good beating them 5-0. And I don’t know what you did to that forward, Jay, but way to take him out. He was that team’s only real scoring threat.”
“I think he said he was just cramping real bad,” Cameron said.
“Well, whatever you did Jay, it worked,” Coach Rogers said. “Let’s keep it up next week, Renegades.”
The first half of next week’s game against the Warriors also passed uneventfully for Jay. Besides a couple of cleared balls, he saw very little action. The Warriors picked it up in the second half though. The Renegades kept losing possession of the ball at midfield, and the Warriors forwards would dribble past the Renegades’ left and right backs. Over the course of just a few minutes, Jay had to stop an attack by each of the Warriors’s three forwards. Two of those times involved more holding and elbowing than Jay would have liked. The third time Jay came on harder than he intended and knocked the Warriors forward off the ball entirely. The referee whistled for a penalty. Jay probably avoided a yellow card only because he showed good sportsmanship by helping the opposing player up. The free kick went directly into the Renegades’ wall. One of Jay’s teammates chased the ball down and cleared it easily.
Then it happened again, and not just once, but three separate times. One by one each of the Warriors forwards fell untouched to the ground in agony. Each complained of cramps, and each had to be helped off the field.
By the third incident, Jay couldn’t focus on the game anymore. He said a quiet thank you when the referee ended the match a short time later. His lack of concentration likely would have prevented him to stopping any further attacks.
“Another fine victory, boys,” Coach Rogers said. “Two more wins and we are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Jay, whatever you and the defense are doing to our opponents, I like it. If you keep taking out their forwards, the opposing teams will never be able to get back in a game.”
After Coach Rogers’s speech, Jay walked back across the field heading home, his shoulders slumped. “Jay, wait up,” Brandon called. As Jay’s best friend on and off the field, Brandon worried something was wrong. When Brandon caught up, he put his arm on Jay’s shoulder trying to comfort him. “Why are you so gloomy? We won today.”
“Don’t touch me!” Jay yelled.
Brandon dropped his arm and took a step back. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s… it’s just that I think something is wrong with me. Ever since that collision two weeks ago, anyone I touch in a game collapses with extreme cramping. What if touching me causes that? What if that collision did something to my head where now with a thought I can take guys out just by touching them?”
Brandon snorted. “Well, that would make Coach happy.”
“But it wouldn’t make me happy! Do you think I like knocking guys off the ball? That’s not who I am. I want to beat an opponent fairly. I don’t want to resort to dirty play. I don’t want to draw a penalty and risk a yellow card or worse, get ejected with a red card. I especially don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Then don’t,” Brandon said. “If Couch doesn’t like how you play, find another team. I’ll go with you. We can transfer as a package deal. We’re thirteen. We shouldn’t be worrying about not hurting someone else or ourselves. And don’t believe for a second you caused those guys’ cramping. Every incident happened late in a game when they were tired and dehydrated. That’s when cramping happens the most. I feel the same way now after playing the entire game. It’s just a coincidence you touched each of those guys at some point during the game. I probably did too, and you don’t see me thinking I have strange mental powers.”
Jay shook his head, but a smile crept over his face anyway. “Good point,” Jay said, looking up. “Thanks for being the voice of reason. Hey, do you want to walk by the 7-Eleven with me to grab a victory soda?”
Jay thought he saw Brandon’s face contort a little, but then Brandon answered, “Sure, you go on ahead. I’ll catch up. I think I left something at the field.”
Once Jay was a good twenty yards away, Brandon sucked in a painful breath, which he let out in a grunt, and hit the ground. Both of his calves felt like they were being twisted by a wrench. “It’s just a coincidence,” Brandon said to himself through clinched teeth as he massaged his cramping calves. “It’s just a coincidence.”
This story first appeared in Stinkwaves Magazine Fall 2018.
Edited by Marie Ginga.
Jason E. Maddux is an aviation attorney, who uses writing speculative fiction and children's stories as a creative outlet each night once his two daughters are in bed. After spending his youth moving around the southeastern United States, he now resides in what some call Occupied Virginia. Follow him at Adventures in Writing Science Fiction and on Twitter @Jason_E_Maddux.