The toughest matches in life are those that you fight.
Coach yelled at us so hard that his face was as red as a cherry. Even though we had taken a timeout, time seemed to actually slow down in the final seconds of the championship game. I looked about the huddle.
Scugs looked tired, but wanting as ever for the win. T-Bone was mad, nodding along with every slight Coach dished at us. Bimp was so scared it looked like he was hunting for ghosts, not playing basketball. And Flockso, well, he was just classic Flockso.
"What are we going to play?" yelled Coach.
"Defense," we said in unison.
"And why are we gonna play it?" asked Coach.
"Because we got nothin' else to do when we don't have the ball," we all yelled back.
"You can say that again," said Flockso, pumping his fist like he was trying to get a truck driver to honk then hip thrusting the air, his signature move. Classic Flockso!
Coach shook his head and smiled, letting some of the normal color return to his face. "If we win this one, we're goin' to Olive Garden, boys."
We made eye contact with each other, excited. We were hungry for the win, but even hungrier for Olive Garden.
"Flockso's treat," said Coach.
We all laughed hysterically, burning the majority of our timeout.
"Shlim shlob, that's my job!" said Flockso, spinning an imaginary basketball on his finger while he Roxburyed his head side to side and tap danced on the court, his other signature move. Classic Flockso!
"All right! Now get in there and do it for Lenny," said Coach. We reached out our hands and put them on top of one another in the center. "One, two, three, Muskrats!" The break was over.
Lenny was our team captain. He died in a snowmobile accident before the tournament. Lenny always said if he was gonna die, it would be in a snowmobile accident. Boy, was he right.
The referee blew the whistle and time seemed to slow even more.
The defender passed the ball inbounds to the point guard. The agile guard dribbled once, twice, three times, then juked past Bimp. Bimp slugged in the wrong direction, slow as a Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallow.
"Piiiiick hiiiiiiim uuuuuup," yelled Coach from the sideline in slow motion.
Scugs was defending the other team's big man in the post. The point guard passed the ball down low. It moved through the air as slow as molasses.
Scugs turned inside, slow as a sloth, and intercepted the molasses pass in midair.
The clock ticked all slow like, as if it were in a big old jar of sticky honey. 9... Still 9... Low 9... Probably like 9.001.... 9.... Still 8... Low 8...
We had to score, and we had to score fast.
T-Bone sprinted up the sideline. He raised his hand, slow as a sloth in a big old jar of sticky honey mixed with molasses.
Scugs saw him, saw how he was as open as a new business on its opening day of business. He chucked the ball up court.
The ball sailed through the air, slower than the digestive track of an ancient Yeti.
"Goooo Muuuuskraaaaatsssss," cheered Cindy Loo from the sidelines. She was my gal. My special gal and Lenny's sister. Lenny, the dead kid from the snowmobile accident.
The ball went just over another defender's fingertips as he jumped as high as he could to try and defend it. It went right into T-Bone's gigantic, calloused hands.
I looked back at the clock, which ticked as slow as a parade on Slow Day, which is March 21st, for the record. 2... Still 2... Low 2... Probably like 2.001...
T-Bone stopped at the corner of the key and launched a three-pointer. The ball spun off his finger tips.
The crowd all rose to their feet, anxious as a prep-school student who comes from a high expectations and high stress family.
A man squirting mustard onto his hotdog turned in super slow motion, watching the ball come down toward the hoop. He missed the hotdog and shot a stream of yellow goop into the eyes of a guy sitting down who was cheering for the opposite team, so it was totally OK.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, sounded the buzzer in super duper sound slow motion, like it was a bunch of sound waves emitting in the visible spectrum.
The Muskrat mascot on the sideline slowly came out of his muskrat hut, slow like a big fat beaver coming out of his beaver hut in extra slow motion. The Muskrat mascot nodded up and down, clapping his little muskrat hands in anticipation. He was a real muskrat.
The ball cruised through the hoop, nothing but net.
T-Bone made it.
I looked at the scoreboard.
We lost big time.
Oh shit, wrong story, sorry.
It was the first day of spring semester and all were alive and well. Students bustled about the central corridor, chatting excitedly about the holidays and the upcoming term. The snow was finally melting off the parapets and that first smell of spring danced about in the wind like magic.
I crossed beneath the clocktower and around the corner, headed to the library. My classes all began on the second day of the term, so naturally I hadn't picked up any of my books yet. I always rented my books instead of buying, not because I am an orphan by death, but because I couldn't afford to buy my own.
I opened the library's heavy, ancient door to find a familiar face.
"Mac! Good to see you, chap," said my best friend Don Basely. Don was the sixth of seven children, all freckled with red hair. "Here to get your books?"
"Don't you know it," I said, tucking the end of my scarf into my robes. "I would have waited until the morning, you know, if it weren't for Sheryl Riney."
Sheryl Riney was the third best friend of our trio. She was the smartest and hardest working kid in school, as well as the one that would go on to be astonishingly attractive despite being such a nerd now. Not that they're exclusive, just we're talking unreal good looking later on.
"Good luck with that," said Don. "Just picked up the second to last book for our Defense Against the Martial Arts class. You could say the other one was rather loved."
"Just my luck," I said. I adjusted my circular, wire-frame glasses. They had no lenses but I thought they looked sweet on me anyway. "Catch you at dinner?"
"Might be late," said Don. "On my way to the big shlindditch tryout." Don walked off.
Cribbage is the second most popular game at our school.
But shlindditch is the most popular game. It involves brooms, a series of balls, and mopeds. Players from two teams sweep off the court with their brooms, toss the brooms aside, then proceed to race about on their mopeds while they pelt each other with the different sized balls. There is no winner, but spectators and and players alike get good sloshed on butter whiskey, the most popular drink at our school.
It might all sound crazy, but things are just different here. For you see, this is no ordinary school. This is: Dogfarts, School of Stitchcraft, Karatery, and Sorcery.
The library seemed to go on, and on, and on, and then some. It was like an old widow who hasn't been visited by anyone for months but finally gets a chance to talk to her neighbor's kids when they unfortunately throw a frisbee over her fence.
After a bit of direction from a librarian, I finally found the Defense Against the Martial Arts section. One book remained in the title I was looking for, next to a copy of of another new Malcolm Gladwell book. That guy seems to have a lot of books. Oh, by the way, no one practices Stitchcraft at Dogfarts anymore. That job's been obsolete since the Industrial Revolution.
I picked the brown leather book off the shelf and blew off the dust that had so clichédly collected on its cover. Nuts or Eyes? Where to Hit and When. That was the one. I checked it out and went to dinner.
* * *
"I've already read all this week's assignments," said Sheryl Riney as she took a bite of some enchanted dish. They all sort of taste the same after you've been a student for a while. Let's say it was cinnamon turkey, that sounds enchanted enough. "The real question isn't nuts or eyes, it's fist or foot!"
"Don't ruin it for me," I said. "I'm trying to start this term off right for a change." I drank my A&W root beer. We sorcerers love A&W root beer. But not as much as butter whiskey!
"Yeah right, Mac." said Don. "You know we're just going to get into trouble and barely scrape by with our work, as always." He had a black eye from a golden pitch. That's what you call a fastball to the eye in shlindditch.
"Probably, but I can still try," I said.
"Honestly, I don't know how either of you have come so far at Dogfarts," said Sheryl Riney. "I'm the one who knows everything and does most of the work on our mystical adventures." God she was obnoxious with her intelligence. So obnoxious, so intelligent, but so so eventually gorgeous.
"Hi, Mac!" called Don's younger sister, Minny. She wouldn't grow up to be nearly as beautiful as Sheryl Riney, but still, she was my girlfriend.
I didn't even say hi or wave back at her, honestly. Our relationship kind of comes out of nowhere and seems more like a convenience than anything else.
"I'll never be a head mirror someday if I don't do well in this class," I said. "I'm off to do my work."
A mirror is a sorcerer/martial artist who's so good at fighting other guys it's like he's a mirror. They are really good at fighting and have a certain AURA about them.
I lit a fresh candle and sat at my desk. My lightbulb burned out last term and I was far too lazy to change it. I opened the ugly book and turned to page one, which obviously is where our first assignment began.
"Hiya! Chop, punch, punch, kick! If you're reading this, you're probably well aware of how hard the choice between nuts and eyes is when attacking an opponent..."
This is so boring, I thought, spacing out. I don't want to read about sorcery and the martial arts, I want to practice them. I skipped to the bottom of the page.
"...which is why the nuts are a particularly enticing and squishy area to attack..."
Yes, yes a kick in the nuts will usually do great. I flipped through the pages as I would leaf through a magazine. A dogeared page around the middle caught my attention. I turned back to it.
It was a tan page with uneven edges. Someone must have glued it in themself. The page was nearly blank, excepting a small handwritten note at the top:
"Dare you dare?" it read. "If dare, write yes. If don't dare, don't write yes."
Interesting, I thought. I picked up my pen. Everyone else writes with quill and ink, but I think that's so dumb.
"Dare," I wrote.
My ink emboldened on the page, then disappeared. I checked the back of my hand, but it was clean. I'm always smudging ink with the back of my hand. Writing can be so messy!
"Dare" also disappeared from the top, leaving the page blank.
My candle flickered, because it's a candle and that's what candles do.
"Double dare?" appeared at the top of the page.
It's almost like this text is communicating with me, I kidded with myself. Duh, it's totally communicating with me. I get it. I'm a pretty sharp guy.
"Double dare," I wrote. It too disappeared, followed by the first "double dare?" at the top of the page.
A third message appeared. "Triple dare?" it read.
"Just get on with it," I wrote. Two dares is plenty enough, everyone knows that.
The page went blank again.
"Fine, be a poop," read a new message. "If you so dare, which we've twice established and once gathered, making for three dares total, meet me out back of the school tonight at midnight, out where those bitchin' dirt bike jumps used to be before they had to take them down for stupid safety reasons. Come ready... for battle." The text slowly faded.
"Who will I be meeting?" I wrote on the page.
A final message appeared. "He's gone now. This is Brent. I'm the guy you were just writing with's roommate. He asked me not to say who he is. Do you want to chat online? My AIM name is--"
I slammed the book shut.
Brent was not my opponent. Brent was the roommate of my opponent.
** * **
The full moon hid behind moving clouds, casting inconsistent light and long shadows on the yard behind the school. The grass was thin and the ground was hard. You could totally see where the jumps used to be. They were so huge.
I looked about the yard, ready and calm. I could see a figure approaching from the woods. The field is actually really big, so it took a long time for him to walk to me. I'd say like seven and a half minutes.
When he FINALLY, got there, I recognized him. He was lean and thick, big enough to scare the fiercest of linebackers, but maybe not Clay Matthews. He had bleach blonde hair and intimidating blue eyes. He wore high waisted shorts that went above his bellybutton and no shirt.
"Ivan Drago," I said. He was the bad guy from Rocky IV.
"I must break you," said Ivan in a stereotypically Russian accent, as totally expected from my knowledge of memorable Rocky quotes.
"Must you?" I said. "Do you... Dare?"
"I see you're calling back to the talking through the book we had not that long ago," said Drago.
"Yeah," I said. I closed my eyes, becoming one with the universe. I felt my chi flowing through my being. I sent it all to my right foot, yet stayed in a neutral stance. "Less talking, more nuts," I said, kicking Ivan Drago right in the nuts.
But his nuts weren't there. Ivan smiled, then grabbed my foot. "In Soviet Russia, nuts kick you!" he said, even though after that he punched me in the face, which has nothing to do with either nuts or kicks.
We fought and we fought and we fought, all through the night. Eventually we made peace and had some A&W root beer floats, like all good sorcerers and martial artists do.
To this day Ivan Drago is one of my best friends. He feels bad for killing Apollo Creed, but knows he can never take it back. I guess that's why they say, "live and let live," even though he let Apollo die.