Donny Stevens swore under his helmet, the exclamation buried underneath the molded plastic and drowned out by the dismay of at least two thousand disheartened fans in the bleachers. The pass, although a perfect spiral, had landed on the treaded sod of the playing field, far out of reach of the oncoming receiver. Overthrown. He would have to work on that more, his senior year. Considering, that was, he was still the number one pick for quarterback on the team.
Donny huddled up with his squad, shouting numbers for the final play, a play that would either win the game to get them into the championships, or subject them to yet another losing season. He didn’t have to even consult the frowning coach on the sidelines, gestulating wildly with his hands and stamping back and forth like a caged tiger. It was fourth down, five yards to go until they reached another first. The end zone was half a field way, an impossible distance against a group of seasoned and talented opponents. But they had to try.
“All right,” Donny muttered, looking at his receiver once again. “It’s up to you, Brian. I’m going long on this one-hail mary pass.”
“You think that’s a good-“ Brian Thompson questioned, rubbing his hands together nervously.
“They won’t expect it,” the quarterback cut him off, impatiently waving his own hand to silence him. “They’ll expect a run, or a light, over-the-shoulder kind of pass. It will catch them off guard, you know what I mean?”
“You’re sure you’re up to it?” Tony Vargas stated, a sneer visible under his caged front guard. He clapped another lineman on the back, both of them letting out a short laugh.
Donny ignored him. “Just make sure you’re there,” he told Brian. “Dogleg pass, sideline all the way, then veer in around the twenty, you got that?”
Brian nodded eagerly. “Yeah, man. Whatever you say.” He crossed himself then, something Donny found odd, despite their harrowing situation. The quarterback watched as the referee approached the line of scrimmage, openly impatient to get the play started, his hand reaching for the whistle that hung from his neck.
“All right, let’s do this,” Donny stated, clapping his hands together and dismembering the huddle. His team lined up in position on their own forty yard line, Donny looking over the shoulders of his front line at the solemn faces of the defenders. Funny how they didn’t seem scared at all, considering they were only up by a field goal. A touchdown would make Donny’s team, the Taylorsville Lions, prevail over last year’s champs. But maybe their confidence was so overwhelming that they had already sensed the win, and were looking forward to the championship game. Their nonchalant expressions angered Donny considerably.
That only meant one thing. He had to win.
Donny barked out calls, signals that his team already knew, sounds that were enveloped in the clamor of the wildly screaming fans, their endless stomping on the bleachers, their shouts of encouragement. The lines braced themselves, hunched downward, ready to spring forward into one another as soon as Donny yelled “Hike!” He blinked the sweat out of his eyes, and said just that.
Everything seemed to wind down into slow motion.
He retreated backward from his defensive line, fanning his throwing arm outward, already raising it at an angle to get a good spin on the football. He tracked his receiver, Brian, sprinting down the left sideline, just like he was supposed to, evading the pass defender and outdistancing him by ten yards. Donny studied the approaching blockers, hearing the grunts as they slammed into his teammates, scavenging for holes to get to him. For now, he was safe. He had some time to wait.
Donny swung his head to the left, then to the right, surveying the field. Brian was just where he was supposed to be, slanting outward over the middle of the field, surrounded by no one, in the clear. The perfect target. Donny cocked his arm back to throw.
And then Brian fell, tripped up over his own stumbling feet. He fell down in a clump on the white-chalked line, banging his helmet into the ground pretty hard, not getting back up.
“Shit!!” Donny swore, his eyes opening wide as he simultaneously took in the oncoming defensive line and searched for another option, somebody to pass the ball to. But there was no one. Brian was down and out, and all his other receivers were effectively blocked. Donny had no other choice. He started to run, moving through a slight hole he happened to see between two immense linemen.
He didn’t think he was going to make it. They were going to squash him like a tin can and wrestle him to the ground, and then it would all be over. But, amazingly, somehow, he got through, out into the open, and Donny just kept running, moving down the opposite sideline than the one his fallen receiver had taken, his breath spurting out in ragged gasps, the sound of the cheering crowd muted by the casing of protective plastic on his head.
He sprinted for all he was worth, crossing mid-field, overjoyed that he had at least picked up enough yardage to make first down and give his team another shot at the end zone. Donny expected to get hit any time now, to be thrashed down to the ground or be entangled by some wayward, outstretched hand. But he coasted along, panting, his heart racing, his chest burning, the football taking on an impossible weight in his madly clenched fingers.
Donny threw himself down on the painted ground of the end zone, catching his breath to let out a jubilant yell. He had done it!! They were going to the championship game!!
The quarterback stood up on shaky legs, about to start celebrating, when he noticed all the other players standing as still as statues, utterly silent. In fact, everybody was silent, looking ominously into the sky above. Donny craned his neck backward, and saw for himself what had rendered everybody mute.
The underside of the revolving spaceship reflected back the halogen glow of the stadium lights, small lines visible where the craft had been pieced together. The ship easily took up half the field as it continued to move downward, a soft whistling audible over its domelike structure. It landed effortlessly, close to the end zone where Donny stood, like everyone else, frozen in place.
For a long time, nothing happened.
Then a plank lowered down from the ship, a gust of frosty air escaping from the inside. To Donny, it looked just like the science fiction movies had always said it would. Of course, they had never really frightened him all that much. This made him want to piss his pants.
The plank settled down on the sod and a lone figure walked, thundered along it to exit the spaceship. The mechanized suit was dark, covered in a variety of hissing hoses, and powerfully built. A dark visor obscured the true alien face underneath, if there was any. It was tall, easily over seven feet, towering over Donny’s shaking form as it plodded toward him, and him alone. The quarterback’s knees trembled involuntarily as he gulped with a dry throat. Donny felt like he was staring Death in the face. For all he knew, he probably was.
The alien in the menacing suit stopped a few feet in front of him, a harsh, laborious breathing sound coming from the filter of the mask it wore. It moved its head up and down, apparently scanning the boy, then looked out at the gawking, immobile, paralyzed with fear spectators. There was a digitized beeping sound, a whirring back feed as the visor glowed sporadically, still revealing nothing of what lay underneath. The helmet faced Donny directly once more. He didn’t know what to expect; anything, he supposed, but what actually happened.
The words felt cold, spewing outward from the mask in a robotic undertone that was in no way or mannerism even vaguely human. But Donny understood. Every word, in fact.
“We...have...winners,” it garbled. And then, surprisingly, the alien lurched its head back, releasing a bellowing roar to the sky that echoed around the stadium and seemed to reach out to the stars themselves. Donny was so fear-stricken that he didn’t realize it was a laugh for several minutes. He watched, entranced, as the suit reached out with a long, slithering cable toward him. Whether it was going for the forgotten football still in his grasp or one of his languid arms he couldn’t necessarily tell.
Donny didn’t think it really mattered all that much, anyway.