This week’s Master Class was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. This week it’s being reader-judged, which means, I’d imagine, that the responses of the other people participating will be even better than usual. You should head on over to participate or to read some of the other responses, and vote!
I’m not much into sports, but it’s kind of hard to not hear about football lately, or so it seems. I’m not talking about that in the sense of
“The Grizzlies creamed the Wombats in a double or nothing showdown, and won with a home-run in the final seconds – what a play THAT was, Bob.”
“It was, indeed, Stan – the Grizzlies have really upped their game since that one time when one of their players shot the puck into his own basket!”
… or whatever. More along the lines of “People who should know better let terrible things be done by football players, or people in the industry, so as not to ruin the game.“ It made me think of how extremely violent people watching sports can become – the kind of aggression that makes some people willing to turn a blind eye to terrible things.
On a completely different note, it seems that I’m doing a terrible job indicating the sex of the characters I write. Please, if you comment, tell me which you think this character is. No pressure. And feel free to leave tips to improve the clarity of my storyline in that regard, and any other.
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
I was surprised that the parents agreed to it, but they’d agreed to a lot since the new Coach took over.
Coach always got his way, and he said his Heroes had to be in peak condition. He said you couldn’t expect a bunch of paunchy and unfit middle-aged losers to know how to look after athletes. He called them losers to their faces and they still worship him.
You don’t realize during the day just how echo-ey a gymnasium is. It took me a while to get used to sharing a room with the rest of the guys from school. Not to mention Coach’s surprise midnight runs.
I like it, though – I think the special high-protein diet he’s got us on is really improving my performance. Like Coach says, I want to be the best that I can be. And slaughter the enemy, too… I guess. That’s usually the emphasis of his pep-talks.
His eyes glowed with a manic light that caught us up in his words as he paced back and forth in front of us, a commander addressing his army.
“Football?! Football’s for pansies! Winning is everything.” He said the same thing about college. He had the grass ripped up in the stadium, had us training on the hard-packed clay, under the burning sun, day in, day out. We were in the best shape of our lives.
I’d always found sports easy. This isn’t easy, but I’m definitely having a better time of it than some of the guys. The gym at night is full of the muffled sounds of crying. I’d feel bad for them, but since Coach stopped football, I figure this is my best chance at greatness. I don’t exactly have the brains to get into college based on my grades – but as the star quarterback, I stood a good chance of getting scouted. With the new games, I’m not so sure about College. Greatness, though… greatness is doable.
Coach says that immortality is within reach of those who crush the enemy.
The town might have complained a bit about the loss of football – we had been all about football, here – but only until they went to that first game. That won them. If I hadn’t already seen them at football games, I’d have been surprised at their blood-lust.
It won all of us, I think. At least, all of us who stand a chance of winning.
I remember the silence as we walked out into the stadium. The spectators didn’t know what was going on, couldn’t grasp the significance of the new uniforms, the modified protective equipment. They protected our vitals in new, yet familiar ways. The sun beat down on hard-packed earth, the smell of grease and sweat heavy in the air. It gleamed on our oiled skin, our equipment, and on that of our opponents, across the field.
I don’t think I really understood what was supposed to happen until that moment. He had changed up the training schedules, pulling us out of classes and filling our days with hours of laps, weightlifting and protein shakes. Then he’d started us in sparring, hand-to-hand combat, knife drills, spears, swords, and chains. It was kind of unreal.
The two teams faced each other in tight formation across the wide expanse of sun-hardened dirt. Us and them. The enemy. My body felt wound tight with adrenaline.
The whistle sounded.
I didn’t hesitate, I ran. We all did. The clash as we made contact with the other team – brought in from gods only know where – was deafening. Even over the clamor of noise in the fray, I could hear the panicked screams of the crowd as they realized what was happening.
There was hardly a change when those screams turned to pleas for it to stop, and then to encouragement. My Mom and Pop were almost as obsessed with winning at any cost as Coach was.
I parried, lunged, hacked at any and every piece of exposed skin. I didn’t hesitate in taking that opening, going in for the kill. My sword caught for a moment on the edge of his armor before it slid in deep. He let out a bubbling sigh as he crumpled on top of me, but all I could focus on was getting around him, getting back to the fight. I’d have nightmares about it later, in the echoing darkness of the gymnasium.
The next one came easier. Poor sucker didn’t even bring up his staff to block me, and his head flew off, spattering everyone nearby with scalding blood. His face still held a rabbit-like look of absolute terror. Easy prey.
After that first game, after the parents of the dead found out just how much their dearly departed had earned them in just this one game, everyone was on board. Even if your kid isn’t a winner, you’re a winner in the end, I suppose.
I’m one of the best. War-matches, one-on-one combat, lions, rabid dogs, two-on-one, three, four, I was winning them all. Living in the gymnasium took some getting used to, but I definitely got used to being treated like this, a god of the arena. The cheerleaders certainly made sure we felt appreciated. Coach saw to everything.
We weren’t the only ones to have our lives turned upside down. The gods were back, and with a vengeance. It’s pretty obvious why we were chosen by Ares – who else would we worship after spending the entire district education budget on a 20 million dollar football stadium?