Chapter 0:



The brilliant lights scattered and dimmed in the falling snow. It was blisteringly cold, frigid enough to freeze his fingers off. And yet he kept running. Running and running, it had been all he had done in preparation for every moment, any moment, in which he could prove to anyone that he wasn’t the scared, anxious, fearful kid he once was, even though on the inside, he knew that he was, indeed, still that same kid, the one that could barely approach anyone. He ran to show the world that he wasn’t some fat waste of calories, a misuse of valuable oxygen.

The snow continued to fall. The tingle of numbness on his oak-tinted skin pushed him harder and harder. His extremities felt like they would fall off, but he kept pumping them if only to prove himself that much more. With every step, snow crunched underneath his cleats and an inaudible clink from his aglets followed. With a sharp turn of his neck he glanced over his shoulder, scanning the speckled white field behind him. He turned back, knowing looking back slowed him down- it would be any moment now.

He heard an all-too-familiar yelp from across the wintry plain, its voice dampened by the icy atmosphere. Instinctively, his head snapped toward the sound. At that moment, he knew everything had gone wrong. A small frame embellished by the number 7 on its chest was collapsing to the turf, a wrecking ball in black and yellow having attached to it at the waist. His adrenaline kicked in just from the sight. He quickly surveyed his surroundings, seeing a swarm of six-foot wasps rush behind him as if they had smelled the blood of an injured elk.

In desperation, number 7 heaved the ball downfield, throwing all of the money into the pot. It could work. No, it had to work. It was the only option to save any chance of victory. The ball streaked through the air, blowing aside snowflakes as it made its way to its target. Unfortunately, it would never reach that target.

Number 82 put his hands up in the frosty air, intending to snag the ball out of the sky and into his possession. The ball ricocheted off his fingertips like a rubber ball off of the ground, and it flew into the sky as if propelled by magic. Through his visor emanated shame- pure, unadulterated shame. He had one opportunity, and he had blown it. There was no time to think about number 82’s failure, though- the ball was still in the air. And it was headed toward him.

All that running had paid off. There he stood, in the end zone, watching as the ball went up and up and up into the harsh weather. It started coming down sooner than he anticipated, and all of the sudden he was sprinting to even have a chance at a recovery. Yes, there was potential glory to be had in success, but he didn’t run for that reason, no. He ran to show the world that he could be useful- that he wasn’t going to lie down and die while the game’s heart was still beating.

He jumped, having no idea whether it would be enough. Whether he would be enough. Whether all of his efforts were enough. He reached the peak of his jump, and the ball was passing over his head. It wouldn’t work.

But it had to. It all had to. No matter what he did, regardless of how insignificant, it had to work. It had to be worth it.

He arched his back, his tucked jersey popping free to expose his stomach to the sub zero climate. His now-frozen solid hands scraped the sides of the ball. It would have to work. He put as much pressure as he could muster into those fingers, and the ball stayed in between, a millimeter from slipping away. He clutched it like a baby, because, to him, it might as well have been a baby. But with one problem’s resolution always comes another problem’s beginning, and he realized that he was falling toward the ground with his feet facing the sky. He was going to crash.

Spin! Spin! Please, body, spin! His legs fought centrifugal force and pulled themselves in, giving him just enough momentum shift to land on his feet. The momentum was too much. The snow underneath his cleats gave way, and he spun his back right into the dirt, knocking the air out of his lungs. A puff of steam came out from his face mask as his head conked against the crunchy grass, but he was able to hold onto the ball. He had to make it happen.

The stadium’s crowd noise emerged, showering every bit of space with cheers or wails. An angel dressed in black and white stripes held up two arms- a touchdown. It would end the game. This was it. What he had worked so hard for. And yet it felt so empty. As if he never actually expected it to happen.

He squinted at the Jumbotron screen from on his back, visor plastered with blurry ice. He could barely see anything through the black and red confetti dancing in the flurries, dousing everything and everyone. The snow was sticking to the strips of Lombardi-shaped paper, giving each piece a small star on its surface. In this moment, instead of taking it all in, a single thought ran through his mind.

Whose idea was it to play a Super Bowl in Gillette Stadium?

He laughed at himself under his breath. What kind of idiot would think about that now? He gingerly got up, favoring his right ankle. Straight back to the ground he went, with number 7 tackling him in joy. Numbers 63, 68, 72, 54, and 74 soon followed. In an instant, the entirety of the team was mobbed over top of him. He stood up again, his ankle hurting less, and as the rest of the team ran to give the coach a freezing-cold Gatorade bath, number 7 stayed right by his side. They removed their avian-branded helmets in unison, looking at each other. Number 7 reached up and pushed a strand of hair away from his eyes, smiling.

“You did it.”

"No. We did it."

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