On Halloween night, hours after the doorbell ceased ringing and the post bar-crawl traffic had evaporated, a man sits alone in his Los Angeles bungalow. Digitally penning his thoughts across a host of athletics message boards — Deadspin, Reddit, Athalon — he navigates his browser to his true pride and joy, a boutique website focusing on tapping into the rage and depression that is NFL fandom.
The editor tab loads halfway then freezes. He shuts down the browser and restarts. Once again, the page freezes mid-load. This technological hiccup enraged a man who was already in a fit of anger from reading about the firing of former coach Hue Jackson from the Browns as an assault on diversity.
“Of course they’ll say that!” He had called from his study while his wife packed her bags an hour ago. “But that’s because they have this bullshit idea of fairness but you don’t tell both sides when one side’s situation is that your head coach is a bag of split pea soup!” He hadn’t remembered the rest of his rant about how terrible Jackson had been as a head coach. Nor had he even consciously registered a break from his Jackson-bashing Bleacher Report comment rant when his wife stood in the doorway, told him all his “Black Hole Junk” was in the basement, and that she was leaving until he got over his hatred for the former Raiders HC.
Passion. Love. Fandom. — all obsessions that can be for the better or the worse. Independently, humanity may use these motivators to achieve success across many challenges. But when these features intersect, the single greatest challenge for a man may simply be preserving his humanity in a new version of reality. A version that, though familiar, is placed squarely with one foot in the Twilight Zone.
Concerned with only the split pea soup gag, which would be message board gold, his frustration grew to anger when the damn page that was not loading stood between him and his destiny as the internet’s topmost content generator.
He took a sip of his Moscato and laid his head back against his chair. The house was peaceful and he wondered if his wife had gone to bed, maybe agreeing with his points about Jackson’s career. On the screen, a brief light shocked his tired eyes.
Through the open window came the sound of squealing tires pulling away. He peeked out to see nothing more than taillights. He turned back to his screen and read D’s continuance: “Five…..seconds.”
“What the hell?” he asked no one in particular. In silence, the messenger responded. He read it out loud, as if verbalizing the response made it somehow more real. “You responded to my comment on Deadspin, remember? Said if someone got Hue Jackson fired, you’d take care of the rest. Well, I took you up on the offer. The rest, if you don’t mind, is your end of the deal.”
He could not scroll. The computer was no longer in his control. The one-way messaging continued.
“This is all for you. But just consider. No more thinking of Hue Jackson. You get back your wife. This is all for you. Now, the clock is ticking. In your basement. My men will be there in fifteen minutes to recover the remains.”
He stared at the screen, now recalling the look of sincerity on his wife’s face as she spoke to him just hours — jeez, minutes? He couldn’t remember — earlier. She’d always hated his gameday attire, especially since the condition of the plastic components were breaking down from years of day game UV exposure. But he promised, right here and right now, to change. He needed her back. And the NFL…well, the NFL needed Hue Jackson gone. Gone without the risk of return. This was a win-win. What could go wrong?
Filled with hope and excitement, he raced to the basement, flinging the door open and barreling down the creaky wooden steps. Reaching the landing, he pulled down the cardboard box to expose a dark figure — bound and bagged — sitting in his basement. He strained to make out the shape of Hue Jackson but, just between the burnt out light bulb and himself, he could sense the evil in this man. He did not need any more than the ambient kitchen light to see what he needed.
Time was short. Where to begin? Did Hue know why he was there? Should it be explained that the man most hurt by Hue Jackson — by his stint with Oakland; by his play calling in Cincinnati; by his performance in Cleveland “THAT CONTINUED FOR GOD KNOWS WHY TO OCTOBER OF THIS VERY FUCKING SEASON!?”
The rage had been released. He began with punches but quickly realized this would not be effective enough. The muffled reaction of the bound figure suggested he was more in discomfort than pain. Reaching in the dark for a tool, he surprised himself when his searching hand unexpectedly knocked a box to the floor. He could hear the contents spill but this was not the time to think about reality. This was time to work. To Do His Job.
This would be quick. Unlike the years of suffering he had experienced, there was no appetite for drawing this out. Do it once and do it right — not that Hue Jackson would know anything about that. He turned from the tool bench with a hatchet in hand. But instead of a body jerking against its binds, he was met with a blow to his chest. The advantage he had been given was gone.
In the ensuing scuffle, no words were spoken, The only sounds that made it through to the kitchen were primal grunts and the banging of tools as the men grappled in the darkness. But then there was silence and a slap.
Feeling the grip locking around his throat, he thought of his wife. He wondered if D’s men would clean up his remains. If he held on longer, would they come to his aid? He couldn’t hold on any longer though. His free arm slapped at the cold concrete floor, hoping for something to grip. He saw stars in his eyes as his fingers secured a conical object. He closed his hand around it and pulled. The object would not move. The stars began growing brighter and clearer as his other senses began to fade. He panicked.
The conical piece broke from its bounds and his arm jerked in the only motion available, a sweeping forward arc. The sharp end of the piece entered the choker’s head with ease. The object stayed planted deep into his skull as the seizing body fell to the ground.
He closed his eyes. The stars subsided. He could hear the sound of two pairs of feet entering the house. They came down the steps. He breathed. They unfolded a plastic bag.
He sat in a daze at the kitchen table as the first rays of sunlight crept over the San Gabriels. His wife set a coffee down before him.
“Thank goodness you’re alright. I can’t believe it. An intruder, in our home. I’m a little in shock myself.”
He sipped the coffee as the basement door opened and two men in coveralls bearing a scripted D on the backs exitedthe basement. One carried a lifeless black bag over his shoulder. The second, a box with various black and silver attire under one arm; a pair of spiked shoulder pads — sans a single sheared conical spike — slung over the other.
“You said to go ahead and toss this junk, right boss?” boomed the first one.
His wife’s eyes gleaned. He nodded and they exited.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about just becoming a Chargers fan….and not at all about Hue Jackson anymore.”
She smiled and looked out the window.
“The police left a bit ago. I told them we’ve called Mr Hochuli’s firm and they’ve advised you not to give a statement. But I’m gonna go take a shower and unpack my stuff. Maybe you want to get some fresh air?” She gave him a peck on the cheek and left the room.
Walking out on the front porch, the morning edition of the Times rested against the leg of his favorite adirondack chair. Feeling relieved with his newly-corrected life, he took a sip of his coffee and unfolded the newspaper as he settled into his seat.
Requiring the same audible realization of his conversation with D earlier, his heart stopped as he read the top story headline — Billionaire Philanthropist, Sill Bimmons, Stabbed to Death Attempting LA Home Invasion. The byline continued — Victim’s wife requests privacy at this time; refers police to Jones, Skelton, & Hochuli Law Firm.
Feeling a vibration in his robe pocket, he pulled out his phone.
Six words were all he could find.
“I am sorry, my good friend.”
The Devil, as they say, is in the details. But when priorities are lead askew and the details are never defined, what does even the grandest bargain become? An unfulfilled promise at best? Perhaps, a lifetime of regret at worst? And while the thoughts of the unthinkable may forever feel escaped, the reality is that they will always be waiting, waiting for attentiveness when the Sun finally rises….in the Twilight Zone.