All Work And No Playtime

January 3, 2011
They certainly weren’t making benches any more comfortable. Tyler Ross had spent four years in high school sitting on them for a few minutes at a time during basketball season. Now, he was back in his familiar spot, this time as an assistant coach.

He watched his boys warm up. They were halfway decent now, but in the game he knew it would be different. Tonight was just a JV game, though, so Coach Ross wasn’t too worried about how it went. His Blackwarren Bobcats were playing the Oakdale Eagles for the first time since last year when they had suffered a humiliating defeat in the fourth quarter of the varsity game.

With a minute left on the pre-game clock, Tyler called his team in. He glanced at his roster for a moment before letting them know who was starting.

“Bobcats!” yelled his team as they broke out and split up, some heading to the court where the opposing team was waiting, and the rest returning to the bench.

The game began well. His six-foot eight-inch player, Chase, got the ball on the jump and ran down for a quick layup. The Eagles returned the favor with two shots from the elbow and sank them both.

“Come on guys, pay attention!” yelled Tyler, getting a little excited.

“Stepp, go in for Jake,” he said, talking to a short, skinny freshman next to him. Joe Stepp seemed more than eager for this rare chance to play, and nearly ran onto the court while the ball was still in play until his coach called him back.

“Just wait here until I tell you, okay Joe?” said Tyler, chuckling to himself. He remembered what it was like to sit on the bench nearly his whole freshman year.

The game got into swing, and Tyler’s competitive spirit was aroused. He got up from his seat to yell at the referees or his players, and applauded them for doing well.

It was almost half time when he felt a vibration coming from his pocket. He must have forgotten to turn his cell phone off. It would have to wait until after the game. Tyler’s attention quickly shifted back to the game when Chase gave a cry of pain and fell to the floor, clutching his elbow. Tyler flew off the bench and properly yelled at the opposing team for their dirty playing. Chase returned to the bench, still holding his arm.

“What happened?” asked Tyler.

“That big guy, number twenty-five, he must’ve hit me when I was going up,” said Chase.

Tyler looked around to see if he could find anyone to help. Chase was on the verge of tears from the pain. With relief, he saw Dr. Moon coming toward them.

Dr. Moon was the only doctor in the town of Blackwarren, but his patients always claimed he was much better than the doctors in the city anyway. He graduated from Blackwarren high over forty years ago and served on the board of education, as well as announcing the games.

With dexterous hands he felt Chase’s arm gently, asking him questions and keeping him talking at the same time. After a minute Dr. Moon walked him out the door and to his parents, recommending some pain pills and instructing them to visit his office tomorrow.

“Nothing’s broken on him, coach,” Dr. Moon told Tyler. “Looks to me like he just put too much strain on the arm. He’ll be back in the game in a few weeks.”

“Thanks, doc,” said Tyler. The team would be hurting those weeks without Chase. The head coach would be upset with Coach Ross for giving him so much game time in JV, but it wasn’t his fault the other team was a dirty, fouling...

“Wait a minute,” thought Tyler to himself. The other team wasn’t anywhere near Chase when he got hurt. In fact, Chase was throwing in the ball from out-of-bounds and the Eagles were at the other end of the court.

His cell phone buzzed again. The game was still in play, so Tyler couldn’t answer it.

“Hello?” came a voice from beside him. Tyler turned and saw Dr. Moon on his cell phone. He closed it quickly and put it back in his pocket, shaking his gray head.

“Telemarketers,” he muttered.

The rest of the game quickly went downhill with Chase out of the action. The Bobcats lost by thirty points, and Coach Ross gave them the obligatory tongue lashing in the locker room. They had quit trying with Chase out of the game, been lazy on passes, and generally played a bad game.

As he sat in his truck, letting it warm up, Tyler pulled out his cell phone to call his mom. He was living at her house until he found a “job to make a career out of,” as his mom called it. His art degree at a community college wasn’t helping him much.

Someone honked their horn behind him. Tyler looked in the mirror and saw Jake Rosenhall, one of his players, honking at someone in front of him in his big truck, with a gun rack on the back and bumper stickers that read “Are YOU ready for 2012?”

He flipped open his phone and saw he had two missed calls. They were the same number, both local. They didn’t leave a message. Sighing, he put his phone away. He’d just tell his parents about the game when he got home.

Tyler pulled into his parents’ driveway and put the parking brake on his truck. He glanced down the dirt road he lived on and was surprised to see lights on at the old house down the road. No one had lived in that house even when he was in high school, so why would the lights be on now? It wasn’t important enough to be standing outside freezing, so he hurried up and went inside.

The next day at practice,
the team suffered another injury. Joe Stepp, the eager young freshman, walked out of the gym, holding his arm. Tyler followed him out.

“What happened?” he asked Joe.

“I don’t know, I must’ve got run into while we were running through our offense,” Joe said in reply.

Tyler knew the team was practicing free throws now. They didn’t even run through the offense yet today.

“You were practicing free throws, how could you hurt your arm in that?” asked Tyler, trying to be sensitive to the fact that Joe was obviously in some pain.

“I don’t know, I must’ve got hurt last night in the game,” answered Joe.

“You were fine last night, how come you got hurt today?”

“Look, my arm really hurts okay, does it really matter how it got hurt?” asked Joe.

“Yes, it does, because you’re part of my team and I care what happens,” said Tyler, getting exasperated.

“Can I just have some ice?” asked Joe.

Tyler kept prodding him for information but Joe wouldn’t say anything about how he hurt his arm. Something was going on, two hurt players with arm injuries in two days...

His cell phone rang. Tyler looked at the number and didn’t recognize it but answered anyway. Before he could say anything he heard a voice speaking rapidly.

“You have been selected because of your skills to take part in a very special event,” said the voice, before Tyler snapped his phone shut. Two hurt players and now telemarketers had his cell phone number.

Joe came back the next day with a note from Dr. Moon, saying he couldn’t play or practice for two weeks because of a strained deltoid. As long as no one else got hurt the team would still be okay.

Tyler watched the team warm up before practice, with Joe and Chase standing on the sidelines with him, their arms in slings. Suddenly, Jake Rosenhall let out a groan of pain. If he hurt his shoulder, Tyler would eat his shoelaces.

“Coach,” began Jake, hobbling toward him.

“Your shoulder’s hurt,” said the head coach, his voice quivering with both anger and disbelief.

“Yeah, it really hurts, coach, I think I might have pulled a muscle or something,” said Jake.

“Everyone, get over here!” yelled the coach.

The team hustled over to where he was standing, looking a little confused and some a little panicky.

“I don’t know how you guys are managing to do it, but there have been three injuries in three days. Every one of you needs to be extra careful with whatever the heck you’re doing. I don’t care if you’re eating a happy meal at McDonald’s, you all better be wearing safety glasses when you’re there because obviously you are incapable of doing anything without hurting yourselves!”

Tyler went home that night tired after a long workout after practice. He said hi to his mom and shut the door to his room. As soon as he fell in bed, he felt his phone ring. He picked it up without looking at the number.

“You have been selected because of your skills to take part in a special event,” said the same recorded voice that he heard before. Tyler was about to hang up when the next part of the message caught his attention.

“Come to 1213 Suttle Drive this evening at 8:00 to learn how you can participate. The world is counting on you.”

Tyler lived on Suttle Drive! 1213 was the address of the abandoned house down the road. And the voice on the phone was familiar...but who was it? He was struck with an idea, a wild, off-the-wall idea, and searched his notes that he had for the team. Tyler found the team roster and contact list...it was on here somewhere...there! The “telemarketer’s” phone number belonged to one of his players, Jake Rosenhall!

He checked the time. It was 8:05. Whatever was happening at the abandoned house had just started. Tyler grabbed his jacket and hopped in his truck for a quick trip down the road.

The lights on his pickup truck came to rest on the boarded up windows and sagging porch of the old house. He approached the doorstep warily. A small amount of light was visible through cracks in the walls and shutters. The porch swing creaked eerily in time with the wind. A scraping sound was coming from inside the house, followed by a person’s grunt.

Scrape...grunt...scrape...grunt. Tyler cautiously approached the door. The rusty doorknob was cold to the touch. He pushed the door open.

Tyler couldn’t possibly have imagined the sight he was looking at in the old house. There was no floor, just a wide, deep, pit dug into the earth beneath the house. It was about ten feet deep right now. Struggling with shovels in the bottom of the pit were a few kids that Tyler recognized as freshmen from school. Watching over them with hawk-like scrutiny was Jake Rosenhall, his arm still in a sling. Floodlights positioned around the edge of the pit dimly illuminated the strange scene.

“Come on boys, keep digging!” Jake urged them on. One of the boys gave a yell and dropped his shovel, clutching his arm.

“Jake, my arm, I think I pulled something,” said one of the boys.

“I told you not to work too hard,” said Jake. “Here’s twenty bucks, that should cover your work for tonight.”

“Thanks, Jake,” said the boy.

“Now get out of here,” Jake told him. The boy scrambled up the side of the pit, keeping pressure off his arm and wincing when he needed to crawl. Jake looked up and saw Tyler standing at the edge of the pit.

“Oh, hi, Coach Tyler,” he said.

“Hi Jake,” answered Tyler. “What’s going on here?”

“Did you come because of the call?” asked Jake.

“Well, yes, in a roundabout way. What’s happening?” Tyler repeated.

“Welcome to paradise,” said Jake. “Or at least it will be the only place you could call paradise, once 2012 rolls around.”

“You mean the end of the world?” asked Tyler, a little skeptical.

“Yep. I’m recruiting workers with an automatic phone call system to help me build my bunker for when the end finally comes. I’m paying them by the amount of work they do each night, so, of course, some of the younger ones get a little over ambitious and hurt themselves.”

“Aren’t you trespassing though?”

“No, my parents inherited this land from some relatives, and they gave me the thumbs-up to go ahead with my bunker plan. It’s the perfect place too, no one will ever think of looking in this old house for a bunker, especially when I replace the floor.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” said Tyler unconvincingly, thinking to himself that Jake had gone completely bananas.

“You want to help? I got an extra shovel or two lying around,” said Jake. Tyler considered this for a moment. A little cash would be nice, and digging in the dirt wasn’t that hard...and besides, who knew what 2012 had in store for him?

“What the heck, why not,” said Tyler to himself, picking up a shovel.





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