“SUNY West-Cayuga Men’s Basketball”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Leviathan’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

It was the first time in the history of March Madness a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. For those who don’t speak Basketball, all that needs to be known is that the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans won a game they weren’t supposed to win. Not the don’t-win-this-game-or-your-family-will-be-mysteriously-relocated-to-an-island-in-the-South-Pacific-no-one-will-discover-for-another-150-years kind of not supposed to win, but the team-they-beat-has-bigger-stronger-faster-and-better-players-with-better-scholarships-and-are-all-one-foot-taller kind of not supposed to. From there, the miracle run lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations. In the blink of an eye and the space of a few weeks, the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans were playing in the National Championship game.

 

 

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Poseidon loomed over the battlefield, a web of shallow rivers in a dry plain filled with palm trees. Odin, grinning a grin from a cartoon noir, stood tall over the other side of the battlefield. Poseidon’s Leviathan had fought better than expected in the Tournament of the Gods, first beating Bast’s Wildcat, followed by Loki’s Azure Frost Giant, The ‘Blue Devil’, Hephaeustus’ scrappy Wolverine, Badb’s menacing ‘Fighting Irish’ Crows, and Tyr’s new alliance with Fenrir’s Wolfpack.

All in all, it was surprising to everyone involved that the Leviathan was able to defeat such strong opponents, but with her long neck, sharp teeth, narrow, gar-like jaws, mud colored scales that shone blue in the water, and sharp mind and focused eyesight, Poseidon’s creature was the feel-good story of the Tournament.

Hermes blew the horn that signified the start of battle. The Leviathan darted forward through the system of rivers, plunging without fear into the fight. From a cloud of darkness and static electricity emerged her opponent, Odin’s Great Bruin.

 

 

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SUNY West-Cayuga huddled around the bench, grief and consternation brushed across their faces. In 4 minutes, UCLA had gone up 28-3. After sinking the first three point shot of the game, SUNY West-Cayuga had lost the ball, missed blocks, fouled far too many times, and allowed three Sports Center worthy dunks.

“SUNY West-Cayuga is going to call a timeout here, Jim,” said one commentator.

“They’re going to see if they can get the tires back on this thing. Only 3 points, allowing UCLA to score 28, I can’t think of a worse start to a game.”

“Arlington Roberts has a stat line that reads 0 points, 0 rebounds and -2 assists. I don’t even know how you can get negative assists Jim, but this team found a way.”

“It’s a shame too, because SUNY West-Cayuga has really played some great games in this tournament, but the narrative around them was that a 16 seed in the Championship Game would lead to a blowout. That’s certainly been the story so far.”

Over in the huddle, Coach Cavanaugh took a breath and tried to compose himself.

“Okay guys, listen up! I didn’t think I’d have to make this speech until the last minute of the game, or until the last three minutes, or at least halftime. Or, at least the last minute before halftime. Or-”

“Coach!!” Arlington Roberts cried.

“Sorry,” Coach Cavanaugh said, waving his arms as if to clear the thought. “Sorry. You guys deserve to be here, so don’t give up. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point! Those guys over there? Yeah, they may be bigger, they may have scholarships or a chance at the NBA, but they don’t have the wild run you guys have had. No one expected you to be here, so get out there and keep fighting! Keep fighting your butts off because tomorrow, you either wake up the greatest underdog champions or the greatest underdog story. Either way, people will be talking about you for years to come. We might as well give them one more shock, huh? Alright hands in, Leviathans on three!”

 

 

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Odin’s enormous Bruin swatted a morning star sized paw at the Leviathan, who, to her credit, dodged the brunt of the attack. She darted forward, nimble jaws outstretched to close around the bear’s throat, but was knocked away by the other paw. The Bruin pounced onto the Leviathan’s back in a thunderous bolt of crackling energy.  The Leviathan screeched in pain, a cry that echoed around the battlefield in a sickening Doppler effect. She dove underwater as fast as she could; losing the Bruin’s snapping jaws to the surface of the water. She turned and gave herself a burst of speed and rammed into the furry mountain, managing to knock the wind out of the bear as it was pushed back to land. It recovered more quickly than she thought. Machine-like jaws clamped down on her back, blood flowing under the scissors of teeth. She flailed awkwardly and detached herself. Poseidon called timeout.

The Leviathan swam lazily to the God of Water, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He set his trident down and knelt to greet her.

Poseidon gave her a few reassuring pats on the head.

“I’ve been thinking,” he murmured. “Now, no one expected you to get this far, but we did, and I have an idea of how to win this.”

He looked across the way to Odin’s plastered smile. Odin laughed in Poseidon’s direction.

“Go for the bad eye.” Poseidon said, staring at Odin’s eyepatch. “It’s the fat man’s weakness; it must be the Bruin’s.”

The Leviathan nodded. A horn blow from Hermes signaled a resume play. The Leviathan dove as far as she could, letting the deep silence of her underwater world surround her before she propelled herself out of the water. The Bruin was waiting for her, but she managed to snap forward, jaws closed together like a jab connecting with the Bruin’s eye.

Nothing happened. She splashed back into the water and peeked her head out to examine Odin.

“Other eye!” Poseidon yelled.

The next jab she landed.

 

 

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“Another three!!”

“Jim, this is incredible. But did we really expect anything less from SUNY West-Cayuga?”

“Their Cinderella story is NOT over yet!!”

“It’s incredible, with one minute left to play SUNY West-Cayuga takes a 68-61 lead. “And Arlington Roberts is fouled! He will go to the line and shoot two!”

“I don’t get it Jim, it’s almost like someone punched the Bruins right in the eyes! They cannot make a shot! SUNY West-Cayuga is playing great defense, hitting the three point shots they need and, as Roberts sinks one and they go up 69-61 with 45 seconds left, it looks like the Leviathans are going to be National Champions!”

Right Now, On the Back Porch

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Feathers’ This is my fiction piece.

UPDATE: I was the winner of the #Blog Battle for my ‘Feathers’ piece! Thanks to everyone who read and voted!

 

It was last March when all the trees sprouted feathers instead of leaves and the birds grew flowers and leaves instead of feathers. Just to make things equal, I suppose. Sure, it was strange and very surprising at first; I remember being over in Riverside Park for a case, all the way up by 125th street where the park is below West Side Drive, down on the river that looks out on Jersey. I remember taking a cigarette break and looking down into the water where a mess of feathers floated. I thought for a moment maybe a boat had hit a duck or something, but when I looked up, I saw a tree, bent in the breeze shedding feathers. I figured it was an isolated incident, something I’d read about in the paper next week, but Wilson’s existence in the sliver of a chair that sat in the sliver of New York I called an office changed that.

“It’s only affecting certain species of trees,” Wilson told me from behind his clear framed glasses and sandy brown hair, his voice like burnt coffee. “Palms seem to be just fine, as well as anything in the Spruce and Fir family.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

He threw a briefing down on the desk in front of me. “You’re the best person for the job,” he said. He was right, but I was holding out for as much money as I could get. “You figured out why that volcano appeared in Central Park. You helped stop those baby tornadoes that kept popping up in Williamsburg. You even tracked down why the sturgeon in the Hudson started singing the entirety of A Little Night Music.”

“Those fish love Sondheim,” I noted.

“We’ve got people working on the consequences of this, but I need to know why,” he said.

“Find someone else, I’ve already got a case.”

He wrote a number down on a piece of paper. I added a zero. He sighed, but nodded.

I took the case.

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I made slow progress the first few weeks. As March turned to April, it became more apparent which trees bloomed feathers and which were unaffected. Birds, however, didn’t get such a lucky break. Eagles on the Hudson grew oak leaves, pet parrots bloomed with tulip petals. Pigeons, once the winged rats of our fair city, now sported beautiful flowers of bluebells and nasturtiums, buckeye leaves and dogwood petals. Tourists made pilgrimage to New York, eschewing the Statue of Liberty and Radio City to take photos of Pigeons. I was happy to see the little winged clowns get the spotlight for once; I always thought Pigeons were cute. I have a sneaking suspicion that all New Yorkers do as well, New York code forbids one from admitting it.

A month passed, feathers in the trees waving the breeze, sparrows with buttercups for wings flitting about, and still I had no idea why these two species decided to mix it up. Was it a fluke? I decided to try my usual suspects.

I checked in with the Super Villain that lives on 175th, by Highbridge Park, but he only laughed at me. “What sort of stupid evil plan would that be, turning fowl to flower and arbor to avian?” I made sure to let all his lab mice out of their cages before I left, setting whatever plan he had scheming back a few months.

I had similar luck with the Witch Queen of Gowanus. She simply shook her head and sadly remarked, “It pains me to see the birds so limited in flight and the trees so unnatural. I pray to see their return to normalcy by the hour.”

Even the Frost Alien who disguises himself as a Great Pyrenees in Washington Square Park couldn’t tell me anything.  “Woof. Woof bark,” he said. “I’m not an alien, why do you keep asking if I am? What about the trees?” He declined to comment further.

Exhausted, I grabbed a Falafel and a Coke and sat on a park bench with a cigarette. Tourists from around the world frantically photographed flowered Pigeons. On the bench next me, a little girl fed a Pigeon who had sprouted wide, flat leaves adorned with acorns.

“She’s the Fairie Queen of Birds,” the little girl said, throwing scraps of a hot dog bun for her majesty, the Queen Pigeon.

I nodded and browsed my phone.

“You look angry,” she said to me.

I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you think these birds have flowers?” I asked the girl. “Why did a bunch of trees all of a sudden grow feathers?” I stomped out my cigarette.

“Because,” she said, eyes focused on the canopy of feathers above her. “The trees want to fly and the birds want to be more beautiful.”

She threw another scrap of bun for a group of birds that fought and pecked for it and turned to me, smiling.

“That’s stupid,” I said, grabbing my phone and keying ‘birds of prey’ into the search engine. “Look at this Eagle. And this Falcon. They’re beautiful. Have you ever seen a Peacock? Or a Toucan? Look…. look at this redwood tree out in California, look how deep the roots go. Birds are already beautiful and if trees wanted to fly they wouldn’t have dug into the earth so far.”

I shook my head and walked away.

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I never did figure out what it was, but when Wilson came back, I fed him the girl’s response. He pulled a face, but agreed it was poetic. If the supernatural couldn’t explain it, it might as well say something that sounds beautiful about it.

This year, as the birds molt and March slogs through some late snow, everything seems to be back to normal. Birds with feathers, Trees with leaves and flowers.

I guess we’ll never know why exactly it happened, but I long ago decided not everything needs an explanation. Not everything happens for a reason because sometimes, the reasons just don’t make sense. You’ve gotta let the trees dream of flying and the birds dream of, um, photosynthesis? Don’t ask me, I’m just one man with little poetic spirit.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a smoke.

 

BlogBattle award 1

 

 

 

“Fearless Minds Climb Soonest Unto Crowns”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Hair’ This is my fiction piece.

 

The whole army was behind him, their swords sharpened, their armor clanking a cacophony of sound as they marched along the river bank.

John had seen the river before, long ago, and although his men grumbled at his back, he swore on his grave that it hadn’t been this big. He had played in the water with his sister. Their father had crossed on horseback.

Now the river had swelled; that or it had eaten another river. No horse could cross, let alone a man on foot. John was unsure a boat could cross without the river greedily swallowing it whole. With the advice of the local farmers, John now lead his army three miles out of their way to a bridge.  John and the army were coming on it now, and a cry snaked its way back through the ranks of men. They stopped to rest along the banks, stretching and drinking from the flowing waters.

After speaking with a few of his generals, John approached the bridge, meaning to walk about halfway out to examine the river, when a strange sound greeted him.

It was a laugh that, at one point in time, must have sent lesser men running with chills in their bones. Now, it was half cackle and half cough that leaned more towards a lung deflating wheeze. It bordered on alarming, so much so that John searched frantically for the source so that he may try to aid it.

A troll loped up from under the bridge. Its skin was sallow and slate colored; large, sunken yellow eyes bore into him. It was not the large, land troll that John had previously encountered but the wily, river kind. At least it had been.  A mess of white hair lay about its pointed ears. One hand was missing a thumb among its long, centipede fingers. It wore a dusty tunic, perplexingly dusty given its proximity to water.

“Halt!” It cried, wheezing. “Who goes there?”

“Are you alright?” John asked as the troll fell into another fit of coughing.  He risked a look behind him, but none of his men seemed to notice the troll.

“This is my bridge and none shall cross!” the troll cried. It pointed menacingly at John, sharp teeth peeking out from a broken grin.

“I have an entire army at my disposal. Please, move or be destroyed.”

“An army?” the troll asked. John nodded and pointed behind him.  “Oh,” It said. “Well perhaps then I’ll need to kill them first.”

John laughed.

“Go ahead and try!” He goaded.

The troll closed its eyes and chanted a song strange and gruesome; something old and devastating, sung in a language that had never been written down for fear of what the words might do or where they may try to go.

The water in the river began to rise, forming a wall one hundred feet high. It stood, full of kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed, and John did not want to watch it crush his army like ants in the rain.

“Wait!” he cried. “What is it you want? Please,” he finished lamely. Two of his best generals came running up the bridge, one with an arrow notched in his bow. John motioned frantically for them to stand down.

The troll opened one eye and exhaled slowly, the wall of water shrinking with its breath.  It cackled again, this time without wheezing.

“I’ll need four pigs, a knife of infinite sharpness, five pounds of gold, the liver of two chickens,” it began.

“They are yours. Anything else?”

The troll smiled an evil smile. “Yes. Your hair.”

“Um,” said John.

“What is it?”

John removed his helmet. His bald head shone in the sunlight.

The troll said, “Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Oh my. You’re, um,”

“I am,” John said.

“But you’re a young man! How?”

“It runs in my family, I’m afraid. I lost it all completely a few years ago.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“Yes, well, now you’ve gone and made me feel bad about it,” John said, annoyed.

“I didn’t mean to!” The troll protested.

“Doesn’t matter if you meant to, you’ve done it. It’s bad enough that I’ve no hair left, you had to go and rub it in.”

“I-“

“It’s shameful, you know? Shameful to be the young, virile King of an entire land and be completely bald, but you don’t care do you? You just go about, willy-nilly demanding hair from people, and why? Because you’ve magic powers that can drown an entire army?  My men don’t even know, by the way. But perhaps I should show them? Perhaps I should go show my bald, shiny head to my men so that they can laugh right along with you. That’s what you want too, isn’t it? To humiliate me!”

“No!” cried the Troll, shaking its head miserably.

“It is! You magic folk are all alike, picking on humans. You’re no better than the elves that come to the castle, laughing away, calling me ‘Baldylocks’ and ‘King Hairless III’. I’m not even the third! I’m John the Sixth! Cheeky buggers!”

“I am sorry King John, I- I did not, please I did not know, I swear!”

“No, it’s fine. You may have your other demands. I am sorry I cannot provide you with hair. Perhaps we can shave my steed. It is only fitting, I suppose, for a bald King to ride upon the back of a bald horse!!”

“Please, please no!  It’s no matter, really. I am sorry! Let me make it up to you! You and your men may cross my bridge, no charge!”

“Are you sure?” John asked.

“I would be an honor for a great King such as you to pass overhead,” the troll shook John’s hand and retreated back under the bridge, bowing repeatedly to cried of ‘all hail!’ King John and his two generals made their way back to the banks of the river.

“Your majesty?” The taller of the two Generals asked. “Permit me, Highness but… well, you’re not bald.”

“No, I am not.” John said, smiling.

“So, you knew-”

“Let’s get a move on, men!” John called. He smiled and mounted his horse. “When faced with the unexpected,” he said running his hand over his smooth head, “Always prepare.”