This story is by Joie Michaels and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
His voice fell upon deaf ears as brilliantly constructed plays were lost in the shuffle of untrained players. Screaming loudly, only his migraine responded with brilliant flashes of light then silence.
“Coach is down, someone call for help.” Mike McKeeny, the star quarterback, ran to his coach’s side. He stayed with the coach until the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.
Still on one knee, he cried. The team that he loved and the university were drifting apart. With each loss, funding was cut. With his graduation coming up, he knew he would not be the winning quarterback on a successful team.
At least not this team, he thought. I am surrounded by misfits from the Island of the Misfits.
The following afternoon, assistant coaches brought the bad news to the team. Coach Downing had died of complications that stemmed from his lifelong battle with heart problems. The team was going to be run by Assistant Coach Steven Manning.
“We will not do well this year if we do not change our ways, boys.” Coach Steven began. “In the past, we have suffered humiliating losses to foes that didn’t hold a candle to our plays, our coach and our heart. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get us down the winning path, but I cannot do it alone.” He looked from boy to boy, searching their wide eyes for any sign that his message was breaking through. “If you are not with me, then walk now.”
Shuffling of feet caught Coach Steven’s attention as four boys backed from the crowd and walked to the locker room.
“Boys, just remember one thing. Don’t hate yourself for quitting, hate yourself for never starting.”
“I can hate them.” A voice from the crowd beckoned. “They are nothing but a bunch of quitters and we don’t need quitters on our team. Let’s do this for Coach Downing.”
“Whatever it takes?” Coach Steven asked.
“Whatever it takes.” Mike responded. “Who is with me?” He held his helmet high.
A resounding cheer broke from the remaining players.
Days passed and the team worked drills and plays that were both trying and nearly impossible. Several more players questioned their position and if they should keep working the impossible schedule.
Mike left practice one day with a new play in mind. He stopped by the chemistry building and spoke with Professor Billoby.
“Professor, I need your help. I need the drug you were working on last year.”
“How do you …”
“Cut the crap. I know all about you and what you have been working on here. You were trying to create the ultimate athlete. I need it. You want to keep me quiet, give me what you have.”
“You have way more to lose than me. We need you to do this for Coach Downing. We need to win. Our guys need help.”
“Jeez, Mike.” He began. “This is totally insane. You know damn well it won’t get past the FDA and, worse yet, there are no human tests.”
“Please, this is my senior year. This is it for me, my last college season.”
The plan was set and the drugs were released to Mike and he returned to the locker room.
Mike considered his position in the mix. He understood the downsides with the real possibility of criminal charges that would equal jail time for him and Professor Billoby. He also understood the dangers of taking untested drugs. However, Mike viewed the possibility of a winning season as a worthwhile risk that he wanted to achieve bad enough that nothing else mattered. At the same time, he didn’t want those concerns on the minds of his teammates. Mike entered the locker room with a plan and a pocket full of drugs.
Practice was grueling and players grabbed the water bottles and chugged the water as if it was the answer to their fitness dreams. Mike smiled, as one by one, each teammate consumed enough medication dissolved in water to boost “something.” Although Professor Billoby provided the proper dosage instructions, Mike believed that more was better and he dosed them accordingly.
The end of the exhausting practice saw players returning to the field to run laps. Coach Steven stood in amazement, as player after player refused to quit running drills. Although confused, Coach Steven did not stop the progress and instead allowed the players to continue until dusk.
Day after day, Mike played the game, and watched with enthusiasm, as the team slowly became the team he had always wanted.
Game time brought the team, head to head, with a local rival. The heated feud was not limited to the playing field, as the fans and parents were verbally abusive to each other and the other team.
It was an amazing sight, play for play, the well-oiled machine pushed through and finally won their first game in two years. Cheers and celebrating surrounded Coach Steven when Brian Williams hit the ground. EMS crews, stationed at the game, rushed to his side. Coach Steven watched in horror as they began CPR on his 19-year-old linebacker.
The following days were filled with sadness and then panic, as more players required hospitalization from cardiac events. The boys, aged 19-22, were struck down by mysterious illnesses that were normally reserved for the very old. Questions were raised, but no one knew what had caused the problems with the university football squad.
Mike knew. As he watched the team suffer, he pondered his position. If he stopped dosing the boys, they would lose and his dreams of winning the championship during his last year would be gone. If he didn’t stop, they may continue to fall ill and die.
His answer to his question became frightfully obvious, as he entered the locker room and dumped the rest of the meds into the water supply.
“I will get more and we will win, plain and simple.” Mike smirked as he turned to face a teammate who had entered the locker room behind him. “And what are you gonna do? You are finally winning. We needed this.”
The player said nothing. Without emotion, the player’s stare shot through Mike and into his soul.
Mike stepped forward and began poking the player in the chest with his finger. “I am telling you, I know what I am doing. It’s not like you were any miracle to the team. You suck, loser. You will never be as good as me.”
The player lunged and sunk his teeth into Mike’s neck. Human teeth required a powerful bite to pierce the skin. However once there, the flesh tore without resistance. Blood flowed as Mike screamed in terror. Without a chance to run, Mike found himself on the floor of the locker room being eaten alive by his defensive end.
Havoc reined throughout campus as newly reanimated football players returned. Although they moved with a shuffle step, they haven’t been dead long enough to look like the stereotypical zombie. Therefore, they found their human prey quickly. Those who weren’t eaten, turned. The campus was quickly overrun by the dying and the dead.
It didn’t take long after the first 911 calls from the campus for the lock-down to begin. Emergency crews from the area rushed in to quickly create a wall between the campus and the surrounding communities. The campus was quarantined from the rest of the world.
It was hoped that they had made it in time to stop the dead from leaving the campus.
Only time will tell.