Continued from: Earworm: Part 45 — Just Crazy After All These Years
Joel remembered the huddle. He remembered calling, “Hike.” He remembered the ball in his hands. But then it all happened so fast, yet it seemed to unfold in slow motion. Turning to handoff the ball, no time for the play to develop, there was a giant thud. It seemed like he heard it, but it was more that it became him. He didn’t recall feeling the hit, only the air rushing from his lungs creating a vacuum within his body. And there was a sound, louder than anything he’d heard before, yet as subtle as a clock’s ticking. A snap or crackle or pop. Kind of like the cereal, kind of like crumpling paper. Feeling as if the spot at the base of his skull was that crumpling paper. But then he felt nothing. There was only the vacuum in his chest and a strong desire to cough. Bodies piling on top of him. Still, he felt nothing but that desperate, empty, gasping, grasping for air.
The bodies dispersed from the pile—the world moving in a disheveled speed—and as the bottom player got up, all the players looked down at Joel with odd, disquieting looks in their eyes. Looks seeming to say: that doesn’t look right. More players gathered around him, all of them with that look on their faces. Joel watched them with a distant unattached feeling, like watching them on a television screen. He wondered why no one offered him a hand to get up, and still, his breaths weren’t coming. He had a strange, floating sensation. Someone calling something, the words sounding like a tape recorder running low on batteries. “Co-o-o-oach! Co-o-o-oach!” And then the coach and trainer appearing above him, and Joel thinking he should let them know he was okay. He should tell them he only had the wind knocked out of him. But that wind didn’t seem to be coming back. The coach told him to stay still. Okay, coach, not a problem, I don’t seem to be moving anyway. Should I be? Joel thought maybe he should try breathing again—things were becoming dark and blotchy—and he floated a little more, as if falling into a sea of ink. But then the trainer said two words, and their meaning melted into Joel’s mind. The words raising a whole new awareness as Joel’s thoughts were drifting away. “Broken neck,” the trainer said. Whoa, what? Who? Me? Wait a minute. There was a horrible sensation as the coach leaned over him, and Joel saw the man’s grave concentration through the darkening fog of his perception. Then darkness took him fully.
Wait, was his body moving? He could move. He could breathe. He took long, deep, gasping breaths. But the darkness stayed. Was he alive? He tried to stand, but his legs were bound, and lunging, tripping, he fell hard onto a familiar surface. Carpet fibers digging into his palms and scraping his face. He blinked, lying a moment, cheek nestled on the carpeted floor, legs twisted and bound above him. He took another deep breath. There was the familiar scent of stale carpet and sweaty sneakers. He untangled his legs from his bed’s sheets and rolled onto his back. In a breathless whisper, neither desperate nor calm, Joel said, “What the fuck was that all about?”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 47 — Ballooning
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