The pale red moon sat like a guillotine in the sky over Flowery Branch on All Hallows’ Eve. It’s been like this since Keanu Neal was helped off the field in Philadelphia — an angry reminder that these Atlanta Falcons have somehow betrayed the cosmic order and are paying penance to the universe in the form of IR stints.
Dan Quinn pushed the secret brick on the Escherian stairway that opened the passage to his office, leaving Thomas Dimitroff to maintain his heart rate as he continued his jog to nowhere. He sat down in his ornate obsidian chair, peering off into the nothingness while his mind meandered as to how he would present the latest calf strain to the Atlanta media. The Falcons staff knows not to disturb him when he’s in these moments, but this evening was different.
“Who summons me?,” Quinn growled, as the echo of the gilded door knocker rang throughout his chambers like the opening note of a funeral dirge. To his immediate annoyance, it did not open.
Another loud knock.
Suspicious as he is, Quinn slammed his laptop shut and teleported to the entrance, yanking the iron door open as fast and physical as possible. But there was no one there.
He saw Dimitroff checking his pulse a few floors below. He saw Jordan Richards lose his footing and faceplant into the macaroni in the team cafeteria. But outside of his office was nothing but floating dust in the red moonlight.
Until the specter of Deion Jones materialized like an image on a snowy television after staring at it too long.
“Coach,” his disembodied voice from the netherworld crackled. “You have to help me.”
“Deion, is that … really you? I’m fired up that you’re here, but you should be resting that bum wheel of yours. Also you’re kind of a ghost,” Quinn replied, relieved that no one was after his Google search history but confused that Jones had crossed an inter-dimensional plane.
“Coach,” Jones rattled, “I’ve come here to let you know that I can possibly return for the Dallas game, but the injured reserve overlords will not release me without a price. A price of flesh.”
“Flesh?” Quinn awkwardly checked his fangs. “We can give them flesh.”
The word reverberated through the concrete corridor. Like a siren in the sea of Odysseus the ancient screech and thunderous flapping of metal wings was nearby.
“Bring me some shears, some superglue, and Duke Riley,” Quinn bellowed to his acolytes down the hall. In short order, Duke Riley was dragged down those stones like many before him, sullen yet accepting of his fate. At the last moment he attempted a break for it, but ran in the wrong direction and was swiftly snatched up by Dan Quinn’s disciples.
“Duke, the message has been delivered. The gatekeepers in the purgatory of injured reserve demand a sacrifice in exchange for Deion Jones’ return, and your number has been called. Foye Oluokun has earned his spot, and as a Yale graduate he knows that the quickest path between two points is a straight line. I watched your tape from the Pittsburgh game and highlighted your coverage routes; during one series you ran what spelled ‘help me’ in cursive. There’s no debate here — it is your time. But first: a souvenir.”
Riley knelt as his head was shorn, his mane landing in Coach Quinn’s outstretched claws like a patch of marigolds. And when the floor opened up beneath him he uttered no word as he plunged into the churning, molten miasma below.
Dan Quinn stared into the mirror and admired his newly fastened blonde mullet. Like one of Riley’s coverage angles it was slightly crooked, but nevertheless it crested his shoulders like a golden victory shroud.
“Looks good coach,” said Deion Jones from the corner of Quinn’s office, the bones and tendons and nerves slowly reforming on his lower half. “I’m not familiar with physiology or reincarnation or black magic or anything, but I have a feeling this might take a few weeks. I don’t want to impose.”
“Take your time and become whole, Deion,” his eyes like dead stars transfixed on his reflection as he adjusted the bill of the bright red trucker hat he pilfered from Matt Bryant’s locker. “I have plans. Come, bird.”
The winged steel behemoth and the coach sporting his new, bleached Tennessee Tophat strode down the dimly-lit passageway and into curiosities of the cool Georgia night. What was done was done, and neither was in the mood to discuss Duke Riley’s condemnation to the hellfire beneath Flowery Branch.
“Wanna go to Applebee’s?” the Great Metal Falcon shrieked.
“You’re damn right I do.”