Long after the last reporter left, hours after the defense had forlornly gotten dressed and rode off into the darkening skies, Brian Poole still sat at his locker. He might have been a statue, cloaked in the evening shadows, were it not for his slow and regretful blinking.
Poole knew it was not his fault the Falcons had lost this game. You could hardly hang all 43 points on him, after all. He knew that the new, oddly hollow-eyed version of Matt Ryan had caught metaphorical fire (and smelled, strangely, of sulphur), but the defense had let the team down. Yet he was haunted by his own specific failure to bring down a scrambling Drew Brees. In his mind’s eyes, he saw the tiny quarterback twirling, wreathed by a tornado-force winds, his elvish mouth saying “ADVOCARE” triumphantly as he trotted into the end zone. It was one of the worst moments of Poole’s career.
When he finally stood, heaving a deep sigh, he was startled to see the herky-jerky motions of a tall shadow working its way through the locker room. Instinctively, Poole tensed to tackle, but when a figure in a pitch black robe turned the corner, it hit a sick spin move and Poole missed entirely.
The figure stood expectantly as Poole sprang to his feet.
“Who are you?” he shouted, hands up and ready to fight.
“You know me for my speed and my physicality, and my great disdain for failures of execution,” the figure said, his voice rustling like a fall breeze through dead leaves.
Poole needed to hear nothing else, for he was privy to all the same dark whispers as everyone else on the team. He had been chose as the scapegoat, and he was not about to take that lying down. He hurdled his head coach and took off running down the dimly lit halls of Flowery Branch.
“Wait,” called Dan Quinn, his angular face rising from his cloak like an axe blade. “You can’t escape destiny by running away!”
Poole had made it only a few dozen feet when a figure appeared in front of him. It was Justin Bethel, his arms seeming elongated on the gathering dark.
“Sorry, old fellow, but you will go no further. Not for a fortune! Blood, blood, and opportunity for me,” he said gleefully, but when Poole attempted to run by him, Bethel missed entirely.
Poole ran to the outside doors, flung them open, and slammed them behind him. But he realized with horror that he had not reached the safety of the parking lot, but was inside Quinn’s cavernous office. Lit only by torchlight, it had acquired a more sinister edge, especially for the great metal Falcons statue perched near his desk.
And then there was Quinn, climbing up the stairs with the grim terror of a stop-motion vampire.
“You won’t get away with this!” Poole shouted.
Quinn shook his head with what Poole thought was a touch of sadness.
“I will tell them I am sending you to some lost corner of the Carpathians for a few months to work on your technique,” Quinn said, his mouth bared in a grim, fanged smile. “They have come to fear my word, and believe me, everyone says I won’t get away with what I get away with. There must be a price paid for our failures, Brian, and you let a quarterback of my age and physique hit a spin move on you. If we’re to save this season, we must give Us...excuse me, the Great Metal Falcon...what he wants.”
Poole would have argued with that, would have pointed out that his fellow cornerbacks also missed tackles and what could you possibly expect from a defense with so many missing players against a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he missed the floor spinning open underneath him before he could so much as draw an argumentative breath. Then Poole, like so many before him, fell into the hot glow beneath Flowery Branch with nary a whisper.
Quinn lowered himself tiredly into his chair, which reclined almost back to the floor, and sank deep into his thoughts. When the Great Metal Falcon finally spoke, his words reverberated only in Quinn’s head.
“So we thinking Nosferatu or Despicable Me 3 for movie night? Because I could go either way,” he screeched.