By April O’Neil
Ornithop0wna picked a few blades of grass from the ground at Jurassic Park and held them up in the air. He released them, and they dropped flatly to the ground below. His gaze followed them down, then shifted to his teammate, who awaited him on the goal line. His solemn gaze then broke into a grin as he walked over to the goal line, slapped Spermadactyl on the tail, and declared, “No wind, no excuses! Let’s show all the haters that we can still shake n’ bake!” Right on cue, Sperm began shaking imaginary spices onto whatever tasty delight P0wny was rolling out with his invisible rolling pin. The rest of the team cheered from the sidelines. Chatter emanated from the stands, which was full of media, fans, and even some league officials (Like that Wilfred Bramble guy; what’s his deal? He’s always looking at everybody suspiciously, he smells like vinegar and rubbing alcohol, and he’s got a creepy assistant who always wears a flat cap following him around ).
Coach Serious Jest had initially balked at making this an open practice, but Spermadactyl had insisted. He wanted to feel the pressure to succeed. For most Blood Bowl athletes, his neck injury would have meant paralysis, or maybe even death. But, our team apothecary, Dr. Bennet Omaulu, was one of the best in the league, and Spermadactyl’s work ethic and determination was…incredible.
Even when TMNL started tanking as a team, Spermadactyl was one of those players that kept tails in the seats no matter what. You didn’t want to be the fan on Monday morning at work who missed Spermadactyl’s acrobatic dodges under the legs of 3 orcs to fearlessly mark a breakaway ballcarrier…or the time he ran the length of the field for a touchdown with only 3 teammates on the field to receive the kickoff…or the time he successfully led a legendary skink relay for a touchdown. He was talented, flashy, charismatic, and a fierce competitor, despite his rock star lifestyle. Spermadactyl could often be seen partying it up at Jurassic Park’s livest nightclubs, strip clubs and bars; driving fast women in fast vehicles all over the island; and performing drunken, death-defying stunts in front of his friends for no reason other than his enjoyment of living life to the fullest.
The media loved him…until he got injured. Over the past couple of weeks, Jurassic Park was flooded with quippy headlines: “Spermadunzo,” “Spermatackled,” “Broken Lizard’s Super Bloopers,” “Spermadactyl Sticks his Neck Out for His Teammates, Gets It Broken,” “Broken Dreams,” etc.
“I’m a joke to them,” he declared on the morning after his injury, tossing the latest copy of Just Score aside. “They’re saying I’m done.”
“Do you think you’re done?” I asked him. He just gave me that look in return; the same look he would shoot at me right before he was about to do something spectacular; as if he was saying, “Watch this.”
The Spermadactyl I have seen over the past couple of weeks is like a lizardman possessed. No partying, no unhealthy food or drink. Plenty of sleep, plenty of vitamins, plenty of rehab, plenty of training. Blood Bowl players heal fast, especially lizardmen, but by TMNL’s next match, Sperm was already running up and down the sideline cheering his team on toward their first victory of the season, at home against Da Green Fist.
After the match, the headlines got even more disrespectful: “Better Off Without Him?”; “Is Cantinflas the new Spermadactyl?”; “Cantinfladactyl!”; “Spermawho?”…you get the picture. But by now, Spermadactyl was not just physically strong again; he was mentally stronger than ever. He pinned the headlines to his locker to motivate him when rehabbing and training. He posted them onto the ceiling over his nest so that they would be the last thing that he saw before he closed his eyes at night. They were fuel for his fire, and his fire burned uncontrollably.
So here we are, at TMNL’s last practice before their last game of S4…maybe their last Pro game, if the rumors are true. Standing at the opposite goal line, 48 yards away, Coach Jest counts them down. “3!” With everyone watching, I’m secretly crossing my fingers that Sperm’s neck, just a little over 2 weeks after being broken, is able to stand the rigors of a full-out sprint; that he won’t embarrass himself; that he won’t aggravate his injury. “2!” And still, I can’t help but worry that, if he passes this test, a meaningless match against some particularly brutal dwarves may prove a terribly tragic reward. “1!” My heart is now beating so hard I can hear it in my ears. “Go!” And they’re off!
I wish I could write about the sound of a thunderous stampede of fire as two gladiators took off like space rockets from a launch. But, in reality, skinks are some of the quietest creatures when running. If anything you could almost hear little clicks as their little feet pitter pattered across the field, covering ground so fast that you could barely see them move. And one of these skinks was clearly faster. I was so scared of what I was seeing, but also so proud.
Spermadactyl crossed the finish line well in advance of Ornithop0wna. It wasn’t even close. Coach Jest could not contain the look of delighted surprise on his face, as he turned the face of his stopwatch toward the sideline and announced, “1.44 turns!” That was the fastest Sperm had ever run the “Fast 48.” That was gutter runner time. Fully beaming, Coach Jest walked over to Spermadactyl, who was now celebrating by shadowboxing in the corner of the end zone. The Coach put his arm around his favorite player, turned him toward the stands, and declared, “Spermadactyl will always be TMNL, for as long as he’ll have us!” The crowd erupted in cheers. A single tear rolled down from my cheek. I’m not sure if it was due to happiness in the moment, or due to fear of what was still to come.