“ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a big, bad, wolf…don’t do that. Don’t laugh.” The werewolf’s eyes watched Coach Serious Jest’s eyes go from wistful and reminiscent to sharp and aggressive, as Coach Jest sat up in his chair, leaned across his desk, and clenched his teeth. There were some pent-up feelings behind this restrained scowl, and even a big strapping alpha wolf like this one got the distinct feeling that he shouldn’t trigger this human any further. The werewolf lowered his gaze to the floor.
After what seemed like an eternity, Coach Jest settled back into his chair, softened his stare, and resumed a more conversational tone. “Sure, he wasn’t as big as you are, but he hit harder than you, and he could withstand harder hits than you. He couldn’t put up the weight you can in the gym, but he was dauntless enough to floor ogres on his own when he needed to. He was the scariest player in the MML; the top S7 MML Serial Killer; the Most Violent player in the MML both seasons he played; the Biggest Brute in the First 4 conference both seasons…and I pushed him. I pushed him too hard.”
“He tried to warn me. There were too many deaths, too many casualties…too many Cabalvision specials on the families that he left with dead fathers. He started a fund to help them financially, but it didn’t make him feel better.”
“I hired a sport psychiatrist just for him. We thought the bell therapy was working. But the morning of the Talismans R Us Bowl, he came to me; sat right where you’re sitting now. He told me he didn’t think he could do it. Didn’t think he could handle another dead rat on his conscience. I told him he’d be fine; told him that he was fulfilling his purpose in this world, even; sent him to see Dr. Pavlov. But the vacant stare was still there before the match…and I chose to ignore it.”
“First turn of the match, we received…withstood a weak blitz from Rodentia Ad Nauseam..cleaned up all of the rats in our backfield and the ones on the line. I sent Shawn after Rafi. Sure, Rafi’s smashed ankle has slowed him a little, but he was still clearly the most dangerous skaven on the field, and the only one trained in Mai-Tee-Blo. Terry and Tom shuffled over there to assist, since Rafi was backed up by a nearby gaggle of four rats. Shawn took off, his wrought-iron muscles cutting through the evening air like a missile. It happened so fast that Rafi didn’t even realize what was happening until Shawn’s teeth were right in his face. Rafi’s beady little eyes stared obliviously into Shawn’s at the last moment. Somehow, the storm vermin actually looked helpless. And then…Shawn just dropped his claws. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take another life. He looked over at me apologetically. Like he had let me down.”
“And then Dirtiest Randiest came from across the field and pushed Shawn in the back, and Rafi’s look went from oblivious to sinister, like he had caught Shawn in a trap. Rafi’s first strike missed, but the second effort caught him square. The blow wasn’t enough. Shawn could take punches like an orc, even Mai-Tee-Blo strikes like Rafi’s. But the blow knocked him on his back into the mob of rats, and they engulfed him. They ripped him apart. There were so many that the refs couldn’t even figure out who to eject. By the time the refs pulled them all off, he was just bones with strips of flesh left here and there. He didn’t even scream. He was the toughest sonofabitch I ever knew.”
Coach Jest’s jaw was clenched again, and his eyes were struggling to hold back the water that was clearly at maximum capacity; but his stare wasn’t angry anymore. He was looking through the werewolf sitting before him. He was somewhere else, lost in grief, guilt, and who knows what other crazy human feelings. The werewolf dared not interrupt him. He just waited uncomfortably, looking around the room, noticing the Forgetting Sarah Marshall video laying underneath some paperwork on the desk and the empty container of Ben & Hairy’s ice cream in the wastebasket. Finally, the coach’s eyelids forced the water back behind his eyeballs and his breathing became more even.
“I threw my arms up in a V, initiated Vermintide protocol. Everyone went into kill mode. Limp rat bodies all over the place. Like the rest of the team was channeling his strength. The Princess Bride took it the worst. She killed Lepto Spirosis II in retaliation. But she hasn’t been right since. We’re all still struggling to move on, to be honest.” Again, another long silence, with Coach Jest staring into some far-off dimension only he could see. Finally, he focused his gaze back on the werewolf before him.
“I just want to make sure this won’t happen again with you. I want you to understand what you’re getting into. One day, you could be as great as him; greater, even. But I won’t have your demise on my conscience, too. You need to let me know if the weight becomes too great.”
The young werewolf leaned forward and addressed his new coach with a steel resolve. “Coach Balwen was very clear with me about what my purpose was in coming here…what I was getting into. He gave me a choice. I jumped at the chance. The Hopeless Necromantics are already a household name in every pack. It will be an honor to play at Cloud Nine.” The werewolf stood up. Even in human form, his stature was monstrous, “You don’t have to worry about me, Coach Jest. I will be your rock. You can send Dr. Love packing. I don’t have any problems with killing. Leave the cheerleader with the tig ole bitties, though.” He smiled reassuringly as he extended his hand toward Coach Jest and said, “If that’s all, Coach, I’ve got a date with the weight room.”
Coach Jest stood and clasped his hand. The iron grip always caught him by surprise. “I’m glad to hear it, Merodach the Roarer. We’re all very glad to have you. Dr. Love stays, at least for now, just in case you ever need him. And my office door is always open to you.”