The Defensive End and The Sea
Freefalling thousands of feet through the air gave J.J. Watt a chance to think about things; how this all started by arguing with an animal dumb enough to eat a worm on a hook, how, from now on, he'll take a parachute with him wherever he goes, even the shower, and how this could all have been avoided if he and his brothers had just decided to go ATV-racing out in the middle of nowhere.
They were all valid things he could have thought, but was too busy screaming to do so. Making it that much worse was the fact that it was pitch black around him with only a faint dot of non-blackness steadily growing beneath him. As the light grew closer, the echo of his screams had an unexpected accompaniment. He heard the roar of a tide swirl below him.
The darkness vanished and he found himself falling through a blazing blue sky, rushing headlong into the seething froth of an angry sea.
The sight of the ocean made J.J. think of Betty Kneiper, a lifeguard who used to watch over him and his friends at the pool when they were kids, and who, on weekends, would teach them how to properly swim...and dive.
The water grew closer and J.J., figuring he had nothing to lose, decided to make Ms. Kneiper proud. He faced the water head-on, extended his arms in front of him, pointed his toes skyward, and closed his eyes really, really tight.
Watt didn't know what to expect when he made impact. Would it be a splat, would he feel anything, would Reggie White spell St. Peter when he arrived at the Pearly Gates?
J.J. hit the water with a splash that would have won him gold at the Olympics. Beneath the water, a pair of fish argued volubly about the artistic merits of Dan Marino's cameo in Ace Ventura.
"No, I'm serious, Marino's performance was a metaphor for the haplessness of human existence made only worse by the cruelty of fate."
The other fish pondered for a moment. "But at least he got to make out with Sean Young."
The first fish nodded, or was it the second fish? They're so hard to tell apart sometimes.
"Species-ist," the fish muttered in unison, as J.J. Watt made his way to the surface.
Watt emerged from the water and looked around frantically. He saw a lot of nothing. Hawks wheeled peacefully in the air above him, their shape briefly obscured by clouds vaguely shaped like footballs. The water bounced up and down, waves roiling around him threatened to toss him to and fro like a stray beach ball.
"Hello?" shouted J.J. at nobody in particular. A hawk screeched in response, as if to mock him.
"Is anybody out there?" he said, this time louder.
It was no use. The crashing waves drowned out any sound he made.
A massive wave loomed over J.J.'s head, as if the sea were trying to swallow him whole. He covered his head as the wave rolled over him, threatening to plunge him back under the briny deep.
Watt shook his head violently in a vain effort to dry himself off. Salt stung his eyes, and every attempt to wipe them only made it that much worse for him.
J.J. swam through the choppy seas and each stroke felt just as futile as the one before it; every time he looked up, it didn't seem like he'd moved an inch. The waves lifted and lowered him.
I am really getting sick of these damned waves, he thought to himself.
And just as quick as thought, the waves subsided, the waters calmed, and the surface was like glass.
Watt shook his head again, not to dry off, but to make sure he wasn't imagining the sudden sea change. But there was something else he hadn't noticed until now. In the distance, he could hear a low wailing moan, the kind of moan that comes with the death of a loved one or arriving at a Whataburger minutes after they run out of onion rings. It seemed to come from all directions and from nowhere at the same time.
"Who said that?" asked J.J.
Wait...you can hear me?
"I can now," he replied.
This is awkward. There must be a glitch in the sound system.
"Sound system? Never mind, who the hell are you?"
Would you believe F. Murray Abraham?
J.J. looked up at the sky in disbelief.
"Stop saying what I'm doing! I know what I'm doing, I don't need someone else to repeat it."
They better fix this sound problem fast. Fortunately, J.J. was soon distracted by a small ripple in the water.
He groaned, thinking the waves were about to kick up again...but they didn't. Instead the ripple was followed by a slightly larger one, then another, until he saw a slender figure on the horizon paddling towards him.
Watt wasn't sure if he wanted to swim towards or away from the figure or even be sure if he could swim away.
But the figure didn't wait for him to make up his mind; before J.J. knew it, the figure was almost on top of him.
The figure wore a long purple coat over a white dress shirt with a matching purple top hat...or at least he would be wearing those things, if they weren't painted onto his wooden frame. His face was long and rounded at the bottom where a chin might normally be. He rode on a red scooter-like contraption upon which he rested one of his mangled wooden feet.
"Ho there, stranger!" said the figure in a friendly manner. "You don't look like you're from around these parts."
"I'm not. What parts are these, anyway?"
He pointed at the water, "Well, that part looks like water, that one up there," pointing at the sky, "looked like the sky, and a couple of clouds. Shoot, ain't you heard the narrator at all? He already went over this."
"No, seriously, where am I?" asked J.J.
"You're there. And I'm here. And F. Murray Abraham is probably at home having a cup of tea right now."
"What is this place?" J.J. asked again, his hope of getting a useful answer fading by the minute.
"Take a mouthful of that water you've been splashing around in, right quick."
Watt cupped his hands around some of the seawater and poured it into his mouth, and instantly spit it out.
The figure wiped his face. "Awful, isn't it?"
"It's somehow worse than seawater," Watt said in astonishment.
"For good reason. Seawater only has salt in it. This has the salt of tears. Tears of sadness, of anger, of sarcasm, and just a touch of bitterness to balance it all out. You don't want to stay in it too long. Too much time out here and you'll start to pickle and become as bitter as some of the worst fans you've ever seen in a football game; kinda like them."
He pointed to a pair of gherkins who appeared as if from nowhere and floated past. Their eyes were narrow slits, their mouths curled into a sneer.
"Same old, same old. I expect nothing less than disappointment from this front office," said one gherkin.
"Our coach is the worst coach in the history of the sport and should be fired into space without oxygen or a map back to earth!" the other shouted.
The two pickled vegetables squabbled with each other, floating aimlessly in the sea.
The figure shook his head. "That second gherkin must've had some Tabasco sauce before he got pickled with that kind of hot take."
Watt looked at the gherkins passing him, blinked, then looked at the figure again. "You know what football is?"
The figure laughed. "I should hope so; this is Football Land, after all. There's not much else to this place if we didn't have football."
The figured chuckled. "I'm being rude, aren't I? Allow me to introduce myself properly." The figured doffed his cap. "The name's Bob. Shatter Bob."
Bob extended his hand for J.J. to shake. The arm that came out looked like it was barely being held together by smaller wooden dowels connecting the forearm to the upper arm. When Watt inspected Shatter Bob further, it appeared that his entire body was built of little more than oversized tinker toys.
J.J. shook his hand reluctantly. "J.J. Watt."
"You mean THE J.J. Watt?"
"You know who I am?"
"Sure as hell do. Ain't nobody around here that never heard of the great J.J. Watt. Wait'll I tell the guys at--"
"--Nothing," Shatter Bob said sadly.
"So how do I get out of this sea? Is there even any land nearby?" J.J. asked.
"Plenty of ways, and plenty of land near here, wherever here might be."
"So how do I get out of here? How do we get to this Football Land? Which way do I have to swim?"
"Swim?" Shatter Bob laughed. "In this water, you could swim for hours and hours and still not move more than a couple of yards. Do you know how to paddle?"
J.J. nodded, "Dog paddle, or actual paddling?"
Bob opened up his coat and flung a tablet at J.J.
J.J. grabbed it and looked at the back, "A Microsoft Surface?"
"Just trust me."
He pressed the on button, with no response. He pressed again, still nothing. He mashed the button and the power remained off.
"This thing doesn't work, Bob."
Bob laughed, "Work? Hell, those things ain't never worked since Microsoft foisted them on us a few years ago!"
"I can't paddle with this thing, it's too small," Watt said.
"I never said you should paddle with it. No, stand on it."
Watt looked at Shatter Bob like he had lobsters crawling out of his nose, if he had a nose to speak of, but he complied. He submerged the tablet and tried with all his might to balance it beneath his feet, with the water trying to push it back up.
"This is ridiculous, how am I supposed to get out of the--"
Before he could finish, he saw that he was standing on top of a small raft with an enormous Windows logo on top of it. Shatter Bob then plucked his mangled leg out of its socket with little effort and tossed it to J.J.
If anyone had told J.J. that he would spend his evening paddling for his life in a sea made from the tears of upset fans using the leg of a man made from wood, he would've thought they were crazy.
But paddle he did with the rickety leg of his new acquaintance.
After what felt like hours of paddling, the sun finally began to set in the south, as it normally did.
"Normally, my foot," said J.J.
"No, that's my foot," said Shatter Bob.
J.J. watched as the sun finally dipped beyond a steep cliff in front of them. Rising from the cliff were three spires of solid granite, carved to resemble vaguely human forms; the two in the back were carved to look like they wore nondescript jerseys of generic players. The smaller figure in front held a carved relief of a stuffed animal and looked as downtrodden as the figures above it. The three of them made for a very depressing tableau.
None of that mattered at the moment to J.J.
"I...can't...paddle...another...inch," he said, throwing down Shatter Bob's leg.
"Hey! These limbs don't come cheap," Shatter Bob said, bringing his scooter to a complete stop before reclaiming his leg and popping it back into place.
J.J. laid down on the tablet, finally noticing the stone figures above him, "The...hell...are...those?"
Shatter Bob looked up, "Effigies of the long-suffering fan. They keep the sea from running dry."
As if on cue, water spilled from the faces, if they could be called faces, of the three figures and into the sea, causing a slight rise to and shudder in the water.
"Why are they wearing Browns uniforms?"
"Isn't it obvious? Where else do you go if you need sadness? They're our best supplier of tears."
"You think we can swim to shore from here?" J.J. asked, eyeing the beach longingly.
"No need," Shatter Bob said, "I have an idea."
He turned to the stone figures and shouted, "So, what do you think of Robert Griffin III as your new quarterback?"
The statues wailed in agony and copious amounts of tears flowed from their weathered faces. As the water hit the sea, small waves formed around J.J. and Bob.
"Art Modell just re-bought the Browns and is going to move them to Oklahoma City."
The wails turned into shrieks. The waves doubled in size.
Shatter Bob turned back to J.J., "You're gonna want to hold onto that tablet."
J.J. laid down and clutched at the Surface with what little strength he had left.
Bob turned back to the statues, pulled a picture from his top hat and unfolded what looked to be a grainy photograph, showing it to the statues.
The statues howled in unison, "JOHN ELWAY?!" The tears came so hard and so fast that the waves threatened to capsize J.J. Instead, they picked up his tablet and launched him headlong toward the beach, where the tablet speared into the sand and sent Watt flying further along the beach.
Watt laughed and grabbed at the sand, making sure it wasn't a mirage.
Shatter Bob landed in a pile next to him. His hands went about putting his body back together quickly, as if he'd had to do it countless times before.
"We made it! We made it!" shouted J.J.
The jangle of spurs rang in his ears as he stopped celebrating, looked above him, to see a large green monster with stained fangs that pointed upward, and beady eyes. In the monster's hand was a silver and blue pick-axe.
"You come with us," it said tonelessly.
TO BE CONTINUED...