The Houston Texans are in a dark place. The football itself has taken a backseat to the madness guiding it. Things are even worse than they seem. This is a guest post direct from the frontline. You can follow the reporter @necrodank_on Twitter here.
Legs crossed, hands on his knee, Cal McNair sits upright, perky and proud at the end of the room. Halfway in the shadow, he basks beneath the reflected shine of the podium before him. Fluorescent lights fill the room with a pallid glow. Jacob Martin and Benardrick McKinney bicker in whispered yaps, yammering about which one of them should be Wolverine in this week’s dress-up. Charles Omenihu interrupts them, boldly correcting them, announcing that neither of them have what it takes, in a jovial banter.
Whitney Mercilus sits behind me, adorned in wool pajamas, his eyes filled with sleep. He mutters to himself inaudibly. Drool drips down his chin. His eyes are crossed. He slunches back and melts into his chair. Phillip Gaines sits beside him, oblivious to Whitney’s plight. He’s on the phone with the post office, pleading for an expected time of arrival, horrified he may miss the delivery of something he will die without. He sinks his face into his hands as he sobs for reprieve. “I have failed. I’m so sorry.” He weeps. Anticipation looms with a painful dread.
The chatter withers to a silence as Jack Easterby slithers to the stage. Adorned in a deep steel blue suit, liberty white shirt, and a battle red tie, he marches with confidence, betrayed by clumsy feet. His gait is awkward and labored. He stumbles about like a threatened crab, too focused on some looming threat to observe his surroundings. Easterby fights for control of his puerile form.
His bald head dripping with sweat. His face is stretched and desperate. His eyes are wide and black. His lip quivers like a hooked worm as he raises his outstretched hands to the void.
“Thank you, Lord, for another day,” he quips. Plopping his arms dramatically to his side, he chuckles to himself and shakes his head. His face is now relaxed and satisfied. His thin hand tugs the knot of his tie, loosening it with a smug exhale. He rolls his eyes and throws his head back, rolling it side to side in a dramatic stretch. I can see Cal chortle behind him with anticipation.
“We have a lot of work to do, we’ve left our guard down,” Jack sighs, approaching center stage. “We’ve allowed a culture of insidious excess and irresponsibility to develop here: A loser’s culture.”
Cal is nodding.
“For those that don’t know me, my name is Jack. A lot has been said about me. Almost all of it is a bunch of lies,” he snorts, “I was brought here to ensure we establish a culture.” He then lurches towards the podium, pointing his finger indiscriminately towards the team. “A culture that ensures we live every second of every day in a way that is congruent with the excellence we seek to show on the field. A culture that thrives to honor not only its city and citizens, but the Almighty as well.”
An anxious giddiness once again cracks the veil of Jack’s seriousness.
“You may not agree with me, but as a member of this organization we have been given the gift of doing something we love in a way that can inspire others. I believe it is our duty to do so.” He stops and looks at his feet with guarded despair. ”You may not agree with my methods, but I don’t think what I’m asking for is too difficult to understand.”
A stupid grin is painted on Cal’s face. His nostrils are flared. A vein surfaces above his brow. I can feel a dull pain begin to grow in my sinuses. Cal is giggling.
“I want us to have a victory mindset in the way we prepare, train, and live. I want us to think, ‘TEAM FIRST, me second’. I want us to act in a way that reflects us as not just football players, but apostles of a higher purpose. I need players willing to submit. To heed the call. Do you hear it?”
Jack is cupping his ear, his lips stretch into a sculpted smile, his white teeth stained pink by bloodied spit.
The ambient hiss of white noise fills the air as Cal laughs in muted hysterics. My head is now throbbing, pulsing within a phantom vice. Cal collapse to his knees. Whitney and Phillip are both crying, their faces wet with tears and snot.
“But we are a football team, Jack! We need athletes, not missionaries.”
Jack sneers. His hand to his head, he operates a mocking puppet with his thumbs and fingers. The throbbing in my head crescendos like the imminent drums of war. Cal’s face is contorting. Fingers gripping lips and nostrils, he stretches his skin with grasping claws, seeking agency over his features.
Jack stops in his tracks and the world falls dark. The fluorescent lights dim to a neon violet glow. A brilliant flare erupts behind him. Jack is locked onto me. His eyes pierce the back of my skull with a fervent glare. The pain in my sinuses turns sharp. I try to contain myself as I look around the room. Everyone holds a blank expression. No emotion. I ask McKinney if he’s seeing this, but his eyes are missing from his head. I can’t remember if he even had eyes to begin with. Cal is behind Jack at the podium, pink faced, smiling wide. His lips are stretched to their limits. His fists are pounding against his chest. A squeal sputters from his lips in pressured leaks. His eyes are bulging, working to evacuate his skull. His head shakes rapidly as spit seeps from his mouth.
“But we are also warriors of a higher purpose!” Jack bellows.
My heart pumps gasoline with a violence as the room shrinks down to a phone booth. I look at Jacob, but his gaze is unbroken towards Jack. Even as I grope for his arm in desperation and I fall from my chair, he doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t acknowledge me at all. No one does. Their focus is fixed. The world towers above me as I descend further and further. I collide with the ground, dwarfed by a canyon of flesh and bone.
The strength is sapped from my arms. My legs feel like jelly. I flap helplessly against the hard tile. All I hear is Jack and the deafening hiss. Cal is on his knees now, gripping the wall as he braces himself, heehawing with gnashing teeth. Possessed. The electric hiss of static is now a cacophony. Drowning out everything but Jack, whose voice has become omnipresent. It reverberates from my bones and flesh in a twisted hum.
“Now what do y’all like to say? What are KiKi and Ray Ray saying?”
My vision tunnels to a pinpoint. I can see Cal on the floor. His skin is purple. His eyes are vacant. He lays motionless on the ground. A white foam drips from his mouth.
“LET’S GET THIS BREAD, Y’ALL!”
Trumpets blare and the earth shakes. Jack’s smile bisects the flesh of his cheeks from ear to ear. His skull hinges open, irritated pink esophagus revealed. He drops to his knees, hands turned with their palm upward at his side. His loose skull dangles perilously from the tip of his spine like a rotten apple does from its branch. The sound of drums grows louder. An obsidian obelisk erupts from Jack’s throat, stretching his body to a fragile dermis. The obelisk blooms to a monstrous size, effortlessly plowing through brick and mortar, crashing through the ceiling. A loud hum fills the air. What was once Jack sizzles against the blackened stone into a liquid mush, dripping onto the ground as it scrapes against the edge of the cavern ripped hollow through the ascension of the obelisk.
The static hiss dissipates in an instant as consciousness begins to flee from my body. My teammates have become silhouettes, corporeal abyss. Their shapes twist and contort into a creeping growth of vantablack. Their vacuous presence begins to pull me, when, in a fleeting moment, I see Deshaun Watson loom over my body. He is glowing in a golden sheen. A beacon in suffocating murk. My eyes follow him as I drift. I watch him race behind me, but I’m being pulled too quickly. He reaches, tripping over his own steps as he grips the slick skin of my fingers for a fleeting moment.
“Deshaun?” I whimper, flailing my arms, groping nothing but slick ink as I reach for him. Clawing against a frictionless slick. This is futile. Desperate.
“You need to hold on”.
I can tell he can’t hear me. I can‘t get the words out of my mouth. I’m being dragged by a current of ink and oil. I feel the tile burn with a freezing cold as it slides against my feeble form. I reach and flail, finding nothing but liquid shadow as I seek Deshaun.
I hear his cries grow more distant.
“J.J.! Hold on!”
I scream a gurgled plea as black stink smothers my nose and mouth. Clawed daggers grasp at my limbs. As I sink, cold emptiness envelops me. My flesh burns hot in a feverish roast. A last bit of oxygen escapes me as I submit to the oily grave. I go dark, alone and afraid.
I am talking to Jimmy Fallon on a zoom call. He is dressed like Moira on Schitt’s Creek. I don’t know how I got here. I can feel myself talk but it doesn’t feel real. I feel as though my body is a peripheral to my own. As if I were piloting it by remote control. Jimmy points and claps. Laughing. Still laughing. Always Laughing.
“Wow! Look at you!” he stammers. Gawking at his captive, he senses the fear within me. He knows I know something isn’t right. “Look at you, you’re surrounded by awards!”
Oblivious, I look around.
“Where am I? I do not recognize this place. Are these my awards? Thank you, thank you,” I ramble.
Something isn’t right. This isn’t my home. These aren’t my awards. If I touched these, they would crumble. Paper mache. Constructs of my innermost subconscious. Lotus flowers meant to intoxicate me. Placate me.
“Oh my gosh! They look real!” Jimmy replies, feigning shock in his voice. He now knows I am aware of the ruse.
“So Tom Brady,” Jimmy changes the subject. He is talking about the upcoming Super Bowl. Asking me what I think. Words leak from my mouth. Drained and confused, I give the usual charm. Where is this going?
Something just moved in the house. Electricity rips through my mind. Sharpened tentacles squirm within my sinuses. An electric buzz fills the air. Jimmy is laughing. Jimmy is peering into my soul. He sees the truth. It delights him. He’s part of this. He must be.
“Deshaun Watson says you’re stuck in the Texans Cinematic Universe. You’re all stuck inside the Texans Cinematic Universe.”
The air is on fire. I hear the upstairs of my home collapse in on itself. Snakes begin to slither from the shadows. Birds begin to slam upon the windows. A pale skinned and scaleless serpent slithers towards me. Twisting behind each nook, it swells with each reveal. The disgusting stench of rot and burning garbage fills the air.
“Deshaun says that if you can’t fight this, you and everyone you love are going to be stuck in the Texans Cinematic Universe forever.”
“I just try and believe it’s not true.” I chuckle weakly, watching my world collapse in on me. This can’t be real.
I look at Jimmy. He is now the pale skinned serpent. Scaleless and covered with a thin coat of wiry hair, a pair of human eyes and a human nose lay stretched over the serpent’s skull. Its dripping fangs hide beneath human lips. A forked tongue flicks from its mouth. It transforms. A nude Jack Easterby reveals itself.
Hot breath hits my ear. Deshaun.
I sprint out the room.
The façade that is supposed to be my house is closing in on itself. The stairs fold and the walls contort like origami. I drive my fist into white paper, ripping apart the walls, I dive through the front door. The smell of ammonia ignites my senses. Death surrounds me. I lift my head to see Jack, still nude, holding the bleeding decapitated head of a bull over his muted genitalia, smooth and speckled with thick black hairs. The world is sparse and lifeless. Filled with nothing but Jack, brown grass, and dust. Wind gusts as thunder throws jolts of electric judgement upon the decrepit earth.
“Deshaun is under contract as a Houston Texan and he will remain a Houston Texan,” Jack sneers.
“Deshaun is under contract as a Houston Texan and he will remain a Houston Texan.”
I feel as if a root is being pulled from my throat.
“Deshaun is under contract as a Houston Texan and he will remain a Houston Texan.”
“Deshaun Watson needs to do what he’s told,” Jack cuts. “He needs to shut up and play. He needs to stop fighting”.
I can feel a pressure give way as a thick root of flesh is dislodged from my throat.
“He will be happier in the Texan Cinematic Universe and you will be too!”
Jack drops to his knees and his mouth splits open. The obsidian obelisk bursts forth and trumpets blare.
We are in the Astrodome. It is filled with jeering caricatures. My mother, father, brothers, wife:
Cheater city. Cheater fans. You need Jesus. You need Jack.
They sing in unison. Repeating the chorus over and over. Their faces melted, their cadence drunk.
“You belong here. You need us. Greatness isn’t owned, it’s leased and rent is due everyday.”
A swarm of locusts explode from their bodies, and dig into my throat. I can feel them clawing away. Blood drips down my chin. Tears run down my face. I groan as vomit dances in my throat. A cruel tentacle strips me of my self-control. I squirm and seize. I scream.
“Hold on,” Deshaun yells.
I feel a root exit my mouth. A bright light breaks through, disintegrating the world around me. The Astrodome dissolved to dust. The obelisk melting into the endangered shadow. I fall to the ground. A barrage of vomit slaps against the floor. I can hear cheering around me.
“Welcome back to the real world,” a kind southern drawl greets, “That is, the world outside the Texans Cinematic Universe”.