#FridayFlash: Spikes High
by Tony Noland
Coming up on midfield, Kent moved the ball forward with a fast double-toe move. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the big striker from Westerville Central High, a blonde guy sporting number 21, moving up alongside him like a tanker truck.
All night long, that jerk had been kicking high, leaving big welts on Kent's thighs with his spikes, cheating with his size to make up for what he lacked in speed and footwork. He'd been doing it to the whole Asherton side, then smirking afterward. The referees were clearly in the Westerville pocket, since they not only hadn't carded him, they hadn't called him on it at all, not even a warning. Home field advantage my ass, Kent thought, more like a clear case of bribe-the-ref. Well, enough's enough; I'm gonna put a stop to it, even it I get a yellow. Hell, even a red would be worth it. Down 4-0 with two minutes left, things can't get much worse.
Kent got ready for the hit. The Westerville striker cut left, then started to jink back to the right, his knee high as Kent moved the ball across his quarter. Spikes up, Number 21's right leg came up for a snap kick, not at the ball, but at Kent's left thigh.
Instead of trying to avoid the slashing kick, Kent stepped hard and twisted back into it, kicking the ball away into empty space downfield. As Kent expected, his opponent was distracted by it long enough for Kent to plant his own feet, take the kick on his thigh and bring his elbow up into Number 21's chest, just left of center, as hard as he could. Kent braced his left fist with his right hand, so he was able to put the entire weight of his body behind the blow.
The pain that radiated out from his elbow was a shock, an electric bolt that made him fear for his arm and wrist. Number 21 went up in the air, lifted on the point of contact by the combination of Kent's explosive twist and by his own forward momentum. For a moment, he seemed to hang in the air, his bulging eyes locked with Kent's own, his lips flapped out in a ridiculous parody of exhalation as the air was driven from his lungs.
Then, he fell. Kent continued his twist, moving out from under the dumb bastard, pivoting his elbow out and away. His opponent hit the ground hard, like a big sack of wet laundry.
Kent snarled and spun away, sprinting after the ball, hoping the referee had missed the hit. When the ref's whistle sounded a moment later, Kent fixed his very best look of confusion and disbelief onto his face. The ref, however, ran past Kent without stopping to draw a card or even point a finger. Now genuinely surprised, Kent turned to watch him as he moved over to kneel by Number 21, lying motionless at midfield where he'd fallen.
The ref said something to him, then leaned in closer and said something else. As the ref straightened and began to motion to the sidelines, the Westerville coach and assistant coach were already running onto the field, followed by their trainer, carrying a big first aid kit. Kent panted, feeling the sweat bead and roll down his scalp. He watched the Asherton trainer, Mr. Mickton, also come running onto the field with a kit, soon joined by other officials and adults. Over the bent heads of the men surrounding the prone figure, the referees and both line judges stood close by, watching. After a moment, the Westerville assistant coach stood up and backed away, cell phone out and dialing. The trainers smoothly rolled Number 21 onto his back and began CPR.
From the silent, breathless bleachers, a woman's voice screamed a name. One scream, one shocked cry, then nothing. Over the PA system, the announcer said something that Kent couldn't understand, the blood pounding in his ears filling the world with a roaring, rushing wave.
The assistant coach was pacing, talking, shouting into his phone, his voice rising and falling in a running account. The big middle-aged men leaning over, the trainers giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, their bearded faces pressed hard against the smooth, slack lips of the blonde young man. They all hovered and moved around Number 21, kneeling, crouching, leaning, standing, looking like nothing so much as the cloud of moths that swarmed the field lights, dipping, swooping, circling, as though to find life-giving heat in the cold October night.
CPR, mouth-to-mouth. CPR, mouth-to-mouth.
Kent counted ten, eleven, twelve cycles before he heard the first sirens, and then, behind them, beneath them and above them, the heavy whup-thup, whup-thup of an approaching helicopter.
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