Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Manifest Destiny Bowl: Salt Lake City Gulls vs. Cascadia 54/40's (Excerpt from "That Football Movie, or the Tragedy of Mack Bethlehem")

The Cascadia 54/40s went through their final practice before they boarded a plane for Salt Lake City. A camera crew caught up with them in a team meeting. Folding chairs and video projectors. Lots of sports drinks on hand. There was even a sports masseuse with a fold up table. The Cascadian coaches gave their last two cents. Destruction of the enemy at all costs. Big men always loved to play smash mouth. The offensive gurus made sure to press the point home. In their own words, the soft underbelly of the Gulls defense lay exposed.


Stephen Yung led a series of plays on the electric board. He diagramed the plays that would reach paydirt and win the game. He extolled the offense to play through the pain to reach the final victory. In need of making that point, he talked about all the hard work they had done.


The first team offense glittered in their appreciation of the game plan. Enthusiastic about the outcome, they answered questions when Yung shouted them out. In the crowd, a man wore a green and silver jersey. #17. His name was Douglas Williams. Faster and stronger.


After practice, he would lead the team song.


***


The veterans association of the Deseret Defense Forces always put something together every anniversary of the Siege. They came across the basin and filled up the Nauvoo Legionary Halls. Fruit punch and sugar cookies and little wedges of ham and cheese. Speakers talked about their experiences during the wars, but they mostly sat around and watched videos. Filled with pictures of fallen comrades, very soon, most old men began to nod off.


At one such hall, close to where the western shores of the lake met the salt flats and their wastes, not a sleepy head could be found. The only lecture in this hall came from a special visitor.


Mack Bethlehem surprised himself. Only scheduled to talk for half an hour, he went into two -- and the audience had even wanted more. No, he claimed. He'd best save his voice to bark at those Cascadian linebackers. The audience wished him well, and to raucous applause, he descended into the throng. A retinue of followers chased him across the floor. They hung on every word. Mack had never felt so good, and so guilty, with the words he felt charged by.


-Haven’t you ever thought about the people who were here before us? Recent scientific research would suggest the pre-Columbians were here much longer than we ever thought.-


A crowd had gathered around him. They asked how he knew.


-It's direct revelation. That's how I know. All problems can be solved by talking directly to our Israelite god.-


The crowd ooohed, ahhhed, and asked what he thought it must have been like long ago.


-The first settlers actually came here looking for gold. They should have found some. Clearly the aboriginals hid it from them. Buried it in the earth. But I have another idea, and that's why I think the pre-Columbians were here for a much shorter time than science tries to predict.-


How could he be sure of that?


-Look at the first things the settlers found when they moved west. Mound cities. Structures that went on for miles. Giant walls shaped like serpents. Even pyramids. Clearly, the aboriginals at one time had an advanced culture. But what happened to them? More importantly, where was their gold? The proof of an advanced culture is always its economic capital.-


Did they ever find any riches from these past civilizations?


-Not as much as they should of. But they did find objects--magical objects. Mostly with the help of seer stones and special looking glasses. The frontier was one giant treasure hunt! And in the end, they found evidence that the ancestors who built these ancient ruins were directly related to us. They came from biblical times.-


Then who are we?


-Inheritors of the work of lost tribes. We have more of an ancestral claim on this place then you'd believe. It's our birthrite....-


They laughed and cajoled with him. But inside Mack was desperate with guilt. While the language came easy to him, and he knew the forms to use, his transparency angered him. It was no use.


***


-I need to reach the practice field. Where the Gull’s Gals are practicing.-


Mack had dialed zero, reached the operator (she had the accent of a provisional officer, probably California), and was patched through to the front office of the Gulls. After a few long minutes, a cheerleader coach who sounded like the other cheerleader coaches got on the phone, and before she could say anything else...


-I need to talk to the three cheer captains.-


A very long minute later...he heard the first voice on the phone.


-Well, I was just twiddling my thumbs, wondering when something wicked this way comes.-


He couldn't tell which one he spoke to. Did it matter? All paths of the Gull’s Gals went though them, and ended with these three. They'd been with the Gulls the longest. They were almost foundational in a way. That was why he had to ask them...


-I'm worried about the future.-


-The game?-


Their voices trebled in his mind. Now three. Did they have him on a party line?


-What's my destiny?--


Silence. For a second Mack checked his bearings. He stood at a rest stop in the middle of the desert next to a highway with a giant bomb crater lurking as a future threat from above. And yet, it was barely the desert. It was the last stop before someone wanted to cross over. Into the wilderness. He expected to find the answers there, and like all the solutions he wanted to distance himself from, those that so tired him and made him sick of the same old forms, he knew this option would always exist for people just like him, people yet to come. There was no bigger lie than the wilderness.


He hung up the phone.


***


If someone stood on the plateau with their back to the west, they could look upon the vista as it had for the first Saints and imagine their flight from destruction in the east.


Mack saw an older place. Where fields of rock were petrified explosions striated by eroded bands, and hundreds of them dotted the canyon floor as a grove of frozen growths that had long outlived a towering forest of mountains. Only the hoodoo rocks remained. The explorers called it a valley of mushrooms. To Mack, it would always be the place where his mother's brothers would take him and tell him stories of the goblins that lived here.


He descended to the canyon floor. He had a hard time locating the cave. But by the time the long sunset spanned the horizon as a ribbon of orange, he arrived. It opened up to him, swallowed him. He imagined his mother, her voice telling him to not dirty his jeans. When he turned on the flashlight, the place looked as he remembered. The light beam lit up the cave walls, and for a second, only the glare was visible. Then, the objects began to emerge. Outlines drawn in the carbon blacks pulled from Neolithic fires. Ochre, and faded greens and yellows from the sap of extinct plants. A language of wild bison and elk hunted by people with spears. The chase ended with the dance of horned men and the faces of beasts.


He pulled the peyote buttons out of his Gulls jacket, remembered the Lamanites of old. He remembered his mother’s brothers. When had he done peyote the first time? Didn't matter. He loved drugs more than anything else.


***


The fire burned out and the stars began to fall.


From out of the gravity well, rockets rose on plumes of fiery desperation, assembled in the last LaGrangian points around their homeworld, and said goodbye to the mottled ashen ball of their former earth, now riddled with the pestilence of extinction. Their rockets sounded the depths of the stellar night, carried by the gales from tempests that blew from the wickedness of their enemies.  Hunger and sorrow traveled with them. When they starved, they warred upon each other and ate the flesh of their brothers. They wept across the void and gulf with the promise that they would greet their shoaling on a new world with lamentations. To their Israelite gods, they prayed for the safety of their deliverance.


The first footfalls were on were minor worlds with barely a gravity worth the anchors they cast from their landing vessels and hardly a wisp of atmosphere that could cling onto the lifeless cratered rocks unchanged in a billion years. But they served as the coaling stations for the next stage of the trek, a respite from the deathly calm of the horse latitudes between star, to star, to star. Through the gaseous nebulae, the solar nurseries filled with blown-apart helium shells and graveyards of collapsed iron cores, the travelers’s hearts were burdened. Yet their eyes did tear with joy when they gazed upon an edenic world. Colonists descended to the surface of the blue and white streaked globe of shallow seas and archipelagos of volcanic flows.


Fields of purple grasses waved beneath a sky filled with a triplet of meteor stricken moons, and the colonists disembarked and took apart their ships to build golden cities of pyramids. They built mounds and earthworks, and turned over the virgin soils. They were built out of a promise to shine as a city on a hill. The descendents of the first colony ships would seed and reap a breadbasket for all future worlds to come.


Colonists exchanged material culture with the green-skinned natives of this new home, monstrous savages with four arms and wise to the spirits in the lands. Soon, the settlers reaffirmed their own identity by war against the barbarians. The issue was settled at last. For the frontier would always be free. A place to regenerate their racial fortunes. This was the founding from sea to shining sea. Even when time pulled down the mistaken idols grown green with age, as brother turned on brother and sisters were raped by the defeated races of sub-man, a prophecy was sown into the ground, hidden for the time of a new discovery, and a promise for a resurrection of the land.


***


Fireworks and smoke leapt from the altars at the four pillars of Never Forgive, Never Forget Stadium. Birds of war tore apart the clear blue sky, and the crowd yelled lustily for action, not words. Images roused their passions. So too did the songs of yesteryear give them strength, and inspire them. They sang along to the hits. The history of rock-n-roll, part one.


Cameras trained their shots on the Cascadia 54/40s, as they exited the visitor tunnel, and took the field. But not all threw derision their way. A significant portion of the crowd—that section decked out in the green and yellow colors of Cascadia—threw garlands with the message. "54/40 or Fight." Each streamer landed at the feet of the Cascadian parade. Stephen Yung and Douglas Williams spearheaded the charge of throwback uniforms. Camouflage patterned with the foliage of the forested northwest. So, with this they would march against the Gulls. The colors of nature in rebellion. And no one could not help but notice how even members of the homecrowd cheered for a change in victors.


A moment of silence was commenced. The flag that had flown so high during the Siege was paraded forward. The beehive standard of the Deserites. Anthems from the nations. For Cascadia, "To Anacreon in Heaven." For the Commonwealth of Deseret, "Onward Christian Soldiers." Team introductions started, Mack buckled the strap of his helmet, and heard his name over the loudspeakers.


-#6…Mack Bethlehem!-


***


Right before the wars, a time existed when the federal imperium ran on numbers. All watched over by machines of loving grace. Efforts were quantifiable. Expectations existed for professionals to achieve targeted objectives. Ameri-ball still existed in such a world. A remnant of the old order. The ancient regime had statistics that measured success in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio. These cliometrics served as the quarterback ratings of old.


Stephen Yung.
12-22. (54%)
130 yards. (5.9 yards/attempt)
0 TDs, 2 Interceptions.


Mack Bethlehem.
10-13 (76%)
150 yards. 11.58 yards/attempt)
2 TDs (1 rushing), 0 Interceptions.


Gulls - 24,
54/40s - 9.


***


Halftime marked a bigger break than just the stoppage of play for the meat of the canon. It signaled the gap between one age and another. There was no machine that could have predicted the outcome. Not for what people could choose. The present that meant to peer ahead into the future could not, and it lived as it died. With the complex of Cassandra. No one would ever listen to its prediction again.


When play resumed, it featured a crowd that did not think it could lose. It really believed it its exceptional character, proved through bloodlust and the scream for a vigilant god. The ceremonial flames at the four corners of the coliseum leapt upwards into the sky. Orange buffed the sides of the mountains, now knives into the belly of the cloudless sky in the hour of the first shadows of late noon.


The Gulls received the ball, as Coach Spaulding always planned to defer, and –touchback -- started at their 20. Mack received the ball in the shotgun. Rolled left, faked to pitch, stepped forward.


And a Cascadian linebacker stepped in front of the pass and intercepted him.
54/40s's ball at the Salt Lake 37.


A storm began to break from the north. Red and white standards flapped and rattled their posts. Stephen Yung ran on the field. Quick count, handed off -- and the running back flipped back the ball. Fleaflicker.


A delayed safety blitz sent the Dagger into the Cascadian backfield and flattened Yung, the ball, and maybe, the game. Gulls players jumped on the fumble. Medics hit the field to save Yung.


Things began to happen simultaneously.


Mack led the offense back onto the field. Douglas Williams began to warmup. Yung was helped off the field. And Mack lined up, read the defense of the 54/40s, and called an audible. Quarterback keeper. He would have had it too, if not for the Cascadian forested linesmen who nearly took off Mack's head. He only lost the ball. Another fumble! The 54/40s recovered! Again, at the Gulls' 37.


The crowd was stunned.


***


Mack drained a paper cup of his favorite sports drink, before he flung the cup on the ground. A coach with a seagull on his hat stood next to Mack, betwixt and between the decision to fix Mack's black hair and back up the Salt Lake City QB. Mack yelled.


-Excuse me, let me introduce myself. I can't throw the ball when there's some fat guy in my face!-


His strong men slumped on the bench. Every so often one looked at the scoreboard. They were still in Salt Lake City. The score remained the same.


-Dungy, you were in there in the generals's ranks in Carthage, when we stuck the ball in their guts four straight times, and came out with a W.-


Mack held three fingers up. The double-u. Dungy grimaced. Mack nodded.


-Then what's the problem?-


-That's what I mean to ask you.-


Shell was another big man. He spoke through an oxygen mask on his mouth.


-You remember the game against the Americans?-


-And how you held the line against those West Florida blitzes? Even with our balls deep in those rains? How could I forget?-


-I saw rats on the field that day. But not as big as the one I see now.-


Mack internally stumbled a bit. The last big man on the bench remained. Green held a trainer's hand while a shot of painkillers was stuck in his knee.


-Green! Not you?-


Green sucked in some air.


-We slogged it out in New England, in that humidity.-


Mack grinned, eager for reciprocation.


-Everyone's bodies stank...-


Green thought Mack was who he thought he was -- and he would not let him off the hook.


-Man, I'm kinda weird about other people's sweat. Especially from some Dixiecrat with his hands on my balls.-


Mack felt as if his uniform barely fit now.




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