Read An Excerpt

PLAY DEAD
by Ryan Brown

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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The drums outside beat hard enough to form ripples in the water.

He knelt with his face only inches above the surface and watched the small concentric rings expand with each percussive thump.

He watched until his nausea subsided, then came up off his knees. The toilet was clean, but he kicked the flush handle anyway. He stepped out of the stall and struggled against shaky hands to thread the laces at the fly of his pants.

He felt worse for having not been sick. He had hoped that in  getting sick he might purge himself of . . . everything.

The nerves. The fear. The regret.

Now he would carry all of it onto the field.

Hell, maybe it was better that way. Maybe it was the only way he could get through this.

His cleats tapped over slick tile as he moved past shower stalls, towel bins, gatorade coolers, and a chalkboard on which remained the pale ghosts of innumerable X’s and o’s.

Back at his locker he continued to dress. over the past four years the routine had become mindless, something he did as quickly as possible to get it over with. But now he was happy to stall. He approached the work methodically, taking special care with every detail. shoelaces were double knotted, tucked in, and taped over. ankles were wrapped as stiffly as plaster casts. His jersey—crisply pressed and wrapped snugly over his shoulder pads— went on last.

He reached above the locker and took down his helmet. Its appearance was in contrast to the immaculate jersey. every well-earned scrape and nick had gone untouched. They were too precious, worn too proudly to be cleaned or buffed. He ran trembling fingers over the scars and the curling stickers and the screws
filled with grit.

He pulled the helmet down over his ears. There was comfort in its tightness and weight. He sat and closed his eyes.

A peculiar silence hovered over the room.

In fact, there were sounds all around: cleats pecked at the floor, tape ripped, pads clacked, lockers slammed. and still the drums pounded outside. They came heavier now, each thump matched by the stomp of countless feet on wooden bleachers.

It was the absence of voices that made the room seem silent.

His eyes opened and he watched his teammates dress around him. Their movement was slow and labored, their eyes haunted. He wondered if the others felt any of the fear that gripped him. He had no doubt they carried the same fury that he did, but as he studied their hollow expressions, he saw no feeling at all, just a cold awareness of what had to be done in the next sixty minutes by the scoreboard clock.

From across the room the coach’s whistle blew and his stomach coiled.

Game time.

He stood and closed the locker.

He knew that tonight there would be no coach’s speech, no unifying chants or pregame rallying cries. and it was a night far too godless for a prayer.

Because this wasn’t a game about victory or defeat.

It wasn’t even a game about life or death.

After what he’d done, it had become a game about salvation or damnation.