by Coby Chuang
Art by Christine Cheng
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)
Upon entering the metal dome, Jason was blasted with pure cacophony. A mob of rowdy men and women, shouting, jeering, nearing triple-digits, were situated around a polished wooden court, eyes glued upon something.
“Oops… Sorry…” He made his way to the front, squeezing through the jumble of heated bodies. Every once in a while, the volume of the cheering would climax, and liquor and popcorn would flare up into the air. What in the world were they watching?
At last, Jason made it to the front of the crowd. In the center of the dome, a dozen brutes, sweating and panting, scrambled after a melon-sized ball. He observed them—each one was tall, bear-like, and wore either dirty orange or dark red. It seemed there were two teams, but Jason couldn’t figure out anything else.
He looked backward for a moment. Rows of chairs had been laid out for the audience, though none of them were being used. A giant screen hung from the ceiling above the court, displaying a close-up view of what everyone found so riveting.
“Hey you! You don’t seem to be from ‘round here.” A man with a light beard and a large belly called from behind. He wore an orange t-shirt—matching the color of the orange jerseys some of the players wore—and on it was an image of an axe warrior and some rather obnoxious text reading: “the Gladiators.”
Jason shook his head. “Oh, I actually live a couple train stations down. It’s my first time being somewhere like this.” He flinched as a popcorn kernel hit his cheek.
The man guffawed. “What’s your name?”
“Come again? I can’t hear ya.” The clamor inside the dome echoed throughout.
Jason struggled to raise his voice. “IT’S JASON,” he repeated.
Another kernel launched itself—this time at the man, who swatted it away without looking. “Jason, my man, this here is the ring, where everyone comes to watch some good ol’ Smackball.”
Jason’s face crinkled with confusion, so the man continued to elaborate.
“It’s simple. Those dudes over there fight for the ball. There’s teams. The team who gets the ball in the goal the most times wins.”
Jason turned around. He couldn’t see anything but a chaotic heap of men. Then suddenly, one of the players in orange leaped out of the mass and hurled the ball into a bucket on one end of the court. The audience broke into a crazed uproar, becoming even louder than before. Jason’s new friend joined the uproar.
“Oh maaaaan! That number 10, he’s a legend.”
“Number 10?” Jason asked amongst the shouting.
“Yeah, number 10.”
Jason found it odd that the players were called by a number rather than their actual name. Something about it just didn’t feel right. His train of thought, however, was interrupted when a douse of champagne soiled his coat. He grimaced.
Some moments later, one of the red team’s men flew backwards and crashed into the front row of observers. Screams permeated the air, followed by boos and a hailstorm of half-eaten food falling upon the dazed young athlete.
“Boo, number 23!” Fans heckled from the sidelines—fans who had no athletic experience themselves. “He doesn’t belong in there! He should have been traded away long ago!”
“Trade?” Jason was unfamiliar with the term.
“Yeah man, if a team ain’t satisfied with a player, they get rid of him. Give ‘em to another team. And if no other team wants him—” he dodged a stray napkin—”well, let’s just say he’s gonna have a hard time making a living.”
“Isn’t that… unfair?”
“Not really. They’re Smackball players. Meant to entertain. And if you ain’t good at what you’re meant to do… then that’s too bad.”
Jason sat in silence for a while, doing his best to ignore the utter racket that surrounded him. He wondered if the men on the court enjoyed playing Smackball.
Meanwhile, number 23 was being escorted out of the dome, limping like a wounded dog.
“Oh, duuuuuude!” Jason’s friend exclaimed. It seemed the orange team had scored once again. “Did ya see that? That was insaaaane!”
“Uh, yeah… I gotta go to the bathroom,” Jason announced, though nobody heard him. It was a zoo in there.
As he forced himself through the congested mob, a brawl started between the two teams. Tempers flared—a red-jerseyed player socked one of the orange-jerseyed players—the orange-jerseyed player took a swing in return—then finally, members of both teams began piling atop one another midcourt. Everyone cheered, shouted, egged the fight on. Deep roars. Sharp howls. Jason covered his ears. The noise grew more and more overwhelming, more and more outlandish, until finally it transformed into a single, hellish chant.
Jason pushed and pushed, but to no avail. The entire stadium was immersed to a point that their surroundings no longer mattered.
“Excuse me…” he muttered.
By the time the chanting died down, the game was over. On the court lay an amorphous blob of red-orange and bruised skin. Promptly, audience members began to disperse, making a beeline straight toward the dome’s exit. All was quiet.
Meanwhile, Jason sat back down, stupefied. As the last members of the crowd filed out, he tried to put a finger on the monstrosity he had just experienced. Instead, he found himself at a complete loss of thought. He could only process one thing—that he would never set foot in here again.