The anguished cry had reverberated off the hills around the Chadsion for a fortnight.
Equal parts soulful torment and wounded animal, it raced across the Kentucky bluegrass lawns, swept around the 13 Lamborghinis parked in the treacherous bends of the number-85-shaped driveway, leapt over the marble walls that fortified the perimeter.
The neighbors, initially perturbed by the constant wail, grew to appreciate its haunting beauty.
Tourists came from miles around to take it in, squatter camps popped up around the compound. Philosophers claimed to interpret its source, yogis trumpeted it’s healing power. Children were born—and conceived—beneath the ceaseless soundtrack.
Chad moaned on.
He would not stop for 40 full days and nights of mourning.
Andy made a pilgrimage during the second week, drawn by curiosity and a broken heart of his own.
The quarterback didn’t know what he came to find—healing, maybe?—but left more torn up than he had arrived.
His daily sauna vision quests were invaded by a screaming banshee that popped into throwing lanes that looked wide open, smiling its demon grin in triumph as it galloped toward the opposite end zone.
Things spun out of control, no amount of focus could hit the breaks. He opened his eyes and reached for the trash can to vomit.
Andy’s gift eluded him. He feared it would never return.
Vontaze’s lament was less soulful.
He took to seeking out the seediest dive bars in the city, hopping on a corner stool, tipping a single shot of malt whiskey into the back of his throat.
He’d find the establishment’s resident alpha male, all tattoos and swagger, and stare him down for as long as it took.
Enmity fully established, he’d follow the man out front and wait for him to take the first swing.
Then he’d unleash those fists of fury and lose himself in the temporary peace.
The coach took the binders off the tottering metal stands, placed them in the box with unnecessary care.
He was delaying the annual ceremony of full retreat.
Jay’s simpleton laugh guffawed from down the hallway, full of victory, the traitor already latching onto the glory of his puzzling promotion.
The joy of the sound had died long before it reached the coach’s office as a taunt.
He removed the hand-caved wood pieces from the map one by one, felt the cool rosewood in his palm. Each was then wrapped in velvet and returned to the war chest to hibernate for the long ceasefire.
Stalling as long as he could, the coach picked up The Conqueror last and wiped the board clean.
A.J. stood at the bathroom mirror, studying the reflection.
He had taken to standing here for hours at a time, shirtless, searching for the weak spot.
Something had to be wrong.
From his prophet’s birth under a harvest moon until his 25th year, he had conquered any and all challenges.
Put a hurdle in front of him and it would fall, simple as that—a law of nature, like gravity, like circling around the sun.
One January failure was something to be overcome, to make the ultimate triumph all the sweeter.
Another was a pattern.
Another meant maybe A.J. wasn’t that special, that maybe all those past glories hadn’t been that glorious after all. The superhuman feats? Maybe that phone book he tore was an abridged version. Maybe that car he lifted was a Prius.
Doubt began to tear at the seams of the legend.
A.J. tore himself away from the mirror, kept his eyes lowered from the knowing stare of his girl, hopped in his tinted Cadillac headed nowhere.
Hours later, he reached a dead end, heard something in the distance. He got out, drawn by the sound, fought through the undergrowth toward lights of the tent city.
The madman’s lament filled his ears, his soul. It drowned out the doubt.
A.J. closed his eyes and listened. He began to heal.
Next year would be different. Just another hurdle, another obstacle to be toppled.