Glassy eyes, gaping mouths, matted fur… Sports mascots are supposed to be fun, but if you see them in the wrong light you can feel a jolt of fear. What if they weren’t just a joke, as alive as anything else, with their own instincts and hungers?
(reading time: 1 hour, 7 minutes)
The Kleinbury High Spinners were up three games that season so far, so morale had improved in the neighborhood. Perhaps enough that he could return uneventfully, which was what Kevin Woods tried that Saturday afternoon. He was never the biggest football fan, more of a baseball guy as he always told people, but his son Matt was on the team.
Summer had come early, the heat oppressive, a strain particularly fond of gluing your clothes to your skin and highlighting sweat stains, but it still wasn’t the worst heat he felt. It was the first game he was attending since the streak, and he doubted anyone had forgotten. There was no trouble yet, but he was still at the snack bar behind the bleachers. If they wanted to spring a trap it would be once he had waded into all of them and taken his seat.
“Yeah, can I get two nachos, two colas, and one of those star shaped peanut things please,” he ordered from the pimply teen behind the counter. He dug out his wallet, fully aware it used to be heavier. He’d needed all the extra cash for the surprises in his life: spontaneous miniature golf, unnecessary ice cream, picking up a quick thing they’d forgotten at the grocery store last time. Those were all gone now. Now he usually only carried about fifty, for the evil twin of surprises, emergencies.
“It’s supposed to be a buzz saw,” the teen said.
“The peanut thing,” he clarified. “It’s supposed to look like a buzz saw, you know, like the Spinners.” He pointed up, at the banner over the bar. Kevin didn’t know how Kleinbury High School decided their mascot would be a circular saw blade with crazy eyes and sharp teeth, or why they chose the much less threatening name of ‘Spinners’, but he didn’t much care either. The kid slid over the paper baskets and cups full of food.
“Maybe they should use a cookie cutter or something,” Kevin noted, holding up the definitely star shaped lump of peanuts and caramel.
“They do, but they’re all melted out of shape before the first quarter’s over. Like half this stuff isn’t even edible when they’re done playing. The ice melts, the cheese gets solid, the popcorn at the bottom of the machine is burned… it’s like the people.”
“What do you mean?”
“They go in excited and always come out different. If we lose everybody looks tired. If they win they look like animals.”
“Yeah, well. Football does that to people I guess.” He loaded the snacks into his arms and started walking away.
“But you’re still going in there?” the kid called after him. He knew. Even somebody as young as that, who should’ve had a million other things on his mind, remembered him. Not a good sign.
“Yeah. It’s just a game. Nobody cares that much.”
“I wouldn’t Mr. Woods.”
“Have fun watching the cheese dry. Don’t worry, I’ll tell the cheerleaders you think they’re animals.”
He had waited until the game had already started to draw as little attention as possible, and it seemed to work at first. Blue and gray jerseys streaked across the field as they chased red and gold, sturdy new bleachers on both sides. Closer to the road they were divided in half, an audio booth stuffed between them: a wooden tower holding two announcers, its roof burdened by numerous speakers and wires.
The first flaw in his plan arose, as every seat looked full. The poor man was forced to sidle along the grass, scrunched between the front row and the field. There were always a few spots at the end, where you couldn’t see anything but touchdowns. He kept his head low, one paper pontoon boat of nachos in each hand, one drink tucked under each bicep at an angle. Matt would get a minute to come see him at half time, and they could share the food like they used to. He just had to get the absurd tightrope act finis-
“Ohh! That looks like it smarts!” one of the reedy-voiced announcers declared. All eyes went to the front row. Both teams had rushed by, but that was all in bounds. He should have been well clear, and he was, but not of the monstrosity that was free to barrel back and forth on the sidelines all it liked.
With cola dripping all over his fingers, cheese all down the front of his shirt, and a star-shaped peanut caramel buzz saw stuck to a blind spot, Kevin zeroed in on the culprit. Toeless trunk feet, furry like a mammoth’s, shuffled back and forth, crunching his tortilla chips into powder.
A bloated ball of a midsection, even furrier, bounced up and down, a tiny Spinners jersey riding up with every motion, sometimes revealing its lack of nipples. Atop it all sat a massive lolling head with the flapping underbite of a bulldog puppet. Lidless half-globe eyes bigger than his hands stared back with blue buzz saw irises. A row of felt spines the color of steel bisected the head, went from the nape of the neck across the crown, and between the eyes all the way to the upper lip.
“Looks like an unlucky fan just had a head-on collision with the Big-Saw-in-Law!” the other announcer said in a wincing tone. Everyone laughed, and whoever the guilty person inside the mascot suit was, they felt the need to capitalize. They pretended to fumble something with their six furry fingers, mocking him.
Kevin made his worst mistake by looking away, toward the crowd. They saw his face and a wave of recognition moved through them. The laughter turned to booing. It was over now, nothing left to do but let it sink in with the concession grease. He couldn’t fight back; that was what got him in trouble in the first place. He’d accepted the risk when he’d shown up, but not the risk of getting sideswiped by a kids’ show reject when he was just minding his own business.
“Yeah, it’s hilarious, fine,” Kevin snapped at the mascot. “That stunt will cost you twelve bucks. Plus thirty for a new shirt.” He held out his hand. The Big-Saw reached into nonexistent pockets, pulled them inside out, and shrugged. Another wave of laughter crested behind him. “You at least owe me an apology.”
The monstrous furball stared back. Its arms shot up. Perhaps it was about to bow on its knees. He could accept that as the best possible miming of an apology without breaking character. But the beast did not bend. Instead it performed a dance move that could only be called the ‘pelvic whirlpool’, much to the delight of its slavering audience.
Kevin wanted nothing more than to kick its featureless ball of a groin, hope there was something sensitive tucked away somewhere in the thick fur and padding, but that would cement him as the Kleinbury killjoy once and for all. He had to swallow his pride and walk away, as the Big-Saw followed him for a few steps, throwing in some pelvic thrusts and some chicken wing flapping before finally returning attention to the game.
As expected, there was room on the ends, if he didn’t mind one half of his bottom hanging off the side. He looked for Matt’s number: fifteen. At least it looked like it would be another win. It was still early, but they were up by a lot. The Gauldwin Gators had never been much of a challenge before, and that certainly wasn’t going to change this year, not with Matt Woods on the Spinners. Kevin swallowed, and he really wished there been some soda to go along with it. He hadn’t asked yet. Maybe it was Matt Pohoney now.
His mind drifted back to the mascot. What was the Big-Saw-in-Law even supposed to be? No creature of god’s Earth looked like that. It was an abomination, probably made up of leftover pieces from Halloween costumes and monster movie sets. He supposed people just liked that the name rhymed, and universally agreed that in-laws were both tough and annoying, perfect qualities for a team mascot.
Number fifteen had the ball. He was running. Kevin was on his feet, leaning, clapping, hollering along with everyone else. It didn’t matter who charged into him; this was his to see. He stepped over the sideline so he could look all the way down the field. Matt was booking it, barely touching the grass, tickling it.
The boy’s path was clear, but then Kevin saw his head turn. It slowed him just enough that a body armored in red and gold was able to slam into him from the side, throwing both of them to the ground where they skidded to a halt ten feet short of the end zone. The whistle blew, and then Kevin was the one booking it.
He wound up next to his son on a bench, a nurse on the other side examining him. She gently searched through the boy’s sweaty clumped hair for the point of impact. He hissed when she found it: a large purple welt.
“I had it Dad,” he grumbled.
“I saw. What happened? You took your eyes off the goal.”
“It’s stupid.” He paused. “I thought I saw something weird.” His father asked what it was, but he was reluctant to say, at least until he went over it in his head enough times to be sure about it. “It was the Big-Saw. It was under the bleachers, but I saw it through the slats. It had its mouth open and it was dumping a bunch of food into it. The stuff it made you spill.”
“You… you saw that huh?” Kevin ran a hand through his hair, sure his own embarrassment had left a welt as well. Matt nodded, biting his lip. “That’s not one of your friends in that suit is it? I’d like to have a word with his parents.”
“I don’t know him… but it was weird Dad… right? That mouth doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just a fake tongue stitched in. So why would anybody pour stuff in there? It’ll just make the suit gross.”
“Does he have a concussion?” Kevin asked the nurse, leaning across his son.
“I don’t think so,” she answered. “Just looks like a solid goose egg.”
“Can I go back in?” Matt asked.
“No way, better safe than sorry,” she said in a tone that informed them it was her decision alone. “I’ll get you some ice.” She walked off.
“I definitely saw it,” Matt reiterated.
“I believe you buddy. Do you want to stay and watch the rest or head ho… to my place?”
“I want to stay.” Kevin smiled and patted him on the back, but not too rough. He tried to hide how happy he was that they would get to watch most of it together. Matt looked at him guiltily.
“I could go for some nachos.”
“Yeah. Me too.” He reluctantly got up and headed back to the concessions. After that things went uneventfully, with the Spinners maintaining a healthy lead all throughout. The boy at the concession stand turned out be prophetic once again, as the hundreds of fans turned into beasts as soon as it was over, jumping down from the stands and howling like monkeys. The dissolving crowd presented an opportunity, all of them distracted and drunk off victory. He told Matt to go ahead and wait by the car, he would be out in a few minutes.
“What does your car look like again?”
“Blue. Orange headlights.”
“Right… what are you doing?”
“I want to speak with him.”
“The Big-Saw? Come on Dad, don’t make a scene. Please.”
“I promise I won’t. Go on, I’ll be right there.” He couldn’t let their weekend together start this way. His son couldn’t see him walk away a grease-splattered coward, but he had to walk a tightrope once more. Don’t raise your voice, he told himself. Everyone else thinks it’s in good fun. You have to play along.
He waded into them as they all shuffled toward the parking lot, searching above their heads for a gray crest, like searching for a predator slinking amongst its prey. There! No, it was just one of the stupid hats they sometimes sold that looked just like it. There! He caught a glimpse of an eye, and it was a good thing the glass couldn’t catch a glimpse of him back.
Kevin pursued, but the crowd grew thicker. They swung around behind the bleachers. It was still in front of him, giving someone a high-five. The man uttered several excuses as he pushed his way through, his head turning away only once when somebody bristled at his efforts. When he turned back the blade crest was gone.
“Goddamn it,” he swore under his breath. Matt would have to wait a little while longer, until the crowd thinned. Kevin posted himself behind the bleachers, with both the edge of the lot and the doors into the school visible. There was nowhere for it to go that he couldn’t see.
Unless he’s already gone, he thought when there was almost nobody left. The players were emerging from the school once more, back in their regular clothes, hair wet from showering. They were escorted by the coach. He couldn’t afford to wait any longer, so he switched targets, pursuing the man until he had no choice but to tell the players to keep going and talk to him.
“Mr. Woods, I see you’ve decided to rejoin us,” the slightly older man sighed. Coach Turner was a patient man, but all of it had been used up months ago. Now his expression was largely blank, like he was waiting for a traffic light to change.
“Yes sir.” He shuffled his feet, stuck his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t seem too aggressive.
“I saw what happened,” Turner said to move things along.
“I would like to speak with whoever is in that suit Coach. If it’s a kid he doesn’t need to make up for the food and my clothes, he just needs to apologize. If it’s an adult I would like compensation.”
“You really want to start something your first time back?”
“I would argue the person who ran into me started this. I wanted to watch the game quietly, on the edge, and disturb not a soul. That chance was taken from me.”
“Mr. Woods I’m sure you understand how embarrassing it would be for all of us if you, say, sued a high school mascot, yeah?”
“I never sued anybody Coach, that’s not fair. The police came to me and asked if I was willing to file a complaint. I cooperated with them. There wasn’t even anything in it for me; I just thought it was the right thing to do. And right now I think the right thing to do is stand up for myself. Where’s the Big-Saw-in-Law?” Turner looked at the ground, but the wasps swarming over a half-eaten hot dog forced his eyes back up.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Because I don’t know.” Kevin asked him to elaborate. “I do not know who is inside the Big-Saw-in-Law costume. When I got the job he was already around. As far as I know nobody even pays him. He’s just passionate about our sports program I guess.”
“You’re joking.” His pained expression said otherwise. “You’ve been coaching this team for over a decade. You’ve never once seen that head come off? Or that fat furry ass squeeze itself into a car?”
“No. What happened today was probably just an accident. Nobody has ever complained before.”
“My son saw that thing pouring food it knocked out of my hands into its mouth. It was on purpose. You’ve got some kind of weirdo running around in the middle of my son’s game, and you’ve got no idea if he’s on the sex offender registry… or something like that!”
“Matt took it pretty hard; he probably doesn’t know what he saw.” The coach’s wife appeared a ways behind them, waving to her husband, tapping her watch. “I’ve had enough of this Mr. Woods. The Big-Saw is an institution around here. You jam him up and you jam all of us up… again. So I suggest you drop it unless you want to get yourself permanently banned from school grounds. I don’t think Thea or Matt want to see that, do you?”
Kevin bit his lip, which was enough of an admission for Coach Turner to dismiss himself, leaving him alone and spiteful with the rest of the wasps. He was about to head for the parking lot himself when he witnessed a janitor emerging from the school. He locked the doors the players had come from.
The man looked around, but not all the way, Kevin just in his blind spot. With nobody in sight he bent over into the bushes beside the doors and placed a key ring under a large rock with a splash of blue paint on it. Then he walked off. That was almost certainly against the rules, but Kevin wouldn’t tell a soul. He wasn’t the stick in the mud everyone thought he was.
No stick in the mud would show up the following Sunday night after Matt’s mother had picked him up, having parked several streets away, and fumble around the football field’s darkness in search of a very specific rock.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the Big-Saw. Casual research on the internet didn’t turn up any person claiming to be its performer, or even its creator. The creature had first appeared in the 1980s, and he could find no footage of a game where it wasn’t present. If it was always the same occupant, that would mean he had been the Big-Saw for thirty-five years and was somehow as spry as ever.
That just raised more questions. Was this a family dynasty, the mantle being passed down to the children? Was this someone wanted by the police using possibly the worst disguise in history and somehow still getting away with it?
If he could unmask the creature, find out the truth, then perhaps he could use the information to restore his reputation with the town. They would forget all about the guy who couldn’t take a joke and only remember the guy who caught the fugitive hiding in plain sight, who might have been ogling their children with his giant, unblinking, vacant, pervert eyes.
Under the cover of darkness, with only a tiny flashlight no bigger than a saltshaker in his hand, Kevin skulked his way up to the rock. He had on a Kleinbury High sweatshirt, the hood pulled tightly over his face, strings dangling in the wood chips as he used his driving gloves to lift the stone. The keys were there.
All he wanted was some kind of proof of the Big-Saw’s identity. Turner probably lied to him. There had to be a photo, a paycheck stub, something somewhere. He let himself into the wing of the school that contained the gymnasium, locker rooms, and PE staff offices.
Searching them top to bottom revealed nothing. Coach Turner had spent a little too much on his last car; that was the most scandalous scrap of information available. The Big-Saw was in plenty of framed photos, but always in full costume, always in a pose indicating the person inside had not dropped character.
He also hoped to find the monster’s skin draped on a hook somewhere, perhaps the hollow head resting atop a flagpole, but there wasn’t so much as a furry glove anywhere to be found. Then an idea struck: the audio booth. The announcers surely worked with the Big-Saw, coordinating song use and quip cues. That would be his nest, where any incriminating documentation would actually be.
Kevin pocketed the keys and headed back outside. His shoes and pant legs became slick and slippery with dew from the grass as he scurried across the football field, suddenly afraid one of the lights would come up and focus on him as if he was just a cockroach crossing a kitchen floor.
Out of breath by the time he reached the ladder at the base of the booth, he took an extra moment to gain his bearings, to listen for anything moving around. Nothing. He could’ve gone up the bleachers and taken one of the half-doors on the booth’s side as well, but that would have his shoes squealing and squeaking across the metal.
Rung by rung he made his way up, the floorboards creaking from the single step it took to reach one of the rolling chairs in front of the console. It had a complicated array of sliders and buttons, but without a screen he had no interest in it. Paper. Something paper. He swiveled around in the chair.
A calendar on the wall. An open notebook with player names and jersey numbers written in pencil. Crumpled announcements in a plastic wastebasket. Sticky notes telling the students manning it what songs they were definitely not allowed to play. Even at his age Kevin understood most of the good ones were listed.
That was it. Maybe if he flipped through the calendar there would be a day circled, something like ‘pay the Big-Saw’ scribbled inside. He reached up, stretched to lift one month and see the next. He couldn’t quite see the first through the tenth, so he half-stood, banging his knee on the underside of the console.
“Shit!” He hissed, collapsing back down, but that caused his elbow to turn a dial on the console and push a slider.
♫Y’ALL READY FOR VICTORY♫
♫CUZ THAT’S ALL WE MAKE♫
♫CUT DOWN OUR FOES♫
♫WHEN THE WIN’S AT STAKE♫
The electronic music blasted out of speakers all around the field, forcing Kevin to clap his hands over his ears. One light had come on as well, but it was past an end zone, illuminating it just enough for him to see the chalk lines. And the Big-Saw-in-Law.
It danced with abandon in the grass, jumping up to impressive heights but landing as if it weighed nothing. The shadows hid its eyes, its color, its brutish idiot’s gaping mouth and tusks. It was just a rounded furry form lost in the ecstasy of victory. It spiked an imaginary ball into the ground and threw in a few pelvic whirlpools.
Kevin didn’t dare tear his eyes away to look for a plug to pull, so he fumbled with his elbow, found the slider he’d assaulted, and pushed it all the way back to silence. The music faded to an echo in less than a second. The Big-Saw’s feet froze in place. Its excited arms dropped to its sides.
He held his breath while his heart thundered. Had it seen him? What was it doing there in the middle of the night? His little flashlight was still on. Kevin cursed and clicked it off, but the tiny sound filled him with icy dread. Somehow he knew. Even with the music still ringing in his ears, with it still ringing in the hollow drooping dough-ball of the Big-Saw’s head, he knew it had heard that pathetic little click.
His head sank close to the console as he slipped backward out of the chair. Just make it to the ladder. Just jump down. Just make a run for it with as few bounding leaps as possible. Just-
The Big-Saw’s irises lit up on its head’s lopsided shadow, ten times stronger than the man’s flashlight. He squinted against the electric blue onslaught, threw up his hand. The light came with the most horrible sound he’d ever heard.
It was like the victory song, but backward, and almost as loud. Its origin was fundamentally wrong, like hearing a parrot mimic a person’s cadence but not their actual sound. Except it wasn’t a parrot reproducing it, but something that should never speak, like a dragon or a giant electric eel.
The accursed wail continued as the beast broke into a run. It pitched forward onto all fours and bounded across the wet grass, up the bleachers toward him, both blue saw blade irises bouncing up and down as its heavy head rocked. With its distorted proportions he couldn’t help but see a mutated infant, angry and vengeful at being shaken so, single-minded in the pursuit of something like vindication.
Before he could dispel the vision it was upon him, leaping into the audio booth through its open face. For the first time he smelled it. Wet dog. Congealed nacho cheese. Sweat not from a human thing. It shouldn’t have been able to grab him so forcefully with such awkwardly-shaped hands, but that didn’t stop it from spinning him around and slamming him against the console either. Switches dug into his back as he screamed. The Big-Saw screamed back, but there wasn’t any sound coming out of its giant flapping mouth.
Instead it blasted out of its glowing eyes. Kevin saw slits, each as long as a finger, vibrating open and shut in each tooth of each iris. Like little cat eyes having violent seizures. He couldn’t examine them long, because the monster’s mouth opened.
Not the flapping. Not the wah-wah of a sock puppet thousands of people saw every game. This time it really opened. The sealed back unsealed, the fissure widening in fleshy waves until he could stare down its chasm throat into its trench gullet. The Big-Saw was mostly hollow, just a sack on impossibly strong arms and legs. Its only contents were wallpapered teeth on every inch of the interior, blue and glowing, each as long as a football, each hooked and serrated, like a magnified view of some insect’s mate-snagging genitalia.
The view only magnified more as it pushed its head closer. So empty, yet heavier than any person. It felt like a boulder wrapped in a bathmat pressing down on him. He jammed his forearm under its chin, desperately trying to close its maw, but his arm was forced against his chest. It was like a python, trying to suffocate him with broken and jagged bones before swallowing the remains whole.
His other arm caught the slider again. He pushed it. The music came back in full force, and with it incredible relief. The Big-Saw sprang away from the console and resumed its victory dance while Kevin collapsed onto the wood and crawled away. It still swatted at him, but was unwilling to miss a single full move of its routine.
The man practically threw himself down the ladder, each rung getting in a good shot on the way. One of his wrists felt sprained, so he kept the arm glued to his chest as he ran, but he knew better than to flee blindly. He had parked very far away to avoid suspicion; it could easily run him down before he got close enough to unlock it.
There was only one place he could possibly hide, somewhere behind the school door he had left open. He bolted across the field, able to make out the dim crack thanks to the light he’d accidentally switched on. The music was still booming behind him. A good sign, he hoped. If it was still playing the accursed empty thing was still dancing.
Kevin slipped inside as quietly as he could, but he didn’t know where to go after that. The halls were wide and empty. Some of the lockers were probably open, but he had no intention of packing himself in like a sardine. There was no telling how good the beast’s sense of smell was. It didn’t have a nose, but that hardly mattered when it could shriek out of its eyeballs.
The music was gone, replaced with the backward simulacrum. He swore, so out of breath there was none of it left to keep the swear under. Hide. Now. There was a door near the locker rooms. He’d tried it earlier, finding only descending stairs to some kind of basement. It had been of no interest since it smelled of deflated soccer balls and traffic cones rather than paperwork.
Now it seemed like the kind of place with plenty of stacks and shadowy nooks to sit perfectly still within, so he entered, closing the door as gently behind him as he could. He had to turn the little flashlight back on to see. He swore again. He had been way too right. There were mountains of gym supplies everywhere. After the first corner he was terrified of getting lost.
A parachute tarp. Plastic sitting scooters. A tangled ball that was once a soccer net. He tried to keep the landmarks straight in his head as he snuck deeper in. The air took on an intense chill. Pipes above dripped. His foot splashed into a wet fissure in the concrete floor, but he kept going, until he stumbled onto a wheeled metal table.
On it sat a barrel-shaped plastic cooler bigger than his chest, with a little spout at the bottom. The brand name had been scratched off by something long and serrated. Kevin blinked. Why did it give him pause?
The glisten. That’s what it was. Hanging off the spout was one drop of shocking blue that glistened in the flashlight beam. The cooler was just something that would sit on the sidelines of a kids’ soccer game, plastic cups of sports drink handed out at the end with granola bars and orange slices. It could easily wind up down there… but it would be empty.
Kevin swallowed and reached for the top of it. There was a small lever to pop it off. The hollow sound of it made him flinch as if the Big-Saw’s empty body had landed and bounced behind him, but nothing happened. He set the lid aside and aimed his light down into the container.
It was clear from the smell and blue color that it was ordinary sports drink, but there were objects floating in it. He refused to use his hand even though it was already gloved, so he grabbed a hockey goalie’s glove off the floor and pulled it on with his teeth.
“What the hell are you? What the hell is any of this shit?” he whispered as he reached into the cooler and snagged one of the bobbing featureless things. Drink dripped down his forearm as he examined it. It was leathery and malleable, but had no openings, like a large dried chili pepper. Under its moist blue skin the color was extremely pale.
The Big-Saw was in the building, somewhere above him. The sound raised every hair on his arm, but they practically jumped out of their follicles when his eyes came down from the ceiling and saw two luminous blue circles on the thing in his hand. No, not on it. Under it. There was a pair of Li’l-Saw eyes inside, and they lit up the moment they heard their parent.
Kevin dropped it on the table and ran once more, flying. To where he had no idea, as long as it was away from those things. It was pure luck that he found the dimmest sliver of light. There were two heavy doors, and an incline, so he guessed it was a loading bay for larger vehicles.
Night air whistled through the crack, but there was a chain and heavy padlock keeping them from opening more than a few inches. Kevin pushed one hand through and grabbed at the lock, bringing the janitor’s keys out of his pocket.
The backward wail was louder, echoing. It was in the basement. He was echoing too; he could hear the clinks of the chain, lock, and door, all conspiring to reveal him. He couldn’t twitch without three different metals screaming a rock ballad about it. All he could do was hurry. The lock rejected the first key. The second. The third. The third? The third.
It had to have found his handiwork by now. His mind flooded with guesses despite his attempt to focus. It probably sniffed at the one child pulled from its nest, delicately placed it back in its bath, put he top back on, looked deeper, toward that raucous jangling sound…
The seventh key, or maybe the eighth. Regardless, it worked. Kevin squeezed through with his chest rather than push with his arms, nearly tangling the chain in his feet. He sped off into the night, hoping to any and all gods, but not whichever one let that monster slip into his world unnoticed, that tucking in junior was taking up more of its attention.
It took two phone calls and a visit to the library to convince him he would have to do the absolute last thing he wanted. The first call was to the local police station, the day after his trespass.
He didn’t phrase it as such of course. No amount of lying mattered, as long as it got them to examine the Big-Saw. Once they knew what was going on, that it was alive, and that there was nobody inside, they would forgive his revisions. The woman on the other end of the line heard how he was just driving by the school, saw something strange, and got out to investigate.
That was when the person, who was for some reason in a mascot costume, attacked him unprovoked. They sprained his wrist before running off and hiding in the school, never offering a word of explanation.
“Sir, are you telling me you were mugged by the Big-Saw-in-Law?”
“Assaulted. It didn’t take anything.”
“You mean he didn’t take anything.”
“Do you know it’s a man under those disturbing eyes?”
“…No. That would make them a they though… not an it.”
“Are you going to send somebody to arrest them then? It should be more than one officer. They’re very strong.”
“Can I get your name one more time please sir?”
“That wouldn’t be the same Kevin Woods that filed a complaint against Garth Davida would it?”
“That was at the request of your department.”
“Not at the request of this Spinners fan Mr. Woods. He wasn’t hurting anybody, and I very much doubt the stuffed animal you’re accusing hurt anybody either. Good day.” Kevin threw his phone as soon as she hung up, but it landed on the couch. He’d taken a sick day at work to avoid explaining his injured wrist as well as his harvest of bundled scrapes and ripe bruises.
The police weren’t going to believe him, which he’d considered, but that left him with few options. After the divorce Thea had somehow kept all of their mutual friends. She was the closest thing he had to a friend, and was one of only six personal numbers left in his phone at all. She would have to listen though; this was about Matt’s safety. He couldn’t let him take the field again, not with that thing licking its lips from the sidelines. He retrieved the phone.
“Kev, you’re not making any sense.”
“I know it’s weird, but it does make sense. I haven’t told you anything impossible. The Big-Saw-in-Law attacked me. Look.” He used the phone camera to take several pictures of his injuries and send them to her.
“Jesus, what happened to you? Did you lose a fight?”
“It wasn’t a fight! It was an attack! Like a wild goddamn animal Thea. Like the Big-Saw has rabies! If you could just contact the police on my behalf, since they won’t listen to me a-”
“You’re crazy! There’s no way in Hell I’m doing that Kev. I’m not interested in the whole town hating me too. Look, you were upset about the split, you took it out on that guy, and look where it got you. I don’t know why you’d go after the Big-Saw of all people, but I promise you it will be even worse this time.”
“You don’t even believe me.”
“Why would I? Even if the guy punched you as hard as he could he’s wearing giant oven mitts Kev! They wouldn’t bruise you up like that. Look, don’t mention any of this to Matt. People are already giving him a hard enough time at school because of you.”
“I don’t want him playing anymore. It’s too dangerous.”
“That’s his decision, and then mine after that. Not yours.”
“He already took a hit because of that thing. He saw it behaving oddly when he got sacked last game.”
“Then I’ll tell him to keep his eyes on the prize. But seriously. Don’t bring this up again. He doesn’t even need weekends with you if you’re going to make up a conspiracy theory about the in-law. No matter what, I promise he’s not as bad as my in-laws were when we were together… I’m hanging up now.”
“My parents never tried to carve your face off like a deli slicer,” he growled into the dead line. The phone hit the couch again, hard enough to bounce this time.
The library then. He’d tried searching the internet, but they weren’t a big town or a big school, so there wasn’t much information available. The local library had yearbooks, newspapers, and even old news broadcasts on tape. It was the closest he could come to a nature documentary about the Big-Saw-in-Law.
There were multiple photos in every yearbook, and when laid out in chronological order there was a clear transformation. In the earliest photos the Big-Saw was thinner, its head smaller, and its toothed crest was far less pronounced. Its underbite tusks were much smaller as well. If people never saw what he saw they wouldn’t think anything of it. The costume was merely being modified, iterated upon as the years went by.
Except he knew better. Iterations could go back and forth. A big crest one year, small another. Big, small, big, small, small, big. That wasn’t the case; it was progress. The creature was maturing into its adult form, and now it was reproducing in the dank basement of Kleinbury High.
Clear as it was, it didn’t help any. He needed other people to talk to who were at least suspicious of the thing, so he searched for incidents in the papers and news footage. There was no way he was the first person it attacked. Maybe Kleinbury had an unusually high rate of missing persons, or pets.
He searched and compared, but could find no such data. A realization made him curse, drawing the judging stare of the librarian. There was, in fact, an incident. The one he was involved in. Less than a year ago, when he and Thea were still in a trial separation, Matt’s game had been interrupted by a nakedly disrespectful intruder.
A fifty year old man had run onto the field, nude as a shelled peanut, one hand over his groin as if holding the horn of a saddle. The other was flying in the air alongside his long gray beard. The crowd roared with laughter. Hundreds of phones snapped pictures as he made his way across the field, the flashes providing a twinkling backdrop as if he was some anthropomorphic constellation.
All Kevin remembered feeling was anger. Nothing insane. Breathe through the nose anger. Hot wrists anger. He hadn’t gotten up, or shouted, or chased after him for interrupting his son’s moment. It was the Big-Saw’s fury that was out of control. The mascot had chased the man down, with what Kevin now realized was unnatural speed. It had tackled the man, subdued him until security arrived to drape a banner around him and drag him away.
Afterward the police had made the rounds, looking for someone willing to press charges against the guy for public lewdness. Kevin still had the breath in his nose, the hot wrists, and he had agreed. It was hardly his fault that nobody told him the streaker was some kind of public institution, beloved by all.
His name was Garth Davida, and though he didn’t spend any time in jail he was permanently banned from school grounds. This was very upsetting to his five nieces, all of whom were seen crying on the local news when they heard Uncle Garth wouldn’t be able to attend their graduations.
Then it was like Kevin had been the one banned. He was booed, far away from the actual field, every time he came to pick up his son. They would start the whole process all over again too, if he couldn’t make his accusation against the Big-Saw stick.
Davida was his only lead, the only other person who could say he was accosted by the halftime horror. At least his status as a ‘public institution’ made him easy to find. He liked to sell old records out of his van, which sat in the field about ten miles from the school that was only used in the fall when its owners set up a maze of hay bales.
Kevin drove there Tuesday evening after work. He had to move quickly; there was another game on Friday. The van was close to the road, a plywood sign propped up in front of it. Garth was running a special offer on disco apparently. The vehicle’s sides were painted with psychedelic murals depicting various mythological creatures chasing after a ball of rainbow mushrooms, but the side door was open, so the picture stopped abruptly, turned into Garth Davida sitting with his bare feet dangling. He waved to Kevin as the man approached with his hands in his pockets.
“Never expected to see you around here,” the older man said, voice friendlier than the statement. The aging hippy had soft droopy eyes, close-packed teeth, and a lanky frame. His beard had gotten a little longer.
“So you remember me?”
“It’s not very often somebody gets me kicked out of school when I’m not even going to school.”
“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. My son was playing that game, and I just didn’t appreciate the interruption. The cops came to me.”
“No hard feelings brother.”
“Hard feelings make you a hard man. I’m soft brother, like grandma’s cookies.” Garth reached behind a seat and stopped the gnarly guitar playing from some unidentified device. “It wasn’t like I even planned it or anything. My hand was forced… by the universe.”
“The universe made you take your clothes off?”
“Yes it did. You know that song My Running Feet don’t Smash the Flowers? It’s from ‘79, by Red Rejuvenator?” Kevin nodded. “That’s my song brother. I followed them on tour once. Anyway, I’m on that tour, and somebody dares me to streak in front of the stage. And I do it. Didn’t get in any trouble.
Now at the next show things go wrong. They’re having lighting troubles and everybody’s getting angry ants in their pants. I figure it’s worth a shot, so I streak again, take some of the heat off of them.” He snapped his fingers, withered enough to sound more like raisins tackling each other. “It works. Everybody’s laughing, in high spirits, and the lighting sorts itself out.
On three more stops I pulled out that trick, and every time when that song was playing. It never failed to turn a good day into a great one. So me and the universe… we made a pact brother. Whenever it plays that song, I take off this false skin of the modern day and I let myself be as I was born. It’s a catalyst. In combination it makes good things happen.
I had my reservations about doing it at your boy’s game, but then my song came on the speakers. A pact is a pact my brother. I don’t betray the universe and I don’t betray myself. I’m sure you were doing the same. We just bumped into each other is all, like we’re doing right now.”
“Well my being here isn’t a coincidence,” Kevin admitted, kicking the dirt and gravel at the road’s edge. “I need a favor.” Garth smiled.
“The universe has a sense of humor doesn’t she?”
“It’s about the Big-Saw-in-Law.” Garth’s expression shifted. It was the face you might make while visiting a church with a few too many bones on display, the face of cautious paranoid prayer. He reached around again, to one of a seemingly endless set of dark nooks in the vehicle, and pulled out two beers. The opener was already in his pocket.
He popped their tops and leaned to hand one to Kevin. He took it, but tried to give Garth two dollars as compensation. Garth pushed the money back and didn’t speak until they had both taken swigs.
“What do you want to know about that thing?”
“It chased you down and tackled you that day. Did you notice anything… strange about it?”
“Strange is just the first word of a great American novel about the Big-Saw brother, but nobody’s ever read it far as I can tell. Just sitting on the shelf gathering dust… I never even heard it coming. When it hit me it was like… I could feel that it was hollow, but it still had this power. It was like the Hindenburg crashing into me.
I couldn’t move one bit when it was on top. It smothered me like the floor of a staked tent and then it opened that mouth. Not the one everybody sees. Its real mouth. It was full of-”
“Teeth,” Kevin interrupted, taking another sip of his beer.
“If you took a fish hook, painted it with glow-in-the-dark blue, and added a few bells and whistles to make it a better torture device it would almost look like those things. I guess you can call them teeth if you want.
There’s a rage in the Big-Saw, but it isn’t human. Its like… you know how there’s matter and antimatter out there in space? It was like antirage. It was like we were two poles on the same magnet, but it wanted to kill me anyway, even if it would die along with me. If those security people didn’t show up and start pulling it off me it would’ve killed me. Definitely.”
“So you know! You know it’s some kind of animal or something.”
“I think it’s an alien.” Kevin accidentally dribbled some beer back into the bottle. “Not necessarily from another planet. Maybe from another dimension. Whatever it is, it’s not from where you and I are from brother. It doesn’t feel like… the universe.” Kevin wanted to refute the theory, but he had no evidence. Not a single feature on the Big-Saw reminded him of a real animal that could be its relative.
“Why haven’t you told anyone? It nearly killed me too!”
“It closed its mouth before the security people saw, and it was right back to dancing. I was in shock. It left me covered in bruises. I had a weird bleed in my left arm because it nearly, what’s the right word even… smushed my bicep off the bone.
I thought about telling people, but who would’ve believed it? Besides, the only way I stayed out of jail was this deal I made with Coach Turner. You weren’t the only person at the game who was mad about me flying my freedom flag. There was this other lady who wanted to press charges too, but the coach agreed to talk her out of it if I didn’t try to bring an assault claim against the Big-Saw.”
“Do you think Turner knows about it?”
“Nah, he’s a good man. Just trying to keep the peace I think. I really didn’t think anybody else would be as dumb as me, so the Big-Saw wouldn’t have any reason to attack anybody else.”
“Nah, that’s not what I mean brother. It only attacked me because I messed with the game. It’s all about the game. That’s its whole life.”
“What do you mean?” Kevin knew this was the long haul, the rabbit hole, so he took a seat in the van next to Garth when it was offered. They both stared out at the other half of the field opposite the road, a barren expanse of aerated crumbling dirt and pale broken straw.
“Nobody sees the Big-Saw when there’s no game,” Garth elaborated in a soft voice. “I think it hides underground somewhere, just waiting to hear the footsteps of the crowd showing up. Then it pops out when nobody’s looking and has a good time with everybody else.”
“No… it comes out to feed,” Kevin realized aloud. “It eats all the dropped and abandoned concession food. It can only harvest when there’s a game. It probably doesn’t even need that much since it’s hollow.”
“Makes sense,” Garth mumbled, finishing off his bottle. “It shows up in our world, like riding a meteor or tripping through a dimensional rift, and it’s a little baby. Near the field. It’s football season. It sees all the people, all the food. It feels love and fun and joy radiating off everybody and it wants that for itself.
So it looks for cues, like an actor shoved out on the stage who forgot to memorize his lines. It sees visiting team mascots. Sees the plays. Learns by observation. Then, when it’s ready, it inserts itself.”
“Yeah, monkey see monkey do,” Kevin added. “It probably thinks its own safety and food supply is directly attached to the game going smoothly. If anything interrupts the ritual it has to defend its territory… like a guy streaking. That doesn’t normally happen. That’s why you were a threat.”
“Why did it go after you?”
“I was there when I wasn’t supposed to be. I accidentally played some of the music they use during the games. The Big-Saw was probably really confused when it came out and saw that there was no game.” Kevin pictured the eggs in the plastic cooler, saw the glowing eyes under the shell. There were going to be more, and they would spread. If there was a halftime show they didn’t like, someone could die. If a ref made a bad call, someone could die. “I think I have to kill that big goofy bastard. I have to kill the Big-Saw-in-Law.”
Garth stroked his beard. Once more he went into the back of the van, this time much deeper than before. The whole vehicle rocked with the effort it took for him to pull the object from its collapsed tomb. A shotgun. He placed it across Kevin’s lap solemnly, looked out at the field. It was hard to believe that, with the simple addition of goalposts, so much life could flood into it, take it over, turn it into an entire world.
“We’re all just… bumping into each other, huh?” Kevin repeated.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be the one bumping harder.”
It was Thursday night. Kevin had taken another personal day, in order to practice with Garth’s shotgun out in the empty field. He had been on a firing range a few times as a teenager, but it didn’t exactly come back to him, and Garth wasn’t drowning in ammunition either. Five shells to practice with, ten for the real thing.
Kevin was once again on school property, late at night, behind the bleachers. He hadn’t stepped onto the field, so in his mind nothing could’ve disturbed the Big-Saw yet. He set the gun down in the wet grass. Then he unbuttoned his shirt. His pants. The socks rolled off his feet and bounced once. The man folded his outfit into a neat square and set it down, underwear on top, exchanging it all for the firearm. The only clothing left on his body was a strap across his chest that held the shells that couldn’t fit in the gun itself.
His hope was that his birthday suit would trigger the beast, bring it out of hiding, much more quietly than the accidental concert had. Enraged, it would charge him, and he would pump it full of pellets. He had four shots before he would have to reload, but even if it was down and still he was going to use all ten.
The closest he had ever come to being a biologist was getting bitten by a dog, but he still had a hopeful theory. Since the Big-Saw was mostly hollow its vital organs had to be concentrated in the skin. If the pellets pierced they would go straight through the empty space and hit the back, doubling his chances to hit something important.
Stepping around the bleachers, he took a deep breath to gather his nerves. One bare foot lifted and hovered over the sideline. As soon as it dropped it would begin. The Big-Saw would come running, and he had no idea from which direction. He scanned the field to look for escape routes should things go poorly, but had to stop halfway.
“Shit!” he hissed, dropping down to his stomach, going as flat as he could so the edge of the bleachers would hide him. The damn thing was already there. The Big-Saw-in-Law was sitting on the same bench he had been sitting on with Matt and the nurse. It had its massive head in its hands, its elbows on its knees, sitting like a bored parent watching its children flounder in their first sport.
Which was exactly what it was doing. Numerous balls of fluff piled on top of each other at the fifty yard line. Twenty-two in total. Each was pale gray compared to the Big-Saw’s blue, and their heads lacked the saw blade crest as well as being otherwise bald. They stayed on all fours, biting at each other and running around like puppies.
“They hatched already. Fantastic.” His mind raced. He didn’t even have enough shells for the whole class. The plan would have to be aborted, but how was he going to get out? It was an insane stroke of luck that they hadn’t spotted him on the way in, or while he was stripping down.
The sound came out of the Big-Saw’s eyes; even at that distance he could see the slits in the iris quaking. It was mimicked, he guessed, from Coach Turner or a referee blowing a whistle. It was a sound of inward breath though, like a jet engine intake put up to some mangled metal tube. Kevin resisted the urge to cover his ears, kept perfectly still. A wet cricket crawled across his back, but he welcomed it as more camouflage.
At the sound that he had to call a whistle, for lack of a more accurate term, the li’l-saws scrambled to line up on the fifty. They faced each other in two rows of eleven, puttering and growling like miniature engines drowning in gelatin.
The Big-Saw blew its whistle eyes again; its children charged headlong into each other like dueling bighorn sheep. The sound of their collision was surprisingly loud, like coconuts covered in only a thin layer of felt doing the same. He had expected their heads to squish together silently, but there was at least one hard bone or plate in there, at least at the larval stage.
The whistle blew again, and even though they hadn’t recovered they did their best to line up. Again. They collided. Again. They staggered back to their positions. Kevin was entranced, shocked to feel a pang of something like concern. They were clearly hurting themselves; why would their parent encourage such a thing? Their eyes were rolling in their sockets after every hit, which he guessed was even more troubling than a human eye doing the same, because not once had the Big-Saw’s irises moved during the first attack. It had only ever turned its head, like an owl.
Again. A few of them squeaked and yipped. Again. Kevin almost shouted for them to stop. The Big-Saw wasn’t just teaching them the game so they would know what to respond to; it was conditioning them. Every impact damaged their minds, made them capable of less overall as it focused them on the ritual.
It was beating everything but football out of them, because that was how it knew how to live. Everything else they might do with their lives was a distraction, something that could send them veering off course towards something other than success, like happiness or a longer less violent lifespan.
Again they concussed themselves, came one step closer to total conformity. One of them rolled away, stopping upside down. Its lidless headlight eyes landed on Kevin’s face. He froze, held his breath. The cricket sprang away, abandoning ship.
The li’l-saw screamed its eyes out… and the Big-Saw came running. Kevin shot to his feet, aimed the gun. The monster stopped in its tracks, staring slack-jawed. It knew what guns were. Its brood swarmed around its feet, nervously pawing, but it didn’t comfort them. It just kept staring.
It didn’t seem to care about his nudity at all; he had miscalculated. Without any actual game going on, its head was as cool as could be.
“You have to die!” he shouted at it. “Unless… you can screw off to whatever planet or dimension you come from! Go ahead! Blast off or rip open a rift or something like that! Get out of here. We need you like another hole in the head!”
The Big-Saw did something, but it wasn’t going anywhere. It crouched down and opened its mouth. Really opened it. Truly opened it. Its glowing teeth rattled and then flattened against the side of the cavity, making way. Like something between a python and a parachute hastily stuffed back into its pack, its jaw unhinged and its throat skin stretched.
Li’l-saws climbed in, sliding down to the bottom, clambering over the fleshy lip, helped along by disturbing flexing of the lower tusks, like a bee gyrating to drill its stinger deeper into human flesh. Kevin had seen something like it once before, on a nature show. Some fish kept their young safely tucked away in their mouths when threats were around.
“You really are a monster!” he roared at it, voice breaking. The Big-Saw mimed fumbling snacks as the last little one disappeared into its mouth. It remembered who he was. “This isn’t about that!” His confidence was folded up inside his clothes, cold and wet on the ground. A chilled sweat broke out all over his body, and he could feel every painful prick of it. Now that the Big-Saw was stuffed full of its own offspring he could kiss his double-penetration theory goodbye.
The Big-Saw ran toward him, furry feet still nearly silent despite the extra weight. Kevin breathed out, fired. The gun kicked in his arms, nearly slipping out thanks to the dew in all his crevices. No good. The Big-Saw had dropped to all fours, the pellets sailing right over its head, clinking against the bleachers far beyond.
Kevin pumped, but there wasn’t time to aim. There should have been, if it was just one against one, but the Big-Saw demonstrated that it played by its own rules yet again. Its mouth opened, and out sprayed several of its brood as if from a water gun. The terrier-sized creatures landed on Kevin’s chest, scrambling, looking for footholds. Two slipped off, but one’s mouth suctioned onto his shoulder.
It had no teeth to bite with, at least not on its lips. Its back scrunched up like a sock pocket as it nearly turned itself inside out, rubbing its stomach lining against his bare flesh. It was like getting licked by a cat for a quarter second, and then the skin started to come off. He had to take a hand off the gun to get a handful of its fur and tug it off.
A flash of pain came with its popping removal, the raw feeling of being a grated carrot. Blood ran down his chest in rivulets. He might have fallen right there if the li’l-saws had rallied and attacked his legs, but as soon as they fell off him they were running back to their parent, hopping back into its basket mouth.
They were already damaged, only capable of holding one task in their head at a time. Once their single attempted bite failed they had to return and get a fresh order, regardless of it being the same one. The Big-Saw sprayed its larvae again, but this time Kevin dodged the arc, slamming into the bleachers. The rattling impact passed from one end to the other.
Kevin clambered backward up onto the structure, finding that he could slide on his back if he kicked. It was the only way to get some distance while he tried to aim. The Big-Saw didn’t waste a second, spraying every chance it got while keeping its own distance.
There was a li’l-saw coming down right on top of him; he nearly shot it. No. He’d already survived one of them, and they were useless on their own. He had a feeling that the worst thing that would happen if the Big-Saw fell was that they would scatter. To avoid it dropping on him Kevin rolled, slamming into a groove meant for feet.
Now with the metal benches raised on both sides he had no room to stick out his arms and orient the shotgun, so all he could do was kick and slide until he reached the end, leaving a trail of blood as the grime from multiple seasons of stomping sneakers built up in his shallow wound. Li’l-saws ran to keep up, scampering like cats on bookshelves, staring down at him, trying to snag a nibble.
Kevin’s head rolled to the right. Through the slats he could see the furry trunks of the Big-Saw keep pace on the field. This was it. He was trapped. As soon as he reached the other side it would slurp him right out of the groove like a frank from its bun.
There was also no stopping unless he wanted to be swarmed by the things that had already claimed about a tenth of his surface area. Desperate, shaking, still kicking and sliding wildly, Kevin put the barrel against his chest, felt the side of the trigger. His ear was right under it; if he fired it would probably burst his eardrum. It was the only way to aim at the opening though, his only chance to land a killing blow down the Big-Saw’s throat.
Inches from the drop he was blinded by white light. A horn honked. The behemoth veered away from the bleachers and onto the field, tearing up grass, scraping a deep shrieking gash into its paneling on a bottom row corner. The van rammed the Big-Saw-in-Law, throwing it back to the thirty yard line. It landed with the thud of a cheap mattress.
Kevin’s legs were still flailing; he was barely in control of himself. He slid off the end and crumpled in the grass about as awkwardly as the Big-Saw. Dazed, gasping, he wasn’t sure what was happening until someone slammed a van door, hoisted him up, and shoved him inside. The vehicle’s tires spun in the grass for a second. They weren’t out, not yet. His son might come for practice the next day and find the van blown open like a can of tomatoes tossed from a hundredth floor.
Something slammed into the front, pushing them back. Kevin couldn’t focus but he heard the terrible eye-wailing of the beast. It only helped though, freeing the van out of its rut. It bounced as it backed out the way it came, squealed onto the road, and took off into the dark distance.
“I told you to wait out of sight,” he sputtered.
“You were taking too long brother; I got worried!” Garth shouted back at him as he rolled around on the floor.
“Thank god you did.”
“I’m glad I brought the rough road van and not the tooling-around-town van! Whoo… you weren’t kidding about all those little guys. I’ve got chills! My spine feels like a line of falling dominoes!” Kevin twisted painfully, saw Garth’s bare foot on the gas, then his bare leg, bare thigh, bare side…
“Why are you naked too!?”
“Solidarity brother! Wooyeah!” My Running Feet Don’t Smash the Flowers blasted through the cassette player.
The Kleinbury Spinners were up against the Troy Unbreakables. The bus they came in on had a door just wide enough for their mascot to squeeze through: an angry green horse with a purple mane. As Troy fans filled one side of the bleachers it led the invading charge onto the field.
Scores of children laughed, bringing the bleachers to life like a giant harmonica, as the two colorful creatures faced off in an epic dance battle. The Unbreakable Bronco had some pretty killer moves, including getting on all fours and bucking like he was trying to toss a rider. The Big-Saw-in-Law fired back by spinning on one foot, limbs held out like a ballerina.
One of its flying limbs struck the Bronco, turning its head sideways. The referee had to run in, blowing his whistle, and break them up, each side of the field certain their monster had taken the victory. Once the game started each beast kept to its respective side, leashed solely by protocol.
“Where is he?” Thea Pohoney grumbled in the third row; she checked her phone. Kevin was supposed to be there. Matt was going home with him for the weekend, against her better judgment after that strange phone call. She watched the Big-Saw skip by in front of her. That thing. That bouncing empty head probably full of nothing worse than pimples. What had gotten into that man?
“That’s it Matt, you can do it!” she shouted through cupped hands, but not too loud. She didn’t want him to look up and see her sitting alone. They had agreed to sit together at games they both attended, to give their child a moment of the family peace they used to have.
The ‘it’ she wanted him to do was staying upright. The score didn’t matter. She certainly hadn’t spared many thoughts for the Big-Saw since she talked to Kevin last, but she had been thinking about the game. Matt loved it, and all his friends played, but even his friends hissed at the sight of one of their own taking a tackle all the way down.
She tried not to think about all those studies of brain damage, some prompted after a former player went mad and attacked his family. Those were broken men. Matt was intact, and as long as he tried his best, and she cheered emphatically enough, he would stay that way. Why didn’t they put the players in something like mascot suits? The padding would be much safer, and the game itself so much funnier to watch. It should’ve been one big cartoon so she could feel excited to sit there in the bleachers rather than trapped.
Kevin hadn’t answered the last time she called an hour ago, but she tried again once a timeout was called. She put the phone up to her ear and waited for it to ring. Only she didn’t hear ringing. She heard that old damn song, the one that was playing when her ex convinced all of Kleinbury to hate him. Red Rejuvenator, yeah. That was the name of the band. She’d never put anything of theirs on her phone, and there was no music during the timeout, so where was it coming from?
“Oh sweet baby Jesus.” The words dribbled out of her mouth as if she’d been sucker-punched, a punch delivered by her ex-husband’s exposed genitalia. Strutting out onto the field. Holding a boombox over his right shoulder. Blasting Red Rejuvenator in everyone’s ears. Technically he wasn’t fully exposed, his left hand cupping the most offensive pieces of his anatomy completely.
He really had lost his mind. She should’ve called somebody. A psychologist perhaps. She looked for Matt, but he was buried in his gear, in the huddle of his friends, head and helmet down.
The crowd wasn’t laughing the way they were the last time such a thing happened. They knew him. There had to be an angle. This was some kind of trick. Many of them suspected they were being recorded for a local television show and started to look around for hidden cameras. Thea’s feet bounced, lost in indecision. If she ran down and tried to escort him off the field that meant both Matt’s parents would be extremely visible buffoons.
Despite his fear Kevin could feel their silence. It was hot under his cheeks, both sets. He knew he was doing it wrong. A real streaker moved with abandon, something beyond his reach. Ever since the Big-Saw-in-Law had knocked him over he had felt chained in place by everyone’s expectations. Don’t question the fun. Don’t question the game. Sacrifice your son to the googly-eyed altar of the beast so the good times can roll, fumble, crack, and recover off the field.
This time they would all have to see the naked truth of it. He was as defenseless as the day he was born. If he tried to bring Garth’s shotgun onto the field he would surely be arrested and charged with something worse than public lewdness, and he still wasn’t ready to give up his future.
So now the ball was in the Big-Saw’s hands. If it could control itself Kevin would lose, and the defeat would be more shameful than any in sports history. The monster was still playing to the crowd, lost in its own performance, so he made his way to the fifty yard line and set his boombox down.
“Hey! Furry blue asshole! Remember me!?” The Big-Saw’s arms dropped; its hips stopped to one side mid pelvic whirlpool. It turned around. The mouth wasn’t flapping. It hung open. The glassy eyes looked off in different directions, but something invisible between them looked right at Kevin’s hairy sternum. “I’ve got something for you!”
Kevin jumped around and bent over, slapping his bottom with his free hand repeatedly to taunt the beast. Creating red to show it to the bull. He waited without looking back. Nothing. He might need to throw in a few shakes of his-
“Ohh!” a dozen different people gasped. The crowd noise swelled between shock and laughter. This was going to be good. The Big-Saw was going to show another streaker how proper entertainment was done.
Kevin couldn’t hear its approach, but it had to be coming based on their response. He needed it out of control, forced to run at full speed on all fours, so he took off for the Troy sideline. He would be able to see the Big-Saw breaking character in their faces. Their eyes would widen in horror. They would cover their mouths as the Big-Saw opened its wide enough to make up for all of them.
The Unbreakable Bronco got in his way, a new fear paralyzing his mind. What if every last mascot in the world was one of these things? It put up its hooves to grab him. Kevin barreled through it, tumbling in the grass, getting back to his feet. One look back. Its green head rolled across the field, an ordinary human one topping its prone body.
He was so close, already out of breath, but he could see all their faces clearly. So far they still looked uncomfortable, like nothing worse than a nude middle-aged man was headed straight for them. In a couple more seconds he would hit his shins on the bottom row if he didn’t jump. They weren’t getting out of the way, so he veered off to the left, right as the bloated woolly abomination slammed into his shoulder.
The soft bodies of the fans saved him from cracking his skull on the edge of the bleachers, but they quickly wriggled out from under him, and as the Big-Saw pressed down he felt three metal edges, warm with sweat and buzzing with confusion, against his back. It had him pinned, but something was different this time.
The Big-Saw had the exact same strength as before; it crushed him with every last pound per every last square inch. But… there was less weight. He could feel that it was lighter, which meant its brood were not stored within it during the game, a suspicion which it confirmed when it opened its true mouth and showed him its spiraling rows of teeth going all the way down.
When he saw them he realized his foe was actually lighter, not just empty. The teeth looked dull; they’d lost all their glow. He could see cracks in several of them. Even in their much drabber state they were still more than enough to horrify those immediately surrounding them. A child screamed, and it couldn’t be mistaken for joy.
It was the sound of pure terror, of seeing her pet snapped off its leash and dragged into a pond by an alligator. It was innocence violently leaving the body, and it overrode every other sound from one goalpost to another. All the applause stopped as their hands went to their seats to brace themselves.
The Big-Saw felt the change in vibrations, in air pressure and oxygen content as the enthusiasm was sucked out of its biome. Its mouth vacuum-sealed shut as it lifted its massive melon to assess the situation. In doing so it took pressure off Kevin, and though he now had three lines of bruise running horizontally on his back he still had the strength to slip free, make for the announcer’s tower.
Nobody was trying to help him. Those close enough to see were all scrambling away. That meant he’d done it. There were too many witnesses for the Big-Saw to swallow them all. They knew there was nothing inside the suit but hostile alien guts. All he had to do now was survive, but the creature’s attention was only off him for a split second.
It leapt onto his back just as he reached the edge of the bleachers, and together they tumbled down under the wooden supports of the tower, bouncing twice before they struck the grass. It was still on top of him, but now they were surrounded by crisscrossing shadows, and none were brave enough to stick their heads between the boards and watch.
“It’s… over,” Kevin rasped at it as ferociously as he could. Its only response was to open its true mouth once more. The dry dull teeth rattled. Its whole head deformed like there was a giant hand controlling it, flexing its fingers. The upper lip stretched over Kevin’s head and formed a seal against the ground and his collarbone.
He screamed, but stopped suddenly. The way it echoed made it clear the Big-Saw’s sealed bell of a mouth was soundproof. Maybe because its digestive process was extraordinarily loud, like bones in a blender. Maybe because its gastric acid was adapted to cause the maximum amount of pain possible. It did seem to derive some satisfaction from extreme emotional states after all, goading player violence, agitating frothing crowds…
All of the air vanished around Kevin’s head. His ears popped. Maybe the Big-Saw’s insides were supposed to be anaerobic. The Kleinbury biology teacher was out there as a fan; she would surely get a chance to examine the strange remains and come up with a more complete theory than Kevin could.
He wasn’t thinking about how it worked, just how there wasn’t a single rolled-up sock of a larvae anywhere inside. They were all gone. Off to work in college ball after their graduation.
Darkness set in. He couldn’t even struggle to breathe; there was too much pressure on his neck for any of the muscles to move. His cheeks felt loose, like he’d stuck his head out the window of a race car. His eyes bulged, tiny blood vessels popping. His pupils rose to meet the first extending tooth, still plenty sharp.
The seal broke, air rushing back in. Kevin hadn’t heard the gunshot in the pressurized chamber of its maw, but when the Big-Saw-in-Law sat up he could see, barely through his damaged eyes, the hole in the Big-Saw’s left eye. Like broken glass, with slime underneath. Like a bullet had blasted through a bakery display case and obliterated a lemon cream doughnut.
It shrieked through the slits in its intact eye, turning toward the perpetrator. The school’s resource officer had squeezed in between the boards, pulled his pistol. He fired again, and this time Kevin got to hear it. The other eye did shatter, just like glass. Sharp pieces of its clear shell rained down on Kevin’s chest.
The officer saw it for what it was, and so perforated it four more times all over its body. The first two stuck in the eyes, but the rest sailed through. There was no blood, but there was the whine of deflation like a pinched balloon, like a cyclone of mosquitoes funneling into your ear. The Big-Saw-in-Law flopped off him, onto it knees.
Its head lost its round shape, now looking more like half an orange with all the juice squeezed out. Its balloon stomach crumpled right after. When it finally fell over, lifeless, there wasn’t any substance left to it aside from the fur and something stringy holding it together, like caul fat.
Kevin snatched it by the lips, pulled it open like a trash bag. The teeth were mostly gone already, collapsing into gray powder. The evidence was vanishing. He couldn’t tell if it was rapid decomposition or the realm the beast had come from reclaiming what was lost, but all the witnesses would have to be sufficient.
He looked up and saw dozens of heads peeking between the wooden slats, every heart racing yet feeling stopped. They’d seen something, but nobody could ever explain what. Eventually, he would get to have a talk with that biology teacher, because she had seen the way it ran and known it was impossible for a human.
Once she had every detail she would give him a few theories. Since the brood were gone, she suspected its reproductive cycle was something like an octopus, and that once it had laid the eggs its body had begun to naturally degrade, its purpose fulfilled. But it had stuck around. Hung on. There was still a game, and it still needed levity, until the last player collapsed in the last heap, degraded in their own way. And just like the Big-Saw everyone would stop watching.
“Sure, now you look!” Kevin barked at those gawking above. He realized he was still naked, hastily grabbing the blue hide of the Big-Saw-in-Law and covering his groin as if it was nothing more than a hideous bathmat.
Today in Sports
Several high schools across the state got quite the gift this month, thanks to an anonymous youth program that may soon sweep the nation. Starting with the Troy Bronco, miniature versions of football team mascots have been popping up at games, much to the surprise of the coaches and fans! The volunteer children stay for a quarter, pick up a few dance moves from their heroes, and leave with a big wave to the crowd!
No one has come forward as the manager of this stealthy exercise in frivolity, but public reaction has been universally positive. A few of these lucky kids will probably find themselves employed pretty soon. It has people wondering if scholarships are offered for mascots.
Whatever the reason, many agree this is the kind of bright spot needed in the lives of Americans right now. It’s a friendly reminder that no matter how bleak things may look, there’s always a reason to dance, and always a reason to play.