a short story by Sam Vest
Todd was sick to his stomach. He could hardly force himself to eat any of the delicious leftovers from his aunt’s party the previous night. It was noon and Todd was always hungry at noon. He managed to force down some fancy chicken and veggie medley and some almonds. Todd wouldn’t typically do things that displeased his body, but Todd knew he had to eat. He needed the energy. He had a Dodgeball game to play.
He hopped into his Prius and hummed down the 110 towards the canyons which separated North from West Hollywood. It was an excruciatingly beautiful day. Todd always felt nervous on days like these because of karma: if it’s a beautiful day, then something horrible is going to happen—at least that was his logic. He played the local noventa y siete punto seis FM channel, which was a techno, club type station, to get his game face one. He rolled up his window at a red light for fear of drawing judgmental glances from neighboring motorists should they hear that he was listening to a Beyoncé remix, which wasn’t entirely masculine.
Todd tried visualizing what they gameplay would be like. He’d never played in a Dodgeball league before. He knew the game would be fast paced. His team captain Felipe had warned him so on Facebook.
“It’s a co-ed, beginners league,” Todd thought, “I’ll probably be one of the better players out there.” Todd was more fit than usual. He played ultimate Frisbee twice a week, which had improved his endurance.
Rosetta Park came up quicker than he’d expected. It was Sunday after all, and no traffic. Todd circled the park, uncovering the fog of war, but mostly just looking for a parking spot that wouldn’t cost him another $65 ticket. He tucked his Prius nicely in the shade, backed up, and re-parked to be sure.
He approached the only building in the park big enough for a gym. Shouting came from a back door, which was propped by a traffic cone. He peaked inside.
A dodgeball nearly took his head off. Todd ducked back out the door, certain he was at the right place. He circled the gym wall and stopped inside a restroom next to the basketball court. He found that the door did not lock, and had a minor panic attack. He had to go number two. Todd always had to go number two before stressful situations. He supposed it was his fight or flight instincts “lightening the load” to insure a maximum probability of escape, in this case from decapitation.
Thankfully inside the main entrance was a proper men’s room with a stall that locked. With that taken cared of Todd entered the courts. Two dodgeball games raged on either side of a basketball court, separated by a black net. Thirty colorful and gritty athletes rocketed little, red rubber balls at speeds reaching 200 mph. Todd was taken by a fit looking blonde with short hair. She was all business in her torn leggings. Todd did a fist pump in his mind because truth be told, the reason he joined the dodgeball league was to meet a pretty lady. Match.com was not doing the trick, so Todd had done the next most logical step; hence where he was. The blonde’s side won and the court was repopulated.
“Is this open gym?” Todd asked the blonde.
“Yeah, but… (something Todd couldn’t understand) Hop on in!”
Todd jumped into the mass of thirty plus dodgeballers. The opposing team had just as many players. The ref on the sideline swung down a peace sign and yelled, “Dodgeball!”
Todd got stuck behind a wall of his teammates as they sprinted to grab one of the seven red balls on the midline. Todd was 6’2, and felt like a very big target. The opposing team must have heard his train of thought because a ball hit him in the cojones. Todd’s shock was tremendous, but he sprung to his feet and tiptoed to the sidelines. Everything felt in tact, and blinding pain was absent.
“Crap.” Todd thought, more so at the fact that he was the first one out than where he’d just been hit.
“Had to get it out of my system early.” He encouraged himself. “I’ll show ‘em next game.”
Or the next game either.
“Crap!” Todd hadn’t even touched a ball yet, except the microsecond it took to get him out. He decided to employ a technique he had successfully used skiing in Lake Tahoe, two months ago. Todd was a crappy skier. So on the way up the mountain he observed people he thought looked really good as they slalomed their way down the slopes. It was all in the hips, Todd had deduced.
He picked out a fellow on the opposing team who looked really good. He was short, scruffy, with a bandana. He hung out at the back left corner, always with his throwing hand behind his back. Todd’s teammates ran up to throw their balls and would get blinded sided by scruffy guy, who was hiding balls behind his back. And what was even more remarkable—the scruffy would pretend to throw a ball and cause Todd’s teammates to flinch. No one knew if he had a ball or not.
“I’m going to use that.” Todd thought.
Todd managed to get a ball in the next game. In his excitement he bound up to the midline and threw a major league pitch. The ball struck the ground miserably below its target, and the scruffy guy blindsided Todd. He trudged to the sideline. Todd’s team won again without him.
The ref called off gameplay to clear room for the league games. Todd scurried around the gym looking for his team. “Gotta Dodge ‘Em All” was chosen to be his team’s name, a Pokémon reference. They did not have jerseys nor had Todd met any of his teammates so he simply tapped anyone on the shoulder who looked like they knew what they were doing. After two strikes, he tapped a slim, tan guy on the shoulder who looked familiar in the way that Facebook friends look familiar if you’ve never actually met them in person.
“Are you playing on team Gotta Dodge ‘Em All?” Todd asked.
“Are you Felipe?”
And a beautiful friendship began. Todd went to his team’s sideline and squat down to tie his shoe.
BAM! Bodacious blonde, prettier than the first, took the position next to him. Todd’s eyes bulged, and heart went thumpity thump.
“Hi I’m Todd!” he said, extending his hand.
“I’m Morgan.” She answered unenthusiastically. She faced the opposing team.
“She’s totally out of my league,” Todd thought, “Just the way I like ‘em.”
The opponents were all in matching blue uniforms featuring “My Little Pony” which just so happened to be their team name. But there was nothing pony about them. The men averaged six foot and up. They were jocks, the lot of them, and as it always seems to be the case in all-star teams there was a tall chizzled blonde guy, who reeked of a superiority complex. He caught Todd’s eye and a fierce rivalry ignited.
Todd’s team looked like a group of misfits. No one’s shirts matched, and no one appeared to be much of a dodgeballer, save for Felipe and Morgan. But Todd was content with the prospect of making friends, preferably of the girl type.
The ref lined up the seven balls on the sideline. He looked like a dodgeball ref in his knee high fluorescent green socks and orange bandanna. He blew the whistle and threw down peace signs with both hands. Todd booked it to the midline and snagged a ball along with Morgan and his other teammate who had just told him his name thirty seconds ago, but he already forgotten. Todd thought it was strange that none of the “My Little Pony” players had raced to grab Todd’s ball.
The little thing was light as a feather and had a fuzzy rubber texture that tickled Todd’s hand. He wiped his sweaty palm on his sweaty shorts, and succeeded in making his grip sweatier. He did not throw immediately because he remembered reading Felipe’s comment on Facebook to throw with a partner. He charged the midline with Morgan and hucked his ball into the mass of My Little Ponies. The jocks warped clear of its path. A blindside throw from the chizzled rival smoked Todd in the shoulder. He was the first out again. His teammates dropped like flies.
From the sideline Todd noticed the positioning of the Ponies was vastly different from his own team. The Ponies moved like the Neanderthals in 2001 Space Odyssey. They stuck in groups pushing aggressively toward the midline and would make sudden violent movements to either throw a ball or throw nothing. Either way it was scary as hell. Todd’s team had their backs to the wall and flinched every time a ball was thrown. Felipe caught a bullet with his Kung Fu master reflexes. Todd was back in. He darted to grab a stray ball and redeem himself and was no sooner picked off by the Ponies. They looked like they still had their entire team in play. Felipe managed to pick off one of the Ponies of Herculean proportions before getting riddled himself.
Todd couldn’t figure out why the Ponies always had so many balls and he never had one. He also couldn’t understand why he only lasted five seconds each game before dragging his feet to the sideline. Todd recalled his high school days playing paintball when he would run out into the arena in a blaze of glory and get mowed down by automatic toys. He remembered he’d always chosen the warrior class when he played video games for their mindless button-mashing fun. Todd enjoyed charging headfirst into hordes of samurai and tapping the ‘A’ button till “Completed” was stamped across the screen. But this was different; clearly a new strategy was necessary.
Todd impressed himself the next game. He charged the midline and threw a fake ball, while concealing an actual ball behind his back. He hurled the actual ball, missed, and was hit out again. But his clever antic brought a smile to his face while he congratulated his teammates as they joined him on the sideline. Ten losses later the teams switched sides.
“This side is the better one.” claimed Todd’s big, bearded teammate, whose name Todd had also forgotten. Todd took out his competitive frustration by employing the fake throw technique. Time and time again he caused the Ponies to flinch by chucking the air. The split second it took them to regain their composure cost several of them their ‘In’ status. Todd was quite glad his endurance was holding up. Despite the relatively limited amount of movement in dodgeball, Todd could feel himself getting winded from putting every muscle he could muster into his throws. The heat of the courts didn’t help at all. Todd was certain the building was over its capacity limit. It felt like a sauna.
Fifteen losses later, Todd’s team hadn’t even come close to winning a game. Felipe did a good job keeping the team pepped. Todd did his best to be peppy as well. But ultimately My Little Pony was the stronger team. They slapped hands and dispersed. Todd felt like he was in the movie where the little guy gets beat down and makes the comeback. He felt humble, but the competitive part over him was pissed that he hadn’t won a single game. Todd took comfort when Felipe told him My Little Pony was the best team in the league. Felipe also said that last year his team, The Avengers, had actually won the league championship. Todd was very pleased to know this.
“Are you going to the bar?” Todd asked two of his female teammates, neither of which was blonde.
“No we’ve got homework.” They responded guilty.
“Let’s go to the bar and drink away our sorrows.” invited Charlie, Todd’s bumbling teammate in a superman T-shirt and a sumo wrestler haircut.
“And we can talk about strategy cause I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Charlie was nice enough Todd thought. Todd always had a thing for people who were nice to him, even if Charlie smelled kind funny.
“Not this time Charlie, but next week for sure when we can get more of the team to join.” Todd said.
“Specifically women.” Todd thought.
He shook Charlie’s hand and left. Todd hadn’t come to make guy friends, but he’d take what he could get.