I’m not sure why I went back. I can’t even remember the time between when I left and when I returned. I remember the end of the game—well, okay, more like the end of the 3rd quarter—being taunted by Raiders fans as I trudged out, cursing the powder blue #17 jersey I wore, wishing I had enough dough in my bank account for something from Ballast Point.
And then… returning to Qual—check that, Jack Murphy, always and forever Jack Murphy Stadium in my heart—in the dark of the evening, the parking lot deserted, the entrances barely guarded by a single high school drop out since the Spanos family won’t spring to keep the place sealed up after a game. I could have gotten into the stadium sleepwalking—in fact, I think I did.
I wandered around, listless, head hung low, kicking along a prehistoric nacho chip down the concourse, lumbering down the stairs to sit in a random seat and ponder the disaster that occurred on the field earlier that day. The turf looked disturbed, torn, shattered; as if the earth itself was restless and troubled by the acts it supported. With only backup egress lighting on, shadows crossed and created their own occult patterns; static, yet they all seemed to have sharp edges, like invisible brambles hoping to snare me.
I thought I saw a door close in one of the vomitoriums by the end zone, and behind it a light on. The coastal wind picked up a little, and I shivered as my curiosity rose. I looked around, and with the lone stadium sentry nowhere to be seen, a compulsion gripped me to investigate. I threaded my way through the stands and down on to the sideline, where I paused for a second. The wind had stopped. The entire stadium was still, silent. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the stars refused to shine, and it felt as if time had stopped. I should have turned around and made my way home, but I pushed on and entered the tunnel where I had seen the flash of light.
At first, it seemed as if I was mistaken. There were no doors where I could have seen anything, just an odd assortment of rolling laundry bins, shelving carts, and the occasional grounds crew equipment. I laughed at myself for being so foolish, until that laughter dried up in my throat when I saw the slight crack of light coming from under one of the laundry carts. I moved it aside to find a door—an old door, the paint peeling, the knob dented, and a sign reading “Jack Murphy Facilities Use Only – KEEP OUT” in faded and cracked stenciled letters. There were intact cobwebs on its corners, as if no one had used it in years, but it was right where I had seen the movement from the stands, and yellow light was spilling out from beneath it.
Before I could consciously instruct my limbs to stop, my hand had reached out and grasped, turned, and pulled the knob. I entered a cramped room lit by bare antique bulbs; multiple shelving units held all manner of sports equipment, San Diego sports team tchotchkes, concessions supplies, and spare seat parts from at least two stadium renovations ago. I breathed out an exasperated breath; how foolish I was! All I had found was an overflow closet where they left the useless items to rot.
Then the bare bulbs swayed.
Just once, though; back, then forth, then settling back to center. I thought it was an illusion from my tired and weary brain, but then it happened again. It was not like a breeze knocking them around; they would draw back slightly, pause, then swing to the other side quickly and stop back at center, and then again after a moment, then again. A rhythm. A pulse—no, an inhale, then an exhale. I stumbled back towards the door, only to find that there was no knob or handle on the inside of the door. I turned around and put my back to the door, searching frantically for a way out—a window, a vent, anything.
I could not see anything but those piles of San Diego detritus and the periodic sway of the bulbs—at first. Soon my eyes focused on a strange anomaly—every time the lights swayed, a thin line would appear on the wall opposite me, and then disappear. I took a few deep breaths and steeled myself before scrambling across the room to the wall. I waited for it to happen again, and—Yes! Truly! A crack would appear, a perfectly straight line going from the floor to above my head, and Yes! Another line! A hidden door! I made a mental calculation and figured this would give me access to the lower concourse concessions area, where I could get out! Next time it appeared, I quickly got my fingertips in and pulled open the hidden door.
It opened without much difficulty, and I was greeted with a strangely sterile and smooth metal stairway, descending down to a similarly metal hallway. Having nowhere else to go to, I descended the stairs, only to find—well, not another door as much as it was a hatch, like something you’d expect to see in a submarine, designed to keep the deluge of the ocean from entering. I hesitated, looking back up at the storage room, only to see the light bulbs spinning wildly. Panicked, I spun the wheel on the hatch, opened it, and rushed inside before pulling the hatch closed behind me.
It was darker in there, lit by what seemed like emergency lighting where the floor met the walls. I stood still and let my eyes adjust, and the large lumps I saw around the floor slowly came into focus. They were strange forms in Chargers blue and yellow, almost seeming like… yes… some were body parts. Over-muscled arms. A six pack stomach with part of a thigh. A giant shoulder with part of a very yellow neck and chin. I reflexively moved further into the chamber and saw that on the edges of these strange forms were oddly organic viscera, and when I peered close I saw, to my horror, small bits inside wriggling. I first thought they were deluged with maggots, but, in fact, there were thousands of tiny tentacle-like protuberances, constantly moving, working, combining and collapsing and growing again—these were pieces of bodies forming themselves!
I shuddered and stumbled and looked around, and felt the color drain from my face as I realized I had wandered far into the chamber and could not see the hatch I came from nor where the chamber lead—while I had only two directions to choose from, I could not tell where either wound up, and I was surrounded by these living, growing, struggling body parts—feet that stomped, hands that clapped, biceps that flexed.
Then I heard it—a shuffling, the creak of footsteps, a labored breathing. I turned to look, my body frozen, and in the dim lights, a familiar face appeared, but yet horrifically different than I knew it.
“So sad, so lonely,” it said, “So good to see you. Would you like to see my real face?”
Before I could answer, its grossly muscled arms reached up to its oversized lightning bolt head. I didn’t notice the blood at first, only the ripping sounds as the head came off. Then the screams came, first from me, and then from inside the writhing hole where that head used to be.
I woke up back in my bed, and I was relieved, believing it to be just a nightmare. I got up to relieve myself from the pressure of too many stadium beers, only to find my hands clad in Under Armor gloves, my arms swollen in size, and my clothes to be a full custom Chargers uniform. Catching my reflection in the mirror, my face had become that of the yellow horror—that giant rictus grin lighting bolt head. Thinking this to be some drunken prank—to have my friends stuff me into this giant foam monstrosity—I reached up to get this awful mask off of me.
I didn’t notice the blood at first, only the ripping sounds.