December 6th, 2015
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hours had past since the one loss Carolina Panthers continued their impressive season with a win over the New Orleans Saints. The Saints locker room, cleared of players, staff, and reporters, sat in darkness. Even the janitors had long since departed home to the comfort of their families after another bitter loss. Gone were the post game speeches and consolations, the bitter regrets of missed opportunities, and the half-hearted promises one makes to oneself to do better next time. At this hour there was only a dark void of silence. A silence about to be broken by dark deeds.
With a darker purpose.
The faint shuffle of feet broke the silence, but only just. The sounds started and stopped fitfully as if their owner was unsure of his path, or trying to remain undetected. The sharp scritch of a match being lit broke the silence further. A small orb of light pushed back the gloom enough to reveal a black clothed figure standing before Brandon Browner’s locker. Soft yellow light blossomed from a small candle., illuminating the face beneath the hood with its glow.
Brandon Browner darted a look over his shoulder. Seeing no other sign of life, he crouched down before his locker. The bottom panel of the locker came free easily. Though he had changed teams several times in recent years, his lockers always came prepared with a false bottom. He never asked how. Bleergh’s devoted had their ways and he was content in thus knowing he was not alone. Brandon removed what was concealed beneath with careful reverence. Concealed from his teammates, his family, his most loyal friends. None knew or would ever know. Until it was too late.
A feeling of profound comfort washed over Brandon as he picked up the tattered piece of yellow cloth. Its color faded from years of handling, torn from the first penalty flag assessed in his name. That was the first time he had felt Bleergh’s influence, His power, His glory. In a bare whisper, Brandon evoked the Flag God’s name.
“Hail Bleergh, God of Flags, Lord of Penalties. It is your humble servant, Brandon.”
A look of uncertainty crossed Brandon’s face. His faith in the immortal being of forfeiture had never wavered, but in recent weeks the seed of doubt had taken root.
“Oh Horrible One, Destroyer of Plays and Herald of Game Delays, hear me. For years I have been your devoted servant and this season I have provoked the holy cloth a spectacular 21 times, the most of any player in the league. Just today I gave the Panthers three free first downs. I have observed many of the Dark Acts.: Masking of the Face, Roughness Beyond Necessity, even Holding in Defense. Yet you have remained silent oh Neergh.”
Brandon raised the scrap of cloth to his forehead and gripped it with fervency.
“I wish only to ascend to your glory, to shunt aside this mortal coil and sit at your right hand as you rule from the Penalty Throne, as a Demon Prince of Pass Interference! Just give me a sign, Lord, some guiding beacon of darkness that I may know your desires!”
A light breeze tickled the back of Brandon’s neck. He looked around. There were no doors nearby, no vents to cause the air to stir. The fierce fluttering of falling paper nearly stopped his heart with shock. He stood and investigated the source of the noise. A stack of newspapers had fallen off a nearby table. The headlines read mostly about the Saints disappointing season and other trivial matters Brandon found no interest in. As he turned to resume his prayers, one particular paper caught his eye. It looked different: older, yellowed with age.
He picked it up and squinted in the failing candlelight. It was dated 2003. But how was that possible? What was a paper that old doing in the locker room? His eyes were drawn to a small blurb below the fold. It had been circled. No, it was simply a coffee stain. Brandon tried not to think that dried blood often had the same color as coffee. He quickly scanned the article. It briefly detailed the exploits of one Chester Pitts, a Houston Texans tackle. Brandon’s eyes widened. The article spoke of Pitts’ 2003 season in which he accumulated 23 penalties, the most ever since they began tracking them.
“By Bleergh’s Dark Whistle…. THIS IS IT! I hear you Lord! I shall carry out your wishes and achieve the MOST PENALIZED SEASON IN HISTORY! In four remaining games, I shall EASILY SURPASS CHESTER PITTS! Glory to Kheergh!”
In a frenzied rush, Brandon replaced the false bottom in his locker. He tucked the scrap of flag into his shoe, blew out the candle, and sprinted for the exit. The total darkness hampered his way as he crashed into shelves, chairs and doorways, but he cared not. The only thing louder than the clattering of falling debris in the halls of the stadium as he ran out was echoing peals of laughter. The laughter of madness.