Theodore Hurlbutt III scratched at the poison ivy inching its way up his twig-like, pale arm as he heard a whistle blow from across the field. Good thing I never got chicken pox, he thought as he picked at the bumpy blisters on his skin- clear liquid oozing out. He couldn’t resist a good scratch, even if it might spread the dreadful rash.
He’d gotten the outbreak the weekend before on a camping trip with his father in West Virginia. “It’ll be good for your bones!” his dad had announced as he packed up his Chevy Tahoe with a tent, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, and snacks.
The idea of camping had made Teddy want to light his hair on fire. An hour into the camping excursion, and to his dad’s disappointment, Teddy had twisted his ankle, falling into a bush entwined with a vine sprouting three green leaves.
“You’ll be fine, the Hurlbutt’s aren’t allergic to poison ivy,” his dad had informed him as he waited for Teddy to retrieve himself out of the bush. “See look.” His dad lifted the three leaves and rubbed them onto his own arm, before tossing the plant aside. Later that evening, Teddy’s arm had started to blister up as his dad’s skin remained as smooth as a seal’s bottom.
Teddy pushed his fingernail into the bumps and made an X like his grandmother had taught him to do when he was little. “Just a little trick to get the itchies away,” she had whispered in her soft, soothing voice before kissing him on the forehead. He missed that voice so much.
“Teddy, boy!” his dad shouted from across the lacrosse field. “Rest time is up, time to play!”
Teddy cringed at the thought of stepping onto the field. The helmet made his head hurt. The pads made his skin clammy. The cleats made his feet sore.
“I think my ankle is still a little too sore!” Teddy lied as he gestured towards his ankle. His ankle felt fine. His mind, however, didn’t feel fine. He hated lacrosse almost as much as he hated camping. But how could he tell that to his all-star lacrosse-playing father who not only was the head coach of the high school team, but also had a plaque with his name on it in their gymnasium? Theodore Hurlbutt II All-Star Lacrosse Champion 1995-1999.
Teddy picked up his phone and opened his gaming app, Combat Space Zone, and entered the chat room. He’d made an entire city on the planet of Vencury, with seventy-six homes, four hospitals, two schools, six grocery stores, and a military base. His army was made up of fifty Zymen which were a genderless species of alien. In the game, Combat Space Zone, aliens from planets created by gamers, would try to take over one another’s planets for total space domination. So far, nine gamers had tried to take over Vencury, but Teddy had enough experience to know how to defeat each of them. Teddy was an all-star Combat Space Zone gamer. If only there was a plaque for that, he thought. He bet no one on that lacrosse field could beat him in the game.
“Put that freaking phone down and get your lazy ass up,” his dad’s voice boomed over his head. Startled, Teddy dropped his phone and watched as it landed on the soft, dewy grass next to his cleats.
“But…my ankle…,” Teddy pointed towards his ankle as his father crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Do you know that Marcus played with a torn ACL last week? A torn ACL and he finished the game without one complaint!” his dad scolded him as he tapped his New Balance shoes on the grass next to Teddy’s phone.
“Well, I bet Marcus’ doctor would tell you that wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” Teddy mumbled as he bent over and grabbed his phone, wiping the wet residue from the grass onto his orange jersey.
“What’d you just say?” his dad barked.
Teddy peered up at his dad, eyes as wide as discs. “Nothing,” he said.
“That’s what I thought,” his dad replied. “Now since your ankle hurts so bad, go out there and relieve Jimmy from the goal. I think your ankle should do just fine standing in the goal.”
Teddy looked down and kicked at the air below him before slowly getting up and hobbling towards the goal. As he approached Jimmy, he raised his eyes slowly, not wanting to have to converse with him. He had more in common with the goal netting than with the goalie.
“Hey, you in?” Jimmy asked as he hopped up and down, gripping his stick as if it were a rifle.
“Yea, unfortunately,” Teddy mumbled as he traded places with him.
Teddy hated being goalie almost as much as he hated playing on the field. One plus was he didn’t have to run, which he loathed. But he had to worry about compact rubber balls flying at high speeds towards his body, aiming to cause him pain. The only other time he’d attempted being a goalie, he’d received a nasty bruise the size of a moon crater on his shin.
“Keep your eye out for Felix, he’s on a roll today!” Jimmy shouted as he ran off the field towards his dad. Teddy watched as his dad patted Jimmy on the back and handed him a cup of Gatorade. Teddy tried to think of the last time his dad patted him on the back. Maybe never?
When the whistle blew, he stood in front of the goal and pretended like he was watching the field. But inside his head, he was planning his attack on the planet, Mercurn. Mercurn was filled with an army of five hundred Mercmen and Teddy had been dreaming of defeating it ever since it rose to the top of the charts a few months before. The planet’s gamer, sp8cerg8mer, was the top gamer in his app. I’ll need to attack from all directions, Teddy thought as he placed the head of his stick on the grass and leaned against it.
Unexpectedly, he saw the mob of players rush towards him and he lifted his stick in the air and waved it around frantically.
Protect this goal like you would protect Vencury, he told himself as he feverishly flailed his stick in the air. Suddenly the ball whizzed passed his face and into the goal. He winced as the whistle blew loudly, startled by the intensity of it.
“Goal!” he heard the other team holler as the players ran back towards their spots. Teddy looked over towards his dad who had his arms crossed and was shaking his head at him sluggishly. At the sight of his dad’s face, Teddy took a step back and stumbled on his shoelace, which he hadn’t realized had become untied. He bent down to tie it, giving him an excuse to appear occupied.
“Throw! Catch! Throw! Catch!” his dad had yelled at him when he was little during his daily drills. A fiddle stick for Hannukah when he was five (he’d wanted a science kit). A lacrosse stick for his birthday when he was six (he’d wanted a magic set). A lacrosse poster for his room with autographs of real pro lacrosse players from the tooth fairy when he’d lost his first tooth (wasn’t he supposed to get a dollar or something?).
“You’ve played for ten years?” Jimmy had asked him when he’d joined the team last year.
“You could say that,” Teddy had shrugged. Had he played for ten years? He guessed he had.
He took a deep breath and faced the field again. The goal is Vercury, he repeated to himself. He watched as the strong arms of the players threw the ball at rapid speed back and forth to one another’s nets. Teddy could barely catch the ball when it came to him. The only reason he was even on the team was because his dad was the head coach. Teddy was sure that if he quit the team, his dad would feel like the laughingstock of the town. But what about how I feel? Teddy thought as he watched the mass of players move towards him again.
Without warning, the ball came whizzing at him again. Paralyzed, Teddy thrust out his chest and bounced the ball off his chest pads rather than using his stick. The stick would have taken too much talent. And talent was an absence for Teddy in this sport.
He watched in awe as the ball bounced off him and fell outside of the goal. His teammate scooped it up with his stick and ran towards the other team’s goal.
“Nice save, son!” his dad yelled from across the field. Teddy glanced over at his dad’s face; eyes gleaming.
He smiled and put his hand on his chest, feeling the pain of the ball surge deeply into his bones. He’d have a bruise tomorrow for sure.
The goal is Vercury, he said again as he leaned against the stick, daydreaming of his attack on Mercurn later that afternoon…The goal is Vercury.