The Folks At Flash Fiction Friday have posited a fine little poser this week: take the 8th sentence on page 83 of the book you are currently reading, and use that as the first sentence of a new story. I chose (since, as per usual, I'm reading more than one book at once) Robert J Sawyer's "Fossil Hunter", and the sentence, "Lastoon felt his heart pounding as he ran on." (Lastoon is a dinosaur.) I'm going to cheat a wee bit and change it to "he", but hopefully the complaints won't be too loud.
He felt his heart pounding as he ran on. This was normal. He was running, playing a sport at the very highest level, so he was long accustomed to the constant motion. When you got to a certain point, you didn't feel the fatigue any more- it was just functioning, making dozens of decisions every second. Everything on automatic pilot. You had to play this way to survive at this level, so you learned to push aside what weekend warriors would call genuine discomfort. Run, but watch- there were always things you could miss.
When you didn't have the ball, you went into the practiced motions of the offense. Cut here, run there. stop. Wait. Now run again. Every option had options, depending on what the opposition did. The key was, of course, that everyone on the team saw the same option together. That was why they had practice. He set a pick, absorbed the crunching blow from the excitable two guard, then rolled calmly into the open space. The ball found him, and his brain instantly calculated angles, and vectors, and planes faster than the fastest laptop. He saw that no one could reach him in time, that the shot was within his range, that there were no better options. His decision made, he shot, catching the ball and rising and firing.
It felt good, and he was glad to see it drop through the hoop almost quietly. The home crowd cheered appropriately, and he exchanged a couple of quick handslaps. They were now on defense, though, basketball's fluid nature never allowing too much celebration, and he focused on the waves of blue opponents coming at them. It was one of the first lessons you learn as a youngster- get back, as soon as the ball changes hands. Don't think, just move. The team moved back, matching up with their assignments without a word.
Defense wasn't quite so regimented- it was reactive. Try to see what they are attempting to do, and disrupt it as best you can. The ball came in deep to their hulking center, and he took a few steps towards him, trying to disrupt his rhythm. He looked up at the big man, trying to read his eyes, seeing the ball returned to the perimeter. He jumped back to defend his man, who quickly gave it up. The ball circulated, a few more cuts followed by a shot of their own.
He couldn't explain it, but he had always had a sense about rebounding. Something about the way the ball rotated off the opponent's fingertips, he could tell whether it would come off long or short, right or left, bounding high or skidding like a skipped stone. He saw where the ball was headed, his feet taking him there before he could form the thought. He slipped between two opponents, jumping as the ball came off the rim, securing it in front of the baseline. Their quicksilver point guard was already on the move, hurtling towards the offensive end, and he threw him a pass, setting out on his own path.
The guard was headed for the middle, just like they taught you in grade school, so as to maximize your options. He saw the gap on the left- just run straight down the sideline, and we should have a two on one fast break. He started off when he felt a ripping, tearing pain right across his chest. It felt like some kind of muscle pull- had he hurt himself passing the ball? It wasn't that vigorous a pass, but this was a definite pain. The closest thing he could remember was when he got kicked on a double play playing high school baseball. It was that kind of pain- abrupt and very real. He remembered it was December the next basketball season before his shot came back.
He kept running, almost out of habit, but the pain wouldn't stop. He slowed down, watching the play develop in front of him, as Maxwell, the other forward, filled in on the right, taking an easy pass and guiding the ball home for an easy two. He smiled, feeling the game's momentum sliding their way, and then grimaced. It felt like someone was opening his chest with a rusty razor.
Suddenly, unbidden, legs that had brought him near the top of his profession felt watery and weak. The pain was a roaring furnace now, both sides of his chest aching and burning. His breath felt short and quick, and no matter how deeply he sucked, it felt like he couldn't get enough air. He couldn't support his weight any more, and he fell to one knee, then to both. He commanded himself to rise, get up, get back- the primordial basketball instruction. Don't let them get an advantage.
His body rebelled, his muscles and nerves suddenly commanded by a rebellious, angry guard. He looked up at one of the opponents, the lanky point guard, who signalled to the official for a time out. He heard the whistle blow while the pain seemed to be sending daggers into his stomach. He felt nauseous, but commanded himself not to vomit- he didn't want to lead Sportscenter for a week.
He looked up at his opponent, tried to speak, but nothing came out. The pain was like bands, hot, heavy, hard bands wrapped firmly around him and squeezing, constantly squeezing. He tried to get up and could not, and suddenly he felt the dirty floor against his face. He noted how quiet everyone was, how suddenly he heard his name, friend and foe alike urging him to get up, asking if he was OK, trying to tell him he would be OK. He looked at the bottom of the sneaker of one of his teammates, looming large in front of his face, and he knew that they weren't correct, that he wasn't going to be OK, that he was falling away from the game, away from his fans and his friends and his family and himself, and he noticed how quiet it was now, and suddenly he realized that it didn't hurt anymore.