Recap #128: Strange Matter #2: The Midnight Game by Johnny Ray Barnes Jr., and Marty Engle, a.k.a. “Remember the Green Devils”
Title: Strange Matter #2 – The Midnight Game
Author: Johnny Ray Barnes Jr.
Cover Artist: ???
Summary: Tyler Webb has been invited to attend a very special football game – a final showdown between two teams from Fairfield’s past. The only problem is, the game is scheduled for midnight and there’s no way Tyler’s parents will let him go. Curiosity gets the better of him and Tyler sneaks out to see the game. Now he’s sitting in the moonlight, waiting for the teams to run out.
But they don’t. They crawl out… from the ground.
I sent Wing the first book in the Strange Matter series as a Christmas gift. I’ve known of the series for years but I only own two books, this one and “Frozen Dinners,” which is book 5. From what I’ve seen online and what I gleamed from the fifth book, it looks like this series had an ongoing storyline spread throughout the different volumes concerning the strange things happening in Fairfield. I’m trying to avoid buying books in the latter half until I’ve read the first ten. Unfortunately, a few books were cancelled, which has me really intrigued and frustrated because I’d really like to know what “Stamped” was gonna be about.
When I told Wing about these two she sounded super excited so I offered to recap this entry for her birthday.
[Wing: Football! Zombie players! How could I resist? I love how Jude always brings new series to Devil’s Elbow, and I’m particularly excited about this one. Can’t wait to read this recap.]
Tyler Few (yeah despite the summary his last name’s not Webb) doesn’t think he’s cut out for football. After his parents moved back to their hometown of Fairfield, his dad began dropping hints that Tyler try out for the middle school football team, the recently established Timberwolves. [Wing: WEREWOLVES?] Not that Tyler’s dad is a big sports fanatic, but he thinks every kid should try at least ONE sport when they’re young, and maybe Tyler could learn a thing or two about teamwork. Unfortunately, Tyler’s not very good at it. He picked the position of kicker so he wouldn’t have to do much during games. Thankfully, Coach Randall understands this and instead of giving Tyler a hard time, had his daughter Libb (one of Tyler’s classmates) lend Tyler a hand by educating him on all sorts of different moves and plays. Turns out Libb’s incredibly knowledgeable about all things football. [Wing: Oh, Libb. You delight me already.]
One day, Tyler was all alone, waiting late at the bleachers for his dad to pick him up. Well, he thought was alone. Tyler realized there was someone else nearby when he saw an incredibly dusty and ragged looking man climbing the bleachers on the other side of the field. The man’s face was covered by a scarf and thick black glasses. His coat and clothes were incredibly ragged, and every step he took the man kicked up a cloud of dust. Tyler watched, scared to move, as the man sat down and took something out of his pocket. The man placed the object on the bleacher, then left, leaving a trail of dust behind him. Tyler waited for like forever, worried the man was still there, when he went to inspect what he left behind. Underneath a small rock to keep it from fluttering away, Tyler finds an, old worn cardboard ticket that reads:
GREEN DEVILS VS MOHAWKS 12:00 AM NOVEMBER 28TH, 1995
Tyler doesn’t understand what kind of game would be held at midnight, but recognizes the game is scheduled for tomorrow night. [Wing: Yes, totally a great idea to take things that random strangers leave behind.] Tyler’s dad finally shows up, unintentionally spooking his son. Tyler tells his dad about “The Dust Man” and shows him the ticket as they drive home. And Mr. Few takes Tyler completely seriously, getting angry with himself that he didn’t get there sooner and promising he’s gonna tell the coach about strange people hanging around the bleachers giving tickets to fake games. He also wonders if maybe Tyler joining the team wasn’t a good idea after all. [Wing: Well damn, that’s some of the best parenting we’ve seen on this site.]
At home, Tyler’s mom tends to his scrapes and bruises from practice. Mr. Few explains the Green Devils and the Mohawks were real teams once upon a time. The Green Devils were Fairfield’s home team back in the 30s. They weren’t major league, but back then you couldn’t watch football games on TV and it was hard to travel to see games. And it turns out Tyler’s Grandpa Charlie was the team’s biggest fan. Mr. Few reveals an old yearbook dated 1935, showing pictures of the Green Devils and what the town was like back in the 30s. Unfortunately, 1935 was the year the Green Devils dissolved. They lost the championship game, and the defeat was sort of the last straw for a lot of people. Mixed with bad weather, failing crops, and the Great Depression, many people left Fairfield. Not Grandpa Charlie though. Tyler goes over the photos of the team, realizing back then a lot of standard equipment didn’t exist and noticing many players are covered in bruises and missing teeth. The quarterback, Thomas Maul, looks incredibly mean and vicious. [Wing: Names that are just a little too on point will never cease to delight me and make me groan at the same time.] But then something catches Tyler’s attention. Hidden in the background of one of the photos is none other than the Dust Man.
Tyler brings the yearbook to school and shows it to Libb during math class. Tyler explains he sits next to Libb and she often discusses plays and strategies for games.
“I call it Play 23,” she said, holding up a very detailed drawing of X’s and O’s. “Its a kickoff play no team can return – a kick sweep to the right.”
Showing Libb the yearbook, Tyler’s told about the last play the Green Devils used, mentioning she knows everything about them from her dad. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know who the Dust Man could be. Inspecting more pages, the kids find the book’s been autographed by every member of the team. Seems Charlie Few was really popular with the players. Tyler plans to look up any of the surviving players to get info before Libb realizes there’s a picture of Herbert Trout, their principal, among the Green Devil photos. Tyler and Libb recognize him from his giant smile; even as an old man, Mr. Trout still has a perfect set of huge white teeth. Tyler hasn’t really met the principal before, but is kind of scared of him. Libb’s assured Tyler the guy’s like everyone else, he has good days and bad days. After math class ends, Tyler and Libb go to see Mr. Trout, entering the front office, a.k.a. “The Vegetable Room.”
The walls were squash yellow and every piece of furniture came in carrot orange or pea green. I figured it was a subliminal way of getting students to eat healthier.
The secretary warns the kids Mr. Trout’s in a bad mood, yet when his secretary tells him the kids wish to discuss football, they’re given the clear to go inside. Mr. Trout recognizes Libb, but hasn’t made Tyler’s acquaintance just yet. After Tyler reveals he’s the grandson of Charlie Few, Tyler takes out the yearbook and asks if Mr. Trout knows who the Dust Man is. Mr. Trout does not, but comments on how appropriate it is they would ask about something related to the Green Devils on this day. Turns out Mr. Trout was frustrated for two reasons:
- The previous night he dreamed he was going to a Green Devils game, and in the dream he hit two boys with his car.
- On the way to work this morning, he thought he saw Thomas Maul on the side of the road, telling him to come play, which caused him to crash the car into a tree.
Tyler and Libb have no answer to this, and Mr. Trout believes someone’s pulling an elaborate joke. Looking at the ticket for the Green Devils game, he advises the kids not to worry about things that can’t be. Tyler decides he’s going to the field at midnight, determined to find out what exactly is going on.
At practice after school, Tyler is kicking the best he’s ever kicked since he joined the Timberwolves. [Wing: Seriously, this book needs some damn werewolves.] Coach Randall decides the team should try a field goal play. But just as Tyler’s about to kick the ball, something at the far end of the field glimmers and blinds Tyler, making him miss and leaving him open for Warren Dillman to tackle him to the ground. Coach Randall has Tyler jog around the field for a bit, and Libb joins him. Tyler heads to the sport where he saw whatever it was that blinded him, and unearths a bent, tarnished ring. Brushing some dirt off, Tyler can make out an inscription reading “Fairfield Champions” and the name “Thomas Maul.”
Tyler shows the ring to his dad, whose eyes nearly bug out wondering where Tyler found it. Tyler recaps the incident on the field before asking why the ring says “Fairfield Champions” if the Green Devils lost. Mr. Few explains the rings were preemptively commissioned by Terence Fairfield, grandson of the town founder, before the Green Devils played the big game back in 1935. [Wing: That’s some money wasting bullshit.] Charlie Few said the players swore never to wear the rings again after they lost. The only person who still did was Terence, who had his own ring made with emeralds and a diamond, despite the loss. Tyler wonders how Thomas Maul lost his ring before asking his dad what connection his grandfather had to the team. Mr. Few says he doesn’t know beyond his dad once drove the team home from practice. It was one of those things he never really asked about before Charlie died. That night Tyler almost falls asleep thinking about the ticket, his grandfather, and the Green Devils, when something scuttles on top of his bed. But don’t worry Wing, it’s not a spider.
It’s just a disembodied, skeletal hand. [Wing: Much preferable.]
The hand manages to find the Green Devils ticket before lunging onto Tyler’s chest and starts trying to cram the ticket into his mouth. Tyler begins to suffocate before falling off the bed, hearing his dad waking up and seeing the ring search the floor for the championship ring. Realizing who the hand actually belongs to, Tyler tosses a pillow and knocks the hand into his wastebasket just as his dad comes in. Mr. Few asks Tyler what happened, but Tyler, knowing he wouldn’t be able to explain what went on, wordlessly looks at the window. Mr. Few assumes somebody was peeping into Tyler’s room and goes to call the sheriff.
More impressive than Mr. Few’s parenting is Sheriff Drake earnestly believes the report and ensures a patrol car and some officers will be on the look out for any prowlers in the neighborhood. [Wing: … useful adults? WHAT EVEN IS THIS BOOK.] It’s at this point Tyler regrets ever joining the Timberwolves, feeling that’s how all this began. Once the lights go off, the hand emerges from Tyler’s wastebasket and manages to go out the window. Outside, Tyler can see the hand scuttling back and forth in the moonlight, before it starts indicating it wants Tyler to get a move on. Tyler refuses, and the hand responds by scratching the word “GRANDFATHER” in the paint on the front porch.
Intrigued once more, Tyler tries to be as quiet as possible as he dons the get up of… THE NINJA TIMBERWOLF, a black hooded sweatshirt and a backpack with emergency supplies left over from Tyler’s camping trip. [Wing: Not a ninja.] Hey, better safe than sorry. Tyler’s almost spotted by Sheriff Drake’s patrol car as he crawls out the window. Luckily, the light from the car misses Tyler, leaving him free to follow someone’s severed hand to what may be certain doom. Led by the hand down the road towards the football field, Tyler starts to mull over what his grandfather meant to the Green Devils. He considers asking the Dust Man if he sees him ag-wait. What if the Dust Man IS Tyler’s grandfather? As Tyler’s mind poses question after question, the hand leads him to a dark forest where Tyler ends up following down a small hill. While getting his bearings, Tyler realizes someone’s following him and tries to run, reaching the football field bathed in moonlight. His pursuer catches up to Tyler, and it’s none other than Libb!
Only she wasn’t following Tyler.
She was trying to get away from the horrible zombies who are following HER. [Wing: BECAUSE OF COURSE. I love this damn book.]
Tyler and Libb find themselves surrounded by things long dead and decayed yet alive. One asks why they are here, to which Tyler can only respond with “I have a ticket!” In that moment, the moonlight disappears and the field is magically bathed in the rays of the sun. It’s somehow become day, and the rotting ghouls have transformed into the Green Devils. Libb is ecstatic and begins listing off all sorts of trivia about the different players based on their jersey numbers.
“Milo Deck!” She pointed at one of them. “You had the best rushing record for the year. You could dodge rain if you had to! And you’re Clinton Booker! Seven interceptions for the first half of the season! Amazing! Tyler, this is it! This is the team! This is the Green Devil team that lost the championship!
And then Tyler notices one other player arriving.
Even from that distance, I could see the look on his face. Intense, like he could eat mud and like it.
The new player enters the circle, demanding for the ticket holder. Tyler nervously hands it over, the player grabbing it with his left hand and ripping it in half with his teeth. Tyler glances the player’s right hand is covered with a towel. More players, equally dead, begin to arrive. They’re the opposing team. Tyler is informed they need him because he’s the only field goal kicker in the area. The only thing more scary than that is when Tyler sees Libb’s gleeful nod that he SHOULD play. Tyler stammers he doesn’t have his football gear, and gets pointed in the direction of none other than the Dust Man, waiting by the sidelines with equipment ready. It’s then the skeletal hand returns, scurrying up the body of the player in front of Tyler before reattaching itself to the guy’s right wrist. Rubbing his wrist, Thomas Maul coldly tells Tyler he doesn’t have a choice.
Tyler and Libb walk to the sidelines so he can suit up. Libb can’t hold back her excitement, explaining the Green Devils originally beat the Mohawks by a field goal which would mean Tyler has a chance to participate in real football history. Tyler has got no clue why Libb isn’t voiding herself at the idea they are surrounded by people who’ve been dead for decades and night has turned into day. He then asks why, exactly, she’s here in the first place. Libb reminds Tyler she knew he was planning to investigate the field, and there was no way she was gonna let him have all the fun. Unfortunately, Libb’s almost booted out when Tom Maul learns she doesn’t have a ticket, but Tyler earns her a reprieve by saying she’s his coach. Of course, Maul fucking HATES coaches, but if that’s what it takes for Tyler to win, so be it. And he BETTER win.
While approaching the Dust Man, Tyler thinks over the possibility of running away and signals Libb to start running. The Dust Man warns the kids they will be caught if they try to escape, and the only way to leave is to win. These guys have come a long way to play, and they’ll be livid if they lose, especially Maul. Tyler goes back to his idea that the Dust Man is his grandfather, giving his full name and asking it means anything to him. The Dust Man avoids the question, advising Tyler to focus on the game.
The game has begun. Tyler attempts to mimic the similar swagger of Warren Dillman to pretend he’s not surrounded by the vengeful dead. Tyler’s not even sure how some of these guys, who are so rotted and worm eaten, could hope to even catch the ball in the state they’re in. Tyler kicks the ball, possibly the best kick of his life, when something without a face pounces on him and sends him to the ground. Tyler can see the Mohawks score a point…
And then suddenly Tyler’s running back onto the field, the scoreboard saying it’s now the second quarter. Time somehow skipped ahead. You remember that “Futurama” episode that started with the Globetrotters and then it became about time randomly skipping forward? It’s like that.
“I just made the kick off, got tackled, then all of a sudden I’m headed back onto the field again. What happened in between?”
“After midnight, when the Green Devils play, time has no meaning,” the Dust Man said. “It can be day or night. It can be any year. Or for you, just when you’re needed in the game.”
Tyler nudges Libb to grill the Dust Man while he plays, making two more kicks while Maul makes a touchdown pass that sets up the final play. Maul’s truly living up to his legend as football hero. The score now tied, Maul warns Tyler the only way he’ll live is to make this kick. Tyler assures Libb he will.
Yet even though it was the worst kick of his life, it goes over and wins the game for the Green Devils. Libb is the only one cheering. Maul offers begrudging thanks for a good game, then mentions there’ll be a next time. As the players for both teams depart, the Dust Man reveals they’re going back to their graves until the next game. Tyler receives another ticket from the Dust Man, and proceeds to finally ask if he’s Charlie Few. The Dust Man finds this extremely funny, and in the blink of an eye night has returned and the two kids are alone in an empty field. Libb looks at her watch and discovers it’s only been ten minutes since the ghouls arrived, and the kids have to hightail it out of there before Sheriff Drake finds them.
Walking back through the woods, Tyler notices Libb is cold and gives her the emergency blanket from his bag. He also takes out the new ticket, which reads:
GREEN DEVILS VS ???
Ah yes, the Quentineville Question Marks.
Nah just kidding. Anyway, Libb figures they’ll find out who the mystery opponents are when they go to the next game. Tyler can’t believe she’s so excited about all this. Libb postulates Tyler’s simply scared he met his grandfather. Tyler counters by saying he’s scared because HE JUST PLAYED AGAINST A BUNCH OF DEAD GUYS. [Wing: As much as I love you, Libb, TYLER HAS A GODDAMN POINT.] Libb adds it’s possible Tyler’s grandpa was just as scared as he was. However scared he is, Tyler wants to figure out why this is happening and has an idea. He suggests the next day they investigate the graveyard in case Tom Maul or any of the other corpses left a trail.
Tyler doesn’t mention it to his parents that he’s going to the local cemetery with Libb. He doesn’t think they’d have a problem with him visiting his grandfather’s grave, but he’d feel awkward having to explain anything. Charlie Few’s grave doesn’t seem disturbed at all, but Tyler’s not convinced his grandfather isn’t the Dust Man. The kids decide to check out Tom Maul’s grave next. Tyler and Libb split up to search for Maul’s grave. Tyler suddenly notices one grave marker out of all of them is crooked. Thinking it was vandals, Tyler inspects the uneven stone and discovers the name on it is none other than Thomas Maul. And it certainly looks like someone disturbed this grave, because there’s a big, deep hole where the coffin should be. So deep, Tyler kicks a pine cone into the hole and never hears it hitting the bottom. Tyler turns around to look for Libb… and Tom Maul grabs his leg and starts to drag him inside!
“…came here to see me…well, come see where I live…”
Tyler struggles to free himself from Maul’s grip, and he notices the tombstone is starting to shake. Maul thinks it’s a shame Tyler won’t make it for the next game. Tyler tries to use his panic for extra strength, attempting to get his foot out of the shoe Maul’s grabbed. The momentum as Tyler gets loose sends Maul crashing back into his coffin, just as the tombstone falls on top of him. Tyler frantically tries to find Libb so they can leave before Maul gets his second wind. Libb’s bike is still at the front gate so he doesn’t think she left, but he’s not thrilled when he finds the tablet Libb uses to map out plays next to another open grave.
Tyler spends the rest of the day searching for Libb in the cemetery, but to no avail. Walking back home, Tyler accidentally steps on a piece of broken glass with his bare foot. Maul reappears, snickering Tyler might have trouble playing with that foot. Tyler demands to know where Libb is, to which Maul suggests Tyler follow him to find out. Tyler finds more zombies heading for what Maul declares is “The final game.”
“Hey, I’ve heard of this, I shouted at him. “Something big goes wrong in real life so when you die, you’re doomed to repeat it over and over. Is that what’s going on? What happens if you win tonight? It is over. Do you finally rest in peace?”
“Oh, no,” Tom Maul rasped. “We get to live. We get to leave the field and return to a town that scorned us. And we get to punish it.”
Zombie football players attacking the town? I couldn’t let that happen!
Tyler pleads with Maul the town doesn’t deserve this. There are a lot of good people living there now. Maul snarls, bitterly commenting on how the town is weak, how they give up so easily during a couple of bad times. Tyler reasons Maul can stop his teammates from destroying Fairfield, but he refuses to consider it.
“It will take something dead like me to bring this town back to life. I have my reasons.” He turned back to his following teammates. “I give them… reasons.”
Tyler demands to know where the Dust Man is. Maul says he’s with Libb. At that moment a bright light envelopes Tyler and he’s now alone, save for Sheriff Drake, asking why Tyler’s walking out at night with one shoe.
Back home, Tyler hasn’t received any calls about Libb since her parents know she sometimes stays out late at Tyler’s place. But the time they usually call is approaching when there’s a knock on Tyler’s window. It’s Mitch Byrd, place hold kicker for the Timberwolves (he also shares his name with a comic artist). Mitch politely asks to come in, saying he heard Tyler’s got trouble, which he heard from Russell Drake, who heard it from his dad the sheriff. Tyler confides in Mitch that Libb is missing, and decides to explain everything that’s been happening.
Mitch was maybe my only real friend in town after Libb. He was steady and sensible and trusted me without question. He’d never ever flinched in practice, not the tiniest bit, as my foot flew toward the ball only inches from his nose. If I couldn’t trust Mitch, then I really was in this alone.
Mitch believes Tyler’s entire story and agrees to go with him to the field for the next Green Devils game. Why? Because this isn’t the first ghost story Mitch has heard about Fairfield. The town is full of them. Mitch does admit he doesn’t completely believe what Tyler told him is true, but he DOES believe Tyler believes it and wants to help Tyler. Hell, the entire team will help Tyler if he needs them. Seems Tyler’s dad was right about that whole teamwork thing. Tyler fears they may indeed need the Timberwolves, when he accidentally drops the old year book and discovers a startling change in one photo. In that one picture of the Dust Man, Tyler saw someone standing next to him who wasn’t there before.
Tyler and Mitch head out into the night, reaching the edge of the woods that lead to the field. Mitch suggests finding another path lest they be attacked by zombies, when he freezes in the light of an oncoming car. Tyler tackles Mitch out of the way. The car turns out to be an old fashioned convertible, a model from at least 50 years ago. The driver asks what is wrong with the two boys, but then notices their sweat suits and figures they’re dressed for the big Green Devils game. The boys are surprised the driver knows of the game, to which he responds EVERYONE knows about the game and offers them a ride. It’s then Tyler notices how big and white and perfect the driver’s smile is, and nervously asks his name.
Turns out it’s Trout. Herbert Trout.
Tyler remembers the dream the principal mentioned about the two boys he hit on the way to a Green Devils game. Somehow, THIS is that dream. Or is it? Herbert puts the pedal to the metal and heads for the big game. As he drives and “be-bops” to the music from the car radio, Tyler reinspects the yearbook and figures they’re on their way to finding Libb. He’s getting a sense something big is about to happen. The car arrives to the empty football field, yet Herbert doesn’t think it’s empty at all. In fact, when he reaches the edge of the hill that meets the football field, Herbert disappears! Mitch freaks.
“HE’S A GHOST,” Mitch yelled. “OH MAN, HE’S A GHOST!”
Tyler tells Mitch to calm down and inspects the area where Herbert vanished. Tyler orders Mitch to get help if he disappears too. Tyler steps forward and… finds himself at a football game packed full of cheering people on a sunny day. Tyler looks for Libb among the fans when he asks a Green Devil who the team’s playing. The player growls this is obviously the championship game against the Razorbacks. It dawns on Tyler this is THE game, the one the Green Devils lost, and he just ran into the pre-deceased version of Tom Maul. Tyler follows Maul thinking he might be the key to finding Libb, but instead spies Maul heading behind the bleachers to converse with the Dust Man.
“Make sure you give them a good show, but throw it away in the last quarter. It’ll make the Razorbacks look better in the end,” the Dust Man said.
“I’ll be leaving town tonight right after the game,” Tom said. “You better have my money ready for me.”
“It’ll be there,” the Dust Man said. “You just do your part and you’ll have all the money you’ll ever need.”
HOLY SHIT MAUL THREW THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME BECAUSE THE DUST MAN PAID HIM TO. AND NOW HE WANTS REVENGE BECAUSE THE TOWN TURNED THEIR BACKS ON HIM.
Tyler is pissed right the fuck off at Maul’s hypocrisy and immediately figures he has to tell someone. He bumps into the Green Devil mascot as he leads the crowd into a cheering frenzy. As the mascot drops his megaphone, Tyler gets a quick idea and starts shouting “THOMAS MAUL WAS PAID TO LOSE!” Tyler meant to get the mascot’s attention but a couple of other people seemed to hear him too. Unfortunately, Maul grabs Tyler’s neck and orders him to shut up. Tyler orders HIM to hand over Libb, but this Maul doesn’t know who she is. Tyler’s not finished, and starts trying to warn the crowd that Maul will curse Fairfield and people will leave the town. This earns him a tackle from Maul, who brings Tyler down to the ground and then literally throws him back at the hillside.
Tyler finds himself back in the present, surprised to discover the rest of the Timberwolves have arrived. And each of them has a ticket that reads
GREEN DEVILS VS TIMBERWOLVES
[Wing: OH MY GOD YES, THIS IS GOING TO BE SO GREAT.] Midnight approaches and Tyler has finished recapping the whole gruesome tale for his teammates when the Green Devils arrive. Most are shocked, some are trying not to scream as the ghastly Devils arrive. And so do both the Dust Man and Libb. Libb’s caught by her neck and the Dust Man motions for Tyler to come forward. He then grabs Tyler by the leg and drags him closer, explaining why everyone’s here. It seems Maul won’t let any of them rest, and for sixty years they’ve been waiting for someone to end this. If the Green Devils win, they come back to life and wreak their horrible vengeance on Fairfield. If they lose, they go back to peaceful death. One touchdown and that’s it. The reason why it has to be the Timberwolves is because they’re the only football team the town’s had since Maul disgraced the Green Devils. Tyler bitterly thinks how the Dust Man left out he was the one who paid Maul to disgrace them in the first place. The only choice Tyler and the Timberwolves have is to win, because if they run or lose they’ll be dead before they hit the ground. Seeing no other option but to win, Tyler agrees.
The Timberwolves are clearly not 100% okay with their current opponents, and Tyler hopes that maybe the Green Devils might eventually fall to pieces. Before the game starts, Maul has these encouraging words with Tyler.
“I’ve waited sixty years to win the big game. Sixty years to make it up to my team, and I will. They’ll live again, and my slate will be clean. That’s the deal I’ve made. It’s just too bad there’s no glory in beating the likes of you.”
The Green Devils win the coin toss for the beginning of the game. Tyler finally calls the Dust Man out on how all this is his fault and asks how he can allow this. The Dust Man says he only wants to rest in peace. Libb confers with Tyler on what to do.
“Play 23. Hold tight to the right side,” she whispered. “And watch number 80.”
Tyler explains to Warren Dillman and the others what Play 23 is, and Number 80 was Bruce Deal, the best kick returner on the right side. Deal’s legs look pretty bad so maybe they have a chance.
Tyler gives a beautiful kick off, so powerful he falls on his back. Unfortunately, being dead was not as much of a disadvantage as they thought. Deal catches the ball, and when the teams tries to go after him, the Green Devil offense blenderizes them. Warren and Tyler are left standing, Tyler screaming for Warren to aim for the legs.
Warren dived, grabbing dead Bruce’s legs. They came right off his body. The rest of Bruce fell to the ground ad the ball popped out of his hands.
I quickly scooped it up, and saw an army of zombies coming my way.
“Run!” Libb cried. “Run or you’re dead!”
Tyler runs because his life LITERALLY depends on it, the Timberwolves scattered around him and Green Devils jumping and breaking apart trying to reach him. It comes down to Tyler and Tom Maul. Maul zigs left and right as Tyler does, so Tyler is left with one move… and DIVES RIGHT THROUGH MAUL’S ROTTED BODY TO REACH THE END ZONE AND SCORE THE TOUCHDOWN HE DID IT! OH MY GOD HE DID IT! HE SAVED THE REC CENTER!
Day fades back to night, and what’s left of Maul approaches Tyler.
“How… how about the best two out of three?” he asked.
“Sorry, Tom.” I said, “I don’t make deals.”
[Wing: Wait, useful adults AND a protagonist who makes a good decision? WHAT EVEN IS THIS BOOK?]
Maul collapses on the ground, and the worms and bugs begin to swarm his remains as the earth embraces him once more.
The rest of the Green Devils start returning to their graves. Tyler heads for Libb, who says the Dust Man laughed his ass off as Tyler made the touchdown. And we finally learn who the Dust Man is. It’s… Terence Fairfield, grandson of the town founder. Terence explains he wanted the Green Devils to lose because he feared if the team got bigger and famous, they’d start bringing more people and Fairfield wouldn’t be a small town anymore. Terence didn’t want Fairfield to lose its heart, so he tried to keep it a small town. And then the worms came for him as well. But if the Dust Man wasn’t Charlie Few…
Libb gets Tyler’s attention about someone on the hilltop. Tyler recognizes the Green Devil mascot.
Charlie Few was the team’s biggest fan because he represented their spirit, their drive. And clearly, despite that Tyler beat the Green Devil’s best quarterback, his grandfather’s proud that now the team is allowed to rest in peace once more. By beating the Green Devils, Tyler saved them. [Wing: Oh, this got me in the feels.]
Libb mentions her dad had a hard time deciding to start a tennis team or football team in Fairfield, and wonders if he maybe should’ve picked the other. Tyler advises her not to ask him, saying it’s starting to grow on him.
I’m still not much of a football fan but this story was a lot of fun and not at all like most stereotypical sports stories. No overbearing parents and no jockhead bullies for the main character to worry about.
I really need to find out more about the Strange Matter series.
Happy birthday Wing!
[Wing: Thank you! This was so great! The only thing it is missing is a marching band, and even I can admit that a marching band would have taken away from the pacing. What a great birthday recap. I love high school football, and ghost stories, and zombie stories, and this is such a fun combination.]
I remember this series! The first five or six books were translated to Spanish and used to be easily available here in Mexico—even now they pop up in used bookstores every so often.
I read this one, “The last one in” and “No substitutions”…. which if I remember correctly was the first book in the series. And if you do recap that one it should be very interesting. It’s a werewolf tale, and I particularly remember that it had a certain gay subtext, a little more evident than in other thrillers for teenagers and children of the time.
As for this one, I always did like that twist, that what cursed the team was their star player selling out (kinda foreshadowed with the detail about his custom-made ring).
I’ll have to try to track down some of the translations, especially that werewolf tale! I’m always looking for ways to improve my Spanish, and reading these ridiculous books would be such a fun way to do it.
Cool! They are titled “Monstruos de Fairfield”, published by Plaza y Janés.
Good luck. Ah, the werewolf tale, “No substitutions” was called “El profe espeluznante” (i.e., “Creepy teacher”).