So, here’s the beginning section of a horror story centered around a new volunteer coach for a girls’ high school tennis team in the Pacific Northwest. There’s something not right about him, but few will dare brave his wrath as practices spiral into darkness. I’ve read so many horror novels in this vein, and the ones that come close to this being an “homage” would be Bentley Little’s work. He is bold, uncensored, and brutal with his designs. Read his books if you dare. Enjoy this first section, an introduction of sorts, to the main protagonist. As you know from reading my longer stories, I like to take my time building up characters who become almost three-dimensional people you could break bread with. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. Those mean so much.
by Justin Bog
Nothing in my life played as simple. I believed in hard work, putting in the mileage to attain something you wanted—anything imaginable, within reason or not. Take a risk. Dream it. That’s not melodrama, silly parental cheerleading, or hyperbole either. I struggled to reach every single peak. I pursued my career, the now downtrodden, frowned upon, money management life (you ruined the economy . . . your ilk), my wife, Janelle Huntziger Worthington, and my hobby, tennis, with varying degrees of passion. Such an elitist (whispered undertones of racism attached) “white man’s” sport, even with the advance of so many players of any race, color, creed, religious affiliation.
At least Janelle would agree with me there. She reminded me all the time how she had to almost attach jumper cables to my body—she says the word nips—to reinvigorate date nights. We lived in Anacortes, Washington in the Skyline area overlooking the rest of the San Juan Islands, high up on a perch, the house built attached to the cliffs with stilts and large concrete blocks and steel beams and an open façade of windows to capture the sunsets and the islands spaced along Puget Sound like skipping stones. Dealing with the architect and the neighborhood review board a complex undertaking, but Janelle and I persevered and the house turned out to be everything we wanted, although now, with the economy in the tank, and my continuing apologies to clients—No one predicted this turn of events—losing money, small, large amounts, my job hanging on by a thread, I tended to hang my head while driving through the neighborhood and downtown Anacortes streets. I felt deeply about the way the neighbors, some of them, the ones posting For Sale signs at the edge of their heated paver driveways, glared at me, the ones who didn’t know me well enough to realize I had nothing to do with their friend’s foreclosure, the spiraling of basic living costs. I had nothing to do with the price of gas. I kept to myself, and this in itself, bred suspicion. So sue me; I’m not the neighborly type.
I wouldn’t wave anymore. Middle-aged, 38, I was right at the new age the men’s magazines told me was the true beginning of a person’s second stage of life. No longer a young titan, Janelle teased me because she remained three year’s younger and thought age was just a number, told people her age when they asked without guile or a wowed secretiveness.
“Just keeping it real, honey,” she said. “And you don’t look 38 to me. I love you. Now can you go pick up the kids from the swimming pool? You might want to do a couple laps yourself”—she’d say the last word after patting my belly quickly and then running away with a laugh.
“That won’t help you, J, when I do catch you,” I’d say. I was fit but the ‘you could lose a few’ button was one that Janelle did like to press.
Hunter and Elissa were in junior high, seventh and eighth grade, respectively, and they were on the swim team even though they also played tennis well—Elissa was consistent, could keep the ball in play for a long rally, but she lacked power and the nerve to risk going for a stronger racquet head acceleration, while Hunter had the power, loved to smash the ball, but lacked consistency, something they both needed time on the court to strengthen, lessen their own singular weaknesses. We hit on the local courts, sometimes two or three times a week. After swim practice I hit with them too since the pool neighbored the six school courts.
They excelled at the sport. Their athletic prowess astonished me (and yes, I knew that most parents were their children’s biggest cheerleaders so take what I say with a grain of salt). Most of the local kids learned tennis late since the closest off-island club was a 45-minute drive from Anacortes. The high school tennis team was made up of seasonal players, with few strong players who loved the game enough to find mentors to take them to the next level.
Since Hunter and Elissa both told me and Janelle that they wanted to join the tennis team over swimming when they finally entered high school (at that time a couple years in the future for both of them) I decided early on to ask to be a volunteer for the high school teams. The coach, an affable enough guy, actually knew the game well and had a calm center. Nothing phased him, I never witnessed him becoming bent out of shape, not the teenage girl and boy mini-dramas that sometimes spilled over after school let out, when they’d gather for practice, or the pushy kind of parents who hovered and militantly studied the practices, came to every match, yelled encouragement too loudly and pointedly, asked why their kids weren’t playing Varsity, why Dick and Jane weren’t ahead of Simon and Betty in the lineup since they believed their kids were the better players, the most deserving. The coach smiled and told them he had a plan, and the kids, most of them, gave back only indifference, smart-aleck, jovial remarks. A tamed team spirit.
“The school appreciates your continuing support,” he says. When I approached Coach Martin four years previously I had already built up a solid reputation on the island as one of the higher level players in the community, and it’s a small island with an even smaller pool of tennis players. Parents asked me to give their kids lessons and I tried to do so, for free, never taking a dime to help out; I wanted to give back somehow. So, today, when I joined the team on the first of ten preseason practices and heard a different voice (how can a whisper scream?), barking out an order, a drill, run suicides, ten of them, now, that should’ve been my first clue that something about this year was off.
Instilled in me from an early age by my parents was their graciousness, their love of proper ways. My mother read etiquette guidebooks (actually gave me a book of manners centered around children and teenagers)—God forbid my mother raise a haughty, self-centered, fiery, egotistical brat, and she didn’t, but I can’t judge that. I was an only child and my parents kept me busy with activities, private school, tennis lessons, and much too busy to notice I wasn’t really spending a lot of time in their company once high school and then college took me away. They loved me and I loved them but my family was the one that drove down to Bellevue to see them. Janelle placed her winning (at least I thought so), sunny, in-law smile on her face and persevered through every slight and I wanted to tell my mom that Janelle’s parents didn’t treat me like an in-law to be suffered. And aren’t you being a bit too full of yourself, Mom, a bit rude? I thought my mother’s teaching helped me in being seen as an upright citizen, although, like my mother, I could be polite to a fault; I never wanted to make one single wave or ripple in the fabric appear. I learned that manners, being well mannered, had its faults just like tennis, when graciousness was seen as shallow: Look at her on that high pedestal.
My parents still lived in Bellevue, a good 90 minutes down the road from Anacortes, and I grew up a privileged kid, played at a Snitches-with-stars-on-their-bellies tennis club, and earned a tennis scholarship to Whitman College in Walla Walla, a Division 3 tennis school. That’s where Janelle and I met when my senior year, when she was a freshman newly picked for the tennis team. She knocked my sensibilities right off my button-downed ‘I’m going to business school when I graduate’ shelf. Whitman’s business courses, economics, statistics, were a great primer for the banking field and I excelled. Janelle and I made a potent combination on and off the courts, and she held my heart. I proposed to her the summer after my graduation, hiking on a melting glacier up on the slopes of Mt. Baker. We told our parents we were going to have a three-year engagement. Janelle wanted to finish her computer science degree at Whitman while I pursued an MBA at Seattle Pacific University. My mother never uttered much beyond her ever-so-polite congratulations, her East Coast Hampton’s thin-lipped reservations placed like a blatant placard of unease—long distance engagements never last—unsaid. She didn’t wager on this outcome, but she hoped for it. Even I knew this without ever having a conversation about the developing rift that began then between my mother and my wife.
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If you continue reading The Volunteer, just click HERE to find Part 2!
Until next time . . . If you’d like to read the beginning of another long horror story, A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) Part 1, just click HERE!
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