After the last bell sounded, Troy headed to the locker room to change for soccer. Boy was he nervous. Troy took deep breaths.
“Control yourself!” he grumbled. “You have to show these guys you can play!”
He walked into the locker room. Several of his teammates sat on benches as they dressed for practice.
Two guys messed around near the sinks. They filled plastic bottles and then squirted water at each other, laughing hysterically.
Used towels littered the floor and several were tossed over open locker doors. The room smelled of dirty socks and sweat.
Kip spotted Troy and walked over. “Gear’s in there,” Kip said. He pointed to a full supply closet.
Troy grabbed a soccer jersey and a ball from the shelf along with a set of shin guards and soccer socks.
He’d just pulled the enormous jersey over his head when he heard Kip’s voice behind him. “Let’s go boys!” Kip yelled.
The team grabbed a few soccer balls and their water bottles. They headed out the door.
Troy quickly struggled into the equally huge shorts and managed to tie his sneakers in knots before he hurried out to the field.
The team ran a series of drills, starting with groups of four players where the player with the ball had to keep it away from the other three players in the group.
Troy got elbowed in the gut by a big dude named Lloyd, but Troy managed to squirm out of the way and keep the ball.
Once they tired of that, the team went full field so that each player could spread out and run.
Kip dribbled by a few guys in the middle and then sent the ball to Troy who ran along the outside of the field.
Troy trapped the air ball perfectly on his foot and with a few more steps, shot and watched happily as the ball scooted under the goal keeper’s arm.
“Awesome goal, Troy!” Kip said. He slapped him on the back.
“Man, that was a good shot,” one of the defenders on the opposing team said.
Troy was pleased with how well he played -- especially since he hadn’t kicked a ball around since the move.
When it was time for the last play, Troy ran full speed towards the goal.
Kip maneuvered around a defender and crossed the ball.
Troy was about to kick the ball when, out of nowhere, a dark object soared directly in front of him.
“Whoa!” Troy yelled. Distracted, he slipped and fell, slamming his shoulder against the side of the metal goal post.
“Ow,” Troy moaned. He rolled sideways onto his back.
“Dude, are you okay?” a guy named Josh asked.
Troy sat up and rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah, I think so.” He glanced around the field.
“Did you guys see that thing that nearly hit me?” Troy asked.
Kip raised an eyebrow. “We didn’t see anything Troy...just you and your wild nose dive.”
Troy scratched his head. He was sure he had seen an object dart in front of him. Maybe it had been a bat? Or was it only his imagination?
Hidden in the darkness, Helgrith narrowed his red eyes. His plan was beginning to unfold.
Later, Troy pushed open the cattle gate with his backpack slung over one shoulder. He wheeled his bike along the path to his grandpa’s house.
As Kip was the captain and the only player on the soccer team with a truck, he had volunteered to drop off the team’s stragglers after practice who didn’t live within walking distance of the school.
The three remaining players waved to Troy from the open bed of the truck as it bounced along the dirt path and rolled out of sight.
He turned towards the small farmhouse. He could hear barking in the distance.
Troy had just propped his bike against the fence when a big German shepherd bounded in front of him, wagging its tail and barking excitedly.
Grandpa George opened the front screen door. “Hey Troy, I see you’ve met Mister Big Guy. I just got him back from the vet.”
The dog jumped and slammed its front large paws onto Troy’s chest.
“Whoa!” Troy yelled, almost falling.
The dog barked in his face, thumping its tail.
“I’ll be darn. He likes you!” Grandpa George chuckled, leaning against the door.
Troy turned his head sideways to avoid the slobber of licks across his face. “How old is this dog, Grandpa G.? He’s pretty energetic for such a big dog. Is he still a puppy?”
Grandpa George rubbed his head. “You got that right. Big Guy isn’t even two-years-old.”
Troy pulled the giant paws off his chest. “Ok, boy, get down,” Troy said.
The German shepherd dropped to all fours and then chomped down on his backpack.
“No, I need that,” Troy laughed, pushing the dog’s face away from his bag. “I can’t say the dog ate my homework on the second day of school!”
Troy walked towards the farmhouse.
That’s when he heard Mister Big Guy growl. Without warning, the dog dove sideways near the base of a tree.
Surprised, Troy glanced up and saw a crow clinging to a branch. It cawed angrily at the dog.
Troy blinked. The crow’s eyes glowed bright red. His stomach turned over and he felt his innards turn to ice.
It looked like the same crow that attacked him earlier that morning.
The next instant, the crow shot upwards and flew through several tree branches before it vanished.
Mister Big Guy stood expectantly for several seconds waiting for the crow to reappear. When it didn’t, the dog turned back to Troy, wagging its tail.
“That crow is creepy,” Troy grumbled.
“Troy, dinner!” Grandpa George called from the porch.
“All right!” Troy yelled.
He gave a final look around, seeing nothing. “Come on, boy,” he said to the dog. Then he ran towards the house.
Mister Big Guy sniffed curiously at the white crystal lying in the dirt near the tree.
Troy had just opened the front screen door when he heard the dog howl in pain. He dropped his backpack and spun quickly around.
It was the crow! The bird scooped something shiny off the ground near the dog, and gave out an angry “Caw!” as it streaked away.
Troy raced out of the house towards the dog. “Big Guy!” Troy shrieked.
Behind him, he heard the slam of the front screen door and his grandfather’s hurried footsteps.
“What is it, Troy? What’s happened?” his grandfather yelled.
Troy stared down at the dog. Its furry snout was bleeding. “He’s been hurt, Grandpa G.,” Troy said, frowning.
His grandfather bent to study the dog’s nose.
The dog whimpered.
“We’ll get you cleaned up,” his grandfather said as he stroked the dog’s ears.
Grandpa George stood and motioned for the dog to follow him. Mister Big Guy limped after his master, licking his bleeding snout.
As Troy followed, he heard the distant “Caw!” of the crow. He squinted up at the dark sky. “That bird is a nightmare!” Troy muttered in disgust.
He had no idea how right he really was.
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