Story:A Christmas Whirlwind
A Christmas Whirlwind
Written by Ratiphex
Friday, December 12, 2014, 4:52 PM
It wasn't uncommon for the fifteen-year-old fox to sit in the backseat of the car, elbow bent and resting on the small bump in the door panel, his chin resting on the palm of his paw, watching house after house zip by in the last few minutes of daylight that remained as the car he was sitting in turned down the streets of Azle, Texas, his hometown. Up front, Mrs. Andrews, a striped gray tabby, who was the mother of the boy sitting next to the fox in the backseat, was animatedly talking on and on about her plans for the upcoming holiday and winter break at school. The lycalopid1, however, had let his mind wander again, and was paying her no attention.
The feline didn't seem to mind that she was being ignored, as it was well known that Tory suffered from ADHD, and if it wasn't a conversation he wasn't invested in, which usually involved talk about basketball, the canid would tune-out completely, lost in his own little world.
“Here we are, dear,” she said, putting the car in park and releasing the trunk latch after pulling up outside a low-slung wooden ranch home. Tory, however, didn't seem to even hear that statement, or the sounds of the car, and continued staring off into the distance. It took the slug of a fist into his bicep courtesy of the younger feline seated next to him, to snap him out of his haze.
“AAGH!” he exclaimed, flailing his arms. Jamie, who also was on the high school basketball team with the canid, knew enough to quickly retreat back to his side of the car once he had shocked Tory back to the present, lest he get an arm to the face.
“You're home, Tory,” Mrs. Andrews said, following up with, “I'll see you next week. Tell your mom thanks for the alfajores2, would you?”
Tory, who by now was grabbing his backpack from the floor of the car, nodded, “Yeah, I'll do that. Thank you for the lift!”
Jamie waved, “See you in the park tomorrow, T.”
The canid quickly got out of the car, having to double back when Mrs. Andrews honked the horn, reminding him to grab his gym bag from the trunk. After getting it, he closed the trunk and started toward the house, giving the mother and son in the car a wave as they started to pull away and head toward their house three blocks down.
Inside the car, Jamie gave a yawn and stretched, excusing himself, then adding, “I don't think he's going to remember what you told him, mom.”
Mrs. Andrews shook her head, “No… I'm afraid he won't. I'll send her a text.”
Opening the door, Tory was hit with the smell of what his mother was cooking for dinner - the tang of tomato sauce hitting his sensitive nose, along with the starchy scent of boiling pasta. His eyes caught the large bright green paper that was hung on a wall with the message in Spanish:
((TORBELLINO, EMPTY YOUR GYM BAG AND PUT YOUR CLOTHES BY THE WASHING MACHINE))
There was also the crudely-drawn line image that his younger sister had put below it, of what was supposed to be Tory in his basketball uniform, with stink lines wafting off of it. He put the bag down and unzipped it, pulling his workout clothes and basketball uniform out, and carrying them through the kitchen, where his mother, Miranda, was picking up the pot of boiling pasta and carrying it to the sink. She looked back at him as steam gushed from the sink, “How was your day?”
The young canid shrugged, “Was okay, mama. Classes were a struggle.” He looked to the counter, “Is there maté3 ready?” He looked down at the clothes in his arms, then pardoned himself to go drop them in the laundry room. By the time he returned, steam was rising from a cup sitting on the counter, a tea ball floating in the rapidly changing liquid. He picked up the cup to move it to the table, but was startled from a voice coming from the other room.
Putting the cup down quickly, he grabbed napkins to wipe up the spilled liquid, then quickly turned and headed for his parents' bedroom, where his father was sitting on the edge of the bed, having just woken up. While his mother had dubbed him Torbellino, which meant whirlwind in Spanish, because of his hyperactive nature, and he had socially shortened it to Tory, his father still preferred to call him by his birth name.
“Yes, papa?” Tory asked, standing in the doorway, wondering what he was about to be told off for forgetting this time.
“Vienes aqui y cierras la puerta4” the older man said, looking stern, though it could have just been from fatigue.
Tory did as he was told. He could tell that the older man was still groggy, but was a little surprised when his father reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
“You're getting your Christmas present tonight,” he said in heavily-accented English, picking up an envelope and handing it over, “Just understand that this is the big thing - so don't be disappointed if there's only ropas for you en la Navidad, ta?5”
The young canid nodded, taking the envelope and opening it, pulling out two pieces of stiff paper. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he realized what he was holding.
The young pampas fox stared at the tickets, eyes wide, simultaneously gasping as he tried to shout out in joy, which ended up coming out as a little squeak, “So… we're?”
Alejandro, the older male canid smiled and nodded, “Yes, mijo… you and me are driving down to Austin tomorrow.”
Tory couldn't help but launch himself toward his father, hugging him, “OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGodthankyoupapathankyouthankyouthankyou!”
His father chuckled and gave Tory a warm squeeze in return, “You're welcome, mijo…” He took the tickets, which had gotten a little rumpled in his son's impulsive response, “Here, I'm gonna hold on to these for safekeeping. Now, time for cena6, ta? So go see if your mom needs help.”
Tory looked like he was on cloud nine as he left the room, walking back out and grabbing plates and putting them around the large makeshift table - with a family of eleven including the parents, a single table that could fit everyone was outside their budget, so there were three smaller tables, made from self-assembled furniture, crammed into the small dining room. Miranda, just chuckled as she saw her child's expression. She ruffled his hair as she walked past and yelled into the hall, “CENA!”
She had the forethought to warn the other children of what their sibling was being given, in the hopes of avoiding hurt feelings, explaining that the gift was for an event that would take place before Christmas day, so that's why he was getting it early.
The matriarch of the family had found the tickets at a little over half off the face value on an online special offers site, so it wasn't like they were spending too much more on Tory than their other children. She had to take a part-time job cleaning houses when Junipero was diagnosed in the second grade in order to afford the therapy and medication. When her son stated that he was going to cut back on the medication in order to play basketball at school, the money saved quickly became needed for other things, so she stayed at the job.
She took the mug she had prepared for Tory prior to him being called away by her husband and poured the now-oversteeped and cooled brew into a pitcher with other maté she had made for the meal, then poured glasses for everyone as the family streamed in.
Normally, the caffeine-heavy drink had a slightly calming effect on his overactive brain, but that night, the fox was a ball of restless energy, finally having annoyed his brothers to the point he was kicked out of the room and sent to go sleep on the couch. Flopping down, he turned on the TV and flipped over to FSPN, watching highlights until exhaustion won and he passed out, clutching his pillow and dreaming of getting to meet real FBA players - could he maybe score an autograph?
Saturday, December 13, 2014, 3:30 PM
The thermometer on the console said that it was 72 degrees as the pickup rolled its way down the narrow US highway, the scenery largely farmland. In the passenger seat, Tory sat, panting and bored as he looked ahead on the highway. The drive would bore anyone to death, but it was arduous for a person who couldn't concentrate.
He picked up the tablet he brought along and pushed the power button, sighing. He had forgotten to plug it in last night, so he was without access to the music files he had stored on it, and his father usually insisted on listening to folk music that was sung in Spanish. It took a while to charge, and the vehicle charger didn't seem to provide enough juice to get it going again.
Even the vigorous game of basketball in the park with his friends earlier that day didn't wear him out, but the vibrations from the car and lack of anything to focus on, coupled with his sleep deficit from the night before led to him putting his head down and drifting off.
He awoke to being shaken on his shoulder, “We're here, Mijo…” Tory sat bolt upright and looked around - they had parked in a surface lot that was close to the arena. The time on the console announced that it was just shy of 7 P.M. He pulled the charging plug from his tablet and stashed it in the drawer under his seat in the truck. It was pitch dark outside, the only lights coming from other cars and the overhead poles. He could make out a mural painted on a nearby wall that read, “KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD.”
“You got the tickets?” Alejandro asked, looking at his son.
Tory jumped in his seat. The tickets! Did he remember to grab them? He pulled open the glovebox, and even put his paws in his pockets. He went wide-eyed with horror at the thought that they had driven four hours and wouldn't get to make the game.
Alejandro started laughing, “Relájate, bo7. I got them, don't worry,” he said, patting his shirt pocket.
“Not funny, papa.”
“Maybe not for you, but under the laws of parenting, I get to do something that's only slightly playfully mean to each of my kids once a year. Year's almost up and it's a use-it-or-lose-it kinda thing.”
Tory shook his head and couldn't help but chuckle, “You got me the tickets, I suppose I'll let it slide.”
The pair got out of Alejandro's pickup and began walking toward the arena, the older fox pushing a button on his keyfob to lock the vehicle as they headed through the lot and onto the promenade outside Austin Arena. A few fans had already been waiting at the doors, and it wasn't long before the ushers came out and unlocked the doors, allowing them entry.
The arena was the most modern building that the young canid had ever been in. Ads covered walls, there were displays advertising cars in the middle of the concourses, and the smells from the concessions filled his nostrils with thoughts of hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn, among other things.
When they got up the escalators from the foyer and into the concourse of the arena, Tory's attention quickly snapped to the squeaks of sneakers on the court floor and of basketballs thudding, echoing in the cavernous, mostly unoccupied arena. He had seen the place when he managed to watch game footage either on TV or on the computer, but being here was a completely different experience! Tory ran over to the entrance of section 107 since it was right ahead and tried to peer through curtains that covered the threshold. He caught a brief glimpse of players from both teams that had come out and started to do their final pre-game warmups.
One of the ushers, an older male otter, approached and smiled down at him, “I've not seen you here before, young man… first time?” Tory looked up at him and smiled, nodding vigorously. The mustelid looked over to the other canid, “You two can go down and watch… just keep that a secret that I let you in, yeah?”
“Yeahyeah, thanks, mister!” Tory said, bolting through the door and down the stairs, pausing a few rows from the court. Seeing no one try to stop him, he went down further, as a few other children and their parents started to funnel in to watch as well. He saw Travis Buckner catch a pass from Wesley Lachs and leap up, grabbing the rim with his double-thumbed paw and bring the ball down and through with the other. But it was the rabbit from California who got the majority of the attention from those watching, grabbing the ball and heading out to the corner, waiting for a shot from a teammate to land at the iron before he took his shot.
Alejandro kept his attention on his son more than he did what was going on down on that floor - he hadn't seen his son so delighted in a long time.
Saturday, December 13, 2014, 7:20 PM
Father and son were in their seats once the practice ended at 7:15 and the players had disappeared down the tunnels to their respective locker rooms. The bowl of the arena had become much more active once 7:05 hit and the masses were allowed to funnel in to find their seats and watch the last ten minutes of warm-ups.
The period clock had switched to running down the remaining time until tip-off, and various crew were out on the floor, double-checking that cameras were working and there were no problems with the wooden surface.
At 7:20, the lights in the arena went down, as the arena announcer's voice boomed, “Lllllllladies and gentlemen, welcome to tonight's game between the visiting Santa Fe Whips…” Voices in the arena booed at the mention of the competing team as the announcer paused for effect, then continued, “...and YOUR Texas! Loooooooone Staaaaaaaaaars.” The arena bowl exploded with noise as the Lone Stars logo popped up on the screen, swirling around with different effects as lights came back up to half their previous brightness.
The announcer made a few more announcements regarding arena policies before becoming more animated, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, give it up for the best mascot in the FBA… Texxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeemoooooothhhhhhhhhhhhhh!8”
Tory went wide-eyed as he watched someone in a costume with greatly-exaggerated proportions come rappelling down into the arena head first, stopping so his oversized cowboy hat came within a foot from making contact with the arena floor and then righting himself. Dressed in a vest with a sheriff's star on the front and chaps, the large creature, who seemed to be a mashup of different species, giving him an ‘every fan' approach, began to walk around the arena and wave his hands in a motion to various sections, encouraging them to cheer loudly. He then ran over to a pair of people holding a slingshot and a satchel with balled-up t-shirts, putting a shirt in and then firing it into the crowd. When Tex-hemoth got over to the side of the arena where Tory was sitting, the young fox was on his feet, jumping up and down and trying to get the mascot's attention. He was rewarded as the creature sent a t-shirt flying in his direction toward section 107, but it sailed over the fox's head and was caught by a bovine the next row up and a few seats over.
The fox slumped back down in his seat, dejected, but perked up as he felt a tap on his shoulder and the person directly behind him handed the balled-up shirt to him. He gave the bull an appreciative smile, getting one along with a thumbs up in return. Unballing the shirt, he noticed that it had the Lone Stars logo, only in orange like a basketball. He quickly pulled it on.
The announcer began to read as Tex-hemoth scurried off the court, his voice dry and transactional, “And now, the starting lineup for the Santa Fe Whips. At Point Guard, Number 14, Mitch Ruffcorn.” Tory was taken aback to hear an entire section at the other end of the arena shout out in unison.
This was the response to each member of the Whips' starting roster, with the exception of Godfrey Zindendel, who earned a smattering of applause. It was back to normal taunting for the next announced player, culminating in the announcement of Alan Chesuk at center.
“AND HE SUCKS TOO!9” the section roared.
The arena then exploded in applause as the announcer got around to reading off the Lone Stars' starting roster, with much more inflection and excitement.
The announcer went serious again as he read a reminder to not throw anything onto the court, and then asked everyone to stand for the singing of the national anthem. Alejandro stood up and squeezed his son's shoulder, making Tory also slide out of his seat and onto his feet as a singer belted out a pleasing rendition.
There was applause as everyone sat down and the referee blew his whistle, a player from each team meeting in the center circle and the game tipped off.
Saturday, December 13, 2014, 8:45 PM
The second period ended with the home team up by nine points. Alejandro patted his son to stand as people tried to pass by on the narrow rows, then said, “I need to hit the bathroom, mijo… You need to come too?”
The younger fox, who along with his father had not partaken of the concessions, partly due to cost and also not wanting to miss what was going on. He shook his head, “No! I'm fine. I'll just sit here and watch the halftime show…”
His father nodded and scooted past on his way to the stairs, moving up with other people as Tory settled back down in his seat.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Austin Arena! The Texas Lone Stars wish to celebrate a special guest – From the Austin Children's Cancer Hospital! Give a rousing Texas welcome to CARL ANDERS!” the announcer said, to thunderous applause from the crowd that remained in the seating bowl, before continuing, “As a special treat, the Lone Stars' own Travis Buckner has agreed to help with the ‘Wish Granted' foundation, in helping young Mister Anders realize his wish of making a dunk on a real FBA Court! And here comes Buckner now, stepping out onto the court! Let's hear it for him, folks!10”
There was yet more applause as the koala picked up the young aquarian and carried him over, only to be stopped by a referee. The crowd began to cheer as Ahti Nereus took a few steps on the court, but it turned to murmurs as a player from the other team got there first.
There was arguing between the koala and the tall, white ursine, who finally picked the child up, the basketball getting placed in his webbed hands.
The crowd's nonchalance turned to muttered conversation as the first words picked up between the ursine and the fish rang out.
“Sorry about your condition, kid. If I had a choice of chemo or being around Buckner, I'd take the former any day…10”
Alejandro was walking back from the restroom and had pondered getting in line to grab some food to take back. He heard amplified conversation coming from the loudspeakers in the arena but couldn't make it out, followed by a loud thud, and then the sound of screaming and booing coming from within the arena bowl. He ran back to the section to see food and cups flying out of people's hands and down onto the court, where a shocked-looking polar bear in a yellow and red uniform was quickly scrambling away as medics were out on the court and lifting the child onto a cot.
The older fox started to make his way down the steps, but slipped on a spilled soda. Managing to catch the middle railing and stop from going down completely, he pulled himself back to his feet and continued carefully down the remaining steps to get back to his son. The otter usher saw Alejandro slip and grabbed a roll of paper towels, walking down to drop a handful in the spill and push his shoe into it. He was going to ask Alejandro if he was okay, but the fox had already left for his seat.
The teenage canid was quaking in stunned silence. When his father worked his way back to the seat, Tory collapsed against his chest sobbing. Stroking his son's ears, he asked what happened, but he found his son too shell-shocked to speak out. A doe sitting in the seat next to Tory leaned in and filled Alejandro in on what had transpired during his absence. The older fox sat there, shocked for a moment as he felt tears soaking through his shirt, his undershirt, and into his chestfur.
The arena announcer pleaded for calm among the crowd, the maintenance crew working to get brooms and trash cans out so they could get the court ready for play to continue as the referees congregated in a corner to discuss matters. Once the throwing of objects had abated, Alejandro looked up to the door, “Let's go… we can come back here if you want, but I think we need to get away from this for a moment.”
Tory nodded and the pair walked up the stairs as the announcer's voice boomed out, “An announcement before we begin the third quarter... Trent St. Croix of Santa Fe has been assessed a technical foul for delay of game and unsportsmanlike conduct. Once play resumes, the Lone Stars will begin with a free throw taken by Travis Buckner...” The crowd roared with approval as father and son crossed through the threshold into the concourse.
There were other parents comforting upset children by the time the father and son had found a table outside a concession stand to settle at. Alejandro ran over and bought a bottle of water and grabbed napkins, dampening them and putting them on Tory's face.
The sound of play resumed inside the arena bowl as Tory and Alejandro sat there in silence, the younger fox eventually taking a deep breath and muttering out, “That was terrible to watch, papa. I hope Carl's going to be okay.”
His father nodded, “Me too…” His eyes traveled around to see that most of the other parents had already left the area, either going back to their seats or leaving the game. He gave his son's paw a gentle squeeze, “Whether you want to go back inside, or go home, or just sit here, that's your choice and I'm not going to be upset with what you decide, ta?”
Tory looked up at one of the monitors broadcasting the game to the outer concourses, then back to his father, “We came all this way… let's go watch the rest of the game…”
Saturday, December 13, 2014, 9:45 PM
The experience, which began so positively and then went into such a sharp spiral downward, was saved as the Lone Stars managed to prevail by two points. Father and son sat in their seats as people made their way out, Alejandro not wanting to get caught up in the chaos of a mass of people leaving. When the coast was finally clear enough, they walked up, only to be stopped by the otter usher that had greeted them upon coming in.
“You didn't hear this from me, of course, but sometimes a player or two will pop out into the foyer after most of the people have gone home. No guarantees, though,” he said quietly to the younger canid, who looked up at his father in a silent pleading. Alejandro, who was suffering a sleep deficit from only grabbing a nap after his shift at work ended and getting on the road, sighed but nodded.
That was all Tory needed to take off running, leaving Alejandro to look to the otter and chuckles, “Kids. Thanks for letting him in earlier… he loved that.”
The otter chuckled, “Oh, I didn't do anything special,” he said with a wink, then looked out, “Your kid's waiting at the escalator, by the way.”
“Damn, he's fast,” Alejandro commented lowly, starting to briskly walk to where his son stood. A group of about 20 people were still milling about, and the pair joined the group. A door opened about ten minutes later and a wolf in a black shirt marked security stepped out, assessing the crowd. He nodded, “Okay folks, if you would just line up against that wall for us, have your items ready for autographs.”
Tory panicked, then remembered, “You still have the tickets, papa?”
Alejandro nodded, pulling the envelope from his pocket. The tickets inside were bent and slightly crumpled, but still had a good area to sign. Tory took out one of the tickets, hearing murmuring coming from the rest of the line. Looking up, he saw that Buck Hopper himself was making his way down the line, signing autographs, shaking paws and posing for quick selfies. Tory could feel his body vibrating with excitement as the rabbit got closer, then looked to his father.” “Can we get a picture with your phone, papa? Please?”
Alejandro chuckled and took his phone out, “Battery's almost dead, mijo. Let's hope.”
The rabbit smiled as he approached, “Hey there, what's your name?”
Tory suddenly found himself unable to speak. His feet were glued to the floor and he could barely let go of the ticket as the lapine took it from his hand.
“He goes by Tory.” Alejandro said, looking at his son, “Could he get a picture with you, please, Mister Hopper?”
The rabbit finished signing the ticket, handing it back to the younger canid. He put his arm around the teenage fox, who was nearly the height of the basketball player he was standing next to. Rabbit and canine smiled, Buck with his practiced expression and Tory with nervous excitement as Alejandro aimed the camera and took a picture, then growled, “Ahh damn... phone died when I hit take…”
Tory felt his stomach drop again, but muttered a quick “Thank you,” to B-Hop as the rabbit disengaged, then moved on to sign things for the final people in the line.
Buck stood up and walked away, turning and waving to the crowd, “Thanks for coming out everyone… sorry about what happened, but have a good rest of your night, okay?”
It wasn't until they were back in the truck that the phone could be plugged in. After a brief charge, it turned on and they could check the gallery. The picture of Tory beaming, standing next to one of the Lone Stars' best-known players was there, and the young fox trembled, keeping his eyes on it, zooming in and out on the screen as his father put the truck in gear and they headed out for the drive home.
Despite what happened at halftime, this was something that Tory would talk about it fondly for years to come. He knew that he was going to print the photo out and frame it, along with the signed ticket, and that they would be his most-valued possessions.
Best. Night. Ever.
1Pampas foxes are not of the genus vulpes, but of Lycolopex.
2A round confection found commonly in South American countries as well as Spain and the Philippines https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfajor
3A drink made from Yerba Maté
4TRANSLATION:“Come here and close the door.”
5TRANSLATION:“If there’s only clothing for you at Christmas, okay?”
7TRANSLATION:“Relax.” Bo is a generic name placeholder in Uruguay. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/uruguay/articles/all-the-uruguayan-slang-terms-you-need-to-know/
8Think a portmanteau of Texas + Behemoth in the pronunciation of the name and the design of the mascot
9This part isn’t meant as any kind of commentary on the player characters themselves - just representation on how some rowdy fan groups treat the members of opposing teams.
10These two bits of dialogue are taken verbatim from the vignette “Drop the Bass,” written by Tazel. Credit for that goes to hir.