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Howard Webb Dies In The End

If you had the energy to look up at the sky, you would have found it overcast and angrily so. The entire expanse overhead was wriggling and squirming about. The Sun seemed put off by this entire ruckus and was taking a siesta until further notice. The clouds were dark grey, wrinkled and throbbing- like an ageing elephant’s sphincter.

Speaking of elephants, elephantine lightning bolts flashed across the sky at something approaching three bolts per minute. Thunder, forever the Pat Rice to lightning’s Arsene Wenger, rumbled faithfully after.

Speaking of sphincters, all the clouds were filled to bursting point, and it looked like the sphincter of the sky was about to give way any second with the inevitability of a Heurelho Gomes blunder.

Speaking of ageing, this description is ageing. If the readers would like a précis of events, it would be that the setting was fairly standard for the commencement of a post-apocalyptic story. As Nemanja Vidic silently trudged through a carnival of muck and sewage, he agreed.

It seemed as if he had been travelling for days on end. This was probably because he had been travelling for days on end. There was no separating shirt from shit on his body; he was hungry beyond all hunger (he had chewed off the little finger of his left hand only three hours ago) and thirsty beyond all thirst. He still powered through with astounding bloody-mindedness, his ironman strides slowing down but never stopping. The bloody-mindedness was not that astounding on second thought; this was Nemanja Vidic after all.

But while his entire body looked like a necrophile’s wet dream, the eyes were magically, glowingly, unequivocally alive. They were staring straight ahead, at the only thing stare-worthy in the vicinity. He saw floodlights in the distance, a few benches and stools scattered around and shouts ringing out into the gloomy remoteness. He saw a flash of a goalpost in the corner. His lips parted about two millimetres as he smiled- A Nemanja Vidic smile.

As he marched closer though, his jaws parted in astonishment and made a most un-Nemanja Vidic like ‘O’. He had known there would be football here; he had risked an unpleasant odyssey and body appendages on the fact that there would be football here; but his exemplary pokerface gave way on seeing that there was actual grass here. He blubbered, stammered and blubbered some more.

“Stop blubbering and stammering,” A sardonic voice said.

As Sir Alex Ferguson would testify (if he wasn’t dead), Nemanja Vidic didn’t need telling twice; and he promptly rearranged his features into an expression resembling ‘The Thing’ from The Fantastic Four. He looked around for the source of the sardonic voice, and found the voice attached to a tall, angled person with dainty arms.

Vidic looked at him carefully. “You’re Robin van Persie,” he stated.

“I am,” van Persie said, eyebrows raised in amusement. “And you’re that Vidic bloke from Man United, who was quite good if I remember. That’s beside the point however. The point is, stop blubbering and stammering. I’m giving a press conference.”

He turned back to a journalist, who had-

- A mouth where his mouth should have been

- A mouth where his nose should have been

- Two more mouths tagging along where his eyes should ideally have been

The mouths exhibited admirable coordination among themselves, firing off questions at breakneck speed with puppy-like eagerness. Van Persie already looked like he was restraining himself from punching the reporter in the mouth(s).

“Robin, what do you think the result of the current match will be? Do you think it will influence your team’s next match? Who would you put your money on to win this match? Who would you want to win this match? Would the team you want to win, be the same as the team you put your money on? What do you think Rooney’s hair transplant will look like? Wh-“

“Wait wait, shut your mouth…well, face… for a second,” van Persie said. “I think Busquet’s team will win. Yes, it will influence our next match because we’d have to face Busquet’s team then. If I think Busquet’s team will win, I’d obviously put money on them, you jag. I don’t particularly want any team to win, so that renders the next question null and void. And Rooney is dead, sweetheart. I would have liked him to have dreadlocks though.”

“Do you have a tattoo of a lion emblazoned on your nether regions? Wh-”

“Alright, that’s it. Interview over.”

The mouth-medusa with a pen in its hand goggled in surprise. “But we have so many questions left! Which came first, the chicken, the egg or Harry Redknapp? Can Barcelona do it against Stoke on a cold February night? Is w-“

“I said, interview over,” van Persie said. He whistled, “Joey! Come here, lunch.”

A hairy, four-legged creature suddenly burst forth from behind Vidic, growling ferociously. Vidic watched with equal parts distaste and interest as the creature made short work of the journalist, all the mouths united in their last scream. The creature whined contentedly, and van Persie patted its head. Vidic looked at the creature closely.

“That is Joey Barton,” he stated.

“It is. He’s just misunderstood, always has been,” van Persie said, tickling Barton’s chin. “So,” he continued, turning towards Vidic. “What have you been doing these past fifteen months, ever since things went KABOOM?”

Vidic became even more stone-faced, if that was possible. “It was quite distasteful in the beginning. People were running amok on the streets, asking me where their kids were, screaming into my ear, turning into radioactive liquid at my feet. It was distasteful.”

“I can imagine.”

“Yes,” Vidic said tersely. “But things got quiet soon. I just started walking, and asked for directions whenever I met someone along the way.”

“Directions to…?”

“Directions to football, obviously. I realized that I could now play football because I liked playing it, no strings attached. No crazy supporters, no voyeuristic cameras, no insane pressure, no Rio Ferdinand trying to sneak a look while I was in the shower. I was tired of it all, and just wanted to do a friendly kickabout for the rest of my life,” Vidic halted suspiciously. “Your grin intrigues me.”

“And your naivety tickles me,” van Persie said, chuckling. “You’re off-kilter if you think there’s no pressure in football now. Come, let’s watch the match going on.”

Vidic let his gaze wander to the field, where both teams were stretching about in earnest. Vidic was surprised to see that none of the faces were carefree as he expected them to be; all players in fact looked mortally afraid. Busquets was silently weeping into a handkerchief between his short sprints across the pitch.

“Why do all the players look so worried?” Vidic asked.

“Pressure,” van Persie said sagely.

An ear-splitting roar rang out suddenly. Barton started barking energetically, Busquets whimpered and inundated his hankie with a fresh barrage of tears; even Vidic found a nerve on his forehead twitching slightly. The roar came from a small fissure in the mountain wall behind one of the goals. A monstrosity slowly emerged from the cavern.

While it was over fourteen feet tall, the thing that immediately caught your attention was not its size but its head. It was queerly egg-shaped, had the circumference of approximately one Sam Allardyce, and was chock-a-bloc with eyes. There must have been at least fifty pairs of eyes dotted across its visage, blinking dolefully and randomly. It lifted one of its bulky Terminator arms and absently scratched its chest.

“That is Howard Webb,” Vidic stated.

“It is, unfortunately,” van Persie sighed. “And he owns this football field. It’s his Colosseum, and we’re his puppet gladiators. He holds an endless tournament here. Quick five-a-side matches, fifteen minutes a half. Team that loses, dies.”

“By ‘dies’, do you mean gets knocked out of the tournament?”

“No. By ‘dies’, I mean Howard the Horrible lifts the players up one by one, bends them like straws until they crack, pours their blood on the field and throws them into the lava pit up yonder,” van Persie said cheerfully, pointing at the lava pit in question, lying north-northwest of the field.

“Ah.”

“Bet you would rather have Ferdinand taking a few looksies at you in the buff now, eh?” van Persie asked mockingly. “Bottom line is, you still have to play like your life is on the line. Because this time it actually is.”

The match had started by now. Both the teams were understandably giving it their all, and Vidic noticed that all the rules had gone for a toss. Howard Webb mostly watched over proceedings from the sidelines, his eyes rabidly roving over everything. He presently took out a vuvuzela from his back pocket and blew on it. Play stopped.

“Hand ball,” Webb grunted, pointing at the offender.

“No no no, please no,” the offender snivelled, eyes wide with terror. “It wasn’t hand ball; I swear it touched the shoulder. A hint of mid-arm maybe, but definitely not hand ball. Give them a penalty or a goal, just please don’t-“

Webb lifted him up and snapped his arm off like a toothpick. He tilted the offender over the field and let the blood rush down for a while, then dropped him down. He blew on his vuvuzela again over the screams of agony from the offender. Play resumed.

“This is outrageous,” Vidic said, frowning. “Why don’t people stop playing?”

“Now really, is that a question you should be asking?” van Persie said shrewdly.

Vidic conceded. Of course people didn’t stop playing. If you loved football enough to walk through miles of death, decay and waste; come to a patch of actual level ground with actual grass and actual five-a-side, it was impossible to walk away. It was between leaving this place to maybe survive, or staying here to maybe survive.

Vidic shielded his eyes as lava suddenly lapped up from the pit; Webb had de-blooded another player on the pitch and thrown him in for running too much.

“We have to do something,” Vidic said.

“What we have to do, is prepare for our next match,” van Persie said brusquely. “You want in? I can always put one of my deadwood players on the bench.”

Before Vidic could answer, a high-pitched whine rent the air. It was perhaps the most irritating thing he had ever heard; a cross between a grain harvester and a six year old girl.

“Cesc Fabregas! Cesc Fabregas! Cesc Fabregas!”

“Oh bollocks, he’s back,” van Persie said, facepalming. Vidic looked as a short man with toad-like eyes shuffled up to him.

“Cesc Fabregas?” the man asked curiously.

“No, he’s not Cesc Fabregas, you annoying piece of scum. Get out of his face,” van Persie said tiredly. The man shuffled away, disappointed.

Vidic stood there musingly. “That is-“

“-Xavi Hernandez,” van Persie completed. “Too right he is. He’s been here for the past few months, going on and on about Cesc Fabregas like a bleeding Pokemon,” van Persie’s face suddenly brightened up, “Watch this, though. Hey Xavi!” he called out.

Xavi looked at him eagerly with his toad eyes.

Van Persie pointed towards a floodlight pillar ten paces ahead and said, “Cesc Fabregas.”

Xavi’s face broke out into a smile of indescribable happiness; he gave out a low purr and rushed headfirst into the pole with a crash.

Van Persie cackled. “Stupid prick,” he said. He turned towards Vidic, “Anyways, so how about it? You can’t walk away from here, and you know it. Be a part of my team, we’ve been here for six months and are mostly alive. What mutation do you have?”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Oh come on, don’t tell me this entire apocalypse shindig didn’t change you. It changed everyone,” van Persie said. “You’ve already met The Incredible Webb over there, and the brain addled Fabregas fangirl, and lovable old Joey,” he said as Barton barked gleefully and peed on a stray car tyre. “I still like my mutation best though.”

He stripped down to his shorts, and Vidic made an ‘O’ with his mouth for the second time in under an hour. Van Persie’s left leg was twice as big as his right one, and rippling with a sea of nerves and muscles. In fact, that leg wouldn’t have looked out of place on the current Howard Webb.

“Snazzy, isn’t it?” van Persie asked. “I once blinded a man by kicking a pea into his eyes, I’m not kidding. This thing has power, accuracy, and some more power. I face some imbalance in running, but the power.”

“Yes.”

“So, what’s your mutation?”

“None.”

“None?”

“None,” Vidic said staidly. “I resisted all changes; I’ll only change when I want to. Not when some apocalypse wants me to.”

“Well, you’re one titanium-balled critter if that’s true,” van Persie said, impressed. “Joey, wouldn’t you say this man had balls made of titanium?”

“It’s actually light-reflective steel, but thank you.”

“And you’re making jokes now! Good stuff. So, you’re on my team?”

“Yes, but we must kill Howard Webb first.”

Van Persie scoffed. “Would if I could, mate. I once kicked a stone at him in frustration, but those eyes of his see everything coming. He kung-fued the stone away and chased me around the pitch a bit. Then I told him Denilson did it, fortunately.”

“But I have a plan,” Vidic said.

“Boo to all plans,” van Persie said.

“It will involve great mortal risk and probable death for Xavi Hernandez.”

Van Persie looked over at Xavi, who was trying to French kiss the floodlight pillar, his dopey face filled with sunshine.

“Sound me out then.”

Vidic rubbed his hands. “We will need sunglasses.”

***

The match was about to start. Barton had only managed to find one pair of sunglasses floating around in the muck somewhere, but Vidic said that one pair would do.

“I really doubt this is going to go smoothly,” van Persie said, doing his crunches.

“We don’t need it to go smoothly; we just need it to go. Everyone remember their positions,” Vidic said just as the vuvuzela blew. He saw wanton elbows and needless knee-raking tackles everywhere made out of fear, but he patiently bided his time. Presently their team got a throw-in deep inside the opposition half. Vidic looked at van Persie and nodded.

Van Persie, who was wearing the sunglasses, gave a thumbs-up in return. He shouted, “Hey Xavi!”

Xavi, who was going to take the throw-in, looked back quizzically with his beady gaze.

Van Persie pointed in Xavi’s direction, “Cesc Fabregas, bearing straight ahead, about ten medium sized paces ought to do it.”

Xavi gave an orgasmic squeal and puttered away, not giving the ball another look. He was smiling and the squeal still hadn’t died down when he fell straight into the lava pit.

Vidic was in position and waiting. The timing had to be perfect for this part, but Vidic knew a thing or two about timing. Just as the lava leaped up from the pit, Vidic seamlessly dropped his pants. The blinding light that burst outwards brought forth many a scream from those present; but the biggest scream of all came from the sidelines, where Howard Webb was holding his face in terrible anguish. He clawed mercilessly at his eyes, still bawling.

Van Persie shielded his eyes even through his sunglasses. “You know man, when you say that you have balls of light-reflective steel, nine out of ten people will think you’re joking.”

“I don’t joke,” Vidic said, sounding mildly aghast at the mere idea. “Where’s Barton?”

Barton scampered up, his shaggy mane hiding his eyes from the glare. He held the vuvuzela in his mouth, pinched from the back pocket of Webb, who was still screaming black murder. Barton threw the vuvuzela towards van Persie. Van Persie stood in his power stance, and volleyed the vuvuzela towards Webb with a ferocious swish of his mutated left leg.

“I hope you weren’t joking as well when you said you had blinded people by kicking peas at them,” Vidic said.

“Don’t worry, that time I was dead serious,” van Persie said solemnly.

The vuvuzela flew straight and true, lodging itself into Webb’s neck with unerring accuracy. There was a horrible squishy sound, like Alex Ferguson violating a Wrigley’s chewing gum, and blood spewed out from the neck in great gushes. Webb snatched and struggled at his wound, swayed about and finally collapsed in a red, many-eyed heap behind one of the goalposts.

The lava had died down by now, and Vidic pulled his pants up. All the people present were rubbing their eyes, first out of pain and then out of disbelief at what they were seeing.

“That did go off surprisingly smoothly,” van Persie said, throwing the sunglasses away. He then took the football and started doing some dribbles. “Damn, this feels good.”

The other people continued standing still, confused. There was a rumble of murmurings, growing louder as each second passed.

“They don’t know what to do, you tore up their entire routine,” van Persie explained.

Barton sniffed at Vidic’s feet, and he looked down. He had the vuvuzela in his mouth, which he had dislodged from Webb’s neck. Vidic took the vuvuzela and cleaned it on his shirt.

He then gave a Nemanja Vidic smile, the second time he had done so that day. “We finally don’t have to play like our lives depend on it,” he said to the people gathered. He blew the vuvuzela.

Play resumed. And this time, it really was play.

***

 

Author’s Note: I am a big fan of happy endings, and it pains me when a story ends by people finding out their dog died, or they have cancer of the appendix. So I like to keep my characters in the dark, they remain happy this way, at least when the story ends. So am I going to tell these brave, Vidic-led souls that the blood of players acted as a fertiliser and made the grass grow in the field? And that it will become the same unrecognizable muck as its surroundings after some time unless they started killing one another?

Of course not. That would be, as Vidic might say, distasteful. Let them have their kickabout for now, and let me have my happy ending.

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