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Coach Chahuank greeted him at the door. "You're going to tell me you want to compete again," he said. Sam paused to study the coach's startling red complexion. This man knew his intentions before he put voice to them, a man of second-sight, sibylline possibly. You're distracted, concentrate, Sam thought.
"More than that, I want to be the best ever," Sam answered. He wanted to be the quintessential older athlete who might never have the full bloom of youth again but could still be a champion. In this, the most important interview of his life, Sam filled himself with bravado.
"You're like a lifetime too old, five years." Not the answer Sam expected. His bravado sputtered like a balloon at a six-year-old's birthday party.
"I have the ability. I just need an a second chance with a good sponsor."
"More than that. The Olympic Committee threw you out for that video." Sam squirmed and scuffed the ground at the mention of the video. He looked to his left avoiding any discussion of that video. He wanted his first impression on Coach Chahuank to be the athlete, the youth, the Olympian. He had to minimize the video.
"I'm not proud of it but I won't apologize. Supposed to be private and all that. I sued the distributor but the Internet protects anonymous real well."
"It's one thing to wank for the camera. It's another to throw yourself at six men," Coach said. Sam squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.
"I would give anything to swim competitively again. The video was an acting job. It paid for my Bachelors degree. If the truth be known, the buyer sits on the Olympic Committee. He called it the crime that dare not speak its name, like we're living in Victorian England." Sam was in the weeds of recrimination, arguing the wrongness of his deeds while he should have been arguing his ability to win.
"Imagine that. Politics in sports. How did you not know the consequences?" came the response.
"I don't do politics. I do gold medals. I set records."
"You gave your dreams away for money and a few hours of, what would you call it, boy's play?" Both men studied each other, realizing, acknowledging. Coach Chahuank had no pretense, no guile, at least not like Sam's attempt to excuse his actions. He understood what Sam only whispered in his deepest thoughts -- that Sam had screwed up his life and now wanted a do over. Sam wanted a pity party. He was still a child in a Norman Rockwell picture sitting on his father's knee asking for forgiveness and a pat on the head. Knocked off his script, Sam's house of cards crumbled. He stood, shoulders slumped, looking right and left. He turned to descend the two steps to the walkway and turned back to face Coach Chahuank.
"I know your first urge is to push me away, to dismiss me. We never did get along. But I am the best in the world and if given a chance, my times will stand for decades. There has to be a way."
"I might. Let's go talk in my office." Coach Chahuank nodded for Sam to follow. Inside, Sam marveled at the old-style building: Wide factory hallways, metal corner protectors and ceramic tiles gave an old, steam-powered aesthetic. Sam daydreamed of the industrial revolution, imagining himself in the past; Edison might spring from a door wearing headphones or holding a light bulb, possibly Carnegie and Bessemer was alive in one of the large laboratories, glowing ladle in hand, forging carbon-steel alloys, or Vanderbilt and Morgan wallowed in piles of cash and stock certificates while armed guards stood watch over their bullion. Coach smiled at his wonderment.
"My family built this factory after the fire of 1900. I grew up here." The office was more library than office; two-story high ceilings with overflowing bookcases to the left, a fireplace flanked by windows on the right and ahead, overstuffed leather chairs, a desk that conjured thoughts of medieval altars flanked by carved wooden panels, illustrated with angels and demons in perpetual struggle. The shelves filled with ancient jars labeled in delicate script on what appeared to be vellum. The labels filled Sam with ever-increasing dread -- Missed Practice, Bad Technique, Out of Shape, Second Best, Not Good Enough and most nightmarish, Unprepared. On the opposite side were four unlabelled white porcelain jars.
"This is luxury. Most facilities are scrap metal lockers and moldy showers," Sam gushed at the old-world trappings. Coach Chahuank pointed to a pair of leather chairs.
"We're not here to discuss furniture. This is about you becoming my student. Give me a reason why. Convince me." He poured two iced teas and sat down. The two men talked for over an hour, discussing stroke techniques, practice routines, strength training, meet schedules, tapering, speed swimming, distance swimming and body shape. Coach Chahuank laid out his idea that swimmers have to compensate for the deficiencies of their bodies; very few swimmers have the ideal body shape. Changing the musculature through exercise and unlearning the wrong movements could turn a poor swimmer into a good swimmer and a good swimmer into a champion. His muscular swimmers from Southern Mexico proved his point with a wall of trophies.
"Could you begin today or tomorrow?" Coach Chahuank finally asked. Sam put his hand to his chin, pretending he needed time to think.
"I can. My lease expired last week. I was going to stay with a friend until my financial situation stabilized. I'd have to give notice ay the restaurant." Sam smiled at the coach. He didn't want to admit the he was sleeping in his car after being thrown out of a friend's apartment.
"If you're going to train with me, you shouldn't lie. You got fired at Cracker Barrel for dropping a tray full of dinners and cursing at a child. None of your so-called friends will put you up for even a night. You're living on the beach thanks to a couple pair of jammers, a surf board and that hoopty outside."
"A kid spilled water and I slid." Sam snapped out the excuse and immediately regretted it. He slouched into the soft leather of the chair.
"I have a shelf filled with excuses young man." Coach Chahuank motioned at the labeled jars. "You can add yours to the ones on the shelves and leave like the rest of the losers."
"The truth." Sam rubbed both hands over his face as if even he himself couldn't believe his situation. He began speaking in a low, monotone that required willpower to maintain.
"My life? My perfect life? My mother was bipolar and worse, a prostitute. My father smoked so much pot morning, noon and night, he didn't care. After the boating accident, the thieving weasels called foster parents spent everything." His voice rose in pitch and volume. "I actually did good in high school but the principal gave me a blank diploma and told me to leave two days before graduation. No reason, just go away. My college coach thought of nothing but trophies." He waved his hands in large rough motions. "The only pleasure, the only discipline, the only love in my life was swimming. And yet, there were no swimming scholarships. I was starving. I begged meals, freeloaded until no one could stand me. None of the authorities cared for anything other than trophies. So I sold the only thing I owned, my body." His face was florid, fists closed, bile rising. "I knew what I was doing. The truth is, I liked it. They were good guys. Gentle guys. They made it easy. Think of that, paid hustlers, male prostitutes, treated me kinder than parents or teachers or most of the human race. But even their tiny bit of kindness was repaid with hatred." His face twisted in anger, eyes flashed. He stood. The fires of youthful passion burned in his blood and reached a peak. The same passion that won races now fueled Sam's rage. "That rat who said my acts dare not be named paid me to do them and the fat bastard stands up there like a saint, pontificating and if you want the truth, there's more video in his possession." His voice echoed through the library and he seemed to tower over the furniture.
"Stupidity doesn't get a high five. Neither does cynicism... Neither does excuse after excuse," Coach Chahuank said. His reproach hung like smoke from an old and ugly pipe. In the silence, his heart pounded out a tattoo of shame and desire, of guilt and anger. He rubbed his hands over his face. Guile drained from his mind as he sat down on the overstuffed leather chair, rested his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. The silence between the two men waited until he spoke to the floor.
"I'm too old to be bitter and too young to give up. I'm looking for a second chance."
"You want me to teach you how to swim faster than any man alive? You already swim faster than any man alive. You want me to set you up to win world championships and be the idol of many fans, of generations to come? You were champion and admired. What you want me to do, so to speak, is to get your virginity back." Coach Chahuank paused for an answer. Sam didn't look up or to the right or left. He just nodded in agreement. Again, Coach Chahuank sat silent. Sam sat up and took a drink of iced tea. For the first time in his life he doubted, but still the desire to win burned his soul.
"I can do better."
"I'm sure you can. I'm not the first coach you've brought your bill of goods, nor the first official you approached. The truth is, no coach or teammate wants Sam Hayes on his team. No parent wants their kid to follow in your footsteps. You took money for whatever you want to call that video. No one cares that you're gay. It isn't about the sex acts. They care that you took the easy way. They care that you sold your body for money. You're no better than a street hustler."
"It's not that bad." Sam's answer came out too fast. He stood up, hiked his shorts up on his hips, tugged the back of his t-shirt and turned. He didn't so much move toward the door of the library as slouch in its direction. "I'm condemned and disgraced and no one will help. Not you. Not anyone. Thanks for the help. I won't let the door hit my ass on the way out. Sorry to bother you." Coach Chahuank laughed.
"Can't bear to leave the show, can you?"
"I never quit. I might have lost a race or two but I never gave up and quit."
"I have a proposition. We both know that Sam Hayes can't be the hero but I can still make you a champion swimmer if you're willing to train hard, eat, sleep and drink swimming and follow my instructions faithfully. That's what you're here begging for, isn't it; a competition regardless of the past by any means."
"Are you Lucifer bargaining for my soul? I get fame and fortune and you get my body and soul for all eternity."
"Not Lucifer. I don't want your soul but I can use your body. Laurel wreaths and gold trophies aren't cheap. You would be indebted to me for a dozen, gross millennia, not eternity."
"I already sold my body to five guys named Beau," Sam joked about his video.
"Do you want to hear the cheers of crowds at the nationals or the Olympics? I'm the only person who can guarantee you fame and adulation once again."
Sam thought back to the times when he stood on the victory podium, thousands chanting his name and applauding just for him for a win as simple as swimming 100 yards. The memory washed over him, filled him and then wished he could forget. Fame is a drug and Sam its addict. Coach Chahuank the fixer.
"If you want to stand up on the victory platform with a gold medal around your neck and crowds screaming your name? Say yes and we start today."
"Today?" Sam stuttered.
"You got a tea party? Crumpets with the Queen?" Coach Chahuank stood up and picked a white ceramic jar from the shelves behind him. Sam stood silent, trying to remove doubt, feeding his hunger for success, his addiction. A drive greater than sex filled his soul, a drive stronger than life itself.
"Today and even then you don't explain. God you're tough. Every night I dream of winning. Every night I sleep with remorse and regret eating at me. I don't want to die like that. I don't want to live like this. You have something in that ceramic jar that will change me forever, don't you? I see the other jars, the failures and I worry. How does this happen?"
"Simple. In the jar you'll find what looks like a full body swim suit. Strip naked. It's a full-body suit. Put it on. All the way. You know the drill." Coach Chahuank set the ceramic jar on a side table, folded his arms and waited.
Sam shucked his cloths and opened the jar. He pulled out what appeared to be a Speedo LZR swimsuit in red, incarnadine red. Unlike the LZR suit, this suit opened down the back and had hands and feet. He pulled a bare wooden chair from the wall and started working the suit over his feet. Lubricant slimed Sam's shaved and hairless body. He worked the suit past his ankles, calves and knees. His thighs bulged with strength. Sam slipped both arms into the sleeves and worked his fingers down into the hands. Gun show, he thought, feeling his arms bulk up. In one great forward movement, he stretched the suit over his shoulders and let it pull tight against his abs and chest. Sam stood puffing with the suit nearly covering his body. It fit like the proverbial second skin, the coat of paint. It clung to his chest and abdomen, his legs and arms. A mask bunched at his neck while and the back flapped open like a hospital gown.
"That wasn't as bad as I expected. Yanno, I ripped two LZRs before I learned how to wiggle into them. Billy, poor boy, split one of his suits up the back at the start of a race and got disqualified for finishing the race bare-ass naked. This suit feels stronger," Sam said, shrugging his shoulders to get the rear flaps to close.
"Infinitely more resilient. I'll seal the back," Coach Chahuank stepped behind Sam and pressed the red suit over his buttocks and up his spine. Sam shivered at the touch as the Coach smoothed the suit. He felt the suit seal itself -- a creeping sensation of too many fingers on his body. He ran a hand down his chest and abdomen, feeling every detail of his body through the suit. He could see rough knuckles, the dog bite scar on his hand, his navel and then, his hand shaking, a new manhood. As Coach Chahuank's hands spread the suit up Sam's neck and over the back of his skull. He realized that this was more than a suit to make his body speedy through the water. This was a new skin, a new identity. Sam Hayes would ever stand on a winner's podium. His new body -- the startling red complexion, the athletic roughness of his new muscles -- would stand there, a proud winner. He reached up over his shoulder and grabbed Coach Chahuank's hand.
"Will I remember?"
"Always, but you will answer to the name Esteban de Albarado, a seventeen year-old of Mayan descent from Central America; a natural swimmer powered by his youth, his brute strength, your technique and your drive. You will set records that will stand for half a century. But your time in the spotlight will be limited. On the twelfth of December 2012, you will return here to take your place and save the world."
"You Mayans got it right?" Sam asked. Chahuank faced Sam with both hands on his shoulders and locked his eyes.
"This time is Mayan time. The Eternals don't want Armageddon or Apocalypse or whatever it's called. The four corners of heaven must be supported every twelve BAKTUN. It's part of the magic that created the world, created consciousness, created civilization and all that is beautiful and glorious and yes, all that is depraved and evil. Esteban de Albarado will be legend in two ways; a swim champion and saving the world from total chaos." Coach Chahuank readied the pieces of the skin that would cover Sam's face and head. Sam stopped him.
"I should close the suit." Sam slid his hands up, wrapped the skin over his face, felt it fill his mouth, grip his body, make him young again. He felt seventeen, aroused and horny. His arms grew stronger, thicker, his torso stouter. Rough, calloused hands felt a once familiar face, aquiline nose and high cheekbones. Mentally, the new persona took control -- youth and innocence renewed and reborn. He heard Coach Chahuank call him Esteban, praise him, predict his success. He dominated swimming for three years and then took his place back in Chahuank's chambers as the pillar of heaven called KAN -- the east, the red rising sun of the Mayan heavens.
2950 words, more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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