A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend (7 page)

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
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Chapter 11




The second Judd walks into the vast gymnasium...

(And by gymnasium, I mean it's more like an
airplane hanga
or major

...he's grinning the biggest grin I've seen on his face since this whole quick-change mess started. Can you blame him? He's a first-class, dyed-in-the-wool, sweat socks-for-breakfast
, right? Pretty much eats, breathes, and sleeps sports, more sports, and nothing but sports.

(Other than

For someone like him, this is like walking into paradise.

it. I start to worry he might
stroke out
on me, he loves it so much.

"Judd?" Eva's looking at him with those glowing golden eyes of hers. "Are you all right?"

"All right?" Dude's in a freakin'
, I mean
. "
than all right."

Eva lowers her voice. "Are you stoned? You're kind of acting

Judd just keeps staring up at the incredible scene, shading his eyes with his left hand...

(Must be
being the
pinky, who never has to do

...and shaking his head slowly. "Not stoned, Eva. Just taking it all in."

Eva looks up and shrugs. "Same as every other day of the year, but okay." Just then, a bunch of whistles blow at the same time...

(Izzat ten? Twelve?

...and she pops over and kisses him on the cheek. "Gotta go, sweetie! Wish me luck! I hear the Bruisers are out for blood today! They want revenge for last Wednesday!"

"Good luck." Judd spares her a brief glance and goes back to gazing up at what's going on above us. I think he barely registers her presence at this point.

But that's about to change. Because as soon as Eva pecks him on the cheek, she leaps up into the high-flying spectacle we've been gaping at.

Then, there's another blast of whistles, and the scene explodes into furious action.

Which leaves me speechless. I've never seen anything like it, not even close--but there it is. One hundred percent mind-blowingly

The ultimate game of basketball.

There are five levels happening at once, stacked from floor to ceiling in the enormous coliseum-style gym. The players include boys and girls both--
of them, all juniors and seniors from what I can see, all dressed in purple or orange uniforms.

Each level consists of six full-courts ringed by twelve floating hoops and backboards. I see no visible floors, just hovering strips of paint marking off the keys and bounds...but players still run back and forth, dribbling balls on what appears to be thin air.

Where the courts intersect, the games shuffle and mix. Players from one court suddenly bolt over to another one, where they score points while other players take their place on the courts they left behind. The changes happen
levels, too, as players fly back and forth from game to game to game at different altitudes.

Through it all, the place roars with cheers from the vast crowd jamming the towering stands. The fans stomp so hard that the risers shudder and the floor trembles underfoot. Some of them take flight and become part of the games, replacing players or refs.

It's amazing. It looks like total chaos, but it's somehow organized and under control. Numbers tick on a scoreboard, but there's only one score I can see: Pummelers 107, Bruisers 98. How they come up with that score out of the willy-nilly madness going on in the gym is beyond me.

Balls and players are flying everywhere. Kids shoot laser beams out of their eyes and ears and navels, disintegrating balls in midair. Impossible athletic feats are accomplished every few seconds.

(Welcome to
Basketball of the Gods

One guy slam-dunks on the top level with such force that he shatters the backboard and keeps going, smashing backboards on every level below. He ends up landing on the ground level, catching the ball in its descent and blasting it through the parquet floorboards, leaving a smoking hole.

"Can you
this?" Judd is as captivated as a Christian witnessing the Second Coming. His grin has actually gotten

(Not humanly possible!)

...and I
there's a little trail of
at the corner of his mouth. "It's so freakin'
, I can't

"True dat, bruh." I don't know why I nod in agreement. He only has eyes for the super-game.

"I need to get up there! Oh my God!" He's vibrating with excitement. "I
to get

Just as he says it, the game gets even wilder. The levels themselves start moving, shuffling like a deck of cards. The top level moves to the middle, the middle level moves to the top, the bottom to the second-highest position...and then they shuffle again! Even as this is happening, the players continue flying from one court to the other, changing games and levels and switching sides with seemingly random abandon.

Meanwhile, dozens of lighted mirror-ball spheres leap out of the walls and spin through the action, bathing everyone and everything in swirling multicolored rays. And then there's the music, a crazy cacophony of hip hop/metal/techno/classical...


...drowning out even the deafening roar-stomp of the crowd, which has started to riot...

(Or is it part of the

...flooding the massive superdome with pulsating waves of sound that feel loud and powerful enough to melt your eardrums and pulverize your brain.

(Just turn it to

to get
there!" Judd says it with far more conviction this time, like he's had a full-on epiphany and has no free will in the matter at all. It's just a
. "I really
to!" More like a

"I hear ya', dude." I totally get that this is a dream come true for him. Oogachucka would like nothing better than to get him up there in the thick of it, dive-bombing with the best of 'em...

(Even though it would make me dizzy as

...but I'm a little under-juiced on the super-power-handing-out side of the house these days.

Maybe someone else can make this happen. "Why dontcha ask
?" I point at a lone figure spiraling down from the chaos, headed straight for us.

Her blazing red shoulder-length hair whirls around her as she drops. He calls out her name, shouting to be heard above the blasting music and the roar of the riot.

Kaela smiles and gives him a little wave in reply.

"I'll bet
can help." I bend at the first and second knuckle as I talk. "She sure looks happy to

Kaela lands in front of us and poses with her fists on her hips, smirking. "How's it hanging, honeybunch?" She looks just as devilish in this world as at home. If anything, her glowing golden eyes make her look even

Judd hasn't been himself since things went wonky, but he reaches deep and switches on the charm. "It's hanging much better since I saw
beautiful face." He flashes her a wink. "You're an amazing
, you know that?"

"As a matter of fact, I
." Kaela twirls a lock of red hair around her right index finger.

(If only
was that finger!)

"I just wish I could get up there with you," says Judd. "Could you help me out with that, Kaela?"

She gives him a look like he just asked her to attach an elephant's head to his butt. "You know I can't, Judd. Carrying non-players into the game isn't allowed."

Judd fidgets, hopping from one foot to the other. "No, I meant isn't there some way I can
? Like, a
or a
or something?"

"Ju-udd." Kaela rolls her eyes. "Is this some kind of
? You
you can't fly unless you were
this way."

The wind goes out of Judd's sails instantly. "Which I wasn't." As the realization kicks in, he looks away from her and slumps.

"That's okay, honeybunch." Kaela jumps over and kisses him on the lips. "I love you even if you
a ground-hugger." She follows the first peck with a deeper, hotter kiss...


...but Judd just isn't getting into it like usual. Would
, if you'd gotten a look at Heaven, the perfect paradise of your dreams...

(Now some of the game levels are flipping upside-down and spinning as they shuffle!)

...only to be told that you can
it, but there's no way for you to
it? Talk about

Judd breaks the kiss and leans back. He steals a glance at the ongoing basketball mayhem going on overhead. "Are you
there's nothing I can do to get up there and play on the

Kaela pinches his nose between her thumb and forefinger and gives it a wiggle. "You are so
sometimes, babycakes! I just wanna gobble you

Judd is not amused, but what can he say? He can't even get in and out of the
on his own. He's at her mercy.

(He's at
mercy, come to think of it. So maybe this ain't such a paradise after all.)

Before Judd can say another word, a woman's voice booms over the noise in the coliseum. "Pummelers advance! Pummelers advance to the Permanent Tournament!"

A dozen buzzers sound, and the games all stop at once. The court markings disappear, the baskets zoom into the walls, and balloons, streamers, and confetti pour out of the ceiling. Half the people in the coliseum go crazy, cheering and clapping and leaping out of the stands to spin and dance joyfully in midair. The marching band weaves through the madness, playing a hard-driving fight song in flight.

"Woo!" Kaela jumps up and down, pumping her fists. "Pummelers win! Pummelers advance!"

Judd claps half-heartedly but can't manage a smile. I don't even pretend to cheer, because I'm not rooting for either team. I feel for Judd.

Then, something happens that gets our attention. An enormous holographic image of a golden trophy appears overhead, gleaming as it rotates above the crowd.

Again, the woman's voice fills the coliseum. "One player, the
player, will win the
Living Cup
! Who will it be?"

"The one who
the most!" Everyone in the coliseum chants the words.

Except Judd and me. Judd just frowns at the gigantic gleaming image. I can't look away, either.

Because that image goes through some changes as we watch. First, it's just a giant golden trophy...but then it shifts shape, turning into a golden orb studded with glittering crystalline prongs. Then it becomes a golden pyramid with unblinking ruby eyes on each of its four sides, near the apex. Then it breaks apart into seven winged cubes fluttering in a vertical loop around a flickering tongue of golden flame. It just keeps shifting, flowing from one form to another.

"Why does it keep changing like that?" says Judd.

Kaela gives him that "you crazy" look again. "What's changing?"

"The trophy thing up there." Judd points at the great hovering image, which now looks like a curved sword with a jewel-encrusted hilt.

"The Living Cup?" Kaela stares at it, then scowls at Judd. "It isn't changing at all."

"So what does it look like to you right now?" Judd points at the hologram again.

The answer, as I can plainly see, is a
. It looks like the golden crown of a king, studded with jewels of many colors. A gleaming gold cross rises from the highest peak at the front of the crown, with a monstrous twinkling sapphire situated below it.

Kaela sighs and has another look. "What do you
me to say?" She gestures expressively with both hands. "An
ice cream cone
? A
? A
?" She turns back to Judd and shakes her head. "It looks like a
trophy cup
, Judd. A giant, spinning
trophy cup
. End of story!"

"Okay, all right." Judd shrugs. "I must've been seeing things."

, dude! I saw the same exact things

"No worries, sweetness!" Kaela grabs him by the collar and yanks him over for a big sloppy kiss. Then she shoves him aside and rises up off the ground. "
through some changes
, if you're a good boy! Meet me in the eatatorium after practice!"

Before Judd can answer, she shoots off into the heights to celebrate with her teammates. We see her high-fiving and fist-bumping fellow players, hugging and tussling and doing victory dances. Her golden eyes and aura flare every time she screams with joy.

Meanwhile, the Living Cup keeps turning and changing. It's a disk, then it's a coil, then it's a deck of cards. It's never the same shape twice, and it's always something other than a trophy cup.

"What does it mean?" says Judd. "Why can
see it, but

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
8.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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