The reporters in the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room had all but dissipated. They returned home to their laptops, clicking away on their keyboards, each one trying to find an interesting angle on the big win. Flat champagne gathered in little pools at the bottom of the plastic sheets covering the lockers. Corks lay still on the floor, waiting to be swept up by a maintenance man in the morning. Wet confetti stuck to the walls. Linebacker Ray Lewis was placing the final touches on his outfit. He was ready to hit the town. Ready to go into the night. He had collected his reward.
A fresh-faced reporter from a local sports blog approached number 52. His hand shook slightly as he showed his credentials.
“Mr. Lewis?” he asked sweeping his hand through his own hair. “My name’s Jeremy Schaeffer from QuoththeRaven.net. I know you’re probably ready to head out and celebrate but could I just get a few sound bytes from you?”
“Make it quick,” Lewis said as he buckled the cuff-links on his dress shirt.
“After that freak power outage, you overcame a real surge from the 49’ers tonight. At any point did you feel that something was working against you?”
“Never,” Lewis replied. “It’s simple: when a god is for you, who can be against you?” Lewis said.
“What do you mean “a” god?”
“Nothing. My god doesn’t make mistakes,” Lewis told the reporter, adjusting his tie and flicking the dust off the shoulders of his suit. “My god has never made one mistake. There was no way the god that I worship was going to bring us back here twice to feel that same feeling. He keeps his promises.”
Lewis buttoned his suit coat and started walking toward the emergency exit. He disappeared into the dark of the Sunday night.
“Thanks for your time Mr. Lewis.”
He walked out into the parking lot and headed straight for a small grove of trees adjacent to the stadium. There were Pines, Swamp Hickories and a few Western Soapberrys with little buds on the stems. This was not the altar he had prayed so fervently at in his home town of Baltimore, where Oaks and Maples populated the landscape. This little sparse patch of wooded life was enough to summon his master though.
“I’ve come here to thank you,” Lewis whispered into leaves.
The dim glow from the parking lot lamps danced and flickered. A smile appeared in the shadows. Lewis was not afraid. He knew to whom the wretched grin belonged. Twigs and compost on the ground began to roll together. A skeleton made of bark and branches climbed up from the dirt and stood upright. The leaves of deciduous and the needles of the coniferous filled out the flesh. And before Ray Lewis stood Erlking, the Forrest Goblin.
“As I said before,” Lewis said softly. “I wanted to thank you for the gifts you have bestowed upon me on this night.”
“It was no easy feat,” Erlking spoke. Pine needles snapped and fell with each motion of his jaw. “The Evening Star had a stake in the outcome of the SuperBowl as well. That electrical mishap was his work, I’m sure.”
“Your powers are greater than his master.” Lewis trailed off. There was silence interrupted only by the warm breeze.
“So you are wondering if it is time for us to part ways then?” Erlking asked.
Lewis’ eyes shifted to the ground. “It’s just that…I’ve depended on you for nearly two decades. You are my god! I’ve paid tribute to you, sacrificed people in your name, sung your praises for all to hear.” He looked up. “What do I do now?”
“The time of your true power has yet to be upon us my disciple,” the bleak scarecrow assured. “You were a gladiator upon the field and thus drew the admiration and love of masses. The next chapter in your life will be one where your reach and influence is extended beyond your wildest dreams.”
“I remain loyal to your will, O dread spirit,” Lewis recited the oath. He bowed deeply.
“Goodbye for now, my son.”
The leaves and needles began to drift away with the Louisiana wind. Soon the terrible skeleton rattled and fell to the ground once more. Lewis saw the smile fade back into the shadows. “They can never break our bond.”
Lewis adjusted his tie once more, brushed the dust from his shoulders, and walked into the night. There were celebrations to be had, praises to be sung, and sacrifices to be made.
Erlking is a Forrest Goblin that is intensely interested in the outcome of Football games. His conversations have been documented before.