Sports Hell chapter 3: The choke jobs
College Contributor Network
Pete Rose clipped his clothespin over his nostrils. We must have been at least ten minutes from the swamp.
"Can I know why we have these?" I asked, plugging my own nose. The clamp obliterated all possible sense of smell.
Charlie Hustle shook his head. "You'll see soon enough. In any case, if I told you, there's the possibility you'll wish not to go on."
Woah. I had already seen so much, could whatever came next really be that bad? My spine shivered. I jogged to keep up with Pete Rose's quick pace.
Soon the floor of Sports Hell began to slope downward, and we were descending down a steady hill. I looked to my left and right, and I saw that the grade seemed to curve around in both directions, like the side of a vast bowl. It felt like a distinguished area. We must be growing close to the next group of sinners.
Just as the slope began to flatten out, presumably into the bottom of the bowl, Pete Rose flung out his arm and stopped me short. I opened my mouth in a start and he clamped his other hand over it. "Hush," he whispered. "Follow my finger. Just look."
He pointed one weathered, dirt-colored digit out into the darkness, and there, some twenty yards away, I saw a jagged humanoid shape crouching on the ground. It appeared to be occupied with something on the floor, working it with both hands. There was a grunting noise and it looked like the object on the ground was broken open. The humanoid made a swift motion and there was a soft patter, like something wet splashing in the earth.
The thing stood up. It was lean and strong, and about as tall as Pete Rose. It looked over and I gave a small gasp through the ball-player's fingers. Horns. White eyes. It was a demon.
The beast stared at us for a small moment, then it simply turned away and walked into the darkness. I thought I saw it crouch again but couldn't be sure. Pete Rose released my mouth. "Ok," he whispered. "It knows we're here. We can go forward, but my good traveler, you must proceed with caution. Watch your step. Keep to the perimeter."
I swallowed hard and took some cautious steps forward, toward the small object the demon had been interacting with. It was about the size of a volleyball. "What is it?" I asked.
Pete Rose's voice sounded strained. "It's one of the sinners."
That's when I leaned down and stared right into the face of Tony Romo. I yelled and scrambled back and fell over and my hand landed in something wet. I wiped it on my pants and it came away like a textured, pudding-like slime. I held it up to my face and saw that it was pale yellow, and it glistened like...well, exactly like that.
I looked up at my guide. "Where are we, Pete Rose?"
Charlie Hustle grabbed my shirt and hauled me to my feet. "These are the Choke-Jobs."
Tony Romo's head swiveled and looked up at us. He was buried in the floor of Sports Hell from his neck down. His mouth gaped and I could see a thin layer of the same slime down his chin, pooling out in front of him. "Jesus Christ, Tony," I said. "Did you just...did you just puke on yourself?"
Tony Romo's head blinked. He just looked at me. I turned to Pete Rose. "What's his deal?" I asked.
Pete Rose leaned down and grabbed Tony Romo's jaw and opened his mouth wide. "Look for yourself," he said. "No tongue."
Indeed, where Romo's muscle should've been was a barren, scabby space within his mouth. "So, since Romo choked," I ventured. "He has to lie in his own puke? I don't understand."
"Walk with me," said my guide. We left Tony Romo alone in the filthy dirt and his vacant eyes followed us until I turned away. As we went, Charlie Hustle pointed out more buried bodies. Karl Malone. Bill Buckner. Greg Norman. The entire lineup for the 2004 New York Yankees. Chris Webber. Scott Hoch. There were dozens of heads, all sticking up out of the ground, and all residing in spreading, seeping pools of vomit. None of them made a sound. None of them seemed to have the ability to make a sound.
Then, we saw the demon again. He was hunched over another head, and the pool around this one was one of the largest we had seen yet. Why was this one vomiting more? Pete Rose and I went over, though I steered clear of the demon.
We came around to the other side of the hellbeast and I saw the sinner. Headphones. Glasses. A baseball cap. Why, it was Steve Bartman. His presence struck me as odd, yet before I could say anything to Pete Rose, the demon wrenched open the sinner's mouth. Bartman's eyes grew wide behind his thin frames, the demon's long claws digging in behind his upper and lower teeth. Then, with one spindly finger extended, the demon shoved the bottom arm all the way back into the man's throat. Bartman's eyes streamed and he wretched, and the demon took his arms away just as the sinner released a heaving, putrid stream of bile. Bartman gagged and gagged and the contents of his stomach pooled wetly. It piled in his mouth and oozed from his lips. Finally, after some horrible dry spasms, he collapsed forward, gasping in his own sick.
I tried to shove myself away but Pete Rose grabbed my and held my chin. "No!" he hissed. "Watch now."
Before us the demon rose once more. He cocked his head to one side like a dog, listening. All was silent. The demon leveled his head again and walked away.
Pete Rose released me and I shoved him back and ran for the far slope. I found the path and I climbed and climbed until my legs felt the ground flatten out. I collapsed into the dirt and soon I felt Charlie Hustle at my side. His hand touched my arm and I wrenched free.
"Don't touch me!" I yelled. "Why would you show me that? That was twisted, Pete Rose! Steve freaking Bartman, man! He wasn't even a Choke Job! The Cubs were up 3-0 in the game when he reached for the foul! Three games to two in the NLCS! And he's there? Why?! Tell me that, Pete Rose!" I was just about screaming in his face, but my guide didn't flinch.
"That's the nature of this place," he said simply.
"What kind of answer is that? Sports Hell or not, that's messed up! Making chokers drown in their own vomit? You all like watching the chokers choke some more? Is that some kind of sick game you play? Forget it!" I was sitting up at this point and I had half a mind to just take to my feet and leave. Go back the way I came and forget this whole stupid adventure.
"It's not a game," Pete Rose said. His voice was quiet. "It's the punishment that was given to them. Those are the sinners who were called here."
"Called by who? The Master? What kind of sick-"
"Not the Master! My good traveler, the Master doesn't bring the sinners here."
Huh? Wasn't the Master some kind of Satan figure? I thought he organized the sinners. I didn't understand. Pete Rose gestured back the way they had come. "The Master has no role in deciding who comes and goes in Sports Hell. He just manages you when you are here. The Master himself works for another. He's here to appease, well, them."
Pete Rose gestured out around the rim of the pit of Choke-Jobs, and I could see, though they were very faint, the shadows of several figures gathered around the edge of the bowl. It was too far to say for sure what they looked like-they seemed to drift in and out as if in a dark fog-but they looked to be peering down onto the sinners, supervising their trials.
"Is that who the demon was listening for?" I asked. "Were they communicating with him somehow, those people?"
"Yes. They order him to the next sinner. They choose who he punishes next."
That's why Bartman had a larger pool around him. These...rulers had kept sending the demon back, over and over. "It just doesn't seem fair." I said. "Who are these people, that they can make these decisions? It's cruel. It's not right."
Pete Rose looked at me. There was something in his gaze but I couldn't quite read it. He held out his hand: an invitation to move onward. The answer, as usual, seemed to be coming in time.
I wanted to say no. I didn't care how many times we had the chance to see JR Smith trampled by a mob or watch late '00's Miami Heat fans dragged behind the Sooner Schooner, seeing Bartman abused like that was too intense. Why had I walked through that gate in the first place?
"Can we just go back, Pete Rose?" I looked at his hand but I didn't take it.
His face didn't waver. "Going back will be harder than going forward."
I shook my head. "But isn't there an end to this place?"
Pete Rose nodded but he gave no further inclination. It was my choice. I looked back where we had come. There were no surprises there, but where was I prior to Sports Hell? Indeed, the long and weary road before the dark gate. Ahead was more of the unknown. Worse punishments and worse sinners, and yet, an ending, too. Something waited on the other side of the constant darkness. I looked up at Pete Rose and I made my decision.
I took my guide's hand, and together, we left the pit of Choke Jobs behind, though now, all around, I couldn't help but feel a presence out there beyond my field of vision. Those people were watching us. They had always been watching us.
There was much more to this place than I had thought.
For a look back through the entirety of the trip through Sports Hell, check out the previous chapters below:
Sports Hell chapter 6: The end
Sports Hell chapter 5: Death row
Sports Hell chapter 4: The puppet masters
Sports Hell chapter 3: The choke jobs
Sports Hell chapter 2: The ball hogs
Sports Hell chapter 1: The bandwagoners
Tyler Daswick is a junior at Northwestern University. He is a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, Indiana Jones, and writing stories about cowboys and banditos. Follow him on Twitter: @AccordingtoDazz