|The Footballer’s Guide to the Apocalypse: Five Basic Rules
Author: Guede Mazaka
1. The Playstation has adequately trained you for whatever the hell is going on.
In the past few hours, Bayern’s training grounds had seen three huge flying saucers land and had been invaded by the little green men that had come out of the saucers, waving around strange-looking guns and demanding in tinny voices to be taken to the leader. For some reason, they hadn’t found Kahn or the coach acceptable—though a few of the aliens had subsequently acted in ways towards Olli that Luca would’ve labeled flirtatious if it didn’t hurt his brain to think about that—and the aliens had attempted to force the team onto their spacecraft. Consequently the team had fought back, and had been extremely successful after Bastian and Poldi had gotten hold of a few of the alien guns, but not before one of the ships had managed to take off with Schweini, Philipp and Luca in it.
Luca stared through the…windshield…at the mountains beneath them and wondered how on earth he was going to explain this one to Donadoni. Somehow he didn’t think that “thigh injury” was going to cover it.
“I think it’s this button,” Bastian said, and reached towards it. For some reason, language didn’t seem to be a problem even though Luca was fairly sure he was still speaking some bastard mix of Italian and English, and the other two were speaking German.
Philipp got to Bastian’s hand first and smacked it away. “Be careful! We’re hundreds of miles up and if you don’t hit the right button—”
“But I’m really sure it’s that one! This looks just like the control board in—” And Bastian named an alien-invader game that seemed vaguely familiar to Luca, possibly something he’d played the last time he’d hung out with the younger Italian internationals. “Come on, we can’t just stand here, and it’s not like we can read the labels.”
Philipp bit his lip and stared down at the rows and rows of buttons and switches.
“I think I’ve played that game,” Luca finally said. “It did look like this. And if you push that one—”
Bastian managed to hit the button this time. Things blurred and then suddenly they were staring at the landscape around the Bayern training ground. Or anyway, they could’ve if Luca hadn’t suddenly felt as if he’d had a slimy tentacle forced down his mouth and was so busy trying not to throw up that he almost missed Philipp and Bastian dropping to the floor with greenish faces. He hastily moved his foot so Philipp wouldn’t fall on it.
“I hope we didn’t land on anybody,” Bastian muttered.
Luca and Philipp looked at him. Then Philipp scrambled up, one hand pressed hard over his mouth, and gestured frantically at the board till Luca’s memory conjured up the button for the door. The moment that was open, Lahm ran outside. Mindful of his stomach, Luca began to follow at a slightly more sedate pace, but halfway out he remembered and went back.
“But I’m sure that one does something cool with ice! And—”
They crossed the threshold to outside and suddenly Luca couldn’t understand a word Bastian was saying anymore, and he was very, very thankful. But to be honest, he was more thankful that he spotted Van Bommel almost immediately and could drop Bastian off with the other man so he could finally throw up. Germany certainly was interesting, but the food was terribly unforgiving when it came to stress.
2. Always have at least one German in your party.
In all the panic, they’d completely forgotten that the goalies had separate training and would be coming in later. Though really, the racket alone should’ve told them to go back—and Manuel and Lukas didn’t show up so maybe they’d gotten the point. It was debatable whether Jens had and had just ignored it, or if he still was deep in defensive-mode and had completely spaced from the real world the moment he’d gotten out of his car.
At any rate, Jens walked onto the training pitch just as the wolves had herded the team—minus Wenger, who’d trotted inside to take a call before the attack and now God knew where he was—into a huddle inside the goal. Philippe glimpsed the blond hair through a mass of snapping white teeth and frothy slaver and grey fur, and possibly yelped something when he did, since the next thing he knew, Robin was hauling him back by an arm and Cesc was clamped to his waist babbling about…something. Which Philippe mostly missed because he was staring at Jens and the group of wolves who’d broken off to zip towards the other man, and his heart was pounding in his throat so he couldn’t bloody scream to warn Jens. Oh, fuck, he thought—
Jens stopped and stared, blinking as he took in the overrun pitch. As frightened as Philippe was, he couldn’t help imagining the little clicks that had to be happening in Jens’ head as the other man realized what was going on.
“Oh, shit, it’s Jens!” somebody shouted in French.
Now everybody else was looking, but the wolves and Jens weren’t paying attention. Instead the wolves—which were really gigantic, with glowing red eyes and far too much organization to be natural—were nearly to Jens, who was still standing there. He looked at the nearest one, which was just about close enough to leap at him, and…and…and well, his neck seemed to swell and his shoulders went back and his eyes snapped fire so even across the field Philippe could see it.
“Sitz!” Jens bellowed.
His voice crashed over the field, guttural but booming as his German accent, which he usually repressed as much as possible, exploded to the forefront. The wolves froze. A couple even toppled over from having to stop so quickly. And then they began to get up, and Philippe didn’t really think he was anthropomorphizing when he thought that the wolves looked rather confused with themselves.
Jens wasn’t impressed. He crossed his arms over his chest and somehow glowered at the whole field. “Platz!”
Every wolf promptly laid down, and when Jens happened to glance at one, that one immediately rolled over and whined piteously, stretching out its neck. But Jens just ignored it in favor of stalking across the field, still looking so annoyed that at first Philippe—and a good number of his teammates—edged back into the netting rather than go to greet the man.
“Ohmygodhowdidyoudothat!” Cesc, predictably, was out first and with one bounce was into Jens’ arms. At that a flicker of bewilderment went over Jens’ face, but he recovered his annoyance too quickly to comment on that. “You saved us! That was awesome!”
“What the hell…” Jens paused, apparently needing to switch mindsets again “…what’s going on? Why are you all in my goal? Why are there all these wolves?”
Philippe scrambled up and tried to pry Cesc off of Jens. “Um, no idea. They just showed up and…how did you know that’d work? Telling them to sit?”
“Works with the kids on the national team,” Jens shrugged. He twisted his head about to avoid Cesc’s flailing arm, then hastily moved back the moment Cesc was off of him. Then he frowned at the whole team again, as if there weren’t about a hundred wolves intently watching him. “Why are you all still in my goal?”
“Um…” “They wouldn’t…” “The wolves…”
“Oh, for God’s sake, we’ll get out. Like we would’ve gone in there if we’d had a choice and you could be a little more…” William’s rant flowed out behind him like a life-line as he stomped off through the maze of animal-bodies, and slowly the rest of the team followed it.
Jens turned to look at Philippe and Cesc.
“That was cool,” Cesc repeated, eyes shining. He looked at Jens, at Philippe, and then jumped out of Philippe’s arms and immediately crouched down to pet one of the wolves. “You think the coach will let us keep them?”
Philippe jerked forward, mouth open in a warning, but was intercepted by a hand. He looked questioningly at Jens, who now actually seemed a bit embarrassed. Still annoyed, but he was pulling at his nose and staring down at the ground. Meanwhile, Cesc’s hands had mastered the wolf in a matter of seconds and now had it lolling ridiculously beneath them while its fellows looked on with a mixture of envy and contempt that…was just weird on a wolf-muzzle, to be honest. But at least Cesc seemed to be distracted; Philippe edged nearer to Jens.
“Look, I’ll…explain when you come over for dinner tonight,” Jens mumbled. “It’s a German thing.”
“Okay,” Philippe finally said. He rubbed at the side of his face. “I’m going to the grocery beforehand—does Conny want me to get anything?”
“Uh…oh, she could use some butter. And you’d better buy a bag of doggie biscuits with this…” Jens made an expressive gesture of exasperation with his hands before turning and bending down to grab the nearest wolf by the scruff of its neck. He began to haul it off to the side, only to have both it and Cesc protest. Sighing, Philippe picked Cesc up and carried him back to practice.
3. Hairgel can be a weapon.
Cristiano warily prodded the crispy black thing with a flip-flop and part of it fell off. He skidded back just in case, but it looked like the bit wasn’t about to start moving around by itself, so he decided it was safe to hit the thing in the face. “Dead.”
“Great, so why the hell are you still hitting the bloody thing?” Rio said. He sounded like he was still wedged up on top of the lockers.
Nani plopped down beside Cristiano on the floor, making a disgusted face at the crisped mummy. “I can’t believe it took the whole bottle,” he said in Portuguese. “Come on! It wasn’t moving that fast. We could’ve just done it by parts and saved some.”
“What, like an arm at a time? Then we’d have this crap all over the stupid dressing-room and Rio would be whining even more. And you’d better believe that Ferguson wouldn’t let us use that as an excuse for not training,” Cristiano retorted. He ignored Rio and smacked the mummy a few more times in the head, then used the flip-flop to flick one of the burnt bits into the nearest trashcan. It made a lovely arc through the air before Ryan’s face.
Giggs appeared to be deeply torn between nausea and irritation, but he eventually settled for making a vaguely reprimanding motion with his hand. “English, boys. And guess you’ll be switching brands now, Ronnie.”
“Huh? You kidding? This stuff is the best!” Cristiano put a hand to his hair and stared up at the other man. Then he saw something beside him and turned to see Nani holding up the empty hairgel bottle and nodding in support. “Stupid fucking mummy. We find out who let it in, I get to kill them. Okay?”
“But…Cris…it’s…really…really…what’s the word—right, flammable. Your hairgel is. I mean.” For some reason, Giggs looked like he had a serious headache, and most of the others in the room looked like they were agreeing with him. “That mummy went up like a bonfire when you squirted it with that stuff and tossed a match on.”
Nani leaned over to whisper in Cristiano’s ear. “What? Is he saying we messed up with the mummy?”
Shaking his head, Cristiano grabbed the bottle from Nani and irritably jumped to his feet. He kicked the mummy into the trashcan corner, then stomped over to his locker and began rummaging through his things. “Damn it. I don’t have any more.”
“There are five bloody bottles of gunk in there!” Rio said, just now climbing off the lockers. Like he knew anything about it, with his shaved head. “Just use one of them!”
“Any at home? We could stop there really quick and then go shopping, and get more then,” Nani said. He was still talking in Portuguese, and when Cristiano twisted around, he caught the other man rolling his eyes a bit at Ryan.
Cristiano thwapped Nani for that, since Giggs did deserve the respect even if he was a moron about haircare. “Yeah, we’ll have to. But next time, somebody else is giving up their gel. That’s really expensive stuff.”
4. England losing an international does not by itself constitute an apocalypse (corollary: David Beckham is not a heavenly savior even if he grows wings)
“So how’s McClaren?”
“’s got the doc in to look at his face, and they think he might’ve strained a muscle or two.”
“…wonder why it took so long, with the way he’s grinning at everybody—”
“Joey! Shove off! He’s the manager, he deserves some…oh, to hell with it. I’m too bloody confused right now for that shite—David, what the hell happened?”
“Look, I don’t know. One moment I’m talking to Brett—Ratner, sorry, the one who did the last X-Men movie—and some lads from his production team, and we’re going on about how plane-trips are a drag and I just say it’d be nice if there was another way I could get back and forth for internationals. Next thing I know, I wake up with…with…well, these.”
“They’re kind of pretty, actually. How big are they? Hey, Becks, can I have one of the long feathers—”
“No! Ow! That hurts!”
“God, sorry, I was just wondering. Look, JT, Becks, I’m going to go see if Lampsy’s woken up yet. You need anything from the fridge while I’m at it?”
“No, thanks. Oh, wow…this is just not going to work, is it?”
“I’d say it won’t. Jesus, David. I’m not sure they’ll even let you sit on the bench like this. I mean, those wings look damn big and if you get excited and accidentally snap ‘em open…”
“I know, I know, I know. Vicky and I were already trying to figure out, you know, what I can do, and turns out I can actually stir up a good bit of wind. It’d play hell with how the ball moves in the air, and that wouldn’t be fair.”
“…no, I guess it wouldn’t. Damn it! You have to get rid of these! With all the hell we got about the qualifiers, losing now would…my God, David, don’t you ever think that this Hollywood thing—”
“John, calm down. I’ll get rid of them. Don’t worry about me—worry about England. I’ll see to myself, all right? All right, tell McClaren I’ll call in when these are gone.”
5. Henrik Larsson knows everything.
“Hah! I get three bars! Finally!”
Under normal circumstances, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s crow of victory could penetrate a yard-thick wall of concrete more effectively than nuclear radiation. Under the current circumstances, in which the beautiful San Siro appeared to be shockingly close to giving up the ghost after years and years of supporting the dizzying highs and deep lows of Milanese football, a moment to debate over what to do with the ball in his hand seemed perfectly acceptable to Paolo.
Sandro, however, didn’t bother debating. Fortunately for him, Zlatan and Alberto, Sandro’s shot was redirected off a flying limb and straight into the head of the…thing…lurching slowly but in a strangely effective manner towards Alberto. Presumably said creature had at one point been human, but its transformation into its current state had apparently had a negative effect on its bone density: its head promptly caved in under the ball with a rather disgusting squishing sound.
Paolo grimaced, idly thinking that he’d spent far too much time with the physios lately, and then grimaced again as he realized the flying limb hadn’t been attached to anything. He’d seen his fair share of the extremes in Italian sports, but this really was too much even for a derby. “Sandro, we’re running out of things to use to fend them off. I know what he said was—”
“Which wasn’t even that bad, you oversensitive poodle, and besides, I’m trying to make a phone call,” Zlatan absently said, wandering back towards them. He slung an arm down and snagged a scrambling Gila out of harm’s way and straight into Figo’s arms, forestalling the harried look the other man had been trying to aim at him. “Henke! Yeah, listen, you busy? Sorry, but we’ve got zombies.”
“I’m not angry about something you said fifteen minutes ago when we weren’t being invaded,” Sandro snarled, irritably swinging a spare corner-flag into an oncoming zombie’s head. Then he twisted about and Paolo hastily ducked to avoid the pole’s tip, only to curse and dive towards the other man as something very near to his back suddenly went smush. “Shit. Sorry, Paolo—these things are so slow, but they really sneak up on you. And goddamn it, Ibrahimović, if we have to drag you along, you could at least pull your own weight.”
Zlatan was still on the phone, chattering away, but he did spare a moment to kick up a ball covered in sticky gray stuff. The ball flew up to about head-height, then dropped and for a moment, Zlatan and Sandro were glowering fiercely at each other.
The ball dropped to Zlatan’s foot, then blurred over Paolo as he ducked a second time. There were two wet thumps somewhere behind Paolo and Sandro. Grinning, Zlatan raised his eyebrows in a challenging way and told Henrik Larsson that the zombies didn’t seem to be interested in eating the people they knocked down.
“Sandro, it’s really not worth it right now.” Along the way to getting up, Paolo grabbed another corner-flag and the elbow Sandro was holding nearest to him. “Do we still have everybody?”
Sandro opened his mouth, but was interrupted as something whizzed by them and took out three zombies. They and Zlatan turned to find Ricky looking solemnly back as he put his foot down. Then he slid over a bit so he could knock the rebounding ball down to his feet with a jersey instead of his hand, as it was covered in more gray gore.
“Oh, oh, oh,” Zlatan scoffed, rolling his eyes. Then he perked up at something from the phone. “Oh, hey! Everybody! Henke says it’s really easy to get rid of this kind of zombie! But we need a lot of salt!”
“Salt? Why do we need salt?”
Figo shot Alberto a withering look before slinging what Paolo thought was Andrea’s hairdryer into the face of another zombie. Then he whirled on Zlatan. “Since when does Henrik Larsson know how to deal about zombies?”
“Look, it’s Henrik. I mean, you played against him in Spain, and anyway, who gives a shit how he knows? Let’s just get rid of these things so we can go back to kicking your ass.” That last bit, judging by the way Zlatan angled his body, had been meant for Sandro and Paolo. “Jesus, fucking zombies. Talk about desperation.”
Sandro went tense and still, then abruptly yanked away from Paolo and began to lay into the zombies with such enthusiasm that Paolo briefly contemplated resuming a position on the floor, where he’d have to deal with less splatter. “They’re not ours, you ass-minded shit.”
“I don’t think finger-pointing is going to get us back to the game any faster,” Paolo said, catching Zlatan’s arm. “So we need salt? What else? The closest place for salt is the—”
“—cafeteria, yeah, yeah, I play here too, you know,” Zlatan said. His irritable expression was leaning close enough to give Paolo a rash simply by proximity. And then it changed, shifting to that lofty smile that, to be really honest, made Paolo want to forget about captaining and seniority and common courtesy and just hit the graceless bastard. “But thanks for trying to make nice. I’ll remember that when I’m whacking into that knee of yours later.”
Both Ricky and Sandro looked back at the same time, preventing Paolo from responding to that. Which was just as well, since one, a zombie had loomed up at Sandro’s right shoulder, and two, Paolo seriously doubted he could respond properly. So better to not respond at all, and instead yank Sandro to safety while Ricky smashed the zombie’s head in…he was actually rather disturbingly good at that.
“What did he say? Is that bastard starting in on you now?” Sandro demanded, hissing into Paolo’s ear. He staggered a bit to regain his balance on the slippery floor, then started to pull Paolo away again before he realized it was just Ricky hurrying up to them.
With apparently the same question blurting from his lips, and Paolo did see the way Sandro’s head nearly jerked round to stare at Ricky, and how Ricky stiffened up. He blinked, surprised at the sudden realization, and then wanted to roll his own eyes. Years and years and team dynamic issues never changed…sighing, he just dragged Sandro towards the others. “We’re going to the cafeteria—damn it, where’s Rino? Andrea, didn’t you tell him they’re dead once the head’s broken? He doesn’t need to keep kicking them.”