Flat-nosed. Ears like used tinfoil. Arms, legs and a neck like chiseled stone from a sculpture still in progress.
Ashley stood on the sideline of his final game, waiting for the coach to put him in. His knees and spine had only enough thread for 3 or 4 more scrums. Only the adrenaline from the roar of the crowd and the knowledge that millions of viewers around the world were watching at home. He just waited for the clock to stop before entering the game.
In an interview the day before, the reporter had asked why Ashley had not opted for the Rejuv. Procedures. Athletes at the age of retirement were extending their careers, and their 7 figure contracts, by the 10’s, 20’s and 30’s. Why had Ashley decided against it.
Whistles blew and the clock stopped. The coach twirled his hands around indicating a switch, when the line referee lifted up the placard with his number, the stadium came alive. They chanted his name and stomped their feet.
“Ashley, Ashley, Ashley…”
Ashley put up a hand, waving as he approached the young teammate whom he was replacing. They hugged and Ashley tussled his hair, playing up his image of the older player.
The whistle blew again, but the crowd still chanted his name. Ashley barely realized that he had already locked into the pile of the scrum. His muscles taking over for memory, they began pushing the pile toward the goal line. The rock came loose and the younger players ran, lateraled and jumped until the next scrum.
Ashley’s neck was sending images to his brain. Images of frayed wires barely connected, a rope swinging in the middle of an old, rickety mine shaft, scissors hovering over the last wire connecting a bomb. Before the impact, Ashley knew this would be the last hit his body would withstand.
As a kid watching his idols play on TV, Ashley realized all his favorites eventually had to stop playing. his eyes would shine with sadness but there was the anticipation of new players with different styles and personalities.
Then Ashely started playing professionally and many of his idols had returned, thanks to the Rejuv. procedures. New players were rarer everyday, until the league was filled with players able to continue their careers. But Ashley noticed that no one player really stood out anymore.
Ashley blinked. His eyes watered and his nose curled. Smelling salts.
This was it. He couldn’t move, yet, his legs tingled, his back ached and the crowd was silent. He had earned this without enhancement and would be forever remembered because of it. This was an ending.