Two years or so ago, I came across this short story by Seanan McGuire. It was fervently being passed around among the Heathens in my area, and as a Freyaswoman, people strongly suggested that I read it. I glanced at it, saw that it was about high school football, and passed it over. Only after I finally sat down and read it did I get what the fuss was all about.
Now? Now I file it under “Things That Make Me Cry,” because reading it makes me cry, each time. My first read through, the tears didn’t start until halfway through the story, when I caught on to what the author was doing. When I reread it yesterday, though, I started crying before the “cheerleaders” even left the locker room.
Not that it will necessarily make you cry, too. The thing is, it’s not a sad story at all. It’s like the best kind of feel-good story there is, really. If you work with a deity whose realm includes death, or fighting, or courage, I recommend that you check it out. (If you like football, or understand the power of a late autumn night, even better.)
“Winning? Losing? Children died, and now somehow we’re . . . how am I here? How are we playing football? I haven’t played football since high school.”
“But you did,” says another girl—Elle, with her white-blonde hair streaked in Falcon blue, and she’s lovely, she’s an angel, but her eyes are cold as she looks down on Clarice. “If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here. You’d be playing water polo, maybe, or chess, or competitive Pictionary.”
“There are as many battlefields as there are fallen warriors to fight on them,” says Rona. She straightens, offering Clarice her hands. “You earned your place here, I swear that you did, and now all you have to do is see the game through to its end in order to get your reward.”
Clarice looks at her, this teenage girl with her hair tied up in ribbons, and nothing has ever been more wrong, and nothing has ever been more right. This is Homecoming, this is the October that never ends, and she has earned her place here, on this field, on this team. She slides her hands into Rona’s without deciding that she’s going to do so, and Rona tugs her back to her feet, stronger than she should be for a girl so slight.
“Fight on, warrior,” she says, letting go of Clarice’s hands. She smiles, and for a moment, she is something else; not a cheerleader, exactly, but something older, and wilder, and serving the very same role. She cheers at the edges of the battlefield. “Fight on, and win.”
The full story is available here. Originally published in Lightspeed Magazine.