I walk our high school track under the noonday sun as young Carter the Punter goes about his ritual in the end zone 75 yards away. I work where Carter is a student and venture outside whenever possible, the mountain air has a way of breaking my fatigue.
Carter talks to himself as he stretches; his voice resembles a muppet and carries well. In good and ill-tempered weather, he will be here with his duffle bag of tools: a small pump, ten footballs, exercise bands, two pairs of cleats, and a small tub of icy hot.
His preparation consists of the same steps, length of time, and sequence. There is no variation or shortcut. Whether he goes on to perform life-saving surgeries, pen a manifesto that inspires hate across a continent, deliver 10,000 babies (losing not a soul), or simply deliver the mail, Carter’s exactness will take center stage.
A pianist’s hands must be dexterous, a hawk’s eyes keen, and a bloodhound’s nose sensitive, just as Carter’s leg must be powerful to remain on the job. It must be conditioned, oft-stretched, and iced.
While leg strength is critical, the mechanics are just as key. The catch and grip, ball drop, foot plant, contact, and follow-through help generate maximum torque. But you’d be mistaken if you thought power was the only item of import, for finesse separates the good from the great. The ability to punt short, putting the ball inside the 3-yard line in the far corner of the field (also known as the ‘coffin corner’), while not pretty on a stat line, sure puts your opponent in a bind. Carter knows this; he’s a team player.
He says hello to me as I reach his end of the stadium, and I wave and offer a smile as Tom Waits growls into my headphones about “Alice” and her hair being “like meadow grass.” Then, as the song rises toward its crescendo, Carter launches the pigskin 70 feet into the air and 50 yards downfield. He scratches his head, chirps something unintelligible, and grabs the next ball.
The Blue Ridge Mountains surround us. They are blue because of isoprene, molecules, and various atmospheric interactions—which is all just an over-explanation of magic. It seems to have always been here for the children who play on this field, as if a spaceship dropped the stadium perfectly into the valley after a million years of alien calculation. Though some will never set foot on it, the field is a part of their birthright, along with the school’s fight song, memorized chants, treasured wins, and salty losses.
Carter the Punter licks his fingers, then raises his hand skyward to gauge the direction of the wind as it hollers down from Afton Mountain. The second punt is the perfect confluence of Carter’s power and the elements: a revelation. He hoots as the ball travels at least as high and 20 yards further than before. He reaches for his next ball as Waits’ voice rambles on about “madness” and “bliss” and contemplation of the grave.
We are a loose team: Carter, Waits, and I. The punting pulls all that surrounds us together. Each ball that screams from his terrific foot defeats gravity for nearly 5 seconds of ‘hang time.’ A term bandied about by football players and executioners alike.
Waits moans gracefully through a song about broken hearts, dreams, innocence, and death. I think of what it would be like to execute someone, to pull the floor from beneath a condemned man and watch him drop.
On Friday nights, Carter masters the wind and drives the action. His opponents can only crane their necks, watch the ball soar beyond the lights, and then drop as if planted at the two-yard line. He controls where the teams wage war without making a single block or tackle.
If Einstein’s conclusion holds true, and how we understand time—past, present, future—are mere illusions, then Carter will always be here, on this field, forever young. He is punting the ball…right…now.
Jeff Stone gave up a capitalist corpo career during the pandemic to write full-time. Years from now, many may call him a fool for doing so, but alas, that will be years from now. He resides among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Crozet, VA, with his family, and aside from 25+ years of writing ad copy, he is a newly published (Heimat Review, Intrepidus Ink, Backwards Trajectory, Every Animal Project) writer of stories of whatever length they demand of him.
Allison Liu (she/her) is an emerging writer currently studying in the Boston area. She can often be found working on her novel, photographing the unusual, and conducting bioengineering research. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Yellow Arrow Vignette, The Violet Hour Magazine, The Foredge Review, and elsewhere.