Phil unknowingly handles an ancient eagle's egg, bringing out his eagle form in the middle of a game! Story written by
and illustrated by
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Phil's Eagle Tailfeather
Other pursuits were great—there was something to be said for Renaissance Faires and treasure-hunting and even farm work—but Phil's heart was ultimately on the gridiron, and it was nice to be back on the field with the Riverport Eaglets (themselves a farm team for the great Philly Eagles). His fine teal-and-grey uniform waited in the locker room as he parked his car, dancing in with the latest copy of Coach Krupt's playbook.
"Bruiser McCullough, as I live and breathe! How're the kids? Annie get her braces off yet?" Phil gave his old teammate a playful punch in the shoulder. Bruiser's response was a little off—he was a linebacker, not a wide receiver, after all—and left a fist-sized indent in the lockers.
"Twitchy, is that you? Back for another go? Long time, no see!" Twitchy, so named because of his constant caffeine-fueled rampages up and down the sidelines, flashed a jittery smile with the straw of a deluxe mocha fraggoccino grenade he was busily sucking down to power up for the afternoon's game.
Arriving at his usual locker, Phil found his teal-and-grey uniform cleaned and shining within: number 00, double-aught, which Phil had worn as long as he could remember. After all, when Number 00 tried to divide a line segment on the field, the result was often undefined. The helmet was fresh with the season's appliqués, including a picture of the Eaglet in an aggressive pose that looked fresh off the nose of a World War II bomber, if not for the πPhone clutched tightly in one feathered mitt. The Riverport Eaglets did have to play in Pear Computing Presents The πPhone 7.0 Now With Improved Touchscreen Stadium, after all—just one of several concessions to the free market that they'd had to make in the face of stiff competition with NFL Minor League 2k16 on the X-Station.
Phil stripped off his civvies and suited up: cleats to fingerless gloves, pads to cup. But he stopped and squinted at his jersey just before pulling it on—what he had first thought to be a mere trick of the shadow was, now that he looked at it, unmistakably a stain. Running a finger along it, Phil licked it and narrowed his eyes.
"Barbecue," he said through clenched teeth. "There's only one man I know who'd dare bring barbecue into this sacred place of heroes."
Slamming his locker shut, Phil faced his teammates. "All right, boys," he said. "Where is he? Show yourself, Sandy Donmace, you old chiseler! You think I could ever forget the smell and the taste of your special barbecue blend after what happened at the Riverport Pork Festival?"
Grinning, Sandy emerged from the equipment manager's office—better known in some circles as the towel boy's hutch. "That could be anyone's special sauce," he sneered. "Plenty of guys know how to make the stuff and aren't afraid to eat it in your precious locker room."
"How could I forget the taste of this, Sandy?" Phil shot back. "I was a pig for two weeks!"
"Correction: you've been a pig all your life," said Sandy. "Now, if you don't mind, I've got to get everything ready for the game so that you can manage to fumble your way to a loss in spite of everyone else's sterling efforts!"
Phil slunk back into his nook, but he was not to be mollified so easily. He strode past Bruiser and Twitchy into Coach Krupt's office, slamming the door behind him. Krupt was on his πPhone, and gestured for Phil to wait a moment.
"Yes, the announcer will say the whole name every time. Right. Yes, it's the πPhone App Store Large Popcorn now, just like…well when the πPhone XL is actually on the market, we'll change the name. Now? I guess you know brand awareness better than I do. Okay we'll change it after the…yes sir. No sir, I do not want to have to hold a bake sale in order to make our kickoff. No sir, I like my jockstrap right where it is, sir. πPhone XL it is, sir, thank you sir."
Krupt replaced the receiver and motioned for Phil to hand over his helmet.
"I have my work cut out for me today," he sighed. Uncapping a permanent marker, he added an "XL" to the πPhone on the helmet before passing it back. "Tell me you're not storming in here to be yet another pain in my ass with twenty minutes to kickoff, Phil."
"I'm here to be another pain in your ass twenty minutes before kickoff, Coach," Phil said. "How could you hire that bilge-rat Sandy Donmace as equipment manager?"
"Dammit, Phil, when Larry Haigg left the position to become Laura Haigg, Sandy was the low bidder for the job."
"Whatever you're paying him, I'll double it to hire someone else," said Phil. "He's got it in for me, Coach! He's going to try something, I'm sure of it!"
"Well," harrumphed Coach Krupt, "he's working for nothing, so if you double that, it's still nothing. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to add an XL to literally every bloody thing in Pear Computing Presents The πPhone 7.0 XL Now With Improved Touchscreen Stadium."
Krupt, a former linebacker himself, bodily shoved Phil out the door and slammed it. The latter could see him hastily scribbling XLs onto all the Pear Computing branded regalia in his office and sighed. By the time Krupt had emerged with paintbrushes and pens to continue the rebranding down to the very last πPhone XL App Store Large Popcorn, the players had already taken the field without him.
"Welcome, sports fans, to Pear Computing Presents The πPhone 7.0 XL Now With Improved Touchscreen Stadium!" cried the announcer as the Eaglets formed up their opening positions against their erstwhile opponents, the Gotham Rogues. "Calling the coin toss for your Eaglets today will be Riverport's very own Phil Adler, back with us once more as team captain!"
Phil, flanked by Bruiser and Twitchy, strode out to meet the Rogues, who sent in three players the size, shape, and subtlety of refrigerator boxes. "Call it in the air," the ref said. "πPhone XL Touchscreen or πPhone XL Camera and Stainless Finish."
Meeting the glare of the Rogues' captain, one Mr. Hearty, Phil coolly called touchscreen in the air as the ref obligingly flipped the ceremonial display unit. It landed camera and stainless finish side up, in what Phil suspected was just the first bit of Sandy Donmace-inspired mischief that day, even as the latter seemed content to rub balls and lay out towels on the sidelines while whistling a jaunty sea shanty.
The Eaglets took their position as Mr. Hearty himself lined up in the center of the line. At the sound of the Whistle App (now available for free from the πPhone XL App Store), the opening kick connected and the Eaglets surged forward to meet the Rogues. Bruiser was able to stop the ball carrier cold, being one of the few Eaglets who could out-fridge even the fridgiest Rogue, and Twitchy tried to grab the resulting fumble. Instead, his jittery fingers squirted it across the field like a watermelon seed, causing a mad dash for the escaped oblate spheroid.
Phil, true to his instincts, closed in on the ball like a laser-guided missile. Thanks to his open-fingered gloves, he was able to get a firm grip on it after several other pairs of Rogue hands re-fumbled it. However, moments after getting a grip on the thing, Phil was flattened by an entire housewares department worth of fleshy Rogue fridges. An experienced athlete, he could take the blows with aplomb…but the ball lacked his experience and worldliness. Being of mostly hot air, it popped under the strain, gurgling its last at the bottom of a fridge pyramid of which Phil was the unwilling foundation stone.
"It's good!" the announcer cried. "Team captain Phil Adler intercepts the fumble and it's the Eaglets' ball! A rough sack that let all the air out of the poor thing—not like the airtight contracts Pear offers on your πPhone!"
"Help him up!" cried Coach Krupt from the stands, where he was adding XLs to peanut bags with a marker. "And good hustle out there, Phil! Great to have you back!"
Phil pulled himself up, shook his head to chase away the concussion fairy, and smiled. "Good to be back, Coach!"
The teams reset to their new positions in order for the Eaglets to try for their first down. Mr. Hearty personally directed his biggest, baddest Rogues opposite Phil.
Sandy Donmace watched the antics on the field with no small amount of rancor. Phil had cost him a lot over the years: sending an expensive towed sonar array to the bottom of Riverport harbor and replacing it with a cymbal-banging monkey, adding a baseball cap to his period-perfect centurion costume and costing him the cosplay award at the Renaissance Faire, trampling through a picnic at the Hobbling J farm…now it was time for a little revenge.
"Equipment manager!" howled the coach. "New ball on the field, pronto!"
"Right away, sir." Sandy reached into his knapsack and produced what looked like a football to the untrained eye. He had found it at the bottom of the harbor some time ago, and analysis in his lab had confirmed that it was an ancient eagle egg, fossilized yet light. It belonged to a great species of immense eagle that had once roamed the world, a Haarst's Eagle, and it was heavy enough to crack a skull and thick with the deep magicks of the earth. Gingerly, Sandy juggled it in gloved hands, taking care not to rub off the paint he'd painstakingly applied to its pebbled texture.
It was payback time.
Bruiser caught the oblate spheroid that Sandy tossed him, also with gloved hands. He passed it back to Twitchy at the snap. With the Eaglets doing a fine job of blocking, and Phil streaking around their flank like a teal comet, Twitchy sent it sailing toward Phil. Everyone in Pear Computing Presents The πPhone 7.0 XL Now With Improved Touchscreen Stadium watched with bated breath as what they assumed to be a football glided toward Phil with a spiral twist—Sandy Donmance especially, with his eyes on Phil's fingerless gloves.
The ball was too high, coming in too hot. Phil could see that he was going to miss it; as such, there was only one thing for a loyal Eaglet to do.
He had to take flight.
"It's good!" cried the announcer. "An incredible flying leap by the Eaglets' own Phil Adler puts the ball on the Rogues' fifteen!"
The weight of the ball was all wrong, but that wasn't the only thing. Upon touching it, Phil felt a tremor shoot through him, a spasm that seemed imbued with animalistic energy. In the slow-motion to which the world always faded during a difficult field maneuver or catch, he glanced down to see that the feeling had real repercussions: his cleats were suddenly swollen, writhing. The reason became apparent a flash later, as a yellow claw burst though the shoe, still showing a vague seam from where it had fused together from two of Phil's toes. The sensation was repeated on his back, throughout his hands, and most painfully at the tip of his nose, which had already begun to calcify.
"Not again!" was all that Phil could muster.
The fabric of Phil's uniform pants was supposed to be tight, both for circulation purposes and to keep the pads from wandering. But they were suddenly tighter still, painfully so, constraining to the point that even their space-age fabric was hard-pressed to hold. Along with the painful constraints, there was a sense of pins and needles speckling over every inch of Phil's form—not numbness, but a sense of actual pins and knitting needles shoved through pores by some demented inner seamstress.
"That's a hell of a leap, folks!" the announcer was saying. "But Phil doesn't look too comfortable, could he have pulled something in that heroic catch?"
Fabric over Phil's knee, stretched as far as physics would allow, was pulled apart like a defective heart valve, spilling forth a mass of developing brown quills. As if in a far-off echo, Phil heard someone in the stands cry out something about porcupines, but he already knew they weren't those sorts of quills. All he had to do was look at his hands for that: nails chipped by hard play were popping unevenly into dark claws, and the skin around them was blistering with angry yellow scales. Muscles were on the move there, too, and the tight fingerless gloves were no match for new digits that were twice as thick and twice as strong as the old. Phil could see the jaundiced scales moving up his arm after reappearing on the other side of the gloves, too.
Sandy, watching from the sidelines, wore a wicked grin as he watched the feathers at Phil's elbows, his calves, and spilling from runs in his pants. "Yes, yes! Payback's a bitch, innit, Adler?"
It wasn't until Phil started growing wings that everyone in the stadium caught on to what was happening.
His shoulder blades were in agony from the very longest and very strongest shafts erupting from follicles meant for hair, bringing with them unfurling flight feathers that abutted the 00 jersey in all its teal glory. Just as Phil was beginning to come in for a landing, they rent the shoulders into ribbons before tearing loose with a sound that was audible from the Pear Computing Luxury Boxes to the Music Identifier App Benches.
"What's going on with poor Phil?" the announcer asked, sounding genuinely curious. "Blue Cow Energy Drinks withdrew their sponsorship last year, and yet he seems to be…growing wings?"
Phil had felt his cleats swelling with unseen fusion and growth even before he hit the ground, but the impact was enough to demolish the footwear. The one exposed claw wriggled loose, growing all the while, before the plastic popped outward more violently than the first ball had, revealing a half-formed eagle claw with all that was left of Phil's compression socks for toe jam. He staggered backwards for a moment, off-balance on the new appendages, as the other cleat peeled apart like a hobo's fishing lure, the fresh scales and still-merging digits forcing the sole away from the body and snapping tendrils of glue that resisted. The sock hung on that foot for just a moment still before the last two toes completed their matrimony and shrugged it off.
"Phil, for God's sake, what are you doing?" Coach Krupt cried from the stands. "Do you want us to lose our sponsorship?!? Turn into a πPhone or something, for chrissakes!"
"Graaaawwwkk…!" was all Phil could choke out. Still holding the decoy ball in a hand that was almost completely metamorphosed into a claw, he watched as the entire left side of his pants and jersey failed. The space-age fabrics burned up on reentry, exposing both his sky-blue Eaglet undies and large swathes of skin that was still prickling itself a crop of brown feathers to subsume the skin there. Trembling claws shed their gloves as well, but the major shake-up was to the north.
The wings that had made a sudden appearance in the play-by-play were emerging in spurts, shooting out proud long feathers at a prodigious rate. But the culprit for Phil's temporary lack of elocution was his face, which was violently rearranging. His lips accelerated in their hardening, thrusting out to a point that was sharp enough to snap the metal-reinforced plastic mouth guard of the Eaglet helmet. His hair was losing its color, merging into the white feathers sprouting like a demented beard, short and bristly. The shape change was enough to even cast the helmet back off of Phil's now-reshaped head, especially when his ears dwindled and vanished from sight.
A tail, its own long feathers proud and erect, emerged just above the elastic of Phil's team underoos. It, with the instinctual flapping of the larger wings, was the signal that the metamorphosis was almost complete. Scales met feathers at Phil's elbows and knees, the last of his hair lost its color and faded to feathers, and a collar of white feathers was revealed by the ongoing destruction of jersey # 00. A moment later, the involuntary movements became true flight as the wings reached their apogee, and Phil took to the air once more.
Quizzically regarding the fauxtball in one claw, Phil let it tumble to the green. He was fully metamorphosed now, into a creature not unlike an eagle—if eagles had a pair of dexterous hand-claws in addition to their feet—though traces of his former build could be seen here and there, and the forlorn scraps of his pants, undies, jersey, and one pitiful shoe clung to his sharply changed form.
"You!" Phil cried, finding his voice—now at a much stranger register thanks to his newly avian vocal apparatus. The accusation was directed at Sandy, whose glee turned to horror as he realized that Phil was not only capable of flight, but now had five ends that were pointy in one way or another.
"And it looks like the Eaglets' own Eaglet is going to take things out on the towel boy!" the announcer said, making an attempt to keep up with the play-by-play. "Someone's got to take the fall, after all!"
Sandy tried to make a run for it, but Phil swooped in at supersonic speed and grasped his nemesis by the shoulders. Then, with great flaps of wings big enough to bear two aloft, he set off for the skies.
"Aaah!" Sandy cried as they soared out over Eaglet stadium, over Riverport, over the bay. "Let me go! Let me go!"
"If you say so," Phil squawked. He swooped down and released Sandy…right over a barge that was headed out to Garbage Island, loaded with refuse.
A quick mid-air pivot, and he was on his way back. The Eaglets were a man short, after all, and there was nothing in the rules that disqualified anthropomorphic eagles…yet!