The heavy doors made an audible ‘woosh’ as they closed just behind him in the media center.  He felt the warm air at the back of his legs, one last attempt at making him part of the cacophony behind him.  The doors were solid wood and the walls brick in this the center of the middle school but they were no match for the yells, shrieks and general melee’ just down the hall.  His eyes adjusted to the half-light.  He knew he shouldn’t be here.

He should be back out there with his teammates, encouraging them, cheering them on, yelling advice as they strained in their matches.  He just couldn’t.  They were his friends and he wanted them to win.  He wanted his team to be victorious, to take their conference tournament for the fifth year in a row.  Heck, he wanted to win his match if for no other reason to prove to his opponent who he was.  He was a standout in a field of many.  He was a winner among a group devoted to their sport and he was utterly disinterested in the sport itself.

Dad had started him wrestling when he was barely three.  He vaguely remembered a red singlet when he didn’t even know what a singlet was.  He remembered wrestling Scotty and his friends who were now part of the Eagle, Bulldog and Tiger squads.  Back then they wrestled mostly to get to the end of the meet and enjoy pizza and ice cream.  “Wrestling” was hardly more than running toward your opponent and hugging them hard, trying to push them down, grab their legs and roll them on their back.  He caught on quicker than the rest though.

Before long he was learning the basic moves and holds.  He was learning things about leverage and balance, things that had to do with force and physics that he wouldn’t understand for two or three years when he took the subject in high school.  He understood, even today, that winning was all about exploiting your opponent’s weakness, although he wouldn’t explain it that way.  He knew something about dedication and commitment, hard work and perseverance.  He knew what it took to win in the sport.  And he knew ultimately it wasn’t in him.

For everything he knew about wrestling his gut told him that he belonged here.  The books were floor to ceiling.  Large, small, nearly new as if they had never been opened and ragged as if they’d been read so frequently the readers had nearly torn their covers off; they all waited in the dim to dark recesses of the cavernous room.  It was cool in here and nearly quiet.  As he walked through the stacks he read their titles if they were under the minimal lights that were on and strained to unlock the mystery of those shadowed and darkened as he got farther away from the glow.  He wanted to know all of them but there were just too many.

Amid his wanderings he found himself in the Science Fiction section and by luck caught a glimpse of a familiar book by Phillip Danbury, one of his favorite authors.  “Martian Eclipse” had been one of the first books he read in the summer reading program.  That first summer he read 35 books, far outdistancing the other third graders, almost all of the fourth graders and over half the fifth graders.  He went around the world, twice, in book mileage that summer.  The ribbon was nice and the certificate hung on his wall but he hadn’t done it for them.  You wrestled to win.  He read for a different reason.

“Pluto Attacks” was bound in red and black and covered by the familiar plastic protective book cover.  He settled into a nearby comfy chair and opened the book.  The Terrapians were peaceful and content.  They had existed on Terrapi for centuries, never worrying about other planets, other people or other things besides raising their children and tending their fields.  They had no idea of the malice of the Plutonians.  On Pluto daily existence was a struggle.  Their very lives hinged on winning the battle for food, shelter and water.  Drednek, the second son of Algor was special in that way.  He excelled over and above the other young ones, often besting even his elders by several years but he took little satisfaction in it.  At night, alone, he wondered if there was more to it than this.  His thoughts, far beyond his years and experience, told him somewhere there must be a different way, a different life.  Drednek knew there was more, but where and how could he find it?  There was a multi-year space program he’d heard about-

“Matt!  Matt!  What have you been doing man!?  We’ve been yelling our heads off, looking for you!  Your championship bracket is going to start in three minutes.  You have to be on the mat or you forfeit and there are no wrestle-backs!  Come on man!”

“What were you doing in there?!” coach said as they nearly sprinted toward the gym.

“Sorry, coach.  Just reading.”

His dad came through the opposite, outside, entrance doors seconds after he stepped on the mat.  He didn’t look happy.  Across the gym Matt gave his dad his best shoulder shrug/sorry gesture.  The return was a quizzical, frustrated look Matt was beginning to know too well.

He took his opponent apart quickly and stuck him 47 seconds in.  There would be three more to the final match.  He knew it would be a long journey but he’d get there.

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