Summary of the Novel
Post-Traumatic Stress and an Interview with the Author
Sample Chapters
Comments from Readers
Coming Attractions
Leave a Note
How to Buy
Children of CIA and Secret Service Operatives
The Dead are Dancing, a novel by William Lloyd Roller
Chapter 9 - The Stephen Decatur Game

The first Saturday of October brought clear skies to Cannon. The revelry of last night's bonfire remained only as a scorched pile of stone near the southern end zone. The football field stretched out lush and green awaiting the warlike teams of rival cities. Billy had awakened at dawn. He rose up from his bed in anger. From fragments of tales he once had heard, he crafted himself a little story as he made preparation for battle. In the story, he strapped on his armor and leather bindings and gathered in his weapons, all the beloved pistols and guns he could bear. As long-haired Achaeans long ago, his city made war. Achilles held sway within his heart and Hector this day would suffer by his hands upon the plains of Illinois. His little story gave Billy courage and helped dispel the memory of fear that lingered like a bad dream from the night before.

Gathering in the locker room beneath the Cannon stadium, each member of the team told similar little stories to himself silently to buoy confidence, quiet nerves, and rout the sullen specter of imagined injury. They repeated small ceremonies of precaution, bandaging with elastic cloth weakened joints in knees and elbows, and fortifying with steel braces those points vulnerable to attack. Some spoke in hushed tones as if a momentous happening or a new awakening was soon expected. Others said nothing and stared at their dull green lockers, waiting for the game to start.

Coach Tomsic entered the locker room and dropped to one knee and with his left hand clasped like a crucifix to his heart the bejeweled hilt of a spangled silver sword. His black eyes appeared transfixed on a point far off in the heavens above. He began a solemn invocation with full and earnest voice.

"God of Victory, bend your face down and gaze upon these men, your faithful warriors. Give us this day our measure of Glory and we shall return to you the heavenly spoils and booty You so richly deserve. Amen." He surveyed his troops briefly and crisply marched toward the tunnel that led to the field.

Coach Clewzewski came next and stood before the team, sweat clothes disheveled but neatly shaven from chin to crown. He worshipped a different God than Coach Tomsic. The God of Vengeance. He spoke bitterly with a ragged edge to his voice that resembled a chain saw in faulty operation.

"Some of ya know I come from a different war than Coach Tomsic. French Southeast Asia. I teach hand-to-hand combat to Marines at Camp Pendleton, and I can assure you that most of you boys will be involved in that war in one way or another for a long time to come. There's one hundred twenty-five thousand boys there now and there will be more on the way. We need good red-blooded American boys to fight the Communists. That's where you fellas come in. I want you boys to understand something. I personally don't care if ya win this game—or any game for that matter. That's up to you if ya win or not. What I want ya to do is punish the other team. I want ya to make them pay for your suffering. I want ya to select someone in every game, and I want ya to TAKE HIM OUT! Is that clear?"

"Yeah, Coach!" the team hollered in unison.


The team exploded through the locker room door and roared like a locomotive out the tunnel to the battle zone. Cannon stadium bristled with over ten thousand plainsmen waving blue, white and red banners declaring their allegiance to God, country, and town. Cannon's faithful had turned out in full force to spur on their combatants. Their level of excitement and anticipation was maddening. Sitting in the grandstand, Henry Teton's wife straddled her husband's back and worked her fingers deeply into his scalp, nearly panting with ravishment, her auburn hair flying wildly as she cheered their son Jim. Emily Starking's mom and dad, fashionably dressed in green and grey woolens, shouted ecstatically through megaphones and waved a bright red and black banner emboldened with the simple slogan, "DEATH TO THE ENEMY." Whole families had made the trek across the prairie from Decatur and had camped since early morning at the stadium entrance. Cherub-faced children gathered in purple robes to sing sweetly pitched choral works of freedom. Joy filled their eyes and anticipation their hearts. On this day they truly believed they would see one of the greatest patriotic spectacles of their lives. Many loving parents wept with delight as their children sang, and they carried small gauge shotguns under their arms to fire into the air when their team scored. They bellowed their approval, stomping their feet and shaking their fists in defiance as the Decatur and Cannon teams took the field to the accompaniment of the Marine anthem played in double-time by a spirited brass band one hundred strong. The local American Legion set up a M-101 105mm Howitzer at the north end of the stadium, manned with a full crew of eight, smiling and ready to fire rounds into the gaping shale pit beyond the railroad embankment after each Cannon touchdown.

Fifty virginal girls, garbed in flowing diaphanous silk and white taffeta, brought forth Old Glory, a one hundred and fifty foot satin American flag, hand-made by the mothers of Cannon. The red and white stripes billowed in the light breeze and the alabaster stars, not fifty, but more than one thousand in number swam uneasily in a sea of blue. Each star represented a fair youth of Cannon who had met death in one of the many wars in the history of the republic. As the tearful host stood at attention, General James "Buck" Shoot, Commandant of the Marine Corps and native of Cannon, led the Pledge of Allegiance and saluted them. "Football is life," he said earnestly while his blue eyes gave the piercing look of an eagle, his sharp features framed by distinguished-looking grey hair. "As you falter on the field, so you shall fail in your life's mission. As you succeed in this grand arena, so you shall obtain the blessings of your country forever after. Your team is the army of your school and both Cannon and the nation benefit by their devotion and sacrifice this day."

As captain of the team, Billy met the opposing captain at the fifty yard line for the coin toss. They met like golden princes on a verdant field of conquest. Each wore the distinctive colors and insignia of their respective teams. Decatur sported scarlet jerseys with black numerals and black helmets with crossed broadswords as decals. Cannon displayed black jerseys with red numerals and red helmets bearing fierce bald eagles as symbols of their power. The captain of Stephen Decatur stood out grandly in refulgent splendor with blond hair and blue eyes to match those of Billy. He smiled broadly and exuded a warmth that took Billy off guard. He waved to the crowd and received cheers of adulation.

"Captain Troy meet Captain Billy. Call the toss in the air," said the referee.

Troy won and chose to receive. On the kickoff he ran the ball back one hundred yards for a touchdown. Billy couldn't believe it. He knew then and there that they had a fight on their hands. Vicious downfield blockers of the Decatur Dragoons' kickoff team put two Cannon players out of the game. The Decatur tackle unloaded a rocket like forearm and split open B.J. Clemmon's helmet like a hickory nut. B.J. left the field on a stretcher and in a coma. The Decatur guard smashed Kerrigan's jaw with a swift elbow beneath the chin. Kerrigan crawled from the field, holding the remaining teeth in his mouth with his hand. The fans of Stephen Decatur leapt to their feet, shook their fists furiously, and roared approval.

"Hit `em again, harder! Lay out the quarterback! Go for the kill!"

The Decatur mascot, a black-caped horseman with a skull and crossbones pirate hat, brandished his gleaming broadsword at the crowd and waved a red banner that read "NUMBER ONE". His white horse pranced gaily among the gloating cheerleaders who bent their slim bodies lithely to and fro like supple young willows in a gathering storm.

The home-folks of Cannon were incensed and fired their shotguns across the playing field at the opposing team's rooters, who hit the bleachers hard seeking cover. The head referee stopped play action and ordered the Cannon fans to cease firing or forfeit the game. The Cannonites protested loudly and reluctantly lowered their weapons.

Coach Tomsic screamed at B.J. Clemmon's limp body. "You quitter, you! Get out there and fight, you scared pussy!"

Coach Clewzewski paid no attention to the injured players and ordered substitutes into the game with a grand sweep of his muscular arm. "Make them pay, Richcreek, MAKE THEM PAY!" he bellowed from the sidelines.

At the quarterback position, Billy took his team upfield swiftly, passing deftly to his favorite target, Jim Teton, who tucked the ball in and gained extra yards on the ground with each reception. When Jim caught the touchdown pass the defending players lifted him up and smashed his body into the goal posts, knocking him unconscious. Both benches cleared as the players streamed onto the field to beat each other with fists and bottles. Mayor Hicks smiled gravely and signaled the Marines to fire the 105 mm Howitzer twice in rapid succession. One of the shells fell short of its mark and demolished the Stephen Decatur dressing room. After five minutes of fist fights and mayhem, a squadron of referees in full riot gear and gas masks controlled the violence and confined it to sporadic skirmishes throughout the stadium. Decatur drew a delay of game penalty and play resumed.

The Dragoons struck back fiercely, disabling another Cannon defender. Cannon backers shouted for revenge. When the Decatur halfback ran a power sweep and crossed out of bounds into the Cannon sidelines, the coaches pounced on him. Tomsic kicked him in the face and Clewzewski dropped a knee on his groin. The Cannonites went wild with joy and righteous anger. "Take off his head! Cut off his balls!" The head referee intervened just as Clewzewski applied a lethal choke hold to the halfback's neck.

"You boys sure get riled up over a game, don't you," the referee said as he helped the halfback to the ambulance.

The game was hard fought all day with neither team giving quarter despite several more combatants removed from play with serious injuries. By stealth, Cannon gained the edge and clung barely to a two point advantage with one minute to play. Troy proved the best athlete, running more swiftly and with greater agility than any man on the field. Running from a shotgun backfield formation, the Decatur fullback broke through the favorite Cannon Fodder defense, the Oklahoma five, and knocked the inside linebacker unconscious. Clewzewski cranked up his machine gun voice and grabbed Billy by the neck as he came to the sidelines with a time out. "Do me one thing, Billy," he rasped. His eyes appeared half-crazed and demonic to Billy. "TAKE HIM OUT!" He shoved Billy back onto the playing field. Billy hated Clewzewski's orders to follow his code of vengeance. He'd stop Troy, all right, but he'd not disable him like the coach wanted.

The next play, Troy carried the ball on a power sweep to the right, breaking through all Fodder defenders. He ran beautifully, freely like a gazelle. From the opposite side of the field, Billy saw his chance. He dropped back swiftly, giving his opponent thirty yards of running room, but gaining an angle for a blindside attack. Billy calculated his speed in order to maximize his momentum and thrust his helmet like a spear into the face of his startled rival just fifteen yards short of the goal line. He wheeled at full speed and delivered a crushing blow. Billy didn't hear Troy's septum snap and drive like a lance into his mid-brain, popping it open like a balloon. His eyes filled with blood and drenched Billy's uniform. The captain of Stephen Decatur collapsed on the turf and lay motionless.

Loyal Cannonites screamed with pleasure and danced in the stands. The coaches echoed their approval.

"Goddam, Billy, you took him out!"

The defensive team huddled about Billy who leaned forward at the waist, his hands on his knees. He had fulfilled his dream of glory and the powerful force of adrenalin pounded throughout his body. But he worried that Troy had not yet been helped to the sidelines to shake off the hit. Blood dripped steadily from Billy's helmet. Billy was surprised as the sticky fluid invaded his mouth from the spray of blood on his helmet. The warm salty liquid sickened Billy, and he had to control his guts with his fist to keep from throwing up. His uniform was splattered like a hog butcher's overalls on the killing floor at the meat packing plant. He felt nauseated and kept looking back at Troy's prostrate body, hoping that he would wake up and head for the bench.

"Game called!" shouted the head referee. "Decatur captain is gravely wounded."

"Game called, my ass! It's our game! We won!" Billy screamed as he swallowed more of his opponent's blood.

"Listen, son, your fellow captain is in bad shape," said the referee sternly as he pulled Billy aside. "The doctor can't get a pulse and it looks like his brain is damaged. If I were you, I'd get off the field. I don't believe this boy is going to live."

Billy felt shock as he comprehended the man's words. He had struck down a golden warrior who might not live. Billy shook visibly as the rush of exaltation ebbed from his body. He dropped to his knees and removed his helmet. His whole body shuddered with disbelief.

"It's affirmed by Doc Granger. Player number eighteen is dead," said the referee twisting his face at the sight of the carnage. He yelled sharply, "Coaches, get your teams off the playing field! The game is over!"

Billy was dumbstruck. The images of the long battle whirled through his mind and his chest heaved as if he demanded more oxygen than the stifling smoke-filled air provided. His eyes filled with tears and he felt deep sadness for Troy who seemed like a comrade in death. Billy repeated softly to himself in complete bewilderment and sorrow, "I didn't want to kill him. Something is terribly wrong. This is not how the game is supposed to end."

Troy's father was in the stands and came down to bear the body of his son home. Hatred and grief deformed his face terribly, as if hot irons had permanently scarred his eyes and mouth. Billy could not look upon him without feeling pity that only compounded his own personal agony.

"Killers like you shouldn't be allowed to play," he said directly to Billy with deep loathing and disgust. He placed the bloody torso of his son on a stretcher and, with his friends, sadly carried him away, the townsfolk of the fallen hero following slowly after.

Zealous Cannonites tied Troy's battered helmet to a Jeep and dragged it through the cinders around the oval track. Exuberant football players and fans swept Billy off his knees and onto their shoulders, extolling him with praises and feting him for his courage in the face of sudden death. "Never have we seen a hit like that before!" they exclaimed. "What power and grace you showed in execution."

"You did us proud today!" added Coach Tomsic." You showed us the meaning of total victory."

Floating in the air above his comrades, Billy was desolate and confused by the course of events. What was happening was not his idea of glory but a burlesque, a travesty of that emotion. He wanted to get back and talk with Frank or his mother and tell them how he felt. The happy throng resisted all his efforts to come down. "Your feet will not be allowed to touch the ground, and that's that!" they shouted joyfully. Billy came to the stark realization that this was their moment. They were not about to let their hero interfere with the plans they had for him.

They carried him aloft through the streets of the town and to the square where thousands had assembled in his honor. Mayor Hicks mounted the statue of Lincoln in the square, placing himself at the bronzed right hand and Billy at the left.

"Dear Americans, I have been informed that Billy Richcreek has been banned from further football competition by the Illinois High School Athletic Association."

The citizens booed their disapproval vociferously.

"The reason they give is excessive violence," continued Mayor Hicks. "But we all know the real reason. They're envious that our coaches develop the killer instinct in our team! They're jealous that we've got the best warrior of the whole generation! They can do what they want. We don't care, because Billy belongs to US!"

The townsfolk cavorted rhapsodically as if they were drunk with power. Their laughter echoed with special delight and satisfaction.

"Now come the days of heaven on earth," shouted an effusive Mayor Hicks. "You will lead our people to victory in the war against the Communists that we are now waging overseas. Your exploits will be remembered always and, like distant stars, will shower Cannon with bright and shining moments forever."

Billy looked dazed and attempted to speak but the citizens of Cannon would not quiet their celebration. He let out a frightening scream, a howl of frustration and pain that was interpreted by the crowd as a war cry. They loved it and began to imitate his cry, splitting the air with shrieks and baleful cries. Tears of anger formed in Billy's eyes. These were his people and they did not listen to him, they did not want to know his heart. He rushed from beneath the statue and into the mass of people. He wanted to go home and away from the hero worshippers. Pushing through the crowd and handshakes, he confronted Merle.

"So here's the boy who likes to keep us from teaching Reds a lesson. What do you say now, Mr. Football Hero? Your jersey is stained with blood. I'll bet you're not so morally superior from now on. You've got blood on your hands like the rest of us."

The acid of Merle's sadism seeped into Billy's awareness, dissolving any faith he had in his goodwill.

"Cut the crap, Merle. Where's Frank?"

"Probably running errands for his mama like a good boy." His smile became sinister and malevolent before he turned away.

Billy found Frank back at the high school locker room when he went to clean up and change into his street clothes. Billy gently leaned his forehead on Frank's shoulder, his hands covering his ears. It was a kind of intimacy they had not shared before, there in the shadowy silence. Their bodies were stiff and uncomfortable with the closeness between them. They both needed the contact so they tolerated the awkwardness. Billy closed his eyes as if to hasten the coming of night and rest.

"I killed a man, Frank. I can't shake the image of him dead on the grass."

"You followed your best instincts."

"No! I did exactly what Clewzewski told me to do."

"You obeyed authority."

"I gave in. I sided with the coach's call for vengeance."

"I saw it all and it was grim," said Frank. He raised his hand to grip Billy's shoulder and sat down with him on the wooden bench.

Billy dropped his hands from his ears and let them hang between his knees. His head continued to lean uneasily on Frank's arm. "All I've ever wanted in life was to be a winner—and to share the trusty company of my guns. I just wanted to defend my family against my father and against the Communists. I'm not a killer, Frank. I know the difference."

"Folks in Cannon don't care about the difference. They want you to use your guns to kill people. You must know that, Billy. That's what they expect of heroes—to live out their darkest wishes and bring home the dreadful victory."

"What happened today was an accident, Frank. I didn't mean to kill Troy. And yet the people of Cannon glorified what I did. They turned it into a blow for freedom."

"They don't care what you intended. They want you to keep on killing because it fits their idea of who you should be. They want a leader who will go out and kill for them. That's what you did today."

Billy drew his head away from Frank's shoulder and straightened up his torso on the old wooden bench. He balled his fists and drove them forcefully into his eye sockets, rubbing fiercely as if trying to discern some deeper truth within himself. He let out an anguished cry as he had done in the town square, only Frank did not mistake it for a battle cry but the personal agony of his dear friend. Their ears were stung once more by the utter silence of the locker room.

"I just don't see that Troy's death had anything to do with our war against Communism. He seemed like a damn good American boy to me. I didn't intend to kill him."

"Like I said, folks in Cannon don't care what you intended, Billy. They liked your fierce blow. You showed the kind of determination that will beat the Commies. You've got it and most of them don't. That's why they admire you."

Billy tried to piece things together in his own mind. "Let's look at what we know for sure, Frank. There are Communists and we do need to defend our country against them. My plan is to keep Cannon from going about it in the wrong way, if I can. Cannon needs me more than ever now that it's on the verge of going off half-cocked. I've got to turn them around."

"You didn't turn them around at the rally"

"I was too emotional — you heard me. I couldn't talk. I just let out my anger. I should have shown more control."

Frank had watched Billy for years as he had grown in the esteem of the people of Cannon and as he had sharpened his ability to fire the emotions of the people. Now Frank spoke with unusual insight because he knew with startling clarity the fate that lay before his friend. "They've been waiting for this moment, Billy. They're hoping that what you did today is just the beginning. Don't you see? They want to twist your sport into something else. They can go home after the game and forget the ugliness of the kill. Can you? Can you do that?"

"No, I can't. I lack that kind of forgetfulness." Billy stared at Frank awhile in silence. "I can't believe that Cannon folk want me to do that."

"They didn't let you speak the truth in the square tonight. I heard them shout you down. They didn't give a damn to hear from you."

"They were over-excited. They hadn't calmed down yet."

"They didn't want to listen to what you had to say! It didn't matter to them what you had to say. That's the truth."

Frank's words cut sharply into Billy. He was stunned. A new admiration for Frank awakened within him. He'd never heard him speak so forcefully and directly. Something gave way inside Billy. He needed desperately to speak and be heard. "I've never told you this, Frank, but I've always known that Cannon had this crazy streak. I saw it first in my dad, then later in Tomsic. It causes Cannonites to do absurd things. I thought I could keep it in check once I became a leader of the people. But today, I saw the power of the craziness, the power to change reality into something completely different."

"You mean you've been hiding your true beliefs about Cannon all along? Damn you, Billy!" Frank pulled away from his friend and stood up. "After all those harangues about me being patriotic. Why the hell did you do that?"

"I'm sorry, Frank. I wanted to act confident and strong to inspire those around me to trust my ability to lead. I should have let you in on what I was thinking a long time ago."

"Well I'll be damned." Frank shook his head. "You've been fooling me and everybody else all this time, getting lots of credit for playing the patriot."

"That's not fair, Frank. I'm as loyal as any son of Cannon. I just don't trust where we're heading with this constant talk of war and killing. Our people always seem to carry things too far — like they did today."

"If you don't beat all." Frank looked hard at Billy as he sized him up. "And you're the one that says to trust our elders. Are you going to express your opinions openly from now on?"

"Not yet. Not until I'm in a position of leadership. Only then, can I afford to speak my mind."

"Have you got the picture of what they want from you now?"

"They want a silent hero," Billy's mouth went dry as he spoke. "One that tells them only what they want to hear."

"Is that you?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe I fit that description." Billy felt torn by his own motives to conform.

"The man who stood up to my daddy last night is not silent," Frank said with pride. "I don't think you see yourself clearly."

Billy looked carefully at his friend's expression. He imagined Frank's horror at the bloody spectacle of the game. He saw Frank's fingers tightly holding a clean shirt to replace the gory one. Frank wanted to forgive Billy his flaws as Billy wanted to forgive Cannon its many imperfections. Forgiveness did not adequately describe what each one had to do.

"We're having trouble binding ourselves once and for all to the fate of those we love." Billy's eyes shone with tears as he spoke.

"They don't want you just to love them, Billy, and they don't want you just to love guns. They want a lot more. They want you to use your guns to kill people. That's why they celebrated what you did today. It brought you one step closer to what they want. But what are you going to do? There's people out there that want you to lead their armies and kill for them. Are you ready to do that? Can you feel in your gut that it's okay?"

Billy pondered his friend's words and rubbed his eyes once more. "I've never realized till now how lonely a thing patriotism is. It's a mystery to me. I don't know if I'm right, Frank, but I believe our nation is—and I want to be on the side of America—I want to win for America."

"So do I," said Frank.

They both pondered the vast meaning of that decision.

Billy sank into a reverie and both boys listened to the dripping shower faucets echo in the halls. Billy broke the spell. "Sometimes I feel like taking my guns and going off to be by myself."

"You're not going to let Cannon fight this war alone —I know you too well."

"You're damn straight about that," Billy said. He smiled for the first time. "And I'm going to get you to come with me."

A dark pain crossed Frank's face and a hint of fear spread from his arched eyebrows to his forehead. Frank spoke with a clarity and power that once more surprised Billy.

"Are you going to be one of those guys who carries his rifle and never shoots anybody? I need to know that now because, if I'm going to be fighting alongside you, I want to know if you're shooting for real or just playing with guns."

Billy looked him squarely in the eye. "I promise you this, Frank. I'll kill if I have to — to protect you and me in battle. But I'll avoid killing if I can. I've seen what it can do to a man's soul. I've seen it eat away at a man until there's nothing left inside."

"It's not over with the game tonight, Billy. The killing has only just begun. Now, I'm willing to follow you and do what has to be done, but I have to know you believe it's right."

The silence once more deepened between them. At last, Billy let out a long sigh from deep within his chest and spoke in a resolute voice.

"I'm willing to fight — but only in battles where we can win. I won't live like Clewzewski, killing to repair my personal injuries. That's not who I am. I'll fight to win like I did today, or I won't fight at all."