Down to the Crossroads With Robbie

Stephen Dunn

You know all of those times you asked for help from a higher power to help your team to victory in an ultimately meaningless sporting event? Well it can comeback to haunt you.

For the better part of a year now, I've had this dream. It's come in fits and starts, but now I think I've pieced it together. It began about 14 months ago, when Aston Villa traveled to Wolves. Villa went ahead just ten minutes in thanks to a penalty from Darren Bent, but Michael Kightly would equalize ten minutes later. Ten minutes after that, David Edwards nodded in from a corner to give Wolves a 2-1 lead.

"Please, lord" I said, with some sense of embarrassment, given my heathen-esque ways, " don't let us lose to Wolves." And less than ten minutes later, Robbie Keane equalized with a glorious half-volley. "HALLELUJAH!" I cried, my prayers well and truly answered. But the power of my prayer filled me with an undeserved sense of power, and I wanted more. A point, which would have forced me to humble myself before God, no longer seemed quite good enough. It was was a win or it was nothing.

And for a very long time, it seemed as though it would be nothing. But in the 84th minute, Ciaran Clark chested down a ball into the path of Keane that the Ireland international somehow managed to strike in such a manner that it evaded Wayne Henessey, to give Villa a 3-2 win. And ultimately, that would give them just enough to evade the trapdoor to the Championship.

It was a big win, and I knew it at the time. Maybe not to the full extent, but it felt like a game that was going to make a difference. But within an hour or two, I'd largely forgotten about it. It was still relatively early in the season, and Wolves were a side that Villa ought to have been destined to beat. And just as quickly as my appeals to the heavens had escaped my lips, they were forgotten.

Nearly a year passed. Aston Villa made it through the season. and Robbie Keane won an MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy. Neither of these things seemed related in the least. Until tonight.

You see, the evening of the Wolves game, I had a nightmare. It was brief, but it was intense. I was walking along a dirt path, flanked by cotton on either side, with no end in sight. Just as I realized that I could go no further, a clearing in the cotton emerged on the horizon. I trudged along, pulling myself through the mud, until I arrived at a crossing, with two previously unseen highways coming together. There in the intersection stood a simple man with an elaborate haircut, dressed all in black, with a wicked smile on his face. In an accent colored by an Irish brogue but still clear as day, he asked me a question; "So, you'd like Aston Villa to stay up?" I nodded yes, and in a flash of lightning he was gone. I was awake in a cold sweat.

Weeks passed, and Villa continued to slip towards the bottom. Somewhere near the middle of February, I was inexplicably and, at least it seemed at the time, violently shaken awake in the middle of the night to find my cat Sadie hiding in the corner wide awake with her back hunched, my sliding door cracked, the cold wind from the Puget Sound filling my living room, and a horrendous storm working its way over the water towards the city. Slightly alarmed, I closed the blinds, lowered the bar on the inexplicably unlocked sliding door, called the still uneasy Sadie to my side, curled up on the couch, and attempted to sleep. It was an exercise in futility; the sky flashed bright with unseasonably violent lightning, and any real attempts at sleep were interrupted to by the deep and primitive growling of the normally docile cat by my side.

In those fleeting moments of restfulness, I saw a vision. And it was that man with the brogue. But he now seemed more familiar and sinister, his black attire replaced with a clean white suit but his demeanor more visibly malevolent. He stood there, unspeaking, juggling a silver ball and smiling broadly. I asked him what it was that he wanted from me, but I was jolted awake in a flash and he was gone. Sadie was standing at the door, tail between legs, mewling aggressively, but with the temper of an animal that had been beaten in combat and was now awaiting death.

The dreams continued intermittently, the man with the brogue appearing every now and again (even after Villa had long since secured safety, whereas previously his appearances seemed to come and go with their rare victories) just to laugh at me. No matter where she was when I'd fallen asleep, whenever the man with the brogue appeared I awoke to find Sadie by my side. Until a five days ago.

I was having a somewhat restless night, not too long after the 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake, and sleep seemed to be as elusive as it had ever been. Whenever I would drift into that blissful netherworld that signals impeding slumber, Sadie would manage to bring me back to the land of the living, be it through seemingly unprovoked fits of nervous restlessness, middle-of-the-night bouts of fear that saw her diving under the covers and shivering, or inexplicable fits of aggression towards shadows that didn't seem to be there when I sought explanation.

And then, there was last night. I went to bed as usual, and Sadie came to sleep on my chest. This was far from normal; typically, she didn't leave the sliding glass door until the sun came up. But last night, she was there from the beginning. And in contrast to the naps that we tend to take, as I drifted towards sleep, she remained alert; ears hunched, tail straight, coiled but prone to strike. It seemed odd, but eventually I drifted off.

Almost immediately after falling aspleep, I saw the man with the brogue. Draped across the shoulders of his white suit was a claret and blue scarf. His grin had become a contemptuous sneer, his smile flattened, his eyebrows cocked in a sarcastically inquisitive posture. "Anything to see the Villa stay up, you said?" I nodded sheepishly, with a great deal of hesitation. He laughed. "You agreed to this, my friend, and a fair bit of interest has accrued." I hung my head. He laughed.

When I awoke, Sadie had pulled several of my Sounders scarves off of their rack and fashioned herself a bit of a nest. She lay buried, showing nothing but her ears and occasionally her eyes; when peeking out, a harsh growl entering her throat . I tried to pull her from her safehaven, but she looked at me as though she'd never see me before, and then turned her eyes towards my Villa scarves which remained hung neatly on the rack.

They were on fire, and this fire burned hot. But it did not consume.

Roots of Blues -- Robert Johnson "Cross Road Blues" (via Slowtubbi)

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