The set in the corner screeched from “Marcus Crowley, Recon on the Edge” to that annoying newsman. He babbled on about another Purest Nation terrorist attack on Earth for their Giving Day, but that’s all that environmental hiccup warranted of Johnny’s attention. He was far too focused on staying two fork-fulls of food ahead of his little brother. Two full bites and he had always been way faster at licking the plate clean. There’s no way he would lose today.
The way the two were scooping, they would both set records of eating that vile gray mash, but Johnny didn’t care about personal bests; he was going to be the first to open his gift. Their mother’s voice rang from the living room behind Johnny. “Hurry up boys! You can open your father’s presents up as soon as you finish breakfast.”
Johnny’s mind slipped to the boxes under the tree. He had seen them last night when he snuck out of his room. His was bigger, which had kept a smile on his face since then. But what could their father have gotten them this year? What could be better than the helmets from last Christmas? Sure, they were too big, but actual players had worn them. They stank and everything. Their mom had yelled at them for months to stop the head butting contests, but Johnny usually won, and that pissed off his little brother just as much as it did Johnny when the little brat won. No way they would stop before she took them away.
Once Johnny’s eyes focused back on the mushy mountain on his fork, he realized he had stopped eating when he started thinking about the presents. His eyes widened as they looked beyond his fork and to Ju, who had already made up the difference and was actually heading into the lead. He resumed the shoveling, fighting for the lead again.
Even though Johnny’s refined licking skills closed the lead, Ju was already up and rounding the table by the time Johnny had cleaned his own plate. He fell in line a step behind his little brother as they raced from the table. Their feet went from clacking on the tile to digging into the mykoceae turf.
Johnny remembered his dad talking one time about the grass. It was actually some kind of mutated fungus. It was tough and didn’t need dirt like other grass did. All they needed to do was leave the windows open and pour that green water on it every day. Their stadium was the only one in the whole galaxy to use it, and their living room was carpeted with it. It was the best living room on the whole planet. It was a football living room.
Diving for his box, Ju reached the tree first. Johnny skidded to his present and began tearing at the wrapping. As he worked through the layers, he again began thinking about the grass. His dad was the league MVP, and all he wanted was a chunk of the grass for his home. They gave it to him because you couldn’t say no to the MVP of the whole league. You couldn’t say no to his dad. You couldn’t say no to him when he got old enough to play.
The wrap was off of half the box, but Johnny didn’t give his brain enough time to recognize the pictures and colors. He drove a fist through the cardboard and tore away the barrier. He grabbed the matte black finish, fingers easily wrapping around the handle.
Johnny shot to his feet and whipped it up to silhouette against the window. It was the P56 Carboin, they same kind Marcus used on his favorite show. His eyes lit up as they scanned through every mechanical switch and knack. That is, until his brother shrieked.
An airtanker passed outside the window, dimming the room. With the return of light, Ju was bouncing into a spiraling catch. The boy’s new football spun between his body and arm. “Touchdown!” he screamed, following it up with his rendition of a muted crowd roaring.
Looking back to his own toy, the joy drained from Johnny’s face. His shoulders sagged an inch as he examined it from new angles. Why didn’t he get a football? He was smart enough to play football, and not just be another grunt with a gun.
Ju yelped again. “Mommy, time me to see how long it takes to run to the kitchen.” As he rested a hand on his thigh, he shifted from foot to foot.
Johnny sneered at the punk’s enthusiasm. His gripped tightened on the plastic.
As their mother yelled, “Go!” Johnny could hear Ju’s hmph, but it was the imperceptible steps pumping from the boy that triggered Johnny’s move.
Johnny slipped back a step started his swing. He pivoted on the turf and threw the gun into the arc. This will show him, her, all of them.
At his full lean and with feet churning, Ju charged into the broad side of the gun. The plastic began to bend around his face. As his body began to catch up with his head, the P56 Carboin started to compensate with fractures until it completely snapped in two.
The gun chunk spun into the air until it smacked the wall. The football, however, floated into the air before coming back down; it bounced against the younger brothers chest and tumbled away. Johnny spun what remained of the butt of the gun to the grass.
He looked up to his mother’s shrill gasp. She backed into the couch and fell as the boy began stepping towards her. She clawed deeper into the seat, but Johnny just swooped down and palmed the ball. In a double step, he was already standing over Ju.
His younger brother clutched at his nose, the red slickness covering his face and staining the natural carpet. He rocked from side to side, more dramatic than his foot-to-foot shifting from earlier.
As Ju began slamming his own head into the ground, Johnny knelt over him. Wabbling the ball over his smashed face, Johnny smugged, “You’ve got to cover up. Daddy doesn’t fumble the ball like a bitch.”