Mud was caked between his fingers and he slid them down his soaked jersey to clear them. It didn’t do the job so he bent down to one knee and swished his numbed hands vigorously in the inch-deep puddle where he was lined up along the 32 yard line. The coldness of the water stung at the little cuts on his palms and he slapped them together several times to bring some life back to them. Open, close. Open, close. His knuckles cracked as he shook them out.
The next thing Gene knew, the ball had been snapped and he was streaking across the field, his arms stretched out before him, reaching for the wobbling slick leather ball. He caught it with his fingertips and sucked it in and under his arm. Twenty eight yards later, he was in the end-zone, hugging his drenched teammates, slapping their filthy backs and shaking their crusted hands. His touchdown was the deciding score in the 1942 Rose Bowl. He was the Most Valuable Player. He raised his arms and pumped his fists into the air.
Gene Gray awoke then, moaning in pain. The glory of his dream was quickly gone, replaced by flashing memories of his jet. Of flaming out. Of being consumed by a fireball in the jungle. His body was now burnt like steak, his skin cracked and weeping. He tried to stretch his arms out again, but he couldn’t – they were gone.