The tunnel can look like a triumphal arch, when you win. When you lose it's a black maw of despair. But today, it looked great. Dirk lowered his head, as he always did going through entrances even though, here, they were made for people his size. Basketball court. Home.
The crowd was thrumming with a manic energy, like a single beast. "Dirk!" they shouted. "Dirk!" Another great fourth quarter. Another win.
"Dirk, I love you man! I'd do anything for you!" Dirk stopped, then stepped backwards out of the tunnel. He looked up in the direction of the voice.
The fan, seated about 10 rows up, looked dumbfounded. "Uh...yeah. I mean..."
Dirk nodded, gestured. "Come with me."
Frank, for that was the fan's name, waited outside the locker room for what seemed like a long time, long enough for him to decide that Dirk was playing a bad joke on him about five times. But finally Dirk emerged, in street clothes.
"Buy me dinner," he said. That was all.
"Uh, okay, sure," Frank said, but Dirk was already moving and Frank could only trail limply after. The limo didn't take them to a particularly nice place, just a normal little café, and Frank breathed a sigh of relief. While they ate, they talked, and Frank found the 7' German surprisingly witty. He kept shaking his head, dinner with his hero. When the check came Dirk smiled his goofy smile and sat back. Frank paid, grinning.
"Let's go bowling, Frank," Dirk said. Just that. They got in, and the limo peeled out. Frank paid the shoe rental fee, though Dirk didn't wear his. "They don't have my size, but once you get past the desk no one really pays attention. No need to kick up a fuss". Dirk was normal, approachable. Frank felt less shy now, cracking jokes with his sports idol. They played two games. Dirk was surprisingly bad. He laughed. "Not enough hours in the day," he said.
As they walked out of the bowling alley together, Frank knew the magical ride was coming to an end. But there was one more surprise.
Dirk pulled a gun out of his bag and handed it to Frank. "Kill that man," he said, pointing to someone standing by their car.
"Kill that man," he said. "You don't have to use the gun to do it, I just thought it'd be easier."
"Come on man, you said you'd do anything. I ask you for one tough thing and you're done?"
"Dirk...did that guy...do something to you? Or..."
"Never met him. Hey, no big deal man, I guess I just figured ‘anything' meant something, you know, not just a bunch of fan bullshit. Whatever. No big deal. You can go."
"Get out of here man, I don't want to look at you."
Frank was near tears. "Okay, man! Okay! Fine!" He raised the gun, with trembling hands, pointed it down the parking lot, squeezed his eyes shut, and pulled the trigger.
Slowly, his eyes took in the fake orange muzzle of the gun, his hands its too-light weight. The gun was a fake.
When he turned his head, he saw a look of great sadness in Dirk's eyes, an age-old sadness, a weariness beyond reckoning. "You're not ready," Dirk said. And that was it. He walked away.
The winds blew cold, in the parking lot, alone. Frank knew he had failed the test. He had a feeling, somehow, that many had before. And he wondered who was really alone.