The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Robbo bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread, like a referee reviewing a Kendall Waston tackle in the penalty area after being alerted by VAR.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Seasons Yet To Come?” said Robbo.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Robbo pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.
Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Robbo feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.
“Ghost of the Future!” Robbo exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
“Lead on!” said Robbo. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them, and the Spirit stopped beside one little knot of Whitecaps supporters. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Robbo advanced to listen to their talk.
“No,” said a man with a monstrous beard, “I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s gone.”
“When did he go?” inquired another.
“Last night, I believe.”
“Why?” asked a third “I thought he’d never go.”
“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.
“What will happen now?” asked a woman wearing a “Kings of Cascadia” scarf.
“We wait for the next turkey for the chopping block I guess.”
This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.
The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Robbo listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here. He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were bloggers: very disheveled, and of no importance.
“How are you?” said one.
“How are you?” returned the other displaying tremendous wit.
“Well!” said the first. “He’s gone at last, hey?”
“So I read on Twitter,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”
“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I suppose?”
“Do I look like a skater? Good morning!”
Robbo was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the loss of Fredy Montero, his old striker, for that was Past, and this Ghost’s province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.
Before he could think another thought he was standing in the locker room at BC Place on what was clearly a match day afternoon, the Spirit still silent beside him. He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the people arriving through the door. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this. Perhaps the Spirit would soon lead him to Wales?
Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.
They left the busy locker room, and went back to a deserted training centre at UBC where Robbo and the Phantom came into the presence of a man carrying a ragged bag of work tools and a severely dressed woman holding a clipboard.
“Start with the nameplate first, Joe!” cried she who had entered first. “Then let the laundress know his personalized kits can be thrown away; and let the parking attendant paint out his name and revoke his pass.”
“You couldn’t have met me in a better place Mrs Dilber,” said old Joe, removing his pen from his mouth. “Come into his office and we’ll see what can be kept and what can be recycled.”
While they did this, Mrs Dilber who had already checked her clipboard three times, muttered darkly about needing to contact IT.
“Old Joe was wiping the Xs and Os from the tactics whiteboard. “If he wanted to play attacking football” he observed, “he would’ve passed it on to his players”.
“It’s the truest word that ever was spoke,” said Mrs Dilber. “It’s a judgment on him.”
“I wish it was a little heavier judgment,” replied Joe; “and it should have been, for all he’s put us through. All those terrible afternoons and evenings watching that team play with barely an interest in creating a chance, never mind scoring an actual goal”.
“Aye. Good riddance!” laughed Mrs Dilber.
“May the Lord help his next unfortunates!” cried Joe and the pair laughed together as they turned off the office light and slammed the door shut with delight.
Robbo listened to this dialogue in horror.
“Spirit!” said Robbo, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My coaching tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this!”
He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a beer stained counter in a bar that was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Robbo glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of bar it was. A pale light, rising in the corner, a television; and on it, the headlines blared “COACH FIRED FOR PLAYING “BORING” FOOTBALL”.
Robbo glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the screen.
No voice pronounced the words of the firing in Robbo’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the television. He thought, if this man could be hired anew, what would be his foremost thoughts? Defence, clean sheets, relying on set pieces to score a goal? They have brought him to a fine end, truly!
“Spirit!” he said, “this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go! And if there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s firing,” said Robbo quite agonised, “show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you! Let me see some tenderness connected with the firing,” said Robbo; “or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever present to me.”
The Ghost conducted him through several streets familiar to his feet; and soon they entered Kendall Waston’s house; the dwelling he had visited before; and found a few of his players seated around the dinner table.
Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little fullbacks were as still as statues in one corner, and Brek Shea and Mezquida and Hurtado were looking at designs for the new road jersey. But surely they were very quiet!
Mezquida laid a design upon the table, and put his hand up to his face.
“The colour hurts my eyes,” he said.
“They’re better now again,” said Brek Shea. “It makes them weak when you go on the Playstation and I wouldn’t show weak eyes to Kendall when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time.”
“Past it rather,” Brett Levis answered, “But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, Brek.”
They were very quiet again. At last he said, and in a steady, cheerful voice, that only faultered once:
“I have known him walk with — I have known him walk with Tiny Techera upon his shoulder, very fast indeed.”
“And so have I,” cried Levis. “Often.”
“And so have I!” exclaimed Nerwisnki. So had all.
“But he was very light to carry,” he resumed, “and Kendall loved him so, that it was no trouble: no trouble. And there is your captain at the door!”
Kendall was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the team. He looked at the new jersey designs upon the table, and praised them.
“Sunday! You went to-day, then, Kendall?” said Brek Shea.
“Yes, I did,” returned Waston. “I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see it often. We play Portland at least three times next season.”
Of a sudden Kendall Waston broke down “My little, little inverted winger!” he cried “My little inverted winger!”
“Spectre,” said Robbo, “something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how.”
The Ghost of Seasons Yet To Come conveyed him, as before — though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order in these latter visions, save that they were in the Future.
“This training centre,” said Robbo, “through which we hurry now, is where my place of occupation is, and has been for a length of time. I see the office. Let me behold what it shall be, in days to come.”
Robbo hastened to the window of his office, and looked in. It was an office still, but not his. The furniture was not the same, and the figure in the chair was not himself. The Phantom pointed as before.
He joined it once again, and wondering why and whither he had gone, accompanied it until they reached an iron gate. He paused to look round before entering.
A run down football pitch. Fifth tier at best with barely a man and a dog to observe the disconsolate fare on offer. Here, then, the wretched coach whose name he had now to learn would be revealed.
The Spirit stood among the broken seats in the dugout, and pointed down to One. Robbo advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
“Before I draw nearer to that seat to which you point,” said Robbo, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the seat by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Robbo. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Robbo crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the seat the hastily written letters of his own name.
“Am I that man who was spoken of today?” he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the seat to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the coach I was. I will not be the coach I must have been but for this exchange. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
The kind hand trembled.
“I will honour attacking football in my heart, and try to keep it all the season. Even the playoffs when away goals really are crucial. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach nor only try to shut out the opposition. Oh, tell me I may use the magic sponge to clean away the writing on this seat!”
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.
Holding up his hands in a last attempt to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a corner flag.