Paul Blinov's story, "The Hate Sponge," was selected by Short Edition in partnership with Edmonton International Airport.

It was a slow, massive roar. A dense wall-of-sound that couldn't possibly be made by one person, no matter how many microphones were hooked up to how many speakers. A scratchy, grainy blend of thousands of voices in a low-to-mid-sized stadium, impossible to break down into its individual components and musical keys, not so much meant to be heard but felt as it rippled through your ears, your chest, any cavity your body has that's big enough to vibrate, which is most of them. And in the hallway between the locker room—where I was—and the baseball diamond—where the roar was waiting—it sounded pissed.

"You hear that?" Steve said, eyes closed. He was savoring the sound like a rock star's manager, listening from backstage to a sold-out crowd scream.

"The sound of 10,000 angry baseball fans," I said. Angry that the Wildcats were bottom of the league. Angry that the weather felt like fall in late spring. Angry to be out there today. I sure was. 

"They ain't angry to be here," Steve said, smirking. "They're thrilled. Thrilled to get their hate on, to get a chance to shout and drink and scream at something that makes them seem better by comparison, and feel better when they leave. It's catharsis. Like the Greeks did with plays. Oedipus gouges out his eyes so we don't have to. And yes, in theory, the thing they're here to hate is our awful baseball team, But—" He handed me the oversized, indigo-blue cat head that completed my mascot costume. "—it's your job to go out there and try to win ‘em over. A totally unwinnable suicide mission, of course. But you're getting paid to try, not succeed." He smirked. "Welcome back, Jack."

I put the cat head on. At least the costume smelled clean from the inside. Nothing worse than getting into a freshly worn costume and dancing around in someone else's wet stink for three hours. This time there was just the smell of poly-cotton blends, my own relative cleanness, and the rapidly building trap of heat. An ominous portent of the smells to come.

Being a baseball mascot was the only job I'd ever quit. I swore I'd never don the cat head again—It was fun for about two hours on day one, and then it was one and a half miserable seasons of ridicule and belligerence.

But it's a recession. But I'm from Vancouver and there isn't any family here to buoy me with support. But I need to save up money to get out of here, get home, get somewhere new. But literally nobody else would hire me for literally anything. So the cat head was my own again.

I readied myself to receive the toxic belligerence of the most volatile fans I've ever seen watch baseball. Steve was probably right. They were butchers waiting for the lamb of the day, knowing I was frolicking ever closer. Heavy cleavers in eager hands, waiting. 

Suddenly the roar increased, and a crackling, reverb-drenched voice separated itself from the rest through sheer force of amplified volume. The announcer was calling out the team. "That's your cue," Steve said, looking down the hallway to where natural light and the angry screams beckoned from. The team jogged past, out towards the open sky.

"Remember: mascotting is like riding a bike; as soon you get out there it'll all come back. It's instinct. Your body thinks so you don't have to." He paused. "I'm glad you came back."

That five-word afterthought seemed to finally acknowledge that I might not be here by choice. Which is more than you usually get from Steve. He sized me up with eyes half-open, almost like a proud parent. "You might be the best hate-sponge we've ever had."

And with that little ego boost, I was off, following the umpire out to a chorus of mixed applause and a few drunken hisses. Drunk already. I pumped my fists and turned to greet my firing squad, cat head fixed in a frozen cartoon grin. I'd barely completed that rotation when the first half-full beer cup hit me right in the crown, and a rich wave of warm molson started to soak down into the fabric. I retched at the familiar smell, but nobody saw. My cat head kept on grinning as, one by one, the cups began to rain down.

Go team.

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