The Slaughter Rule


Winter in Montana and everything breaks down. When Roy Chutney gets cut from his high school football team just days after his estranged father dies of heart failure, he mistakes the cut as a loss more tragic than being fatherless. For Roy, football meant escape from a rural existence where xenophobia and prejudice are the law. Football was to be his salvation from loneliness, inexperience, and the paralyzing passivity that dominates his life.

Now Roy finds himself with nowhere to turn – his stewardess mother is often gone, his awkward flirtations with girls only intensify his longing; and football, the only proving ground he knows, has been denied him. So Roy drowns his frustration in a mixture of tequila and self-pity, cruising the drag with his best friend, Tracy Two Dogs, a Blackfeet Indian with no small trouble of his own. But in Blue Springs, Montana, alcohol begets violence, and the soon-reached limits of small-town Saturday nights only add a dimension of brutality to Roy’s despair.

Enter Gideon Ferguson, a canny giant of a man who ekes out a life among transients and barflies hawking newspapers in the two a.m. nether world of closing time. A man with hypnotic eyes and money trouble, a fringe-dweller from a roughneck world, Gid is haunted by a troubled past – notice the scars, the rage under his skin. Gid offers Roy a wild-card chance at self-redemption. A football fanatic, Gid is recruiting “gamers” – kids who scrap hard – from all over town to play on his six-man football squad. Rough-shod crazy cousin to the regular “three yards and a puff of dust” game, six-man football is a bloodsport played on the outer fringes of the West, in towns too hard to die yet too small to people an eleven man team. Gid is fixing to barnstorm these towns, and he wants Roy to lead his squad, to be his “boss-talker,” his “alpha-wolf,” – his quarterback.

Roy accepts. He convinces Tracy to join, and together they enter the fierce world of six-man football. Over the course of the season, Gid and Roy enter into a cautious friendship. For Gid, the football team provides a sense of purpose in a life nearly bled dry. For Roy, this game is a pure response to life – if you break enough tackles and keep sprinting for open ground, you could live forever. It’s almost as if they complete each other. Roy provides Gid a potential for grace, a glimmer of innocence, which Gid has never known; and Gid permits Roy a portal into adulthood. Like Virgil leading Dante into the darker shade of life, Gid guides Roy into a grown-up world, and expects, in return, adult responsibility.

Through contact with Gid’s honky-tonk nightlife, Roy connects with Skyla Spoja, a dark-eyed bartender several years Roy’s senior. The question is, what does Gid think about this romance? Is he happy for Roy, or is he jealous? See, Gid has grown right fond of Roy, perhaps too fond. Tracy – like many others in town – suspects Gid of the worst intentions, and plays on Roy’s doubts with allegations of Gid’s sexual deviancy. Emotionally starved and sexually naïve, both repulsed and flattered by Gid’s crude attempts at affection, Roy remains suspicious of Gid’s desires. And when Gid ultimately makes no bones about his attachment to Roy, Roy must gauge for himself what kind of man Gid is, and what exactly it is that Gid wants from him.

Just when they need each other the most, Roy’s relationship with Gid takes a hard switchback turn. During a numbing Montana blizzard, in a brutal game against a juggernaut Six-man team, Gid’s team faces the humiliation of losing by “The Slaughter Rule” – the game will end if they fall 45 points behind. Aroused by blood defeat and betrayal, Gid tries to teach Roy a hard lesson about the meanness of the world, but ends up tragically overstepping the bounds of their tenuous friendship. He forces Roy to choose between submission and abandonment, vulnerability and violence.

THE SLAUGHTER RULE is a rough season in a young man’s life; a season that defines his world, a world of exposure, of prejudice, and ultimately, of compassion.


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