Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Cheap Four Seamer by Bill Chance

“People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
― James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams

Nick crossing home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. They let the kids run the bases after an afternoon game – we had to wait for hours for his turn. This would have been right after the Ballpark opened, probably 1995. It’s hard to believe he’s almost thirty years old now. The ballpark closed this year.

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#34). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Cheap Four Seamer

Tyrone Gibblet hated the little town. He and his mother were there staying with her sister, helping out while she had surgery. They wouldn’t even tell him what she was getting cut on – it was too private.

He was missing summer baseball camp and it was killing him. He was the ace pitcher on his school team. He knew college scouts would be watching. He needed every edge he could get and didn’t want to be set back while stuck in this backwater town.

“A rest will be good for you,” his mother had said, “I’ve cleared it with your coach, he even agrees with me.”

Thinking of that made his blood boil. He was seventeen years old and did not need his mother living his life. Coach would tease him.

Today he was aimlessly ambling down the sidewalk. Everyone there always nodded and said a quick “hello” as they passed each other, their noggins bouncing like bobble heads on a bumpy road. They all knew each other and everyone knew that he didn’t belong there. Their eyes would fall on him and their mouths would screw into odd shapes.

It was driving him crazy.

Then he saw Audrey up ahead on the sidewalk, and his heart skipped a beat. Tyrone had been introduced to her at the church youth picnic last Saturday. He had barely been able to mumble to her, his brain suddenly scrambled by the cataract of blond curls framing oversized sunglasses.

He was trying to decide what to do when she turned and went into a store. His chest was heaving and he felt dizzy. He walked past and turned around three times before he worked up the courage to enter the store.

The space was long, wide, and low, and took up the whole ground floor of a decrepit brick building along Main Street. The ugly painted steel and particleboard shelves held a wild variety of items, from dusty cookware to piles of out-of-style clothes – everything sporting hand-written price tags in bright colors. The long tubes of flickering florescent lights sucked the life out of everything.

A popcorn stand near the entrance filled the air with oily rancid fumes. He looked at the people marching up and down the aisles and couldn’t believe they could stand the awful smell. He guessed they were just used to it – or didn’t care – or didn’t have a choice.

Tyrone had reached the end of one aisle and as he turned the corner to walk back the other way he jumped back, hiding behind a rack of shelves when he saw Audrey. She was studying some towels with her mother. He was afraid to talk to her with her mom standing there – that was for sure.

Tyrone decided to move over into the sporting goods and keep a lookout for Audrey.

His eyes moved over a bin of baseballs. They were cheap imports – the kind his team bought by the bucket for batting practice. He picked one up and turned it over in his hand. Tyrone had his first baseball before he could walk. He had spent thousands of hours gripping one – it felt like it belonged there.

Holding the ball behind his back, like he was waiting for the next batter, turning the sphere in his hands, comforted him. He pulled air deep into his lungs. He closed his eyes and felt at home.

His reverie was cut short by a loud clattering, followed by a sharp scream. He moved over an aisle and saw Audrey collapsed on the floor and a man shaking her mother with one hand grabbing the front of her dress.

The man was screaming a constant roaring rush of obscenity. Aubrey’s mother had given up and was limply letting him shove her around, simply sobbing, “Dan, Dan, please just let us go”

He looked a week unshaven and longer unwashed, wearing a pair of grease-stained denim overalls above a torn undershirt. One strap had come loose and the front flap was flopping around as he jerked at Audrey’s mother.

Without thinking, Tyrone walked forward toward Audrey and she looked up from the dirty linoleum into his eyes. A horrible scream came from her mother and Audrey snapped her head around in panic.

Everything was happening too fast.

He was twenty feet away when the smell washed over him. Old alcohol, mixed with stale sweat and evil filth – an acrid cloud that woke old memories, bad baggage he was always trying to forget.

Then the man’s right arm came up high and, to his horror, Tyrone saw that he had a huge ugly knife. It was a machete, heavy, with a big brush hook – evil and deadly. The man was waving it in the air, shaking, and holding Audrey’s mother tight with his other arm. Audrey saw the weapon and let out a long, horrible whimper.

Tyrone became calm and clear. He spun the baseball with his fingers and brought his feet together, sideways to the terrible scene. He rotated the ball until he could feel the long horseshoe bend of the seam under the tips of his first two fingers and the other curve nestled against the side of his thumb.

A four-seam fastball. That was his money pitch. He could throw it at over ninety miles per hour to any spot he wanted. It would shoot past those poor freckle-faced high school kids before they even had a good look at it. He would sneer as it pounded the catcher’s mitt – with a bang and a puff of dust – long before their bats could even move off their shoulders.

“Hey!” Tyrone shouted, his voice loud and cold. “Hey!”

As the man with the machete turned his head Tyrone began to raise his front leg, throwing from the stretch like there was a fast runner on first. By the time the man’s eyes focused on Tyrone his knee was already lifted up to eye level.

He felt his foot grip the grimy floor and knew he could drive it hard. His entire world was reduced to a tiny rectangle between the man’s eyes. He could see the ragged hairs and rough pores.

Like he had a hundred thousand times before Tyrone let his leg fall down, tilting his body forward. His arm contorted at an inhuman angle, bent like a steel spring, curving like a whip – and as his back leg pushed with all his strength he let the ball fly using every practiced muscle.

In a baseball game, the mound is sixty feet and six inches from home plate. It takes about a half second for a fastball to travel that distance. Only the fastest well-trained eyes can even see that.

The man was only twenty feet away. The ball took less than a quarter of a second to cover that distance. Even though it was hurtling directly toward his face he never saw it coming.

The ball struck him with a terrifically loud and sickening thud. A spray of blood, brain, and bone shot out in a horrific fountain. The ball thumped to the floor, followed by the machete clattering on the linoleum. For a second, the man stood stock still, his head bent back at a sickening angle – then he began to fold.

The man fell in a limp heap. His hand released Audrey’s mother, who tumbled away in a screech.

As his thoughts cleared, Tyrone realized that he had entered into a new chapter of his life, one he had never expected. Everything that had, until now, seemed so important began to fade in his memory. From now on, as long as he lived, he would be a man who had killed someone. He realized that this was an exclusive club, one that nobody really sets out to join.

He had killed a stranger at close range, with only his hands and a baseball. It wasn’t like he had been firing a gun across a war-torn patch or pushed a bomb release. He had been looking this man right in the eye and had been close enough to smell his fetid sweat.

The weapon that he used was the one thing that he was most familiar with, a toy from a child’s game. A toy that in skilled hands became something else. It became life and death.

His hand began to itch, suddenly. He realized that he didn’t have a baseball any more. Tyrone knew then that he would never feel whole again, unless he was turning that ball around behind his back, feeling for the four-seam.

Short Story Of the Day, Devil’s Claws by Bill Chance

“ They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.”

—-Bill Chance, Devil’s Claws

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#14). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Devil’s Claws

 

In the city, Sam Monaghan had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. Not too bad of a pitcher either. He had to give up the sport in Coldgrove. That left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his Bombers’ bat on his mother and he could not bear to hold one in his hands again.

They had lived in a brownstone in the old meatpacking district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint his little sister Brenda’s nursery waiting. After the attack on his wife that left her in a wheelchair, Sam’s father had moved the family out to the tiny rural hamlet of Coldgrove.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He is only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

“His mom says he plays baseball.”

Sam turned away.

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam was, even though Duane was a grade below. To Sam the whole Clankman clan existed somewhere out of time, as if they had been away from civilization for ages. Coldgrove itself felt out of whack for him.

Duane’s brothers and sisters were scattered all up and down the grades and you could pick them out of a crowd easy; the same thin, limp, blondish hair, homedone haircuts, clothes handed down from one to another, the same pale watery eyes, long faces, and the same blank, lost look.

Still, his mother protested and Sam could not resist her requests. Soon he was walking across the cow pasture, along the green algae-choked slough, to the Clankman’s farmhouse. They called the noon meal dinner and it was the best fried chicken he had ever tasted. He asked Mrs. Clankman for her secret.

“Oh honey, you just dip ‘em in milk, dredge in flour, salt and pepper, and fry ‘em in the ‘lectric skillet,” she said

“Then why is your chicken so good?”

“Oh honey, ‘cause an hour before you ate it that bird was runnin’ around in the front yard, eatin’ bugs.”

Duane’s mother wrapped a few pieces up and put them in a paper bag. A bit of grease made the bag translucent in places.

“You give this chicken to your mother, now,” she said, with a sad smile and a nod.

After dinner, Sam and Duane went for a long walk in the old west pasture. Sam’s mother had asked them to look for Devil’s Claws. The dry dark gray seedpods were scattered all over the pasture, hung up in among the prickly pears and clumps of sawgrass. She wanted to take a mess of claws, spray paint them gold and silver, and glue little plastic googly eyes on… decorate them up for a craft show the women were putting on down at the new library in town.

Along with the paper bag of chicken, they carried blue plastic bags from Wal-Mart to stuff the claws in. They were hard to carry even though they weighed almost nothing; the hooks tore at the cheap thin plastic until the claws would tumble out if you did not hold the bag exactly right.

They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.

“Look at how the meadow grows here,” Duane said.

The thin brown grass of the old spent pasture was lush and green around the bones. Nourished by death, the body of the lamb.

Sam thought about why the grass was so thick and healthy around where the lamb had died. He thought about how the lamb had eaten the grass while it lived and now that it was gone, it gave everything back to the ground and to the grass that had nourished it.

“Duane?” Sam said, “You’re on the Coldgrove school baseball team, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, though I’m not so good. Just another body.”

“Do you think I could get on the team?”

“Yup, easy. Coach is always looking for players. Sometimes we barely put together a whole team.”

“Ok, then. I’ll need a new bat though.”

Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Nick crossing home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. They let the kids run the bases after an afternoon game – we had to wait for hours for his turn. This would have been right after the Ballpark opened, probably 1995. It’s hard to believe he’s a junior in college now.

A few weeks ago I won a pair of Ranger tickets in a raffle. They weren’t particularly expensive seats – only ten dollars each – but something won is always something good. Still, the games were on a Friday night – that’s a long drive after work, and the horrible Texas heat is upon us… so I considered giving the tickets away.

But it turned out that Nick was flying into town the afternoon before the game, so I was glad to hang on to them. There is nothing better than going to a baseball game with your son.

Baseball is a time machine. Baseball exists outside of the rest of reality and to enter a baseball stadium is to connect with every other time you have been to a baseball game.

When we walked in I thought of the first major league games I had attended – in Kansas City while I was in college. I thought of the old Ranger Ballpark – the crappy old one that was a little bit to the north of Rangers Ballpark. Since I was with Nick, I remembered taking him as a toddler to the old ballpark – he immediately began to throw ketchup coated french fries over the railing onto the crowd below. We had to leave before the second inning.

I remembered the times we would take the kids to games. We would buy really inexpensive bench seats out in the outfield, right next to the opposing team’s bullpen. Nick and Lee would talk to the pitchers through the wire mesh. Some would give them pitching hints. Some gave them souvenir balls.

Nick talked about driving back from school in North Carolina to see a World’s Series game at the Ballpark. As a twenty-odd year Ranger fan I never thought I’d see a World’s Series played here (now I want to see them win one).

All the ballgames I had been to or played in swirled in my mind, decades and decades worth. The ballpark is fancier than it used to be, the scoreboards are colorful, stunning, electronic (I remember seeing a single-A game in Charleston, West Virginia where the “Dot Race” was three kids racing behind the outfield fence with brightly-colored wooden cutout horses atop long poles), and now the food choices are much more varied and tasty (and expensive) – but the game is the same. The bat, the ball, the three bases exactly the same distance apart.

It is a connection between people and between times and between space. It is baseball. I had not been to a game in a couple years… I almost forgot.

One thing I always say is that baseball is the only sporting event that you can enjoy when your team loses. For most of the night, that looked like what was what was going to happen. I was resigned to the loss and simply soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying hanging out. Oakland was up two to nothing until the eighth inning and the Rangers loaded the bases. There were two outs though, so not much hope.

But, wonder of wonders, a run walked in, and then Craig Gentry hit a bases-loaded, three run triple to give the good guys the win. A bases-loaded triple! Arguably the most exciting play in the game. The sell-out crowd went nuts. The radio announcers on the way home said the Baseball Gods were smiling on the Rangers tonight.

Then, after the game, they had a fireworks show. It was very nice – I’m not sure, but I think this was the first time I’ve seen those really cool smiley-face star shells – impressive.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.

And sometimes – not often, but sometimes, there is joy in Mudville.

The view from the cheap seats. This is actually a really good place to sit. It’s high up, but you get a view of the game you don’t see on television – the placement of the fielders, the way a double play moves. I had no complaints.

One of the things I like best about Rangers Ballpark is the ample terrace around the upper level. Even on a hot summer evening there is a nice breeze at this altitude and it’s a great place to walk out and hang for a few minutes while the other team is batting.

If you look over the edge of the terrace on the first-base side you have an imposing view across the parking lots of the Death Star – where the Dallas Cowboys play. A photograph does not convey the horrible gigantic-ness of this monstrosity.

Off the third-base side are the roller coasters of Six Flags Over Texas.

The sun sets over the parking lots from the terrace of the Ballpark.

I couldn’t believe it… during a slow part of the game the crowd actually started doing the wave. About three decades too late in my opinion. Even the big main scoreboard didn’t approve.

Then and Now, Lee gets a hit

Nick and Lee are playing on a softball team on Sunday evenings. One of the other kid’s parents said, “It wasn’t that long ago I was their little league coach – and now they’re playing in an old-man softball league.”

Nick at third base

Nick at third base

Lee gets a hit

Lee gets a hit

I know it’s different kids in the two pictures – but it’s late, I’m busy… and this is what I’ve got.

Speaking of baseball, everybody was watching “The Sandlot” the other day. The kids loved this movie – this is one of the ones that they watched over and over. It was unusual in that I liked it as much as they did. A classic.

People can talk about the “Best Onscreen Kiss.” I don’t think there is any doubt – it is when Squints puts the move on Wendy Peffercorn.

Michael Squints Palledorous walked a little taller that day. And we had to tip our hats to him. He was lucky she hadn’t beat the CRAP out of him. We wouldn’t have blamed her. What he’d done was sneaky, rotten, and low… and cool. Not another one among us would have ever in a million years even for a million dollars have the guts to put the moves on the lifeguard. He did. He had kissed a woman. And he had kissed her long and good. We got banned from the pool forever that day. But every time we walked by after that, the lifeguard looked down from her tower, right over at Squints, and smiled.
—-The Sandlot