Zombie Ball

I take a lot of walks on the weekends, usually during the mornings while my family sleeps. I think, I pray, I reflect on those walks. Sometimes I let my mind wonder in an effort to come up with some story ideas.

Last night I decided to go for a walk since it was nice out and there was a slight breeze. The Girl was going to a football game with some friends, and The Babe wanted to practice her new ukulele. I asked The Boy if he wanted to go, fully expecting him to say no. He surprised me with a “Sure, I’ll go.”

We took the five minute drive to the middle school. If you have followed any of my posts on Type AJ Negative, then you know I walk the track around the little league baseball field behind my son’s school. There was only one other car in the parking lot when we pulled in.

We walked. We talked. The Boy told me about playing kickball at school and how much he enjoys playing that game (“I’m a really good kicker, Dad”). It was nice to hear him talk about something that amounts to exercise and not video games. One lap fell behind us and we detoured toward the baseball fields and through the gate.

On the ground beneath one of the metal bleachers on the first base side of the field to the right was a baseball. I picked it up, rolled it in my hands for a few seconds. The rawhide was rough, but the laces were in great shape. We walked onto the field, him still talking about kickball, me rolling the ball in my hands and remembering when he played baseball and we practiced on that very field.

“Dad, we should come out here with a kickball. You can just pitch the ball to me and I’ll kick it.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” I said, though the thought of me chasing the ball every time he kicked it didn’t necessarily appeal to me.

Near home plate was another baseball. The Boy picked it up and tossed it toward me. I caught it and looked at it. It was clearly in better shape than the other one. The rawhide still smooth, the red strings still tight. It had a few orange smudges on it—it was well used.

On the other side of the outfield fence was a yellow softball. We walked through the gate near the outfield and around to where the softball sat. It was not in great shape. The rawhide had been split in several places, the laces ripped. What little twine was still in the ball had been cut and the thick cork that formed the center of it had a gash in it.

“Man, I hate seeing this,” I said.

“Why?”

“This ball can’t be used again. It’s ruined.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yeah. It’s pretty dead.”

I tried pushing the hide into place, but the damage was done.

“Hey, there’s one over there,” The Boy said and pointed toward the trees that stood up on a hill. The ball was near the top of that hill, but not quite in the trees.

“Go get it,” I said.

He hopped over the ditch, which had recently been cut, and ran up the hill. I plucked another one from the ditch just about where he went over it. I made my way up the hill and there was another baseball in the trees. We would find one more on our way back to that first field where we would toss one of them around a little. Yes, we tossed them around barehanded, but that didn’t matter. What did was he and I tossing a baseball much like me and my dad did. That was a great feeling.

At one point before we started throwing the ball around, my son pointed into the trees again. “I think there is another ball over there, but I think it is dead.”

“What?” I asked, not sure I heard him correctly.

“Over there. I think that’s a ball, but it looks dead.”

I didn’t say anything about the ball being ‘dead,’ but it did make me think about how much kids learn from their parents. I walked into the trees and sure enough there was a baseball there. It was slightly covered by straw. From where I stood looking down on the ball, it could have been a tiny skull with the wisp of gray hair clinging to it. I picked it up, brushed the dirt off of it. The rawhide was completely gone. Like the softball, it had been struck by a lawnmower. The laces that once held the rawhide on were gone with the exception of a couple of strands that seemed too be stitched into its bare strings.

“Yup. It’s dead,” The Boy said.

I nodded and agreed. “It kind of looks like a zombie baseball.”

He gave me a look that stated he was disturbed by what I had said. I laughed.

After we tossed one of the found balls around, we went home. We told The Babe what we had found and I showed her the dead ball.

“Yup, that looks pretty dead,” she said.

“It’s my zombie ball.”

Since then, The Girl has come home from the football game, The Boy has gone to bed, as has The Babe. It was well after midnight when I flipped off the laptop and headed for bed. A storm was brewing outside, the remnants of a hurricane on its way to our neck of the woods. Wind buffered the side of the house from time to time and whistled through tree limbs.

I made my way to the bedroom and stopped after opening the door, but not getting more than a foot or so into the room. I heard an odd sound. At first I wasn’t sure what it was. I cocked my head to the side, my ears perked up. A frown formed on my face.

Is there a rat in my bedroom? I asked myself. That’s what it sounded like. A rat chewing on something, smacking its jaws together. It was a wet, sickening sound. I flipped the hall light on, my heart suddenly crashing hard in my chest. There’s no way there was a rat in my bedroom, I thought, but there had to be. What else could be making that sound?

I opened the door further, not sure if I wanted to see some critter on the floor, chewing on some paper or maybe even a bottle of water or something. What I saw froze the blood in my veins. My heart stopped. So did my brain. On the bed lay The Babe. On her chest was the zombie baseball. The split in the string put there (or so I thought) by a lawnmower blade was a mouth, and it was chewing on The Babe. There was blood on her face, and from where I stood in the doorway, my body casting a long shadow across the floor, I could see one cheek and eye was missing. Zombie Ball was in her chest, smacking, smacking, rending flesh from her.

A scream froze in my throat and my mouth became unhinged. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t make a noise. I couldn’t look away from the horror before me. It was just a baseball—one missing its hide and most of the red string that held it together. It was supposed to be dead! It was an inanimate object, for crying out loud!

DSCN0579I didn’t see it roll off of my wife and off the bed. I heard it hit the floor with a wet THUNK, and my paralysis broke. The ball rolled toward me, leaving a streak of blood on the floor behind it. The blood looked black in the little bit of light from the hall. The ball looked like a knotty wheel the way it rolled across the floor, almost in a wobble.

It was hypnotizing. So much so that it almost reached where I stood, its gaping mower cut mouth near my toes. I screamed and stepped backward just before its mouth snapped closed. If I hadn’t moved …

I slammed the door shut, suddenly aware I had to do something to protect myself and my kids. The ball bumped against the door, not once or twice, but five or six times. I backed up, stopping only when I reached the hall wall. There I slid down until my butt was on the floor, my knees were at my chin and my face was in my hands. For several seconds I sat there in shock, but then my heart broke as I realized the ball—the dead ball—had killed my wife. I cried and cried some more.

I don’t know how long I sat on the hall floor, the light a pale yellow glow, my head tucked into my hands. I might have even fallen asleep. I don’t know for certain. The sound that brought me from my sorrow (or slumber) was another bump at the door. This one was much heavier than earlier. It was also followed by a groan—my wife was no longer my wife, but an undead creature who probably didn’t know who or what she is now.

The thump came again, this time harder. The moan was louder and angry sounding. I stood, my heart in my throat. My bladder released as I backed away from the door, but I didn’t run away. I didn’t get my kids out of bed and get out of the house. I just stood there until just a minute ago. The Boy’s door opened. I heard the hinges squeal. He’s in the bathroom now, but in a minute or two, he will make his way down the hall. I don’t know what I’m going to do, what I’m going to say … how I’m going to explain the puddle on the floor and his zombie mom in the bedroom. Maybe we’ll get dressed as if nothing is wrong and just take my morning walk, but not at the baseball field …

***

This isn’t much of a story. The first half of it is absolutely true. The Boy and I did take a walk on Friday, September 1st. We did find all those baseballs (including the zombie ball) and we did toss one of those balls around for a while before coming home and showing and telling The Babe about our finds.

That’s where the truth ends and the lies begin. I believe all fiction stories are made of some truths and some lies. Blending them is sometimes difficult, especially when you weave in real places and events. You want to keep that realistic feel to it; you want the reader to wonder if the storyline is true or not.

A few years ago, M.L. Dixon did a series of blogs for The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama about phobias. He wrote them all in first person, and in such a manner that people (myself included) grew concerned for him, for his family and for his sanity. The series was one very well told lie and we had all thought it to be true. I have always wanted to capture that feeling, that truth in the lies that Dixon did during the writing of that series. No, I don’t feel I captured it here, but I did have fun writing it. 

I hope you enjoyed Zombie Ball, and as always, until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

AJB

 

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Throwing Out the First Pitch

I have an odd passion, one that started a few years ago. As I sit here thinking, I honestly believe it started during the three years my son played baseball. I was fortunate enough to be one of his coaches during that time period, and it was an experience that I cherish to this day. It was kind of like reliving my childhood while watching my son play a game I loved—and still love to this day. I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain this as well as I want to, but I’ll give it the old college try.

When I was a kid, the first sport I recall seeing was baseball. My dad and grandfather liked two teams that were truly horrible, for the most part: The Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. I watched a lot of Cubs games with my dad, listening to Steve Stone and Harry Carey call them (Carey in a tone that sounded slightly inebriated). When I was at my grandparents’ house, it was always the Braves on TBS. Those games were usually called by Skip Carey (yes, the son of Harry Carey, and no, he never sounded inebriated), and a host of other announcers. My great grandmother was a Braves fans, as well (a big time Braves fan). I got my dose of baseball almost every day  as a little kid during the summer and fall months.

Then when I was ten, I decided I wanted to play baseball. For the record, I was never really a good hitter. To be completely honest, I was pretty bad at swinging the old bat. But I could field. I could catch fly balls and ground balls and I wasn’t afraid to dive for anything. And I could throw, though sometimes I sidearmed the ball and when that happened the ball would end up anywhere, including over the fence behind first base. On those incidents I looked like Ricky Vaughn from the movie, Major Leagues.

To speed things up, I didn’t have much of a baseball career coming up. As I stated, I wasn’t a very good hitter, but I could field. Baseball just wasn’t in the cards for me. I later went on to play fifteen years of softball, often playing two and three seasons a year. As fun as softball was, it just wasn’t baseball.

I went to a few baseball games when I got into high school and a lot of softball games (at the time the high school softball team was winning state titles on a regular basis). It was my way of staying connected to the game, the sounds and sights and the joy of a game I was just not that great at.

I got older, quit playing softball all together, and for many years I stayed away from all baseball fields.

Then my son decided he wanted to try baseball. I admit, I got really excited. For three years I was an assistant coach on the teams he played for. I not only got to see my son play, I actively participated in his growth (and the growth of the other kids on the teams). When he decided he didn’t want to play baseball anymore I was saddened a little. Though I have been asked to come back and coach on several occasions, I haven’t done so. I wanted to go to the games my children played, no matter the sport they chose. My daughter played a year of softball and basketball and several years of soccer, and a year of cheer as well. My son played baseball, flag football soccer and swim. They were active, and I didn’t want to be the parent who missed his kids events because he was coaching other kids. I never wanted my kids to think someone else’s child/children were more important than they are.

I coached other sports (my daughter’s basketball team, my son’s soccer teams, and one stunning lopsided victory for my daughter’s last soccer team—that is a long story I may get into one day), but none of them made me feel the same as playing or coaching baseball.

I often go back to the field to watch some of the kids I coached. I hope to see some of them play in college and maybe even the big leagues one day. But that is getting way ahead of things.

When I go back to the fields, I can’t help but look around and take everything in. The sounds of the kids in the dugouts, the ping of an aluminum bat on ball, the cheering of friends and families watching the games, the occasional announcer up in the booth; the many stadium chairs lining fences with parents and friends; the smell of hot dogs and nachos; the younger kids throwing tennis balls against the back wall of the concessions, right between the two bathrooms; the sounds of balls hitting gloves and bubblegum popping. There are so many things to take in at a baseball game, but the biggest and most enjoyable are the expressions on those children’s faces as they get a hit, or catch the ball, or strike a batter out, or win a game … or lose one. To me, the unbridled joy and the true heartache of losing are lost as the kids get older and the game loses its innocence.

I think that is what draws me to the little league baseball fields. Innocence. The naivety of the children when they first join a team, the excitement when they learn how to do something, the thrill of victory, and yes, the agony of defeat. In the beginning, it is all innocent.

That brings me to what I hope to do here. This is not about professional baseball. As much as I loved the Cubs and Braves growing up, I’ve never been a big Major League Baseball fan. I’ve always liked the little league and high school levels, as well as college and minor leagues (to a much lesser degree). This is about old little league baseball fields and the way I see them. Some of these fields are still in use, while others probably haven’t seen anyone playing on them in years. To me, there is a beauty to these fields and that beauty isn’t just in what they are, but in what they may have been at one time.

Just so we are on the same page, I will not just talk about baseball fields. There will probably be stories here. Most of the blogs I write will have a story feel to them. There will definitely be images, and maybe a video here and there. When I step onto a baseball field, it is magical for me. My mind goes in all sorts of directions and the writer side of me gets very sentimental. My hope is to touch you in that same magical way as these fields touch me.

I don’t expect everyone to understand my love of these baseball fields. Honestly, I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s just something I enjoy.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you. If you enjoyed this post (and those to come) I would like to ask you to please leave comments and subscribe, as well as like and share this post and blog. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I’m willing to entertain other people’s thoughts.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

7/15/2017