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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Lost Angels and Black Birds Part 1

This piece was supposed to be a short flash fiction story, but it grew much larger as I wrote. I have divided it into parts. I hope you enjoy it. Drop me a note–I would love to hear from you.

Lost Angels and Black Birds Part 1

Wendell pulled the curtain back from the front window and stared out at the world beyond it. Gray clouds loomed off in the distance. He was certain if he stepped outside, the air would be thick with humidity. The curtains fell back into place and Wendell let out a long breath—a deep sigh to his old lady, one she didn’t hear since she was still snuggled up to a pillow in the bed.

He carefully made his way through the dark house, not bothering with the lights. He knew where everything was, and on the off occasion that something was out of place (that usually only occurred when the grands came by) his toes would find it and for several agonizing seconds they would bark at him in pain. That wasn’t the case on this early morning, where the sun was hidden away by the clouds and the birds twittered about on power lines.

DSCN2730Birds on a wire, he thought as he slid his pants on. They like to sing on the wires before a big storm. They will take flight soon. A sure sign, my Pappy always said.

A white undershirt went on, followed by a short sleeved button down, one that was loose and didn’t hug him tight; one good for working in. Socks and dusty work boots came next, rounded out by an old hat with a white B on it. This had belonged to his Pappy when Wendell was just a little boy, and that was sixty-two years in the past. It didn’t stand for Boston, but Brooklyn, as in the Dodgers before they moved to that damnable Lost Angels town. Though Pappy hated the move and never pulled for the Dodgers again (opting instead for the long time losers up in the Massachusetts area who also carried a B on their hats) he still wore the blue hat with the white letter.

Wendell sat for a moment at the kitchen table, thinking a bowl of cereal or a pancake or three would be nice. Maybe if it wasn’t going to be a gully washer of a day, he would have had both and washed it down with a cup of coffee. The table was just a round thing with an ugly orange Formica top that was speckled with black spots. On it was one of Jolene’s notepads and a pencil—always a pencil, she hated the way pens felt in her hand and the way it glided across paper. Wendell thought that was nonsense. Why wouldn’t you want your writing utensil to glide across the paper? Why wouldn’t you want it to be smooth, unlike pencils, which he always thought sounded like something trying to scratch an itch that just wouldn’t go away.

He pulled the pad and pencil to him. The pencil wasn’t much more than a nub, the tip whittled away to a dull point. Writing with something so small usually made his fingers cramp, but the note he would write wouldn’t be long, a few words, tops, to let Jolene know where he was at in case she woke up before he got home. This he suspected would happen.

Jo,

I went for a drive. I found a field that could use a little love.

Wendell

He set the pencil on top of the pad and flexed the fingers on his right hand. Even those few words made his fingers angry.

How am I supposed to work if my hands already bother me?

DSCN2738He stood and was careful about picking the chair up and pushing it under the table. Though he doubted she would wake if he let it scrape the floor, like with something not being in the right place in the house, there was an off chance she would get up, and then there would be no work done. At least not that he wanted to do.

Wendell left out the front door, pulling it shut behind him and making sure both key bolts were locked. He turned and looked around. The clouds were still off in the distance and they didn’t look like the storm-threatening ones he knew were coming in a few of hours. The air was heavy and wet.

Barry Steiner sat in his rocker a couple houses down and across the street. He already had his pipe lit up. Smoke slowly lifted in the air from its bowl. Barry gave a slow wave, just a sideways motion with his hand. Wendell did the same, but he didn’t think it was as difficult for him to do as it probably was for Barry.

He’s got to be pushing a hundred, Wendell thought.

The birds weren’t chirping, but they were on the power lines that ran the length of the street. There was easily a dozen or more and they all seemed to be looking down at him.

“Good morning, fellas,” Wendell said, but didn’t give a wave to them. No, not with Barry Steiner sitting on his porch, smoking his pipe and watching him just as the birds seemed to be. He reached his truck and looked inside the bed. His tools were there, including the ancient Honda lawn mower he got some thirty years ago.

Before getting in the truck, Wendell looked back over his shoulders. The birds were gone, their stares taken with them.

“I reckon I’ll see you there,” he said and got in. It didn’t matter how hard or gentle he closed the door, it always sounded like a slam. He thought of Jolene waking and coming out to see what he was up to. That thought vanished as he cranked up the old truck. If the slamming door didn’t wake her, then the rough rumble of the motor just might. He didn’t look back to the house. He just backed out the drive, put the truck in gear and drove off as gray smoke coughed from the exhaust.

(To be continued …)