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The Baseball

the baseball


Estimated reading time — 17 minutes

It was a humid evening, as Peter Greene made his way through the small park on the edge of his property. He breathed an exasperated exhale as he walked away from his wife and the argument that had just erupted, smirking an egotistical half smile and shaking his head lightly. He walked in a steady pace, just slightly behind his wife’s Labrador retriever Lex, who was tugging frantically on the leash, needing to relieve himself on every tree that lined the shaded path. He pulled in a way that children do, trying to slip the grasp of an angry parent; with vigor, determination, and with no chance of actually freeing himself.

Peter, who was used to this daily routine, couldn’t help but scoff at the dog. How incredibly small his brain must be to never gain any inclination that he would never be able to break the leash. The dog would pull until he was gasping and choking and coughing but would never cease. It was a never-ending game the two would play that always ended with Peter giving a hard yank on the dog’s neck, Lex jerking back with a sharp cry, and Peter shoving a hard knee into Lex’s hind legs. From that point, the dog would walk sheepishly, glancing back every few seconds with a lowered head.

Their walks usually lasted around ten to fifteen minutes. Just long enough for Lex to do his business and Peter to get back to his. They took the same route every evening. It was predictable and quick and that is just how Peter liked it. A man of routine; a man who enjoyed the monotony of the daily grind and enjoyed climbing into his recliner at the end of a workday with an old fashioned and bitter resentment for the state of the world. Life had not panned out the way it was supposed to for Mr. Greene and it seeped out of every pore.

Mr. Greene noticed at the end of the paved pathway a piece of paper rustling in the breeze. He expected to find a piece of trash from the overflowing garbage can next to the sidewalk. The park was littered with trash, an obvious sign of the changing of the times. The pampered youth had no respect anymore, he thought. As he neared the end of the path and approached the parking lot at the top of the park, he noticed that it was a pale green bill laying naked on the black top. His face dropped as the wind carried the fifty dollar-bill off toward the corner of the parking lot.

Peter took off toward the bill, and it was as if the pair’s roles were reversed for the first time. Lex moved his legs quickly to keep from being dragged along the pavement by his owner. The two moved swiftly across the parking lot. As they reached the end of the lot, merely feet from the prize, the bill halted at the fence to the old baseball field, and with one last gust of wind, was pushed through the crack near the gate, and carried toward home plate.

“God dammit!” Peter seethed. “Just my damned luck”, he thought to himself as he kicked at the bottom of the fence. Some kids rolling past on skateboards, who had watched the older gentlemen fail at catching the bill, shouted: “Better luck next time old man!” They laughed to themselves mockingly and moved along.

An exhausted Lex, huffing and panting in the summer heat, laid his body down at the bottom of his master’s feet. In an embarrassed rage, Peter pushed the dog roughly off of his feet. He noticed a small separation in the gated fenced, and decided he wouldn’t be bested today. He pushed his head through the tight space and then moved his upper body through with an enormous inhale, his legs following closely behind.

“Come, Lex.” He offered sternly, while still holding the leash. Lex bowed his head low and gave a small whimper of reluctance. “Now!” He squawked as he gave Lex’s leash a hard yank toward the gate. Lex yelped at the sharp pain around his neck as he scampered obediently onto the ball field.

The pair stopped to observe the field for a moment, scanning the grass for any signs of the cash prize. The field was overgrown and brown, as if it had been forgotten years prior. The golden rays of the sun washed over the field, giving it an almost sepia tone. It was the golden hour of the evening, providing a picturesque lighting that would soon be followed by the cover of night. A light breeze pushed out a smell of mulch and leaves from the woods that lined the outskirts of the field. The bill was nowhere in sight.

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Frustrated, Peter exhaled an exhausted sigh, closed his eyes and reveled in the nostalgia. He was suddenly eleven years-old again. It was the summer of ’77. He and his friends would ride their bikes over town, blowing their small allowances on candy and baseball cards, and occasionally sneaking into the community pool to cool from the summer’s harsh rays. The pool staff knew they had snuck in but there was an understanding in the community between the haves and the have-nots, and it was nobody interest to remove children from the small enjoyment of summer.

Peter’s father was a blue-collar worker and his mother a seamstress who worked out of their home. His parents worked hard to provide the little they could for their children. Even though the family struggled, the children always got their $2 a week allowance, as long as they completed their list of chores. Peter’s parents thought it very important to teach their children how to not only manage money at a young age, but to work for what they have and take pride in it.

With a low exhale, Peter was brought back to the present. He gazed down at his hand and twisted around the ring on his pinky finger. It was his championship ring from high school, from when his baseball team had won States. Times sure had changed. He thought of his family back at home. His wife was not making dinner, but ordering pizza to be delivered while she scanned social media. His children were not doing chores or studying, but upstairs playing video games on a console his wife had bought them recently, just because. She didn’t discuss it with him beforehand. This was how their marriage went.

The family unit had disintegrated since he was a boy, or so he had witnessed in his own life. His wife never respected him enough to value his opinion on finances. His parents would sit down once a week to talk over finances and see what they were able to afford and not afford this week. The only thing he and his wife did together every week, besides argue, was watch a television show on Thursday nights. His parents had the kind of marriage he had hoped to have in his adult life, but couldn’t seem to manage.

The truth that resonated in his mind was that Peter was a push-over. When he and his wife had met at 19, he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He gave her everything he had; time, money, love. He desired the life he had witnessed growing up. He wanted to be the strong man his father had always been, but his wife had been the strong, assertive one in the family. He was never the provider he had wanted to be. He was left a bitter aging man, who was powerless in his own home, and poor Lex took the brunt of that anger.

Peter started walking around the field, starting from the gate he entered on the side of right field. He and Lex walked across center field, the dog still worn out and panting slightly. The dry grass crunched under their feet in summer heat as they made their way around the perimeter of the field. They walked firmly, as if they were the keepers of the field, guarding against unwelcome trespassers.

They moved along the field in an eerie silence. There were no sounds of vehicles or children running in the adjacent park. The wind didn’t even seem to be moving. It was still. It was almost as if time had stopped. Without warning Lex stopped on the leash and let out a low growl. Peter stopped when he felt the jerk of the motionless dog at the end of the leash. It was in that moment when he heard a laugh. It started faintly at first but it started to get louder. It was a low, slow cackle that sent a chill up his spine.

He turned his head from side to side, trying to determine where the laugh was coming from. Was it a laugh at all? The wind seemed to pick back up and change directions every few seconds. It became impossible for Peter to determine where the sound was coming from. Just as he turned his head back toward the woods, the wind died down and the sound was gone as quickly as it had begun. Strange, Peter thought to himself.

Peter assured himself he had just been hearing the whispers of the wind. It was the distorted sounds of kids playing in the distance somewhere. Surely, that had to be it. They strolled across left field and made a left at the fence, continuing toward third base. In the distance Peter noticed a rounded, white object laying on home plate, but no bill in sight.

The pair strode over third base as Lex started to slow down. He was walking at almost a snail’s pace, until about twenty feet from home plate. At this point he was unwilling to walk any further. He let out a low growl from the back of his throat, as the hair stood almost one by one on his back and neck. He lowered his head toward the ground and kept his eyes glaring ahead.

Peter pulled the dog once, but Lex refused to move this time. The dog stood as a statue, making no movement, with the exception of his throat muscles flexing every few seconds. He continued to let out low, guttural, drawn out growls toward the invisible demons he seemed to be battling ahead of him. Peter attempted again with his signature hard yank on the dogs neck, as this always worked, but again, the dog remained still.

Peter grabbed the scruff of the dog’s neck firmly in an attempt to pull him along. As soon as he grasped the dog’s fur, Lex snapped his head toward Peter’s hand and snapped his teeth in the direction of Peter’s callused hand. The dog did not connect with skin, rather his top teeth clacked against the sharp teeth of his bottom jaw. It was not an attack, it was a warning to his master.

Peter drew his hand back with a stunned expression on his face. Lex had never snapped at anyone before. Peter’s astonishment turned to anger, and he raised his hand up over his head, rearing his arm back so far that his shoulder blades were almost meeting in the middle. Without hesitation, his ego guided his hand down toward the Labrador. He had brought his closed fist down onto the dog’s head with such a force, that when he made contact, Lex’s front legs gave out, and he fell to the ground.
Lex let out a yelp as his body crashed onto the greenery. He lay still, his eyes still directed ahead. There was an eerie silence that crept over the both of them. It was the kind of silence that sits still and lingers. It was morose and deafening. The silence was cracked as Lex let out another growl, facing ahead.

Peter was over it. He dropped the leash. The dog would eventually follow him, and if he didn’t, Peter would be far from broken up about it. One less mouth to feed, Peter spat to himself as he walked over to home plate to examine the rounded object that lay there.

It was a baseball. Peter picked up the ball in his hand, and ran his finger over the red stitching of the leather. The ball was beat up and frayed, the white now a dull beige. As he turned the ball over in his hand he noticed an indentation in the leather. The cuts in the ball ran like canyons across the canvas. The number “13” jumped out at him. It seemed to have been scratched deeply into the ball, with a familiar brownish hue to it.

Peter ran his fingers over the number, as if this was his braille and his only way of fully understanding the characters. He let his eyes linger on the ball and a chill ran up his spine, onto the back of his neck, and into every follicle on his head. Every piece of hair felt like it was standing on end, almost stinging as if to remind him to breathe. He exhaled a long, deep gust of air, still looking at the ball in a perplexed manner. “Lucky number 13,” Peter said out loud to himself.

Peter was shaken out of his trance by an aggressive bark from his companion laying nearby. It was unlike any noise he had ever heard from the dog in the decade they had been together. This was not a warning, like the growl had been. This was something much, much different. As Peter lifted his head to look at Lex and yell at him to shut it, he turned his head toward the pitcher’s mound just in time to catch a flash of a baseball as it careened into his right cheek, just below his eye.

Peter let out a painful scream. He clutched his face as he fell to the ground. He felt his cheek had swollen upon impact of the ball and he could not see clearly out of his right eye. He touched slowly at his cheek and found that it felt almost like a sponge, as if the ball had completely disintegrated any bone that had once been there. The pain left him crumpled to the ground as he let out another painful yell, this time filled with anger. He turned his head toward the mound and saw a blurry image of what looked to be a man standing there.

Peter could make out that the figure was a man, his head positioned just in front of the sun, causing him to look like a featureless silhouette. As his eyes adjusted, Peter could start to make out his appearance. He was tall. He must have been 7 feet tall. He had long stringy, black hair and looked just between thin and emaciated. His eyes looked black and were enhanced by the dark circles under his eyes. His skin was a pale white, except for the skin around his mouth. A light brown traced along the outside of his lips, like a child who had been drinking Kool-Aid all day.

He was dressed in all black, his clothing torn and frayed on the sleeves. He had on black boots that looked like a mix of cowboy and combat boots. His loose fitting tie around his neck was black with dark green stripes, providing the only hint of color illuminated from his dark presence.

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The man stood there, slightly hunched over, chin down, his eyes piercing upward directly into Peter’s. He had the stance of a pitcher, looking to his catcher for the call. He had a devious smile on his face, his teeth coated in brown stains. He smiled as Peter stared him down in anger. The man on the mound watched as the other man’s face turned from anger to fear. This was what he came for. Watching their faces overturn as they come to terms with the very real danger they are in. He watched the light drain from Peter’s eyes with a calm delight.

Just as Peter opened his mouth to scream, the man rushed him from the mound, the smile still on his face. The way he covered the ground between them, it was almost as if his legs were 6 feet long. He seemed to get to Peter in as little as three strides. As Peter flipped to his back to defend himself, he saw the man more clearly now. His face looked almost animated and inhuman.

Peter shot his hands out in front of him instinctively to protect his face, as the man jumped on top of him. He straddled him and grabbed both of Peter’s wrists with one of his enormous hands and pinned his arms above his head. He was extremely thin, but he sat like a boulder on top of Peter’s abdomen. He was impossibly heavy for his appearance. He continued to smile and peer down at a helpless Peter kicking his legs beneath him. About 20 feet away, Lex has stopped barking and lay with his head on the ground, gazing curiously at the scene unfolding.

“Get off! Help! Get the fuck off of me!” Peter screamed as the man continued to gaze down at him. He tried to move his arms to no avail. Peter noticed the man’s teeth were rough, thin, jagged, and impossibly everywhere. They resembled teeth. They looked like rusted nails stuck haphazardly into different parts of his gums. Something was very wrong. He must have had over 100 teeth, if you could call them that, in his mouth. They were all jutting out in different directions, like some kind of an oral wood chipper.

“What do you want?” Peter cried out. The man gazed down at Peter below him and smiled his jagged teeth at him. He leaned down very slowly, closer to Peter’s face until he was almost nose to nose with him. His noxious breath enveloped Peter, and as small traces of drool started to drip from the corners of his mouth, the man stated firmly,

“Better.”

In an instant, the man grabbed the baseball lying next to them in his oversized palm and in a windmill motion, brought the ball down onto the front of Peter’s forehead. There was no crunching noise as one might come to expect with the cracking and caving in of a skull. Instead, it sounded almost like the dropping of an orange onto the floor. It was a low, muffled sound, followed by a small gurgle and groan from Peter.

The man reared back and hit him with the ball again. And again. And again. The blows became wild and animalistic, as the man repeatedly started pounding the ball into the same spot on his forehead, as wheezes and gasps escaped the broken man’s body. The figure let out a series of guttural grunts every time he made contact with the lifeless man below him. The grunts turned to laughs, and in a short time the man was laughing hysterically as his brutality continued. Blood and bits of bone now coated the man’s hand and ball.

As quickly as the beating began, the man stopped swinging his fist. He sat still on top of the now faceless body, peering down at the crater he had created. He exhaled and released the ball to the ground. The baseball rolled slowly away with small splatters of deepening red staining the surface. The man’s hand had been so large that the baseball remained mostly untainted, having been enclosed almost entirely in his palm.

The man snapped his head down quickly about 6 inches from where his victim’s face used to be and forced out a hard, maniacal laugh. It was as if he was trying to laugh and scream at the same time. He wanted his victim, even in death, to know just how much he had enjoyed himself.

The madman rolled off of the body, and continued rolling another few feet until he was lying on his back next to the baseball. He reached into his mouth with two of his gangly fingers and pinched the end of one of his teeth. He gave a firm twist and pull, as a tooth slid out of his gums, an iceberg in it’s own right. Two thirds of his tooth had been hiding below his red gums. The tooth in his hand was now about 5 inches long.

He grabbed the ball next to him, and fondled it lightly in his hand. He sat up and moved on his knees toward the body nearby. He moved his hand toward the pulpy mess he had created, and coated the end of the tooth in the crimson liquid now covering the surface of home plate. The blood drenched tooth met the soft white leather of the baseball. He moved the tooth strategically over the surface of the ball. He dipped the tooth in the blood one more time and continued his work with precision. He held the ball in front of his face and observed: “14”.

The man was stirred by an uncharacteristically strong exhale from Lex, who was still laying idly by. The man smiled and without hesitation, he snapped his teeth around the right forearm of the lifeless body. Blood instantly coated the man’s lips and mouth. He began tearing into the flesh, biting until he hit bone. With one hard clench of his jaw, he snapped through the bone with ease. He shook his head from side to side until the hand no longer belonged to Peter.

He picked up the detached hand and slipped the wrist up into his jacket sleeve, the way that kids do with props on Halloween just before they go shake hands with the unsuspecting grandparents. He walked over to Lex, who was now standing at attention, his hair back on end. His head was lowered, but his low growl was much more muffled than before. The man reached toward the dog with a hand that had caused him pain not more than ten minutes ago. Lex snapped his teeth into the hand and started to shake it. The man let go of the hand and smiled.

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Lex shook the hand back and forth with a growl. He looked up at the man once more, and took off running toward the gate he had entered through, hand still in his mouth. The dog stopped just before exiting the field, looked back toward the man, and then disappeared. The man folded his hands in front of him, as he watched the dog scamper off, a calm smile plastered on his face.

The man turned and walked back toward home plate. He bent down and grabbed one of the legs and started dragging the body behind him and headed off toward center field. He tossed the ball up and down in his other hand. He whistled a nursery rhyme-like tune that floated over the dimming field, providing a sense of closure to this expiring summer’s day.

He dragged the body all the way to the fence in center field. He turned back toward the field, reared his arm back, and threw the ball as far as he could toward the infield. The ball rolled to a stop, the blood now drying and changing from a deep red to an unappealing brown. The man lifted the body over his shoulder with ease as he climbed over the fence and strode into the woods, still whistling the melodic tune.

Back at Peter’s home, Holly Greene looked at the clock on her phone: 8:31pm. This was about the time of night that Lex would be curled up on the floor next to her recliner, ready to go to bed but not quite ready to go to bed alone. He had the same routine every night. He was as predictable as her husband. It was as she silently laughed in her head at this observation that she realized that they had been gone for over an hour on their walk. Probably still being a baby about it, She thought, as she recalled their argument earlier in the evening.

Holly got up and looked out the window at the park across the street. It was around dusk. The street lights had just turned on in the park. They gleamed down on the cement path, not really providing much assistance, as the walkway was still mostly visible in the quickly diminishing sunlight. They seemed to be more a beacon, advising the wandering youth that darkness was rapidly approaching and it was about time to head home. She stood looking out the window with her arms folded over her chest for almost ten minutes. She wasn’t really looking at anything in particular, just watching the evening turn to darkness. She gently rubbed her arms as a chill from the AC washed over her.

Holly made her way toward the back door. As she walked out the door frame and into the backyard, she felt the warmth of the summer air hit her skin. Fireflies were illuminating the grass covered yard, floating about like the ashes of a campfire, seemingly aimless and without purpose. She inhaled deeply and took in the smell of her garden that lined the walkway to the garage. It felt like the quintessential summer evening.

Holly was shaken by the slight jingle of the chain link fence that sat adjacent to the garage at the end of the yard. She squinted her eyes to take a look but could not make anything out in the darkness. The jingle came again, but still she was unable to see anything in the blanket of black that stretched out toward the end of the property. She walked back to the door she had just come through, reached into the doorway, and flipped the switch to the flood lights over-head. The yard and garage were instantly bathed in a light.

The chain link gate rattled again as Holly turned her attention to the sound. She strained her eyes to make out the source of the clanging metal. Through the links in the fence she saw her dog laying down with his back turned to the fence. “Lex!” She hollered, feeling confused. He didn’t move. She started off down the sidewalk path, the smell of her lavender again washing over her nostrils. As she got closer to the gate, she noticed that Lex’s leash was still attached to his collar.

Mrs. Greened opened the gate, something she had done countless times before, while greeting her dog coming back from his evening walk. She was his human of choice and would, without fail, pummel her with licks and nips every time he was reacquainted with her. This evening, Lex did not turn to greet her. She picked up the end of the leash and gave a slight tug. “Come on, sweetheart.” She cooed. He snapped his head round, as if he was startled to see her there. He wagged his tail and just gazed upon her for a moment, before turning away, and bowing his head back toward the grass.

“Lex, you’re filthy!” She stated, noticing the discoloration that covered his snout and chest. “Come on.” She pleaded as she pulled again on the leash. Lex bent his head down once more, and turned to walk into the yard. It took a few moments for Holly to register what she was seeing, before her heart almost leapt out of her chest. “What the fuck!” She thought, as her head raced.

She threw the gate open and ran into the alley behind the garage. “Peter!” She yelled as if calling a child home for supper. “Peter!” she screamed again, this time with more of a panic settling into her voice. She dipped her hand into her back pocket and grabbed her phone as she immediately dialed 911. “What’s going on, mom?” Came a voice from the back door, as her eldest son breezed into the backyard.

Holly’s face dropped. “Go back inside, Troy!” She urged as she started back toward the house. Troy looked at her with concern and confusion. “Come on boy.” Troy insisted as he called to Lex who was about halfway across the yard to him at this point. “No just go inside!” Holly screamed as she took off running toward the dog. “What is going o-…” Troy trailed off as he glanced down at the severed hand in the dog’s mouth. It took him a moment to register what he was seeing, and even a moment longer to register the very distinguishable ring on the pinky, as he threw up reactively into his mother’s beloved garden of tulips.

Credit : T.J. Anderson

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