by Eric DeLee
A new horror piece by Eric DeLee. A FireFly's Flight, the story of facing fears.
Another firefly dead
Koi Nagata (1900-1997)
“You go right ahead, young man. I’m just resting here for a spell.”
“Are… are you okay, sir?”
Mike laughs and tussled the golden brown hair of the young boy. He hated hearing the young ones calling him ‘sir’, but with the way he looks now, most people believe he is ancient.
“I’m fine. ‘Right as rain’, as they’d say! Besides, I’m not as old as I look young man!” He gave the boy a wink. The boy smiled at him, but Mike could tell he was simply being polite. The smile looked about as genuine as a lady’s look of pleasure when her man no longer held her excitement.
“How old do you think I am? If you get close, I’ll perform a little magic for you!”
“Magic?” The boy’s eyes lit up a notch, and his smile seemed to lighten a little.
“Well…” the young man started rubbing his chin. He looked like the youngest version of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ Mike had ever seen. “I’d have to say you are about… umm… eighty?” It was more of a question than an answer.
“Heavens no!” Mike laughed again. He hasn’t even reached the grand age of fifty yet, and people still believe he’s eighty. He’s used to it now-amazed not at the fact that people guessed eighty all of the time but amazed at the fact that he would guess the exact same number if given the same question. It had all began in the summer of 1969, when he was only 12, but again that’s another story for a different time and place. Surly not here when he is standing so close to where it had all climaxed in the first place. “But I guess that’ll have to do, Charlie. That’s close enough for horseshoes and government work!”
“How did you know my name is Charlie?” The boy’s eyes went to stone again as he took a step back.
“It’s an old expression, my friend. Surely you’ve heard of it: ‘Sorry Charlie’?” The boy shook his head to the left, and then back to the right.
“Oh well!” Pausing, Mike looks down the flight of stairs to see if the boy’s parents were trailing after him. On the left side of the aisle, there were groups of yellow chairs. On the right side, they were blue. It was the latter where he believed he could see the boy’s father approaching; puffing his cheeks with each step he had to take. The overweight man he saw had the same hair color and his flushed face held many of the boy’s facial features. He was carrying an assortment of drinks and a foam finger that had the ‘Omaha Royals’ logo printed on it. He looked in worse shape than he had felt himself, but he just smiled and turned his attention back to the boy standing in front of him. He chuckled even more when he observed the boy looking over him with a touch of worry on his brow.
“What’s wrong, sir?” Mike’s shirt was soaked with an afternoon’s worth of sweat. Where his shirt stuck to his body, it showed how thin he was.
“I’m just catching my breath! I don’t have nearly the amount of energy I used to have back when I was your age.” He reached out with a shaky hand and goosed the boy’s nose. That started the boy some, but his eyes lit up when he watched the older man as he performed an amazing trick-one he would never figure out how to do-although Mike guessed he would probably try the rest of the afternoon. At first, Mike showed that his hand was empty by revealing his palm to the sky. With an unnatural quickness, he had flicked his wrist, as he had done for so many other party tricks, and produced a fifty-cent piece between the first and second arthritically swollen knuckle. He then danced it across his knuckles in a fluid-like manner; you would have never known the extent of damage or pain that arthritis had caused him-not with the way he handled the coins. When the boy thought his show was finished, Mike amazed him once again by producing a second fifty-cent piece and rhythmically started dancing the two through his knuckles with ease.
“Wow!” The kid exclaimed.
Mike smiled. Even though it pained him to do much of anything with his hands these days, he was not able to help himself. Throughout all of the years he had shown that trick, he always enjoyed looking into the kids’ eyes-watching them dance and bob with the coins. Ah, to be young again, he thought. Both a blessing and a curse.
“Here you go.” Mike flipped both coins in the air, caught them and then showed his palm to the sky. Once again, his palm was empty. The boy looked partly amazed and partly disappointed. This was yet another part of the trick he had always loved. He closed his hand, making a fist that was roughly half of the size of the young child’s face, and held it out for him to open.
“Go ahead!” Mike chuckled as the boy stepped forward, eyeing him with caution. He then pried back four of the man’s fingers to reveal a two-dollar bill folded in quarters. “It’s yours’. Go buy some peanuts or something with it.” The young boy snatched the bill, looked up at him and flashed a smile that revealed three missing teeth. Mike smiled back at him and tussled his hair once again. He watched as the boy changed course and started skipping down the steps to show the two-dollar bill to the man carrying the royal blue foam finger. His smile faded as the overweight man flashed a look of accusation up at him, as though he was paying for certain services that are better left unmentioned. Mike shrugged and turned around to find his way to his seat along the First Base line.
Baseball has always been a favorite pastime of his. When he was younger, he had played with a group of friends in the ballpark by the viaduct. The same ballpark that introduced his group to The Tunnels by a wayward ball hit into Right Field. The Tunnels just happened to be the place where he lost his best friend, but that is a story we will get into later. Right now, let us just focus on the nation’s greatest pastime.
Although Mike grew up in the era where boys idolized Mickey Mantle and emulated The Babe by pointing to the bleachers when they came up to plate, he had decided to go against the natural flow of baseball lovers around the world. He learned to hate the Yankees. Yes, the Yankees. All of his friends had disowned him for about a week or two. During one of their many games that summer, Jim Davidson had thrown an inside pitch that nearly took off his head. To this very day, Mike still believes that he did that on purpose. ‘Why,’ you might ask? Simply because he started liking the 1969 expansion team: The Kansas City Royals.
“The WHO?” Bill had exclaimed.
Mike had just smiled and started kicking his feet at the dirt in the dugout. Before long, he cleared the ground of sunflower seed shells and was actually afraid to mention his new favorite team’s name again. By then, all of the kids in the dugout had stopped doing what they normally did; Jim quit tossing a ball into the rubbed leather of his glove, and Stanley quit spitting seeds through the mesh fence and had turned to face Mike. The others… you could not really be sure of, but Mike felt them staring at him as if he was a murderer rather than just an ordinary kid who had decided not to root for the guys in pinstripes. At that age and time, I guess you could say that Mike was not an ordinary kid. As Jim had stated by trying to put his fastball right in his ear, nobody in their right mind would like the Royals over the Yankees. “It’s just not natural!” Jim would have said.
No one would pick the Royals over the Bronx Bombers, except for Mike. He had liked the Royals because they were close to home. Okay, to give the exact reason, he had like the Royals because his dad would always get him tickets to the stadium they had just built across the river in Omaha. That is where the minor league team played.
Mike smiled and shook his head back and forth, as he continued walking around the ballpark. Baseball always brought him fond memories. With the exception of two images that still haunt him today, he had always welcomed the things that baseball made him reflect upon. He enjoyed so many things about baseball. Today was no exception. The field was breathtakingly beautiful. The outfield, freshly cut and as green as one of those new John Deere tractors he has seen on television. There were even diagonal lines that slashed across the surface! Mike had wondered if anyone here had noticed those besides him and the head groundskeeper that hated to see divots in front of the reddish clay of the warning track. He had doubted that anyone would pay attention to the smaller details, but isn’t that what society is coming to nowadays? He has seen it time after time-everyone is afraid to stop and smell the roses without having a lawsuit thrown on them for infringement of some perfume patent.
He took a deep breath as the announcer welcomed everyone to the ballpark. He had stated that everyone was sure to have a blast on ‘George Brett Bobble Head Day’. Mike had given that silly contraption to one of the first kids that he had seen after passing the ticket counter and the metal detector.
“A metal detector at a baseball field? What is this world coming to?” He had said this aloud to no one in particular. He did not expect an answer, but one lady did shake her head in disagreement. He didn’t know if he should take that as if the lady were agreeing with him-that it was an outrageous shame-or if that meant that the lady simply thought he was crazy for talking to himself. Either way he decided to continue towards his task of finding his seat. The section he was passing had a vendor that was selling polish dogs and Nachos with cheese and jalapenos if you wanted them. He made note of the rich smell as he walked past it, noting how the polish dogs smelled as though they were cooked in a backyard smoker. The kind that you could add chunks of dried hickory to the water, so that it gave the meats a good wood flavoring. The taste he would always associate with the way food tasted when you cooked over an open fire on a camping trip. He wanted to remember where this was so that he could grab one or two dogs for the road if he was able to make it back this way after the game. Hell, if he survived what he planned on doing, he figured he would just smother both of them with yellow mustard and eat them on the way out-smiling at anybody and everybody that saw him. Mustard on his mouth, cheeks, shirt and all.
He had bought a ticket near the Right Field bleachers. The lady at the ticket counter had told him that he would be at the end of the visitor’s bullpen. She had also mentioned that Turk Wendell was going to be making his rehabilitation appearance later within the game, and that the best seats to see him warm up before going to the mound…
Turk Wendell? Isn’t that the guy that likes to jump over the first base line, careful not to touch it? Some crazy superstitious thing. He had thought.
…would be the section he was going to be sitting in. He did not really care too much for all of the information she was sharing, but he had exclaimed that it would be grand to sit there. He had even mentioned that he might try to get an autograph or two while he was close to the bullpen. Not that he would try, but that is a different case all together. He just wanted to get access to the Right Field bleachers. Once he had taken his seat, after he had fiddled around and cursed at the push-down seat that kept folding up on him before he could sit, he looked around to figure out which exit the lady at the ticket counter had told him about. She had told him that the Right Field bleachers were under renovation, thus the reasoning behind why he could not buy one of those tickets. Instead, he would have to settle for Section AA, Row 1. She had also gone on to mention that the nearest exit ramp was directly behind his seat. He noted that she was right about that. Beyond that exit, a covered stairwell led to the General Admission seats in Right Field. If his memory served him correctly that is.
“Ha! If my memory serves me correctly, I have nothing to worry about when I go under the bleachers! Now do I?” He mumbled this aloud and then realized it did nothing to calm his nerves, it only made him tremble even more. Somehow saying it out loud, hearing his own voice say that he was going under the bleachers again, made it all seem real again. It gave him a reality check on what he was about to do this evening. In short, it scared the living shit out of him.
It took him nearly until the end of the second inning before he was able to flag down the hotdog vendor, it seems that the smell from the polish dog stand made him hungrier than he had originally thought. A young teenager with a minefield of blemishes swaggered over bringing his attitude along for the ride. He seemed interested in staring at the girls just a tad more then he was of selling his merchandise. If this was back in the older days where selling your entire inventory meant a better wage for you at the end of the day, he supposed that this man may pay a little more attention to what he was doing. He may even throw the attitude to the curb for just a few hours. Even as he was serving Mike, the boy’s eyes jerked and held to a different location. Mike followed his gaze and noticed a slender blonde wearing her tan just as well as her bikini top and low waist shorts. He smiled wondered at why a woman would want to cut out the waistband of her shorts, and could not help but to realize that he was the same as the teenage boy when he was younger. Instead of asking the young man for change, he gave him a five-dollar bill and gave the rest as a tip. The young man looked down at the money and glanced down at him as if to tell Mike he was a cheap bastard before he walked away. It was not until later when Mike noticed that the actual price of a hotdog had jumped significantly from the quarter he had paid the last time he came here to the gaudy price of $4.50. Outrageous under any circumstances as far as he was concerned, but just down right dirty when you are sitting in a minor league ballpark. Hunger got the best of him and when he wanted another hotdog after finishing off the first, it was safe to say that the teenager was nowhere to be seen. Mike would tell himself that it was okay-he did not want to go under the bleachers to face his nightmare with a full stomach of processed meat anyway.
Still unable to force himself to look at the Right Field bleachers, Mike sat there watching the game playing out before him but not seeing the game. He was too busy remembering how all of this began when he was a child. He was too busy trying to recall all of the details that happened so long ago… the details that led up to the bottom of the ninth inning on that humid, summer evening. He was too busy searching for the answer to the riddle that had haunted his life and dreams for the most of the past quarter of a century.
He was also too occupied with memories to notice the soft, glow under the Right Field bleachers. He was trying to figure out a way to save his life to notice the yellowish-green hue intensify with each inning that completed.
This is what he remembered.
THE EARLY INNINGS
"Are you going to pitch the ball or just stand there staring me down, Jim?"
"I'll pitch when I'm darn good and ready! I'm just zeroing in on ya'!"
"Zero in on this!" The young boy removes a hand from the base of the bat and flips off the pitcher. In the dugout, his teammates started laughing at the exchange of words. With a quick fluid-like motion, Jim raised his leg and fired a zinger right at the batter's head. He ducked without a fraction to spare and the ball crashed into the chain link fence they used as a backstop.
The batter, Mike, gathered himself from the ground and patted the dirt off his shirt. Clouds of red dust surrounded him. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back to Jim. He wiped sweat from his brow with his arm, leaving a line of dirt sticking out like a birthmark. It had been an unseasonably hot July and that day was probably the hottest yet. Jim smiled at Mike, but it was one of those smiles that said 'Don't mess with me man! It's too hot for this shit!'
Mike smiled as well. He realized that he was lucky to avoid that pitch. Jim could pitch fast, and his control was nearly perfect - deadly if he meant to throw at you.
"Two can play this game." His smile faded and he dug into the batter's box. "Wait until the next pitch, I'll send it over the viaduct."
Jim looked over at first base, no runner was there to keep in check, but habits were hard to break. He threw the next pitch with all of the strength his legs would allow and nearly fell off the mound after the delivery. Before Mike even started his swing, Jim knew that he had just pitched a hanging fastball right into the center of the strike zone. He did not flick his wrist enough at the end to cause the ball to break at the batter's waist and end up somewhere near his ankles--usually resulting in a whiff. Instead, he watched Mike's eyes as he greeted his pitch like a gift from the Gods and sent it sailing towards the viaduct.
"Looky there! Going. Going. LONG GONE!" He had recognized that line. Mike yelled it at the top of his lungs every time he was pitched a hanging, gopher ball. All of a sudden, he could feel the stickiness of the sweat under his shirt. He swatted at a fly buzzing near his ear.
Jim looked behind him at his right fielder. He raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders as a reply. It was as if he were saying 'Oh well'. He then pointed up at the viaduct and suggested that the ball went over the viaduct.
"Damn!" If it went over the viaduct, he knew that it meant that it went into The Tunnels. That was the only ball they had brought today, meaning that the game was either finished or that someone would risk going into The Tunnels. No one had gone near there since Billy found that dead girl leaning against the wall. He had said that she was decaying (maggots and other unmentionables crawling all over her leathery skin and everything) and that the smell had reminded him of the time he went fishing with liver and accidentally forgot the extra bait in his tackle box over the winter months. "You never forget a smell like that," he had said. They had all taken his word for it.
Mike was taking his time around the bases and had just turned third base. He started to stare-down the dejected pitcher. Jim took note of how slow he was jogging and decided next time he would get a fastball in the ribs. He grinned back at Mike and walked towards his dugout. His thirst had taken first priority. The bottle of cola he had brought that morning would be warm at best, if not hot, but at least it was wet. That was one step forward, at least.
"Well... it's probably over there." The handful of boys that followed them over to The Tunnels stopped looking for the ball and turned to face Mike. Mike pointed down to the section where The Tunnels led underneath the streets. The opening was like a black mouth that just dared anyone to enter it. It was as if light was forbidden under there--as if it were severed off right there at the opening. Its teeth were there--sharp as razors. Jim was damned if he knew where they were, but they were there. He was sure of that!
After remembering the trajectory of the homerun, he assumed that Mike was probably correct on where it ended its trip. As for as he was concerned, that Tunnel was its final resting place-its grave so to speak. He had no intentions to go down there--even if that ball did have the best seams to grip. Jim had already decided that he would just lift a few balls from practice on Friday. The coach would never miss them and he could avoid going into The Tunnels. It seemed like a good tradeoff to him.
"So, who's goin' down there?" Mike seemed determined to continue the game though. After all, all he needed was a single to complete the cycle that day.
"Tell ya' what. Let's go to The Corner. I'll buy everyone a soda." Jim suggested. The Corner was the local ice cream and soda shop about three blocks away from the ballpark. It was the type of place where you could get a cola with vanilla flavoring for only a nickel. Everyone had agreed and started back to the dugouts, losing interest in retrieving the baseball. Jim looked back down at The Tunnels and noticed the spray-painted logos that the local gangs had decorated the walls with and turned away to join the others. There was no more baseball played that afternoon, and as far as anyone knows, that ball is still down there. It was a good thing too. When they turned away, a low growling came from the opening of The Tunnels. None of the other guys heard it; they were too far away from The Tunnels. Mike and Jim thought maybe they had, but instead they decided it was just the wind. They both turned and started jogging towards the dugout.
After paying for the drinks, the ballplayers parted ways. Some went over to Jim’s house to trade baseball cards. Jim had suggested that Stanley should ask his father if he could stay over at his place that evening. Stanley hopped onto his bicycle and pedaled away as though the devil was nipping at his rear tire. As he sped away, the baseball card rigged to catch the spokes of his tire rattled and clicked. Mike thought it to be strange that Jim had asked Stanley to stay over, but dismissed it without too much thought. His mind was on the Royals game that was going to be on the radio later that evening. They were going to be playing the Yankees.
“I’ll bet you a sundae that the Royals beat your Yankees tonight, Jim.” Jim came to a halt in the middle of the road and then spun on his heels to face Mike. A smile worked across his face. He pointed his bat; the same one Mike had used to hit a homerun earlier, and waggled it at him teasingly.
“We both know who’ll win already. You’re on!” He was about to turn back around and head to his house, when Mike made the worst suggestion he made in his entire life.
“If... no, no, no. Scratch that. When the Royals win tonight, you have to go get the ball out of The Tunnels... and buy me a sundae.”
“Sure.” Jim’s voice cracked. His smile faltered, and then for a moment, completely died out. Then his eyes flickered, and then the smile reappeared. It had reminded Mike of the smiling cat in Alice in Wonderland. After clearing his throat he had continued, “Sure! And if the Yankees lose to your boys, I’ll go to The Tunnels tonight to retrieve that ball. In other words... make sure you bring enough money for my sundae tomorrow!”
Jim turned away, laughing. He dragged his bat on the pavement behind him and stuffed his ball cap into the back pocket of his shorts. His mother would not allow him to wear the ball cap in the house, and anyone who came over did the same out of respect.
Mike smiled and threw his baseball glove into the rack attached to his bicycle’s handlebars. He glanced over his shoulder and watched Jim strut towards his house. The bat was still skipping and hopping off the pavement behind him. Something about Jim just did not set well with him. He shrugged it off and hopped onto his bike.
Even though it was roughly three in the morning, Mike was bouncing off the tent’s walls with excitement. Doug shook his head in frustration and put the pillow over his head in an attempt to drown out Mike. He had been trying to get to sleep for the past two hours, but Mike kept talking about the baseball game. Earlier in the day, he was happy when Mike had asked him to stay over for the night. He had even broke into his savings that he keeps under his mattress (way in the middle so that his younger sister won’t find the money) and bought snacks and sodas for the evening. Now, over two hours after the Royals’ radio broadcast concluded, he had regretted his decision to camp out in Mike’s backyard. Little did he know he would learn to regret that decision even more once Stanley showed up.
“Wasn’t that amazing? I mean. The. Royals. Who would have thought? The Yanks only got one hit off of them, Doug! One Hit!”
The man just doesn’t know when to quit! Doug thought. He banged his fist on the ground, twisted his wrist a little, and decided to just give up the notion that he was going to get any sleep that night. He sat up and grabbed the bag of licorice he brought. The instant he tried to lift the weight of the bag, a sharp pain registered in his wrist.
“Shhhhit!” He hissed through clenched teeth, dropping the bag back to the ground. A few strings of the black licorice fell to the ground. A plump, black ant changed its course and attacked one of the strings.
“I banged up my wrist a little. That’s all.”
“Are you going to be able to play tomorrow?” Mike seemed concerned. After all, Doug was the centerfielder on his team and had a decent swing. Without him, well, Jim’s team will more than likely have a field day popping bloopers into the outfield. The only person he had that could replace him would be Willie. That guy had been picking his nose in the dugout for most of the games. The last time he took to the field, he had dropped three fly balls and misplayed four others. Every time he came back to the dugout, he always blamed his lack of skills on the sun’s glare. Even if it was a cloudy day and the sun was not able to find a way to poke through, his excuse had always been that ‘damned sun’ or ‘stupid glare’.
“Shit, yeah.” Doug took his wrist in his other hand and tested it by pulling it back. He winced his eyes at the pain that shot up his arm and wondered if he would be able to play after all. A gust of wind made the opening flap of the tent snap with authority. Mike’s dog, Duke, began barking. Mike’s attention went towards listening to Duke. Something had spooked him. He had not heard Duke bark like that for years. He had mellowed with age, and during those years, nothing seemed to faze him.
“Well. I think it’ll be fine. I’ll just see how it-”
“SSSSHHH!” Doug stopped in mid sentence. After a few moments, he closed his mouth, realizing he must have looked like an idiot with it just hanging open. Then he heard what Mike, and Ol’ Duke more likely than not, was listening to. It was unmistakable wail of a police car. Distant, but still recognizable. It was joined with another, and then a slightly different warble that sounded like an ambulance. Whatever happened, it sounded as though the sirens were getting closer. Then they heard the footsteps approaching the tent.
“What the...” He trailed off, glancing at Mike. Duke’s barking was more consistent, and louder. Mike was surprised to hear it, but low growling sounds were starting to mix in with the barks. He could not remember Duke growling at anything before. Sweat started to bead on Doug’s forehead, and he was scared. Not campfire story scared, but actually scared beyond anything he has experienced.
“MIKE? MIKE?” It was Stanley’s voice. He sounded as though he had just finished a marathon. There was something else there as well. Something Mike could not quite place and then just like that, he recognized it. Stanley was rattled out of his mind. Something terrible had happened. His heart caught when he remembered that Stanley stayed at Jim’s house that evening. Stanley was there, but Jim was not. The siren’s wails were louder, leaving a heavy weight in his mind as they passed. He thought there were four cars that rushed past the front of the house, but was unsure since he was still inside of the tent. Each of the vehicles painted the tent’s walls shortly with red and blue hues. He saw Doug’s face in the light and snapped his focus to the opening of the tent. Stanley had just reached the opening, fell down and was looking inside. The site of Stanley, pale and with eyes as big as dinner plates jarred him even more than Doug’s face had. He closed his eyes, hoping for the best but knowing the worst has yet to come. The sirens continued along their way. Their shrieking cries were less piercing than just seconds before. Judging the distance, he believed the cars to be in the area of the ballpark they play at.
“Stanley. What’s wrong? What’s going on?” Doug shimmied himself out of the sleeping bag and crawled towards the opening of the tent. Stanley was still on the ground; leaves were stuck to his clothes and throughout his hair. Mike had never seen someone’s face turn as white as his had. He watched as Stanley tried to talk, tried to get something to come out, but each time his voice betrayed him and a gargled mess came out instead of words. His eyes welled up and glassed over. A tear spilled over and left a shiny crevice down his cheek. Mike saw the moonlight reflect off it just before Stanley was able to find his voice for two words. Before the words were completed, Mike shot through the opening of the tent. His shirt snagged one of the supporting poles that stuck out, ripped, and then broke free from the tent’s grip as he spun away.
The two words Stanley was able to choke out:
Mike saw the lights flashing from the general direction of the ball field, and ran with all of his might. The sirens had been silenced shortly after Mike had turned the corner of his block and neared Jim’s house. Glancing up, he noticed that Jim’s bedroom light was still lit. The rest of the house lay as still and dark as a crypt. In the distance a steady, rolling rumble filled the sky. Electrical currents flashed and bounced from cloud to cloud as though it were playing tag. There was a mineral smell to the night’s air. Mike took note of everything, and yet took note of nothing at all. All he could think about was Jim.
The police cars were huddled under the viaduct - six of them - painting the under layers of the viaduct with a spray of reds and blues as if there were a magic disco ball spinning from some unseen rafter. There was also an ambulance. Mike had run to the pitcher’s mound before the ambulance caught his attention, stopping him in his tracks. Its lights were dark and still. Mike had seen this occasionally on the highways and had once questioned his father as to why the ambulance did not have its lights or siren on. When he was very young, his father had replied that they were letting the soul leave the person’s body in peace so they turned the lights and sirens out of respect. During the past year or so, his father decided to start being a little more curt with his answers. He stated that there was no need for the lights or siren to be on because they were not in a hurry to just deliver a body to the morgue. Mike’s father always had a way of putting things into perspective.
What if that ambulance is for Jim? He asked himself. Does that mean the Jim is...NO!
“I won’t think about that.” He said aloud. With that last thought still tearing its way out of his mind - forcing him to accept a reality he was not ready for - he set off in a sprint towards The Tunnels.
Then an idea flashed inside his head: He’s still alive. They just haven’t found him yet. That is all. It was a lie that was supposed to make him feel better, but it had the reverse effects. It did nothing but set things further into perspective.
When he reached the walls of The Tunnels, the very spot he and Jim stood earlier in the day, he did not even pause to think twice about scaling down the wall. Jim was down there, somewhere in the dark tunnel, and he was going to find him. There were numerous beams of light bobbing up and down and swooshing back and forth in the tunnels. They were searching for him still, and that eased Mike’s heart. Not by much, but at least a fraction. Each journey begins by taking one step forward. At this point, Mike felt that any glimmer of hope was worth hanging onto.
“JIM?” He was about halfway down the 15-foot concrete wall when he cried out Jim’s name. The cops were all startled and more than one of them pointed their flashlight’s beam towards the direction of the yell. Mike was blinded instantly, lost his footing, and fell to the floor of The Tunnels with the perfect imitation of a soaked sandbag. He tried to breathe, but was unable to catch his breath. The fall had knocked the wind out of him and his body was desperately retching in order to try to restore its breathing.
He heard someone run up to where he was, exclaiming something about Jesus H. Christ scaring the shit out of him, and then in an authoritive voice, “Hey! You all right? What are you doing here?”
Mike rolled away from the uniformed man and retched again. His mouth hung open. Air was there for the taking, but it was as if someone had placed a bag over his head. He started to panic, and rolled halfway into the drainage water, instantly soaking his upper body with the nasty water. His face dunked underneath the surface, and when he came up, his lungs filled with oxygen. Just as soon as he caught his breath, his eyes happened on something, and his lungs seized on him again. He stared at that object for what seemed to be an eternity.
Through the next thirty years of his life, he just could not shake the image of Jim’s arm from his mind. There in the water, less than a foot away from his face was the pitching arm of his best friend. It was bloated but to Mike’s surprise there was not that much blood. He supposed that it had been washed away for the most part by the stream. There were punctures and tears all over the bicep and shoulder area. Sticking out through the top was the gleaming white nub of bone. Whatever may have happened, it seemed to Mike as though Jim’s arm was just ripped from his body. He had not seen Jim’s body of course, in fact, had no idea if the same puncture wounds and tears existed over his entire body, but realized just the same that his friend went through hell. His arm alone looked as though it were thrown in the middle of a pack of starving hounds.
Just seeing a dismembered arm floating around in the stream, that would be enough to send most people into a state of shock. The entire episode was more than just Mike’s first experience with death up-close. What disturbed him the most was what was still gripped in Jim’s hand. When he had first seen the arm, it was caught in a jumble of sticks and backwash, and was not moving downstream. He did not really register that he was staring at his friend’s arm. Not until he saw the baseball.
The baseball had that soaked look to it that leather will get if left in the rain. There were a few scuffmarks on the ball, but for the most part, it was a brilliant white. The red stitches stuck out in ridges. Mike noticed that Jim held the ball as though he was ready to throw a fastball.
Damn! He must have thrown that ball really hard! Ripped his freaking arm off with that pitch! Mike’s mind intervened. He pushed that thought to the side when he noticed one other thing about the ball. The letters ‘JI’ were printed on the sweet spot. Mike had remembered Jim printing his name on the ball with a permanent black marker a few weeks ago. He had mentioned that Stanley had a way of carrying things off that did not belong to him. If Mike were to move the webbing between Jim’s thumb and finger, he would be able to see the ‘M’ that finished his name. To his horror, he watched as his own hand reached out, as though it were just about to do that. That is when the officer stepped in and dragged him up the embankment.
The cop dragged him out of the water and away from the object in what was actually an elapsed time of about 10 seconds. For Mike, that block of 10 seconds will turn into the rest of his life. Dreams always have a tendency to remind you of things you would just as soon like to forget.
“Oh Jesus! It’s over here, Captain! Oh Fuck! It’s over here.”
Mike crawled backwards and flattened himself against The Tunnel’s wall. Under different circumstances, watching him crawl backwards like a crab would have been comical. He sat there with his knees pulled into his chest, hugging them tightly and waited for the tears to overtake him. Just as they came, merciful blurring his vision, the cop that dragged him away was chasing Jim’s arm - what had been Jim’s arm - downstream, splashing water and taking big, over exaggerated steps to keep with the current. A few of his fellow officers, likely bowling partners in a town like Council Bluffs, followed him and directed their flashlights into the water. The cop that was knee-high in water fell forward and rolled into the stream. When he came back up, he was holding Jim’s arm in both hands. The officer had the limb positioned so that the forearm and hand pointed towards the ground. He stood there, water still overflowing into his boots, with a stupefied look on his face. He glanced up at the officers that met him, glanced back down at the arm, and then back at his co-workers as if to ask them what should be done next.
They all stood there, no one speaking, just looking at the arm and not knowing where to go next. The officer holding the mangled arm decided he had had enough, and tossed the arm away from the water onto the concrete. It landed with a splat. He turned and threw-up into the water. Another officer did the same. Mike was too far away from that world to realize what was happening. He had to get out of there. Something was wrong. He could sense that something was very wrong. He looked over into the nothingness that stretched under the road. There was a stench coming from under there, a stench that reminded him of what perhaps liver might smell like if you left it in a tackle box for a few months.
His mind stepped in again, Or maybe it’s something or someone decaying under the streets. Maybe, whatever did that to Jimbo--
Mike did not wait around to hear the rest of that thought. He scrambled up the wall and ran back to the ballpark.
Mike collapsed once he reached Right Field. With his face pressed into the ground, he cried for what seemed like hours. When he sat up, he looked around him and noticed how dark it was. A chill went through his body when he thought of it being just about as dark in The Tunnels. Just in front of him, no more than ten feet away, a firefly lit and then disappeared. Then there were two. The two became half a dozen, and soon he found all of his worries erased and lifted from his shoulders.
When Mike was younger, he used to play a game. It was silly, and he had never told anyone about it before, but it was something that he had enjoyed. When you are a single child, you learn to play well with others and make numerous friends. If you were the type of child that was shy, and had trouble making friends, you stick to the things you know and hold tight to them. Firefly’s Flight had been one of those very things. Mike had found it easier to mingle in with kids his age over the past few years, and had long since abandoned the childish game that he spent hours enjoying. As he sat there in the tall grass of Right Field, he found himself mesmerized and reverting back to his childhood game.
In front of him, there were perhaps as many as thirty fireflies. There were a few that blinked right in front of him, and just as soon as their lights distinguished, another section of about ten fireflies lit up. It was of course impossible to count them all, but that was part of the game. That is what made the game so good. One firefly blinked about two inches in front of his face. He was startled, jerked his head back a little bit, and gave a soft laugh in response. If you would have told him that he would be in the middle of Right Field counting fireflies and laughing, actually laughing with a smile on his face, just ten minutes after seeing his best friend’s arm lying in a stream in The Tunnels--he would have called you crazy. Yet, that is exactly what he was doing. He had counted and thought he had reached all the way up to fifteen before he messed up and had to start over again. When a firefly’s tail goes out, it is hard to tell where they go next. Some will fly straight and rarely diverted from their course. Others, Mike had experienced, were like drunken drivers on mushrooms. They would loop back, change direction in mid-flight, and some would even just stay at the same place - tricking you as you are searching the darkness for where it might light up next. The latter bunches were the hardest to count.
Mike knew about the story of how the coyote stole fire from the fireflies, but he never paid much attention to anything else when it came to fireflies. He knew that they lit up as a form of communication that was a fact almost everyone had stored in their memory banks. He was always fascinated by the way they lit up, and he knew that there was some scientific explanation that would describe the whole process, but where’s the fun it that? He never bothered to ask, nor did anyone tell him about the hows and whys of fireflies. However, one nugget of knowledge he had obtained was that fireflies normally were not around after 10PM, and yet there were hundreds of them right there in Right Field. He had camped outside in his back yard one evening with the hopes of counting fireflies throughout the night. He had been disappointed when he noticed that most of the fireflies were gone just a little before ten. Mike stood up, looked around by actually turning all of the way around, and was amazed. At first, he had thought he was mistaken. There could not be that many fireflies. Not this late. He looked at his watch, squinted, and realized he could not see it. He guessed it to be a little after four in the morning. If one were not to look too hard, you could have mistaken that the clouds had disappeared and hundreds - thousands - of stars were hanging in the sky.
He walked around for a little while. He had walked up to the pitcher’s mound, stood there for a moment, and felt a chill that made him shiver. He stepped down, and then noticed the collection of fireflies in the right field, not far from where he had collapsed earlier. It was not noticeable when he was over there, but standing next to the pitcher’s mound, you could not miss it.
A knot-like shape of fireflies, hundreds of them, was flashing in right field. To Mike’s surprise, they were all flashing at the same time. Mike was a little frightened, but found his feet moving before he could even think about it. Around the area that the fireflies hovered over, there was a strange yellow glow. The glow illuminated that area - impossible and yet it was happening, right in front of him. In the center of the light, lying in the grass was a baseball glove. Mike could never mistake that glove for anyone else’s’ - not with the name JIM written on the webbing with a black permanent marker. As soon as he picked up the glove, the cluster of fireflies disappeared, along with the warm glow they gave. He looked around the ball field. There was not a single firefly. He ran a thumb across Jim’s name and started walking home. It was the longest walk of his life.
SEVENTH INNING STRETCH
A month after Jim’s death, Mike found himself weaving through the seats at Rosenblatt Stadium. He was alone, as usual, and was balancing a large wax-coated cup of soda in his right hand. He had spilt a generous amount of it on an old man’s shoes when he had run into him while watching the game. His face flushed to a deep red when the man yelled something which sounded like like an obsenity in a deep Irish accent. In cases as such, his father had told him to always remember to be a gentleman and then get away as fast as he could. He did just that as he excused himself and hurried along to his seat in the right field bleachers.
The right field bleachers were a brand new addition to the ballpark that year. There was nothing special about them. Wooden planks make your ass hurt and then numb if you sit on them long enough. It doesn’t matter if they are painted yellow or not. Mike thought it would be interesting to sit out there, if for anything, to see the game from a different perspective. Last summer he had watched most of the home games from behind the home plate. If you ar a fan looking for a sovinier, that is one of the worst spots to sit in. Sure, there were plenty of foul balls and pop-ups hit in that direction, but what good do they do when the net is there to stop the ball from entering the stands? Mike had watched many of the homerun shots land toward the area where the right field bleachers were going to be built. He had told his father that he wanted to sit out there the following summer, never knowing what kind of trouble he may find himself in.
The bleachers were hot too. There was not an overhang to shade the fans as the sun beat on the back of their necks. Mike didn’t seem to mind though. He enjoyed the atmosphere more than he had when he sat behind homeplate. The people in the right field bleachers were by far rowdier than the personell in the box seats. Mike had been surprised to hear one of those people yell out at the opposing pitcher, calling him a bamboon. He had never heard of anything like that during the games last summer. The entire mood of the crowd was different. It were as though electricity flowed through each of them in abnormal quantities. And the stories! Oh my, the stories he had heard! If his mother had known how some of the factory men had talked in front of her son, she would have tried her best to have them thrown in jail! The view from the bleachers wasn’t as spectacular as the one from behind homeplate, but that was another thing Mike did not seem to mind. In fact, he welcomed it.
During the later innings of the games, when the sun began its decent to the river, the view was overwhelming. Mike had missed an entire inning during one of the games last summer because his eyes were glued to the horizon. When you were in the right field bleachers, the view was as if you were playing deep in right field on the warning tracks, perhaps. You could see if the man on secondbase was getting too much of a leadoff on the pitcher, watch the batter plant his foot and get a round about idea of where he was trying to pull the ball and even try to steal a few of the opposing manager’s call signs. Most importantly, you can’t see across the river like those sitting behind homeplate. You can’t see across the river, towards the general direction of the viaduct, where The Tunnels lay beneath it like a snake--a poisonous snake. Where Jim was...
“No. I shouldn’t be thinking about that.” Mike spoke aloud. A man sitting on the same bench looked him over and shook his head slightly in disapproval. Mike’s face turned red again, and he looked like he was busy putting mustard on his hotdog.
The game was a pitcher’s duel for the first six innings. However; once fatique set in, the game was more exciting. The guy that looked at Mike earlier had caught a homerun hit by the opposing team. Usually when you catch a bll, you hold onto the thing for keepings sake. Not this fellow. He looked the ball over, shouted something that no one was able to understand and threw the ball back onto the ballfield. He stumbled and fell into a lady that was sitting in front of him. Everyone watching the scene had smiled over that.
The Omaha Royals were losing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth. At first it seemed that the game was a total loss especially after two quick flyouts to center field. However, things began to materialize after two two-out singles. Everyone in the right field bleachers were standing and cheering. Most started stamping there feet on the bleachers, causing one of the biggest ruckuses Mike had ever heard. Before long, he found himself stomping with them and cheering. The batter that was in the on deck circle took a few more cuts, slicing through the air and then smacked his bat on the ground. He stepped towards homeplate and the crowd within the stadium buzzed like a swarm of flies! Mike didn’t know the batter’s name, he was accquired by the Royals in a recent trade. The only thing that he knew about the guy was that he was the league’s homerun leader, and he was already 2 for 2 with a walk earlier that day. That meant that the Royals had a chance. Mike glanced down just before the pitcher settled in on the catcher’s signal and saw that he had forgotten about Jim’s glove. He dived down in hopes of catching it before it fell under the bleachers, but he was entirely too slow.
More to come.....
This is something I've been working on for a bit, and decided it is time to wrap it up. And I will... soon. I've got some changes to make to this, and some other stories. This is a shorter piece of a much longer version, and eventually it will be all posted. In the revised version, you will get to know the background of Jim a bit more, you'll see the established friendship they have, and of course you'll learn much much more about the firefly... all in good time. Prior to that, you will also learn more of The Tunnels, A love story of sorts, and something to do with roses. You'll learn that you are never safe with the scent of Jasmine, and you'll learn to avoid certain houses that are rumored to be haunted. A lot more is to come. I really hope you enjoyed this part... please tell me what you think of it.