I told Mike: “Don’t pitch to the outside of the plate!”, when Steve was at bat. Had he listened, none of this would have happened.

We were playing at the rundown baseball diamond in what was once known as McPherson Park. All the neighborhood kids called it “Camp Swampy. It’s formerly close-cropped left field, was shrinking in size each passing year, due to the marshland bordering it. The old McPherson house, was just past right field. Where once a 30 foot tall combination wooden fence and scoreboard, kept balls in the park, and the McPherson home from harm, (and kids a generation ago safe from the wrath of “Old Mr. McPherson”…now “the late Mr. McPherson”) now, was air and opportunity. Steve’s hit, took advantage of both. The sound of second story glass shattering, told us where the ball’s adventure in flight ended, and where ours began.

Our group consisted of Tom, Bob, Mike, Steve, Brad, Eric, myself (Doug), and the youngest of our group, Bob’s brother, Tad, who we all called “Tadpole”. Steve and I have been together the longest, due more to being the oldest (and largest), then anything else, and were considered the final arbiters in our groups actions. So, the question on who would go in and reclaim our ball ended up in our lap.
Tom, Bob, and Tadpole did not want to go in at all…they wanted to call it a night, and find something else to do. The rest of the gang wanted “their ball” back now. Steve and I saw the obvious answer, send in one of the three “dissenters”. Tom and Bob, realizing the direction things were going, backed up and regrouped. Tadpole, being 2 years younger than the rest of us, and not so quick on the uptake, suddenly found himself a “majority of one”. Brad offered Tadpole, the use of his flashlight (one of the many items residing in his ever-present backpack). This, along with twin pressures of wanting to be (an “official”) part of the gang, and appearing to be tough as his older brother (and his friends), was enough to send him on his way.

The house, partially boarded up on the lower level, looked formidable. The upper windows left to the elements, the accuracy of teen-aged boys throwing arms (in our case-well hit balls), pockmarked as they may be, were unreachable from the ground. So Tad tried the front door. Amazingly enough it was unlocked. Turning his flashlight on, Tad entered the rundown Victorian.

The light cast its beam on a dust-covered floor. There were no noticeable signs anyone had ever been inside, even though it seemed easy enough to gain access. With a quick shrug, he continued in, to the back of the foyer, and headed up the stairs to the second floor.

At the top of the stairs, Tad could still hear the gang outside. With each passing step, down the upper hallway, sounds of the outside world seemed to all but fade away. Even though there were plenty open windows for sounds to travel through, and the gang was anything but quiet, their cheers of encouragement were lost, replaced with an almost oppressive silence. Tad started to wonder about the wisdom of agreeing to retrieve the errant ball.

He approached the end of the hallway. There were three doors here. The one on his right was quickly discounted, the ball had entered the second story toward the side of the house on his left. Squaring his shoulders, taking a deep breath, Tad tried the door on his left. It opened on to a small bedroom. A bed was against one wall, dresser against the other, with a chair in the corner. Dust covered everything, but again, it looked as it might have back when the original owner(s) were alive. The one window to this room was cracked but in one piece. The ball had not landed in here. He quickly closed the door, and went to try the other.

This was a large bedroom. A canopy bed occupied one side,with a nightstand next to it. A dresser with mirror, was up against the far wall, a small desk and chair was in front of the window where the ball had entered the house. It was covered with bits of glass. The room was markedly cooler then the outside, to the point of being cold. Even with what appeared to be enough light coming in through the windows, it seemed noticeably darker. The flashlight beam seemed stunted, as if a filter had been placed in front of it. With shaking hands, Tad directed the beam under the desk, in hopes the ball might be there. At the same time he was fighting the mounting feeling something wasn’t right about the house, and this room in particular.

“You looking for this, boy?” boomed from a malevolent voice directly behind him, and were the last words he ever heard.

“Tadpole! Tadpole! Wake up!” Bob had his brother’s head on his lap, while Steve was applying a compress made from an old rag soaked with water, over the knot on Tad’s head. “Man”; noted Steve, “that line drive hit you square. Why didn’t you get your glove up quicker?”

“I don’t know”; replied Tad, “It just happened, that’s all.” “Give me a minute I’ll be alright. You guys aren’t going to believe this, but I had the strangest dream just now.”

“I wondered if you were alright”; sighed Bob, “but if you want to sound goofy, and talk about dreams, that’s tadpole for ya’.”

It was still early, the knot appeared to be no longer a concern to Tad, so it was decided to play for one more inning. We took our positions, I was behind the plate, Tad in right field.

I told Mike: “Don’t pitch to the outside of the plate!”, when Steve was at bat…

Author’s note

This was written back in June of 2005. It was done as part of a “short story challenge”. The original post and subsequent comments, can be found here. I like this story. It came easily, and the boys seemed to want their story to be told. I will be bringing other bits of verbiage over here, as time progresses. Hope you enjoy it too.

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