Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN (04/13/17)
- TITLE: The Baseball Dare
By Francy Judge
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As Pastor Lou droned on in a monotonous voice for an hour, the warm breeze captured my attention. I leaned over and tapped Brian. My friend’s head bobbed up and down until I startled him awake. I swung an invisible bat. He nodded and tapped Joe’s shoulder and did the same. The chain continued until I knew our game had enough players for a pickup game. Joe pointed to Travis and shrugged his shoulders. He knew I would start laughing and not be able to stop. Travis is the only kid I ever saw run the wrong direction around the bases for a backwards home-run. Travis towered over us and his muscles bulged from helping on his dad’s farm. Though his body looked older than twelve, his mind halted at Kindergarten level. We only asked him to play for our amusement. If I had paid attention to the message, that Sunday might not have ended the way it did.
Travis said, “Sure! I’ll play.” A little too loud. Heads turned, and Pastor Lou coughed to cover the interruption. I had to cover my mouth and bite my lip to control myself. Joe hid his face behind a church pamphlet. The closing prayer felt like a punishment, forcing kids to be quiet for a good fifteen minutes as Pastor Lou prayed for every belly ache and stubbed toe in the congregation. My mind drifted across the church parking lot to the dirt field, where I imagined whacking the ball over the fence. “Danny Dasher hits a grand slam to win the game!”
By one o'clock, I sat at the mound picking teams with Joe, the other captain. Travis stood in his little league uniform all alone, always the last one picked. Joe grunted and waved him to his side. “Come on, Travis. Guess you’re on my team again. Just remember which direction to run this time.”
Travis wore a huge smile as he hopped over to Joe’s team. He pointed at first base. “I have to run that way.”
A few kids said, “Duh!” but Joe hushed them.
I admit the teams were uneven. Most of the star little league players were on my team, so the score of 5-1 was no surprise. We had a tradition back then—losing team had to do whatever dare the winners chose.
“So what’s the dare this time?” Joe asked.
I couldn’t wait to show him what I found in my garage. “How ‘bout your team has to light these?” I poured the fireworks on the ground.
“Wow! How did you get those?”
“Dad’s a cop. Maybe he found them.” No one minded losing that day—everyone wanted a turn. We headed to the church parking lot, where the ground would be flat.
Joe took the biggest rainbow striped tube and passed it to Travis. “I’m the team captain, and I choose you. Want to light the first one?”
Travis jumped up and down, clapping his hands. We all stepped back in a circle as he flicked the lighter and pressed the blue flame to the wick. We jumped as it whistled into the sky and landed on the church roof. A dud.
“It didn’t work.”
“Someone has to get it. We can’t leave it there.” I was going to volunteer, but Joe insisted he go.
“It’s okay, Travis. I’ll get it. I’m the best climber.” He raced up the closest maple tree and tested crawling a branch in reach of the stick. That’s when it went off with a bang, sending sparks everywhere. Joe lost his hold and dropped, smacking the pavement. Blood pooled around him. Within seconds, a flame caught the branch and spread across the roof.
“Help! Someone help!” we screamed.
Pastor Lou ran out of his house next door after calling the fire department. He rushed to Joe’s side. “Lord have mercy on this beautiful child.”
As firetrucks screeched around the corner, Travis kept screaming. “Get up, Joe!”
No one could blame Travis for shooting the rocket. It was all my fault.
I place the twentieth baseball next to Joe’s grave. One for every anniversary. An old hand rests on my shoulder. Pastor Lou.
“Are you going to tell me it was just an accident?”
“No, but it’s time you forgive yourself.” He completes the circle with another baseball.
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