This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “A Miracle in Shreveport.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
I wrote this story as part of my baseball novel, and it held together as a story nicely. It was first published in Electric Velocipede, May 2007, and was later reprinted in The All Nations Team. It also garnered an Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 25.
I wanted to release it today in honor of Opening Day for Major League Baseball. Play ball!
A Miracle in Shreveport
At noon, before the first game of our doubleheader, my All Nations team was taking batting practice, and as usual, I was studying the crowd. The people fascinated me: all those life stories that I’d never get a chance to hear, like that old colored man smiling and singing to himself next to his stern, frowning wife in her flowered hat, or the two white women with their cigarettes and exposed ankles. I was amazed by it all, though we never stayed in a place long enough to learn about anyone or anything more than the game and its players.
Looking at the crowd also gave me a painful reminder that we were back in the South.
We actually had two crowds. Sitting on one side of the greasy yellow rope that separated the crowds, behind home plate and the Shreveport Sports dugout, the white spectators laughed with one another and called out encouragement to the members of their team. I even saw a white man holding up a Brownie box camera with both hands, counting to eight as he made a picture of the white crowd.
The clamor of voices from that section felt too loud to my ears when I turned to the colored stands behind our dugout. The people seated here were far quieter, though they were crowded elbow-to-elbow on the rickety wooden bleachers. A few people nodded at me solemnly, while most looked away.
It was an all-too-familiar story told in black and white.
Today, however, would be a variation on that old, ugly plotline.
I should’ve seen it coming, but I was too busy getting ready for the game and savoring the look and feel of the ballpark, like a kid distracted by a shiny toy. The grass was bright green and lovingly manicured, and the chalk lines were sharp and straight. This field had been built just two years ago, and the twelve-foot-high outfield fence, coated in advertisements, looked twice as tall as the fences we’d seen at countless other fields.
“Going to put un béisbol over that,” our Mexican first baseman Buddha Rodriguez said, pointing a thick finger at the wall. He was answered by the laughing jeers and rolling eyes of his teammates as they returned to the dugout.
Before the game started, we had to wait for a trio of men, two in brown suits and one in an olive drab Army uniform, who marched out to the pitcher’s mound to address the crowd. I groaned and felt in my pocket for my absent pouch of tobacco.
This was the fifth time in a month we’d run into men like these. It was the war, again. Of course.
“We need to take up this slack of idleness in the industrial field and substitute a period of helpful discipline,” the first man said, spraying the field in front of him with each spittle-stressed word. “Our country’s people have grown lax and soft with excess, and we bring to you today a solution.” He went on in this manner for a few minutes more, stirring the crowd to life until his partner took over.
I looked down at my players, most of whom were simply ignoring the three men. Our white pitcher Boles, however, was standing at the edge of the dugout, listening intently. Next to me, my centerfielder Mack stared at the speakers with a look of dismay on his brown face, which had a yellowish tinge to it today. Every day his skin was a different tone, from pale white to deep brown, and all points in between. His consternation was quickly spreading to something between fear and disgust. I almost gave him nudge to distract him, but I thought better of it. Even after over three seasons with him, I knew little about the man known only as Mack.
“Americans,” the second speaker claimed, talking even faster than the first man, “need the sense of purpose that Europeans are finding in their grim, yet ennobling, struggle. And remember, no country was ever saved by just any old fellow on the street, somewhere in the world. It must be done by you, by a million American yous, or it will not be done at all.”
He continued at breakneck speed, priming the crowd for the war. Preparedness, they called it. Though Mr. Wilson still claimed we would remain neutral, these men wanted the country to mobilize now, to gather an army for America’s inevitable entrance into the war in Europe.
No thank you, I wanted to tell them, looking once more at the enigmatic Mack, then Boles. I’ve got enough to prepare for right here, gents. And in any case, nobody prepared me for the battles I’ve been waging all my life.
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