In Left Field
were two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning; the game was on
the line. Derrick Starkley's team, The Bombers, led by one run. One
more out and they'd be heading to the Maryland State Little League
Championship. Derrick could tell that Jeremy, the Bombers' ace
pitcher, was getting tired.
All Derrick could do was pray the ball was hit to him and it wasn't hit high enough to get lost in the lights. He loved playing left field; it's where all the action is. He watched as Larry Dawson, The Smashers' best hitter, ambled up to the plate. Derrick knew Larry wasn't much for power; he was a line drive, pull hitter. "Outfield! Shift left!" Coach Reynolds shouted from the dugout.
Derrick was only ten feet from the left field line when Jeremy went into his windup. The kick. The pitch. Larry lined a foul ball into The Smashers' dugout fence. He was way ahead of the pitch. The Bombers' third baseman, Calvin, trotted after the ball and threw it to Jeremy.
The second pitch was drilled over the third base coach's head and landed foul twenty feet in front of Derrick. 'He's getting the timing,' Derrick thought, retrieving the ball and tossing it to Calvin. 'He'll get the next one.'
Derrick got back into position, took off his cap, and wiped the sweat off his forehead with his shirt sleeve. An army of gnats swarmed around his face. The humidity wrapped around him like a blanket. Jeremy went into his windup. The smell of dirt and grass invaded Derrick's nostrils. By the time Jeremy released the ball, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
The ball floated to the plate and Larry Dawson swung again. TING! The sound echoed through Derrick's mind. It was a hard line drive that started to go over Calvin's head then curved toward centerfield. Derrick broke for it. He was at full speed in three steps. As the ball neared, Derrick knew it would be close. "I GOT IT!" he shouted, calling off the centerfielder. He knew he'd have to dive for it, but he also knew that he'd made this play a dozen times in his four year little league career. He prepared himself to dive for it. Almost…almost…ready…THUD! His left foot bumped into something in the grass.
He stumbled. Derrick was falling. He made an effort to push off with his right foot in an attempt to dive. He laid himself out and seemed to fly through the air for an eternity. Finally, his body came back to the earth. His chest hit the ground the same time the ball did. It missed his glove by less than a foot. "NO!" he yelled as he slid to a stop.
The Smashers were celebrating at home plate, slapping hands and patting each other on the back. Derrick's team sulked toward their dugout, leaving Derrick lying in the grass in left field.
He couldn't believe he blew it. Derrick turned and ran toward the outfield fence. Barely breaking stride, he planted his hand on the top of the chain link fence and bounded over it. He sprinted into the woods behind the baseball field. Even in the dark of night Derrick was able to find his little hideaway; a small clearing, about 6 feet by 6 feet, almost completely enclosed by trees and bushes.
Everything was dark and quiet; Derrick dropped to his knees and cried. He'd never choked so bad in his short life. It was a playable ball; he could've had it, he should've had it. If only he hadn't tripped. But he did trip. He tripped on...on...on what? A sprinkler? No, that field didn't have an in-ground sprinkler system. A rock? No, he would have noticed it sooner. What then?
Derrick took a few minutes to compose himself; if there was anyone left at the field, he didn't want them to know he'd been crying. He started walking back out of the woods. By the time he made it back to the field, the lights were off and everyone was gone.
He roamed around left field, trying to find whatever it was that he'd kicked with his shoe. He had to find the thing that had cost his team the game. Just when he was about to give up, half of his right foot slipped into a small hole. Derrick got down on his hands and knees to examine the hole.
It was too dark and he couldn't really see it, but he could feel it with his hands. It wasn't very big, barely big enough to accommodate his hand. It was probably a gopher hole or something. Derrick thought for a moment and realized this couldn't possibly be what tripped him. He hadn't stepped in a hole; he had stumbled over something above the ground.
He thought if it was a gopher hole, maybe the little guy had popped his head out and accidentally tripped him. If this was true, the impact of his shoe to the gopher's head probably killed it. It was probably lying dead at the bottom hole right now.
Derrick set his glove down, got down on the ground, and reached into the hole and felt around, but, so far, he felt no bottom. Further and further he reached down into the hole, until he was as far as he could go. Still no bottom. Something was strange though, Derrick felt around the walls of the hole. Instead of feeling the moist, packed dirt, he felt something else; something slimy, like snot.
Derrick tried to pull his hand out, but it seemed heavier somehow. He struggled a bit and his arm slowly started coming out of the hole. Just before his elbow was visible, the silhouette of his arm wasn't right. It was bigger. He jerked his arm the rest of the way out of the hole, falling backward from the effort. The silhouette of his arm was not only bigger, it was longer. He was sitting on the ground five feet away from the hole and he still couldn't see his hand.
His eyes traced his arm from the hole to his elbow. Suddenly, something began to glow; it was his arm. But it wasn't his arm; it was whatever was attached to his arm. Derrick screamed and started shaking his arm, but the more he shook, the brighter the thing glowed and the farther it moved up his arm.
He kicked and punched at the thing on his arm. The hand that was inside the thing started burning; it felt like it was on fire, a fire that burned hotter than anything he'd ever felt before. He had to get his arm out. He maneuvered himself so the thing was between his feet, dug his cleats into the sides of it, and pulled. The thing didn't budge.
Then he noticed something just above the thing's mouth. It might have been an eye or a nose, whatever it was; it looked like a weak spot. Derrick shoved the thumb of his free hand into it.
The worm-thing let out an ear piercing screech. Derrick dug in his cleats and pulled again. His arm pulled free and he fell to his back. He looked at his hand. Unfortunately, there was nothing to look at. His arm ended just above the wrist. There was no blood; it had been cauterized by the thing's stomach acid.
Derrick screamed as he stared at the stump that was his arm and passed out.
Derrick slept, the worm-thing worked its way up first the left leg,
then the right. It fed on all his appendages then wiggled its way to
the top of Derrick's head. The thing's jaw hinged open wide, then
wider until it was able to accommodate the skull, the shoulders, and,
ultimately, Derrick's entire body.
The next afternoon, Derrick's baseball glove was found next to a gopher hole in left field. That's where the action is.